018. We Must Start Talking about Sex in the Church
We must start talking about sex and sexuality within the church.
Yet another egregious report of hundreds being sexually abused within a denomination came out this week. Let’s not fool ourselves, there are so many more unvoiced and unreported experiences out there as well.
Here is what needs to be said.
When we are committed to pleasantries, to not rocking the boat, and keeping the status quo alive and well over justice, confrontation, and action, we inevitably fuel the vehicles in which sexual abuse is able to operate. The entire system of continued abuse is based on secrecy, power, and maintaining an image that all is perfect.
When looking at victims of sexual abuse, there are common characteristics of family systems and their church systems that can invite such abuse in. These commonalities include relational coldness, lack of true intimacy, being told feelings are wrong, crazy, or nonexistent, along with rigid rules of what being “good” is supposed to look like.
When abuse does happen, children are afraid to tell the truth, know they won’t be believed, and will likely be blamed for “inconveniencing” and hurting their parents and churches in some way if they come forward.
While I believe mightily in boundaries, when we set up boundaries that look more like stone walls and are cemented in shame and fear especially as it relates to our sexuality, we created siloed, isolated experiences where victims feel like they will get in trouble or be outcast for giving voice to their abuse.
We can be a part of the change. We have to be a part of the change.
Here are a few ways you get to be proactive…
Do your own work around your stories of sexual harm and trauma. You can practice a revolution by NOT sweeping these stories under the rug. When you do your own work, you in turn become a safe place for others to share their stories. Why? Because other people notice when you take your own trauma seriously. Someone will then know that if they needed to talk about their trauma, you would be someone who would take it seriously and not cast it aside. That’s glory at its finest.
Talk to your pastors. Share with them it’s imperative they begin having conversations about sex, sexual abuse, and sexuality. Ask them how they handle instances of reported sexual abuse and whether or not they have the plan written down. (FYI: many states now consider everyone a mandated reporter of current or suspected child abuse.)
Do your research. Read books, listen to the experts, go to seminars, and become informed. When we have better language, we get to offer other people better language to talk about their experiences. Language takes away shame and humanizes experiences.
Lastly, ask how you may be unintentionally perpetuating the problem. Consider how the language you use around your beliefs about sex and sexuality can be shaming. Consider how you being more committed to keeping everyone happy, can actually be harmful, especially for those who lack power (children). Ask how you can be a part of changing that.
Let’s get to work so that when this does happen again, because sadly it’s not stopping, victims know that they have safe places, soft hearts, and swift action available to them.
I’ll include some resources that I would recommend both for childhood sexual abuse recovery and developing greater language around your sexuality. For example, did you know that the correct term for what you likely call your vagina is actually anatomically referred to as your vulva? It’s true. Some resources have a Christian ethic, others do not. While that may make some people nervous, I would offer that we need to look at the experts in the field of sexuality to learn more about it. Your church and your middle school sex-ed class are simply not going to cut it these days.
God Love Sex by Dr. Dan B Allender and Tremper Longman
Come As You Are by Dr. Emily Nagoski
Instagram accounts I’ve begun following that are either great educational resources or I appreciate how they talk about the intersection of their femininity, sexuality, and spirituality. I think it’s important that I put myself around different language, different viewpoints, and different discussions than just the ones that are happening in my circles. I don’t have to agree with everything they say, but the gift of social media, is that I get to learn and expand my knowledge, beliefs, and resources!