We are in a remarkable moment in our society. Over the past couple of years, the #metoo movement has advocated for the need for women to speak up and be heard when they’ve experienced sexual assault. It seems that many women are feeling freer and more confident to share their stories, and it seems many men are realizing just how unaware they have been. Personally, I relate to one pastor’s journey who wrote an Open Letter to Rachael DenHollander. It’s worth a read.
An interesting dynamic for Christians in this moment is that we are implicated. #Metoo has led to #Churchtoo and other hashtags that shine a light on practices in the church. Study after study after study is emerging that shows a serious problem in many Christian ministries. The obvious problem is that so many women have been mistreated. The less obvious—but no less tragic—problem is that this pattern has caused women to be unsure if they will be heard when they report a problem or seek pastoral care. So, they remain silent.
This is a tangible example of a breach of biblical justice and righteousness. Why? In part, because it shows a lack of care and compassion for women who are vulnerable.
When women who have been harmed inside or outside the church no longer feel they can share their experience, seek pastoral care and be heard, simply put, they are marginalized. That’s not a term all Christians are comfortable with. For some, it can feel like a divisive buzzword. I only came to appreciate it in the last few years. The point is that women’s voices, pain, fears and needs are often sidelined, minimized, overlooked or ignored. They have been vulnerable, and those with the ability to address their needs (pastors or others in positions of authority) have not always been there for them. Painfully, many men in pastoral roles (me included) would say, “I had no idea!”, which simply reveals a lack of awareness and the need for intentional listening.
At our third Justice + Unity conference on April 16, we will give attention to this practical need for pastors and church leaders to be prepared to respond to sexual assault stories well. Dr. Justin Holcomb, an ordained minister, will be with us to share from his and his wife Lindsay’s work in this area. Justin and Lindsay Holcomb have co-authored “Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault” and other books related to sexual or domestic abuse, and they have extensive experience caring for women at risk.
On the prevalence of sexual assault, the Holcombs write:
“Sexual assault affects millions of women, men, and children worldwide. The prevalence of sexual assault in the United States is difficult to determine because the crime is vastly underreported, yet the statistics are still overwhelmingly high: One in four women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetimes. These statistics are probably underestimates” (p. 31, emphasis added).
If one out of four women have experienced sexual assault, that means a church of 200 people might have 25 #metoo stories in them (over 40 if you add the men). To my brothers serving in pastoral ministry, I ask you, are you mindful of the experiences of women in your church, and do women in your ministry feel they can come and share their stories with you? If not, do you have someone in place and visible who women can go to? I, too, am reflecting on these questions as I teach and lead at GRTS.
Holcomb will share practical advice about how pastors and church leaders can (and why they should) be prepared to respond faithfully to women who experience sexual assault and abuse.