This Thursday, Wheaton College will host an event focusing on the prevalence of sexual abuse in Christian churches, which was brought to attention on social media using the hashtag #ChurchToo (a spin off of #MeToo).
The problem? The event coordinators likely won’t discuss any of their fundamentalist theology that enables abuse in the first place. Critics have said church culture protects abusers while shaming and silencing victims.
Blogger and professor Christopher Stroop recently called out the event leaders for their lack of serious introspection.
What’s wrong, you may ask, with evangelicals facing up to the abuses that occur in their spaces? Nothing, on the face of it. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find there are many problems with the summit, not least that its organizers, who hold to patriarchal, anti-LGBTQ theology, refuse to invite, or even engage in any dialogue with, the creators of the #ChurchToo hashtag (read about it here), Emily Joy and Hannah Paasch. Joy and Paasch, of course, insist that patriarchal, sex-obsessed evangelical theology and its accompanying purity culture are at the root of the abuse that riddles evangelical spaces. The #Exvangelical community, along with everything we know about the effects of unequal power dynamics, back them up on this.
So, #ChurchToo was created by queer ex-evangelical women who specifically wanted to draw attention to the ways that evangelicals’ theology of “biblical inerrancy” is inherently harmful, the ways that concepts like “male headship” and even the notion of “sexual purity” itself shore up power structures in which abusers and narcissists easily thrive. In evangelical environments, the very concept of forgiveness is frequently weaponized, as powerful male abusers are let off the hook, while abuse victims are told to forgive and move on and even to repent for “their part” in their abuse.
I can’t help wondering if the event coordinators looked up Joy and Paasch with the possibility of having them speak, only to realize they are both extremely liberal, then balking at the thought of hearing them speak. Giving them a platform might make it seem as if they endorse their progressive ideals or something. Wheaton can’t have that.
The reason that last part flies in evangelicalism is because evangelical subculture has no concept of consent. Everything that doesn’t fit into the heternormative one man and one woman having a monogamous sexual relationship while married box is considered “sin.” Raping someone is sin, to be sure, but so might be being raped, according to this way of thinking, at least if the powerful men (and it usually is men) investigating the situation in-house can find any way to put some blame on the woman for “leading on” her rapist or “not being modest enough” — and they often do use these excuses. Consensual sex outside of their definition of marriage is no less “sinful” than sexual violence.
It’s no surprise at all that the ex-vangelical community is skeptical — they have every right to be. Part of the hard, gritty work of exposing sexual abuse requires shining a light on the flaws within the church that allow it to thrive. It involves degrees of humility, self-reflection, and repentance that evangelicals aren’t exactly known for. Hosting a conference on this very issue could be a chance to reflect on the role evangelicals have played in creating the current situation. Instead, it’ll just be an opportunity for participants to pat each other on their backs.
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