There are many urgent questions for the church in 2018. Here is one that presses in on every side: What role can the church play in the #MeToo movement?
Unfortunately, the church already plays a role of collusion when the traumas of abuse and sexual violence take place within the church and when ministers and other church leaders abuse their positions of power and do harm to those who should be in their care. Yet, in the best of all worlds, the church can be a space for healing.
Author, chaplain, and pastoral counselor, Rev. Peggy Haymes, in part two of our conversation (read part I here), describes the needs of women who are survivors of sexual abuse. Her book, I Don’t remember Signing Up for This Class: A Life of Darkness, Light and Surprising Grace narrates her own experiences of years of abuse by a man in her neighborhood and her process of healing from the trauma many years later. Haymes also learned about healing through her work with other survivors. She says finding safety and coming to terms with memories are early steps. She also says the church should make space for healing, and the church needs to speak out publicly to offer a more holistic theology of grace.
Interview with Peggy Haymes (Part II)
EC: Your recommendation is that the church should be the sort of space where people can share their stories of pain and abuse?
PH: Yes. A really wonderful example of that is in a church where I served on staff (years after I was gone) when they offered a sermon series based on the Japanese art of mending the cracks in pots with gold (Kintshugi).The broken places become the most beautiful part. Different church members shared the stories of struggle with depression, grief, and other difficult things that life brings to people. What a healing and permission-giving thing that was for people!
EC: Wow. What a beautiful image of how healing our hurts and harms and shame can become the most beautiful part of our community.
PH: I also think churches that really understand grace need to speak out in the public square more. I hear stories where people say, “I’m not a Christian” or “I can’t believe in God because of X, Y and Z.” And I think, “I don’t believe X, Y or Z either. I don’t believe God punishes and strikes people down.” When I staffed Safe Harbor workshops (for those recovering from sexual trauma) they appreciated having a minister on the team because so many people had been harmed by churches and abused by clergy.
It was such a powerful thing to stand with them as a minister and share what I believe and how I see God, and for them to experience a safe minister.
EC: What a great gift! One of the other gifts that you have demonstrated through years of writing and editing, is your gift with words. You’ve said that words are not only a gift but a life-line. I’m wondering if you can say a little more about how words have been a life-line for you? And what has putting things into words done for your own healing?
PH: Writing has been a huge part of my healing. I’ve filled hundreds of pages of journals as a way to process things. Before I could say something out loud, I could write it in my journal. And that was my first way of being able to speak truth. Being able to write has given me a voice. One of the things that happens with abuse is you don’t have a voice. I was threatened badly about what would happen to me if I told anyone about the abuse. So I couldn’t tell, but I could write and still have a voice. I could say other things, and I could speak.
That has been very powerful for me throughout the years. This is my voice. I can speak. I can write for worship or an article or a blog post about an event. And people say, “That’s what I was feeling or thinking!” It is both a humbling and powerful experience.
EC: That gift of articulation, of being able to say something in a way that others recognize their own experience in it, is one of the gifts of your book. I’m grateful on behalf of many survivors that you were able to put your story into a book. I think many people will be able to recognize their own experience on a lot of levels in your story. You said the whole book – when it was ready – tumbled out in about six weeks’ time. . .I’m wondering how the experience of putting this particular story into book form has changed you?
PH: As I was writing it I felt a sense of release and rightness — with the occasional moments of terror sprinkled in. I’d think, “Oh my gosh, am I really going to say this?!” Other times I thought, “This stuff never really happened to me. How can I write a book about it?” Actually, writing helped me process that.
After it was finished, I remember telling my therapist that I felt free. For more than twenty years since I began remembering, there was always this big secret, and the questions with friends: “Do I tell them? When do I tell them?” For the years before that, I kept it a secret from myself. I knew there was something really bad inside that I had to hide. When I wrote the book, for the first time I didn’t have to feel that anymore. I think someone said something about the truth setting us free? I felt whole, and I didn’t have to feel divided anymore.
EC: That is a powerful gift of the book – to you and to others who read it. I was especially struck as I read the book about how significant it is that you wrote this memoir as a woman in ministry. We don’t have enough ministry memoirs by women out in the world yet either! What does it mean to you to be a woman answering God’s call in the world? How do you understand your vocation as a woman in ministry at this point in your life?
PH: That’s a good question. I keep coming back to that question. And it keeps evolving. Right now I have a counseling practice and I serve part-time as chaplain at Novant Health Clemmons (North Carolina) Medical Center.
As long as I’ve had my counseling practice, I’ve wrestled with how to make help more accessible for those who cannot come into a therapist’s office, for whatever reason. With changes in the health insurance landscape I think it’s even more pressing now. I’ve launched and am developing a new site, HeartCallings.com, to bring together both my background in spirituality and psychology to provide tools for healing and growth.
So, vocation continues to evolve – writing, creating, making spaces for healing.
EC: That sounds like a pretty powerful call to ministry to me.
PH: I was talking about this very thing with my pastor recently. I was saying, “I think I finally found my calling!” He laughed and said, “I think it has always been there. You just caught up to it.”
EC: Peggy, thank you for the gift of your book and for your willingness to be vulnerable to a wide audience of people about your story. I had no idea what the book was about or about your experience when I received it. But I was drawn in immediately when I picked it up and started reading it. I couldn’t put it down. The way you tell the story is so compelling. I’m grateful and I think many others will be grateful as well.
If you are reading this, and you need help today, start with professionals who can offer you a space to be heard and seen. Confiding in a trusted person is a good way to begin telling your story.
You can also visit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence or call their Hotline at 1 (800) 799-7233.
Sometimes when people are dealing with abuse the pain and shame can feel very overwhelming. The national suicide hotline is available at 1 (800) 273-8255.
When others share their stories in the #MeToo movement, women are empowered to share. Just be sure you share on your own terms and in your own time.
Rev. Dr. Eileen R. Campbell-Reed (she/her/hers) is the author of Anatomy of a Schism. She is Coordinator for Coaching, Mentoring & Internship and Associate Professor of Practical Theology at, Central Tennessee. She is also Co-Director, Learning Pastoral Imagination Project and blogs at Keeper of the Fire. You can follow her on Twitter: @ecampbellreed