For years, CBE has been sounding the alarm that male-only leadership and complementarian theology create space in churches and families for abusers to hide, or worse, to feel justified in their actions. If you have spent much time on our website, at our conferences, or reading our blog, you are well aware of this.
Over the years, we have shown that since an overwhelming 90% of abusers are men, complementarian emphasis on male leadership in the home, church, and society can create homes that are dangerous for wives and children, churches that are dangerous for women congregants, and workplaces that are dangerous for women employees.
Additionally, 1 in 4 women are victims of severe physical abuse by an intimate partner. Because of this reality, we have argued that churches have a responsibility to actively protect women in their congregation. Protection requires a church environment that affirms women’s full equality.
As Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief, wrote in his foreword for CBE’s forthcoming book Created to Thrive:
Faith communities have a critical role to play in awakening our culture to the reality that nothing limits a person more than to be attacked at the very core of their identity (and especially when abuse comes at the hands of those they have trusted). Sadly, faith communities can often contribute to the problem by failing to hear and believe the cries of women, failing to confront abusers, and failing to establish the culture, systems, and accountabilities that will break this cycle.
Whether the abuse occurs in the home or in the church, whether the perpetrator is a father, uncle, or husband, or a male pastor, elder, or deacon, the kind of theology a church teaches has a direct effect on how well that church is able to protect victims and identify abusers.
When Not If
The harsh reality pastors and church leaders must face is that, statistically speaking, it’s not a matter of what to do if you find a man in your congregation is a perpetrator of abuse, it’s a matter of what to do when you find this out. Churches have a clear choice: they can either help protect and advocate for survivors and victims of abuse or they can help perpetrators perpetuate abuse. They can intentionally create an environment that holds abusers accountable, or they can give abusers theological fodder to justify their abusive behavior.
But it’s not only the theology and teaching from the pulpit that work to create church environments that protect victims. A church can be egalitarian in name but still allow abuse to exist within the congregation. This means churches must make an intentional effort to both teach about women’s equality while also living it out. Church leaders must preach about issues related to domestic violence and believing survivors while also committing to preemptive practices that equip church staff and lay leaders to know what to do both before abuse occurs and when it is discovered. The church must offer readily available resources to their congregants.
But How Does A Church Prevent Abuse?
I would venture to guess most churches, especially in CBE’s network, want to prevent abuse in their congregations. Even so, it can be hard to determine how to go about doing this.
We want to give you as many tools as possible as you work to uproot and prevent systems that allow abuse to thrive. This is why CBE has partnered with Fuller Theological Seminary to offer a guided eLearning course, “Eyes Open to Abuse,” on the FULLER Leadership Platform. This course is intended for pastors, church staff, lay leaders, or congregants who want their church or organization to be better equipped to address and prevent domestic violence.
The course description is as follows:
As Christians, we are called to “do justice and to love kindness” (Micah 6:8), and a part of this is protecting and providing for the vulnerable. Those who have been or are being abused are particularly in need of our belief, support, and love. We must create spaces of God’s shalom to those at particular risk and denounce abuse in our congregations. To help you on this journey to bring justice and kindness to your community, we will help you identify signs and characteristics of abuse and abusers and develop a plan to support survivors of abuse.
We encourage you to thoughtfully consider how this course might benefit your church community. For reference as you make plans, we estimate that this will take 14 hours to complete (but not all in one sitting!). We also recommend going through this content slowly and thoughtfully with a mentor or friend, giving yourself space to handle the overwhelming nature of this content.
“Eyes Open to Abuse” can be purchased for $20 per person here. CBE and Fuller both receive a portion of the proceeds.
We hope this course can help equip you as you work to believe victims, hold abusers accountable, and create overall safer church environments for women and girls.
When Churches Don’t Believe Victims, They Commit Abuse
Silence—A Response to Abuse in the Church
The Unavoidable Link Between Patriarchal Theology and Spiritual Abuse