On the heels of sexual abuse allegations leveled at Hollywood’s elite, prominent politicians and well-known journalists, the hashtag “#metoo” popped up on social media with the victims of sexual assault telling their stories. Sadly, the church now has its own hashtag.
#churchtoo debuted on November 21st and immediately went viral. The hashtag collects stories of abuse, assault, harassment, misogyny and even rape at the hands of church leaders or others in a church setting.
From 15-17, I was groomed, groped, kissed, manipulated by a married man within the Christian community. It’s been 20 yrs. It’s still difficult to talk about it because purity culture taught me it was my fault, and still scared I’d be blamed if I spoke up. #churchtoo
— Leah Boldt (@LeahBoldt) November 22, 2017
ANOTHER WELL-KNOWN PROBLEM
The problem didn’t begin with Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore or Al Franken. A 2007 survey of self-described “active Christian women” shows more than a quarter personally experienced sexually inappropriate behavior—and a third of those that experienced it said it happened in a church or ministry setting.
The survey was designed to capture the range and extent to which women encounter unwelcome, gender-based behaviors by their male counterparts, either in the workplace or within a church or ministry setting.
The most common inappropriate behaviors reported? Eleven percent say it was demeaning comments; 10 percent, suggestive jokes. In 2017, the list of inappropriate behaviors is growing.
The AWANA leader at my parents (former) church sexually assaulted me Christmas 2014. #churchtoo
— Samantha Field (@samanthapfield) November 21, 2017
#churchtoo Having to tell my husband NOT to leave me alone around the guest “Reverend” at the after church fellowship dinner. Just the looks alone that he gave me felt violating.
— Michelle Mostella (@PastorMichelleM) November 22, 2017
THE ROY MOORE EFFECT
The hashtag appears to have been inspired by accusations against Roy Moore, the US Senate candidate who has been accused of sexual assault by several women, some of whom were as young as 14 when the offense allegedly occurred. More than 55 Alabama pastors initially signed an open letter calling on the conservative politician and professed Christian to leave the race and advising the faithful not to vote for him if he remains.
“Even before the recent allegations of sexual abuse, Roy Moore demonstrated that he was not fit for office, and that his extremist values and actions are not consistent with traditional Christian values or good Christian character. He and politicians like him have cynically used Christianity for their own goals. But Roy Moore does not speak for Christianity, and he acts in ways that are contrary to our faith.”
Many others have since added their names to the open letter. But the staunch support for Moore by other evangelical pastors undoubtedly created a firestorm that found its voice in #churchtoo. And although the highly publicized Boston Declaration addressed a host of issues, outside the scope of #churchtoo, it was also concerned with some evangelicals having a history to side with abusers over victims.
IT’S ALWAYS THE WOMAN’S FAULT
Franklin Raddish, a pastor at Capitol Hill Independent Baptist Ministries, told an Alabama newspaper that the accusations against Roy Moore are part of a “war on men” — and that “more women are sexual predators than men.”
Was abused from 11-16yo. #churchtoo hashtag isnt enough. Had to recently confront my pastor re; a convicted pedophile at our church & community complaints. Reply: “It’s the girls who seduce these men, that’s usually the case in these situations” I left. Undone. #Godhelpus
— BethAnn Lars (@bethann_lars) November 22, 2017
My family finally left my dad after years of emotional and physical abuse and to this day our old pastor tells my mom to go back to my dad, submit, and seek forgiveness from him. #churchtoo
— Hannah Lindsey (@hannah_linz) November 22, 2017
Earl Wise, a former pastor from Millbrook, Alabama told the Boston Globe, “I don’t know how much these women are getting paid, but I can only believe they’re getting a healthy sum. How these gals came up with this, I don’t know. They must have had some sweet dreams somewhere down the line,” he said, adding, “Plus, there are some 14-year-olds, who, the way they look, could pass for 20.”
I was not raped by a church member but i was traumatized by them. Their treatment of others led me to believe (correctly) i would get no help from them #churchtoo
— Jessi Bennett (@jekahben) November 22, 2017
I didn’t tell anyone about my assault for 10 years because purity culture made me think that, on some level, it must have been my fault. #ChurchToo
— Sarah Keeler (@SarahKeelerB) November 22, 2017
CHURCH DIVIDE GROWING ALONG GENDER LINES
This isn’t the first hashtag to show up on social media this year indicating a growing sense of alienation among female church-goers. In April, churchleaders.com wrote that #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear was blowing up twitter. It chronicled a growing divide in the church over long-standing, misogynist practices accepted by many in leadership. #churchtoo is documenting the harmful consequences of those traditions.
When I was in college, a male Sunday school teacher taught my class that “rape wouldn’t exist if women just learned to say yes more often.”
This sentence plays in my head every single day. #churchtoo
— jessie george (@jessieigeorge14) November 22, 2017
#churchtoo isn’t about demonizing. It’s about all of us bonding together over the hurt of being shamed for being taken advantage of, shamed, raped, told forgiveness would fix our sin of being “tempting.” It’s about realizing all people are broken
— Dana (@Dana_Janelle) November 22, 2017
HOW CAN THE CHURCH MOVE FORWARD?
The advice for church leaders: Don’t be silent. Talk about sexual abuse in your classrooms and from the pulpit to draw a clear line in the sand between acceptable behavior and sin. And don’t assume it can’t happen in your church.
Sexual abuse expert Boz Tchvidjian, a grandson of Billy Graham and a former prosecutor, now consults with faith organizations on the issue of sexual abuse. For years, he has spotlighted abuse in the Protestant church, pointing out that church insurance companies receive more reports of sexual abuse by Protestant church leaders than the Catholic church has received.
“The likelihood is that more children are sexually abused in Protestant churches than in Catholic churches,” he said in a 2015 op-ed piece.
Two well-known Christian women are also applauding the hashtag campaigns as a way to raise awareness. Bible study leader Beth Moore endured years of childhood sexual abuse. She was told by a well meaning mentor that talking about it would sink her ministry. It didn’t. She tweeted back in October “#WeToo have dignity. We too have courage. We too can heal. We too have community. We too can be unashamed. We too can see to change.”
It is hard to imagine how any Bible-believing church would disagree.