The Millstone of Abuse
This week The Washington Post wrote an article titled, “The Crusading Bloggers Exposing Abuse in Protestant Churches,” introducing the world to those many victims and survivors already know. Pastor Ashley Easter, a survivor and advocate who founded The Courage Conference, describes these crusaders as “investigative blogger women started a revolution at their kitchen tables.” These bloggers have long advocated for victims of abuse using whatever platforms were available to them at the time.
My own introduction into this tight-knit community of advocates was when I attended and spoke against abuse at a rally in Dallas last year. Called For Such a Time as This Rally, several advocates gathered to protest the inaction within the Southern Baptist Convention against scandals that were just coming to light.
Since then, the Houston Chronicle covered the SBC’s culture of inaction for their five-part series “Abuse of Faith.” The presidents of various SBC entities promised swift change. SBC president J.D. Greear, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission Russell Moore, and then-president of the International Mission Board David Platt all made statements, announced commissions, and launched investigations. Yet after a year of uncovering one of the biggest scandalous abusive and predatory behaviors since the Roman Catholic Church, the SBC has shown very little change behind their lofty words.
Beyond institutional reform, culture change is also needed. While the Bible describes historical events, it is apparent the rape culture and patriarchy of ancient times permeates our culture today—especially with how women are treated in our modern-day churches. The complicity of Christians in the Church of the 21st Century is highly disturbing. Many people wonder what will it take to make the necessary changes inside the Church, especially Christian organizations that have institutionalized patriarchy. The reality is, that many would rather spend time on useless debates and religious jargon rather than act to make the Church safe for the vulnerable.
Not much has changed for women in religious institutions since the Old Testament. Women are not protected from predators and abusers. Women are not heard, and are punished for speaking out. Women are still seen as property, as wholly insignificant, categorized and treated as dispensable livestock. Too many Christians fail to understand how abuse traumatizes, with many victims suffering a lifetime of silence.
Despite all the advances society is making, the Church world seems to be regressing in its treatment of women. We view women, particularly victims, much like Hagar was seen, who suffered the most grievous violence at the hands of Abram and his wife Sarai. The Egyptian slave that served Sarai in Genesis, Hagar was treated like many foreign women in the Old Testament—treated as slaves, given as gifts. Foreign women were regarded as dispensable, distributed as sex objects, their virginity and virtue not protected, hostage to male dominance and lust. Rape was commonplace. “Concubines” was often a euphemism for the brutal reality.
But God saw Hagar.
This was the rape culture as recorded in the Bible: women treated as objects. This was the world of Hagar, A world that allowed men to dismiss women as human beings. A world where women are discarded. A world where women had sexual assault spiritualized as the will of God. A world where men like Abram did whatever they wanted without consequence. A world where women like Sarai justified their treatment of the vulnerable because they believed that’s what God wanted.
The reality is that patriarchy has not just influenced men, but has infiltrated the minds of many women. The women who perpetuate rape culture never take responsibility, much like Sarai. Instead, Sarai mistreats Hagar, conspiring with Abram on discarding her and Abram’s son like trash.
We are still living in a world that sees women as insignificant. Women suffer unspeakable violence, brutality, and cruelty and abusers and their enablers suffer few consequences.
But just as God saw Hagar, He sees the vulnerable as valuable. Women without voice or agency have an advocate in God.
Ready to do justice for those who are discarded and seen as less than human, God elevates debased people and calls them His family.
Women of color have to deal with racism, misogynistic views, and the apathy from women who should be in solidarity with them. This is a double-edged sword. How can we make our Church a better world than the Old Testament, where sexual assault and abuse were normalized, where the rights of women were discarded, and women of color were discarded?
I believe the Church has arrived at a crossroads. A place of decision where we can no longer talk and debate and make promises, but actually move in the direction of changing the world for the better or perpetuating the status quo. The truth is, abuse thrives in our churches because predators are allowed in our sacred places—in some cases they are honored, and in other cases we aren’t looking for them at all.
We must take action. We must enact strong policies that make our churches safer places. There are no unreasonable requests, just hearts unwilling to do the necessary work of change.
In fact, the most logical solution for a pernicious and pervasive problem is drastic action. What the For Such a Time as This Rally called for in 2018 and calls for today is reasonable—for the SBC, and for the Church-at-large:
Mandatory training for all SBC pastors, seminary students, ministry leaders, and volunteers on the issues of sexual abuse, domestic abuse, and sexual assault.
Establishing a clergy sex offender database for the Southern Baptist Convention, including those who are credibly accused, those who have admitted to conduct constituting abuse, those who pleaded guilty, as well as those who were convicted.
Treating women with respect and honor. The low view of women within the SBC has contributed to an abuse-empowering culture.
Abusers should never be allowed in our pulpits, nor should they be excused for their behavior. Criminal acts require law enforcement and professional counselors, not Bible verses inaccurately applied so churches and institutions can save face.
The Southern Baptist Convention should welcome outside entities to support them as they move toward culture change. Insular self-protection is not in the best interest of the Southern Baptist or any other church dealing with abuse and predatory behavior.
Denominations need to stop covering themselves up with fig leaves lest they find a millstone around their necks.
The time for accountability is now.
Gricel Medina is a pastor, speaker, writer, and advocate who has planted three churches and leads a prayer movement for the MidSouth Conference. Pastor Medina has written for several widely distributed Spanish and English magazines, devotionals, and blogs, including Covenant Companion. She is a regular writer for the award-winning magazine, Mutuality, and the CBE blog Arise. Pastor Medina has been a speaker for CBE International Conference and The Courage Conference.