If you watch and read the news you’ll notice that allegations of sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace and the church hasn’t died down. This is not a surprise. As long as there is continued and growing support for people who come forward with their experiences the issue won’t disappear from media outlets any time soon.
Whether or not allegations become known to the public, there are people who bravely come forward and share their stories and the experience of not being listened to, not being respected, and not being supported.
If you call yourself a Christian, I believe it is important to know that God does not support harassment of any kind. Don’t believe me? Then don’t take my word for it, take God’s word for it.
When people come forward, remember that you are not a public relations agent. It’s not a time to worry about the reputation of the accused or your church. As a church community and especially as members, it is important to support administrative processes within the church that take allegations seriously. It shouldn’t matter who you believe or whose side you are on; every church needs to have policies and procedures in place where the accused and the accuser are both listened to fairly, and people with a bias are not allowed to be part of the investigation.
When people have been harassed or assaulted, the last persons they want to have to meet with is a team of board members, that may or may not consist entirely of men, and have to beg and plead to not only be believed, but listened to and taken seriously.
I’m disappointed when I encounter women who don’t think it is important for churches to have policies and procedures in place that prevent church staff from being in situations where harassment can occur in the first place. We live in a society where words are meaningless, expectations must be placed in writing and made clear to everyone. It’s not enough to trust that someone is a “good” person or a “godly” man.
It’s not enough to quietly transfer the troublesome staff member to another department or church, or pay hush money to the accuser (this prevents the victim from being able to share his or her story and allows the accused to not be held accountable).
Jesus cares about people who have been sexually harassed and bullied within a community that claims to be his followers. Jesus is a healer and he wants to see victims healed in his name. It’s important for us to boldly let the board members and elders at our places of worship know that as followers of Jesus we won’t accept the dismissive attitudes and actions of leaders and church attenders who don’t believe in the importance of holding harassers and bullies accountable to their victims and the church community.
Ask yourself these following questions:
Does my church have respectful and justice oriented polices and procedures in place that help to prevent sexual harassment and bullying? Are there policies that specifically address sexual harassment and bullying?
What is the process for making a complaint against a staff member?Does it protect the accuser from being slandered and shamed, are co-staff and witnesses protected from retaliation?
How does my church currently handle friction and controversy?
Are there any women elders or board members? Do they come from diverse backgrounds (age, class, income, educational background, etc.)?
Has my church ever paid anyone hush money? Was this recorded in the church finances, were church members informed of this decision?
These are just a few questions to ask yourself about how your church handles the serious topic of harassment.
The following are some articles that provide some important, but sad examples of what happens when churches support harassment by church staff members:
What He Thinks About What Happened At Willow Creek
John Ortberg and His Observations on the Topic