Juli Slattery

by Juli Slattery


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5 Ways the Church Must “Step Up” in Response to Sexual Abuse Within Its Walls

A few weeks ago, the Christian world was rocked by a bombshell revelation. An independent report of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) documented a pattern of ignoring and silencing victims of sexual abuse within the denomination. While there were rumblings of trouble a few years ago, even the leaders who called for the investigation were horrified by what it revealed. Russel Moore, who was one of the leaders sounding the alarm, wrote this in response to the report: “I was wrong to call sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) a crisis. Crisis is too small a word. It is an apocalypse.”

In the wake of such news, along with the growing tsunami of falling pastors, spiritual abuse, and marginalized victims, we need to be asking some hard questions. How did this happen? How can such evil stay hidden? How do our current systems and structures perpetuate these patterns? 

I’ve often said, “Sexuality is not a problem to be solved, but a territory to be reclaimed.” I deeply believe this. We cannot solve the problem of sexual abuse, particularly within the Church, without first reclaiming the territory that has been for so long occupied by the enemy. Satan has thrived in the silence, in the shame, in the legalism, and in the pride that so often characterize Christians and sexuality. 

It’s not only time to be reactive but also to be proactive. We need to lament and care for those who have been so deeply wounded. We also must move forward with prayerful determination to invite the power and truth of God into the territory of human sexuality. I’d like to suggest five things that every Christian community must take seriously in our efforts to say, “Enough is enough!” 

 

We cannot reclaim the territory of sexuality if we refuse to talk about it. 

 

1. We need to talk about sex. 

We cannot reclaim the territory of sexuality if we refuse to talk about it. 

You may know my story. As a young woman I was as reluctant as anyone to talk about sex. Over the course of ministry and God’s work in my own life, I gradually said “yes” to the call to initiate conversations about sex within the Christian community. 

Somehow, I now find myself referred to as a “sexpert,” or more formally “an expert in biblical sexuality.” My days are often filled with questions about masturbation, mismatched desire in marriage, affair recovery, and questions about the transgender movement. Talking and writing about sexual issues is my new normal. 

Our church history has passed down traditions related to sex that are far from biblical. God was not ashamed to talk about sex, so why are we? While these conversations need to be handled with propriety and sensitivity, every church and Christian community needs to boldly step into the awkwardness of normalizing conversations about sexuality. 


2. We need to acknowledge the scope of sexual brokenness.

We are all sexually broken.

How would you feel if you found out that your pastor has struggled with pornography since he was eight years old? Would you think differently about him if you learned that he had been sexually molested as a child? How would it impact you to learn that the majority of the elders of your church have significant issues of sexual struggle and pain? 

Whether or not they are open to admit this, Christian leaders are not immune from every form of sexual struggle. Unfortunately, we don’t usually discover how leaders battle sexually until it is too late. 

While Christian leaders may have greater knowledge and may be called by God into ministry, they are human with wounds, temptations, and weaknesses waiting to be exploited by the enemy. Need we look further than King David and his son Solomon as evidence of this? 

When we deny the scope of sexual struggle and brokenness, we perpetuate a culture of secrets. In every church and every organization, there is every form of sexual temptation, struggle, and pain. Only when we admit this will we create the accountability and avenues for help that can identify and address problems like those which were ignored for decades in the SBC.


3. We need to listen to women. 

It is not good for man to be alone. 

This blog is not about whether or not your church should ordain women or invite them to teach in the pulpit. Within the Authentic Intimacy community, we have people who hold a variety of beliefs on this topic. Regardless of where you might stand on this issue, the lack of women’s voice in Christian leadership circles is a dynamic that feeds and perpetuates exploitation. 

Women listen to women. They understand what it feels like to be objectified and minimized. God has given women an intuition that often sees below the surface of events and words. Men in leadership would be wise to invite and elevate the voices of discerning women among them. 

 

4. We need the whole body of Christ activated in ministry.

The body is made up of many members. 

The continual stream of leadership failures has made us all question our current model of church. Yes, the Bible affirms the roles of pastors, teachers, and other leaders. Yet God never intended for spiritual power to be entrusted to a few decision makers. 

The Christian body is made up of a multitude of gifts, experiences, and personalities. The pastor is not the head of the bodyChrist is. When a few hold the power of an organization, Christian or otherwise, they will naturally use their influence to protect that power rather than expose weaknesses.

Had there been those with gifts of mercy, discernment, prophecy, healing, and faith present among the SBC leadership, perhaps we would not be lamenting over this tragedy. 

 

The spiritual battle of reclaiming sexuality is not the work of a special committee within a denomination. It is all of our work.

 

5. We need to fight with spiritual weapons.

Our battle is not against flesh and blood. 

There is no greater gain for evil than sexual abuse and exploitation within the sanctuary of God’s people. How many have walked away from our Lord Jesus Christ because of the failures of those who claimed to represent Him? What we are witnessing is not a cultural phenomenon, but a devastating spiritual defeat with the souls of men and women at stake.  

Have we prayed about this tragedy as much as we’ve gossiped about it? Honestly, I’m convicted by my own question. No amount of human wisdom, strategizing, or structure can defeat the powers of evil. Yet, God tells us how to fight and win this battle: Prayer, repentance, fasting, pressing into God’s Word, and the Spirit-filled courage to speak for those who have no voice. 

Jesus said we are one body united by one spirit. What we are witnessing is not an “SBC problem," but a cancer within our own body.  When one part suffers, we all suffer. 

 

The spiritual battle of reclaiming sexuality is not the work of a special committee within a denomination. It is all of our work. Brother, sister, will you join the battle to reclaim the territory of sexuality that the love and Healing of God might invade this current darkness? 

 

Would you like to learn more about sexual brokenness within the Church? Here are a few resources:

 

Comments

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  • Anna Seid

    Anna Seid

    Thank you, Juli, for sounding the trumpet for all of the people of God to rise in the wake of this heart-breaking, grievous horror to lament, repent and move in the work of reclamation. It is tempting to move into an us and them divide, to criticize and wag our fingers at "them"; but they are us; we share the same broken humanity. That is the reality I/we need to be reminded of - if we are to participate in our own locales to reclaim this arena in humility and in the wisdom of love in practicing Galatians 6:1.
  • Andrew Brassyhub

    Andrew Brassyhub

    Thank you for this clear and powerful message. It is a terrible betrayal of Christ when Christian institutions reflexively defend themselves rather than the victims of abuse. I am deeply aware of my own sexual brokenness. I struggle with whom to share, when and how much...
  • matthew upson

    matthew upson

    If I became aware of sexual abuse in the church, or anywhere else, I would inform the police.

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