Are More Churches Taking Abuse Seriously?

Are More Churches Taking Abuse Seriously? August 1, 2018

Earlier this week I came upon an article about domestic abuse in the church, published on the right-wing site the Blaze. I read it looking for the moment where things would go downhill—where the article would start in on women for doing doing something wrong, or on how rates of domestic violence (they would claim) are lower in the church, etc. But that never happened.

The entire article was solid.

I found this combination of an outstanding article on domestic abuse with a right-wing site strange enough that I texted my husband with a link. “Weird venue for that,” I wrote. “Times are changing,” he replied. He’s right. Times are changing. #metoo is having an impact, but some changes were underway even before that.

Back in 2013, I wrote about an article in which World Magazine’s Andrée Seu Peterson expressed dismay at her church’s new child protection policies—she was upset that she could not take a child to the bathroom alone. Taking a second child—presumably to ensure that anything that happened would have a witness—cramped her style, apparently. But what struck me most, even at the time, was that the church had changed its policy.

I learned recently that my parents’ church now requires background checks for all Sunday school workers. The church website explains that this is done “for the safety of our children.” Running background checks on Sunday school workers, who work directly with children, makes perfect sense, but it is also new—my parents’ church did not require any sort of background check when I attended in the ’90s and early ’00s.

A quick google search suggests that many churches—a growing number, presumably—now require background checks, and many have other policies in place to ensure accountability and children’s safety.

And then there are articles like the one above, posted on the Blaze, which positively profile (and normalize) women working to improve the church’s response and ministry to women who are victims of domestic violence within the church. Christianity Today has put out a number of solid articles on the topic as well. The church appears to be paying more attention to various forms of abuse.

To be sure, there is still work to be done. Many churches, especially the most conservative among them, still treat abusive marriages as something to be fixed, rather than ended, and assign blame to each partner. And there are those, like Peterson, who balk at church policies designed to protect children’s safety.

But times are changing.

I ultimately left the church entirely, but when I blog against domestic abuse in the church—and against theological interpretations that make it easy for abusers to be restored and isolate victims—my primary goal is for others to be safe, not for them to follow my specific path. If the church can change to make others safe—or safer—I am all for that. I’ll continue to call out bad responses and dangerous theology where I see it, but I recognize (and appreciate) that the terrain is not static.

The times are changing. We can only hope that that change is sustained and enduring. It’s about time.

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