by Becky Posey Williams
I grew up understanding the importance of saying “I am sorry,” when I behaved in a way that could have contributed to someone feeling hurt. I even learned the importance of expressing it when I was not in the wrong but simply present to hear someone express a hurt or pain experienced in life. I have never questioned the rightness of an authentic apology. One that names the offense, accepts responsibility, speaks from the heart, and offers hope to the injured.
I recently read an article entitled “Exiled from Faith” by Diana Butler Bass. She said, “Just this week, Catholic bishops were discussing why millions of people have left their church. At the same time, the Southern Baptists were meeting and part of their concern is stemming the loss of young adult members. In both cases – as is often the case when talking about the rise of the “nones” and the decline of Christianity – blame was placed squarely on those who have left and neither the Catholics nor the Baptists offered much in the way of honest institutional self-reflection on the churches’ responsibility in causing these trends. Apologies are the first step toward justice – the making right of a wrong. Perhaps a public apology would [be] the first step in a journey of reconciliation and restitution. Perhaps history would [be] different in ways unimaginable, like a double rainbow breaking through a bleeding sky. If nothing else, listen to the exiles. They aren’t to blame for leaving. They are probably just holding up a moral mirror to the church.”
For years, the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women has been listening to persons who are survivors of sexual misconduct in The United Methodist Church. We hear the stories of people who have felt unheard, invited to stay quiet, blamed, and experience additional trauma when the process of filing a formal complaint does not work at its best. Through this privilege of getting to listen, GCSRW is in a position to speak the truth even when it is not what some want to hear. We have a responsibility and a commitment to help the Church get this process right, every time. It is time to wake up, lead fearlessly, and name the harm that has and continues to happen in our United Methodist Church. It is time to listen to the voices of the silenced.
In January 2018, GCSRW and the Council of Bishops released a joint statement naming the sin of sexual misconduct. Here is an excerpt from the letter:
“The sin of sexual misconduct must be named by the Church at every level of ministry. Further, we must confront the environment of courser public dialog and discourse that provides license and cover for sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. We acknowledge that the Church is also a place where sexual misconduct happens when persons in power positions choose to abuse their power. The stories are all too similar. Alleged victims are often reluctant to come forward fearing they will not be believed or they will experience retaliation and the decision to report will be held against them. Sexual misconduct is a symptom of a systemic problem within our Church and society where patriarchy flourishes.”
Read the full COB/GCSRW statement here.
To build upon the message of the joint letter, the legislative task force of GCSRW’s board of directors submitted a legislative petition to General Conference 2020 which makes an apology to survivors of sexual misconduct perpetrated by leadership within The United Methodist Church. We believe this is a step in the right direction and reflects, in part, what Dr. Jennifer Freyd describes as “institutional courage,” the antidote to institutional betrayal. This courage includes institutional accountability and transparency. We believe the statement made in this apology is one more way the Church can be transparent and work toward holding one another accountable in our behaviors.
We come now asking you to do your part in seeing this legislation adopted and its content clearly shared within your annual conference. Lives have been changed forever as a result of experiencing sexual misconduct within The United Methodist Church. When one part of the body suffers, we all suffer. Please join us in speaking this truth and support this piece of legislation.
Find all GCSRW legislation and talking points at https://www.gcsrw.org/GeneralConference/Legislation.aspx.