Fourteen percent of people between ages 18 and 34—but just one percent of people 65 and older—say they’ve attended worship less often due to sexual advances from people at church. “It is not surprising that young adults who have only known this frank ‘call it what it is’ sexual culture [are] more likely to identify instances of misconduct than older adults,” says LifeWay’s McConnell.
Another contributing factor is that younger churchgoers are more likely to have children, making them more tuned in to preventing and spotting abuse. Abuse survivor and advocate Mary DeMuth tells the Christian Post she believes there’s a generation gap “in that the younger generation has had it with fakery, and they are bent toward telling it like it is.” Younger people, who are more likely to be targets of abuse, also are more likely to share their abuse experiences, she adds.
The #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements appear to be having constructive impacts on church safety, but experts warn against complacency. Pease tells the Christian Post he’s encouraged “that we’re simply talking about [abuse] at all,” but he says the next few years will be telling. “There’s a rush to say, ‘Okay, we’ve learned our lesson, and we’ll be better now,’” he says. “But until we create space to grieve and mourn and repent for the systemic sin of abuse in the evangelical church, we are in danger of letting it stay.”
Churches Aren’t Immune
Three-fourths (75 percent) of survey respondents say compared to other places where they socialize, the church is a better environment regarding sexually inappropriate comments. “Churchgoers and the church setting have statistically fewer cases of immoral behavior,” says McConnell, “but those issues still have a very real presence.”
Of the 44 percent of Protestant churchgoers who say they’ve experienced sexual misconduct, 12 percent say it happened at church. Some survey respondents indicate the ways people greet one another on Sundays can feel uncomfortable. Seventeen percent of attendees say some churchgoers “express physical greetings in ways that seem more than a simple gesture.”