Ruth Everhart is a Presbyterian pastor and sexual assault survivor, which makes her eminently qualified to address sexual abuse in the church in a book-length treatment. She admittedly writes through a particular lens—that of a sexual assault survivor, former “good girl,” committed Christian, wife, mother, and radical feminist. She clarifies that she is not a liberal feminist but instead thinks of herself as a radical feminist because she believes that “it's not enough that individual women can thrive in a patriarchal culture. As long as women as a group are considered less than men, it doesn’t matter that individual women can experience success.”
In The #MeToo Reckoning, Everhart invites readers to “explore two types of stories around sexual assault”—current stories in the Protestant church and biblical stories. Each chapter begins with a contemporary quote and a Bible verse and ends with questions for further reflection.
Everhart argues that the church has been too slow to connect the assumptions of patriarchy with the realities of sexual abuse. She claims, “the #MeToo movement is not a women’s issue, it’s a human issue; it’s not a feminist movement, it’s a justice movement.” If the church will pay attention and partner in this work, it can become a safe and healing place.
Over the course of ten chapters, Everhart compares contemporary examples of sexual assault to biblical stories, and draws applications for how to respond to the #MeToo movement’s stories in the church. The first seven chapters address particular facets of patriarchal theology and its consequences, including connections between patriarchy and power, systems and secrecy, and accountability and justice. The last three chapters address the ways the church can repent of its complicity in upholding patriarchal views and systems and move toward becoming a place of healing and safety.
The strength of the book lies in the author’s use of Scripture to guide how the church today should respond to sexual abuse. The most powerful example is found in the chapters which use the story of King David to reveal God’s view of the abuse of power for sexual gratification and murder. David is often used as the ultimate model of zeal and fervor for believers to follow, especially those who are leaders. But very little attention has been paid to the second half of David’s reign, which is even more instructive for believers.
To summarize, after David’s great sin against Bathsheba and Uriah, God forgives David because David fully acknowledges his sin. Even so, David’s reign and influence go downhill from this day forward (2 Sam. 13–24). Though David has been forgiven, God pronounces judgment through Nathan the prophet. David reaps the fruit of what he has sown. Many people suffered as a consequence of David’s decision, and the impact of his sin went far beyond the families of Bathsheba and Uriah. Following David’s example, his oldest son, Amnon, raped his half-sister Tamar. Tamar’s other brother Absalom kills Amnon in revenge. Absalom then seeks to usurp David’s throne and sleeps with David’s concubines in a very public way. Pain and bloodshed follow David, but what can he do? He is guilty of the same crimes. He sexually assaulted Bathsheba and murdered her husband in order to cover his sin (despite the fact that the king’s court knew what he had done). David took whatever he wanted. David’s acknowledgement and acceptance of these consequences in 2 Samuel 16 is evidence of his true remorse. But regardless of David’s true remorse, his life and reign do not go back to the way they were before he committed such egregious sins.
This is a powerful example for the church to follow. God is not mocked—not even by those who are men “after God’s own heart.” Previous good works do not erase the abuse of others. Forgiveness does not automatically equal restoration or reconciliation. As in the example of David, something has gone deeply wrong in the heart of the Christian who can justify abusing their power for sexual gratification. Scripture affirms that such a person is no longer qualified to lead God’s people. This is a response to those who believe repentance means that everything has been made right and abusers can be restored to ministry. If God takes this type of sin so seriously that God did not remove the consequence of King David’s sin, why should the church do anything less for today’s leaders?
Despite the book’s painful and difficult subject, The #MeToo Reckoning is well-written, positive, gracious, and engaging. I found myself resonating with every story, and I marked and underlined much of the book, intending to return to sections to think more about them. I especially appreciated the way the author juxtaposed current stories of abuse and the church’s response with biblical stories showing God’s heart toward the vulnerable. Everhart makes it clear that God is deeply grieved by sexual abuse and holds those with power accountable for the abuse of “the least of these.”
I highly recommend this book to anyone—lay people, church leaders, and parachurch leaders alike—who wants to better understand the #MeToo movement and how to make their church or ministry a safer place. I am grateful to Ruth Everhart for being a prophetic truth teller, and I commend IVP for being courageous in publishing this book. I suspect we will never know how many lives will be saved and restored as a result of this book.
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