The #MeToo social media campaign to raise awareness of sexual harassment gave Emily Joy the courage to share her own story of sexual abuse in church.
"When I was 16, I was groomed for abuse by a man in his early 30s who was a youth leader in my evangelical megachurch ... in Illinois," Joy said. "There wasn’t an understanding of consent or any sex education. The adults punished me for that rather than realizing this is a predatory situation."
Ten years later, one tweet by Joy prompted thousands on social media to share their own stories of sexual abuse in church settings. The reaction caused Joy and her friend Hannah Paasch to create #ChurchToo. The movement has given Joy the opportunity to speak out at colleges and churches across the country. Joy will speak at Hiram College on April 24 about the hashtag that went viral and theology and sex in conservative Christian churches.
In the wake of actress Alyssa Milano’s #MeToo movement after the Harvey Weinstein scandal, "we were inspired by all these women in Hollywood and Washington," Joy said. "We have our own stories of abuse, but we both grew up in conservative Christian environments. Sexual abuse happens everywhere, but there are specific facts and contributors in these conservative spaces."
Once Joy posted her story on Twitter, "there were other women who started responding to it like something like this happened to me, too. Hannah and I said, ‘I think we need to compile these stories and figure out how to respond to it’."
They created #ChurchToo. It went viral overnight.
"We woke up the next morning and there were thousands of tweets," Joy said. "In 48 hours, it was on Time, Teen Vogue. It blew up."
Sexual abuse has been taking place in churches for decades. What’s changed is women, and men, are now speaking out against it. It was a struggle of emotions seeing all the people who have experienced sexual abuse in the church and kept it hidden until now, Joy said.
"Hannah and I have been having these conversations for years about sexual abuse in the Christian church," Joy said. "I knew all of these people were out there. It was really sad and really powerful to bring this stuff to light."
The movement recently caused Andy Savage, the pastor who disclosed his decades-old assault on a teen in his former youth group at a megachurch in Memphis, to resign.
"It’s working," Joy said. "You can get stuff done by making a fuss about it on the internet. They got him to resign. It would have been every other story where the abusive pastor gets to stay in power, but instead we blew it up on the internet and he resigned."
Joy was homeschooled and earned a degree in theology from Moody Bible Institute. She’s an activist and blogger on her website emilyjoypoetry.com. When she’s not participating in internet activism, Joy teaches and practices yoga in Nashville.
At her event at Hiram College, Joy will speak about the #ChurchToo movement, share spoken word poetry and engage in a question and answer session.
To register for the event, go to portageafterpurity.eventbrite.com.