I thought summer was supposed to be a time of retreat—to refresh, renew, and reenergize your old self in preparation for the long winter to come. By retreat I mean a time to garden, rest, read, visit with friends and family, intentionally do nothing on your to-do list, and instead enjoy the great Canadian outdoors. All of this self-care was going along fine until I checked the newsfeed on my cell phone.
This week, Christianity Today ran a story about Willow Creek Community Church, an evangelical mega-church, and the resignation of their pastoral staff and board in the wake of continued controversy concerning the stories and silencing of women accusing Bill Hybels of inappropriate sexual behaviour, aka sexual harassment. And the Washington Post did a story on the Catholic Church and sexual abuse noting that in the recent Pennsylvania report more than 300 accused priests have molested 1000+ minors, mostly boys.
There is no escaping the harsh reality that religious faith and abuse are sometimes—dare I say, way-too-often—co-mingled.
And over the last few decades what continues to be the response of the religious elite and church leaders to these scandals? Silencing of the victims, a preoccupation for the care and restoration of the accused and their ministries, and no structural change.
Where is the preoccupation for the care of the victims and their families, who are no doubt impacted forever in their personal lives and spiritual journeys?
Where is the call for justice and ongoing accountability for those who have broken legal, professional, and moral, not to mention spiritual, codes of conduct?
Where is the desire to transform our houses of worship and our patterns of seeing spiritual leaders as beyond the law, or beyond question by congregational members and boards?
And where is our resolve to live differently – in accordance with the life and principles of Jesus of Nazareth, the one we believe to be the Christ?
Sometimes people say to me, “How can you do this work and keep on doing it over so many years?”
I usually respond by paying tribute to the great people with whom I have had the privilege to work—they have, and continue, to sustain me, even when I feel weak, or weary, or ill-equipped for the job at hand.
But, this week, I am confronted once again with my own emotions.
The feelings of anger, shame, disgust, and disappointment whirl around inside my head. Yet, this is no time to give up. It is time to speak out and to keep speaking out. It is time to support and to keep on supporting victims and those who work with them. It is time to bring to justice, accountability and change those who do harm and to keep on doing so. It is time to alter how we do church.
There is so much work left to be done.
Nancy Nason-Clark, 16 August 2018