By Emily Holladay
On Thursday morning of General Assembly, Pam Durso, Executive Director of Baptist Women in Ministry, led a workshop entitled, “#metoo: Join The Movement, Be The Change.” More than 75 people gathered to learn about the growing movement of women naming their experiences with sexual violence, and how the Church can take a more active role in advocating for victims of sexual abuse.
Durso began the session reviewing the history of the #metoo movement, noting that the first and primary people to speak up and stand out against sexual violence were found within the entertainment industry. Women like Ashley Judd and Alyssa Milano, among others, exposed the injustices with their industries, and sparked a movement of women who began to give voice to their experience.
“What began as a simple tweet has begun to shake our society,” claimed Durso. “It’s time for us as a Church to own up to the reality and get involved… Hollywood has done a better job than we have as the Church.”
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 5 women will experience rape or attempted rape, and 91% of all rape victims are women. Such statistics, along with countless stories making national headlines, bring awareness to the presence of victims of sexual violence within the church.
The hashtag #churchtoo movement taking place in tandem with the #metoo movement, has also shed light on the many people who have also experienced sexual abuse at the hands of their local church.
Durso noted that the church has many lessons to learn from the knowledge gained through #metoo. She suggested four specific ways the church can respond to the ever growing voices of victims of sexual abuse, whose stories are shifting our cultural response to sexual abuse.
- Believe the women who share their stories. At least 61% of rapes go unreported, and Durso claimed that this is because rape victims are rarely believed when they do report. “The church,” she suggested, “has been slow to believe women as well.”
- Do not shame the victim. Citing the Southeastern Seminary rape case that recently exposed a prominent Southern Baptist leader for mishandling a report brought to his attention, Durso said, “What disturbs me the most is that the young woman who reported was punished [when she reported] … And now, she has been blamed for ruining a good man’s life.”
Cindy Ruble, CBF field personnel and sexual violence advocate, added that “sexual violence is the only crime where the victim is blamed… Women have been sexually assaulted wearing burkas, with only their eyes showing. The only thing that determines if they will be raped is if there is a rapist in the room. The only way to stop it is to break the silence.”
- Provide safe spaces for women to tell their stories. Durso suggested that churches need to begin facilitating small groups and professional counselors, who can serve as safe places for victims of sexual abuse to share their stories and begin to seek healing.
“They need to have the opportunity to tell their story, and if that can’t happen in the church, where is it going to happen?”
- Preach, teach and pray. Durso encouraged pastors to use their platform and their pulpits to voice a theological response to sexual violence. She shared that victims are sitting in the pew every Sunday who need to hear their stories and know that they are not alone.
She also noted that the church needs to begin having serious conversations about theology and sexual violence, stating that the Church’s theology has perpetuated a culture of abuse and shame.
Molly Marshall, President of Central Baptist Seminary, spoke about how the Church can begin making this theological shift.
“We’ve got to do better about thinking about our vision of God, and doing it in creative ways,” Marshall said. “We often use kangaroo exegesis, hopping over the difficult stories… As long as we project a patriarchal vision of God, we’re going to have problems.”
Durso concluded by reiterating the imperative nature of this conversation taking place within local churches, as many victims of sexual violence are leaving the church, and in some cases, their faith.
“The victims most often leave the church,” she noted. “They don’t feel safe there. They don’t feel heard there. They have been hurt. We have allowed them to be pushed out.
“They give up on a God who loves them, because they don’t feel loved by the Church.”
Baptist Women in Ministry offers a growing list of resources for churches seeking to join the #metoo movement and advocate for victims of sexual violence. You can find these resources online at www.bwim.info/safechurches.