breaking the silence

#WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft Show the Many Faces of Abuse

A woman walking on sand. Image courtesy Nikolay Bassov/

A woman walking on sand. Image courtesy Nikolay Bassov/

This week, the Baltimore Ravens terminated the contract of star runningback Ray Rice after video of Rice beating his then-fiancée Janay emerged online. Rice had previously been suspended for two games for the assault. With the release of the video, media scrutiny swiftly turned to his now-wife, speculating over why she would marry her abuser.

Beverly Gooden, a human resources manager and blogger, had a different response. Herself a survivor of domestic abuse, Gooden began tweeting of her own experiences, each one a vulnerable explanation: #WhyIStayed.

Gooden wrote, “I can't speak for Janay Rice, but I can speak for Beverly Gooden. Why did I stay? … Leaving was a process, not an event. And sometimes it takes awhile to navigate through the process. ...I hope those tweeting using #WhyIStayed find a voice, find love, find compassion, and find hope.” 

We would all do well to listen. Some of the most powerful tweets below.

Evangelicals Decry ‘Silence’ on Sexual Abuse

Church opens doors. Photo courtesy Ross Strachan/

Church opens doors. Photo courtesy Ross Strachan/

More than 1,200 people have signed an online petition decrying the “silence” and “inattention” of evangelical leaders to sexual abuse in their churches.

The statement was prompted by recent child abuse allegations against Sovereign Grace Ministries, an umbrella group of 80 Reformed evangelical churches based in Louisville, Ky.

“Recent allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up within a well known international ministry and subsequent public statements by several evangelical leaders have angered and distressed many, both inside and outside of the Church,” reads the three-page statement spearheaded by GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment).

“These events expose the troubling reality that, far too often, the Church’s instincts are no different than from those of many other institutions, responding to such allegations by moving to protect her structures rather than her children.”

'Here is the Steeple:' Church Leaders Take on Sexual Violence Within Their Walls

 'Here is the Steeple' hand game, Anita Patterson Peppers /

'Here is the Steeple' hand game, Anita Patterson Peppers /

A movement of lay advocates speaking out against sexual violence is gaining steam in the faith communities. But are similar efforts happening inside church doors?

When it comes to leading denominational conversations on sexual violence, clergy across traditions express twin reactions: encouragement over the protocols already in place and the efforts of fellow advocates; and frustration with a culture of silence around sexual violence in the church. Despite strikingly different experiences across denominations — and church by church — the clergy, church staff, and seminarians who spoke with Sojourners are in agreement that addressing this issue in one’s own house is complicated at every level.

The result: a loss of potential by the American church to be a leading and vibrant institution of radical vulnerability and transformative healing.

Breaking the Silence: The Growing Faith Movement to End Sexual Violence

Photo courtesy BEELDPHOTO /

A figure walks towards the light. Photo courtesy BEELDPHOTO /

Though the church remains stuck in a culture of silence on sexual abuse, advocates are steadily building the platforms for individual voices to change the narrative. The depth of reconciliation that plays out upon these platforms can be profound.

Rachel Halder, founder of Our Stories Untold — a blog that hosts stories from survivors of sexualized violence within the Mennonite church — has witnessed such moments happen in real time.

One of Halder’s first contributors was a woman who was prompted to break her silence after Todd Akin’s comments qualifying “legitimate rape.” By happenstance, the woman’s former dorm-mate, who decades ago witnessed the immediate aftermath of this assault, recognized herself in the survivor’s story.

Halder sat in disbelief as this dorm-mate came clean with her own years of shame and regret, expressing sorrow over lessons learned too late.

“I just saw this play out on my site, this overwhelming moment of reconciliation and restoration,” Halder said, who later helped the two women reconnect by email. “It was completely unanticipated ... they hadn’t seen each other in 20, 30 years. The healing process in these kinds of stories is really magical.”

In the Image of God: Sex, Power, and ‘Masculine Christianity’

A woman stands alone on the stairs. Photo courtesy Kati Neudert/

Most of us are too familiar with this story: an Upper Midwestern Baptist minister claims that “God made Christianity to have a masculine feel [and] ordained for the church a masculine ministry.” Or a Reformed Christian pastor mocks the appointment of the first female head of the Episcopal Church, comparing her to a “fluffy baby bunny rabbit.” Or a Southern Baptist megachurch pastor in California says physical abuse by one’s spouse is not a reason for divorce. Or numerous young evangelical ministers brag about their hot wives in tight leather pants.

Fewer of us are familiar with this story: Tamar is raped by her half-brother Amnon. Tamar protests her brother’s advances, citing the social code of Israel, his reputation, and her shame, to no avail. Their brother Absalom commands her to keep quiet, and their father, the great King David, turns a blind eye.

What do these contemporary statements above, delivered into cultural megaphones with conviction and certainty, have to do with the Old Testament rape and silencing of Tamar? The difficult answer is, quite a lot. The narrative dominance of these stories rests on power and control, which — whether intentional or not — speaks volumes about whom the church serves and what the church values.

'I Believe You:' The Silence and the Shame of Sexual Violence in Church

Young woman alone on stairs. Photo courtesy Kati Neudert/

Several years ago, Amee Paparella was an eager student at a state university in Ohio. A conservative Christian, she quickly signed up to join the campus ministry. What she found in the group surprised her.

“It was so misogynistic,” Paparella recalled. “My leaders perpetuated this hyper-masculinized idea of God as physically a man.”

Over the years, Paparella wrestled to reconcile this image of God with her own faith, often to the discomfort of her peers. But an incident of sexual abuse within the ministry proved the breaking point. When it was discovered that a young man had been abusing his female partner, also in the group, the campus minister and student leaders responded by encouraging the young woman to stand by her man and to pray with the other students for his healing.