Our Stories Untold: Sexualized Violence within the Church

By Rachel Halder

Rachel Halder, originally from Iowa, is a graduate of Goshen College. Currently she is traveling around the United States, raising awareness around sexualized violence and enjoying life on the road.

I’m fed up with being politely angry.

That’s what “good” Mennonite women are supposed to be, right? The church’s stance on pacifism and peace, two good things, are often associated with mediation and problem-solving, also two good things. But unfortunately, more often than not I see the church’s peace stance used as an excuse to not discuss tough and painful subjects like sexualized violence and abuse. Rarely do people want to be the one to upset the fruit basket. Rarely do women want to be seen as angry.

That’s where I come along.

After warily watching this topic get somewhat addressed in different congregations and committees, only to be brushed off the table into a pile of outdated information unavailable to others, I decided it was time to take a stance and stick to it. So often women’s stories of sexualized violence are lost and that’s a big problem for our church. I was done being politely angry, and I began asking questions: Where do these women’s stories go? How are these stories being reported when they’re told? How does the church actively deal with the abuse? Where are the women’s voices in all this?  What about boys and men who face abuse?

These questions led to the June 5, 2012, launch of Our Stories Untold, a blog dedicated to documenting stories of sexualized violence within the Mennonite church. These stories certainly exist. But because women (and men) so often feel the pressure to bite their tongues around these topics due to shame, vulnerability, or fear in exposing themselves, stories get lost.

Currently the mission of Our Stories Untold is not only to tell stories of sexualized violence within the church, but to also bring general awareness about this issue. Created as a safe and open space to discuss sexualized violence, this blog includes articles on personal experience, reflection, discussion, sex positivity, and current events dealing with abuse and religious institutions in our world, written both by myself and guest contributors. The website also includes a resource page for further information on sexual abuse in the church, as well as a stories page with an anonymous form for survivors to share their personal experiences.

Launching the blog, I was blown away by the abundance of emails and messages I received from women and men in the Mennonite community. One woman who attended a Mennonite college in the 1980’s wrote to me about her unfortunate experience in reporting her rape. “The more they questioned me, the more confused I felt. Still, I was sticking to what little of my story I could remember. They turned up the heat: Was I sure? Did I want to ruin the lives of two innocent boys forever? Why was I doing this to them? Was it because one of them was black? At some point I finally broke. I said I must have been mistaken.Her story documents the unfortunate habit of institutions to participate in victim-blaming and shaming while turning a blind eye to rape and sexualized violence, something I witnessed first-hand while attending a Mennonite college.

My goal is for Our Stories Untold to grow as resource. Currently I’m in the process of getting it non-profit status so it can not only be a website and resource, but so I can also become a public speaker about abuse and sexualized violence, creating awareness for this important topic. Also, long-term I hope for Our Stories Untold to expand as retreats for women who have experienced gendered abuse in any form. These retreats would be an attempt to create safe spaces for story-telling, where women can experience spirituality and God as a part of them – as one with the Divine – rather than outside of them. Through working through gendered abuses they can learn self-love, build a relationship with themselves and create holistic healing rather than raw anger or suppression of emotion.

For now I welcome you to visit Our Stories Untold and share your support. Guest writers are always welcome to contribute relevant articles on the topic. I also invite women and men who have experienced sexualized violence and abuse to share their stories, anonymously or not. It’s vital that survivor’s stories are shared so more people can understand this problem and help eradicate it from our churches and communities.

Mennonite Church USA is experiencing staff transition and currently no one is available to moderate comments. In the interest of promoting healthy and helpful conversation on our blog, comments will be disabled until someone is able to devote the necessary attention to this area of our work. We appreciate your patience as we work to fill this staff position.