In this series we’ve covered many topics but you may be left wondering what you can do — right now, this week, in your lifetime — to prevent abuse and respond to sexual violence appropriately.
At the bottom of this post you will find a myriad of helpful resources including books, podcasts, blogs, even instagram accounts to check out and consider for your next step.
Members of the clergy have a significant role in the life of the survivor. They can be a trusted (or highly mistrusted) figure. This role has too frequently been mishandled and research finds survivors are not likely to share their experiences with them. Because not all clergy are trained and ordained consistently, not all pastors are professionally equipped to counsel those impacted by violence and trauma and this can potentially re-traumatize those seeking help.
- Clergy should not counsel couples where abuse or violence is suspected or reported. The context in which counseling takes place requires an openness and vulnerability that may be used against the victim outside the office. (Remember, abuse is centered on power and control.) To maintain safety, victims should be counseled idividually if possible.
- Clergy should communicate their professional boundaries clearly and not assume they are appropriately trained to handle survivors’ often complex needs. If you find yourself in this position do not be afraid to refer someone to a licensed counselor, therapist, or social worker.
While church leaders can be seen as a spiritual or physical shelter from harm, it is healthy for a pastor to admit they do not have all the answers. Just as survivors should be able to ask for help, clergy should, too. Pamela Cooper-White offers encouragement for clergy saying,
“By simply offering presence, belief, and an unshakable confidence that she [or he] deserves a life free of violence – especially when she herself [or he himself] does not share that confidence—we are giving a gift of healing and empowerment.“Pamela Cooper-White, The Cry of Tamar: Violence Against Women and the Church’s Response
The Church as a Mediator of Healing
Community is powerful. It can be severely damaging but it can also provide healing. Just as members of a church can pass on legacies of shame and judgement towards recipients of sexual violence, they can also be the hands of hope and justice towards survivors.
- Do not assume victims can heal on their own.
- “God won’t give you more than you’re able to handle” (and similar sentiments) are a modified version of victim blaming.
- Community members are liable for adjusting practices that perpetuate cycles of inappropriate use of power and control and continue to harm. Do not remain silent or passive to violence of any type. Speak up about the liturgy. About representation. About the church policies, if they exist.
- Confess corporate sin and call for perpetrators to repent.
- Invite survivors to participate in the sacraments and other volunteer opportunities. Jennifer Beste, professor of theology, suggests, “This simple act communicates to the survivor that he or she is capable and worthy of manifesting God’s presence and grace to the congregation.”
Forgiveness is a sensitive area. The word itself can spark intense emotions. In regards to the abusive actions of Larry Nassar, Rachael Denhollander (the first woman to accuse Nassar of sexual abuse) speaks on forgiveness in her victim impact statement.
“The Bible you speak of carries a final judgment where all of God’s wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.
I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me — though I extend that to you as well.”Rachael Denhollander, read her full statement here.
Her full statement is moving. She continues to advocate for survivors.
More on forgiveness:
- Why I Don’t Use the Word ‘Forgiveness’ in Trauma Therapy by Anastasia Pollock, LCMHC
- On Forgiveness and Abuse by Rachel Held Evans
- Can We Reconcile Justice and Forgiveness? by Rachael Denhollander
A systemic problem requires a systemic solution. As the church, we are accountable for both personal (Matthew 23) and communal righteousness (Isaiah 58).
“People need to be called out for their behavior, but beyond that their behavior doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens in the context of a society that creates space for that kind of behavior.”Tarana Burke
Community Education & Training
- Be informed on current local and national legislation that either protects (or exposes) survivors. The Violence Against Women Act, for example.
- Conduct evidence-based, trauma-informed training for volunteers, staff, and others involved with professional or lay ministry. There are many national or local non-profit organizations that provide training.
- Encourage participation in local efforts to protect vulnerable populations. Volunteer at domestic violence shelters or food pantries. Place cards with emergency help or hotline information in church bathrooms. Sexual violence intersects with many other social issues.
- Establish a network of interfaith professionals who can assist survivors, domestic violence officers, therapists, social workers, etc.
- Evaluate and adjust church policies to reflect a safe, scriptural, and ethical prevention of and response to sexual violence. Create policies if they don’t exist. Safety must be prioritized.
- The hiring or screening process should be thorough for those serving the church, either staff or volunteer. There are ministries and consultants that can assist with the evaluation of institutional policies.
- Hold leaders in all levels of political and religious offices (and everywhere else!) accountable for their actions. Period.
Resources for the road.
Wherever your journey leads you I hope you’ve found this series helpful. Below is a starter-list of resources that may help you in your next steps, whether in your personal life or in your community. Some items are more progressive than others; each have valuable insights to offer.
- Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (This link provides a great list of national resources for all types of survivors of sexual violence and domestic violence.)
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center (This link can help you find local or state wide resources for survivors.)
- NSVRC’s Victim Centered Approach to Sexual Violence & Faith
- #SilenceIsNotSpiritual Statement
- FaithTrust Institute
Podcasts & Ted Talks
- Mormon Stories #636: Rape in Mormon Culture
- You Are Worthy of Great Sex (And So Much More) with Dr. Celeste Holbrook
- Confidence and joy are the keys to a great sex life with Dr. Emily Nagoski
- To Critique Purity Culture with Dr. Tina Shermer Sellers
- Jaime Lee Finch’s Collection of Conversations
- The Cry of Tamar: Violence Against Women and the Church by Pamela Cooper-White
- The Dinah Project: A Handbook for Congregational Response to Sexual Violence by Monica Coleman
- Victims of Child Abuse, Domestic Violence, Elder Abuse, Rape, Robbery, Assault, and Violent Death: A Manual for Clergy and Congregations Special Edition for Military Chaplains by Rev. David and Anne Delaplane
- Sex, God, and the Conservative Church: Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy by Tina Schermer Sellers
- Marks of His Wounds: Gender Politics and Bodily Resurrection by Beth Felker Jones
- The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk M.D.
- Unlearning Purity Culture: Intentionality by Dianna Anderson
- To the evangelical couple considering sex therapy by Christine Woolgar
- How recognising Jesus as a victim of sexual abuse might help shift Catholic culture by David Tombs
- Sexual Abuse: 12 Resources for Church Leaders Committed to Preventing It (A collection of essays, videos, and posts on the topic of prevention.)
- No Shame Movement (“A platform for sharing stories of leaving behind conservative Christian beliefs about sexuality.”)
- @enagoski (Sexologist, sex educator, author)
- @kristinbhodson (Sex therapist empowering families from LDS perspective)
- @sexpositive_families (Discussion on raising healthy, informed kids)
- @dr.thema (Minister, psychologist, researcher, author)
- @sexedincolor (Podcast discussing sexuality)
- @sixminutesexed (Podcast with short conversations on sex education)
- @consentacademy (Teaching and discussion on consent)
- @gottmaninstitute (Relationship experts!)
Read more in this series: