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#MeToo Prompts U.S. Protestant Clergy to Address Sexual Abuse

The #MeToo movement has prompted more U.S. Protestant clergy to address sexual abuse in their congregations, according to a LifeWay Research report published Sept. 18.

Fifty-two percent of pastors said they are more inclined to address domestic and sexual violence in their congregations because of the #MeToo movement.

“Mainline pastors (49 percent) are more likely to select “More inclined to preach about domestic and sexual violence” than evangelical pastors (32 percent),” the report said. “Methodists (57 percent) and Presbyterian/Reformed (52 percent) are more likely to select “More inclined to preach about domestic and sexual violence” than Baptists (30 percent), Lutherans (37 percent), Pentecostals (24 percent) and Christian/Church of Christ (36 percent).”

Clergy now speak to their churches about these matters more frequently than they did four years ago, as well.

In 2014, 22 percent of respondents said they addressed this topic in their churches at least once a year, while 28 percent did so several times annually. In 2018, those numbers had increased to 26 percent and 44 percent, respectively.

The leading reasons for speaking more frequently about these matters are awareness of resources (96 percent), recognizing this as a community problem (87 percent) and seeing the impact of domestic or sexual violence firsthand (75 percent).

Clergy awareness of resources addressing domestic and sexual violence also increased over this time.

In 2014, 91 percent said they were at least somewhat familiar with available resources, compared to 96 percent in 2018.

Despite the increased focus in congregational messages and a growing awareness of resources, pastors tend to see domestic and sexual violence as more prevalent outside the church than inside.

When asked about domestic or sexual violence taking place in the lives of congregation members, 64 percent agreed that it does, 31 percent disagreed and 6 percent said they did not know – figures nearly identical to 2014.

Yet, among those who speak about these matters annually, 87 percent said this is a problem in their communities and only 18 percent affirmed it is a problem in their congregations.

The percentage of Protestant congregations estimated by respondents to be impacted by domestic violence is much lower than their estimates for the U.S. population as a whole.

A majority of pastors (74 percent) estimated that less than 20 percent of their congregations had been victims of domestic violence, while a majority of pastors (64 percent) estimated that 30 percent or more of the U.S. population had been victims of domestic or sexual violence.

When asked, “Have you or someone on your church staff ever experienced sexual harassment in a church setting where you were employed?” 82 percent of respondents said, “No.”

When asked, “Has a staff member at your church ever been found to have sexually harassed someone in the congregation, either while you have been at the church or prior to you coming to the church?” 85 percent of respondents said, “No.”

“Pastors are starting to talk about issues like sexual harassment and domestic abuse more than in the past,” Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, said. “They don’t always know how to respond, but fewer see them as taboo subjects.”

The full report is available here.