Mary DeMuth, author of over forty books, has added WeToo: How the Church Can Respond Redemptively to the Sexual Abuse Crisis to her exploration of church response—or the lack of it—to sexual abuse survivors. DeMuth, a survivor herself and dedicated Christian, has seen the hurt created by the church’s failure to address abuse. Both longstanding and complicated, the church’s moral bankruptcy has perplexed and damaged the faithful. In We Too readers can learn the scope of corruption and how the cycle can stop.
DeMuth’s discussion helps readers understand how church collusion with abuse continues to operate. First, she describes the roots of abuse found in the Old Testament. The Bible was written within a patriarchal culture of gender inequality. Power imbalance fosters abuses of every type in every setting. God continued to call out injustice and command help for the “quartet of the vulnerable: widows, orphans, the poor and aliens” (p. 42).
In the New Testament, Jesus provided a “Revolutionary Responder” (p. 45), an example of light to humans. He too came to “set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18, KJB). The dignity he afforded women scandalized the religious leaders and contributed to his death. An overemphasis on legalism and punishment rather than grace and compassion remained in organized religion. Emphasis on male power and prestige overshadowed a gospel of love.
Second, DeMuth examines how the abuse continues. Readers learn five major damaging practices within the church: secrets, bad theology, pornography, the dynamics of predators, and church passivity. Secrets grow from a primary concern for the church’s economic foundation: reputation, image, or social status. Instead of a loving light to the community, the church poses as a superior group. A theology that demonizes the body, sex, and women as the primary source of sin leaves men unaccountable for their sexual behavior. Pornography separates sex from relationships, dehumanizing participants, even those in the church. Abusers use secrecy as a tool in trade. Other tools are male entitlement, pornography, and deception. They then can rely on church passivity to continue to operate.
These five practices keep sexual abuse alive today. The church has seen an exodus primarily of two groups: those who are victimized or retraumatized and those who can no longer stand the hypocrisy.
Finally, DeMuth presents four directions that can help end the abuse. The scales need to fall from the church’s eyes. Listening to learn from victims or other groups is the first step. The church can learn why predators seek out church victims and how church culture allows them to operate. How do abusers become leaders? Identifying the answers is a starting point for changing church culture.
DeMuth encourages the church to take advantage of strides made in the larger community. Women’s voices have made it possible for victims to speak up and speak out.
Being first humbled, the church can repent, reform, and abandon blaming the victim or upholding the abuser. The Old Testament guidance of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8) harmonizes with Jesus’s message in Luke. After all, Jesus, the Way shower, always supported the oppressed and chastised the oppressors.
CBE readers will find this author “gets” what CBE stands for. Equality is the central requirement to combat abuse in relationships. Misogyny hinders Christ’s redemptive work and the work of the Holy Spirit. CBE has noted how patriarchy has tried to suppress the #MeToo movement. Instead of recognizing the innate Spirit of God within both women and men, some have seemed more concerned about upholding men’s power, status, and control.
DeMuth writes that a church wanting to change does not have to do it alone. There are others who have already begun the journey of transformation holding out their hands. The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide for Churches and Ministries by Basyle Tchividjian and Shira M. Berkovits is one resource. GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) is available to work with congregations. CBE’s new book, Created to Thrive, includes authors who want to “equip, advocate and transform” the church for equality. Some of these authors also recommend We Too.
CBE’s mission promotes shared authority. A punishing legalism hurled at victims but not abusers is the opposite of redeemed relationships. Such a thorough treatment of sexual abuse in the church and what can be done about it provides hope.