A woman uses a megaphone to express #MeToo. Graphic by Prentsa Aldundia/Creative Commons

Ending the year #MeToo went to church, Wheaton summit to discuss evangelical response

A woman uses a megaphone to express #MeToo. Graphic by Prentsa Aldundia/Creative Commons

CHICAGO (RNS) — For years, Nancy Beach had no idea there were women with stories similar to hers.

Beach, the first woman to serve as a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, said her boss acted sexually inappropriately toward her in the late 1990s.

Instead of speaking out, she said she went silent, like so many other women, wanting to protect the church and families involved and thinking her situation was an isolated case.

When she learned other women said they had similar encounters with Willow Creek founder Bill Hybels, she decided to speak out earlier this year. Eventually, Hybels, who has denied the allegations against him, retired early after about 10 women accused him of misconduct.


RELATED: What’s next for Willow Creek?


Nancy Beach. Photo via Twitter


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Like others who have shared their stories of sexual harassment and abuse this year, Beach hopes other women won't have to wait so long to speak out. It's time, she said, for evangelical churches to have an honest conversation about sexual misconduct.

She plans to tell her story at Reflections: A GC2 Summit on Responding to Sexual Harassment, Abuse and Violence, a one-day evangelical gathering around the topic on Thursday (Dec. 13) hosted by the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian school in the Chicago suburbs.

There’s never been a more important time to address the topic of sexual misconduct in the church, according to Beach.

“I think this is just an opportunity to, instead of avoiding the conversation, open it up and to hear from many different voices coming from different areas of expertise,” she said.


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


The summit comes just over a year after artists Emily Joy, who does not use her last name professionally, and Hannah Paasch first appended the hashtag #ChurchToo to their tweets, giving survivors of sexual violence, abuse and harassment within the church a place to share their stories. They had been inspired by the #MeToo movement started by activist Tarana Burke, which brought to light accusations against a number of powerful men, particularly in media and entertainment.

Since then, several high-profile leaders in the evangelical world have been accused of sexual misconduct.

Andy Savage, a teaching pastor at Highpoint Church in Memphis, resigned in March after Jules Woodson accused him of sexually abusing her when she was a teenager and he was a youth pastor in Texas. Her story was one of the first to bring national attention to the #ChurchToo movement.

In April, an investigation by the Chicago Tribune revealed decades of alleged misconduct by Hybels. That investigation rocked not just Willow Creek but also the thousands of churches that had modeled themselves after the suburban Chicago megachurch.

The main campus of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill. The megachurch has been in turmoil since sexual misconduct allegations came to light against its founder, Bill Hybels. Photo courtesy of Willow Creek Community Church


 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Then this summer, the Southern Baptist Convention grappled with how to address the issue after Paige Patterson was ousted from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary amid reports he mishandled rape allegations by students.

Laurie Nichols, director of communications for the Billy Graham Center and one of the organizers of the event, said Reflections aims to give churches the tools they need to respond to victims of sexual harassment and abuse.

“We really want to equip churches in this area," Nichols said. "A lot of pastors just don't feel equipped to deal with this issue, and church leaders don't feel equipped and a lot of women in the church don't feel like they know how to share their stories.”


RELATED: Southern Baptists mull what’s next on confronting abuse


This is the center’s third GC2 summit, which is a reference to Christianity’s Great Commission — “Go and make disciples of all nations” — and Great Commandment, Jesus’ command to love God and love one’s neighbor. Previous summits have focused on the refugee crisis and mass incarceration.

Organizers also want survivors to have a voice and to know the church cares about them, Nichols said.

The schedule of the summit includes time for lament and prayer, as well as panel discussions and keynote addresses with titles like “Dear Church Leaders, Here’s How You Ought to Respond to Survivors in Your Church,” “When Jesus Heals” and “Seeking Accountability and Integrity.”

Reflections: A GC2 Summit on Responding to Sexual Harassment, Abuse and Violence. Image via Eventbrite


 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Licensed and trained team members will be on site to offer attendees support and referrals to further counseling, in partnership with the school’s counseling center and school of psychology. Proceeds from ticket and livestream sales will go to New Name, a local faith-based outreach to women in the adult industry.

Among the speakers are Beth Moore and Christine Caine, two popular authors and speakers who have spoken out about their experiences of sexual abuse and support for the #MeToo movement.

Emily Joy, who co-created the #ChurchToo movement with fellow artist Hannah Paasch. Photo by Jenny Blake of Love Local Nashville

Other speakers from Wheaton bring backgrounds in psychology and counseling: Nancy Nealious, a trauma recovery specialist and licensed clinical psychologist in the college’s counseling center; Tammy Schultz, a trauma and sexual abuse counselor and professor of counseling; Jenny Hwang, managing director of the college’s Humanitarian Disaster Institute; and Wheaton College Provost Margaret Diddams, a psychologist who is part of an advisory group currently investigating allegations against Hybels.

Nichols said speakers come from diverse backgrounds, but all hold evangelical beliefs.

But critics say it’s important for evangelicals to hear from voices outside the church. Those voices are missing from the conference, said Emily Joy, who left evangelicalism and now attends an Episcopal church.

She said evangelical teachings about sex — including the belief sex should be reserved for a man and woman within the context of marriage — form a "bedrock of sexually dysfunctional culture in conservative evangelicalism, and these speakers are not interested in dismantling it."

She, Paasch and a few others plan to host their own teachings on social media offering "alternative information" during Wheaton’s summit, she said.

"My idea is not to just critique this — which it deserves critique — but also to offer something constructive and proactive as well,” she said.

Emily Joy also is concerned the summit doesn't have enough survivors or experts in dealing with issues of sexual abuse in its speaker lineup.

Jules Woodson is a Christian, mother, flight attendant, survivor and advocate. Photo courtesy of Jules Woodson


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At least four of the 17 speakers listed on the summit website are survivors of sexual harassment or abuse, according to Nichols, who also identifies as a survivor. However, only one of the speakers, Jeanette Salguero, chief operating officer of Calvario City Church in Florida, is identified as a survivor in her summit bio.

And Woodson, who identifies as Christian, is concerned about its inclusion of Caine, who has ties to Hillsong, an Australian megachurch whose founder, Brian Houston, is under fire for his handling of allegations his father had sexually abused several children.

She said evangelicals need to recognize sexual abuse is a problem within the church, and it is not just a sin but also a crime. They also need to listen to survivors, advocates and organizations like GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) that were working to bring the issue to light before it was trending.

“We need to be having this conversation. Absolutely, we need to be equipping people and educating them about this topic. All of that is so important,” Woodson said. “But this (summit) just seems to me really lacking depth.”


RELATED: Jules Woodson to abuse survivors: ‘You are strong, you are brave and your voice matters’


Still, Emily Joy said the fact such an event is being held at an evangelical institution this year is “proof that we're making progress insofar as we're forcing them to confront these things.”

Hwang agreed evangelicals need to have a healthy conversation about sexuality. Many treat sex as a taboo topic, related to guilt and shame, according to the head of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute. That is unhealthy, she said, and can make it even harder to discuss sexual abuse.

Beach, the leadership coach once on staff at Willow Creek, worries that churches will react to the sexual abuse crisis by creating more rules that restrict women from leadership roles — in order to reduce the risk of misconduct. She believes God created men and women to work shoulder to shoulder together in ministry, she said. She's experienced it, too — and that’s the story she wants to tell now at Reflections.

She said the summit is "only the beginning."

"It's just one day. It's not going to solve everything,” Beach said. “But I think it's a step in the right direction. That's my hope.”

Many females have come forward about abuse since the #MeToo movement began. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons


 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Comments

  1. I’m really shocked Emily joy takes the position that sex between a man and woman in the context of marriage is considered dysfunctional…. shocked…

  2. #Metoo and Evangelical Church are not on the same side of anything and the #Metoo people need to wake up to that fact. Conservative Church is off in Trumpism, Fox News, Limbaugh Radio, Pat Robertson Baloney, Michelle Bachman Cluelessness, Sarah Palin Aggressiveness. There is NOTHING there for women really. Tell ’em why you’re leaving and split. Don’t hang around imagining you can fix Every-Word-Of-The-Bible people for the female gender’s actual interests. They don’t like #Metoo talk any better now than they liked the Equal Rights Amendment 40 years ago.

  3. Hmm. So now the Metoo supporter Christine Caine ain’t quite “Metoo” enough for some folks because (despite her past experience), she “has ties to” Hillsong Church? What?

    And another MeToo speaker says that the flat-out God-given biblical instruction that “sex should be reserved for marriage between a man and woman”, somehow creates a “bedrock of sexually dysfunctional culture”? What?

    And not one word of correction from ANY of the MeToo speakers, about how the #MeToo Movement recently sold itself (more accurately, prostituted itself) for sketchy political purposes during the Kavanaugh War? What?

    C’mon folks. Churches do need accountability in this area, but how can you have red flags like this at an **evangelical** MeToo conference? Who — or what — is really driving the bus?

  4. OOPS I thought the title speed-reads, “Ending the year #MeToo went to [Atheists, Witt, ON] summit to discuss [Atheists’] response [to the Atheist Phenomenon that is the Neil deGrasse Tyson / David Silverman / Lawrence Krauss / Al Franken Combo Special]”!

    Never mind. As you were, SJW Soldiers!

  5. A movement does not sell itself or prostitute itself based on the actions of one person. If it did, it would not be a movement, it would be a cult.

  6. Go back and read it again, that is not what it says.

  7. The Heresy of White Christianity
    https://www.truthdig.com/articles/the-heresy-of-white-christianity/

    From the comments.

    Cloudchopper • an hour ago

    This is not very inclusive talking about white Christianity and black Christianity only. What happened to Latino Christianity, Asian Christianity, brown Christianity and red Christianity? These other groups must feel terribly left out.

    Anyway ancient Hinduism explains things far better and Jesus went East to learn from them before he started preaching at age 33.

    sisterlauren to Cloudchopper • 25 minutes ago

    The black/white thing is really about an imbalance of power with white dominating black, a fact of our history for the last 500 years. It could just as easily be a discussion of the imbalance of power between men and woman, which goes way way back with humans.

    Black Lives Matter and the MeToo movement are both speaking to that power imbalance. I think Jesus would approve of them.

    And that is how they are related. The Evangelical Church is concerned with the return of Jesus.

  8. Really? What does it say then?

    Here is her quote implying that sex is anything but between a man and a woman….

    Those voices are missing from the conference, said Emily Joy, who left evangelicalism and now attends an Episcopal church.

    She said evangelical teachings about sex — including the belief sex should be reserved for a man and woman within the context of marriage — form a “bedrock of sexually dysfunctional culture in conservative evangelicalism, and these speakers are not interested in dismantling it.”

    I’m curious as to how I got it wrong.

  9. I wish we had smart, kind-hearted women of all skin colors writing and re-writing the religions. That is a short answer without getting too deep in your subject matter. This cannot happen from the American Evangelical movement of the moment, because it is mired in mud, supporting utter junk like Trumpism. The broadly-described group of Metoo women need to look elsewhere for a foundation. (Hinduism ain’t it either, BTW.)

  10. Obviously Emily Joy has walked away from the faith. So why is she even being given a voice in this arena? If she really believes “evangelical teachings about sex — including the belief sex should
    be reserved for a man and woman within the context of marriage — form a ‘bedrock of sexually dysfunctional culture in conservative
    evangelicalism…’” then she has disqualifed herself from having a voice in an evangelical discussion about sex.
    Another typical “woke artist” who gets a few followers and then all of the sudden knows better than the Church, the Bible and God.

  11. “Obviously Emily Joy has walked away from the faith.” -She’s an Episcopalian, did you even read the article? Episcopalians are Christians and hold to historical orthodox creedal Christian beliefs.

    Christianity exists outside of the tiny, historically recent, insular cult of evangelicalism.

  12. She can claim she’s a Martian if she wants but her statement is contradictory to scripture. These “woke Christians” who claim God in one breath then excuse themselves from His Word in the next are heretics. And the biblical definition of marriage being beteeen one man and one woman isn’t “historically recent” nor is the biblical teaching of adultery—sex outside of marriage. No matter how much you want to believe it so.

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