Where Do We Run When Church Is Where the Predators Are?
January 1, 2018
listen to this essay
Last updated on
September 21, 2022
Sexual violence — which includes sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse — is a topic that affects every church. But most churches won’t admit it. My goal here is to shed a light on how to prevent this from happening in our churches and how to help churches become true places of hope.
If you or somebody you know needs help, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
She wasn't raped
His hands motioned to the little girl so she could join him.
The older man was taking a break from the Kerala heat, the inescapable Indian sun finding cracks and crannies in the room to fill.
His forehead was glistening in sweat, a towel over his shoulder, as he sat and then laid down on the cot.
The girl nodded and ran up to her grandfather, squeezing up against him as he held her tight.
It was a moment like many others, a girl resting with her grandfather.
A moment like many others — until it wasn’t.
As she began to doze, she felt his hands slowly roam over her chest. Almost casually. Carefully. As if trying to communicate a secret through his touch.
Perhaps it was an accident.
In the silence, he pressed into her breast, causing her to wince.
Perhaps it wasn’t an accident.
She was unsure of the pain. Unsure of the moment. At twelve years, she wasn’t aware of what the sensations meant or what the boundaries should look like.
[.highlight__wrapper][.highlight__text]She laid silently for what felt like hours — until it was time to get up.[.highlight__text][.highlight__wrapper]
It wasn’t until she was older when it came up again.
Swigs of beer with college friends and carefree conversation opened up deep wells. Of questions. Of emotions.
And like a flood, something dawned on her for the first time.
Her grandfather had molested her.
Somebody yelled out, “Well, at least you weren’t raped!”
But that wasn’t fair, was it?
The incident had quietly left an indelible mark on her psychology. Haunting her through adolescence, distorting her relationships with men, commitment, her body, and sexuality. It distorted the way she connected with people.
Her grandfather got away with it.
No, she wasn’t raped.
But “hurt” still counts, right?
Perverts, pedophiles, and preachers
On the night of September 3rd, 1944, a 24-year-old African-American woman named Recy Taylor decided to walk home with a couple of friends after a prayer meeting at church. A car surreptitiously trailed them along their route, catching the wary eyes of the three pedestrians.
When the car finally stopped, seven white men — armed to the teeth with weapons — stepped out, harassed the group with weapons drawn, and threatened them to do as they were told.
The white men abducted and raped Mrs. Taylor.
Even by the most meager standards of basic common sense, you’d figure these men should be prosecuted.
But it was Alabama. During the Jim Crow era. So common sense was out the window: two separate grand juries — comprised of entirely white males — refused to indict. This was despite one of the men coming forward with an actual confession to the crime.
Years later, in an interview for “The Rape of Recy Taylor,” a 2017 documentary detailing the crime, Mrs. Taylor recalled the bleak reality of many women in her community at the time:
[.quote__wrapper][.quote__text]“Many ladies got raped. The peoples there — they seemed like they wasn’t concerned about what happened to me, and they didn’t try and do nothing about it. I can’t but tell the truth of what they done to me.”[.quote__text][.quote__source]- Recy Taylor (1919–2017)[.quote__source][.quote__wrapper]
There’s a reason why I bring up a 1944 rape case from the Jim Crow-polluted South.
I won’t insinuate Protestant churches and their leadership are as despicable as the Jim Crow era South. That’s neither fair nor accurate. They are, however — in many cases — every bit as faulty when it comes to sexual violence and how to hold the right people accountable.
(I’ll revisit the 1944 case a little later in this piece. It’s relevant for several reasons that will become clearer as we unpack this topic.)
I can’t even begin to tell you how many stories I’ve fielded on this topic. And they all kinda start the same way, really.
A well-to-do and respected individual — usually a man — attends a church. Somebody levels an accusation of sexual abuse at him. The church says they’ll “look into it.” The church finds nothing wrong, sides with the perpetrator, and blames the victim for being seductive or scandalous… In other words, the church chooses not to, y’know, actually look into it.
The uncomfortable thing about the last paragraph is: this happens all the time.
Across pews. Across ethnicities. Across denominations.
[.highlight__wrapper][.highlight__text]You want the truth? Church pews are lined with perverts, pedophiles, and preachers.[.highlight__text][.highlight__wrapper]
And while that statement may sound scandalous on the surface, you’ll have to stomach the fact that Protestant sex abuse apples don’t fall far from the Catholic Church sex abuse tree.
I know what you’re thinking: But Charles, Protestant churches are so much more upstanding and God-fearing than Catholic churches. We don’t do stuff like that. Sexual abuse? That’s not our thing.
It’s our thing, too, y’all.
Sexual abuse in religious communities is not confined to scenarios involving celibate priests donning religious garb. It’s becoming a serious issue across the Christian church spectrum.
Just how prevalent is sexual abuse in church? Here are some Protestant sexual abuse statistics and facts to stare at:
- The Methodist Church in Britain apologized for 1,885 reports of physical and sexual abuse dating back to the 1950s
- After an investigation, the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (or ABWE) confirmed medical missionary, Donn Ketcham, had affairs with fellow female missionaries and sexually abused four women and 18 girls
- As recently as 2010, two of the largest church insurers in the U.S. reported “no higher risks in covering Catholic churches than Protestant denominations”
And in all my years of attending a church — and going to weekly fasting and prayer meetings, and going to monthly fellowship meetings, and going to the 17,000 other events under the auspices of church leadership — I can easily recall the exact number of times I’ve heard somebody speak about sexual abuse from the pulpit.
[.highlight__wrapper][.highlight__text]I’ve heard somebody speak about sexual abuse from the pulpit zero times.[.highlight__text][.highlight__wrapper]
That’s not a typo.
It’s why reading about church history can be jarring for some. While many contemporary preachers shout about hellfire and whisper about sexual abuse, church history exposes us to the Luthers and Boenhoffers of their time — those who chose to stand up against the stronghold of the contemporaneous Church when it preached God and practiced everything but.
And in the 21st century, the loudest offense of the church is the one it keeps the most hushed: sexual abuse.
No, I’m not saying the prideful, gluttonous, spiteful, and categorically morally depraved people don’t attend our churches. They do.
But we all just get incredibly uncomfortable when bringing up the “S” word.
“S” words, perhaps.
Salvaging perpetrators’ reputations.
But all the silence in the world can’t hide the oversized elephant in the room: our churches have a sexual abuse problem.
Why should we care?
First, let’s take a step back.
Sexual violence isn’t a “libtard”-fueled overreaction. In fact, it’s apolitical: sexual violence happens, victims are often powerless to speak out on it, and perpetrators often get away scot-free with this depravity.
Sexual violence in any community or context is deleterious and serious enough to warrant our full attention.
In particular, sexual violence does four major things:
- It has long-lasting effects
- It can lead to cycles of violence
- It warps what the purpose and power of sexuality ought to look like
- It warps what trust and relationships ought to look like
[.highlight__wrapper][.highlight__text]Sexual violence has an unmistakeable domino effect. It distorts and misconstrues psychological, physical, emotional, and social realities for an entire lifetime.[.highlight__text][.highlight__wrapper]
“It produces cycles of shame, powerlessness, isolation, and hopelessness that run deep,” says Sherry Varughese, a blogger, pastor’s wife, and church engager at Food for the Hungry.
For Varughese, her experience caused what she calls “an avalanche of confusion” as she was growing up.
“It left me feeling very ashamed about my own attitude towards sex,” she recalls. “Feelings I felt powerless to talk about, especially in a church and culture where we didn’t discuss drugs, sex, and alcohol.”
When she told her parents about the abuser, they listened. But through no fault of their own, they couldn’t fully expose the perpetrators and bring them to justice — for reasons I’ll dive into later.
So, yeah, sexual violence has profound ramifications.
There’s also the whole becoming-a-perpetrator-if-you-were-once-sexually-abused” thang. Research supports — although tangentially — “the notion of a victim-to-victimiser cycle” in males. A possible risk factor for this cycle in males may be sexual abuse committed by a female.
Not everyone who is sexually abused becomes abusers themselves, obviously. But studies show the risk is “far greater for sexually victimized children who came from severely dysfunctional families.”
So there are cycles worth considering here. Sexual violence doesn’t just affect the victim at that very moment of the heinous act; it has the potential to disrupt their entire life’s trajectory.
And when the abuse or assault takes place under the contexts of churches or parachurch organizations? The impact can be even more profound.
Is sexual abuse in church really a problem?
While Catholic church sex abuse cases have made their rounds in news cycles and Hollywood blockbusters, the reality is that Protestant churches have much of the same issues behind the scenes. They’re just not being publicized as much.
[.highlight__wrapper][.highlight__text]On average, 20.5% of Protestant churchgoers are sexual abuse survivors.[.highlight__text][.highlight__wrapper]
That’s one person out of every five in your Sunday School classes, one person out of every five in your weekly small group meetings, one person out of every five at your community event.
That seems to be a bigger problem than we understand.
“The Catholic church has been forced to make these changes, but the Protestant church has not,” says Boz Tchividjian, founder and executive director of GRACE, an organization that educates and trains Christian communities to recognize, prevent, and respond to child abuse.
Tchividjian’s the grandson of the Reverend Billy Graham, and so a career focusing on child sex abuse may not have felt like the most obvious choice. But his foray into helping organizations make sense of child abuse isn’t a matter of happenstance: early on, Tchividjian discovered he had a family member who had been sexually assaulted. So the topic definitely hits home for him.
He became a successful child abuse prosecutor, and now teaches “Child Abuse and the Law” — among other courses — at Liberty University School of Law.
Two particular things during his prosecutorial career inspired him to shift his focus to the church:
- Hearing about the profound detrimental impact child abuse cases had on kids and their families
- Being disillusioned by the weight of the legal process leading to many of these cases getting dropped or resulting in plea bargains
In circumstances like these — in moments where hope seems lost — it’s the church that ought to feel like a safe place. Like home.
But remember when I told you I had heard about sexual violence a whopping ZERO times in my church life growing up? Being silent about the topic does no good. At all. We need to talk about it.
“Just preaching on it and naming it changes the trajectory of our conversations,” says Tchividjian. He believes that when church leaders preach on this topic, it naturally creates a safe space in a place that should have been a safe space anyway.
[.highlight__wrapper][.highlight__text]If you want your church to believe you care about their real-life problems — including sexual violence — talk about these topics from a real-life pulpit.[.highlight__text][.highlight__wrapper]
In other words, don’t just make flyers and cool videos about how your church is “home” or “safe” or “welcoming” when you aren’t ready to actually deal with the dirt and muck that makes the church an actual family of believers.
It’s even more important when we step back to remember the church’s response to these matters should mirror Christ’s response to these same matters.
[.quote__wrapper][.quote__text]“Jesus was the greatest advocate of loving and protecting victims… in history.”[.quote__text][.quote__source]- Boz Tchividjian[.quote__source][.quote__wrapper]
And if we want to be like Jesus in these sensitive moments, we need to learn to leave the cliches at home.
Thoughts and prayers
Trust me on this: nobody wants to hear trite, robotic responses in moments of crisis or confusion.
This goes for the guy stuck on the side of the highway because his car broke down, the neighbor who just got diagnosed with a terminal illness, or an adulterous Jewish woman cowering in fear as a group of Pharisees prepare to stone her to death.
If Jesus had told that last woman his “thoughts and prayers” were with her as he walked on by, the John 8 story would have fallen a bit flat.
But we churchgoers do that a lot, don’t we?
[.highlight__wrapper][.highlight__text]People who go to church have an excellent track record of making people who don't go to church completely uninterested in ever doing so.[.highlight__text][.highlight__wrapper]
Social media has magnified how silly cliches can be. We rush to our keyboards or phones and fire away “thoughts and prayers” posts any time a crisis strikes. As if on-screen cliches help as much as time and resources actually do.
One of my favorite comedians dives into this phenomenon in his Netflix special, appropriately entitled Thoughts and Prayers:
[.quote__wrapper][.quote__text]“You are not giving any of your time, your money, or even your compassion. All you are doing is saying: ‘Don’t forget about me today… Lots of crazy distractions in the news right now, but don’t forget how sadz I am.'”[.quote__text][.quote__source]- Anthony Jeselnik[.quote__source][.quote__wrapper]
Forget crises or national tragedies. How about other topics like the church and mental illness or dealing with sexual abuse in a congregation? While impersonal responses like “I’m praying for you” or verse dropping Romans 8:28 is the default response of many in the pews, leadership often takes a different approach — and not necessarily a good one.
“A lot of people don’t even realize the church doesn’t always respond the right way,” says Tchividjian. He has found, often times, families processing trauma don’t even have time to gauge the quality of advice the church and leadership give them.
It’s why, he believes, families should “always be willing to go outside of the church community for help if there’s any remote thought that what’s being advised isn’t good.”
Often, the church’s knee-jerk reaction is to minimize the issue and “pray it away.” That doesn’t work.
“We fail to communicate that the one who has been hurt matters,” says Varughese, who has seen these institutional failings with her own eyes. “They do have a right to speak, and this should never happen again.”
The keys to creating safe spaces is churches — and their leadership teams — becoming more vigilant in:
- Preventing these traumas from taking place
- Protecting those who speak out
- Reporting those who commit sexual abuse
- Persevering to create and strengthen safe spaces
But what if churches just flat-out aren’t ready to take these topics on? What if their infrastructures aren’t equipped for this? What if they’re not willing to be honest about their security gaps?
These are the kinds of questions all Christians need to be asking — the kinds of questions all churches need to be ready for.
Some disassembly required
In a lot of sexual violence cases, churches just aren’t ready to handle them.
So while we prepare community events and Sunday service production timelines, the leadership infrastructures are often ill-equpped to communicate hope and strive for fair — or even adequate — mediation.
In order to do things better as a church in dealing with sexual abuse in our communities, a little disassembly is required. Sure, churches are often built and grown from the ground up on the strength of good will and good intentions — but that doesn’t mean we can’t do things better.
Disassembling church policies
Fundamentally, church policies often don’t deal with these gray areas. While pastors are often required to carry themselves in a manner laid out by a contract and governed by a board, other ministry leaders and church members are typically not held to the same standards.
So while there isn’t anything fundamentally wrong with a 35-year-old male being alone in a room with a child at church, it would be smarter to have an additional unrelated person with them to accompany the child.
That seems like common sense, sure. But, unfortunately, it’s not the route often taken at churches where dealing with crises after they’ve exploded is the norm.
This is where Tchividjian and his team at GRACE come in. GRACE has three main focuses:
- Performing independent assessments and investigations
- Assisting institutions in creating a culture of repentance
- Consulting churches (e.g. dealing with difficult disclosures)
They’ve found there isn’t a specific church model that does things better or worse than the others. Whether it’s a megachurch or a small locally-focused church or something in between, if there are gaps somewhere, GRACE steps in to assist them.
“Abuse thrives in cultures across the spectrum,” says Tchividjian. “For example, on the progressive side of things, we don’t hold anybody accountable.”
It’s easy to fire your team’s Mark Halperins and Charlie Roses when expectations of their professionalism and conduct are embedded into “morality clauses” in their contracts. It’s not so easy to hold people accountable when they’re brought into the fold — either as volunteers or employees — and expectations aren’t broken down and communicated clearly. Churches must communicate these expectations better.
Another trend he’s found is that men in leadership often place less value on children and women. This effectively places less value on their protections and on punishments for abuse that happens to these specific groups.
[.quote__wrapper][.quote__text]“We have to admit these problems exist, and we need to stop creating double standards.”[.quote__text][.quote__source]- Boz Tchividjian[.quote__source][.quote__wrapper]
Disassembling church loyalty
A major reason why victims don’t speak out and why churches choose to sweep sexual violence cases under the proverbial rug is loyalty.
Loyalty to church. Loyalty to leadership. Loyalty to legacy.
There’s a pervasive sentiment across denominations that bringing up allegations like this — whether or not there’s any merit to them — brings shame and dishonor to the church.
And it’s not unique to the church by any means. Look at the Recy Taylor case in Alabama again, and you’ll see two separate Alabama grand juries resisting the application of justice… For what?
Loyalty to the state. Loyalty to the South. Loyalty to white supremacist legacy.
The church — both on the progressive end and on the conservative end of the spectrum — has fallen into the trap of defaulting to Legacy Preservation Mode when things get a little too complicated.
“There is often a feeling of being ‘othered,'” says Bincy Jacob, a former Executive Director for a domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking organization in Seattle, Washington. “Churches often choose the side of protecting the reputation of the church.”
Jacob, who still advises and serves as a resource in the field, notices how the tides seem to turn in the church’s response to these matters when it’s “safe” to do so.
[.quote__wrapper][.quote__text]“Churches are an extension of popular culture. If popular culture held a hardline on a stance, then churches often follow — even if it’s a bit reluctantly or late.”[.quote__text][.quote__source]- Bincy Jacob[.quote__source][.quote__wrapper]
It’s why the church was late to the game in joining the fray for women’s suffrage, interracial marriage, and civil rights — even though they had long held up the banners for women being silent in church, unequal yokes in marriage, and Noah cursing Ham’s descendents to be indentureship.
If we look at the gravity of the sexual violence conversation in 2017, it’s the Harvey Weinstein debacle that opened the floodgates of reform. Even though Travis Kalanick, Roger Ailes, and Bill Cosby stories should have perked the church into action even before that.
[.highlight__wrapper][.highlight__text]The church generally plays it safe in trying to do the right thing — and not until the tides of public discourse turn so it's safe enough to wade in.[.highlight__text][.highlight__wrapper]
So while it’s now relatively “safe” for churches to start having these heavy conversations, there’s no reason to believe we should have waited so long.
Disassembling church politics
While I don’t intend on getting political here, I do want to share the following tweet:
While Conyers has since resigned shrouded by scandal and Moore lost his Senate bid, it’s telling that justice — or even accountability — takes place slower in politics than in the real world.
[.highlight__wrapper][.highlight__text]Churches really can function like a giant game of politics: there are boards to appease, an audience to cater to, and bad news to dress up a bit for the sake of positive PR.[.highlight__text][.highlight__wrapper]
But let’s face it: leadership at all levels has some degree of politics embedded in it. Whether you’re working the graveyard shift at a local CVS or you’re at a church.
But navigating leadership politics doesn’t have to be complicated. And it doesn’t have to dirty. And it doesn’t have to be oblivious to justice and accountability.
By remembering what we’re doing this for.
The Reverend Dr. John Killinger writes the purpose of church leadership is to “always exalt Christ.”
Making sure all the inner church machinations serve to exalt Christ and help people — y’know, like he would help them — reduces the risk of defaulting to leadership going off the rails.
[.quote__wrapper][.quote__text]“The church may be political. But the exaltation of Christ as its head has, through the centuries, lifted it above ordinary politics. There was a brass plaque in a pulpit I once entered that said it best: ‘Remember, these folks didn’t come to see you, they came to see Jesus.'”[.quote__text][.quote__source]- Rev. Dr. John Killinger[.quote__source][.quote__wrapper]
So, no. Politics isn’t going away in our churches. In some ways, it has to remain.
But resolving to function and operate how Christ would can change the zeitgeist of how we approach sexual violence and the conversations — and difficult decisions — that result.
Disassembling church patriarchy
So why don’t victims speak out?
Or better yet: why does it take them so long to come forward?
Well, there’s one simple answer to both of those questions, and you won’t like me for sharing it.
We undeniably live in a man-driven, man-led, man-focused world. Where our wedding messages talk more about how women need to be subservient than how men should reflect Christ. Where our church boards are filled with older men and women being included is still very much a novel idea.
That’s the core. That’s where we start. That’s how we start to unpack.
When victims speak out — especially women — the church shames them, accuses them of lying, or challenges them for proof. None of this is fair.
Ending rape culture in our churches begins with disabling the default responses we so easily produce whenever we’re too uncomfortable to face the truth.
It’s something writer Ijeoma Oluo discusses in a fantastic piece for The Establishment:
[.quote__wrapper][.quote__text]"Every single sexual abuser is 100% responsible for their actions and there is nobody else to blame than the person who is choosing to violate another person. And … this entire patriarchal society is responsible for every single sexual assault that occurs."[.quote__text][.quote__source]- Ijeoma Oluo[.quote__source][.quote__wrapper]
Patriarchal thinking pervades in women and children being marginalized. But it also affects how men come out when they’re assaulted or violated — if they come out at all.
“Expectations of traditional male roles say that men should never be the victim,” says Jacob. “And if they are, they are not ‘real men.'”
How do we fix this?
“We need to reverse the thinking,” says Colleen Swindoll-Thompson, Director of the Reframing Ministries Department at Insight for Living Ministries (and daughter of the Reverend Chuck Swindoll). “These aren’t lesser-than people; these are heroic people who have survived far more than what most people will have to survive.”
She believes that by revising the language around sexual violence, we can counter the inherent flaws found in patriarchal church systems.
[.quote__wrapper][.quote__text]“We need to affirm their vulnerability, their grit, their willingness to speak the truth. Even though they’ll be reviolated by people who don’t get it, or don’t want to understand, or don’t want to listen.”[.quote__text][.quote__source]- Colleen Swindoll-Thompson[.quote__source][.quote__wrapper]
Statistics back that last point. Tchividjian acknowledges, in particular, child abusers typically abuse more than one child.
How would we respond if this was any other offense?
Patriarchal thinking is rooted in a deeper concept: power.
When people offer tired responses like “Well, she asked for it by dressing like she does” to minimize the victims’ narrative, they are forgetting sexual violence happens to 3-year-olds and 60-year-olds, males and females, and people wearing less and people wearing more.
“It has nothing to do with age, beauty, or desirability of the victim,” affirms Jacob, who hears this trope shared especially in immigrant faith communities. “It has everything to do with the power of the abuser.”
It’s why folks like Cosby, Ailes, Weinstein, and Moore went so long without accountability.
It’s why their victims held off for so long to speak out against them.
When you’ve got the money, the fame, the reputation… and you’re a man… it’s hard to build a believable case against you. It’s the way the world works.
And it’s one of the major reasons why, in church spaces dominated by patriarchal power positions, children, women, and men can’t share their stories of hurt.
[.highlight__wrapper][.highlight__text]In churches — much like in other pockets in the real world — the powerful leave powerless in their wake.[.highlight__text][.highlight__wrapper]
That has to change.
Solutions can include moving perpetrators to another church to keep them away from the victims, while making sure the new church leadership holds them accountable.
But these solutions are out there. We’ve just got to be honest enough to broach the topic at all.
The Asian-American experience
Recently, a friend of mine named Christal Ann George shared a powerful piece about a molestation that happened to her at her ethnocentric church.
Here’s a particularly poignant part:
[.quote__wrapper][.quote__text]“All these years later, what shocks me the most about that moment is the sheer audacity that he had in touching me in total public. He had no fear of being seen. He had no fear of me screaming. He had no fear.”[.quote__text][.quote__source]- Christal Ann George[.quote__source][.quote__wrapper]
Christal and I are from the same ethnic background. We went to the same kinds of churches — the kind that preached culture over scripture, gave men unbelievable amounts of power and free rein, and valued legacy over truth.
I’ve talked before about the dangers of Indian churches that operate like ethnocentric machines.
And I grew up seeing all the flaws I listed above — issues with policies, loyalty, politics, patriarchy — all play out in a variety of ways.
None, though, were more striking than how devastatingly silent we were about sexual violence in our church communities.
I’d sit there and get lectured about my beard being too long, or my hair being too wild, or my rap music being too worldly — while I’d later find out a friend had been molested by an older man from the church.
Not one friend. Not two.
[.highlight__wrapper][.highlight__text]There is a gross misapplication of power in Asian-American churches, where victims are silenced, issues are ignored, and men in leadership are venerated without proper accountability.[.highlight__text][.highlight__wrapper]
I don’t want to hear about how your great-grandfather built the church in a small village in India before coming to America with five dollars in his pocket to start his own ministry here if all we’ve done since is establish boards that trivialize consequential matters and toot their own horns.
“Honor and self-preservation are paramount in Asian cultures,” says Dr. Sam Louie, a psychotherapist and relationship coach who deals with multicultural issues.
Dr. Louie especially points to the tendency of Asian communities to value collectivism over individualism. Families, culture, and legacy are given more weight than individual accolades.
[.highlight__wrapper][.highlight__text]Individual honors bolster Asian community and legacy. Individual horrors dampen Asian community and legacy.[.highlight__text][.highlight__wrapper]
In some cases, silencing victims in our community have a greater impact than silencing victims elsewhere — because of the honor-shame dynamic.
“Not only can a family ‘shame’ you to discontinue a behavior (like sharing your story),” says Dr. Louie. “But the entire community can shame you, as well.”
So not only do we never speak about sexual violence from the pulpits, but we also don’t want anybody else to ever talk about it, either. Ever.
And a lot of the other issues in Asian churches stem from this kind of behavior — where men can go unchecked, do whatever they want, fight tooth and nail at general body meetings, and make all the major decisions in the church.
[.highlight__wrapper][.highlight__text]I once had to battle a church board over church logo designs.[.highlight__text][.highlight__wrapper]
Men who weren’t qualified to make final calls on design — and whose responsibilities as part of the board meant dealing with financial and legal oversight, managing performance and compensation, and strategic planning — were giving me the runaround on design.
It’s the kind of situation sitcoms and the facepalm emoji were both made for.
But this is where we are in our communities: zero accountability for our leaders, no protections for the harmed, and no policies to prevent these stuations from coming up again.
And if Asian-American communities want to do this whole Christian thang the right way, they should probably be honest with themselves: the only shameful thing is running from the truth.
If you’ve survived sexual violence or need resources for your church leadership, understand you are not alone in this. Luckily, there are organizations worth tapping into for help in this conversation.
If you or somebody you know needs help, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
Here are some resources that can help:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Call 1-800-656-4673 or chat 24/7 for free and confidential support for people in distress, resources to help you or your loved ones, and strategies and best practices for professionals.
- Crisis Text Line – Text HOME to 741741 in the US to get connected with a trained Crisis Counselor for free, 24/7 support in times of crisis.
- RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) – Call the sexual assault hotline 24/7 or chat with a professional for free and confidential support for people in distress, and use the resources to help you and your loved ones.
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center – Find support tools and e-learning courses to help make sense of sexual violence and survival.
- Not Alone – If you’re a college student, find resources here to cover rights, instructions, and guidelines for when sexual violence takes place on campus.
- 1in6 – Find resources geared toward males who have dealt with sexual violence and their families.
- Safe Horizon – Find resources and support for sexual abuse, domestic violence, human trafficking, and more.
- Psychology Today – Find a therapist who accepts your insurance, and find the option that works best for your needs and pace.
- [YouTube] Dr. Brené Brown on Empathy – Watch this beautiful animated short, in which Brown reminds us that we can only create a genuine empathic connection if we’re brave enough to really get in touch with our own fragilities.
- BetterHelp – Use the mobile app to connect with one of 2,000 licensed therapists for feedback, advice, and guidance.
- Talkspace – Use the mobile app to connect with a licensed therapist for judgement-free guidance and meaningful therapy.
Churches, here are some resources that you should check out:
- GRACE – Receive training to recognize, prevent, and respond to child abuse.
- Mending the Soul – Receive training and healing to help restore and rebuild your community.
- FaithTrust Institure – Connect for multifaith and religion-specific intervention and prevention training, consulting, and educational materials regarding sexual and domestic violence.
- PublicHealth.org – Get access to courses, journals, and organizations to help deal with this concern.
- [YouTube] Tea Consent – Watch this animated PSA on consent for tea drinking, which alludes to how to better understand consent for sex.
The story I shared is based on a true story. She, like countless others, was afraid to tell her story publicly.
And all I could think the whole time was “You’re not alone.”
Seriously, I’ve had so many friends, people I’ve mentored, and people I’ve known over the years who have experienced something similar.
No, they weren’t all raped.
But they felt their worlds, their relationships, and their realities distorted the moment somebody engaged them in an improper way.
And while my friend’s experiences have molded her into an incredible creative, not everybody heals the same.
For some, it takes years to find their voice again. For others, they remain prisoners of hurt.
And in both cases: it’s not their fault!
[.highlight__wrapper][.highlight__text]As churches and leaders, we must not run from truth — no matter how ugly and disgusting and wild truth gets.[.highlight__text][.highlight__wrapper]
I get it. I really do.
Your church flyers look great when you’ve got the word “home” or “welcome” or “freedom” printed on them.
But until your church implements preventative and corrective policies, and actively deals with politics, loyalty, and patriarchy issues, you’re a dog with no bark.
There are roads to healing, but we must find ways to mend together.
No, it doesn’t have to be rape.
But if churches are home, let’s make them safe.
From now on. ■