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Don’t Dismiss Abuse: People Matter More than Institutions

Churches Are Complicit, Too

Believe it or not, each and every church is going to have to both ask and answer this same set of questions. If we want to be places that embrace the contributions of women, value their giftedness, and encourage them to tell their stories, we need to start by confronting the ways we too have become complicit with cultural norms and narratives. (In a guest post, my director of communications shares more on this issue.)

If we truly want to see the tide change as we say we do, it’s time for us to act. And pastors and church leaders, it starts with you.

Don’t protect abusers in your church. Protect victims.

In abuse situations, let the police investigate. (Read the interview with my sister-in-law, who prosecutes child sexual abusers.)

When there are credible harassment allegations, the person accused should step down or aside while an investigation is done. The “innocent until proven guilty” idea is a legal one, but a credibly-accused elder in your church should step down as the investigation is underway.

It’s not easy, but it is necessary.

At the end of the day, the mistreatment of women isn’t just a Hollywood problem or a Washington D.C. problem. It’s a people problem, rooted in humankind’s proclivity towards sin, power, and control.

Instead of choosing to see women for who they are—people made in the image of God—men too often choose to objectify and exploit them. It won’t stop as long as we protect them and their institutions more than those who have been wounded.

And the church has a long way to go, based on the #ChurchToo hashtag, which built on #MeToo.

The spectrum of sexual exploitation is wide, but it all points back to this: until we are willing to confess our part in the problem and repent, the church is just as complicit as any other institution.

Where from Here?

That being said, merely acknowledging the part that human sinfulness might play in recent events doesn’t guarantee that circumstances will change either. The reality is this: if the culture stays as it is and leadership structures in Washington D.C., Hollywood, and our churches continue down their current path, women will continue to experience abuse.

This cannot be tolerated. And if those brick walls hide abusers, we have to take them down—brick by brick.

If we believe in the worth and dignity of all human beings—both male and female—as image bearers of the living God, then we know full well the work that must be done. From here on out, we must insist on no more hiding, no more cover ups, and no more prioritizing institutional health over individual needs. Both in our churches and in our nation’s highest levels of power.

Brick by brick, until the truth is known and seen.

This article originally appeared here.

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, has earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the editor-in-chief of Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited in, interviewed by, and writes for news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He is the Founding Editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than 1.7 million individuals each week for bible story. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates. He serves as interim teaching pastor of Calvary Church in New York City and serves as teaching pastor at Highpoint Church.