#ChurchToo: Three Changes We Must Make Now

by Beth Backes

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An 8-year-old girl with long braids bounces into her Sunday School room wearing her favorite yellow dress, never imagining the terrifying experience about to unfold. The roaming hands of a man she trusted, her teacher, touch her in ways that leave her stunned and afraid, even while the man’s wife is in the same room teaching other children. The girl swallows hard, blinking back tears. Whom should she tell? Would anyone believe her?

A teenage girl accepts a ride home from a man who sexually assaults her in the car. The man is her youth pastor. People in the church adore him. If she told, wouldn’t it mean she was ruining a promising ministry? Would God be mad at her?

Two young ministry leaders are dating, and he makes sexual advances. She resists, but he will not stop. Rape is such a strong word, she thinks. The devastated woman doesn’t know whom to tell that a leader on staff date-raped her.

A lead pastor counseling a vulnerable woman gropes her during a session in his office. He was her trusted pastor, a seemingly safe shepherd, the last man she believed would harm her. Night after night, she struggles to find sleep on a pillow wet with her tears. To whom could she possibly turn now?

In the fall of 2017, news stories about prominent, influential men facing accusations of sexual assault sent shock waves through the nation. The sad truth is this: What made headlines in Hollywood and beyond happens in church, too.

The Startling Reality

Within 24 hours of #MeToo emerging as a viral hashtag for victims of sexual assault, more than 4.7 million women (and some men) had added their voices to the thread. For many, it was the first time they publicly declared their painful experience. In the aftermath, dozens of men lost positions of power as their courageous victims brought to light their dark secrets.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18 percent of women in the U.S. have experienced rape, and nearly 6 percent have experienced some other form of sexual violence.

In a 2017 national poll by Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, 6 in 10 women voters surveyed said they had experienced sexual harassment. Nearly 70 percent of victims said the harassment happened at work.

For clarity, the Civil Rights act of 1964 defines sexual harassment this way: “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment.”

Sexual abuse in any form is fundamentally about power. Because church systems operate with some level of hierarchy, there is a high risk of leaders abusing that power over those they serve.

Ed Stetzer tweeted about the #MeToo movement: “This isn’t just a Hollywood problem, a politics problem, a church problem, or even an American problem; it’s a people problem.”

Unfortunately, sexual misconduct is prevalent in every segment of our society, and the Church is not immune.

Only 32 percent of sexual assaults are reported to the police, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice. Because churches cultivate a culture of obedience to authority, it is perhaps even less likely that victims will report an incident that occurs within the walls of a church. While statistics about sexual harassment and abuse in church are scarce, the reality is our churches are prime places for sexual misconduct to occur.

As a response to the #MeToo movement, many women of faith have rallied to bring awareness to the problem that often remains hidden in our churches. Many victims hear that they should simply forgive their abusers. Such a mentality lets violators off the hook rather than holding them accountable for their actions. This is neither scriptural nor acceptable.

Authors and activists Belinda Bauman and Lisa Sharon Harper created #SilenceIsNotSpiritual and gathered thousands of signatures with a statement that reads in part: “This moment in history is ours to steward. We are calling churches ... to end the silence and stop all participation in violence against women. We call our pastors, our elders, and our parishioners who have been silent to speak up and stand up for all who experience abuse. There is no institution with greater capacity to create protected spaces for healing and restoration for survivors, as well as confession, repentance and rehabilitation for perpetrators.”

As a movement, how will the Assemblies of God steward this moment?

Breaking the Code of Silence

Recent events have broken the code of silence that previously protected perpetrators and kept victims hidden in shame. What was once taboo to talk about in public is now out in the open. Victims feel empowered to speak up, which means predators cannot depend on them to stay silent. As church leaders, we must decide how we will respond to the #ChurchToo situation. It is time to act.

We must ask ourselves the tough questions:

• What is my church’s responsibility to acknowledge this issue?
• What can I do to ensure my church is a safe place for everyone, especially for women and children?
• How can I provide adequate pastoral care for the #MeToo victims who attend my church?
• What can we do to stop perpetrators and help bring them to justice?

It is time for the Church to A.C.T. This acronym highlights three changes we must make now.

A: Acknowledge the Problem

The pages of Scripture unearth the roots of sexual sin: unbridled lust, selfishness, a grasping for power and control. The Bible doesn’t cover up the sexual depravity of individuals like Reuben, David, Amnon and Solomon.

The adage rings true that we are only as sick as our secrets. We need a cultural shift that starts with our leadership opening their eyes to this issue. The Church must respond to this tidal wave of evil and pain with the heart of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.

How did Jesus respond to issues of sexual misconduct? When He met an adulterous woman, Jesus reacted unexpectedly with compassion, breaking cultural norms.

You may have noticed that the crowd held only the woman accountable in this situation. Even though they caught the couple “in the act” (John 8:4), it was the woman they threw at the feet of Jesus for punishment. That pattern has remained over time.

Many women of faith have rallied to bring awareness to the problem that often remains hidden in our churches.

Unfortunately, when women report men for sexual harassment or assault, people often blame the victims for sending mixed signals or dressing inappropriately. Frequently, the ones passing judgment are men, who also happen to hold the majority of leadership positions in our churches. These responses are both unbiblical and unacceptable.

The idea that women are to blame when violated perpetuates a culture that has fostered misogynistic behavior far too long. When Jesus told the angry crowd of religious leaders they had permission to cast the first stone only if they were without sin, He set a precedent for having compassion for the marginalized victims of sexual improprieties.

Among the recorded cases of minister dismissals in the Assemblies of God in 2016, more than half involved male pastors engaging in sexual impropriety. These realities should serve as a catalyst for church leaders to take preventative measures.

Jesus told us in Luke 5:31 that “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” The Church should be a safe place to offer help and hope for those struggling with sexual brokenness.

Sexual sin is at the core of the systemic problem we are facing. Unhealthy sexual behaviors are real struggles that historically have not been safe topics to talk about in church. Churches proactively tackling this issue could prevent destructive abuse before it occurs.

For example, the Barna Group reports that even though pornography use is at epidemic rates, 93 percent of pastors admitted not having adequate ministries in place to help those who are struggling. There is evidence of a link between online porn addictions and sexual crimes against women. Addressing the root of sexual brokenness is a crucial step for the Church.

In response to this need, hundreds of churches across the nation are now offering programs like Pure Desire that offer help for those with issues of sexual brokenness. Having support systems and ministries in place that address these problems is a proactive step every church should take if we are to experience a cultural shift.

Acknowledging that sexual assault and sexual harassment permeate our society and that victims (and possibly perpetrators) of these abuses are present in your congregation is the first step in leading transformative change.

C: Create Safe Environments

Many states across the nation are passing legislation to protect women in the workplace. Most state and federal institutions require mandatory training to prevent and respond to sexual assault and harassment issues. It’s crucial to recognize that policies precede cultural change.

Every ministry should create policies and procedures to ensure the safety of each person the church serves. Often, churches safeguard children but overlook protecting women. Here are a few basic policies every church should have in place:

• Sexual harassment training for all staff and volunteers
• Designated reporting policies and steps to respond to allegations
• Victims’ advocates who have the training to receive reports of sexual assault
• Counseling resources and referrals for victims of sexual abuse
• Policies that provide clear consequences for perpetrators
• Balanced teaching from the pulpit that encourages healthy sexuality and emphasizes the ethical treatment of women
• The establishment of healthy boundaries: windows in every office, video cameras on campus, social media policies, third-person policies (i.e., policies stating that two people shouldn’t be alone in private places such as cars or closed rooms without windows), etc.

Remember that your local district/network office is a valuable resource. Staff members can provide counsel and support to churches needing to develop or enforce sexual harassment policies. If your church is working through these issues, reach out to your local leadership for assistance.

T: Take Care of Victims

Too often the victims of sexual misconduct suffer in silence. Once you deal with a perpetrator, it is easy to neglect caring for those who now face the challenge of walking the long road toward healing. Victims of sexual crimes often feel shame and suffer from depression and isolation.

Pastors should designate trusted leaders to serve as advocates so women know where to turn when they need help. How can your church provide healing for victims? Offering a small support group is a great option for many churches. Be sure the leaders are trained and qualified to minister to sexual abuse victims.

Every church should maintain a list of professional counselors to whom you can refer those needing to take that necessary step toward healing. Places like the Allender Center can also provide training for staff to help equip them to minister to those suffering from trauma. Taking care of victims is the responsibility of the Church as we seek to bring healing to the wounded.

My #ChurchToo Experience

I’m an ordained AG minister who has worked in the Church my entire adult life. I’ve been a church planter and served for more than a decade in network/district leadership. Yet the Church I love has also been a place of deep pain.

I was that innocent little girl with braids who walked into Sunday School class and encountered a pedophile. When I finally told my parents, the church elders reluctantly told the perpetrator he could no longer attend the church — sadly, a decision that was short-lived.

My abuser was a well-respected man who had literally helped build the church with his bare hands. Everyone loved him and could not grasp the reality that he was capable of harming a child. After I broke the silence, other women in the church who had attended his Sunday School class came forward to share similar stories.

While the church initially asked him to leave, he soon returned, about the time my family moved to another town. I read his obituary recently that stated he was a lifelong member of that church when he died. I cannot help but wonder: Were there other #MeToo victims of this man in subsequent years?

I lived through a #ChurchToo experience and know a multitude of women who have suffered through sexual assault by men in spiritual authority. Tragically, those we trust to lead and guide us sometimes turn out to be the “ferocious wolves” Jesus warns us about in Matthew 7:15. It compounds the damage when the people we turn to for help fail to act with biblical conviction and common sense.

The time is now for us to act. We must model courageous leadership and stand on behalf of generations of women who are depending on the leaders in our churches to protect and care for them. Each of us is accountable to steward this significant moment in history with wisdom.

As a ministry leader and a #ChurchToo survivor, I implore us to live out Proverbs 31:8-9: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice” (NLT).

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2018 edition of Influence magazine.

Voices from the Margins

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“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
Dinos Christianopoulos

We are living in a time of breathtaking reversals. When it comes to power and privilege and voice, the laws of social and cultural gravity are being defied.

We’ve watched a line-up of over 150 former USA gymnasts face the man who got away with sexually abusing them for years. They didn’t simply whisper their stories behind closed doors. They spoke them into a microphone before a battery of media cameras and a watching world. After years of being silenced by adults more concerned about avoiding scandal and protecting a colleague and an organization, these young women emerged to voice their stories and claim the justice that for years they were denied.

What kind of internal fortitude did that take?

Their actions not only resulted in a conviction, they’ve raised significant awareness of sexual abuse, of the terrible cost of refusing to take young complainants seriously, and of the tendency of adults in responsible positions to protect the abuser and bury the matter.

After yet another mass school shooting, the politicians, government officials, and religious leaders weren’t the ones who grabbed the bullhorn and roared “Enough is enough!” to demand action. No, it was Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students on the receiving end of those bullets who lost best friends and a beloved teacher and coaches.

How many cycles of this have we been through where “thoughts and prayers” start sounding like excuses instead of the prelude to meaningful action. So now a band of determined, articulate teenagers are on the warpath for change and they are getting results. Already major corporations, like Dick’s Sporting Goods, Wal-Mart, Delta, Hertz, Enterprise, and Avis, are voluntarily tightening their gun policies and dropping their affiliation with the NRA.

Author Jim Wallis captured this momentous reversal when he wrote, “Social change always comes when the next generation decides to no longer accept what the last generation accepted.”

Then, of course, a stunning litany of women, once bullied, threatened, and intimidated into silence, rose up to voice sexual allegations against men of enormous power and prestige. The credibility and cumulative testimonies of these women proved more effective than anyone imagined. They brought to a crashing end the ability of some of the biggest names in Hollywood, media, politics, and technology to avoid any consequences for their misbehavior.

Their stories unleashed a flood of #MeToo tweets bringing to light a disturbing epidemic of sexual harassment and abuse held underground for decades. This isn’t confined to Hollywood. A flood of #ChurchToo tweets revealed that sexual abuse happens inside the church, which ought to be a sanctuary. By going public with their stories, these women have triggered a sea change in how seriously organizations take allegations and address incidents of sexual misconduct.

Disrupting the Status Quo

Cultural dynamics we’re witnessing today—as women, the young, the weak, vulnerable, oppressed, and powerless break their silence and overthrow the diminishing cultural expectations imposed on them—is a pattern that shows up in the ancient book of Ruth.

Contrary to romantic interpretations, the story of Ruth was a #MeToo story waiting to happen. Only things turn out differently for Ruth because Boaz, a man of considerable power, doesn’t use his power and privilege for himself. Instead, he employs them sacrificially to empower Ruth and ensure her initiatives on Naomi’s behalf succeed.

The book of Ruth records a moment in time when, against insurmountable cultural odds, a young undocumented female immigrant whose cultural status is firmly cemented in the margins, overthrows the silence, vulnerability, and powerlessness that systemic patriarchy imposes on her and finds her voice. She refuses to allow the risk of shame and failure, or her utter powerlessness to stand in her way. Too much is at stake. Patriarchy may deprive women of voice, agency, and legal rights, but she will claim all three anyway. Her bold initiatives with Boaz bring explosive insight into what it means to live as God’s child in this world and completely disrupt the status quo.

What continues to amaze me is just how often God reaches into the margins and chooses someone whose voice has been silenced, someone no one believes, a person everyone counts out—to blindside everyone with the force of their influence and effectiveness in putting things right in his world.

Within this brief story, God is making some of the boldest counter-cultural value statements about women that we have on record. The fact that the story takes place within a full-fledged patriarchal culture makes those statements all the more astonishing. Furthermore this brief Old Testament narrative also contains some of the most radical value statements that we have regarding men.[1] God is no protector of the status quo and he is not limited to the powerful and privileged to move his purposes forward. All of us stand to benefit by absorbing this message. It’s what we’re witnessing today.

The book of Ruth is a breathtaking reversal where the laws of social and cultural gravity are being defied. It is a hope-filled image bearer phenomenon that is happening today too. And we should not be surprised to see more of it.

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Used with permission. First published on Carolyn Custis James website. 
To read the full story, see Finding God in the Margins (Released Feb 24)

The Truly Global Sisterhood of #SilenceIsNotSpiritual

By Lynne Hybels

  "Women are the greatest untapped resource in the world. We have so much good to give. So much change to bring. So much power in our hands."

"Women are the greatest untapped resource in the world. We have so much good to give. So much change to bring. So much power in our hands."

In the early nineties, I stood in a refugee center in the former Yugoslavia, a country destroyed by the bitter hatred that fueled the Balkan War. I listened, heartsick, to stories of mass rapes of hundreds of Bosnian women by Serbian soldiers. Like the world, I was stunned and horrified by what had happened in Bosnia. 

A decade later I sat in a village church in the Democratic Republic of Congo where Congolese mothers and young girls—one after the next—described the day they were brutally raped and left for dead by rebel soldiers. Realizing it was cheaper to rape a woman than waste a bullet, Congo’s fighters perfected the art of sexual violence. They used it more viciously and at a greater scale than at any other time and place in history—and they’re still using it.

More recently, I sat in the office of an NGO in Dohuk, Iraq, listening in a paralysis of shock to a young mother who had just been rescued from ISIS. In slow, flat tones she told of the horrors of eighteen months as a sex slave. When she could stand it no longer, she tried to escape; as punishment, her captors killed her three young children. Horror upon horror. 

Mothers. Sisters. Aunts. Daughters. Friends. Grandmothers and little girls.

Bleeding in body and soul. 

Their suffering captured me. In 2016, as a founding member of One Million Thumbprints, I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise awareness and funds for women in the warzones.

Recognizing that women throughout the world are disproportionately impacted by all the great global tragedies, I’ve long believed that women need to be disproportionately engaged on the solution side. We need to live—really and truly and daily—as part of a great global sisterhood. Those in a position to do so need to extend mercy, fight systemic injustice, work to change cultural attitudes, pray, raise funds for transforming initiatives. And, of course, we need to speak up against the perverted preaching and patriarchy that too often fuels abuses. 

I’ve often said that women are the greatest untapped resource in the world. We have so much good to give! So much change to bring! So much power in our hands! 

But all too often, we are an untapped resource. For too many women of my generation—and maybe yours—nobody told us we had all that power in our hands. Nobody told us we were destined to be change-bringers. Nobody told us we were filled with goodness just waiting to be given. 

Nobody called us to rise to a worthy challenge. 

Maybe I’m wrong, but I think #SilenceIsNotSpiritual might be that worthy challenge for many of us. It might be the call we need to join the global sisterhood. And I don’t just mean “global” in the sense of “on the other side of the globe.” I mean the kind of global that starts wherever we are, wherever we experience violation of our body or soul, wherever we see a sister experience the violation of her body or soul.   

In a sense, I’ve been quite involved in that global sisterhood. I’ve spent lots of time on airplanes heading for places where women were suffering.

But in recent years, I’ve been convicted about something. I’ve been chastised by the Spirit, jabbed by a sense of holy dis-ease, convinced of something amiss in my life. 

It’s this: I’ve bypassed the part of global that’s closer to home. 

For years I got on planes because I could and I knew that many women couldn’t. I had the money, time and freedom to engage internationally, so I felt a responsibility to do so. I’m glad I did that and I’ll continue to as I’m able. But it was incomplete. It left something unsettled rattling around in my mind and soul. 

In the #SilenceIsNotSpiritual statement, that unsettled thing settled into place when I read these words:

At the intersection of racial and gender violence women of color bear the disproportionate burden. 43.7 percent of African American/black women, 37.1 percent of Hispanic/Latina women, and 19.6 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander women have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner. Native American women are most likely of all women to experience violence in their lifetime (84 percent) and on some reservations they are murdered at 10x the national average. Finally, when disability, gender identification and social stigma is considered, rates of violence increase dramatically for all people.

As a wealthy white woman, I have paid attention to global manifestations of violence against women that wealthy white women—and some women of color—can pay attention to. I’ve not paid attention to the manifestations of violence against women that many women of color are forced to pay attention to day in and day out. #SilenceIsNotSpiritual has helped me to see that, and to see that I have much to learn. 

The power of #SilenceIsNotSpiritual is that it is not just a white woman’s statement or a white woman’s movement. I am deeply grateful to Lisa Sharon Harper and Freedom Road and to the many women of color who poured their wisdom, their expertise and their holy anger into this initiative. 

December 21 was a day of prayer and fasting for me. For the last five months, I have joined Bread for the World’s monthly day of prayer and fasting for the hungry and vulnerable in our country and the world. You can read why I fast and pray on the 21st of each month here.

But on December 21, my prayer had an added focus. I prayed specifically for women of color in the cities and rural towns and reservations of the US, whose souls and bodies are bleeding right now, whose pain seems overwhelming, whose healing seems impossible. For too long I have ignored their voices, I have ignored them in my advocacy, and I have ignored them in my prayers. I sat in the quiet of yesterday’s prayer grieved and chastised by that realization. 

In the days to come, my prayer will also include all those who sign the #SilenceIsNotSpiritual statement. May the Spirit show each of us the few or many words of the statement that we need to claim in a particular way—for conviction, for motivation, for affirmation, for healing. May the work that only God can do be done in you and me as we embrace the truths of #SilenceIsNotSpiritual.    

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Lynne Hybels is a writer, speaker and activist who is engaged in ministry partnerships in Africa and the Middle East. She is co-founder of One Million Thumbprints, an international movement of women raising awareness and funds for victims of war in Syria/Iraq, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. A version of this article first appeared on her website and is used with permission. You can follow her on Twitter @lynnehybels.

 

Women Speak Up in #SilenceIsNotSpiritual Campaign

By Kate Shellnut, Christianity Today.

  Lisa Sharon Harper, founder and president of Freedom Road and co-creator of #SilenceIsNotSpiritual.  (Photo courtesy of Freedom Road.)

Lisa Sharon Harper, founder and president of Freedom Road and co-creator of #SilenceIsNotSpiritual. (Photo courtesy of Freedom Road.)

In 2017, many evangelical women joined the #MeToo and #ChurchToo campaigns to draw attention to the prevalence of abuse. Now they’re looking for churches to step up.

A new campaign called #SilenceIsNotSpiritual calls on evangelical congregations and leaders to speak up and act on behalf of victims of gender-based violence, who fear their stories will end up ignored or marginalized.

The campaign—organized by Belinda Bauman, One Million Thumbprints founder, and Lisa Sharon Harper, whose Freedom Road convened the recent Ruby Woo Pilgrimage—launched Wednesday morning with the backing of 140 prominent Christian women, including Lynne Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church, Ann Voskamp, and Jen Hatmaker. Within hours, it gathered 1,000 signatures.

“This moment in history is ours to steward. We are calling churches, particularly those in our stream of the Christian faith [evangelical churches], to end the silence and stop all participation in violence against women,” the statement reads.

The assumption that inside the church these issues are not as prevalent as outside actually belies a mistaken view of the church, that the church is separate from the world,” says Lisa Sharon Harper. “It’s not. We are Jesus-followers who live in the world and come to church.

“We call our pastors, our elders, and our parishioners who have been silent to speak up and stand up for all who experience abuse. There is no institution with greater capacity to create protected spaces for healing and restoration for survivors, as well as confession, repentance and rehabilitation for perpetrators.”

“Count me in! Because there is no doubt in my mind on this matter that #SilenceIsNotSpiritual!” tweeted Bible teacher Beth Moore (who has shared that she suffered sexual abuse as a child).

Read the rest of the article here.

Female Leaders Call on Church to Speak Out on Violence Against Women

Emily McFarlan Miller, Religion New Service

 Belinda Bauman of One Million Thumbprints, who came up with the idea for #SilenceIsNotSpiritual. 

Belinda Bauman of One Million Thumbprints, who came up with the idea for #SilenceIsNotSpiritual. 

(RNS) — More than 140 evangelical Christian women from across the political and theological spectrums have signed onto a statement calling churches to end the silence around violence against women and the church’s participation in it.

The statement, released Wednesday (Dec. 20), is accompanied by the hashtag #SilenceIsNotSpiritual and is part of a campaign that will run through Easter on April 1, 2018.

As for the church: “There is no institution with greater capacity to create protected spaces for healing and restoration for survivors, as well as confession, repentance and rehabilitation for perpetrators,” the statement reads.

Signers include pastors, professors, heads of parachurch organizations and popular authors and speakers such as Jen Hatmaker, Rachel Held Evans, Ann Voskamp, Amena Brown and Helen Lee.

The idea for the campaign calling evangelical churches to respond to physical, sexual and psychological violence against women came from Belinda Bauman of One Million Thumbprints, according to Lisa Sharon Harper of Freedom Road, who helped launch the #SilenceIsNotSpiritual campaign.

It follows the #ChurchToo movement — which, its creators are careful to note — grew out of #MeToo, a Twitter hashtag women have used to share their stories of sexual harassment and assault. #MeToo was started by social activist Tarana Burke and went viral this fall, as women in great numbers began to use the hashtag. By the thousands, they accused ordinary people — mostly men —  but also famous people in politics, entertainment, journalism and other fields.

Read the rest of the article here.