I’m so sick of rape culture. I’m so tired of hearing one case after another of some rich and famous man who took advantage of his position and used people. I’m tired of the threats and the fear tactics. But do you know what I’m really, really tired of? I’m plain worn out with those who defend them. I’m so burned out of hearing the old faithful adage, “Those women just start crawling out of the woodwork, don’t they? They’re all out for something: money, fame, attention, something, right?” Rape culture means we don’t want to hear it. Rape culture means we don’t want to believe it. Rape culture means we like what we see just how we see it and we don’t want to be bothered with a second look. I cried this past year when I found out about Bill Cosby and all of the nasty things he has (allegedly) done to women over the years. I grew up watching this man and he represented so much good in our culture at the time. This type of ignore-it-until-it-hits-you-over-the-head mentality still clings on in our society, in our media coverage and in our hearts despite all of the rhetoric otherwise. But, does it still have a foothold in the church?
Rape culture absolutely exists in the Christian faith. Is this too controversial a statement for you? I’m rather uncomfortable saying it myself. My faith is everything to me. I honestly don’t want to hurt the church – I love the church. I want to boost her self-esteem and whisper encouragement into her soul. But, this needs to be spoken. For the sake of my children and your children and the next generation of Christian believers, it needs to be called out. The time for keeping quiet is done. I’m done with that. 93% of sex offenders use the word “religious” to describe themselves. Sexual abusers tend to have more victims if they are involved in a faith community. 1 in 4 women have been sexually abused as children. 1 in 6 men have been sexually abused as children. What do these stats mean? They mean that both victims and victimizers are sitting in our church pews every week. On a personal note, I have several friends who have endured sexual abuse from Christians. Those stories are not mine to tell but my point remains: sexual abuse is pervasive in our society and in our churches. We are hungry for words on this topic but all too often there is silence.
So let’s get down to it. Of course the Bible does not endorse rape or sexual assault. So what exactly is “rape culture” within our faith? Rape culture is not dealing with a complaint about inappropriate sexual behavior because it’s awkward to address the accused. Rape culture is reminding our girls again and again to be modest but not having brave and uncomfortable deeper conversations with our children. It is immediately questioning the credibility or motives of anyone (including children) who comes forward with sexual allegations. It is the immediate assumption that the alleged victims have perhaps misinterpreted something or are guilty of wrongdoing themselves. Rape culture is simply not taking the smaller voice seriously. No one wants to think about this. It’s awful. It’s sticky and miry and uncomfortable and it reaches into the parts of us that we don’t like to think about… desire, longing, impulsivity and our basic human and God-given sex drives, that all too often go awry.
Well, our faith is not about the powerful and it’s not about the status quo. Our faith is about the marginalized. Our faith is about justice for those cast aside, those with no voice. We have got to stop this. Our children need hope. They deserve better. They deserve more. They deserve a voice. They deserve the benefit of the doubt. They deserve trust just as much as someone in the public eye, just as much as their pastor or their coach. Their little hands need something to hold onto in case of turbulent times – they need the church on their side.
God calls us to look out for the weak, the vulnerable, the widows, the orphans (James 1:27) and those who are easily taken advantage of. If you are a leader in your church, you are a shepherd to God’s many sheep. He has some harsh words to the shepherds that “have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured… [or] have ruled them harshly and brutally (Eze 34:4).” If you come across an accusation – no matter how ridiculous or uncomfortable it may seem – don’t push it to the side. Listen, hear the wounded words, thoroughly investigate this claim and call the police if need be. I’m not calling for a witch hunt here. I think we all get a bit nervous that if we give more credence to accusations in the church then people will get carried away and pretty soon we will all be sued for sexual harassment. Of course there are false claims. Sometimes people lie about this sort of thing for a variety of unfortunate reasons. But the sad truth is that our churches are not without predators. And our churches are simply chocked full of sinners. Unfortunately our enemy can have a field day when he gets a foothold in the church in this area. Why? The very simple reason is that we don’t like to talk about this subject. Leaders – start talking. Don’t shy away from sermons about incest, abuse and harrassment being sinful. And equally as important – start listening. People often divulge their secrets to clergy – educate yourself about how to best handle these situations. Be on the lookout for those who blame themselves and speak truth into their damaged hearts. Be ready with a referral to a professional counselor.
So, maybe you’re not a leader, maybe you’re just a regular church attender. Well, God’s got some words for us too… “I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away” (Eze 34:20-21). All of us believers, leadership or not, are being asked to care for our weaker brother or sister. As Christians, we understand oh so well how much our fallen sin nature affects us. We get it. King David sinned in a big way in the sexual arena. Our leaders fail – sometimes in colossal manners. Our enemy is always lurking about and people who are in power are especially vulnerable to His schemes. We take advantage of those under our wings sometimes. So when we hear of an accusation, no matter how ridiculous it may seem – it deserves our response. It deserves an investigation. We cannot afford cynicism. It cannot be brushed off. That smaller voice may never speak up again. That small, thin and rather weak little sheep must not be driven away.
Practically speaking, there are a few things that we should be doing in church to protect all who enter our doors. Churches should of course be doing background checks for any childcare workers. Sometimes this doesn’t happen – particularly in small churches. Bring it up and keep bringing it up again. Teachers should never be alone with kids – there should always be more than one leader present. As parents, get to know the teachers who spend time with your children. Don’t be afraid to stick around for a class, make your presence known. And I simply can’t say enough about speaking out. Talk about these topics. No, it’s maybe not the sort of thing that you want to bring up at your next church potluck. But, have conversations about providing resources for abuse survivors at your next board meeting. Join your children’s ministry team and have healthy discourse about how to ensure the safety of the children. If you are able to share your own story in a healthy way – do it. The body of Christ needs to face this issue and your story shared with even one trusted person is one step closer to us lifting the veil. A culture change needs to happen here within the church and our voices must light the path. We can no longer be silent on these matters. “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” – Elie Wiesel
My freedom is your freedom. This is has been my motto the past few weeks. I want to bring this home a bit for some of you who have not dealt with sexual harassment or abuse. I’ve experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. What’s that you say? Why didn’t I report it? I tried to and I was brushed off, laughed off actually. I’ve also experienced sexual assault. What’s that you say? Why didn’t I tell anyone? Actually, I did and people in the church either ignored me or blamed me. It was too uncomfortable for others to deal with. I learned quickly not to make much of it and that no one wanted to hear about it. Victims are quiet so often – there are a million reasons not to tell. If you honestly think this sort of stuff doesn’t happen very often, ask a few people that you are close to. You don’t need to know the details if they aren’t up for sharing. But I can almost guarantee you that someone close to you has suffered.
I pray that this message has given you reason to reflect for a moment. I want to open the doors to this conversation in our churches. My prayer is that the church would be a safe haven of love and support for those who have been wounded. My desire is that we would learn to better protect our children from predators. My longing is that these topics would not be taboo. My hope is that every victim who is brave enough to venture a disclosure about their abuse would find a safe and welcoming haven at their local church. I am yearning for God’s true freedom here.
If you are interested in finding out more information and discussion on this topic, please visit the GRACE website (God’s Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) at http://www.netgrace.org/. There are articles, statistics, presentations, consultations available and more. I am so grateful for the attention and resources they have given to this sad topic.