Sin Treats Silence as permission – the #churchtoo problem

In the light of the recent sexual harassment scandal in Hollywood, the hashtag #metoo began to trend on twitter as people began to share their own stories of experiencing unwanted attention, persistent harassment and physical abuse. 

Sadly, very quickly in the wake of this another hashtag began to trend, #churchtoo. Now it may be tempting to sit back and say “This is just people with an axe to grind jumping on the bandwagon” and maybe some are but if even just a small percentage of the stories are true then this should disturb and sadden us. It should move us to sorrowful prayer and to action.

Now for me, this comment is perhaps one of the most disturbing.

“I CANNOT COUNT the number of times I’ve heard guys in church PUBLICLY admit to molestation, harassment, assault, etc, only to be praised for their bravery & honesty. No consequences. The church’s legacy of protecting abusers is sickening.”

Sadly, it is reflective of quite a few tweets including ones describing where teenage girls and young women were present whilst men described their lust and what they have fantasised about doing to them.

The women are very clear, and rightly so, that these testimonies were not experienced by them as repentant confession but as further public harassment causing them to feel shamed and defiled. 

I have also heard from people who have experienced abuse only for the matter to be swept under the carpet or being told that they must forgive. I’ve also seen situations where people have been clearly allowed to carry on as bullies in church life, intimidating others.

When sin goes unchallenged, when the vulnerable are not defended, when things are swept under the carpet, then our silence gives sin permission.

There are many reasons why this silence happens including

          Fear of confrontation especially with friends

          Concerns being based on circumstantial observations and gut instinct mean we are afraid of calling it wrong in the absence of hard evidence.

           Complicity

          Guilt at one’s own sin and weaknesses.

          Shock -sometimes what is said and done is just so disturbing that no-one is quite sure what to say.

          Naivety. We believe that the Gospel means people will just change and that they are safe from temptation.

So, practically:

1.       Make sure that you have robust safe-guarding policy in place and that this is seen as a positive pastoral thing not as a bureaucratic inconvenience.

2.       Be clear that repentance and restoration is not a way of avoiding taking responsibility but includes taking responsibility. This means that where criminal proceedings are required that you follow through with this and you go with and support victims when they report crimes. It means that we don’t put people into leadership positions in church even if they appear to have other gifts that make them suitable for this.

3.       Preach 2 Samuel 11-13. Don’t duck the difficult passages

4.       Admit past failings and say sorry.

5.       Preach grace, not as something that excuses sin but as something that deals with it.

Are we shocked and surprised by #churchtoo? We should be shocked because it is disturbing but we should not be surprised because churches are places where people are and that means they are places where sin is. The good news should be that they are also places where the Gospel is.

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