Ruth Everhart, a Presbyterian pastor, shares personal experiences and an unflinching examination of sexual abuse within Protestant churches in The #MeToo Reckoning: Facing the Church’s Complicity in Sexual Abuse and Misconduct (IVP, Jan.). In addition to addressing issues such as patriarchy and purity culture in the church, Everhart instructs religious leaders on what they can do to help pave a better way forward.
How did you go about conducting interviews on such a sensitive topic as sexual abuse?
You would think that would be hard. I wrote a memoir in 2016—Ruined—and that’s what put me into this subject area. I didn’t choose to write about this; it happened to me. I wrote about my sexual assault in hindsight after 35 years of life in ministry and realizing that very few people were writing about such assaults from a faith perspective. I got so many messages from people; I heard so many stories. I wanted to broaden the lens out of personal story to larger themes, using other people’s stories and scripture. I didn’t have to go find a single story. They all came to me.
Can you explain the importance of healing as well as justice for victims?
For me personally, justice was important, but so many people haven’t received justice, and the two have to be separate. But biblically, justice is the path of healing. For people of faith especially, the pursuit of justice—even if it’s incomplete and imperfect—still does lead to healing. Standing up, telling your story, being heard, having witnesses, and in the best scenario, bringing an accusation and a charge: that can be powerful. I went through two court systems. The man who raped me at gunpoint was convicted in a court in Michigan, and I faced my sexual harasser in an ecclesiastical court system. The irony is that the former was actually more powerful and more affirming for me.
What can church communities do to make victims feel more comfortable speaking openly about their abuse?
A lot of churches hide the truth because of concerns about reputation. Tell the story more honestly, and worry less about possible litigation. A powerful dynamic for churches is lawsuits that can literally destroy its financial life, and it keeps churches silent. But I don’t know a church that doesn’t have some kind of sexual misconduct in its past. It is so common. Talk about it more openly.
A church can communicate that they are willing to have brave conversations—that this is a place we can talk about sexual abuse—through simple things like hotline numbers in restrooms, resources, and #MeToo church signs. It communicates to people they can talk about this and come forward.
What is the most important thing you want read- ers to learn from this book?
It depends on who they are. If they are a survivor, I want them to know they are not alone. They can face this issue, they’re valuable, their story matters, and Jesus cares about them. The heart of the gospel is to care for “the least of these,” from Matthew 25, or the hurt ones. The church needs to be the hands and feet of Jesus, reaching out to a hurting world. I want readers to feel a call to that kind of ministry. And if you don’t give a hoot about Jesus, I hope somebody somewhere picks up the book and is introduced to a Jesus that surprises them.
Correction: A previous version of this Q&A quoted Everhart as saying she felt more empowered by the ecclesiastical court justice system, when in fact it was the state criminal justice system. We regret the error.