The church has never dealt well with sexuality, and it has dealt particularly poorly with male sexuality. From Roman Catholicism to evangelicalism, we are now reaping the rewards of that failure. #MeToo is a game changer. Now, #ChurchToo is popping up across the Internet.
Recent events in Alabama form the awful backdrop of this narrative. Nine women came forward to say Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore used his positional power to assault females. Yet an article in the November 19 Washington Post noted that of the large Alabama evangelical churches it followed after the allegations against Moore, almost none of the pastors have mentioned Moore or sexual abuse in their sermons. I am not surprised. The evangelical church has been silent about sexual abuse for centuries.
Last year Sojourners magazine published a study entitled, “I Believe You: Sexual Violence and the Church.” The study found that 65 percent of pastors have spoken one or fewer times about sexual and domestic violence. They just don’t see it as a problem worth addressing. When was the last time you heard a sermon against sexual abuse? Ask any therapist. Sexual assault is rampant within the evangelical community, but churches want to keep their heads in the sand.
Dr. Benjamin Kees, with Regent University’s Center for Trauma Studies, said Christian marriages have a much greater frequency of domestic assault that what is seen in non-Christian homes. He believes much of this is because of the traditional teaching that the man is the “head” of the household, a theological position that enables sexual abusers.
The problem of sexual abuse is not just within the church; it is also rampant in the halls of some of the most conservative Christian universities, including Bob Jones University, Patrick Henry College, Pensacola Christian College and Cedarville University. All have been guilty of allowing sexual assault on campus. In many cases the victim was blamed.
When I was a student, I was sexually assaulted by a Christian college professor. It was a decade before I discovered I was not alone. Many others had been assaulted by the same professor. My abuser eventually lost his job. But because the school did not share their knowledge with others, he was able to get a teaching position at another Christian college.
Since I transitioned I have had former classmates tell me about other professors who assaulted them at the same institution. I have no reason to question the accuracy of their stories.
That people question the credible stories of the nine women in Alabama tells you just how resistant the evangelical world is to the cancer in its midst. These women are courageous and credible voices. Yet for their honesty and integrity they have been mercilessly attacked by Alabama evangelicals. Furthermore, just yesterday the Republican National Committee restored its support for Moore, and the president endorsed him. This, from the party so warmly embraced by evangelicals.
No wonder victims are still reluctant to come forward when they live within the evangelical subculture. They know there is a likelihood they will be blamed. For them, the Roy Moore story remains a cautionary tale. But the tide will turn, just as it did for the sexual abusers whose crimes have been brought to life since the Harvey Weinstein story broke.
The #MeToo phenomenon is acknowledging deep wounds in the soul of our nation. In the same way, #ChurchToo will bring to light a dark chapter in the history of the evangelical church. It is not coming a moment too soon.
And so it goes.