A few weeks ago, I was in Sofia, Bulgaria, for a day. I stopped for about twelve hours between night buses to see the sights, including a beautiful, vibrant mosque near the center of town. I did some online research on dress protocol beforehand: cover your skin, wear something on your head, take your shoes off. Nothing unexpected. I had a scarf and a maxi skirt in my backpack for this purpose. I was happy to be respectful, and excited for a new experience. I arrived at the mosque, circled around to the front, and . . . walked away. I felt nervous, suddenly, and upset.
Consent: a word so bland I once found it almost ugly. Why would I base my framework for romantic relationships on a word as flippant and perfunctory as a waiver to have my photo taken? Bodies and relationships are deeply important to me as a Christian. Naturally, sex is also deeply important to me. Even after I left purity culture behind, I still searched for a rich, God-honoring sexual ethic. Consent seemed like a pretty bare standard for behavior.
The way we use our power shouldn’t place other believers at risk. Power belongs to all in the body, not just a select few or a single group. We need to take practical steps to rebalance power in our churches and make them safer for those among us who, as of now, have less structural power and are more vulnerable to abuse.
No matter how well-meaning, and regardless of their views on gender, leadership, or theology, churches are almost never prepared to meet a victim’s needs. This is why I encourage churches not to go it alone when it comes to helping victims of abuse.
While the the #MeToo and #ChurchToo hashtags may be new, the abuse epidemic is not. The problem is not “out there”—that is, outside the walls of the church—but “in here,” something the church must reckon with as much as anyone in our world.
All pastors teach their congregants about abuse one way or another. When we preach, lead Bible studies, or interact pastorally or socially with people, the language we use and the way we present topics will either reinforce or challenge an abuser’s narrative.