I always love a good book, and even better, a good book study, where I can go a little deeper, talk about it with others, and gain new insights that I might otherwise have missed on my own. Yet I wondered how a book study might work virtually, during Covid-19.
We didn’t know exactly what to expect going into Safe Church’s first online book study. The 4-week study during May included about 20 people and exceeded our expectations. One key was choosing a book that was so full of timely and important themes for us to discuss.
Ruth Everhart’s book, “The #MeToo Reckoning” shines a penetrating light into the church’s complicity in sexual abuse and misconduct. She reveals that all too often, the church’s stance is to protect those who abuse and to maintain cultures of secrecy, shame, and silence, which allow abuse to thrive. The book creatively weaves together stories of those who have experienced abuse within a church setting, and stories from scripture, and ends each chapter with a hope for the future. God is at work in the #MeToo movement, calling the church to hear these voices, and to stand in solidarity with those who have been violated. This is part of what it means to follow Jesus.
Ruth ends each chapter in her book with questions, which would have made an easy book study. Instead, we took a slightly different path. I love quotes. When I read a book that I like, I gather quotable quotes. I have files on my computer filled with quotes. I think it helps me remember what I read, and integrate what I’m learning. So, for this book study, we followed the following format. Each week after gathering over a simple icebreaker question, opening in prayer, and doing a quick re-cap of the week before – we divided into two groups for easier discussion and looked at “Quotable Quotes and Questions.” You can see the outlines we used for each week attached to this post. We rarely had time to get to all the questions as people shared from their own experiences and reflected on the stories and on Ruth’s insights.
One note is that this book is very difficult to read in places, and it may be triggering for those who have experienced sexual abuse. During the 4-week study, we found our hearts deeply troubled by stories of rape and assault, of insincere apologies, inappropriate responses and warning signs ignored. We saw the ancient story of King David and Bathsheba echoing through these more recent stories. In King David’s case, unlike so many of the more recent situations, the words of the Prophet, Nathan were taken to heart. Who are our prophets today, and will we, the Church, listen? The courage and tenacity of those seeking justice in response to their abuse inspired us. The persistent widow in Jesus’ parable, and the bold daughters of Zelophehad in the book of Numbers also served as examples. We saw the value in Lamentation, how it circles back around from deep pain to a deeper trust in God. Through it all there is hope, because there is God, who knows all things, and who is with his children.
We ended each week with the question, “What is the Lord inviting us to do in response?” Ruth’s book is not just a good read, it’s a call to action. The final chapter, A Way Forward, offers ideas for Denominations, such as gathering statistics, ending non-disclosure agreements and mitigating conflict of interest by hiring separate attorneys. Some of these issues came up in the last few years at synod meetings, as the CRC addresses abuse of power. Ideas for congregations included, telling our own stories, watching our language, providing access to trauma informed care, becoming a braver space, and using our unique resources.
I was especially struck by the idea of becoming a braver space. Maybe Safe Church needs to change its name to Brave Church. We’re not here to play it safe, maintaining the status quo. We are here to courageously take a stand against abuse, and bravely challenge the culture that supports it.
If you are a Safe Church Coordinator, or safe church team leader in your congregation and would like to host a book study this summer using Ruth’s book, The #MeToo Reckoning—please contact Safe Church Ministry to find out how you can get the books for your study free from Safe Church. Deadline for ordering books will be June 30.
If you have read The #MeToo Reckoning, or if you were part of this book study, we welcome your comments! Do you have a favorite quote, observation, or reflection?