When Senator Mitch McConnell said on Friday that the U.S. Senate was “going to plow right through it and do our job,” he was speaking to a group of evangelical Christians at the Value Voters Summit. His words were greeted with enthusiastic applause. McConnell’s comments came one day after Franklin Graham, Ralph Reed and Robert Jeffress publicly pressed for a quick confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh. But there is a problem here. Male Christian leaders are not the best people to determine the legitimacy of a claim of sexual abuse.
I wrote last month that in one 20-year period the three largest insurance companies that insure American Protestant churches paid out 7,095 claims of sexual abuse by clergy or volunteer leaders.
Evangelicals, just like the Republican senators, still don’t get it. Sexual abuse is rampant, including within evangelicalism.
I have a number of friends who are therapists. When we hear clients begin to talk about a religious leader from their past, we know what to expect, and it is tragic. So many of the perpetrators are still in leadership positions within the church. But if the client is not willing to come forward, and few are, there is not a thing a therapist can do. Your responsibility is to your client.
That Dr. Blasey Ford did not come forward until now is no surprise to any therapist in America. It is not unusual to wait years until a client feels safe enough to talk about abuse. What she will go through this week will also be traumatizing. I will be praying fervently for her.
In the study referenced above, 92 percent of the abuse occurred in a church office, and 39 percent in a counseling session in the pastor’s office. Over 35 percent of the perpetrators were lead pastors and 31 percent were youth pastors. Almost all (98.8 percent) were male and 73 percent were white. Over 80 percent were clergy and 20 percent were church volunteers. Again, that is only within Protestant churches.
In 2004 John Jay College was given unprecedented access to files of the American Roman Catholic Church. Between 1950 and 2002, they found four percent of all priests had allegations of abuse against them, with over 11,000 victims. Astoundingly, only three percent of those cases were referred to law enforcement. And remember, this study was done in 2004, long before the current revelations, including the most recent in the State of Pennsylvania.
Yet clergy, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, continue to question the legitimacy of claims of abuse made by victims. A senator diabolically says, “We’re going to plow right through it,” and evangelical leaders applaud. I sometimes wonder if you have to be outside of evangelicalism to see the absurdity of the evangelical stance on abuse, misogyny and gender inequity? I certainly did not see it as clearly when I was a male within that world. And women in the evangelical camp are complicit.
The number of women who are supportive of abusers and critical of the women who confront abusers amazes me. When Paige Patterson was forced to step down from his leadership position in the Southern Baptist Convention this summer, over half of the signers protesting his departure were women.
Not only are abusers not confronted, evangelical women willingly remain in denominations that refuse to grant them access to power. An article in last Friday’s Washington Postquotes current Southern Baptist female seminary students about why they would not want to be pastors. Their comments sound like something from a 1950s television show. One said she thought women were just too emotional to be pastors. I guess she’s not read the statistics on emotional expression at work. Women are no more likely to show emotions at work than men.
Dr. Wayne Grudem, a leading conservative theologian, says 14 of the 83 positions of leadership within the church are only open to men. Of course, all 14 are the key positions of power. That pretty much guarantees women will not be in positions of authority in which they can actually root out sexual abuse within the church.
The words of Mitch McConnell and the response of the evangelicals in his audience made me nauseous. It also made me exasperated. Evangelicalism must pay a price for its arrogant misogyny. I hope it begins on November 6, when Senators and Representatives who support the conservative evangelical agenda can be voted out of office. If you are not registered, register. If you are registered, vote. There is only one way to stop a nation that is willing to “plow through” the credible claims of traumatic sexual abuse from a courageous woman. And that is at the ballot box.
God help us!
”Child Sexual Abuse in Protestant Christian Congregations: A Descriptive Analysis of Offense and Offender Characteristics: Religions Journal, January 18, 2018 Andres S. Denny; Kent Kerley; Nickolas Gross
”What Draws Women to a Religion That Says Men Should Be In Charge?” Julie Zauzmer, Washington Post, September 21, 2018
Williams, Joan C. and Dempsey, Rachel. What Works For Women at Work, NYU Press, 2014.