EPISCOPALIANS in the United States are being urged to spend the 40 days of Lent examining the institutional Church’s record of failure in handling cases of sexual abuse, harassment, and exploitation.
In an open letter to churchgoers, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Most Revd Michael Curry, and the President of the House of Deputies, the Revd Gay Jennings, called for Ash Wednesday to be dedicated to examining the ways “in which we in the Church have failed to stand with women and other victims of abuse and harassment”.
The exploitation of women had been endemic in the Church for much longer than in Hollywood or journalism or industry, they wrote.
They asked Christians to make it part of their Lenten discipline to redouble their commitment to “be communities of safety that stand against the spiritual and physical violence of sexual exploitation and abuse”. Reflecting on the biblical story of the rape and exploitation of King David’s daughter Tamar, they described it as a “biblical story devoid of justice”.
The letter acknowledges the effect of widespread abuse scandals across the US — in the government and in the film and music industries, and elsewhere — and the Church’s own “sexism, misogyny, and misuse of power”.
“As our societies have been forced into fresh recognition that women in all walks of life have suffered unspoken trauma at the hands of male aggressors and harassers, we have become convinced that the Episcopal Church must work even harder to create a Church that is not simply safe, but holy, humane, and decent.
“We must commit to treating every person as a child of God, deserving of dignity and respect. We must also commit to ending the systemic sexism, misogyny, and misuse of power that plague the Church, just as they corrupt our culture, institutions, and governments.”
In a separate address to the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, Ms Jennings said that the abuse of women exposed by the #MeToo movement, in which women shared their stories of abuse and harassment on social media, was woven into the Church’s own sacred stories, such as that of Tamar, and in its “patriarchal religious practices”.
She said: “We cannot distance ourselves from the culture of exploitation that so many women are coming together to resist, because those problems have been endemic in our culture in the Church for far longer than Hollywood, or tech culture, or corporate journalism have existed.”
She announced that the next General Convention of the Episcopal Church would be asked to discuss these issues, “to hear the voice of the wider Church as we determine how to proceed in both atoning for the Church’s past and shaping a more just future”.