By Jenny Hodge
Last month in an article for Ethics Daily, Pam Durso wrote about her experience with the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements. Her call to action at the end was to push readers to make space for the voices of survivors. As a survivor and member of Baptist Women in Ministry and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Clergy Sexual Misconduct Task Force, I should jump at the chance to share . . . but I hesitate.
Telling my full story is scary and unimaginable at the moment. Too many worries prevent me from sharing. Will it hinder me from being hired one day? Could I be sued for sharing my truth? Would anyone actually believe me? These questions mean I do not write publicly about the painful experiences and keep them hidden.
I adore prose and narrative to convey and receive ideas, stories, and information. Yet, these literary tools feel too risky to use when describing my experiences with clergy sexual abuse. To write an entire blog post or article about my experiences does not seem like an option.
In an article for Psychology Today, Linda Andrews writes “…the abstract nature of poetry may make it easier to take a close look at painful experiences, which might feel too threatening to approach in a direct, literal manner.” Thus, survivors of abuse are encouraged to utilize poetry as a method of engaging hard experiences in order to work through, and possibly redeem, them.
I like poetry, but I would not say I am an experienced poet. However, a colleague introduced me to the power of a “Just Because…” poem, a poem structure so simple it allows words to find freedom to powerfully resonate within both the writer and reader.
A “Just Because” poem structure goes like this:
Something happened or is,
Doesn’t mean this,
Doesn’t mean this,
Doesn’t mean this,
It does mean this.
Amazingly, like Andrews described, I found writing poems about my experiences of clergy sexual abuse more accessible. My poems are:
I am a victim of clergy sexual abuse,
I am not damaged,
I am not at fault,
I am not another notch in your belt,
I am survivor learning how to thrive again.
My spirit is bruised,
Doesn’t mean my scars define me,
Doesn’t mean I’m wounded forever,
Doesn’t mean I won’t heal with time,
It means I’m finding my healing day by day.
I quit when the church didn’t believe me,
Doesn’t mean I lost,
Doesn’t mean you won,
Doesn’t mean you’re more valuable than me,
It means I choose to fight from neutral ground.
The act of writing the poems filled me with a sense of power and redemption. It is my story and I determine what it means. For survivors of clergy sexual abuse, this can be a powerful tool for us to not only share our stories, but an act of reclaiming who names us and our experiences.
Survivors of clergy sexual abuse, what are your “Just Because…” poems? Would you be willing to share your poems with the Clergy Sexual Misconduct Task Force? Hearing survivor stories, in any format, helps the Task Force best respond to the needs of survivors throughout Baptist life. It also helps shed a bright light on an issue that tends to be swept under the rug and ignored.
I know personally how scary sharing can be, but I trust the Task Force to hold my stories in confidence and with care. Any story or poem shared with the Task Force is kept confidential. We may ask permission to share your poem, and could share anonymously if you would prefer, but only after you have given your consent. If you have a poem to share, we would like to hear it. Poems can be emailed to either me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Pam Durso at email@example.com.
Will you join me in writing and sharing our stories and poems?
Jenny Hodge is the Executive Director of the Tidewater Youth Services Foundation in Hampton Roads, Virginia. Previously, she has served in multiple Baptist associations and congregations throughout Texas, Louisiana, and Virginia. She holds a Masters of Social Work and Masters of Divinity from Baylor University’s Diana Garland School of Social Work and George W. Truett Seminary. Currently, Jenny serves as a regional representative for CBF Virginia’s coordinating council and member of the Baptist Women in Ministry and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Clergy Sexual Misconduct Task Force.