My name is Moira Finley. I am many things – a poet, a painter, someone who loves a good meal, a potentially crazy cat lady, a fan of all things Sherlock Holmes, someone who is mildly (ok, intensely) obsessed with Harry Potter, the pastor of two wonderful United Church of Christ (UCC) congregations, and a rape survivor.
I was raped when I was thirteen.
It has been twenty-eight years since the night that changed everything. Along the way I have been blessed to be surrounded by a great many people who have loved me when I didn’t feel loveable; who have held me together when I was falling apart; who have cried with me, laughed with me, tried to understand my anger, listened to my questions, and struggled with me to make sense of all that happened to me.
One of the most important, and most difficult, parts of my journey (and the journey of many survivors) has been wrestling with questions of faith. Where was G-d when I was raped? If G-d loves me, why didn’t G-d prevent it from happening? Can G-d still love me even though I’m tainted, broken, dirty? There are questions about suffering, grace, mercy, hope, forgiveness, and so much more.
My mother, and the church I grew up in, were wonderful about helping me wrestle with those questions, but I know many survivors are not so lucky. Their congregations, their pastors, their communities meet them with outdated and hurtful theologies, dangerous ideas about what is required to be a Christian, and have laid blame, and shame at the feet of survivors.
When I was ordained in the UCC I had high hopes that my own denomination might be a place where survivors could find space to share their stories, to be heard, honoured, and respected. After all, ours is a tradition of justice seeking, and peace making, advocating for those who have been marginalised, and lifting up the voices of those who have been silenced and oppressed.
Sadly, this has not been my experience. For the fourteen years since my ordination I have been trying to get the UCC, and the church in general, to open up a space for this conversation – to support survivors and advocate for change. I have been met with what feels like a firmly closed, and locked door.
Responses have ranged from the fairly mundane of “it’s private and personal” and “it will make people uncomfortable” to the genuinely hurtful “it’s not an important issue for the church”. I have received theological advice that was well intentioned, but seriously misguided including the platitudes about Jesus suffering, and that nonsense about G-d not giving us more than we can handle. I have been instructed that forgiveness, immediate and unconditional, is a requirement of the Christian faith, and that I shouldn’t be angry about what happened to me because it might upset others. I have been told that PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is stupid, that I should just get over it since it all happened a long time ago, that stuff like this happens to everyone and I should just accept it, and so much more.
But I am stubborn, or brave, or foolish, or more probably a combination of all three. I have refused to give up, to back down from my belief that the church is, and can be, a place where survivors can tell their stories; can receive love, encouragement, and support in their healing; and can find a way through their pain with faith.
It has been a trying, difficult time. There has been a lot of crying, some screaming, and a lot of wondering if I was on the right track, if this really mattered, if the work was worth it.
Then something started to happen. In the summer of 2014 my dear friend Bryan Sirchio and I wrote a song about my story. The song started to get shared. I got invited to be the speaker at a Take Back The Night event in Fond du Lac in April 2015 where, after my speech, Bryan and I performed the song. That video got shared some more. And then we reached the tipping point.
Our new Wisconsin Conference UCC minister has agreed to help me push open the door and Break The Silence Sunday was born.
We are working, first within the UCC in Wisconsin and eventually much broader, to create a Sunday when the church will, in worship
say the word rape, acknowledging the reality of rape in our world;
support and encourage survivors in their journey of healing;
and commit themselves to working for change.
It won’t be easy, or quick, but I believe it will be worth it because together we can help survivors know that, despite what happened to them, they are beloved children of G-d, and that the church stands with them, outraged at their experience, and working together towards a world where no one else ever has to live through such things.
This blog will be reflections from those helping to create this Sunday: crafting liturgy, writing sermons, sharing songs and hymns, offering prayers. There will also be writings (ramblings), poems, visual arts, music, and other things that help move us together towards a place of healing, wholeness, and hope.
So, welcome to The Revolution. I am grateful you are here.