Friday, January 26, 2018

David Martin, "#MeToo in the Pew Next to You," with Preface by Cameron Altaras

It's my privilege today to be able to offer you a valuable statement by Rev. David Martin, Executive Minister of the Mennonite Church Eastern Canada, entitled "MeToo in the pew next to you." As Cameron Altaras notes in her preface below, Rev. Martin's essay has been published in Canadian Mennonite, and is thematically linked to the article she posted here at Bilgrimage — synchronistically — almost simultaneously with Rev. Martin's essay. Here are Cameron's preface and David Martin's essay, which I'm publishing after Rev. Martin has kindly given written permission for the republication of his essay here. A link to its original publication at the Canadian Mennonite site is below:

Cameron Altaras, "A Church Leader Speaks: Hard-earned understanding of clergy sexual abuse"

Within a few weeks after I wrote the article posted on January 11, 2018 edition of Bilgrimage, I received an email from the Executive Minister of the Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC). (1) His email included a link to an article he had written on the topic of clergy sexual abuse. The article was published online on January 10, 2018 in the online edition of Canadian Mennonite  and has since been published in the hard copy version which makes its way into the homes of every member of congregations affiliated with MCEC.  

As I noted in my previous article, it took six years for me and those supporting me to work with the leadership of MCEC through their clergy sexual abuse investigation process before MCEC leadership reached the place where they were confident in their decision to publicly reveal the name of the now-dead pastor at whose hands I was victimized. Dealing with bureaucrats and boards of directors and lawyers and bylaws and constituency concerns and the list goes on, is daunting to say the least. Along the way, my faith diminished, my resiliency waned and my hope cracked during too many dark nights with no sleep. At times, I wondered if we should stop. I had kids to take care of and laundry to do all amidst the new marriage I was trying to build in a new part of the world. What propelled me onward was the intuitive knowing that I was not the only one whose life had been left in shambles by this man. I just knew there were others and I knew that if we could convince MCEC of the inherent need to reveal this truth, others would come forward. That indeed did prove to be the case.

I witnessed how MCEC's leadership struggled with their own set of circumstances. They had difficult terrain to navigate. They stared down bullies who absolutely did not want this to be made public. They did their research. They sincerely engaged with us in dialogue after dialogue in person and over Skype and they also pushed back. After much hard work and hearing more pain-filled accounts than any human being should ever have to hear, they reached a visceral comprehension of the devastating harm, multi-level betrayal and personal destruction which sexual abuse imputes upon the lives of individuals, families, and congregations. Because I know this backstory, because I experienced how painstakingly long they took to seek understanding and carefully formulate these words, I can now trust MCEC leadership's statements of compassionate support. They've earned the right to lead by example regarding how to really listen to traumatic stories of abuse, how to remain human while navigating bureaucratic hoops, how to choose to do the right thing over the legal thing, and how to persevere in the face of blistering condemnation by constituents and supposed allies. 

The January 2018 article in the Canadian Mennonite by MCEC's Executive Minister, which follows here, would never been written, were it not for resilience at a communal level: MCEC's Board of Directors' ability to honestly engage in unchartered storm-filled regions, MCEC leadership's willingness to persevere when challenged and attacked, and the unrelenting passion for justice of those around me, insisting that MCEC dare to live out the call to reveal the horrific truth staring them in the face.


David Martin, "#MeToo in the pew next to you," Canadian Mennonite 22,2 (10 January 2018)

The incredible wave of disclosure around sexual abuse has dominated the front pages of our newspapers and our news feeds these past months.

Women, in particular, are saying, "It's about time that the pain and suffering of victims are acknowledged. It's time to bring into the open what has been covered up and supressed for far too long." 

I agree. I can't believe what women have endured in terms of sexual harassment and abuse. Suffering alone in silence, they've assumed that they will not be believed or that it's simply not safe for them to speak their truth.

The #MeToo movement has empowered victims to courageously step forward to disclose the ugly truth about sexual abuse and harassment, and to share the sometimes-debilitating impact on their lives. It's time that their stories are believed, their truths embraced and their souls restored.

Don't be surprised if the next wave of #MeToo disclosures begins to happen in our churches. Empowered by the courageous women and men who have recently stepped forward in the public sphere, my guess is that victims of abuse in the church will also refuse to be silent any longer. Like all victims, they deserve our support. Their pain and suffering need to be embraced by the faith community so that the power of God’s healing love can flow more freely. 

It's gut wrenching to hear the depth of betrayal that women have experienced within the supposed safety of their church community. It's disheartening to hear the depth of pain and brokenness that they have borne in silence, sometimes for decades, sometimes even thinking it was their fault.

So how do we as churches prepare to embrace our sisters and brothers who may disclose to us the painful burdens they have been carrying?

We must first communicate that the church will create a safe space within which painful stories can be disclosed. Victims must know that the church is more ready to believe than disbelieve their disturbing accounts, and will refrain from twisting their stories into blaming the victim.

We must also recognize that pain does not necessarily resolve with time. It is just as fresh 20 or 30 years after the fact. There’s no expiry date on pain. It simply needs to be shared and healed.

Next, the church must demonstrate to victims that we will hold abusers to account. While asking abusers to take responsibility for their actions, we will also offer them support to repair the brokenness that has driven them to abuse.

Additionally, it's imperative that we courageously name bad behaviour when we see it, build awareness about the dynamics of sexual abuse, and educate people of all ages about appropriate boundaries. Only then will our faith communities be as safe as possible for young and old alike.

I’m ready to begin a new movement: 

David Martin is executive minister of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada.

See also "The time is now."

(1)  And I stand corrected here. In the January 11, 2018 Bilgrimage post, I indicated that MCEC stands for Mennonite Conference of Eastern Canada. That was, indeed, the name during the time I had my church membership in MCEC. Since that time, the name has been changed to Mennonite Church Eastern Canada. 

The photo of Rev. David Martin is from the Canadian Mennonite article linked above.

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