It is such a powerful force, even now. It has been three years since I left my church and reported my pastor for sexual misconduct. In those three years, I’ve restored my health, my faith and my marriage. I’ve joined a healthy church, built new friendships, and found my voice as a survivor. I’ve rediscovered the blessings of home and family, I’m leading a local effort on a justice issue, and I’m even writing again! I am stronger than I ever was before. “They” have no power to hurt me any more.
But they may still have the power to silence.
My former church is searching for a new pastor. My pastor’s abuses were never disclosed, but the grapevine knew anyway. The congregation still lives with the toxic secret that forced me out. When I tried to break the silence, the backlash sent me into hiding. I’ve had no contact with my former friends since I left, but I know my story still lives. When I went to a memorial service last fall, several leaders openly snubbed me. All these years later, my presence still makes waves. The secret still has power.
I looked at the roster for the pastoral search committee and saw some familiar names. I had been close to a few of the members, especially with one whom I’ll call Roberta. Last night, I drafted a note to Roberta: “Kudos for serving on the search committee again! I know how hard you worked on the last search.” I continued, “You may be aware that because of the previous pastor’s record, the new pastor will need to respond to broken trust. This is true even though the congregation was never informed about the pastor’s misconduct, or perhaps especially so because of the toxic effect of secrets and hearsay.” I shared some helpful resources (After Pastor Churches and FaithTrust Institute ) and offered to meet for coffee, to talk about this or just to catch up on each other’s lives.
Then… I hovered over the “send” button.
Then… I asked my husband to read it.
Then… I started questioning my own motives. Was I doing this for my own sake? I have other ways to resist the powers of silencing — this blog, for one. Was I doing it for the good of the church? If so, did I have any hope that they would hear me? Would they finally acknowledge and deal with their pastor’s betrayal, or would they continue in a happy sham of ignorance?
I still haven’t sent my note to Roberta. I may never send it. Am I still being cowed into silence? Or, knowing that I would likely be ignored or worse, am I practicing wise self-care?
Church bullying takes many forms. My soft-spoken friend “Alyssa” belongs to a church now dealing with a controversy. At a recent meeting, Alyssa pointed out that the opposition deserved a fair hearing. Based on the reaction in the room, she might as well have lit a grenade. Even as I write these words, she faces immense pressure to backpedal and apologize, and it may be too late even for that. She may already be marked as a traitor. If this courageous woman wants to keep her job, groveling might be a reasonable choice.
I know what Jesus would do. The question is, what should Alyssa do? What should I do?