There is the question
of bearing witness, of being yourself seen
by yourself, & seen clearly, cleanly,
without weapon or bible in hand;
as this was the wish,
the sturdy & not-so-secret wish
of those who named us—
This past summer, I found myself in a church meeting surrounded by eight other congregants, the head pastors, their wives, and a church elder. We had asked for a meeting to discuss a recent high-profile court case in our community, in which a prominent youth leader at a sister church was being tried for a felony sexual crime against one of the girls who was under his leadership.
Though the crime occurred fifteen years prior, the trial was sending stormy waves throughout the entire church community. The perpetrator had been involved in a few churches over many years, as well as Young Life. The impact of his actions could not be neatly contained. The judge sentenced the offender to thirty-five years in prison, with a minimum of ten served, which validated the severity of a situation that the church had dealt with quietly and internally. At the final sentencing, the judge stated, “Looking at the way the community responded, I cannot help but wonder: does anyone care about sexual assault?” His words are still ringing in my ears.
At the onset of 2017, I did not expect to attend this trial, and I did not anticipate doing rigorous reading about the role of women in the church. A friend of mine nudged me to take a deeper look at these issues, and as I did, the veil came off. As I studied and prayed, the interpretation of scripture handed to me by male church leaders during my formative years was crumbling. Things I’d accepted at face value were no longer holding up. I’ve found myself wondering, at what point is the Bible consciously or unconsciously used to isolate and oppress human beings? At what point do the models and principles taught in church run in opposition to Jesus himself?
As I sat before my church leaders during our meeting this summer, I pleaded that they consider the far-reaching devastation of sexual abuse within the church. I asked them to ponder how an environment of all-male elders and pastors impacts women in their congregation. I was weeping and wondering how the hell I’d gotten involved in this. But I knew the answer. I knew the hearts of my female friends who’ve experienced abuse and sexism in the church, many of their stories still unspoken. I felt that female pastoral leadership could offer healing and respite for all women, particularly victims, who don’t feel safe bringing their story to a male leader. I could not keep silent.
I’m a person who cares deeply about the stories of others, especially those who don’t have a platform to speak, those who have been oppressed or marginalized in some way.
I care about the stories that don’t belong, the stories that no one wants to listen to. I love intimacy, simplicity, silence, and creating spaces where all people feel welcome at the table. I just don’t know if my church is a place where these values ultimately have significance.
I find myself in a weird season, going through some sort of a spiritual identity crises, a sense of spiritual homelessness. I currently have more questions than I do answers. The church has never been without its broken beauty, but what happens when the walls of the church feel more strangling than they do safe?
What happens when the more we feel we belong to Jesus, the less we feel we belong in the institutional church?
I find myself standing in the wilderness right now, seeking some solitude. It’s barebones out here–not many places to hide, not a lot of shade. I’m staring my own compulsions in the face. But it turns out that Jesus dwells in the wilderness as well, and it’s somehow easier for me to get to know him in all this spaciousness. I can see myself more cleanly and clearly in his presence. There are poets and prophets and artists out here too, a lot of mentally-compromised folk like myself, rebels who wander around in the margins. We are as prickly as the desert plants, always thirsty, getting dusty as our roots dig deeply for water that satisfies.
I’m in weird company, but I feel like I belong.
Libby Kurz holds a BS in Nursing and an MFA in Creative Writing. Her work has been published in The Poet’s Billow, Relief Journal, Driftwood Press, and Literary Mama. A veteran of the US Air Force Nurse Corps, she now resides on the coast of Virginia with her family. When she’s not reading, writing, and keeping tabs on her three kids, she works as registered nurse and teaches poetry workshops. She is passionate about a good cup of coffee, bumming on the beach, and finding meaning in the ordinary moments of life. You can find her at www.libbykurz.com.