Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
During the past couple of years, the reports of sexual abuse by pastors and leaders in the church have been grievous beyond words. With the Roman Catholic church, it goes back many years, and yet there are ongoing revelations of more abuse. More recently, reports of abusive behavior from Bill Hybels and Willow Creek have been revealed. Added to this are the reports of sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). And these are the ones about which we have heard. Consider the many abuse situations that have not been revealed, the many about whom we have not heard, the many abused who suffer in silence.
While we grieve that abuse has happened in the EFCA in the past (our grief is for both the occurrences and the victims), we are aware of no extensive revelations such as those noted above. Even though we are not the size of a sister denomination like the SBC, it is likely we would have a similar percentage of abusive situations affecting our own churches, affecting precious individuals in our churches.
The numbers of abuse victims are staggering. One is too many. Abuse betrays the gospel we affirm and proclaim. Abuse dishonors the Lord we love. Abuse destroys the well-being and dignity of the innocent victim. Although women are abused more often than men, men are not immune. Statistics reflect the reality that one in four women and one out of six men are sexually abused in their lifetime, while eight in 10 women and four out of 10 men have experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime. For many, it happened/happens during childhood.
For those so abused, we engage in responsive care, seeking to listen and love. We are also committed to preventative care, so that means we must say something about structure, that we want leaders and churches to be safe places where people are loved, cared for, protected and can flourish.
Consider the statistics and what that means in your own local church. Remember those statistics are not just numbers but people, those who have personally been either sexually abused or sexually harassed. With the love of Christ, the indwelling of the Spirit and the power of the gospel, we eagerly long to love and care for the abused, and to walk with them to get the help and healing they need in and through Christ.
We believe our commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ and our desire to love God and love others (Matt 22:37-39) compel us to address this through information and education. Our concern to affirm and live out the gospel of Jesus Christ for and on behalf of the abused means we will learn how to love and care for them. It also means the abuser must be held accountable for the egregious sin committed against another.
With courage and humility, our commitment to inform and educate, to love and hold accountable is intentionally done over and against the common mode of operating as that of ignorance, preservation of the status quo and arrogance. In the EFCA, we are doing so in two specific ways.
First, we have distributed the book Becoming a Church That Cares Well for the Abused (B&H Books 2019) to all the key leaders in the EFCA and also to the senior pastors of all EFCA churches. This was made possible through a generous donation from the EFCA Network. This book is accompanied by a 12-part video series, which can be viewed on the Church Cares website. These resources were developed by the SBC after the disclosure of sexual abuse last year among pastors and leaders. “At the end of this training,” they note, “you should be able to say, ‘I know what I should do when there is a report of abuse in my ministry, why I should do it, and how to do it.’”
The second way we will address this is by providing this training session as part of the 2020 EFCA Theology Preconference: “Abuse in the Church: A Gospel-Grounded And Godly-Guided Response.” This leadership training will be provided by Mike Sloan, GRACE Director of Safeguarding Certification (Godly Response to Abuse in Christian Environments). Of this training, they write:
"Abuse in the church is a systemic issue that calls for proactive response from leaders. Regardless of our intentions, a passive approach from leaders enables abuse in the local church. The issues involved in confronting abuse are complex and leaders must humble themselves and seek better tools to confront the prevalent and dark reality abuse in the church. Leaders must work to shift the culture on abuse by engaging the help of all adults in prevention and a culture of accountability. Leaders must reject a culture of silence on abuse and lead churches out of denial and into education for the sake of Jesus and the vulnerable who are at the heart of his Kingdom. In this training, we will shine a light on the reality of abuse and equip leaders to take the proactive steps that make the difference in preventing and responding to abuse in the local church.”
In this EFCA Theology Preconference session, we will focus on three key issues related to abuse:
Part 1: Leaders Who Face Abuse in the Church
Part 2: Leaders Who Shift Church Culture on Abuse
Part 3: Leaders who Prevent and Respond Well to Abuse
As leaders in the EFCA, we provide the book and this training for the sake of loving and caring for those who have been abused, for the strengthening of our churches and the prevention of abuse, for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and for the honor and glory of the Lord. And as we live out the gospel in this way, it is important that others see this matters to the EFCA, and we pray it will result in giving glory to our Father who is in heaven (Matt 5:13-16).
If you, dear sister, are one of the one in four, or if you, dear brother, are one of the one in six, please speak with someone you trust to begin to receive the healing and wholeness offered in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Please join us for our EFCA Theology Conference and plan to participate and learn in our important Preconference session on the topic of “Abuse in the Church: A Gospel-Grounded and Godly-Guided Response,” held February 5, 2020, 8:30 a.m. - 12 p.m., on the campus of Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois. Please plan to register now.