Are We Afraid of #ChurchToo?

In case you just woke up from a two-year coma, there’s this thing going on called #MeToo, an international movement against sexual harassment and assault. It’s got its own Wikipedia page now, which explains how “Me Too” was first introduced in 2006 but popularized as a hashtag in 2017 following allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein that he harassed and assaulted multiple women.

Since then, not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of women have shared their #MeToo stories, and I’ve both written about it and discussed it with my fellow podcasters on Sex Chat for Christian Wives.

But lest we think the problem is with Hollywood or Washington, D.C. or just secular culture itself, consider how this movement has reached down into our churches and revealed heartbreaking stories of the mistreatment and abuse of women.

Hashtags like #ChurchToo and #SilenceIsNotSpiritual have allowed women to share their stories of being harassed or assaulted by men who were supposed to be acting as their brothers in Christ. Dozens of men, at the highest levels, have been accused, many with convincing evidence or testimony.

It’s been heartbreaking to see that not only have we failed in this area, but we’re late to the party, so to speak. Why isn’t the Church forefront on the issue of respectful treatment of women?

Why isn't the Church forefront on the issue of respectful treatment of women? #ChurchToo Click To Tweet

We have example after example in the Bible of women receiving privileges uncommon for the time they lived, and our Messiah, Jesus Christ, repeatedly modeled how much he valued women.

Now I can envision someone immediately sliding this discussion into one of gender roles in the Church. But that’s not really what I’m talking about. Indeed, I’m not “egalitarian” — rather, I believe God specially tasked men to lead in their churches and homes. But we don’t need to debate that issue for us all to agree that mistreatment, harassment, and abuse of His children is against God’s will.

Our Lord is a champion for the oppressed: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18).

But we have done a poor job of standing up for people who have experienced oppression by other Church members. What stops us from acting as God clearly wants us to act? What keeps up from holding harassers, assaulters, and abusers responsible for their actions? Are we afraid of the #ChurchToo movement?

I think some are. Fear is the only explanation I can think of the unconscionable silence and suppression we’ve seen in some church circles.

Fear of Weakening Our Witness

What if people find out that some who appeared to be upstanding Christians actually mistreated fellow sisters in Christ? Will they reject the message because its messengers are flawed?

Leaders who told victims to stay silent about their abuse or mistreatment often suggested that the good of the Church itself or the Gospel of Christ outweighed the damage done to an individual.

Look, I’ve seen firsthand that when a prominent minister is ruined, some congregants do indeed go out the door. But what we rarely acknowledge is the number of believers who quietly slip out year after year because their safety and wellbeing were not given the value they deserved. A number of people would still be in church but for our inaction in the face of their mistreatment.

Instead, let’s remember this:

Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God. (Psalm 146:3-5)

For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (1 Corinthians 3:4-7)

Let God take care of His Church, and let’s do all we can to take care of His people.

Let God take care of His Church, and let's do all we can to take care of His people. #ChurchToo Click To Tweet

Fear of Ruining Related Lives

Let’s say a minister sexually harassed women, abused someone, or encouraged suppression of truth, and that’s bad — but if he’s hit with a scandal, what happens to his wife and kids? Don’t we owe it to them to keep their lives from being ruined? I’ve heard this reasoning as well, and I get it. It can come from a place of compassion … but also fear.

And we’re fearful of something happening that’s already happened. This person already violated his marriage vows, let down his family and parishioners, and/or discarded Christian ethics. It’s a done deal — by the perpetrator. Whether we recognize it or not, it’s still there and impacting the people in his circle. Indeed, many times when bad news comes to light, those around finally have an explanation for something they sensed was wrong long before.

Now, of course we can handle the situation very poorly. (I’ve seen that too!) But in those cases, it’s not the truth itself that does damage, but rather us caring more for gossip or judgmentalism or some other non-Christian approach. We can aim for the right thing and go about it in the wrong way. But how we aim for the right thing, the right way? Seeking truth and justice, while showing Christ’s compassion to all those affected by the truth — that was going to come out someday, somehow. Wouldn’t it be better for the family to have a Christ-like community to fall back on?

For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open” (Luke 8:17).

Fear of Finding Out Who We Really Are

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Anyone who’s been in the Christian faith for long knows this verse and likely has it memorized. We share it one another to remind ourselves that we all need a savior, the Lord Jesus. And sure, we buy it — that we are sinners. Thus, we talk about sin and repentance, but what happens when we are really faced with the sins of someone in our congregation? We become very uncomfortable.

Admitting that someone we trusted was abusing power and hurting people means that we were fooled at best and complicit at worst. Moreover, what if we peel back the layers and find more terrible stuff underneath — by this person or others in our church? What if looking deeper shows us that we aren’t who we thought we were?

King David’s son Amnon raped his sister Tamar, David’s own daughter. 1 Samuel 13:21 says, “When King David heard all this, he was furious.” But you know what David did? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. David didn’t want to acknowledge the poison in his own family, the person his own son had become. And it cost both his family and his kingdom greatly, with ruined and lost lives.

If we don’t look deeper, we don’t have a chance to save victims and change oppressors. We don’t let God do His greatest work of redeeming people.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:8-11).

Why am I talking about all of this now? Likely because of recent events regarding upcoming he Southern Baptist Convention. I’m not Baptist, but I hardly believe that their denomination is alone in having issues with the treatment of women. The movement isn’t #BaptistToo, it’s #ChurchToo.

And even those who aren’t in leadership need to decide where we stand. When we hear or read credible accusations against a church leader, what’s our gut reaction? Do we recoil in fear, encourage silence, remain with the status quo? Or do we value all individuals involved, seek out the truth, and pursue righteousness and justice?

I for one am 100% ready to defend the Church on its core message, regardless of what the world thinks — including my ongoing commitment to sharing God’s perfect design for sex in marriage. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes!” (Romans 1:15). But I will not defend oppressors, no matter who they are. “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5).

But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

(Amos 5:24).

14 thoughts on “Are We Afraid of #ChurchToo?

  1. Terry

    “Why isn’t the Church forefront on the issue of respectful treatment of women?”

    Amen and bravo.

    Reply
  2. Sheila Gregoire

    Very well said, J.

    I think there may be another reason we’re not willing to speak up: in North America, too often we idolize leaders. And you look at the leader, and they’ve got this amazing ministry, and a wife, and perfect children, and we look at the victim, and often they come from not a great family (that’s why they were targeted in the first place), they have a string of broken relationships themselves (often the result of being abused), and they don’t look as put together.

    And we know the leader. We don’t know the victim.

    So there’s this propensity to just believe the leader. Combine that with our celebrity culture in many churches, where the leaders are almost worshiped themselves, and we get in a whole mess of trouble.

    Then, add that to the vibe in many Christian circles that blames women if men lust–and, again, we’re letting the leader off the hook.

    It really needs to stop. It’s disgusting. And it’s THAT that gives Christ a bad witness–not the abuse itself. People are smart enough to know that abuse happens everywhere. What they really care about is how we deal with it when it’s discovered!

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      I love this: “People are smart enough to know that abuse happens everywhere. What they really care about is how we deal with it when it’s discovered!” Amen!

      Reply
  3. Ashley

    People in the church usually don’t want their comfortable boat rocked. That’s been my experience. Let’s pretend things aren’t there, and maybe they will go away.

    Reply
  4. Ray

    I can see the potential for an another dynamic at play here too. As a church leader, to learn that one of your number has been accused of being an abuser, however appalled you may be, it’s legitimately your role to consider the possible impact to the church of all possible courses of action. It would be so very easy to justify “quietly handling” a potential abuse scandal that you worry will not only look bad in its own right, but which will justifiably undermine the confidence of faithful church members in the whole of church leadership.

    As a leader, it is likely that not a day goes by in which you do not make at least one decision that is influenced by the need to maintain the confidence of those whom you lead. Church members often hold leaders to impossibly high standards, sometimes even inventing “higher laws” by which to judge them. It is likely that, as a church leader, you have made many, many personal sacrifices because of this. And that you consider it to be a cost worth paying.

    All of which would create a church leadership composed of individuals who have both grown accustomed to fearing how even the smallest actions will look to the church membership, and who are accustomed to sacrificing their own desires for the good of the ministry. In their earnest deliberation, such leaders could easily assign too great a weight to the cost to the church (and possibly the cost of the “collateral damage” to you and your family) of publicly addressing an abuse scandal, and too little a weight to the cost to the abused individual of not publicly addressing it.

    I am not arguing that it is right; clearly it is not. But it’s very understandable. And it’s likely another factor in the mishandling of abuse within the church.

    Reply
    1. Terry

      Ray, I know you don’t advocate the approach you’re describing, but I would add that dealing with an abuse case within the church need not be public to be effective. Jesus outlined the appropriate way to handle sin within the church: One person confronts the perpetrator privately, and if he refuses to confess or repent, two or three people then confront him. If he repents, then “quietly handling” the issue may well be the appropriate course. Only if he still refuses to deal with the issue (if accusations are believed to be true) is it brought before the church as a whole. In this case, it’s not the pastor’s or the elder board’s decision to “rock the boat” or upset the church, but the abuser’s by forcing the issue to go public.

      Of course if the abuser is a church leader, it would be difficult for him to quietly resign without anyone noticing (yet inappropriate for him to remain in office). But Jesus didn’t lay out two different courses of church discipline, one for the leaders and one for the laypeople. The lead pastor at the church I grew up in resigned after 12 years when it was discovered that he was having an affair with another staff member. The impact to the congregation was not insignificant, but God still had a plan.

      The main “danger” now becomes false accusation, in which the level of discipline escalates because the accused denies that any abuse happened, because it really didn’t. These cases are likely by far in the minority, but for this and other reasons it seems a good church “policy” that individuals of the opposite sex who are not married are never alone together, even for counseling. Our church isn’t ultra-legalistic on physical contact or general interactions between genders, but this is one policy we’ve adopted that makes sense. If there’s no opportunity, there’s no place for either abuse or accusation.

      Reply
  5. Doug

    Unfortunately, these legitimate concerns are very often used by satan to exploit the enhanced emotional nature of women in order to provoke a response that is ultimately rebellion against God. We see this evidenced in the numerous blogs run specifically by women devoted to obliterating the rule of man in the name of equality. This was the tatic of satan from the very beginning in his approach of Eve. We must be careful. Our response should be to see that these wicked expressions of male leadership are punished, all the while upholding righteous rule.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Okay, but just because the Black Panthers were violent doesn’t mean one should not have supported Civil Rights in the 1960s. Likewise, let’s not assume the fringe elements need to be fought here as much as the main problem itself: mistreatment of our fellow sisters (and brothers) in Christ. One could also make a case that Satan is all too happy to make us fear the outliers and thus make no major progress on the sinful abuse of power itself.

      Reply
  6. mepharisee

    This tragedy of potential evil lurks in every church. Like a school shooting things need to be done both now, for the immediate security of the flock, & for the future to make church a place where this sin is kept out or at least to a bare minimum. But, my question is this, are we, the church, willing to do everything in our power to solve this? Not only this but every problem, big or small. Most Christians would say, yes. But…

    It seems, we would do anything for Love, but we won’t do that…

    Are we willing to look at John 17:20 &21 as a major cure to most all of the churches problems?

    John 17:20-21 (ESV) “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

    We can play Fox News politics til the cows come home & hope we clean up our local church issues to be a proper church. Yet, we have been a divided church since the Apostle John died. Satan is said to have been working on our division even before that.

    How will this cure sexual or gender abuse? By ushering God unto our hurt by submitting to Him. The last part of the passage says if we unite the world will believe. That is the power of God working in our unity to do what we cannot do ourselves in our divisions. I wonder if God desires another security structure in our local body or does He desire that we have one salvation message. Because right now we are so confusing that the world has little faith in us. My church teaches immersion baptism as essential for salvation. How many would say that is wrong? There is the rub.

    I could be off my rocker, but didn’t Israel, in the OT get exiled for division? That division allowing false idols in God’s Temple, allowing places of false worship, & temples to false Gods? We divide on baptism. We divide on what saves us. That’s of utmost importance. Then we have a myriad of other sins we divide on. We reap what we sow. Israel reaped the exile. We are reaping abuse, a dying church, & a nation of corruption.

    I’m just thinking we need God in our issues. He is the cure to our sin. Abuses, divorces, sexual issues, etc. The list goes on & on. How ONE is God & Jesus? That’s how ONE we are to be. By that passage above, God shows up BIG in our unity. Nothing else. We get what we get without it.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      I tend to think if we’d stop bickering with each other and unite on spreading the Gospel, we’d make a lot more headway.

      Reply
  7. Pingback: Why Abuse in the Church Makes Me Crazy | Hot, Holy & Humorous

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