It’s been a tough week. Slogging through the SCOTUS confirmation hearings has scarred us as a nation and as individuals. Abuse in every form is rife within the halls of power. Everywhere from politics and higher learning to entertainment, women (and men) are speaking up about their experiences.
It’s time to admit it happens in the church as well. And it happens more than we might think.
We all know the struggles the Catholic church is going through and I applaud Pope Francis for finally engaging and dealing with sexual abuse. Survivors are being heard and believed. Hopefully healing will follow.
The Evangelical church is not above the fray. This year some prominent churches made the headlines. Willow Creek Church for one is dealing with serial abuse allegations against their senior pastor (who has now taken early retirement). I won’t go into detail here except to ask a question: How does a man get away with sexually abusing staff members and congregants for 30 years?
Personally I haven’t been in churches where sexual abuse allegations were raised. But abuse isn’t always physical.
I was part of a church where a strong, kind, intelligent woman was told in a cowardly email “…for the health of the church, we need to part ways.” Read that again. Does that sound like a loving community where everyone is welcome and where reconciliation is taken seriously? Not at all. Yet the church continues to say this woman was not kicked out. And why would the church be unhealthy if she stayed?
To lift a phrase from the Bible Jesus wept.
Now put yourself in the same situation. How would you feel if you received an email like that from the governing board of an organization where you committed your time and support? Words can hurt as much as a slap across the face. Some say this isn’t abuse, but I would disagree. The long term emotional damage inflicted by the pastor—and the board that is supposed to guide him—is considerable.
With that said, I’d like to challenge you to read the stories of other survivors of church abuse. Check out #churchtoo. The centralized power structure within the church needs to be challenged. Ask the hard questions of those who are leading your congregations and influencing your thinking. And keep asking until you get answers.
Believe the survivors.