Lifeway Research found that 3 in 10 Protestant churchgoers believe that“many more” abusive pastors have yet to been found out. Yet 9 in 10 say their churches are safe places, and 8 in 10 say leaders would not cover up misconduct and would bear the cost of addressing incidents correctly. We asked experts whether Christians are overly optimistic about their own church’s response.
Justin Holcomb, Episcopal priest, author, board member for GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment)
The very high level of confidence churchgoers have in their church’s ability to respond to abuse is unfounded. Routinely, many churches do not report abuse and do not endure the cost of addressing abuse allegations. These findings reveal that congregations assume the best about themselves and their leadership. Unfortunately, these churchgoers’ optimistic views do not match up with the reality of a majority of churches.
Nick Davis, lead pastor of Redemption Church in San Diego, cofounder of the Valued Conference
Sadly, I think too many churchgoers would rather look the other way than confront reality…. Most churches don’t have the right policies, procedures, or adequate training in place to handle sexual abuse and assault claims. We should admit this but never accept this reality. It’s also why we need to act now and do everything we can to understand, identify, prevent, and respond to sexual abuse and assault going forward.
Mary DeMuth, advocate and author of We Too: How the Church Can Respond Redemptively to the Sexual Abuse Crisis:
Honestly, I think many churchgoers simply don’t understand the dynamics at play. And since few truly know their leaders personally and/or are familiar with a church’s child protection policies and reporting procedures, they may have a naive belief that all would be handled well. Sadly, many churches are ill-equipped to deal with a pronouncement of abuse.
Joshua Pease, former evangelical pastor and abuse survivor:
It’s easy for Christians to believe, in a vacuum, their church is a safe place for survivors, and yet most abusers are very, very good at creating trustworthy, authoritative, respected personas for themselves. . . . There’s a reason some of the most respected churches in evangelicalism have protected abusers. And we’re all capable of doing the same if we’re not careful.
Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research:
On the surface it seems that many more churchgoers anticipate a flood of pastor failures, yet only a few doubt their own church. It is likely that both will prove to be true in the days ahead. For illustration purposes, if even half a percent of pastors are found to have committed sexual assault or abuse, that would be enough to have one revealed each day for more than four years.