There's a hash tag circulating right now that seems to surprise some people. I have had a few emails about it and about the potential repercussions as murmurs of sexual harrassment and abuse by respected Christian leaders is beginning to surface. God forbid the church have to endure another scandal!
I was surprised that there was a need for #churchtoo. I just assumed the #metoo included the church. I was sexually abused as a child by a very well respected church member. And have many other stories of inappropriate touching and unwelcome kisses from men in the church. My son made a comment during a conversation on this topic that one of the most revered people in the Old Testament, raped a woman and then killed her husband as part of his way of dealing with the crime. Read the story of King David for more. The history is there! A big question right now is how do we deal with people who have been accused of sexual abuse? For all those who want to see Kevin Spacey erased from movies, I thought Russell Smith addressed the tension well in the article Good art by bad people.
There was a time where I spoke at church women's retreats quite regularly. At one weekend I decided to share my story of being sexually abused. I told the organizers of the event what I had planned. The response I received was that it probably wouldn't connect with anyone in the group. I told my story and spent the rest of the weekend overwhelmed by the number of requests I received from women to talk. These women were abused by Christian school principals, clergy, elders, youth workers, fathers, uncles and grandfathers. The majority of the abusers worked in churches or other Christian organizations. Most of them were quite respected. Many of the victims were not believed when they shared their stories with trusted people in their faith communities. These are the women tweeting #churchtoo.
Consider this statistic taken from this article written in 2014:
"If approximately 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men have been sexually abused as children (an even more conservative statistic than that provided by Dr. Russell), this means that our churches are filled with abuse survivors. For example, a church of 200 members (100 women and 100 men) will have at least 41 child sexual abuse survivors…20.5% Yet, sexual abuse is still too seldom talked about inside our churches."
One very sincere pastor that I know created a YouTube video about it this week.
I started a response in the comments on the video and then I decided I would write my blog post about it today. Kevin Makins wondered how the church should respond. So Kevin, here's what I think:
1. The first thing is get your head out of the sand. (I really want to say get your head out of your ass but this is a post about the church.) This isn't a problem that exisits only within the Catholic church or some weird polygamous sect. It exists in YOUR church.
2. Don't just focus on the victims start to address the offenders. I think that the church is more open today to acknowledging that there is sexual abuse happening within their walls. Oprah's TV series Greenleaf is a very realistic look at the power structures in churches. I am surprised it hasn't created more dialogue. Churches like every organization want to look good. When things happen it is hushed up. People are shamed into not talking because that would be 'gossip'. Recognizing that men and women within your walls have been sexually abused is one thing. Recognizing that there are sexual predators sitting in your pews is another. They are there. Maybe on your elder's board. Maybe on your staff. #yourchurchtoo
3. Decide ahead of time how you want to address this issue in your community. What theological messages are you giving to victims and predators? What support is available?
4. Have safeguards in place but realize that isn't enough. Don't think safeguards like Plan to Protect cover it. Most victims are molested by a trusted person and molestors don't wear identification badges. And many of them would easily get pass Plan to Protect screening.
5. Talk about healthy sexuality. Stop talking about sex in patriarchal terms. You may not agree with all of this article but c'mon if you have been in the church for any length of time you've heard these. I remember a church in the US made news several years ago when the leadership suggested their married members have sex every day for 30 days. I could only imagine the horror many women and men felt.
I could go on about this topic. The bottom line is #churchtoo is a given. It's possible sexual abuse is even more prevalent in churches.