Sexual Abuse: 12 Resources for Church Leaders Committed to Preventing It

Reports emerged this past week regarding the Southern Baptist Convention’s history of sexual abuse by hundreds of church leaders. The New York Times reported:

The San Antonio Express-News and Houston Chronicle reported Sunday that their six-month investigation found about 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and workers who were accused of sexual misconduct since 1998, leaving more than 700 victims. Some were as young as 3 years old while others were adults when they were abused …

The Houston Chronicle’s original article included many disturbing details not just about the pervasiveness of the abuse, but the troubling resistance SBC leaders demonstrated to reform:

At least 35 church pastors, employees and volunteers who exhibited predatory behavior were still able to find jobs at churches during the past two decades. In some cases, church leaders apparently failed to alert law enforcement about complaints or to warn other congregations about allegations of misconduct … Some registered sex offenders returned to the pulpit. Others remain there …

Beth Moore, who is part of the SBC, spoke out strongly about the findings, then posted a picture of herself as a young child to express solidarity with all the victims saying, “We understand how you feel. We didn’t want to know about sexual abuse either.”

Other abuse survivors began to post their own childhood pictures in response, saying, “We didn’t want to know either.”

Late last year, the results of investigative reports in the Catholic Church were made known to the public. The findings were all too familiar: thousands of abuse victims, hundreds of “predator priests,” and a cover up that went as high as the Vatican. This was in Pennsylvania alone. Since then, at least 8 other states have opened up their own investigations. What will they find?

The Willow Creek sexual misconduct scandal in 2018 and its ensuing leadership mistakes demonstrated more of the same: leaders in many different kinds of churches and in many different traditions are abusing their power, violating the children, women, and men they claim to serve in God’s name, and those in power have the habit of protecting the abusers rather than listening to, believing, and advocating for the victims.

No matter how many times sexual abuse is uncovered, whether it’s one person’s story or a report detailing hundreds of cases like the recent report on the SBC, we are stunned. Grieved. Discouraged. Angry. How are the very people entrusted with shepherding God’s flock wreaking havoc on the lives of so many through abuse, lies, and cover up?

I have no simple answers. The future must hold a reimagining of leadership, power, and accountability in our churches.

But for now, I only want to say this:

For any who have been abused, we believe you.

For those who are weeping as they read stories or see pictures of God-created girls and boys who never wanted to know about sexual abuse and yet do, we grieve with you.

To anyone who is responding to this moment by saying, “Lord, whatever I can do to work toward the healing and redemption of your Church, whatever I can do to help eradicate the evil of sexual abuse and make my church a safe place, I will do,” we are praying those same words and committing ourselves to this resistance and renewal with you.

As painful as it is to see thousands of victims and to hear the heartbreaking stories, there is hope. For those who have told their stories, many in the Church are listening. Christianity Today states:

A LifeWay Research survey conducted this year found that among Protestant pastors familiar with #MeToo, 40 percent say it has helped them better understand issues of sexual and domestic violence, and 41 percent say they are more inclined to preach on the topic as a result. (In 2014, a bulk of pastors said they rarely or never mentioned sexual or domestic violence in sermons.)

With the hope that we can keep working in that direction for the protection of those most vulnerable to abuse in our churches, here are 12 articles related to sexual abuse in the Church. Some of these articles help us examine underlying theological assumptions that may contribute to the ongoing crisis of abuse in the Church. Others provide practical wisdom and concrete steps for churches to respond faithfully.

May these be a helpful guide for you and your church community. In light of recent reports regarding the SBC, here are 12 articles on sexual abuse and the church to resource you and your community. Click To Tweet

12 Resources on Sexual Abuse and the Church

1. Trauma from Abuse: How the Church Can Care for Those Seeking Healing by MaryKate Morse (Missio Alliance)

As more stories of abuse come to light, expect that a large part of the Church’s mission right now is to care for people through the traumatic after effects of this abuse. Here are 3 ways the Church can walk with people through that trauma … (Read more)

2. Sexual Abuse: Would Your Church Cover It Up? by Ashley Easter (Missio Alliance)

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?”

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. (Read more)

3. Four Ways Churches Can Respond Faithfully to #MeToo by MaryKate Morse (Missio Alliance)

Sexual assault and sexual harassment are realities for women, children and men. However, the church largely dismisses or ignores my story and millions of others. Why might that be so? And how can we respond faithfully? (Read more)

4. Christians, Stop Shooting Our Wounded by Suzannah Paul (Missio Alliance)

What if we repented of the ways we were complicit or unseeing to abuses of people and power among us? Could loving people well in the midst of their pain be the radical way of Jesus?  (Read more)

5. Watching “Spotlight” Through Protestant Eyes by Carolyn Custis James (Missio Alliance)

Stated bluntly by The New York Times reviewer A.O. Scott, the film Spotlight’s major concern “is the way power operates in the absence of accountability … Challenging deeply entrenched, widely respected authority can be very scary.” That statement shifts the spotlight onto what is happening within the Protestant fold and our responsibility to deal with abuses that go unchallenged or covered up here. Abuse situations easily tend to become hurdles to get past, rather than reasons for us to investigate our own systemic abuse problems and come up with strategies for addressing and preventing abuse. Protecting colleagues, maintaining the status quo, or expressing relief when the statute of limitations runs out and moves an offending colleague beyond the reach of the law leaves a trail of wreckage in all directions. Here are 4 things we can resolve to do within our Protestant churches … (Read more)

6. The Failure of Complementarian Manhood by Carolyn Custis James (Missio Alliance)

Complementarian men of all people should be first in line to defend the vulnerable, if they truly believe what they say. It seems that complementarian convictions go by the wayside when one of their inner circle comes under fire. Instead of protecting women and children and sacrificially enduring harm for their sakes (as they profess their responsibility is, in theory), their actions prove that when it comes to a real crisis, “real men” protect each other. (Read more)

7. (Video) The Church’s Sexual Abuse Crisis: Our Open Letter to Women in the Church by the Missio Alliance Writing Team (Missio Alliance)

We recognize that sexual abuse impacts the lives of women and men, boys and girls. But this is a message for women we want to declare as often as we can. (Read more)

8. Should Churches Handle Sexual Abuse Allegations Internally? by Jen Zamzow (Christianity Today)

We need to be aware of how our relationships with the accused and our desire to keep them in power might affect how we interpret the situation. Don’t take your ability to overlook warning signs or minimize accusations as evidence that there is no problem. Your biases might be preventing you from seeing the truth. (Read more)

9. Responding to Sexual Abuse by Hannah Heinzekehr (The Mennonite Magazine)

In 2006, 21% of Mennonite women in the U.S. reported that they have experienced sexual abuse. “Over the course of the past five years, several new initiatives have emerged to support Mennonite victims of abuse and educate Mennonite church members about appropriate ways to prevent abuse and respond when reports of abuse surface.” (Read more)

Also recommended from The Mennonite Magazine: Preventing Sexual Abuse in Youth Ministry

10. What To Do and Say When A Young Person Discloses Sexual Abuse by Megan Lundgren and Alex Van Fleet (Fuller Youth Institute)

As the nation’s dialogue grapples with story after story of sexual harassment and assault in public and private sectors, survivors are listening; assessing when and where it’s safe to share their stories. They have been hurt before; they don’t want to be hurt again … How can you help survivors know that they are welcome in your church? (Read more)

11. How Clergy Abuse Survivors Are Challenging the Church’s Cover-Ups by John Noble (Sojourners)

I recently had the opportunity to discuss the current state of the Roman Catholic Church’s sexual abuse crisis with Tim Lennon, a survivor of clergy sexual abuse. Lennon is the president of the board of directors of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a nonprofit support network for survivors of sexual abuse by religious and institutional authorities. The transcript below has been lightly edited for clarity. (Read more)

12. Cut the Excuses—Eradicate Violence Against Women in the Church by Graham Hill (Global Church Project) 

Violence against women grows in an environment of sexism, patriarchy, and unhealthy use of spiritual and religious power. As my friend Michael Frost says, “don’t just say sorry, smash the patriarchy!” So how do we deal with sexism and oppressive patriarchal systems? We can choose to acknowledge and confront the way power, theology, sexism and patriarchy encourage sexual and other forms of violence against women in Christian families and in the church. (Read more) For any who have suffered abused inside the Church: we believe you. Click To Tweet

Are there resources you’d like to share? Offer them in the comments below.