By Joy Allmond
“There are phrases in culture, that if you look back a year ago, they didn’t exist,” said Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources.
“But now (one) that is common, pervasive, and indicative of a lot of pain that has occurred … has been the #MeToo movement.”
During a recent Rainer on Leadership podcast, Rainer discussed the implications of this movement on the life of the local church.
“This involves those who have been sexually abused, usually in their past, and are bringing the event forward,” said Rainer, giving clarity and definition to the #MeToo movement.
“They are verbalizing something that has happened in their past that’s been repressed or held down for so long, it’s eaten them alive. And now they’re able to get the information out about past abuse.”
Rainer—along with Jonathan Howe, Lifeway’s director of strategic initiatives—outlined six things pastors and church leaders should keep in mind as they will inevitably hear stories of abuse from within their own congregations.
1. Local church leaders are often the first line of communication on issues of abuse.
Rainer learned this during his second pastorate more than 30 years ago. A woman in his congregation told him of some abuse she had suffered years earlier. This was the first time anyone had approached him with this kind of information.
“She had not told anyone about this,” said Rainer.
Fortunately, he knew a great Christian counselor in the area who had more competency and training to handle this kind of issue.
“Local church leaders, more often than not they’re going to come to you and say, ‘This happened in my past,’ said Rainer.
“You have to be prepared.”
2. Leaders must not hesitate in responding with urgency.
Once a pastor or church leader is aware of a past or current abuse situation, Rainer said they must respond immediately.
“It’s not something you can put off until tomorrow,” he said. “You can’t say, ‘Pray and get over it.’ You have to respond with urgency, and within the appropriate legal boundaries.”
Almost all states now require church leaders to report to authorities if they hear about an instance of abuse. This used to be the case primarily with children, but now many laws apply when it is an adult who was abused as a child—or even as an adult.
3. The unchurched world trusts leaders less because of recent events.
Rainer said in order to build trust with the unchurched, church leaders must “admit we’re vulnerable.”
And when it happens in another church, Rainer said leaders, especially, should take a public stand.
“(We must) speak with courage and boldness that something must be done,” he said. “To be silent is to be one of the perpetrators. We have to stand with the victims of abuse.”
There also must be parameters in place at churches to help prevent abuse, such as background checks, and using discretion when permitting people to work with kids.
4. Greater awareness is healthier for local churches
“A healthy local church has healthy members,” said Rainer.
“Someone who is abused—and feels like they don’t have the freedom to report it—is not healthy. They are going through stress and a lot of anxiety. We have to make it easier for people who have been through abuse to get help and be healthy.”
5. Local church leaders need female input
“A lot of our churches are led primarily by men, so when you begin to look at where these issues are, they’re predominantly with females,” Rainer explained.
“If I haven’t walked in the shoes of someone else, I can’t understand them, and I can’t become them, but I can listen to them.”
He recommended pastors and church leaders should have women in the room when decisions are being made.
“Women have perspectives,” he said. “Have women as part of your leadership team when you can.”
6. The issues will only grow, creating greater time and resource demands for churches.
Rainer said with more people coming forward with their stories of abuse, “Churches are going to spend time and resources on this. #MeToo is paradigmatic movement. It has changed things, and it means it has changed the church.”
Given these six ways the #MeToo movement is changing local church life, Rainer suggested church leaders and pastors should create safe spaces that allow people to come forward and talk about their abuse.
“The simplest and most powerful way is for the pastor to say in the pulpit—whether illustratively or directly—that if there are issues, this is a safe place,” he said. “That you are willing to do whatever it takes to reach people who have needs.”
- Beth Moore, Russell Moore, and Matt Carter on Caring for Abuse Victims in the Church
- Sex Abuse in the Church: Is It Ever Too Late to Call the Police?
- Healthy Ways to Help Sexual Abuse Victims in Your Church
JOY ALLMOND (@joyallmond) is managing editor of Facts & Trends.