Tag Archives: sexual abuse in church

What to Do about Sexual Predators in the Church

Like many of you, my heart has been ripped apart and shredded over the recent stories of child sexual abuse by a subset of Catholic priests in Pennsylvania. While this latest report is so widespread that it sucks one’s breath away and makes righteous anger swell, it’s by no means the only story of church leaders taking advantage of their position to prey upon parishioners for the sake of their twisted sexual desires.

As someone who writes about embracing healthy and holy sexual intimacy, I contemplate how someone repeatedly abused by a church leader in this most vulnerable way can move toward healing. And how does their experience color their view of God?

While God is entirely opposed to such heinous acts, He has chosen through much of history to act through His people. Which is why these stories, of both Catholic and Protestant leaders preying sexually on adults and children, bother me most in the way they were handled by Christians who knew or should have known what was happening.

Did we support the victim? Did we demand accountability? Did we put into place boundaries that made acting on evil impulses more difficult, if not impossible? Did we oust those who would abuse God’s Church and embrace those whom Jesus would embrace?

Y’all, we have to do better.

If we want people to experience all the beauty of sexual intimacy that God intends for them to have and to have a relationship with Christ, they cannot be made pawns of cruel abusers. We must “learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed” (Isaiah 1:17).

So what should we do as a Church about the sexual predators among us?

1. Identify the perpetrators.

Yes, a number of leaders who abused parishioners have been finger-pointed, but I fear we have a long way to go. We need to know who these abusers are to deal with the problem.

The reason the Pennsylvania grand jury report included so many victims is that the state set up a hotline for people to call and report their abuse. Why can’t Church do the same?

All denominations and individual churches should have a policy about reporting abuse, including a hotline to call or a clickable button on a website that allows someone to send an email to a trusted individual representing the church. The person receiving these reports should have training in sex abuse prevention and response. Of course, reports of child abuse or sexual assault must then be reported to the proper authorities.

But we need to encourage reporting and following up on accusations. We should lead the way in pursuing truth and compassion. We need to make it as easy as possible for victims to identify the perpetrators and thus stop the abuse from happening again.

2. Support the victims.

Jeremiah 22:16 says: “‘He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the Lord.” Defending those who need defense is what it means to know God.

Too often, the Church has chosen to believe a leader over a victim, or simply placed leaders in such high regard that it can feel traitorous for a victim or victim’s family to come forward.

No matter how fabulous some preacher is or caring a priest seems to be, we cannot put those people on such a pedestal that evidence to the contrary will not be given consideration. We must keep an open door and an open mind and have resources to support those who have been abused within the Church.

Christian counselors, mentors, and support groups can help victims find healing and do so in a way that helps to preserve their faith. Churches should band together and create counseling centers, peer mentoring (see 2 Corinthians 1:3-4), and support groups led by well-trained leaders. We should keep a list of community and online resources that can also help, including law enforcement and non-profit organizations.

We should mourn with the victim and not push forgiveness of the abuser too quickly, as I’ve seen some churches do. That makes what happened about the abuser, not the abuse. There will be a time for forgiveness, but go read Psalms and see how many times David asks God to crush his oppressor. We must allow sexual abuse victims to have those same feelings — to grieve what happened to them.

3. Pursue justice.

It’s not enough to know the abuse happened or to help the victim(s); we have to hold the abusers accountable and stop the abuse from recurring.

When Simon the Sorcerer tried to purchase the power of the Holy Spirit from the apostles, Peter answered, “You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God” (Acts 8:21). Don’t we believe that sexual abuse is bad enough to warrant a similar response?

If someone uses the Lord’s church to prey on people, should they keep their position? Simply be moved to another position and retain their salary? Keep their retirement? Why? Why would we support that?

Can some abusers be helped? Changed? Redeemed? Yes, of course. But I don’t know anyone who experienced a transformation without confession, humility, and repentance. So if the abuser isn’t seeking help, they’re not likely to change — and we don’t owe them a place in ministry, or even our church.

Rather, we owe our congregants a safe place to learn, worship, and fellowship.

4. Embrace prevention practices.

We must open ourselves to the hard truth that the Church has at times allowed abuse to happen, even by such small acts as leaving adults alone with children when they shouldn’t have been.

I don’t know about other states, but Texas requires child workers to undergo Sexual Abuse Prevention Training, and that extends to week-long church camp staff. Thus, I’ve gone through the training for the last 4-5 years. It includes the statistic that more abusers are situational offenders, meaning they will offend if they see an opportunity. Since we cannot always know who might abuse, one goal of prevention is to provide no opportunity.

Churches can therefore enact such policies as:

  • having two adults present for youth and children activities
  • installing windows in all classroom and office doors
  • avoiding imbalance of power (like an adolescent left alone with a preschooler; sad to say, perhaps half of child abuse is committed by an adolescent)
  • conducting routine background checks of all staff and volunteers
  • requiring all staff and volunteers to undergo sex abuse prevention training
  • providing a clear set of steps to pursue if/when abuse is reported

We should be leading the way of best practices for protecting our members, especially children. As Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). We should do nothing that hinders our children from embracing the kingdom of God.

Honestly, the need for ministries like mine would be substantially less if the Church did a better job at handling sexuality in so many ways. But among all the things we struggle with, this is where my heart most breaks — where we have historically gotten things most wrong: We cannot allow the Church to be used by abusers as a gathering place for their victims. We have to fight sexual sin everywhere we find it, but most especially in our sanctuaries.

We cannot allow the Church to be used by abusers as a gathering place for their victims. We have to fight sexual sin everywhere we find it, but most especially in our sanctuaries. Click To Tweet

May God show us the way.

Why Abuse in the Church Makes Me Crazy

You want to know what breaks my heart and gets me angry at the same time? Abuse. That’s it: just abuse. Domestic abuse, sexual abuse, child abuse.

My stomach turns at the stories of what people have endured at the hands of their fellow human being, whether it’s a prisoner of war tortured by his captors or a vulnerable child preyed upon by a family member.

It’s what poet Robert Burns referred to as “man’s humanity to man,” in his poem Man Was Made to Mourn. Here’s just that stanza:

Many and sharp the num’rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves,
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And man, whose heav’n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn,
Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!

Yep. Truth.

But just when I think my heart cannot break any more from the pain and heartache some of my fellow sisters and brothers have experienced, something even more awful occurs: Some in the Church—my beloved family—allow and even accommodate abuse.

for such a time as this rally

Click to learn more about the rally

This is on my mind today as the Southern Baptist Convention convenes in Dallas. I know a lot of Southern Baptists, and by and large, they are great people with whom I can easily fellowship. However, they have been plagued in the last few years with issues regarding leaders who overlooked or tacitly condoned abuse (e.g., here, here, and here).

So today as the SBC meets, they will be greeted with the For Such a Time as This Rally, a protest organized by people concerned about the way women and abuse survivors have been treated by church leadership.

But let’s face it: This isn’t just the Baptists. I’ve heard such stories from other denominations, and they include such actions from church leaders as:

  • Telling a victim they must forgive their rapist or abuser immediately after the crime
  • Stating or insinuating that a victim’s dress or behavior caused their rape or abuse
  • Counseling an abused spouse to stay in a marriage; in particular, telling wives their response should be to “submit to your husband”
  • Advising that abuse be kept quiet so that we won’t hurt the abuser’s family or dilute our witness to others
  • Not reporting abuse to authorities, which is against the law in the US
  • Explaining away abuse incidents in a leader’s past and allowing them to continue serving
  • Not fully investigating abuse accusations against a leader because “I know him, and he’s a good man”

God has a heart for the oppressed, and His people should take up their cause with fervor!

God has a heart for the oppressed, and His people should take up their cause with fervor! #ChurchToo Click To Tweet

You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that mere earthly mortals
will never again strike terror” (Psalm 10:17-18).

Jesus quoted the book of Isaiah when He came into the synagogue:

“‘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,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

“Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.‘”

And as Psalm 9:9 says: “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” The Church should be the physical representation of that refuge.

This is a broken world, so evil people will continue to sin against their fellow humans. Man’s inhumanity to man will continue until Christ comes again and God delivers final judgment. Yet we have opportunities to be part of the problem or part of the solution.

Man's inhumanity to man will continue until Christ comes again and God delivers final judgment. Yet we have opportunities to be part of the problem or part of the solution. Click To Tweet

We are not all church leaders, but at some point in our lives, we will be faced with seeing or learning about the abuse of someone in our midst. How will we respond?

I haven’t always responded the way I wish I had. In my younger years, I sometimes felt helpless and ignorant about what to do. Which is why I want to encourage all of us to do better — to think clearly about this issue before it happens, to know which side we will stand on, to vow in our hearts and before our God that we will defend the oppressed.

But why is a Christian sex author talking so vehemently about this subject? Well, abuse has always made me crazy. But since taking on this ministry, I’ve heard from many women, and a few men, who were abused. Some as children, some by a spouse, some by a stranger.

All of them were deeply hurt by their experience, but what seems to have really made the difference between those who still feel the wounds and those for whom the wounds became scars is the response to what happened. Were they surrounded by support?

Now, of course the victim has a part in recognizing and reporting the abuse — that is, getting help — but once they come forward, the reactions of others matter a great deal in whether they will be able to find healing and hope.

As Christians, we should be the best at embracing the hurting among us. Because that’s exactly what Christ would do!

I cannot in good faith come here and talk about how to have a great sex life in your marriage without addressing that some have abuse in their past, or their present, that makes this nearly impossible. How can you open up your body to someone in the most vulnerable way possible when your body was damaged and discarded by an abuser? Yes, you can get there, but you must first address the abuse.

So here we are: With an opportunity to reach out to hurting people, to mourn with those who mourn, to be a refuge in the storm. When it’s our turn to stand up for the oppressed or look the other way, what choice will we make?

Speaker Fee Waived for 2018!

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).