Name: Ron Clark
Hometown: Portland, OR
Occupation: Adjunct Faculty, George Fox Evangelical Seminary; Minister, Agape Church of Christ
Church Affiliation: Church of Christ
What course(s) do you teach about sexual and domestic violence?
Academically, I teach Pastoral Counseling and Advanced Pastoral Counseling at George Fox Evangelical Seminary. The PC class addresses domestic, sexual, and child abuse in the faith community and community at large. The seminary also offers APC which focuses on sexual and domestic violence, as well as misogyny and pornography. Beyond my work at George Fox, my wife Lori and I work with a team in our community to conduct clergy trainings in abuse, sexual assault, trafficking/prostitution, and pornography three times a year in Portland.
Why do you think it’s important that theological schools offer this kind of training or teaching?
The Sojourners Broken Silence report indicates that clergy are not only ill-equipped to help victims, offenders, and families in abuse, but they’re not receiving sufficient training from their seminaries. Faith leaders tend to be the main resource for victims of abuse and many times offenders. However, the Sojourners report suggests that faith leaders are not very effective.
Anecdotally, I’ve had countless men and women share with me that there is a high level of misogyny at many of the seminaries across the country. With the rising rate of pornography among male seminary students, it is imperative that they learn empathy and to value females as co-heirs in the kingdom before entering ministry so that they can effectively promote peace and safety in the family, home, and community.
Further—in my work with community advocates, service providers, and government agencies— I’m often told that faith communities are viewed as more of a hindrance than a resource. While these community groups have told me that they believe faith communities have tremendous potential, they don’t have faith that we can be of support to them, victims, or families. For Lori and me, our work in confronting abuse and promoting peace and safety has been our greatest outreach and witness to the community.
What has surprised or challenged you as you teach this material?
Challenges: In 2002, I read Al Miles’ book Domestic Violence: What Every Pastor Needs to Know. He indicated that pastors were extremely hesitant to attend trainings and address the issue. I decided to prove him wrong.
Since then our church has partnered with countless agencies and encouraged other churches to host our trainings and have witnessed 2000 people participate in them. However, most attendees are county advocates who want to learn more about working with faith-based clients. Only 5-7 percent have been clergy. I do have a group of ministers who faithfully attend and are now prepared to work with victims, but they are a small percentage of overall participants.
I’ve had students who took the PC seminary class become inspired to host a training, only to find that no ministers can attend. Sadly, they share with other students that clergy are not addressing abuse, as indicated in my book Setting the Captives Free. Even more, many churches tell me they address domestic violence effectively, but we continue to see women who share that they are discouraged by faith leaders from leaving an abusive or controlling partner.
It always breaks my heart to share this with people, especially when reading the Broken Silence report and learning that ministers would take advantage of training if given the opportunity. I have to admit—Al Miles was right.
Surprises: I’ve been surprised by the love and support of abuse providers. I have served on the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force and am regularly given opportunities at national conferences to talk about our work as a church addressing abuse. Many who do not identify with a faith community willingly support our presentations, send advocates to attend, and even train our church members and staff for free. We’ve also had a high level of support and resources from counselors, law enforcement, and county/state service providers. And many churches in our network have stepped up to provide a safe place for victims and survivors.
I’ve also been extremely surprised at the academic level of support. In addition to George Fox Evangelical Seminary’s commitment to training students, the Psychology and Bible and Practical Theology sections of the Society of Biblical Literature, our regional SBL, and the Churches of Christ Christian Scholars Guilds have been open to forming, presenting, and publishing papers on abuse and faith communities. I’ve always been told that the academy was not supportive of addressing practical matters in theology, but I’ve been proven wrong. I meet countless scholars who not only want to talk about this issue, but who are enhancing their own work by addressing violence against women and children.
This is an even greater reason that seminaries should offer this training for their students—they have faculty with the creative juices that would enhance their own work.
What gives you hope as you do this work?
My family offers tremendous hope. My wife Lori is also a minister at Agape, and she has worked tirelessly with female victims, survivors, and many of our women in prostitution and homelessness. She continues to remind me that this work is getting better, and more people are stepping up. We also have three sons who are learning that being a man means respecting females, other males, and confronting oppression both in their own lives and the lives of others.
Those we are training also offer us hope. Our ministers and interns at Agape are trained to be community advocates, serve as sexual assault advocates or part-time trainers in the schools, and hold leadership positions in agencies. We’ve also trained church members to recognize and address abuse in their families or those attending our church.
I’ve had five Advanced Pastoral Counseling students work in the community with domestic abuse, five students write doctoral dissertations addressing abuse or misogyny in the faith community, and had many of my Pastoral Counseling students share how they are addressing abuse in their congregations or serving in the community on councils or teams to raise awareness. We have witnessed a strong connection between some of the pastors in our community and with agencies that help protect women and hold men accountable. I feel that training students in seminary is one major way to develop a network of clergy who will support this cause.