The Common Good

Broken Silence: Poll Shows Lack of Conversation on Domestic, Sexual Violence in Churches

If you made a short list of the issues the American church doesn’t talk about from the pulpit, you’d probably find sexual and domestic violence topping out the list.

According to a recent LifeWay Research poll of 1,000 Protestant pastors, 74 percent misjudge how prevalent sexual and domestic violence was within their congregations. Two out of three pastors reported delivering a sermon once a year (or less) on the issue. And although 72 percent of pastors speak out on the issue because they believe sexual and domestic violence is a problem in their local communities, only 25 percent do so because they perceive it to be a problem in their congregations. The poll was conducted on behalf of Sojourners and IMA World Health and the full report can be found here.

Violence against women was named as a “significant public health issue” by the World Health Organization in 2013, which reported that 35 percent of women around the globe have experienced sexual or physical abuse by a partner or non-partner. And according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the chance of a man experiencing abuse at the hand of an intimate partner was one in four.

What makes this poll unique is that there is not much data on how pastors view and address the issues of domestic and sexual violence. According to Rick Santos, President and CEO of IMA World Health, “there is little information out there about what is actually happening in the U.S. faith community on this issue.”

Despite the poll’s major finding — that pastors underestimate the pervasiveness of sexual and domestic violence in their congregations — the report offers some hope. Of the pastors polled, 81 percent reported that they would “take appropriate action to reduce sexual and domestic violence if they had the training and resources to do so.”

Sojourners recently published I Believe You: Sexual Violence and the Church , a study edited by its president and founder, Jim Wallis, and Catherine Woodiwiss, Associate Web Editor. The study features three essays about women, sexual violence, and their experiences in dealing with their abuse in their churches. It is a step forward in the effort to bring light to an issue that is often cloaked in darkness and to give voices to victims who often feel silenced by the church’s failure to understand the prevalence of sexual and domestic violence.

“This is a conversation the church needs to be having but isn’t,” Wallis said. “We cannot remain silent when our sisters and brothers live under the threat of violence in their homes and communities.”

Wallis was joined by Rev. Amy Gopp, Director of Member Relations and Pastoral Care at Church World Service who said “I hope this report will educate faith leaders about the importance of reaching out to domestic violence programs in their communities and creating strong partnerships so that survivors are served in the way they deserve.”

The release of this report comes on the heels of last week’s massive — and successful — effort on Twitter to #TakeDownThatPost when Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal published a piece written by a former youth pastor currently serving time for the statutory rape of one of his congregants. This past May saw the conviction of Nate Morales of Covenant Life Church in Maryland, a Sovereign Grace Ministries church. Sovereign Grace was sued last year over allegations that they “conspired, and continue to conspire, to permit sexual deviants to have unfettered access to children for purposes of predation, and to obstruct justice by covering up ongoing past predation.”

Juliet Vedral is press secretary for Sojourners.

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