September 17, 2018 / Ashley Easter

Abuse: Would Your Church Cover It Up?

Ashley Easter is a Christian feminist, writer, speaker, and abuse-victim advocate who educates churches and secular communities on abuse, introducing them to safe practices and healing resources. She is also the founder of The Courage Conference, a judgement-free place for survivors of abuse—and those who love them—to gather and hear inspiring stories from other survivors about moving forward in boldness and healing. She is the author of The Courage Coach: A Practical, Friendly Guide on How to Heal From Abuse.

It seems that every few days a new story of abuse in the church is released. No denomination has been untouched in the wake of this epidemic. As a survivor and professional victim advocate, I welcome the light that is being shone on the abuse of the vulnerable. Only light can dispel the darkness.

As painful as it may be, I truly believe the #ChurchToo movement is a reckoning that has been orchestrated by God. It is an opportunity for the Church of Jesus Christ to confess, repent of its crimes and sins, and turn its efforts once again towards the ways of Jesus.

With the mounting abuse disclosures and examples of churches poorly responding to the abuse within their midst, it is only natural for churchgoers to ask questions like:

  • “Is my church a safe haven for victims or predators?”
  • “How will my church leaders respond to abuse disclosure?”

These questions are painful to ask, but vitally important.

So, how can the average churchgoer anticipate their church’s response if or when abuse is reported to the church? While no one can be completely sure how their church leadership will respond, these 3 questions are a good place to start when determining the safety of your church and their response to abuse.

3 questions to help you discern if your church is a safe place for abuse victims. Read more here and learn about the Courage Conference coming up Oct 19-20 in Raleigh, NC. Share on X

3 Questions That Can Help You Anticipate Your Church’s Response to Sexual Abuse

1. What is your church’s position on power?

Abuse and cover-ups are tied to a lust for power and control. Abusers use verbal, emotional, spiritual, financial, physical, and sexual abuse to put themselves in a place of power and control over their victims, thereby bringing them into submission. Likewise, abuse cover-ups seek to protect, absolve of responsibility, and shield the positions, reputations, and finances of those covering the abuse.

Does your church have a culture where the leadership has power and control over the congregation? Do your pastors preach the message that congregants are obligated to obey them and/or that they alone are the voice of God in your life? Are only certain people allowed to be involved in decision-making processes and leadership—e.g. men, the wealthy, the famous, those with charismatic personalities, etc.?

The Church should not be a place where the “spiritual elite” rule unquestioned over the congregants. This opens the door wide for an abuse of power and cover-ups. Instead, church leadership should leverage their positions to empower others, listen, take concerns seriously, and allow for openness and accountability both from the congregation and from outside sources (such as law enforcement and other trained professionals). Lord Acton was correct when he observed, and then stated:

Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

2. Does your church welcome questions?

Abuse thrives in darkness, silence, and secrecy; but it cannot survive long when exposed to light, transparency, and truth.

Is your church leadership prone to secrets? Do they sidestep or refuse to answer questions about suspicious actions made by leadership? How are people treated when they start to ask questions? Does the leadership refuse to be transparent about potential safety hazards to your church? Have church staff or leaders mysteriously been let go without sufficient reason? If you answered yes to any of these questions, this is a major red flag and should be taken seriously.

Healthy, safe churches operate in the light with openness and honesty. They are not afraid of questions. In fact, safe churches welcome questions and concerns. If your church leadership is shrouded in darkness and secrecy, this is a major red flag.

3. Does your church’s theology comfort victims or predators?

Your church’s theology and how it gets lived out in your community can be an indicator of how safe your community is for abuse victims. For example, the Christian faith is based on a God who is willing to forgive every one of our sins. However, this ideology is all too often distorted and becomes a tool used by predators to shame and silence their victims and to absolve themselves of responsibility for their abuse and crimes. Additionally, when the church teaches that they are equipped to handle abuse situations on their own (instead of reaching out to police and other professionals) so as not to tarnish the name of Christ, this theology favors predators over victims.

Does your church teach that God’s forgiveness acquits abusers from facing consequences in relationships, from the church, or from law enforcement? Are victims pressured to forgive and forget, not press charges, or not “make a scene” if the abuser claims repentance? Does your church teach that handling abuse “in-house” is more Godly than involving law enforcement? Are victims told that if they would just “give their abuse to God,” they would no longer feel the effects of abuse?

Jesus’ heart was for the protection of the abused and broken. Your church’s theology and teaching should be a comfort to the abused and should cause great discomfort for abusers hiding their abuse and crimes. While God does forgive all sins, true repentance from an abuser means fully accepting responsibility for their abuse and crimes, fully submitting to consequences from law enforcement, and continuing in this path of repentance for the long haul. Any other teaching or doctrine is not the gospel of good news, but the gospel of cheap grace.

True repentance from an abuser means fully accepting responsibility for their abuse and crimes, fully submitting to consequences from law enforcement, and continuing in a path of repentance for the long haul. Share on X

Find Support at The Courage Conference

It was in response to abuse and church cover-ups that The Courage Conference was born.

The Courage Conference exists to be a refuge for survivors, to educate and empower advocates, and create the conditions where this movement for change can become a Justice Generation that recognizes and resists abuse everywhere.

Now in its third year, this annual gathering of abuse survivors, advocates, and those who love them is an event uniquely poised for this moment in history.

The Courage Conference offers an uncommon opportunity to learn from advocates and trained professionals through inspiring keynote talks, Courage Conversations, as well as connecting attendees with reputable local and national organizations. The Courage Conference is an ideal event for community leaders, pastors, and church workers to become educated about abuse from advocates who confront it and survivors who live with its effects every day.

It is our goal that everyone leaves empowered to live the most courageous life possible.

If you are looking for healing from abuse, as well as healing from church cover-ups of abuse, or if you want to learn how to better discern safe churches from unsafe churches, I’d invite you to join us at The Courage Conference, October 19-20, 2018, online or in-person in Raleigh, NC.

Learn more at: