The following letter from Conference Minister The Rev. Kent J. Siladi was sent to authorized ministers on Sept. 29, 2018:
I am keenly aware of the challenges that you face as a pastoral leader in these times. I am so grateful for your faithfulness to the Gospel and to the ways in which you seek to live the love and justice of Jesus.
This has quite frankly been a really hard week I know for so many of you. I am holding you in my prayers as together we face the collective pain of women (and men) who have suffered abuse at the hands of another. The wounds of those who have been subject to abuse run deep. They cut to the core of one’s being and impact relationships and how one views the world. Sometimes they are sublimated and other times they live just below the surface. At other times when abusive behaviors are made public and enter into society the memories flood in and people are in shock and traumatized all over again. I know that many of you have experienced abuse first hand which makes your role as pastor so hard and complicated.
This week I will be working with four pastors to develop a strategy and a response to violence in the midst of a systemic culture that for too long has ignored the voices of those who have suffered abuse, harassment and violence. We offered a forum a little over a year ago that was well attended by women with very few men in attendance. Those men who were present wanted to develop specific conversations and resources by those who identify as male. This is one response to an identified need in our Conference. We have work to do.
I am holding you in my prayers. For those of you who need support I would remind you of a resource that is available to you. The “Clergy Assistance Program” can be accessed through your Regional Minister who can give you details about the program. This is a confidential program of support. Talk with your trusted colleagues or pastor or therapist. Seek help and assistance. Please know that you are not alone.
Here are three resources among the many that I have found helpful. You might as well.
1. The General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, the Rev. John Dorhauer wrote these words on September 28th.
“America is in pain. People who have suffered sexual trauma, who have spent significant effort shielding themselves from public shame and humiliation, and who have sought healing from deep and festering wounds, are now compelled to tell their stories on very public and highly politicized stages.
Further contributing to the pain of those affected, our elected and other high profile leaders willingly filter the truth in order to expediently meet their personal or party-first ends. Political parties have grown completely intolerant of one another and push ideological narratives with little to no regard for the individuals who may be affected in the process, or for their mental health, personal truth, or our shared humanity. Those who have mustered the courage to tell their stories are true patriots, willing to face derision, shame, humiliation, and death threats in order to let the world know what the men they have elected or nominated are capable of. Anyone willing to make such a sacrifice for the collective good deserves to be heard, to be taken seriously, and to be met with our compassion and empathy. When women speak of what men seeking power have done, we should not let our political passions dictate what we hear and what we ignore.
In the most recent past we have witnessed an acceleration of women speaking their truth inside of and in spite of the threatening environments in which they find themselves. We have seen direct evidence of the kind of assault and abuse they have endured, yet repeatedly the men who have threatened them, abused them, told them to keep quiet, and dismissed them, remain in positions of power. This forces all of us to look away from what we know to be true and to indirectly become accepting of and complicit in unacceptable behavior.
Every time this happens, women are conditioned to remain silent. The message received is that the cost of their truth is too high and not one we are willing to pay. And, facing the truth about some men in power is simply not worth it, a situation greatly exacerbated when ideology or political partisanship is involved.
This is the message received by our children. It teaches boys at a young age that they can get away with a lot more than they might think and it teaches girls to keep quiet, and that unmasking a male abuser can come at great personal risk. At this present moment in history, we are watching this being played out on the public stage and some of our nation's most revered leaders are reinforcing this message, again and again.
I learned a long time ago how much courage it takes for a woman to break her silence. I learned as a pastoral counselor how critical it is for health and recovery that when a woman breaks her silence she be heard, trusted, and believed. Many women have been threatened by their abusers, and many times the threats come at a cost not only to them, but people they love. Women's silence is intended to protect them along with those they love. Threats are as real as the trauma of abuse. If, when women find the courage to speak, they are ignored, dismissed, ridiculed, or become targets of public rage, we retraumatize them and make far less likely they will ever speak up again.
America is in great pain.
Too many women are living in bodies that have been abused by men with power. Too many men are living in a world where their abuse of power is accepted, excused, and protected.
I don't doubt any woman, no matter how long it has taken to tell her story, when she speaks of her abuse and trauma.
I refuse to respect the authority of any man who has used his power to subdue a woman against her will.
I call upon people of faith to find their voices and speak out about the sexual abuse, trauma, and assault that has become far too common.
I call upon people of faith to find their voices and speak up in order to create a world where women who dare to tell their stories and break their silence are cared for, heard, and nurtured, and where the men who look to us to shame their victims do not get the audience they need to protect them.
I call upon men of faith, men in power, and men in political offices to adopt a position of radical and deep listening to the voices of those who experience our use and abuse of power as a threat.
These are important steps we must take to heal the wounds we have all had a hand in creating. Healing will not happen immediately, but we must begin immediately to act. Anything short of this guarantees the wound will fester and grow.
Be the Church. Believe. Listen. Teach. Heal.”
2. You may have seen that Sojourner’s Magazine published a resource that you might find helpful as well. It is a compilation of 100 sermons and you will recognize many of the pastors who have contributed. Two CTUCC pastors, the Rev. Kari Nicewander and the Rev. George Harris are among those who have made contributions: https://sojo.net/100sermons
3. In her newsletter to her church (First Congregational Woodstock) the Rev. Jocelyn Gardner Spencer writes:
“Then God created humankind in God’s image;
in the image of God, God created them;
male and female, God created them.”
— Genesis 1:27
It is a fundamental truth of our faith. It’s right there in the first chapter of the first book of the Bible. All of humanity is made in God’s own image, according to God’s likeness. All of humanity, both male and female (and everyone in between).
I have written other articles and essays based on this verse from Genesis, applying this essential truth to various ways we humans find to divide ourselves from one another and demonize people we perceive as different in some way. This month, unfortunately, it is relevant again.
As I write, the news is full of allegations and denials of sexual assault by a man nominated to the Supreme Court. As a pastor, as a woman, and as a human being, I am aware that many of you have stories of your own that may be triggered by these reports and the ways in which they are, or are not, taken seriously.
If current events are bringing up painful memories for you, please know this: I believe you. What happened to you matters, no matter how long ago it was or who was involved. I am praying for you. It was not your fault. I am here to listen. If you choose to tell your story, I support you. If you choose not to tell your story, I support you. You are made in God’s image, beautiful in God’s sight, and nothing anyone has done to you could ever change that.
Every human being is a beloved child of God. Our human bodies are expressions of God’s creativity and beauty. Sexual assault is never okay. It is never “not a big deal.” It is never “just something that happens.” It is never “boys will be boys.” It is never “she was asking for it.” It is a violation of God’s Beloved, and it causes terrible harm to those who experience it, as well as our families, our churches, our schools, our communities—and those who perpetrate it, too.
And yet, our faith teaches us that nothing can separate us from the love of God, and that no person is irredeemable, no matter what they may have done or what may have been done to them. If you are struggling with any aspect of these stories—processing something that happened to you, coming to grips with something you witnessed or a story you’ve been told, seeking forgiveness or making amends for something you did, supporting a loved one who is impacted in some way, trying to learn to do things differently than the examples you’ve been given—I am here to journey with you and seek God’s presence in the midst of it all. Please reach out. You are not alone.
As a society, we have enormous work to do, and I believe that our faith has much to offer. What would it be like if we approached all our relationships—sexual or otherwise—with reverence for the reflection of God’s image in the other person? What would it be like if we loved our neighbors as ourselves and prioritized the other person’s wholeness and wellbeing in our decisions? What would it be like if we treated every body as a temple, if we treated sexuality as a gift of God to be shared in whole, healthy, consensual ways, not as a tool by which to demonstrate power or achieve status? What would it be like if we empowered people of all genders to communicate clearly and openly about our desires, to say yes when we mean yes, and no when we mean no, and to respect our partners’ yeses and nos?
It is our call, as faithful people who affirm the belovedness of every one of God’s children, to teach our children (and our peers, and ourselves) about consent and to create a culture where everyone’s bodily integrity and human dignity are respected. It is our call to speak and act against the violation of any of our siblings in God’s family. It is our call to be gentle with each other and with ourselves, to handle with tender care the pain of untold trauma. It is our call to proclaim, over and over again, that every human being is made in God’s image, and to treat one another accordingly.
As you lead and as you find your way please know that the Conference staff is holding you in our prayers and stands ready to continue to find ways to provide resources and support on this critical issue of justice.