Yes, It Might.
It’s been disturbing and it’s impacted my faith, especially as it pertains to the institution of the Church. The seeds of my faith journey were planted in Conservative Evangelicalism. And it’s in that faith tradition, the one in which I’ve grown, that we teach that men lead and women follow. It’s the tradition where the top church leadership is composed mostly of men. It’s where we are a taught that if men rise to their God-given design as leaders then women will be protected and flourish. It’s in that Church that there’s been way too much sexual abuse and WAY TO MUCH silence, from our male leaders, about that sexual abuse.
That’s why it meant so much to hear Mitch Little, tax attorney, and Lead Elder of Bent Tree speak on sexual abuse in the Church. He presented at the No More Silence conference hosted by Dallas Theological Seminary.
The focus of the event was on how church leaders should respond to reports of sexual abuse. The emphasis was on male elders and senior pastors which was disappointing in that half the audience were women who don’t hold those positions. It was also discouraging to scan the room of about 100 attendees (half women) and ponder who WASN’T in the room. That withstanding, there were nuggets to glean.
Before highlighting the whys, Mitch shared a hypothetical scenario where the elders mishandled a report of sexual abuse against the senior pastor. He followed up with a list of common problems when it comes to church leadership handling reported abuse.
Certain elders have a bias that they don’t believe women are telling the truth. (90% of reports of abuse are true, 10% are false)
The elder board has a problem with independence; they are too connected to the Pastor. They play golf, vacation together, etc.
The Senior pastor can play inference. He can approach the woman to “straighten out the misunderstanding.”
Image Management. There’s a strong need to do damage control verses shepherding the people involved.
Outside advice tends to protect the organization and re-victimize the victim.
Pastors and staff are not qualified to do internal investigations; they’re not investigators.
There is a lack of understanding of power and abuse.
Misuse of a human in your body. Nobody is listening to the victim.
As a woman in leadership I can attest, Mitch is pretty spot on. As I considered who was and WASN’T in the room my thoughts went to my observations and conversations. To ensure I was on track I proposed my thoughts to a few male church leaders. “Sammy, here are my observations as to why I think men have been silent during the #Churchtoo movement.”
They don’t think it’s a big deal. Women are making too much of it. (Eyes roll when it’s brought up.) Many just are waiting for this to blow over so we can move on.
Many of them struggle with their sexual sins and don’t want to be exposed. Or feel guilty or be reminded.
They learned, grew and admired the leaders who have fallen. It’s hard to reconcile that this man, who you designed your programs, leadership structure, staff, church building after, was also a perpetrator. It’s easier and more comfortable to ignore that and focus on the good the man did instead.
They are too busy with other demanding issues in their church (even though women constitute 50-60% of their congregations.)
Sadly, my male colleagues agreed. I was indeed spot on.
So what do we do? Well, that’s the million-dollar question. Some days I have more hope for change, like when I see my brother Mitch stand up and speak up, other days I’m less hopeful. It’s multi-layered, isn’t it? But we need to start somewhere. Anywhere!
Mitch was helpful with some ideas to get the titanic turned around. Like he suggested we need to “Kill the Four Horsemen: Reputation, Money, Influence, and Apathy.”
“It might ruin the reputation of the church and Christianity. It might impact others faith in a negative way.”
Yes, yes it might!
“People might stop tithing.”
Yes, yes they might!
“It will ruin the influence of this particular person or church”
Yes, yes it might!
“It’s just not that big of an issue, boys will be boys.”
Yes, yes it is!
He ended with a reminder, or perhaps a warning, that the role of an elder is to shepherd the flock, not the organization. (Acts 20: 28)
If we are going to stop sexual abuse in our churches we must create a place for abuse CAN’T thrive. Which means we must kill the four horsemen. It means we need a better understanding of how power structures protect those in power rather than the victims AND CHANGE THOSE STRUCTURES. We must develop a more robust theology of men and women, women need to be at the tables - all of the tables. Give them whatever titles you will, women’s voices are critical! We need to develop an eschatological standard of care. As Mitch eloquently pointed out, lawyers and doctors have what’s called a ‘standard of care.’ It’s the minimal care they must give to a client. Anything below that standard of care is negligent and can be considered malpractice. Pastors need a standard of care for people who are involved in abuse cases. Instituting pastoral malpractice is one way we could ensure pastors adhere to the standard of care.
I am grateful that Dallas Theological Seminary gave time to address sexual abuse. It’s a start. So what else would you recommend we do to break the silence and stop the sexual exploitation in the Church?