Review: The #MeToo Reckoning

the metoo reckoning

The #MeToo ReckoningRuth Everhart. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020.

Summary: A discussion of sexual harassment and assault in the church, the impact on victims and the response of many churches more focused on institutional reputation than protecting victims and justice for the perpetrators.

Ruth Everhart tells two #MeToo stories of her own in this book. In the first, she was raped at gunpoint in college. Part of her healing was testifying against her rapist, seeing him convicted and sent to prison. In many ways, the second incident was harder. Serving as an assistant pastor under Zane Bolinger, a respected senior pastor, she became the object of inappropriate attention, culminating with being forcibly kissed in her own office.

The early chapters of this book use this incident to trace how the dynamics of sexual assault often play out in churches, beginning with the patriarchal power exercised by Bolinger in assaulting her. She describes her efforts to seek redress from the church’s personnel committee, how they accepted the pastor’s account that he had acted from “pure Christian love,” burying the assault in pious language that protected the abuser and the institution. She concluded that she had to leave.

Perhaps the most chilling part of this narrative was the subsequent consequences in her former church. It did not have to do with Reverend Bolinger, who was gone by this time, at least not directly. A young man had been sexually abused by a church member. Everhart describes the conspiracy of secrecy that followed that did not report abuse to the authorities or even to the congregation and that elicited a “confession” that failed to acknowledge responsibility. The culture created by Bolinger, one of autocratic leadership that covered over anything detrimental to the church’s reputation continued. Healing only began with a process of bringing what had been hidden into the light, eventually resulting in the perpetrator’s conviction, and a new policy for handling allegations of sexual abuse.

Everhart then goes on to describe her efforts to bring Bolinger up on charges before the denomination and the mixed results that illustrate how such proceedings often try to bring healing without justice, that neglect the basic issue of sincere apology, and the preservation of power and institutions (including protecting the institution from legal exposure above protecting victims). Subsequent chapters detail the connection between purity culture and rape culture in the church, patterns of betrayal and deceit by perpetrators, not only on victims, but on manipulated church leaders, and the challenge, particularly for women, of finding a voice to speak up, to press for justice.

Everhart interweaves biblical narrative with her own and others narrative. Abuses of power and sexual abuse run through scripture, in the stories of Tamar, of David and Bathsheba, and others. She shows God’s concern for the victims, some incorporated into the ancestral line of Jesus. Everhart also speaks frankly and practically about what denominations and churches can do to care for survivors rather than institutions, from honest language (“rape” instead of “had sex with”) to involving the whole church in how churches will respond to sexual abuse.

There has been a #MeToo reckoning taking place in our culture, from exposing assault by physicians to gymnasts and other athletes, to movie moguls and political figures. The Catholic Church is paying huge damages for past abuses. Bill Hybels, longtime leader of Willow Creek Church, was forced to step down due to a pattern of improper sexual behavior. These are stories now being played out in many churches. Everhart’s book ought to be a must-read for every church governance board. The church in the greatest danger is the one that says, “it won’t happen here.” Those are the ones that practice institutional denial when it does, including shaming, or shunting aside the survivors of abuse. Those are the ones that wittingly or unwittingly create a culture where abuse can continue unchecked–until the reckoning.

Everhart does not want your church to be among these but rather among those who create brave and safe spaces where these matters are spoken of with candor, where survivors can find support rather than shame, where “brightline” policies are in place that discourage or identify potential abusers early, and if abuse occurs, it is made public and prosecuted, not covered up. This is a book filled with hope for survivors and gritty encouragement for leaders who are ready to set aside patriarchy and power for protecting and raising up the vulnerable, who are willing to expose the ugly underside of human behavior to Christ’s truth and justice.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Owning Up to Our Sorry Record As Men


CDC/ Dawn Arlotta, Public Domain, via Free Stock

It has been deeply unsettling to follow the parade of revelations that have arisen out of the #MeToo movement. I’ve found it disturbing to read reports of respected leaders, doctors, pastors and priests, coaches and media figures, all men, who have harassed, assaulted or forced sex on children, athletes, and women against their wishes. In the late 1970’s, novelist Marilyn French wrote, “All men are rapists and that’s all they are. They rape us with their eyes, their laws and their codes.”

It’s really tempting as a man to say, “not all men.” But when I consider the pervasiveness of violence against women and children, and sexual predation, I realize this just doesn’t wash. I don’t know a woman alive who has not at least been harassed by a man, or felt the threat of sexual violence, or experienced it, and had what is most precious, their own bodies and their wills, violated. Saying “not all men” may make us feel better, but it really doesn’t even begin to take on board the deep pain and fear in the lives of our wives, our daughters, our colleagues, our friends. We really just need to shut up and listen, if the women around us trust us enough to take them seriously.

Scholars of race speak of systemic racism. It might be just as painful to face the reality of “systemic rapism.” There is something to what French says about eyes and laws and codes. Who of us men have looked at a woman and paid attention only to shape and body parts, and failed to consider the person? Who of us men have not benefited from inequities in our laws and customs that have the net effect of conferring higher wages and better opportunities? Who of us men have not sometimes benefited from unspoken ways of doing things, or social codes in churches, organizations, and businesses that protect power and control? Even the rights women have gained, such as suffrage, have had to be wrested from men.

Where do we begin in owning this stuff? Perhaps the place to begin is to stop justifying ourselves and sit with the tremendous havoc wrought by our gender in the lives of women and children. Stop saying “not all men.” It ends conversation. Instead, we might say “tell me more” and acknowledge the pain that is being expressed without offering justifications or excuses. Sometimes wrong is just wrong. Any way in which a man threatens or forces himself on a woman, child, or another man against that person’s will is just wrong. This is a bright-line offense that needs to be understood as unambiguously wrong, and the violation of that bright-line must never be protected, never justified, never covered up.

The other thing I believe we as men need to do is to assume full responsibility for our own sexuality. We must stop blaming women for our sexual longings and desires. We must stop blaming what women wear for our sexual responses. A sexually responsible man does not need a woman to tell him “no.” He makes it his responsibility to understand and honor the boundaries of a relationship. I would go so far as to say that men should not say with their bodies what they are unwilling to say in their commitments to a woman. I would go so far as to say that a man should not engage in the activity that can father children unless he is ready to assume the responsibility of being a father (and the woman wants him as the father of her children).

Women have been trying to call us out on these things for a long, long time. Men, we need to start calling each other out on this stuff. “Locker room humor” and all the ways we demean women should be treated as unacceptable and juvenile. Women shouldn’t have to call out these things because we as fathers, brothers, colleagues, and friends are doing it first–at the first hint of disrespecting the dignity of women.

I’m going to be controversial here, but I’m going to suggest that men declare a moratorium on trying to prevent women from having abortions. Please understand me here. I am pro-life. The inherent contradiction in celebrating conception when we want a child and destroying a fetus when we don’t should be readily apparent. The global abortion holocaust, particularly of female babies is a horror as awful as anything. Period.

What I want instead is for men to start talking about their own responsibility for the conditions that lead to abortion. We ask women to use methods of birth control that are often detrimental to their health. When these fail or are not used, we ask women to undergo a procedure that carries physical risks and psychological implications. Often, not always, it is the pressures of male lovers that force women into abortions. Women often choose abortion because they know the man won’t support them in raising a child, or don’t trust him, and they will end up carrying the burden of a child themselves. Men, if we really cared about preventing abortion, there is a great deal we could do without ever telling women what they should do or passing a law to prohibit abortion–refraining from fathering children we’re not ready to father and assuming responsibility for birth control for starters. In other words, assume responsibility for your own sexuality! Don’t put it on women.

Men, we need to own what those of our gender have done against women. No excuses. No shifting the blame. It’s not pretty. We’ve covered up for each other and arranged our power structures to sustain those coverups. We’ve joked about what is despicable. There are no excuses. To say “not me” or “not all men” is just a dodge for facing hard truths about ourselves and our brothers. Perhaps facing those truths unflinchingly may be the most “manly” thing we can do.




My Response to #MeToo

Don’t usually post twice in one day but wanted to get this out there:

I’m deeply grieved to see so many good friends posting #MeToo. One is a colleague on my work team. Others are dear friends, or those who I deeply respect as gifted, intelligent women. I suspect there are also men out there who have been abused at the hands of men. I’m deeply sorry for the ways my fellow males have acted and that the world is so unsafe for women, children and other men.

To my brothers:

1. Having “your way” with women is not the way to obtain your “man card.” It just shows how much you still have to learn about real manhood which is measured not by your sexual exploits but your self-control and service to others,
2. I never want to hear another man use the idea of “it was her fault.” or “she wanted it” again. “No” never means “yes” and all this tells me about you is how weak and immature and self-deceived you are. It says nothing to me about the woman.
3. Don’t tell me that you can’t control yourself. If that’s true, you need to get help fast! You risk losing your job, destroying your marriage, suspension from a university if you are a student, and criminal charges and a sex offender label.
4. Don’t think porn is a safe alternative. Objectifying and having sex with what you think are virtual women (or others) only contributes to distorting your views of real human beings and feeds the lust for more. And the women (or others) are real people–and often are experiencing exploitation. There are groups to help you escape porn addiction.

For churches and other institutions. When these things occur (and sadly they will) in our midst, we need to realize that the only protection that should be going on is of the victim. The only protection alleged sexual offenders should have is of due process rights under law as part of a criminal investigation.

Men, we need to take responsibility to watch out for each other in this regard, and call each other out at the first hint of disrespecting women. There are a number of ways from words and jokes, to visual materials, to looks and gestures, in which we disrespect women and create a threatening atmosphere or discomfort that fall short of crimes and these also need to be called out. It saddens me that so often it is the women who are doing the calling out. They shouldn’t have to because as fathers, brothers, colleagues, and friends, we are doing it first.

That’s all.