Unlike the hierarchical Catholic Church, evangelical churches often function independently. But their influence is widespread—as Stanley points out, Wayne Grudem, an evangelical theologian at Phoenix Seminary, once described Sovereign Grace Ministries “as an example of the way churches ought to work.”The point that, over the course of the past few years, has been driven home by the numerous postings made by this blog. Sexual abuse is not just a Catholic problem:
In response to the Washingtonian investigation, executive director of Sovereign Grace Churches Mark Prater pointed TIME to a lengthy statement he made in 2014 denying that Sovereign Grace leaders “conspired to cover up” sexual abuse. “Yes, we have been the target of misinformed critique in both the secular and Christian media, and more will likely come,” he stated. “I pray that God gives us all grace to respond wisely and biblically. But regardless of the public discourse, we are strongly committed to ensuring a safe environment for the children in our churches.”
In a statement to TIME, Mark Mitchell, the executive pastor of Covenant Life Church, said that along with the broader educational community the church had learned much over the last few decades about how to respond to reports of abuse and care for victims and families. “Our interaction with civil authorities has been instrumental in shaping our policies and procedures for the protection and care of children. When a pastor, staff member or volunteer has reason to believe a child is the victim of abuse or neglect, our policy requires those individuals to report it immediately to civil authorities,” he said. “Every Sunday, hundreds of families participate in our church services and entrust their children to the care of our staff and volunteers. We will continue to work hard to ensure our church is a place of safety for children and a place of healing for victims.”
The Catholic Church has been taken to task over abuse for decades now. Evangelical ministries are now facing their own abuse crises. In the media, we’re hearing more about these stories. Some of these allegations confront abuse that is decades old. From just the past year, I’m thinking of reports about Josh Duggar of 19 Kids and Counting and Bill Gothard, a Christian homeschooling advocate. I’m also thinking about Buzzfeed’s recent story on Jesus People USA [posted here] and Kiera Feldman’s 2012 investigation of abuse in a Tulsa megachurch. (Of course, other religions are not immune from sexual abuse scandals either.)A final point that caught my attention revolves around what Dias refers to as "sexual ethic" centering around the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris. The conclusions made by Stanley (the author of the preceding piece) mirror my initial thoughts concerning the Bill Gothard/Josh Duggar debacle.
The sad reality is that sexual abuse is widespread everywhere, not just in religious communities. The statistics I saw were one-in-four girls and one-in-six boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18. The experts I spoke to didn’t say these statistics are worse in evangelical churches, but they did say that abusers could prey on trusting religious communities, which give them access to children. That’s why churches need policies in place to protect children and handle abuse when it happens. That means reporting suspected abuse to authorities immediately, instead of handling it internally. Abuse is a sin, but it’s also a serious crime.
I can’t speak to all of evangelicalism, but I can say there are troubling messages sent to sex-abuse survivors in church cultures that prize abstinence until heterosexual marriage. What does a young girl make of her “purity” if her father molests her? What does a young boy think if a male church member sexually assaults him? Churches that advocate a conservative sexual ethic should address those messages.Inside the Investigation into Child Sexual Abuse at Sovereign Grace Ministries | TIME
Does this kind of circumscribed sexual environment give way to more sexual abuse? Some people I talked to say, yes, this is repression and it leads to abuse and acting out sexually. All the perpetrators from my story were male—several were teenage boys—and they were members of a ministry that advocated strict sexual mores. Books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye promote courtship. Modesty is important. Abstinence is too. Underpinning much of these teachings is a patriarchal understanding of Christianity, where men are in charge. In a perfect world, those power dynamics would not be abused, but as Christians teach: We’re not living in a perfect world.