LifeWay Study Finds That 1 in 10 Young Protestants Have Left a Church Over Sexual Misconduct

Surrounded by revelations of #MeToo and #ChurchToo, younger Christians are more keen to recognize sexual abuse—and less likely to put up with it.

According to a new study sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources, 10 percent of Protestant churchgoers under 35 have previously left a church because they felt sexual misconduct was not taken seriously. That’s twice as many as the 5 percent of all churchgoers who have done the same.

Among the younger demographic, 9 percent said they have stopped attending a former congregation because they personally did not feel safe from misconduct.

Churchgoers ages 18 to 34 are more likely than older generations to report experiencing sexual harassment—ranging from sexual comments and prolonged glances—at church and to know others at their church who are victims (23%).

“It is not surprising that young adults who have only known this frank ‘call it what it is’ sexual culture to be more likely to identify instances of misconduct than older adults,” Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research which conducted the survey, told CT.

Another factor: Younger churchgoers are also closest to the ages when most sexual assault takes place. The highest risk spans ages 12 to 34, peaking between 16 and 19, according to Justin Holcomb, an expert on sexual abuse in the church and a board member of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment).

While 14 percent of those ages 18 to 34 say that sexual advances from people at church have led them to attend less frequently, just 1 percent of those over 65 said the same. The youngest generation is two to three times more likely than the oldest generation to say they have experienced sexual harassment in the form of sexualized compliments and jokes, sexting, or prolonged glances.

These gaps between the youngest and oldest churchgoers around sexual misconduct are significant—and signal a growing demand for better ministry resources and procedures for victims.

“I believe the gaps are generational in that the younger generation has had it with fakery, and they are bent toward telling it like it is, whereas older generations grew up with the ‘don’t tell secrets’ unwritten mandate. To be sure, both ages have experienced sexual abuse, but younger believers are more apt to share them,” said Mary DeMuth, a survivor of child sexual abuse and an advocate.

“I can’t tell you how many times I have told my story, only to have people whisper their story to me for the first time. These are people who have never told and are 60, 70 years old.”

Most Christians have seen improvements in their own congregations, particularly with policies for ensuring children’s safety in Sunday school and ministry programs. A total of 69 percent believe their church is more prepared to protect children than it was a decade ago (46% say “much more” prepared; 23% say “somewhat more” prepared).

Evangelical congregations tend to report the greatest change, with more than half of Pentecostals, nondenominational Christians, and Baptists saying their church was “much more prepared,” compared to 35 percent of Lutherans and 38 percent of Presbyterians.

Again, younger generations may be the driving force spurring change in these evangelical congregations, since they tend to have more young families and “therefore are more attentive to issues of preparing to prevent and address abuse,” said Holcomb. “Also, the leadership of evangelical churches are also younger than mainline leaders and are more likely to not just have young families in their churches but also to have young families themselves.”

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Source: Christianity Today