Last night I followed the hashtag #churchtoo on Twitter, and was saddened once again by more sexual abuse stories in the church.
I am overwhelmed lately by all the abuse exposures that are coming out of Hollywood, politics and the church. My social media pages are bombarded with more and more pain. I can only take in so much before despair starts to overwhelm me.
I am so very exhausted by the accusations, the victim blaming, the polarization, and the lack of love and empathy. I am sickened by the denial and apathetic at times that things probably will not change in certain circles.
Jesus told us not to be dismayed by the tribulations in our world. He promised that He has overcome the world. I am constantly having to remind myself of this truth as I am bombarded by so much pain and confusion, especially coming out of the church.
Hashtags like #emptythepews are circulating. I cannot tell you how sick and sad this makes me feel. I have learned so much about the Bible by being in church. I have been so blessed by songs that have healed my heart in church. I’ve had some of my closest friendships in church. I’ve even grown closer to God in church. I love the church. I want to be part of a church. However, these days I am really struggling to be a part of one.
I know that there are good churches with good leaders. I have been exceedingly grateful for the guidance and support they have given me through my most painful and discouraging times. I do not know if I could have survived if these people had not given me hope to hold onto. So thank you to the pastors and leaders in through church who are truly doing the work of Jesus Christ.
However, despite all the good I have witnessed in the church, I am scared to death of the church these days. My own #churchtoo story is a tragedy. I was sexually and emotionally abused by my pastor for ten years, who I’d gone to for counseling, and when I finally found the courage to tell someone what happened, my story was edited by leaders in the church so that it would not be labeled as the abuse that it was. I was accused of shirking responsibility for my sin. Those in the church and community believed and still believed that we’d just had an affair.
The past few years have been a healing journey for our family in another town several hours away from where the abuse occurred. We have continued to attempt consistently to find churches where we would be able to heal and feel somewhat safe. However, it has not happened yet and I am beginning to wonder if it will.
I am constantly questioning whether what I am struggling with in church is a result of the overwhelming fear brought on by PTSD or legitimate concerns. I have had many conversations with my therapist and others who have been through similar things in an effort to understand, and I have decided that it’s both.
I think it is unrealistic for me to expect that church will not trigger me considering the abuse happened in the church. Every time I enter a church I will be reminded. Certain words and phrases will be reminders. Songs that I sang in my previous church will bring up an emotional response. When I go to church these days, I prepare myself mentally as best I know how to redirect my thinking to the real reason I am at church, to worship God. Most of the time I am able to attend these days without being overwhelmed.
However, as more and more stories of abuse are being exposed in the church I am learning that some of my concerns about the church are more than PTSD, they are legitimate safety concerns that need to be addressed and not minimized in order for me to be able to continue to be a part of the church.
Sunday, my husband and I visited another church for the first time. We are considering a move to another town, and community is an important part of our decision making process in choosing where to live. I continue to cling to the hope that attending church is a good way to meet others in a community and to find out if it is where we belong.
The people at the church we attended were friendly, genuine, hospitable and engaged us in conversation. The pastor talked to us at length about the area, offered advice on good places to live, and did not seem in any hurry to end our conversation. We felt accepted from the moment we walked through the door. One couple even offered to have us over for lunch the next time we visited the church. Needless to say this church ranks pretty high on the list of one we’d return to.
At the end of the service, the church had a meeting concerning safety. We decided to stick around to hear what they had to say. It was clear that the leaders and members had made protecting the church a priority. They had a team of people with walkie talkies to monitor the security of the building and the weather, as well as security cameras installed. No doubt if one had to be in church when an act of violence, fire or bad weather was going to occur, I would certainly want to be in this one! They even performed a couple of drills.
I commend this church on being prepared. I appreciate that it is important to have a plan of action in place to keep the members safe and help to put to ease the minds of those of us who are also afraid of a bad weather or active shooter situation. Now more than ever it is clear that we live in a world full of tribulation. Jesus advised that we be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. This church was certainly practicing wisdom in dealing with these kinds of situations. However, after having time to think about it, I wondered if this church had a policy concerning sexual abuse in place?
Even though I do not have the answer to that question, because it was the only time we had ever attended that church, I do wonder why it is so easy to address issues like bad weather and active shooters and not sexual abuse. The chances of those kinds of incidents occurring during the less than two hours spent in church are very low percentage wise, however all kinds of abuse happen far more often in the church, and most churches have no plans to deal with it. The secular world does a far better job of addressing these types of issues making it clear that if certain lines are crossed criminal action will be sought out. Why does the church choose not to do the same thing?
Abuse in the church is an overwhelming issue these days that is very complicated and difficult to talk about. I do not have all the answers, but I do know where to start. Churches can start by doing the work needed to ensure that congregations are safe. They can use wisdom and have a plan of action in place to protect children and adults from abuse. Also, they can choose not to minimize or cover up abuse when it does occur.
A prepared church is a safer church.
For more information in how to protect children and adults in church, these websites are a great place to start.