By Aaron Earls
While pastors say they preach on domestic or sexual violence multiple times throughout the year, their congregants aren’t as sure.
In Lifeway Research’s 2019 Sexual Misconduct and Churchgoers Study, only 1 in 5 who attend a Protestant church once a month or more (20%) say they’ve heard a sermon in the last year directly addressing sexual assault or sexual violence.
Eighty percent say they haven’t heard any sermon at their church on the issue in the past year.
A new Pew Research study found similar numbers, with 27% of Protestants saying they heard their clergy speak about sexual harassment, assault, or abuse. Around 3 in 4 (73%) say they haven’t heard anything from their pastor.
Unsurprisingly, the Lifeway Research study found those who attend more frequently are more likely to have heard such a sermon. Among those who attend once a week, 21% say they’ve heard the topic addressed from the pulpit, compared to 16% of those attending once or twice a month.
Men (22%) are also more likely than women (18%) to say they heard a sermon address the issue.
In the past year, a higher percentage of married (20%) and single churchgoers (23%) say a sermon at their church has addressed sexual assault or sexual violence than attendees who are divorced or separated (12%).
Young adult churchgoers, 18-34, are the age demographic most likely to report they’ve heard their church talk about the issue (28%).
African Americans (27%) are more likely to say their church has talked about the issue than white churchgoers (18%) or other ethnicities (10%).
While few churchgoers say they’ve heard about the topic from church leadership, pastors are much more likely to say they’ve talked about domestic and sexual violence.
A 2018 Lifeway Research survey of Protestant pastors found three-quarters (77%) say they speak on the topic to their church in sermons or other messages to large gatherings at least once a year.
That is a marked increase from 2014 when half of pastors (56%) said the same.
The largest increase came among those who said they spoke on the topic several times a year, jumping from 28% in 2014 to 44% in 2018.
Attitudes expressed by pastors who avoided the topic in their church may explain why few churchgoers have heard about the topic from the pulpit.
Among pastors who say they speak on the issue less than once a year, many simply don’t see it as a priority.
Almost half (46%) say domestic or sexual violence is not a problem in their congregation, up from 29% in 2014.
Three in 10 (29%) say it is not as important as the other topics they address. And one in 5 (19%) say it’s not a problem in their local community.
Even pastors who speak on the issue once a year or more don’t believe the issue affects their church.
Less than 1 in 5 (18%) say one of the reasons they speak about domestic or sexual violence is because they see it as a problem in their congregation.
Many more say they talk about the subject because they are aware of resources that can help (96%), it’s a problem in the local community (87%), and they’ve seen its impact first-hand.
Despite some pastors believing the issue of domestic and sexual violence exists only outside of their congregation, Lifeway Research’s 2019 Sexual Misconduct and Churchgoers Study found 15% of churchgoers say they know someone at their church who has experienced sexual assault as an adult and 12% know someone at their church who has experienced rape or attempted rape.
In addition, 1 in 20 churchgoers (4%) say they know of someone at their church who has sexually assaulted someone, but it has not come to light. The same number say they know someone at their church who has sexually abused a child, but it has not been found out.
Not only is there a divide between what pastors believe they are saying and what their congregation hears, but also a disconnect between the topics pastors think are applicable to those in the pews each week and what is actually a reality.
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor for Facts & Trends.