Opinion

Where is the Church on #MeToo?

A former missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has accused a Mormon church leader of sexual misconduct; a recorded interview suggests he denies her allegation of rape but admits to unspecified sexual misconduct with other women, including at least one other missionary. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

(RNS) — Over the past several months our society has experienced a monumental shift in the treatment of women — particularly in regard to how they are treated by men in power.

Dozens of stories of men coercing women into sexual encounters by using their power over them have emerged. Prominent men in almost every industry have fallen from grace. Women have risen up to say “no more.”

Last week, Hollywood made a bold statement as women and men paraded down the Golden Globes red carpet wearing black in solidarity with the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements. Though this display of support won’t replace real action, it is a sign that Hollywood is saying mistreating and abusing women in any form will no longer be tolerated.

Pastor Andy Savage confesses to an inappropriate sexual encounter decades ago, during a service at Highpoint Church in Memphis, Tenn. Screenshot from YouTube.com

Contrast that with what is happening in the Christian Church.

On Jan. 7, prominent Memphis pastor Andy Savage admitted to a sexual encounter with a high school student 20 years ago, after the woman involved made her story public. He received a standing ovation from his congregation after asking for forgiveness.

What are we doing, Church?

The Church has operated under a cloud of shame and silence for decades. I experienced this firsthand when I came to my church for help as a victim of domestic violence. After years of enduring physical, mental and emotional abuse, I filed for divorce and turned to my lifelong church for aid.

Instead of helping, my church instead called me before church discipline as punishment for divorce. My ex-husband received no condemnation.

During my years in women’s ministry, I have seen my story repeated dozens of times. I’ve met women who weren’t believed or who were returned to their abusers with the admonishment to “submit.” We’ve seen similar stories play out in the news, but for every woman brave enough to bring her story to the press, there are likely hundreds more suffering in silence.


READ: Female evangelical leaders call on the church to speak out on violence against women


While secular society has recently rushed to correct its mistakes in silencing women, the Church seems to be doubling down. Instead of condemning the abuse of a high school student, a congregation supported its pastor without question. There was no talk of how a church should handle these incidents or the emotional consequences experienced by the woman involved. Instead, the congregation only discussed forgiveness for Andy Savage and remorse that his victim was not on the same “road to healing.”

The Church should always set the moral example for the rest of the world, and on this issue we have failed. We’ve sat back and allowed Hollywood to take responsibility for advocating for women instead of rising up against the sin in our midst. While the Church should practice grace and forgiveness, there must be real, tangible consequences for sexual misconduct — especially when it involves a minister using his power to coerce women into sexual acts.

It’s time for leaders to take women seriously. When a woman comes forward, whether she’s sharing about domestic violence or sexual misconduct of a minister, there needs to be a swift response from church leadership. Her safety — both emotional and physical — must be of utmost importance. The leadership’s first instinct should be her care, not determining “whether she’s telling the truth” or “whether she participated willingly.”

If pastors across the nation don’t take immediate steps to advocate for the women in their congregations by speaking out against domestic violence and sexual misconduct, we are abdicating our role as the moral compass of our nation. We cannot expect America to look to us for guidance when we are disregarding the care of half the population. If we give up our responsibility on this issue, we give it up on every issue, from race relations to marriage.

If #TimesUp for Hollywood, it’s way past due for the Church.

(Autumn Miles is a Christian author, speaker and radio host. A survivor of domestic violence, she is an advocate for abuse victims and has partnered with LifeWay Research to study how the issue is treated in the Church. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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Autumn Miles

58 Comments

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  • All three Abrahamic religions are patriarchal to the bone. The church may well catch up to the #MeToo movement, but we and all of our great-grandchildren will likely be dead by then.

  • Churches of all denominations need to learn from the failures of many Catholic bishops (and, yes, I am Catholic) in how they handled cases of clergy-perpetrated child abuse. They mistakenly dealt with it as a moral issue instead of as a legal and psychological one. And we all know how that worked out.

    Yes, as Christians we should work toward forgiveness. That is what Christ calls us to. But forgiveness isn’t the same as not holding people accountable for their actions. There are consequences for bad behavior, and people who abuse power should be removed from it. If they break the law, they should be prosecuted.

    It really isn’t that complicated.

  • My sense of of what the attitude was then, and the attitude that is still present goes something like this. She accused him of stealing the car but she left it running with the keys in it. That was then, this is now. He took the car for a joy ride, admitted it and has apologized, we applaud that everyone needs to move on.

    In a situation like this a young man needs to know going in, car theft is going to be called car theft, the keys were in the ignition won’t excuse your behavior. The church and the law should look at a 22 year old youth pastor the same way a school district and the law looks at a 22 year old high school gym teacher.

  • I agree. I was a gym teacher when I was 22, and I was extra circumspect, even then, 45 years ago.

  • I believe you Ben. It’s just that if anybody’s parents HAD wrongly accused you to the media in my home state back then, you might (at minimum) have been facing “reassignment” to another school or city, even if you insisted you were “extra circumspect.” The accusation alone could’ve derailed your career.

    Just like one wrong accusation by a white woman derailed 14-year-old Emmett Till’s life, with injuries so horrible that his black family did an open-casket funeral just to prove what people did to him.

    I agree with the church speaking out against domestic violence and sexual misconduct, yes. “Swift response”, yes. But look what happened when people ignored the biblical importance of checking for the truth before doing response.

  • Does it not faze you to tell vicious lies and purport to be acting out of holy motives?

    Clearly not.

    You bring shame to the branch of the three Abrahamic religions to which you claim to belong — Christianity.

  • They are patriarchal because they share a common metaphysics of a created universe and a common cosmology of the purpose of life.

    Therefore the notion that the “church may well catch up” is fantasy, and explains why hard feminism ultimately leads out out of all three – it has an incompatible cosmology.

  • Sandi, Islam is often considered an Abrahamic religion in the sense that they and see Judaism and Christianity as earlier versions of Islam. They recognize Abraham and Jesus as prophets. Of course, you know this already are just trying to make the point that they are heathens.

  • They are not abrahamic. And yes, they are heathen. They want Jewish and Christians annihilated Mark, and that is not of Christ. Also, they don’t recognize Christ as the Son of God. They don’t understand that He is God.
    There are many, many reasons why they are not of Christ.

  • You didn’t explain why they are not abrahamic. It has nothing to do with recognizing Christ as the Son of God. If it did then Judaism would also not be abrahamic, which is nonsensical.

  • My point was, if they were of God, they would not want to kill their cousins.
    Also, I’ll let Christ answer for me:
    1 John 2:22 – English Standard Version
    22Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. “

  • Have Christians ever killed their cousins, sandi?

    Have you heard of pogroms, holy wars, the Inquisition, witch burnings, execution of heretics, the Holocaust (which occurred in Christian countries), the extermination of Muslims in the so-called “holy wars”?

    Have Jews ever killed their cousins, for that matter?

    Are you totally ignorant of history?

  • I think perhaps you should do some research. They are not Abrahamic. They do not serve the same God.

  • No many refused to recognize Jesus as God. I suggest you read a Bible if you need further proof.

  • They revere Abraham as a prophet and messenger of Allah, and see themselves as carrying on the same tradition as Jesus and the Old Testament prophets. Just because you don’t like them doesn’t mean their religion is not part of the Abrahamic tradition.

    As for the part about how “if they were of God, they would not want to kill their cousins,” I’m just gonna gesture vaguely at the entire history of interfaith relations over the past couple of thousand years or so, and say that if killing people from other Abrahamic faiths disqualifies one from claiming any connection to Abraham, then there are no Abrahamic religions on Earth at all.

  • Sandi, the Bible clearly states that the Jews descended from Abraham.

    We are really arguing about two different things though, aren’t we? By Abrahamic you really mean Christian since it is the only true religion in your belief.

  • They can revere Frosty the Snowman, it does not make him their god.

    Perhaps I should explain that comment to you.
    Christ, if He were the god of Islam, would not put into His word to kill the Jewish or Christians. Does that make it easier for you to understand now?

  • Of course Abraham isn’t their god. He’s not anybody’s god. He’s a historical / mythical figure that three of the world’s major religions claim as the founder of their religious tradition.

    You may think that Muslims are wrong, or evil, or whatever. That’s all a matter of opinion. But Islam is based on the Abrahamic religious tradition. They revere Abraham and all the Jewish prophets, and Jesus, and Mary. Whatever you think of this or that passage in the Koran, or this or that tenet of Islam, or the customs of this or that Muslim country, it is simply an objective historical fact that, at the very least, they consider themselves to be worshiping the same god as Abraham and following in his footsteps.

  • Abrahamic simply means they consider Abraham a patriarch. You don’t have to agree or like Islam, but, sociologically speaking, it is most definitely an Abrahamic religion.

    By the way, ‘Abrahamic’ does not mean ‘of Christ.’ Judaism is also an Abrahamic religion and it doesn’t acknowledge Christ as the Son of God either.

  • Christ is the Abrahamic God, and the Jews followed Him not knowing they were. He came in the flesh to show Himself to them, and some rejected Him.

  • Sorry, but you don’t get to redefine words according to your own preferences. Thankfully, others on this board seem to understand what the term actually means.

  • I think we have passed as ships in the night over the years……
    On the church and #MeToo, if women in Australia weren’t bound by confidentiality agreements Catholics would be mortified if knowing what many have had done to them, still living with the spiritual implications.
    Said with my hand over my heart.

  • And it’s not just American churches! Please don’t write as if the only people reading RNS posts are Americans. It hurts us folk who come from other parts of the world.

  • “…Hollywood is saying mistreating and abusing women in any form will no longer be tolerated.” Oh, puhleeze. 90% of Hollywood has either been the perpetrators, complicit with the perpetrators, pimped for the perpetrators, or buried their heads in the Champagne and Glitz while remaining silent about the perpetrators. Hollywood coming out now and clamoring for a seat on the TimesUp/MeToo bandwagon is nothing more than grandstanding in an attempt to ward off any further depth of scrutiny, lest the entire show of dominos collapses. And the ‘church’ could be described in much the same way. Both are bastions of facade made to appear real.

  • Of course they could learn from the successes of Catholic bishops who handled it as a legal issue. Lincoln, Nebraska, for example had zero tolerance and experienced zero lawsuits.

    As a moral issue it should have been handled according to Canon Law, which required at the very least removal from the active ministry.

    Where they mishandled it was as treating as a curable psychological issue.

    Ground zero of that mishandling was a “treatment” center in Silver Spring, Maryland called St. Luke’s. Hundreds of priests were sent there for “treatment”.

    They pronounced “cures” which, of course, were not.

  • The fight over patriarchy is about gender roles in marriage and society, the competition between rights and responsibilities, the laws concerning divorce, child custody, and alimony and should not be dragged into a discussion about abuse.

    I work hard to provide for my family and lead my family as the patriarch God has called me to be. My role as head of the household is modeled on Christ’s relationship to the church. It is further modeled on the patriarchal relationship within the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am a patriarch and I love my wife and children and would gladly die for them if necessary but also gladly live to see that their needs are met. The Bible says I am called to love my wife as Christ loved the church, which is sacrificial, yes. But it is also a love based on the authority over my wife and children that God gives me. It is a patriarchy, plain and simple. It is good and it is Godly. But it is also now being slandered by the cultural left who is trying to hijack a moment of concern over the victims of abuse to further an anti-Christian, anti-patriarchy agenda.

    #LovingPatriarchs

  • I don’t see how you could have left out “but her emails” and Benghazi.

    Bill isn’t president. Neither is Hillary. Trump is all yours.

  • In my experience, most people learn more from failure than success. And if they can learn from the failures of others, so much the better.

  • Then you should applaud the Catholic bishops who failed for providing such good lessons.

    In my experience people learn more from failure than success only if they live through it, which is why we train people in the use of firearms, explosives, and piloting so carefully.

    And also in my experience you can only develop best practices from successes.

  • I don’t applaud actions that cause harm, but I do try to learn from them. Nonetheless, the fact that God can write straight with crooked lines doesn’t mean we should go around deliberately making crooked that which is straight.

  • “If #TimesUp for Hollywood, it’s way past due for the Church.”

    Absolutely! And we haven’t even started to talk about the spiritual abuse that is rampant in the church…

  • So, I was correct in the first place when I wrote “Of course they could learn from the successes of Catholic bishops who handled it as a legal issue. Lincoln, Nebraska, for example had zero tolerance and experienced zero lawsuits.”

  • Actually, having posted first, I was correct in the first place. You were correct in the second place. Isn’t it nice that we were both correct? Harmony reigns.

  • I think we need to get confidentiality agreements dismissed/thrown out as unjust and unfair coercion of power… so therefore they are all invalid and illegal!

  • Yes but when there a “wee bairns” involved the unjust and unfair coercion takes on another aspect terrifying the mothers.

  • In case you didn’t know, there is a similar effort in the mormon community to end the practice of taking children alone, into sound-proof rooms and often asked sexually explicit questions to determine their sexual purity. There is a petition and stories that can be found here. http://protectldschildren.org/

  • The number of unaffiliated millennial-aged adults has now risen from 35% to 39%. Something to think about.

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