Sexual abuse crosses denominational lines

Melissa Martin, Ph.D.

Clergy sexual abuse isn’t just a Catholic problem, although the Oscar-nominated movie “Spotlight” revealed the story of the Boston Globe’s 2001 expose of pedophile priests and the cover up in the Catholic church. The journalists investigated Father John Geoghan, who was accused of molesting more than 80 boys.

According to an article on the website of the United Methodist Church, “Sexual misconduct within ministerial relationships is a betrayal of sacred trust. It is a continuum of sexual or gender-directed behaviors by either a lay or clergy person within a ministerial relationship (paid or unpaid). It can include child abuse, adult sexual abuse, harassment, rape or sexual assault, sexualized verbal comments or visuals, unwelcome touching and advances, use of sexualized materials, including pornography, stalking, sexual abuse of youth or those without capacity to consent, or misuse of the pastoral or ministerial position using sexualized conduct to take advantage of the vulnerability of another…”

In a 2018 article in Christianity Today, Jen Zamzow writes, “Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for churches and religious organizations to try to handle sexual assault allegations internally. Bob Jones University, Sovereign Grace Ministries, the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, and the Institute in Basic Life Principles have all come under fire in recent years for not adequately addressing sexual abuse within their communities. Some of these organizations have been accused of blaming the victims — even those who were children at the time of abuse — and pressuring them to forgive their abusers rather than report them.”

When I worked as a therapist in Appalachian areas many years ago, I counseled religious women who shared their horrific and sickening secrets — sexual abuse by their fathers who were pastors, by deacons in their church and by their youth leaders. Then, I found a book by female minister, Marie Fortune — a voice crying out in the wilderness.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune’s 1983 groundbreaking book, “Violence: The Unmentionable Sin,” exposed sexual abuse in Christian churches and Christian homes.

Her second book in 2005, “Sexual Violence: The Sin Revisited,” continued to keep sexual abuse in sacred places in the forefront. “Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches” by Carolyn Heggen with forefront by Fortune was published in 2006.

The FaithTrust Institute, founded by Fortune, is a national, multifaith, multicultural training and education organization with global reach working to end sexual and domestic violence. The organization services many communities, including Asian and Pacific Islander, Buddhist, Jewish, Latino/a, Muslim, Black, Anglo, Indigenous, Protestant and Roman Catholic.

Following the #metoo hashtag on social media about the prevalence of sexual assault and abuse, #churchtoo is exposing sexual predators and abusers within the church.

God’s Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) is a team that includes former prosecutors and Christian psychologists with a background in dealing with child predators. “The abused are all around us, regardless of religion, race or gender. If the Christian community doesn’t know how to protect children from experienced abusers, recognize the signs of abuse, measure the scope of the abuse and effectively respond to past or present abuse disclosures, the abused and those who abuse them will slip through the cracks of our ignorance, despite our best intentions. The development of legally and spiritually sound child protection best practices and response protocols can lead to better abuse recognition, prevention and response; and GRACE can help.”

Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) is an annual campaign in April to raise public awareness about sexual assault and educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence. Download the Healthy Communications with Kids Sheet and talk to your daughters and your sons about body boundaries. Prevent sexual abuse from happening at church activities, during Sunday school, at church camp and in your home.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio.