by Joy Melton
Joy is the author of the best selling series SAFE SANCTUARIES, Resources for Safer Churches published by Discipleship Resources
Over the past couple of decades, I’ve been called a lot of names: “Reverend”, “Sister”, “Mom”, “Mrs. Melton”, “The SAFE SANCTUARIES LADY”, “b****”, and then the one that was burned indelibly into my mind when it was hurled at me across a sanctuary full of hundreds of United Methodist clergy persons, “radical feminist, agent of the devil from that hell-hole Candler”. Yes, you read that right. “Radical feminist, agent of the devil. . .” And, by the way, I did not go to Candler School of Theology but am impressed with the top ranking which it maintains, a reputation far from a hell-hole.
I am Reverend Joy Melton. I am also mother, sister, wife, author, and attorney Joy Melton. I own all of those monikers and take full responsibility for each one. One or two of those titles are notorious feather-rufflers in some places so, depending on your raising, you might begin to see the genesis of the other names applied to me, like “b****” and “agent of the devil”.
People have strong feelings about lawyers. People, especially clergy who have guaranteed jobs, homes, health insurance, pensions, and unfettered access to the most vulnerable individuals in their congregations, tend to be on-guard around attorneys. When I was a law student, I expected that an ordained lawyer would mostly work on real estate issues for the church. No need to be insecure in the presence of a real estate lawyer, right? Well, my work hasn’t turned out to be focused on real estate. Before I had even graduated, my bishop sought my involvement at the conference as an advocate for victims of CLERGY SEXUAL MISCONDUCT and as a writer of the conference policy for clergy sexual ethics policy. I accepted the assignments, naively, expecting these would not be very demanding. This led to my involvement in many cases and to the writing of resources on how to set-up and maintain Safe Sanctuaries. Being a victim’s advocate has given me perspective which those hurling names at me don’t have. (I forgive them for their ignorant bliss.)
The depth of harm of sexual abuse that is perpetrated in the Church by clergy, against women, children, and vulnerable adults is staggering. I expect that at this point, some reading might be thinking “Yes, I know because I’m a victim of abuse within the church.” Or some might be thinking, “Men in power positions aren’t always the aggressor. There are cases of entrapment.” And, I expect some in the room with supervisory authority over the clergy are thinking, “I know these behaviors need to be stopped; but, I can’t really do anything about it.” Here’s the good news: We CAN make lasting changes to assure the church is a Safe Sanctuary. #ChurchTimesUp, #SafeSanctuaries
**NEXT WEEK: Moving on from identifying the problem to implementing a plan toward solution.