In the wake of the #MeToo movement, addressing the sexual wrongdoing that has for years plagued our society came a much more focused and, to Christians, alarming sub-movement: #ChurchToo.
Of course, sexual abuse is an issue of major concern for all Christians in general, as it is clearly a sin. While some cases covered heavily by the media caused division, the #ChurchToo subsection of the movement reminded the Christian community we are unfortunately not immune to the sin that so easily entangles and the pain and suffering of this fallen world.
The national spotlight on sexual abuse and assault illuminated a major issue for the Christian community: we don’t often care well for those who have been abused or are enduring abuse.
Brad Hambrick, pastor of counseling at The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, and an instructor in biblical counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, saw that void and helmed the creation of a robust new curriculum devoted specifically to correcting that error. He served as general editor of the recently released handbook, “Becoming a Church That Cares Well for the Abused.”
During a phone interview with Faithwire, Hambrick said it’s common among churches for pastors, staff members, and ministry leaders to be unsure of how to respond to revelations of abuse and assault, whether it took place inside or outside the congregation.
His hope is the new curriculum will “equip the church” to respond well to those who “take the step of courage to disclose their experience of abuse.” Church leaders, Hambrick said, have a responsibility to be “effective ambassadors of Christ” in their care for assault and abuse survivors.
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Those who contributed to the writing of the handbook include Rachel Denhollander, an attorney and sexual assault survivor who rose to international prominence as the first woman to speak publicly against USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar; Dr. Diane Langberg, a clinical psychologist with 45 years of experience with trauma victims; and Chris Moles, a pastor based in West Virginia and a certified group facilitator in batterer intervention and prevention. In total, the book includes insight from 10 qualified contributors.
Hambrick explained it was important to have broad representation in the handbook because he wanted to model the appropriately diverse response the church should have to situations of sexual assault and abuse.
“We wanted survivors, we wanted advocates, we wanted social workers, law enforcement, attorneys, trauma counselors, folks who have worked as batterer interventionists, domestic violence counselors,” he said. The book’s series of contributors, he added, should reveal to pastors and ministry leaders the kinds of people they need to seek out within their own communities to “help them shepherd with excellence the people that God has entrusted to their care.”
There is a chilling stigma surrounding sexual abuse and assault, particularly when it occurs within the Christian community.
In October, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission will host its first-ever Caring Well conference, a national event designed to equip local churches with the tools to confront sexual abuse within their communities. So far, more 1,300 people have registered for the fall conference, which ERLC president Russell Moore described to the Baptist Press as “one more step toward combating the satanic evil of sexual abuse.”
Hambrick, as well as many of the handbook’s contributors, will be at the Caring Well conference to address better ways for the church to deal with sexual sin.
Part of the reason churches have failed to respond well to assault and abuse, Hambrick said, is because it’s a “very unsettling” issue to confront. But the media focus on the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, he argued, has served as “a prophetic voice that has helped the church realize this is not a few isolated stories.”
Another issue is the failure to listen.
Simply listening to the trauma another person has endured is “one of the most powerful” things pastors and ministry leaders can do, Hambrick said. Listening and empathizing with a survivor “is such a counter-abusive experience,” he added.
The church needs to let survivors know “what happened to them was not just immoral but also illegal, that it is right for them to be hurt, that it wasn’t something they did to cause the abuse,” Hambrick continued. “To be healthily heard is an important part of the healing process.”
The curriculum marries Matthew 18 and Romans 13. The former addresses how to confront sin within the church and the latter outlines the value of governing authorities and law enforcement. It is, according to Hambrick, “essential” for churches to partner with local authorities and experts as they address sexual abuse and assault.
“One of the mistakes that we can make in churches is trying to handle everything in house,” he said.
For more information about the Caring Well conference or the Church Cares curriculum, click here. The event will take place during the ERLC National Conference in Dallas from Oct. 3-5.