One of the most woeful social issues in SA today is that statistically 1 in 4 women will be the victims of sexual abuse. Daily, the media starkly reminds us about sexual sins, whether from politicians, senior directors of firms, schools, or in taverns across the land.
Last year, I preached a sermon on pornography. I used the school holidays for this since I thought the chances of having little ones present was much lower. It was a tricky, but necessary topic, and I indicated then that there are serious spiritual and relational risks involved in porn. Some young people thanked me afterwards and shared how our schools are rife with sexually inappropriate media (on mobile phones).
Sexual issues affect us all. Since it is the Easter season, I also want to say that help is available, that we can experience new life – resurrection – in this very sensitive area of life as we place ourselves under the Lordship of Christ.
Sexual misconduct isn’t limited to the entertainment or media industries however. Improper behaviour can happen in a church too. And when it does, it causes great harm to the person subjected to it. It can leave them with a damaged view of God, religion and spirituality. This is why I must talk about it. Recently, the senior pastor of Willow Creek had accusations cast his way by former staff and church members. No one is immune.
As the #MeToo campaign gathered steam these past months, a lot of voices came forward in similar #ChurchToo campaigns, sharing stories of how they had been abused by people they saw as their spiritual leaders, mentors or guides. We know from the last several decades that the church can be a place of sexual abuse. What we perhaps don’t pay as much attention to — but should, is the sexual harassment, innuendo and just plain unwanted sexual attention that people sometimes experience in a faith community.
Sadly, I have heard stories of women seduced and exploited by their spiritual leaders. Threats, fear and the confidential nature of the relationship can hold some victims back from reporting abuse. However, there should never be an expectation of silence on the part of people who experience abuse in the church. Silence feeds abuse.
We need to – I want to – ensure that RRUC should be as safe as possible. There should never be any sexual or romantic aspect to spiritual leadership. This includes:
*flirting *sexually suggestive overtures *intimate touch *initiation by leaders in conversation about sexuality (naturally, in counselling situations people may talk about whatever they choose, including issues of sexuality) *wielding of power over members of the opposite sex.
To be a #SafeChurch, I encourage all counselling to be like and like, wherever possible (man-man, etc). If you begin to feel discomfort in any situation that is a sure sign to step away from the relationship. As far as possible, always ensure that males/females meet in open public spaces.
If necessary, use words like, “I’m not feeling comfortable here”, or “with this conversation,” or say “NO”.
What to Do If You Receive Unwanted Romantic Advances
Always consult with the Minister or spiritual leader directly involved in the ministry, obviously not the person concerned but the next highest leader. Thus, your cell leader, the youth pastor, etc, and try not to go alone if possible but have some support along with you.
Discuss your discomfort or abuse incident with the Minister
You will need your life partner’s support, and they will need to be informed
Always take seriously the option of laying a charge with the civil authorities
It is wise to keep available any phone records, media, or electronic messages
The tricky part: Accept that any allegation may not ultimately be kept confidential
Let’s strive to make RRUC a safe church for all, especially for women and children. Sexual abuse is NEVER “your fault” and I will always believe you and take an allegation seriously.
If you feel a spiritual or religious leader has behaved improperly toward you:
• Confront the offender immediately, address it, and end the relationship completely
• Let them know you will not be silent about their treatment of you
• Report the behaviour to the Minister/ church elders immediately
• Tell someone! Silence feeds abuse
The relationship between a spiritual leader and an individual must be safe for any kind of spiritual work to be done. It is heart-breaking to hear the stories of people abused by religious and spiritual leaders. And of course, children and youth must be protected.
Perhaps the #MeToo and #ChurchToo awareness campaigns will encourage victims to speak out against predators who use religion as a cover for sexual abuse. It does not matter how long ago the incident happened.
We’re all in this together. I am committed to taking your experiences seriously.
We pray for and work towards ending all forms of abuse, especially in the church.
#RealMenDon’tAbuse #NoIsNo #AbuseIsSin
We say to men in the name of Jesus: don’t abuse women and children. Do not force your advances on to anybody. Accept others’ boundaries. There is confidential counselling available to you too. Ask for help. Silence feeds abuse. If your advances are rejected do not become angry or vindictive – if you do, you have already crossed the line. No is No. Abuse is sin. Abuse is violation of someone’s holy temple. Men, do not abuse women and children.
Have a blessed week-end. May the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.
In the Name of Jesus,