Southern Baptist Convention report on sex abuse shines a light on evangelical culture
Those who speak out about sexual abuse in authoritarian religious communities are often shamed in an attempt to quiet them. They may be accused of seeking attention, or of trying to bring down a godly man. They may be told they’re selfish — indulging in their own pain when they should be paying attention to the pain they are causing others, including the people who will turn away from the church and spend an eternity in hell because of the poor light they’ve portrayed the church in.
After all, abusers don’t just groom victims, they groom communities, preparing them to rise up and protect them.
Women and girls, in particular, can be silenced in hierarchic churches that teach “complementarianism” — the belief that God ordains male authority especially in the church and the home. Having been conditioned not to question men, some women struggle to stand up to male misconduct when they see it, and when they do are often dismissed. For example, when my youth pastor was applying for the position, he was given a kind of audition: lead a youth retreat. Our head pastor asked us to report back on his performance. I did. As did at least one other girl. Each of us told the head pastor that the man applying for the position made us uncomfortable. Soon afterward, it was announced that he was our new youth pastor.
Meanwhile, when women and girls come forward as survivors, purity culture — which focuses largely on them — can be used against them. Many of my interviewees and I were taught that men are weak when faced with the temptation of the female flesh and it was therefore our responsibility to protect men from the threat that our bodies posed to them. We had to walk, talk and dress just right to ensure the alleged purity of our entire community, safeguarding against all sexual expression outside of marriage — the implication being that anything that did happen, even sexual violence, was our fault.