by Rev. Julia Pferdehirt
PT ’17 Speaker
In October, 2017, Alyssa Milano, a film actress, took to social media to tell her story. She had been sexually harassed and then assaulted by Harvey Weinstein, a famous – now infamous – Hollywood powerbroker. And, she was no longer willing to stay silent
She knew other women had similar experiences. Threatened with job loss, physical violence, homelessness or even death, she knew other women had been forced to choose between unwanted sex and their own safety.
She invited women to say, “Me too” and tell stories long kept as painful, frightening secrets.
Twenty four hours later, 4.6 MILLION woman across the globe had responded #MeToo. 4.6 MILLION. A moment had become a movement.
My social media platforms were suddenly filled with women saying, #MeToo.
Many of their stories I had known. Years as a pastor and therapist meant I often sat with women as they told stories of power, control, abuse, violence, and trauma.
By the end of that week, my phone, texts and emails were swamped. Friends, acquaintances, former counseling clients and church members from my own city and from thousands of miles away connected.
I need to talk, women reached out. Memories I thought were healed are flooding back, they said. Suddenly I found myself doing safety assessments and trying to figure out how to contact mental health professionals in places I didn’t live – for women I hadn’t seen in years. Co-workers. Friends of friends. Colleagues of my daughters. Strangers. Whispered pleas. Tears in public places.
“Is it everybody?” one woman asked. “Did anybody escape?”
“I don’t know a single woman who hasn’t been abused,” said another.
A beloved friend in the Midwest drew together a long-dormant support group for survivors. After more than a decade, the women found each other again.
Another friend brought two others and huddled with me in the basement of my building. We shared and cried. Prayed and waited. We all knew we weren’t alone, yet wondered how to connect with all those women who, still living in silence and fear, believed they were.
As this unfolded a keen awareness felt like a splinter in my soul. The Church. Christians. My people. Were largely silent.
I began to use the hashtag #MeToo. I posted and sent group emails to friends. I shared and invited others to connect in my quarterly newsletter as a YWAM missionary. I approached some area churches asking if they would be open to me facilitating a “learning and listening” group for women affected by their own and others stories.
In response, the silence was deafening. Long-time evangelical friends who could not “like” photos of my cute grandkids enough times. Who loved my blogs and prayed regularly for my ministry with women in the Tenderloin. Folks whom I have loved for years. Suddenly, they were silent. Not a word. Not a private message. Silence.
One church leader informed me that “we teach our men how to treat women, so we don’t have that problem.” Then the leader added, “Beside, I don’t like those MeToo people. They’re a bunch of liberals.” Another stated, “Men are abused too, you know. This is some feminist thing.” Still another said, “Nothing good will come of this. You wait and see.”
Yet, I knew women wanted and needed to know they weren’t alone. What did Christians fear so much that silence and defense of men seemed to be the first response? How could this change?
Small glimmers of hope: The first church that opened its doors to a “learn and listen” group had 4 women sign up. And 24 actually came. Another church bravely scheduled groups for women, men and teenagers. Everyone was afraid. But everyone tried. Years of silence fell away. People supported and encouraged each other.
Out of that came an email from a creative, Bay-Area bunch of deep thinkers and change-makers: Passion Dialogues.
Could we collaborate to create a safe, brave space to help Christians, churches and church leaders re-think and re-frame their understanding of abuse, sexual assault, harassment, violence, and trauma in general and the #MeToo movement in particular? Could we come together to break the silence and stimulate deep thinking and change-making in this area?
Could we get together to BE the change we want to see in the Church? To take aim at fear with fearless truth-speaking.? To disarm silence with newly-found voices? To break the patterns of generations with a new vision for healing and change?
On Saturday, February 16, please join hundreds of other Bay-Area Christians, churches and church leaders at Convergence House of Prayer, 200 Hammon Avenue, Fremont, CA 94539 for a Passion Dialogues: From #MeToo to Restoration.
Join us to make change. Join us to listen and learn. Join us to refuse to be afraid and silent when courage and voices will help women and men find freedom.
Join us if you have a #MeToo story. Join us if that story isn’t yours, but belongs to someone you care about. Join us in speaking and sharing hope.