The purpose of this blog isn’t just to address women struggling with pornography, but really to change the conversation about women and sexuality in the church. How does grace impact our struggles and intersect with our wounds? How can the church immitate the love and grace of God while addressing things like sexual addiction, sexual identity, and sexual abuse?
Since I just finished up the series addressing porn in the church, I wanted to highlight a resource that addresses another issue in the church: Sexual abuse.
As a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of someone in my church, this is something I hold dear. I’ve written about it a couple times and have been very encouraged by the forward progress made in this area. Are we “there” yet? No. But we’re talking about “there” and that’s encouraging, even when there are set backs.
A couple years ago the Southern Baptist Convention suffered a sexual abuse scandal.
Sadly, that has resurfaced recently and the response to the scandal has itself become a scandal. But back when the news first broke, there seemed to be a great desire within the SBC for change and healing.
It probably helped that the news came after the well-known Larry Nassar trial. Once again the church was faced with its own humanity and power dynamics that tend to harbor abuse.
And it seems as if God had prepared a couple authors for such a time as this. Two I can think of and have followed for years are Anne Marie Miller (nee Jackson) and Mary DeMuth. Both penned books meant to serve as resources for a church confronted with its own brokenness.
Mary’s book, WeToo: How the Church Can Respond Redemptively to the Sexual Abuse Crisis, released in August 2019.
Anne’s book, Healing Together: A Guide to Supporting Sexual Abuse Survivors, released shortly after in October 2019.
This review is for WeToo by Mary DeMuth.
(I have also bought Anne’s book and look forward to reading it soon. You can read Anne’s story here.)
First, I have known Mary for years now. It’s a long story that involves writing retreats, castles, burn out, and crazy cheap plane tickets. We first met in 2017 at a writer’s intensive she was leading in Switzerland. I can’t say that I even knew who she was before finding out about that event and deciding to go. That intensive breathed life back into my writing journey.
I shared the outline for a book I wanted to write for women who struggle with pornography. Mary looked at me and said, “You need to write this book. It needs a platform.” So she prayed for that. Prayer is her thing. She has a podcast devoted to prayer. At the retreat, she prayed over me. Prayed for God to give me encouragement, an opportunity to get my book published, and also to give me a husband.
What she didn’t know is literally the week before, I had met the man who would become my husband. In fact, he texted me daily while I was in Switzerland. We got married less than a year later.
I’m getting a little off topic.
The point is, Mary, as an author, holds a dear place in my heart as a friend and mentor. I read her book Not Marked as part of my own journey of healing before marriage. I gifted her book Jesus Every Day to several family members a couple years back. Her book Outrageous Grace Every Day is sitting on my nightstand.
In a sweet turn of events, earlier this year, she became my literary agent, advocating in an official capacity for that book she believed in back in 2017. It’s my joy to announce that I recently signed a contract for that book with Baker Books.
So it’s my privilege to not only recommend this book but to confirm the heart behind it.
While many would say victims of sexual abuse are trying to profit off of their stories, I can assure you that isn’t Mary’s heart in writing this. Her heart is to help.
What I expected from WeToo
Knowing that this book was written essentially in response to the fallout within the Southern Baptist Convention, I fully anticipated this book to confront that head on. I knew it would be less a memoir and more of a gentle rebuke with some helpful, practical steps forward. Having read many of Mary’s books, I’m familiar with her story and her writing voice. She’s a gifted teacher with a heartbreaking past and heart for helping others find freedom and healing, even in the midst of her own journey for the same.
So, I expected this book to have a bit of her story and a lot of wisdom, especially for those in church leadership. I imagined it would be focused on the sexual abuse scandal and how power dynamics play into it. I assumed it would unpack the process of abuse and provide steps for how to identify and move forward.
What did I find in WeToo?
WeToo goes beyond what I imagined. It zooms out, if you will, addressing sexual abuse throughout church history and the dynamics that enable it. The book is divided into three sections.
In the first, Mary addresses the history of sexual abuse in the church. She touches on scandals in several different denominations, not just Southern Baptists. Also included is how the issue has been handled historically (hint: not well).
In the second section, “Interpreting the Present,” Mary calls out some of the factors that contribute to the continued issue of sexual abuse in the church. She doesn’t shy away from tough topics like pornography or the passivity of churches when it comes to this issue. It’s an honest reckoning for any church and addresses things like power dynamics and the tendency for churches and Christian ministries to circle the wagons to “protect their own.”
In the final section, she addresses how we move forward. Chapter 11 specifically is filled with practical steps and guidance provided by survivors themselves. I have to say, that is perhaps my favorite aspect of this book. I appreciate books that don’t just throw information at you but instead tell you what to do with it.
It could have been too easy to write a book condemning the sexual abuse scandal in the church and leaving it there. But WeToo goes beyond that by essentially reaching out to the church to advocate on behalf of sexual abuse victims.
Who would I recommend read WeToo?
I would classify WeToo as an advocacy book. That means I feel its primary audience would be people in leadership or other concerned members of Christian communities.
If you are a victim of sexual abuse yourself looking for help, this is not the book for you. This is the book you give your pastor while you go and pick up a copy of Not Marked.
Overall, I give it 4.5 stars, mostly because I’m stingy with my 5s. Honestly, the only thing I could fault this book for is all style. Some sections are dry, long, and/or choppy. That’s because the type of book required an academic/research approach instead of my personally preferred “storyteller” approach. I was never a fan of the history textbooks. So, again, it’s all style. The content is solid. In fact, I feel it should be required reading for anyone in seminary.
Pastors, I highly recommend this book for you. If you do read it, I recommend doing so with a teachable heart. Some of this stuff may be hard to read. You may feel challenged, but I know for a fact that the heart of this book is not to undermine or accuse. WeToo is a much-needed and timely challenge to the church to be the hands and feet of Christ and to speak up for and defend those who are victims.