#SilenceIsNotSpiritual: A Call for Church Leaders to Stand Up for Sexual Abuse Victims

By Gabbriella Kabler

The #SilenceIsNotSpiritual movement took place during the season of Lent in order to bring awareness and healing to the growing dilemma behind the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements. Movements such as these utilize social media and the hashtagging feature as a resource to speak up for themselves and other victims of abuse.

Specifically, #SilenceIsNotSpiritual included a written statement on their website detailing their mission as well as periodical blog posts telling the stories of women who had experienced abuse. The action demonstrated through women in this movement came as a result of the success and popularity of the #MeToo movement.

The #MeToo movement began with activist Tarana Burke in 2006 as an attempt to promote solidarity and openness between women who had experienced sexual abuse. The movement took off in late 2017 on social media as an act of support resulting from the sexual accusations against Harvey Weinstein. Many women responded with their stories of abuse.

These movements are the result of a growing acknowledgement of the systemic sexual abuse and harassment of women and girls.

#SilenceIsNotSpiritual is a related movement, highlighting the fact that the church is not exempt from issues of abuse. It calls church leaders to stand up for women and girls in the church who have faced sexual abuse, giving them encouragement and a safe place to seek healing. The movement’s leaders argue that silence about these issues only yields fear and a false idea of perfection in the church.

Erin Shaw, instructor of Women’s Ministry and Biblical and Ministry Studies, commented that social movements can be beneficial to sharing the love and healing of Jesus.

“The #MeToo movement has been helpful in exposing hidden sins against women,” she said. “We, as believers, can use this momentum to speak about how Jesus can heal those who have been hurt by sexual sin through the good news of the Gospel.”

Rebekah Erway, senior class women’s ministry leader, said that the key to healing within the church is found in the unity of Jesus as well as the recognition of church leaders to the fact that abuse is a pertinent issue.

“Sexual harassment doesn’t demonstrate the qualities that Jesus promoted, in loving your neighbor and in wanting unity in the church, because that definitely is divisive,” Erway said. “We definitely need to make that clear. It needs to start with the church leadership, so that they are all on board and that they are all aware of potential issues.”

According to modern studies, one in every six women is the victim of attempted or completed rape. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network reports that every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. Furthermore, The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that 81% of women who have experienced sexual violence in the form of rape, stalking, or physical violence also experience short- and long-term effects including injury and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Mindy May, director of Student Development and Dean of Women, mentioned how wrongness permeates every aspect of society and relationships due to sin. As a result, people often let their selfish desires dictate their actions. This can lead to harmful abuse.

“When a person has been abused or harassed, I think it is a vile violation against the ethic of God and how he created us in our personhood, so every time a person is objectified, depersonalized, or sought after for personal sexual gain, that is awful, because that rejects the fact that that person is the image-bearer of a very holy God,” May said. “So not only is the act wrong — it’s ethically wrong, it’s legally wrong — it’s such an attack against personhood and who God created us to be.”

Many women are affected by sexual violence, including those in the church. With such high rates of sexual abuse in America, it is estimated that approximately 40 percent of an average church congregation may be the victim of abuse. May confirmed that the church is not isolated from sexual violence.

“We can’t turn a blind eye to it, to the fact that [abuse] is happening within churches as well,” she said. “It’s because churches, while trying to hold biblical truth, are full of sinful people.”

Through movements like #SilenceIsNotSpiritual, victims of abuse can find a voice. The movement’s founders hope that both the causes and results of abuse can be addressed and remedied. This happens through spreading of awareness, reducing objectification of both men and women, and seeking healing on an individual basis.

“People are speaking out,” May said. “We live in a culture that says, ‘Ok, have your voice and speak out against these wrongs,’ which is really good. I’m hoping that the church is a place of integrity and of healing.”

Shaw and May both said that, especially in a church setting, leaders should act as protectors, encouragers and teachers of their congregation, seeking to follow the example of Christ-like servant care. This can cause devastating effects if the leaders are the ones propagating the abuse, or turning a blind eye to it.

“If there is sin happening in the church, especially by spiritual leaders, who are supposed to be shepherding, the fact that that would be compromised … it compromises the Gospel,” May said.

Shaw hopes that the church can provide help and healing through leadership.

“If church leaders know about sexual harassment in the church, they are obligated to confront the abuser over their sin, and if something illegal has taken place, they must report this abuse to the proper authorities,” Shaw said. “Church leaders should consider how best to offer encouragement, love, support and counseling to the victim of the abuse.”

#SilenceIsNotSpiritual is a step in the direction of awareness of sexual violence not just in culture, but also in the church. It advocates for the need of the church as a whole to be a witness to the depth of God’s love and truth. This happens through acknowledgment of brokenness and improvement of community within the church by both its leaders and congregation.

Gabbriella Kabler is a freshman Chemistry major and an off-campus writer for Cedars. She takes joy in big questions, fresh air, and fluffy kittens.

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