By Jenna Barnett 9-20-2018

I asked a coworker to take a walk with me yesterday, favoring for a few minutes the D.C. humidity to the equally saturated news pouring in about more men using their power to assault, silence, and shame women (usually in that order). Reflecting back on the long list of perpetrators who have necessarily fallen from grace since the day #MeToo went viral, my coworker sighed, “It’s been a long couple years.”

“11 months,” I corrected.

Though I, too, have felt the thickness of the past 341 days. Because time doesn’t fly in the midst of a long awaited cultural change — it crawls. Time pauses to ask God, “Why?” Time sticks each time another prominent Christian leader reaches for buzzwords to protect powerful perpetrators — words like grace, mercy, forgiveness — but then trips over words like justice, truth, and sin when it comes to survivors. Time stops to lament each child abused by a priest and each survivor silenced to preserve the legacy of a charismatic pastor. 

But what exactly have we accomplished in these past 11 months? Now that faith leaders know without a doubt that sexual violence, domestic violence, and harassment are pervasive, painful forces that don’t stop at the front doors of the church, what are they doing about it? Are they acknowledging the problem and preaching about it? Are they getting training and connecting with local experts? We Will Speak Out, IMA World Health, and Sojourners commissioned LifeWay to survey 1,000 pastors on their attitudes and actions around domestic and sexual violence — a follow-up to our 2014 study on the same topic — because we needed some answers to these questions.

The Broken Silence 2.0 results reveal some good news: In almost every possible way, the church has progressed on these issues, but we still have a long way to go. Ninety percent of pastors report that they have encountered domestic or sexual violence situations in their work as pastors. Yet only 50 percent report that they have felt adequately trained on how to respond. If almost every pastor will encounter this type of violence, then every pastor must be trained on how to respond.

Read more of the key findings below:

Awareness

  • 64 percent of pastors agree that domestic or sexual violence occurs in their congregation.
  • 73 percent of pastors agree that individuals can leave abusive relationships if they want to.
  • One in five pastors report personal experiences of domestic or sexual violence. This is a 9 percent increase from 2014.

More than ever, pastors are recognizing that domestic and sexual violence is a problem that people in their congregations — and on their staffs — face. Likely, the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements have pushed awareness forward. Among pastors who have heard of the #MeToo movement, 62 percent reported that their congregations have more empathy toward survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

Preaching

More pastors today (51 percent) say they speak regularly to their churches about domestic or sexual violence than in 2014 (34 percent).

A sermon can announce a church’s intent to be a safer place for survivors and victims of domestic and sexual violence. Sermons can validate pain and disown patriarchal interpretations of the Bible. But of course, sermons alone cannot end domestic and sexual violence in the church. At their best, sermons gesture to an open door.

Training and Intervention

  • 95 percent of pastors are at least somewhat familiar with local resources that address domestic and sexual violence.
  • 80 percent of pastors believe that domestic or sexual violence that occurs within a home should be resolved through outside intervention.
  • Referrals to service agencies are the most common response to dealing with domestic and sexual violence (81 percent).
  • Only 45 percent of pastors believe that their seminary provided sufficient resources and training to address domestic violence.

Training is the biggest area where the church must grow. These survey results serve as a call to action for seminaries, denominations, and church advisory boards. Pastors cannot single-handedly end domestic and sexual violence in their congregations. However, faith leaders can preach, create policies and procedures that prevent violence and harassment, and establish pathways for referral by reaching out to their local experts and shelters.

Now we have both the #MeToo stories and the numbers to show that people are listening and changing, pastors included. And I don’t see this change stopping any time soon.

Over the past 11 months, I’ve loved watching the shifting classification of the #MeToo phenomenon as it proves itself to be even more stubborn and steadfast than the cultures of misogyny and shame that have necessitated its existence. We called it a “#MeToo Moment” until we realized it wasn’t going anywhere. Then, as the momentum snowballed, we deemed it a “#MeToo Movement.” Now — if headlines are the judge— we are knee-deep in the “#Metoo Era.”

So what will be the moniker when #MeToo inevitably reveals itself as a permanent fixture? After all, the only way out of the #MeToo Era is by entering a new age where we don’t have to say those two words any more. #MeToo sits at the intersection of this cultural moment, stopping traffic and staring into the eyes of any perpetrator in power — be they presidents, Supreme Court nominees, or faith leaders — to say, “I’ll leave when you leave.”

Read the full survey results: wewillspeakout.us/broken-silence

Jenna Barnett is the Women and Girls Campaign Coordinator for Sojourners.

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