I had the pleasure of attending the first ever Courage Conference this past weekend. While there was a lot of healing and support taking place, there was also a lot of educating. Did you know that there are just as many cases of abuse in the church and in other religious communities, if not more, than the secular world? Or that evangelical churches have the highest rate of abuse, even more so than the Catholic church? Did you also know that the church has a history of protecting itself above its members, by burying the abuse and even blaming the victims? So what do we do when someone we know is abused? What are ways we can prevent abuse? Here are four essential takeaways from The Courage Conference.
1. Believe the Victim
Boz Tchividjian, professor and former child abuse prosecutor, said that the number one thing he hears from victims is “Yes, the abuse was horrific, but what has had a greater impact on me was the failed response of the church.”
Speaker and abuse survivor, Natalie Greenfield, said that when she came out about her abuse she needed support from her church family, but instead she got the opposite. Her church’s pastor and congregation took her abusers side, and even wrote character letters to the judge in his defense.
Some of you may be thinking, “But what if they’re lying about being abused? You can’t always take their word for it.” Boz Tchividjian says that only 1 to 5 percent of reported abuse is false. This means that about 95% of the time the victim is telling the truth.
We cannot give victims the love, support, and help they need if we don’t first believe them.
2. Talk About Abuse From the Pulpit
Thomas Edward, a survivor and advocate, recommends that churches should have at least two sermons per year on abuse. He says, “Scripture talks about it, so why don’t we?” Even if pastors don’t know what they can say about abuse, simply reading the Biblical stories, such as the one of Tamar, can provide opportunities for victims to come forward and reach out for help.
Importantly, Boz recommends that pastors who aren’t educated to talk about abuse should do no more than read such Bible stories. He cautions that, if they don’t understand the dynamics of abuse situations, their flawed commentary could cause more harm than good.
And if you do a sermon on abuse and a victim comes forward, do not try to handle it on your own. Advocate, writer, and founder of Stand Up-Speak Out, Monica Daye, advises that the best thing a pastor can do for a victim is to direct them to someone who is clinically trained to work in abuse situations.
3. Educate Yourself and Others
Rachel Williams-Jordan is the Lynchburg Victim Advocate for the Sexual Assault Response Program. Rachel says, “In the United States, 98% of rapists don’t spend a day in jail. One way to change this reality is to raise awareness and talk about this topic.”
Going to events like The Courage Conference, and reading books and blogs are all ways you can educate yourself. And once you begin to learn, don’t keep it to yourself! Start conversations and share resources.
It’s also important to realize that patriarchy/complementarianism plays a huge role in abuse, because it tells men that God gives them power over women, and that women have to submit to them. Jory Micah, speaker, writer, and advocate, says that “Complementarianism, when taken seriously, can lead to abuse for girls and women.”
Ashley Easter, writer, advocate, and founder of The Courage Conference, talked about how her own abuse was linked to complementarianism, which often favors a male abuser’s reputation over a female survivor’s healing. She said, “It was in the homeschool patriarchy movement that I was abused by a church leader. My church didn’t want me to speak out.”
Boz said that “it’s almost always the more patriarchal churches that don’t want to confront the abuse of women and children.”
4. Express Yourself
And finally, if you are a survivor, express yourself. Multiple speakers said that telling their stories greatly helped them on their journey to healing. Monica Daye said, “Every time I spoke out and shared my story, I was healing a piece of me.”
Natalie Greenfield said therapy was a huge part of her healing. She encouraged the crowd by saying, “I’m here to tell you that it’s not going to become perfect, but it will get better and sting less. Reach out and tell someone.”
In closing, Ashley Easter gave a powerful mini-sermon. She labeled this generation as the “justice generation,” and stirred up a passion inside the entire audience. And so I will leave you some of her words,
“Look out, you oppressors. Those who abuse and malign God’s image bearers. We are the justice generation, and we put our hands up and say no! No to abuse, no to silencing, no to coverups, no to religiously sanctioned discrimination. Not on our watch! We are the justice generation and the banner we carry over us is love and peace. We are the justice generation and we will stand up in courage!”
If you want to learn more, you can check out the links below.
Rachel Williams-Jordan: purposefullyscarred.com
Monica Daye: www.susonc.org
Natalie Greenfield: natalierose-livewithpassion.blogspot.com
Thomas Edward: www.healingbrokenmen.com
Jory Micah: jorymicah.com
Boz Tchividjian: netgrace.org
Ashley Easter: ashleyeaster.com
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, the first step is to escape that situation. Below are a list of hotlines that can help.
Darkness to light: National Child Sexual Abuse Helpline – 24/7 hotline: 866-367-5444
The Crisis Text Line– Text “START” to 741-741 for support and help
YWCA (Domestic Violence)– 24/7 Hotline: 1-888-528-1041
RAINN (Rape Abuse & Incest National Network)– 24/7 Hotline: 800.656.HOPE(4673)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline– 24/7 Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
SARP (Sexual Assault Response Program)– Lynchburg- 24/7 hotline: 888-947-7273
Human Trafficking– 1-888-373-7888
*Though patriarchy/complementarianism plays a big role in abuse, this does not mean ALL who subscribe to patriarchal beliefs are abusive. There are many men who hold on to complementarian interpretations without actually exhibiting their full implications.