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Are We Continuing to Sideline Women in Conversations about Abuse?

by Katherine Spearing | January 05, 2022

I’ve been in the abuse and advocacy realm for a few years now, and I’ve recently noticed a startling trend. While we can leave toxic systems and move toward more equitable approaches to this conversation, these toxic systems do not always leave us.

Are Men the Primary Authority in the Abuse Conversation?

As I’ve noticed the connection between patriarchy and abuse in churches, I’m stunned at how quickly church spaces continue to center men in conversations about abuse, even though women make up an overwhelming majority of those who have experienced abuse in church.1

Take a look at the most commonly referenced books in these spaces:

  • Broken Trust by F. Remy Diederich (man)
  • When Narcissism Comes to Church by Chuck DeGroat (man)
  • Something’s Not Right by Wade Mullen (man)
  • A Church Called Tov by Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer (man and woman)
  • Redeeming Power by Diane Langberg (woman)

Three books written by men. One book written by a woman. One co-written by a father-daughter team. (While I am not disparaging these books or their helpful content, I am making an observation and asking why men are leading this conversation, especially when they are not the primary victim.)

As a podcaster, I have the privilege of speaking with authors, experts, and artists who actively raise awareness about abuse in churches. I recently interviewed a minister and professor who did her entire dissertation on spiritual abuse.

Where is her book deal?

Men—and Male Abusers—in the Spotlight of Abuse Conversations

Tears of Eden (a nonprofit supporting survivors of spiritual abuse) is raising awareness about spiritual abuse during the month of January. At the time of this writing, only women had responded to the call to participate in our campaign.

Could it be that women are more interested in collaborating on abuse conversations, yet some men are only interested if they are standing in the spotlight?

Take The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, the recent podcast produced by Christianity Today. The podcast documents the abuse of congregants and staff at Mars Hill Church by Mark Driscoll and other leaders. At first, I was thrilled a conservative organization was addressing this abuse. Yet as new episodes were released, I was increasingly saddened to the point of having to stop listening. The podcast spent too much time sharing and dissecting the voices of male leaders (many of them the perpetrators) and toxic institutions. Yes, the intent may have been to share them as a “cautionary tale.” However, the voices of women and the voices of victims were severely lacking.

The Importance of Centering Women’s Voices in Conversations about Abuse in Churches

I’ve interviewed dozens of female survivors of abuse in churches. Not only did they experience horrendous abuse at the hands of a male pastor or someone in church leadership, they also received a second round of spiritual abuse when they were mistrusted, sidelined, and silenced when they tried to speak up. Even their advocates (both men and women) were ostracized and punished for their participation in defending these abused women.

All evidence points to this reality: the voices of women are still mistrusted while we continue to center the voices of men when we address institutional abuse in churches.

We need to be mindful of how this tendency to center male voices over female voices continues to embed itself into our psyche and direct where we place our trust. For my part, I’m only highlighting female voices on the Uncertain podcast for the duration of Spiritual Abuse Awareness Month in January. It’s a small thing, but I did not have to look very far to find women doing excellent work, many of them working in obscurity.

Next Steps for Men and Women

Men, I ask that you intentionally center female voices whenever you talk about abuse in the church. After all, most who are abused by churches are female.2 So they should have priority in speaking to this issue. We also know most men are more likely to listen to other men, so read the books written by women—even the ones that aren’t very popular. Maybe they aren’t popular because men haven’t endorsed them enough in evangelical spaces yet. Use your power (power bequeathed to you by the patriarchy) to elevate the women who have been navigating the abuse conversation for decades, alone, second-guessed, and overlooked.

Women, be mindful of your own tendency to migrate toward male voices as voices of authority and trust. Assess your podcasts, your bookshelf, and your church pulpit. Where does your information about abuse come from?

Yes, even as egalitarians, our conversations about abuse in the church are often laced with patriarchy. We won’t make any progress if we’re doomed to repeat the same patterns of the patriarchal spaces we’ve been trying to leave.

Notes:

  1. Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer, A Church Called Tov (Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale Momentum, 2020) 30.
  2. Diane Langberg, Redeeming Power (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2020) 103.

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash.


Related Reading

CBE’s latest book, Created to Thrive: Cultivating Abuse-Free Faith Communities, brings together experts and faith leaders to tackle topics related to abuse. Created to Thrive equips churches to respond wisely to reports of abuse, create safe spaces where all can flourish, and explores the dangerous consequences of women's devaluation and how theology can perpetuate abuse. Learn more here.

The Imprisonment of Spiritual Abuse 
The Unavoidable Link Between Patriarchal Theology and Spiritual Abuse
Eyes Open To Abuse: A Tool to Create a Safer Church