It took a week, but I finally worked up my brave and googled #churchtoo. I heard about this hashtag almost as soon as it hit Twitter, but I couldn’t bring myself to look. I knew what to expect. I knew the stories that would show up. I knew . . . because I have heard too, too many of those stories in the last few years.

So here is how #churchtoo got its start. About a month after the #metoo campaign began, #churchtoo showed up on Twitter. Emily Joy and Hannah Paasch used the hashtag and told their stories of being abused by church leaders. Unfortunately, their hashtag caught fire, and hundreds of women and men shared their own horror stories about the church.

I read through those stories and found some common themes:

  1. The victims of sexual abuse in the church were often blamed. Their clothes were too suggestive, they shouldn’t have been so appealing, THEY were in the wrong place. The victim caused the abuse. The victim was responsible.
  2. Victims were told that it wasn’t abuse at all–it was normal. It was necessary. It was common practice. They shouldn’t make such a big deal out of what had happened.
  3. Victims were not believed. Church leaders and church members dismissed the stories told, refused to listen to those stories, or completely discounted the stories, accusing the victims of lying.
  4. Victims were forced to apologize for being abused–to ask forgiveness from the congregation or from the perpetrator’s spouse.
  5. Victims were told that they had a responsibility to their abuser–to help their abuser find absolution and redemption.
  6. Many of the victims were really young. Some were small children, others were teenagers, but adults also were abused by church leaders.
  7. A very high percentage of victims left the church, and many have never returned. The church failed them, and they walked away. Thus, the initial abuse result in a secondary trauma–rejection by the Christian community.
  8. Angry haters continue to abuse these victims–posting vile messages on Twitter, accusing victims of blasphemy, demeaning them for “wanting to destroy the church,” discounting their pain.

The reality that such abuse has happened in our churches for two thousand years horrifies me. The truth is that the church has turned a blind eye to sexual abuse, has re-victimized victims, and has pushed victims away. My heart breaks that the Christian community has lost so, so many, who justifiably want nothing more to do with the church.

Reading through #churchtoo left me troubled, but it also provided some critical takeaways.

  1. Victims need safe places to tell their stories. They need to have freedom to speak their truth and hear the stories of others. One woman wrote, “Story connects us. Story saves us.”
  2.  Victims don’t need sympathy or empathetic responses. They don’t need words of concern or comfort. They don’t need vows that churches will do better. They need to be heard. They need for their stories to be heard.
  3. Serious conversations about theology are desperately needed in every. single. church. Churches need to address patriarchal theology and to talk about what has been taught and is being taught about God, gender roles and expectations, sex, and sin.

It might take you a week or more, but I challenge you to google #churchtoo and to read the stories. Just read. You don’t have to comment. You don’t have to offer answers. You don’t need to think you can fix what has been broken. Just read.

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.