Guest post from…Rachel Halder is uncovering stories of sexualized violence against women in the Mennonite Church through her blog, Our Stories Untold. She invites you to share stories of sexual assault, abuse, domestic violence, molestation, or even attempted harm to a woman’s body. She also calls upon any support or hope you have to offer, in form of blog posts, contacts, research, or encouraging notes. Currently she works as the social media intern and blogger for Women Under Siege, a Women’s Media Center project spearheaded by Gloria Steinem, that documents how rape and other forms of sexualized violence are used as tools in genocide and conflict throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.
This post is a second in this week’s series focusing on sexual violence and abuse.
Liberian social worker, women’s rights advocate, peace activist, and 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee once said: “It’s time for women to stop being politely angry.”
I for one am absolutely fed up with being politely angry.That is why I have taken it
upon myself to record stories of sexualized violence within the Mennonite church.
There are recent stories that have surfaced, such as a mass rape scenario within a conservative Mennonite community in Bolivia, where between 100 and 300 women in the community were raped with the perpetrators repeatedly raping women for a 25 year period.
Pamela Dintaman recently posted an entry on The Femonite about her mother, who had been Amish as a child, unknown to Pamela. Her mother kept her history silent: history that included being raped as a child, being blamed at age 8, having her father in prison, and then paroled from a life sentence to come back into their home when she was a teenager.
Then there are the small stories of silence that most likely thousands of young girls and women carry. I myself recently acknowledged that I was molested as a child. Unknowingly I carried this story with me for 20 years–why was it never given the space to be told?
A simple Google search of “rape, church” amasses boundless articles on Catholic sex abuse cases, child molestation, and sexual violence within church contexts. One of the top hits was the recent story of the Burmese troops that gang raped a woman in a church.
But that’s the thing: it seems okay for Christian or religious organizations to report about Burmese troops who gang rape a woman, because that’s far away and removed from their own home congregations.
But what happens when it’s the news that their beloved elder raped another church member? Or when a woman asks for a divorce because her husband forces unwanted sexual interactions upon her? Or when it comes out that a Christian father is having illicit sexual relations with family members? Or when a Christian high school teacher rapes a student?
We can exoticize sexual violence, but we can’t deal with it when it touches us too closely.
As an abuse victim myself, and knowing a handful of peers who have been abuse victims, I know that this topic is relevant and applicable for today’s and yesterday’s women. This topic is not new. But talking about it is.
I grew up Mennonite and therefore am interested in Mennonite women’s stories. But as a spiritually inclined woman trying to find encounters with God beyond the typical church walls, I want to clarify that I welcome all women’s stories from all walks of life.
You may be asking: If you’re not even that entrenched in the church, then why do you think it’s important for the church to pay attention to this issue?
Well, I think it’s important because if the church chooses to preach what it does, that love is the ultimate truth, then it needs to back up those claims. bell hooks’ book “All About Love” addresses honesty as the only way to true love. She explains how the origins of the seixst stereotype that “women are inherently, by virtue of being female, less capable of truth-telling,” go back to the history of Adam and Eve, and the interpretation (male?) that Eve is willing to use deception to get what she wants.
Keeping secrets is about power. Why does the church want to hush up instances of violence against women? Because it renders the church “powerless.”
hooks later explains that “privacy strengthens all our bonds, secrecy weakens and damages connection.” Basically it boils down to
the fact that secrecy involves lying. “It is impossible to nurture one’s own or another’s spiritual growth when the core of one’s being and identity is shrouded in secrecy and lies.”
hooks simply states the point: to know love we have to tell the truth to ourselves and to others.
The Christian church is based upon the simple notion of love. The New Testament is full of verses of love. One of the first verses I was taught in Sunday School was 1 Corinthians 13:4–8: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
Love never fails.
If the Christian church, especially the Mennonite church, is based on the principle of love, then why is the Christian church so willing to lie about the fact that women are abused, constantly, repeatedly, both inside and outside of the institution?
The perpetrators are men, who “love” these women, who “care” for these women. Men, who have the majority of the power within the church and who control the church. Men, who do not want to give up that power and unfortunately do not understand that their unloving behavior is detrimental to spirituality as a whole. (I would like to clarify that abuse does happen to boys and men, too, and I’m equally open to having a space for these stories to be told, too.)
Maybe you can help me out on this question, because it’s been burning the tip of my tongue for far too long: How can keeping silence about this major issue really be loving at all?
As of today, June 5th, 2012, Our Stories Untold has been launched. These are just the beginning days of this project. I welcome you to go to my website, subscribe to the blog, and when and if you feel led, share your own stories of violence against women within the church.
Women have a right to be angry. This topic can no longer remain silent.