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Why I'm taking Bruxy Cavey’s books off of my shelf
Bruxy Cavey, the disgraced megachurch Pastor of The Meeting House, which is a part of the Brethren In Christ, a conservative Anabaptist denomination in Canada, recently resigned after allegations of sexual abuse surfaced against him and were confirmed by a third-party investigator. Cavey’s church copied the investigator’s language and named Cavey’s actions as “clergy abuse of power” and “sexual harassment.” Cavey, in a defensive apology, merely named his misdeed as an extramarital affair. But since then, Bruxy has been arrested for sexual assault.
Cavey’s arrest clearly validates his victim’s claims against him, and that they were silenced in the process of the investigation. It validates the fact that Danielle Strickland, a pastor who served at Meeting House, but resigned shortly before the details of the report were made public. Cavey’s behaviors were abusive, and it is disappointing that it took the authorities to say as much, not the bodies that hold Cavey accountable.
Cavey’s actions are heinous and inexcusable. They are part of a greater problem in Christianity, in Evangelicalism, and in systems where charismatic pastors have no accountability. It would be easy to pin Cavey as the particularly evil one, but this evil is more widespread, even in The Meeting House, which has received 38 allegations of abuse since they hired a victim’s advocate. So while Cavey should be absolutely held accountable for his actions, while the individuals that survived his abuse must be heard and listened to, the work doesn’t end there.
This isn’t just the misdeed of an individual, it is rooted in the how we see our organizations, how power dwells in them, and even in the very theology that upholds our structures. Cavey’s theology and his actions cannot be separated. I understand the territory this causes me to venture into, so before I go on, allow me to posit this. It makes sense to me, in being as cautious as possible to victims of abuse and oppression, to throw out the theology and the books of people who have caused tremendous harm. That is an entirely appropriate posture to take, and though it is costly, listening the to the needs of victims is more important than a so-called marketplace of ideas. Jemar Tisby, when it comes to racism, says it this way:
“While there is value in learning about people who held racist views because of their historical importance, there is no imperative to hold up such people as positive examples. There may be other people—not perfect, but admirable—who would be more helpful to cite” (How To Fight Racism, 2021, 191).
“What does it look like to refuse to platform racists? On social media, refuse to retweet or repost them. If they have products for sale, refuse to buy them. If they are speaking at a conference, contract the organizers and bring the issue to their attention. If they refuse to make a change in the lineup, consider not going” (How To Fight Racism, 2021, 191-192).
Tisby’s approach prevents needless harm from happening, which is why our church made the decision to suspend our use of Hillsong songs in worship until repentance followed the allegations of abuse at the megachurch.
None of us are perfect, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use any of our thoughts. There are clearer examples than others here. We need to ask ourselves if the action of an individual was justified or made possible by their theology. Did Karl Barth write a theology that justified his mistress? Did Luther’s antisemitism influence his theology? Did Yoder’s ecclesiology justify his abuse? Did Jean Vanier’s authority and practice at L’Arche allow him to abuse women? Did Jonathan Edward’s theology lend itself to his enslavement of Black people? We can discern those things together, but erring on the side of caution makes some sense.
Some people will cite Moses as a murderer, David as a murderer and an adulterer, as reasons we can’t “cancel” people. Moses and David repented, and the harm they caused actually transformed their theology. For the unrepentant, we must discern. Certainly, in our traditions, we must repent of the misdeeds, but repentance alone, doesn’t change the fact that harm could be woven into our theology. That’s the work we need to do.
So whether we think that a person’s theology and their actions can or cannot be separated as a principle, I am applying a specific rationale here for a specific theologian. When it comes to Bruxy Cavey, his theology and his actions cannot be separated. Cavey wrote a book called “The End Of Religion,” and throughout the text, he not only is anti-Semitic when it comes to the Jewish scriptures, he throws out the entirety of the law (claiming that Jesus did this, erroneously), and suggests that we live into relating, instead of basing our lives on rule. Cavey proudly represents this on his very arm, where he mockingly has Leviticus 19:28 on his arm – “You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord.” Not only does that rule not apply to a Gentile like Bruxy, and his mockery of it is anti-Semitic, it demonstrates Bruxy’s disregard for ethics. He is above ethics and norms, just as his theology suggests.
It is not surprising then that he engaged in sexual assault. Anabaptist churches notoriously lack accountability and abuse can be ripe in them. I have experienced this myself. It is woven into our ecclesiology, and we must change and adopt ethics, if we are to prevent this in the future. I remember in our church my mentioning of pastoral ethics made one of our pastors express disgust at this idea. Our exceptionalism prevented us from accountability. The same exceptionalism informs the idea that we are above the rules.
Finally, fundamental to Cavey’s theology is not being “polarized” by the politics of the world. I’ve written a book on this matter, so I won’t prolong it, but it is this theology that renders us unable to take a clear side when it comes to oppressed and oppressors, between victims of abuse and their abusers. The Meeting House failed to do this, Cavey certainly did, and if we continue to platform Cavey’s theology, and internalize it, we’ll repeat the same mistake.
The key here isn’t to burn our books, but rather to unlearn what these people have taught us. I have to repent of how Yoder and Cavey, and other problematic abusers, have influenced me. This repentance and unlearning process is paramount to Christianity. If we can’t change and grow, we make a mockery of the God who endlessly forgives and pardons. Instead of defending ourselves and our influences, let us repent of the harm we’ve caused, and unlearn the theology and ideas that led to that harm.