A memoir offers extensive reportage of a sexual assault and a reflection on the author’s future course and evolving faith.
Everhart (Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land, 2012) has been a Presbyterian pastor for more than 25 years. Being raped as a young woman sparked a bitter faith crisis and a long journey toward healing and the ministry. One night in November 1978, two masked African-American gunmen broke into the home she and five other female Calvin College seniors shared in a rough area of Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was ostensibly a robbery, but they also raped all but one hostage. Mini explanatory flashbacks give background about Everhart’s upbringing in the conservative Dutch Reformed Church and her unfamiliarity with blacks; rather than breaking up the narrative flow, these sections maintain tension throughout the incident. Admirably, the book faces ironies and grim realities head-on: when one gunman ordered her to strip, Everhart sucked in her stomach; she was menstruating heavily, so hospital staff administering a rape kit had to remove two tampons. She’d been raised to accept the Calvinist doctrine of God’s sovereignty, meaning nothing is random: was rape her punishment for having consensual sex during her summer job at Yellowstone? “I had bought into an idea of sexual sin that was unequal,” she remarks, with heavier punishment falling on women. This notion of being “ruined,” which intensified after her affair with a married man, haunted the author for years, even after the crime’s ringleader was sentenced to life in prison. Only gradually, through attending multiracial and women-led churches of other denominations, did she overcome her fear of African-American men and reclaim the possibility of biblical feminism. Incorporating trial documents (including transcripts of the prosecutor’s closing argument and a defendant’s and judge’s court statements) and an excerpted seminary essay, the perfectly balanced volume has equal relevance for readers of true crime and progressive theology. This consistently riveting book ends with Everhart’s tender letter to her daughters, reassuring them that a woman’s worth is not dictated by sexual experiences. “Love and suffering are tied together” through Christ’s incarnation, she insists, yet “we are all more than what happens to us.”
Forthright, compassionate, and expertly crafted—everything readers should want from a memoir.