How do churches address sexual misconduct by clergy members?
By Elizabeth Eisenstadt-Evans, Lancaster Online
Recently a group of 140 evangelical women representing diverse theological and social perspectives released a statement asking churches to break their silence on violence against women.Yet when it comes to addressing sexual assault, it’s not only conservative Christian denominations that are in denial, say experts.
Many denominations have policies and statements that address sexual harassment and assault, some for decades. In many cases, boundaries training is mandatory for clergy, lay staff and volunteers. The United Methodist Church has a whole website focused on sexual ethics. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recommends that each congregation have its own policy for preventing sexual misconduct.
But policies and statements aren’t nearly enough, say victim advocates and those who train future clergy.
Despite those institutional guardrails, they argue, many churches remain unsafe territory for victims, spaces in which there is often a lack of accountability and an unwillingness to address sexual harassment and assault in ways that give victims a voice.
Writing for Ministry Matters (an online resource for church leaders) in October, Episcopal priest Kira Schlesinger argued that many churches still protect harassers, even when their behavior is an “open secret.”
“As a young clergywoman, I am cautious of those colleagues with whom I am not close who greet me with a hug that lingers a bit too long or a kiss on the cheek that lands too close to my mouth. There are the comments about what kind of body my vestments might be covering up.”
In an article posted on the United Methodist Church website titled “Sexual misconduct at church: What every member should know,” denominational staff member Joe Iovino wrote: “United Methodists have committed acts of sexual misconduct. Adults have been sexually harassed by their pastor. Children in our care have been abused. Staff members have viewed pornographic material on their church computers.”
When that takes place, it divides congregations, devastates families and derails careers.