Recently some colleagues of mine and I hosted a four-part series on Baylor University’s campus for survivors of sexual assault and their advocates. We created a space for lament, then silence, next anger, and finally hope. We acknowledged in each service that everyone’s pace of healing is unique, and that the stages of healing are never linear.
It was the first time many of us had ever experienced an intentional space crafted to address the anger we feel about these injustices and violations. It was one of the rare moments when religious leaders acknowledged publically in a liturgical context the cultural and institutional silence surrounding sexual violence.
The rarity of what we created strikes me as a sad failure of the church. When I think back over my long history as an active part of the church, I cannot remember a single instance when I heard a sermon on rape, aside from the ones I have preached myself.
It occurs to me that perhaps not all pastors realize that around one quarter of the women in their congregations have been (often silent) victims of sexual or interpersonal violence/abuse. Some of the men in their congregations have been victims too. Maybe the pastors who are aware of the horrifying statistics simply do not know what to do about it. I have compiled a list of concrete, easy things every pastor and/or church can (and ought) to do.
1. Every time (and I do mean every time) you preach or teach on marriage, divorce or relationships, always include a section where you acknowledge publically that some people do need to leave a relationship for their own safety or the safety of their children. I’m serious. Never talk about marriage or divorce again without that public caveat, even if it feels a little out of place. Maybe it is only one sentence in your whole sermon or Bible study lesson, but that one sentence could save someone’s life.
Do you know how many people stay in severely abusive situations because they’ve never heard their pastor say it was OK to leave? When you talk about forgiving your spouse, they might hear you saying that they have to keep being beaten and accept it. Please, be clearer. If some other person in your congregation pushes back at you for saying divorce is an option, just take the heat and do not budge. It’s not your life that’s in danger. Let your words make someone else uncomfortable if it could save a life.
2. Name violence and assault in your prayers. Make it a habit to pray for healing for survivors and to pray for violence to cease. We have resources, prayers and litanies available on the website we have created for this purpose. Feel free to borrow whatever is fitting for your own context. (strongwomenwrite.wordpress.com)
3. Preach about rape. Address sexual violence from the pulpit, and do it more than once. It’s not like you don’t have any biblical material for it. Also, if you have young children in the service, you might consider planning ahead so that they have somewhere else to go that particular morning rather than the regular worship service. If you do not know where to begin to preach about rape, you can visit our website for an example.
4. Educate your church about violence and abuse. Require everyone who works with children and youth, whether they are paid or volunteer, to complete child abuse prevention training before they can work with the children. Darkness to Light has a good program if you’re looking for one.
5. Talk to your youth about consent. This is an absolute must, even if you are teaching abstinence until marriage. For one thing, rape happens in marriages, too, and secondly, you cannot explain the sacred nature of sex without acknowledging that it is not sacred unless both persons consent. Make sure both boys and girls are taught that consent is never negotiable. Kids often learn about sex from social interactions with peers and from pornography, neither of which are likely to teach about consent, so make sure you teach it.
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SOURCE: Baptist News Global
Kyndall Rae Rothaus