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Nine Ways Our Faith Communities Can Help

Just a reminder April is Sexual Violence Awareness month.  More on this next month!

Shared By: OCAL 11-13-2007Hope: A life raft….

Scholarly author Marie Marshall Fortune in her book Sexual Violence The Unmentionable Sin: An Ethical and Pastoral Perspective writes about a pastor who announced to his congregation that he would be attending a conference on sexual abuse.  When he returned, he was amazed at how many women came to him for help.  He had no idea there were so many survivors in his congregation.   By his public announcement about a sexual abuse conference, he had given permission to talk about rape.

In effect, this pastor held out a ‘safety sign’ for survivors to come forward and was breaking the Code of Silence that is so prevalent.  What Hope!! Yes, the story only mentions women as feeling safe, and my hope would be that men would too.

So I offer nine suggestions for faith community leaders to consider if they are sensing an invitation to break this Code of Silence and be a resource for their people.  One fear often present is that we don’t have the time, or we will be overwhelmed or something along those lines.  It does not have to be that way.    Please consider the following suggestions (an incomplete list at best), taking what you like and leaving the rest.

  • Assess your own church (synagogue, meeting place,etc.) leadership strengths, passions, etc., developing boundaries of what you can do and not do.  Find outside community resources.  There is help for this process if desired.  If anyone has a question about this topic, please email me through this website.
  • Provide education opportunities to break ignorance barriers. Training others how to come alongside survivors, the damage such violations cause, and promoting  question and answer opportunities are some areas that can be addressed.
  • Start a Men against Sexual Violence group, including teens.
  • Try starting survivor groups.  Usually men and women need to be separate for these.
  • Educate about the attitudes impacting the prevalence of this topic including the impact of our language and the distinction between sexual violence and sex.  Do we judge? Do we blame?  Are we safe people for survivors?  Do we want to be?
  • Start educating our children on this topic.  Do we teach our daughters how to stay as safe as possible and say NO?  Do we teach our young men to hear a NO when it is said in different words?  Who is educating them?  Our culture?  Media?
  • Address root causes such as sexist attitudes, male aggression, female passivity, our own howbeit-unconscious collusion to keep the Code of Silence.
  • Make the choice to commit to promote a sexual-violence-free community.  Think it can’t be done?  It can.  I can show you some studies.
  • Ask yourselves: If we came across incest in our congregation what would be our reaction?  What if anything would we do?  Would we know what to do?

I bless you with sensing any invitation He may have for you here.


  1. March 11th, 2015
    My response to Sherrill Anderson’s blog post titled, “Nine Ways Our Faith Community Can Help”Hi Sherrill, I would like to share a page or two out of my February 21st journal entry. I believe it corresponds well with your “Nine Ways Our Faith Community Can Help.” My Pastor responded to my childhood sexual assault story like this: “I first want to tell you how grieved I am that this happened to you. I am grieved that you have suffered all your life with this. I am really grieved.” I started crying a little bit, just a little, when he looked at me and started telling me how grieved he was. He was genuine. I appreciated his grief very much. That display of grief somehow helps me think; yes, somebody cares about the evil done to me. It makes me think that maybe God is grieved too. I can’t see God grieve for me, so when others do grieve…it is a visible “mask” of God that I can actually see with my eyes and I find comfort. God didn’t forget me because when I see, physically see, a Pastor grieving for me, I see a picture of God, the Father grieving for me. There is more weight too, when a Pastor shows grief in front of me. When a Pastor has a heart of grief for evil done to one of those in his shepherding care, it’s a picture for me. A beautiful picture representing an image of God grieving for one of His children. This picture is contrary to the embedded picture rooted deep in my heart from forty years ago that screams at me, God does not care. He did not see you. He was absent. You are not His. I remember Pastor J. (the very first pastor that listened to my story) saying, “it isour job to shut that voice up for you.”Oh, sorry this got a little long. Thank you.

  2. Well said. These are beautiful word pictures of the compassionate and not compassionate response. The power of the compassionate to help heal is so wonderfully drawn out. The power of this compassion coming from a pastor is immeasurable.

    Thank you for your response.

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