Loathsome #MeToo scandals have accumulated across secular realms this past year and more, media shops included.
A #ChurchToo parallel first burst into the news 33 years ago with pioneering National Catholic Reporter coverage of child molestation by priests. Now, Pope Francis’ Feb. 21-24 emergency meeting about this unending problem is a must-cover item on newsroom calendars.
But North American journalism should be giving more attention to Protestants’ degradation on this and related issues. There’s no good data about such variegated churches, but by every indication misconduct is far more widespread than parishioners would like to admit.
A handy way to assess matters in Protestantism’s large evangelical sector occurs Dec. 13, a “summit” meeting on sexual violence and harassment at Wheaton College, outside of Chicago. The event will be live-streamed in case reporters cannot attend in person. Speakers include luminaries Eugene Cho, Max Lucado, Beth Moore and the host, Ed Stetzer, a trend-watcher who directs Wheaton’s Billy Graham Center (firstname.lastname@example.org, 630–752-5918).
Stetzer’s urgent summit summons stated that “trust has been broken, power has been abused” and, most important, there are the “deeply wounded” victims -- “more than we’d ever want to count.” So “it is past time all church leaders deal with it.” The scandals “are many, and the damage is real. … Turning a blind eye is simply not an option. … Something’s got to change, and soon.”
He cited no examples but they’re not hard for reporters to find, even in the greater Chicago area.
The meeting is supposed to deal with how churches can prevent abuse, make pastors accountable, end cover-ups, protect children, respond effectively to victims, repent of wrongdoing, and move ahead. With such an ambitious agenda for just one day, the event appears more an inaugural alarm bell than the source of long-term solutions.
The Internet is abuzz with impatient victims and victim advocates who complain that Wheaton’s speaker list is thin on expert counselors and on evangelical victims and advocates, including two well-known attorneys.
Rachael Denhollander, a church abuse survivor, became the celebrated leader for victims at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University. “Boz” Tchividjian, a Liberty University law professor and seasoned sex-crimes prosecutor, leads GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment). Moreover, he’s the Rev. Billy Graham’s grandson.
Reporters will want to interview or collect Twitter and Web comments from such activists as Tchividjian, Rachael Denhollander and her seminarian husband Jacob, Ashley Easter, Jimmy Hinton, Joshua Pease, Jules Woodson and sharp-elbowed blogger “Dee” Parsons.
This being Protestantism, there’s a split over abuse response.
Wheaton’s confab represents the well-meaning establishment, in contrast with the more militant Courage Conference led by Easter, who is affiliated with the theologically “inclusive” Progressive Christian Alliance. Parsons, Tchividjian and Woodson were among speakers at the third annual Courage Conference in Raleigh (NC) Oct. 19-21.
Courage involves evangelicals and believers from all religious communities. Importantly, it rejects “any ideology that places women in a more vulnerable position and reinforces men to a unilateral position of power and control.”
In case you missed it, that language is a direct shot at “complementarians,” who will doubtless be represented at Wheaton.
That influential evangelical faction believes the New Testament bars women from exercising church authority and requires wives to submit to husbands. A related theme for newswriters to pursue is whether, as foes charge, this theology fosters abuse. For background on complementarians, see this 2014 item by The Guy.