The allegations of sexual harassment and assault by Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and a list of others in the television and film industry, news media, and politics are repugnant. Sadly when your church comes together for worship this Sunday there will be one, two, or more who has also been affected by sexual harassment and assault. The CDC reported in 2012 that nearly 1-in-5 women will be raped in their lifetime. This year I sat with a father who was both weeping and full of rage after his daughter was slipped a narcotic and raped.
Sexual harassment and assault is not an American issue alone. The words of Jaclyn Parrish reflecting on her experience in South Asia are haunting;
I did everything right during the ten months I was there. I wore loose-fitting pants and shirts down to my knees. I never left the house without a scarf draped over my chest. I never traveled alone after dark. I rode in the back when a man was driving. I was respectful, decent, and modest.
And it didn’t matter.
Pastors, we have a responsibility to both protect those entrusted to our care and speak out against assaults on the daughters of Eve. The following are some actions to defend and elevate the women entrusted to our care.
Pastor, speak out.
If abuse happens, contact the authorities. If the abuse is of alleged of a ministry leader, remove them until the authorities can investigate the allegations. You have been entrusted by God and elevated by the church to care for the whole congregation. Your shepherding includes all matters theological, ethical and legal. Act.
The reports of pastoral infidelity are alarming. Particularly those pastors who used their position to their advantage. Either the reports are exaggerated or worse, they are true. For every one pastor who has abused their position, there are probably a thousand or more who have not. But the one who disregards the trust given them is one too many. Not every pastor is guilty of sexual sin, but for the one who is, for the sake of your victim, your family, and the church repent.
Pastor, teach the biblical value of women.
The gospel affirms the dignity of both men and women simply because “in his image he created them” (Gen 1:27). Women have a tremendous role within the church. Jesus included women in his ministry. Paul in Romans sixteen elevates at least eight women and two groups of “sisters” as coworkers, servants, and hard workers for the gospel. This is not a post to examine the roles of women in ministry but the previous are examples of elevating the value of sisters in the faith. A woman’s inherent dignity as one created in God’s image should never be questioned but elevated. Women of all ages in your pews need to know that the Bible affirms them.
Pastor, apply the Adams rule.
Dr. Adams, who has long been in glory, was not a Christian celebrity. He did not write books, nor was he sought after as a conference preacher. In one church for nearly thirty years he preached faithfully and loved his people. For a short season, the Lord saw fit for him to become my Paul and I his Timothy. Adams had a firm rule. Never be alone with a woman who is not your wife. (Dr. Adams adopted this rule from Billy Graham.)
The never alone rule raises controversy and questions. The rule is not intended to be derogatory nor fearful but to establish a boundary guarding against many things including harassment and abuse of women. For the pastor the rule prioritize his marriage. For the church the rule also protects against creating an environment for predatory pastors to hunt.
Pastors, you must establish your own practices and policies for ministry. However, ensure that your practices create space for both healthy biblical boundaries and ministry to all within your church. Put windows in your office door. Make certain another person is in the building if you are counseling a woman. Limit your pastoral counseling, unless that is your primary ministry, to less than a handful of times. However you decide best to carry out your ministry be certain you create healthy boundaries.
Church, conduct a background screening on all who work with children and youth.
Every church can and should conduct background screening for all who work with groups of any age. If nothing is in place presently, start with children and youth. This one step is deterrent to many would be predators.
Church, establish practices to ensure the safety of your children and youth.
Always have two adults with youth and children. Acquire a First Aid kit that is readily accessible. Create an action plan for tornadoes, fire, and other natural disasters. Insurance companies, denominational workers, and Lifeway have resources available to help create a safe environment for children and youth. Churches must be proactive for the safety of the most vulnerable in the congregation.
These are some of the numerous actions pastors and churches could take to protect themselves against predators. There are many other areas that could be addressed.
Our culture is morally outraged at the conduct of those engaged in sexual harassment and assault. Pastors should not only be outraged by these accounts but they must also be proactive to guard their lives and the church against harassment, assault, and the abuse of pastoral trust. Pastors, we cannot speak out against sex trafficking happening somewhere else while allowing sexual sin to exist under the glow of our stained glass.
Featured image credit, edited for size.