Dec4Mon#ChurchToo tweets are trending, because sexual abuse occurs in religious settings December 4, 2017
What should our response be to #MeTOO and #ChurchTOO?
My initial reaction to #MeTOO, was to cheer these brave people on for finding their voice and bringing their secrets out in the open. My sentiments were shared by many, for comment after comment encouraged the brave souls to speak up. I did comment, and unfortunately I did receive one response challenging me not to believe what the person viewed as FAKE NEWS.
When the #ChurchTOO hashtags starting surfacing these past few weeks, while heartbreaking, the volume of the postings did not surprise me, as many of our clients are churches and I have heard my share of stories of abuse within faith communities. In some way my defenses went up as I love the church, and realize that the church is not a building but a people. It became more personal for me. I believe the stories. Churches are as vulnerable to abuse and harassment as any other segment of our society, including Hollywood and politics.
Part of me would like to quickly respond and ask if the abuse was disclosed to church leaders so they would appropriately report and respond to the abuse, requiring the accused to step down from their position of leadership and/or ministry until his/her name has been cleared by law enforcement and official investigators. But, as you continue to read tweet after tweet, and post after post, you realize that in many situations the abuse was disclosed, and church leadership ignored the victim, forced them to forgive, swept the abuse under the carpet or did nothing.
What should our response be to #ChurchTOO and #MeTOO? These seven steps are a good place to begin.
1. Be a learner and take time to read through the posts and hear the voices of those that have been harm, abused, harassed and violated.
2. Grieve on behalf of these precious individuals the harm that was done to them, the physical, emotional and spiritual scars that they have endured and, the innocence that was robbed from them.
3. Don’t be quick to respond with empty words, such as “No church is perfect!”, “Have you forgiven the person who harmed you?”, “Are you working towards reconciliation?”, “I’ve always thought you would attract men!”
The last thing a victim of abuse needs to do is go right back into the environment that hurt them in the first place. If someone has been attacked by a dog, would you tell them to go back and risk getting bitten again? Christians who insist on reconciliation in the face of abuse are forgetting one important thing: abusers/perpetrators can’t always be reasoned with. There has been an imbalance of power, authority, influence and control. Not only is it dangerous to ask a victim to make amends with their abusers, it also puts an undue burden of responsibility on the victim to come up with a solution. It’s like saying, “They’re the ones who hurt you, but now it’s your job to make it right.”
4. If you have time to connect with them in person, give them your unhurried time and ear. The greatest gift we can give to a victim-survivor of abuse is our presence and our listening ear. Some may not wish to talk and share their story with you. However, many victim-survivors do want to have someone listen to them, and to hear you whisper the words, or comment “I believe you!”, “I am so sorry that this happened to you!” Listen without talking back right away, and not rushing to trying to edit or interpret their story, or fix the situation. To receive someone’s story is to receive them. Being too quick to come up with solutions and to fix things for them continues to rob the individual of their voice and power.
5. Make a difference. As you advocate for change within your organizations and churches, you can be the difference you wish to see in the world. As we raise the bar on protection, hopefully we will make a difference for the next generation. I believe that as we read and hear these lived experiences, it will help us respond with greater care.
6. Show them welcome. As mentioned earlier, the church is not a building but a people. As a person of faith, I believe when we have friends who are hurting because they’ve suffered at the hands of the church, we need to be a much better representative of the church to them: apologizing where we’ve wronged them. So many victim-survivors of abuse refuse to come to a church or to attend a Bible Study, etc. Show them welcome at the dinner table, your child’s birthday parties, the shower you’re throwing for your pregnant friend. Even if they decline every invitation, just knowing that we, the church, hold out open arms makes the world of difference to a hurting friend, and one day, they may just say yes.
7. Show them Jesus. Probably what breaks my heart the most is that when abuse has been done under the guise of religion and the church, it has been justified as God sanctioned. If an individual has been abused within a church context this so often becomes their view of God. Their understanding of God has been warped and distorted. The prophet Isaiah spoke tenderly of the coming Messiah this way: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” (Isaiah 42:3) The life and actions of Jesus demonstrated that he cared deeply for the oppressed. He is our example of how to care for others. We too need to tread carefully around the bruised and smoldering lest we break or snuff them. “What would Jesus do?”, our bracelets ask. Showing love, being patience and sharing a cup tea, will not solve all problems or heal all the hurts, but such love, shown to hurting individuals is surely what Christ wants from his Church. “This is how the world will know you are my disciples,” he said, “love one another.” (John 13:35)
Finally, whisper a prayer for healing and hope for victim-survivors and for church leaders to respond humbly to these posts.
Keep the conversations going. This abuse is a black mark on our history, but it can be transformed to be part of His Story which I believe brings beauty out of ashes.
For more information on the resources, tools and services of Plan to Protect® contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
If this topic is of interest to you, we would recommend you read Dale Ingraham’s book, Tear Down This Wall of Silence: Dealing with Sexual Abuse in our Churches available on our store.