Let There Be Light | Sojourners

Let There Be Light

When sexual abuse occurred in their church, Rev. Heidi Hankel and her congregation refused to let it stay hidden.
Rev. Heidi Hankel. Photo by Colin Lenton

DURING REV. HEIDI Hankel’s interview for the lead pastor position at Philadelphia’s Bethesda Presbyterian Church, she learned that one of the church’s deacons was under investigation by law enforcement for allegedly sexually abusing a member of the youth group. Hankel was later offered the job.

No one would blame even the bravest of pastors for turning it down, but fortunately for that small Presbyterian church, Hankel is a reverend who likes to hop down in the trenches to be with her parishioners. She was afraid, she said, but also propelled by her faith to address the violence openly and holistically. She took the job.

“I didn’t know if they would fire me,” said Hankel. “But I felt at least I could stand before God one day and say I handled this well.”

Hankel had a simple answer for why it is so important for church leaders to loudly and actively work to prevent and address abuse: “God isn’t silent. And if God isn’t silent, we as his body—his hands and feet—should not be silent.”

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