Pastors Addressing #MeToo, Research Shows

In recent months, churches have been rocked by high-profile accusations of sexual misconduct among clergy.

While the Catholic Church’s continued abuse scandal has dominated the headlines, Protestant churches have also seen high profile pastors accused of sexual misconduct.

More accusations are likely to come—from congregations big and small. One in 8 Protestant senior pastors say a church staff member has sexually harassed a member of the congregation at some point in the church’s history. One in 6 pastors say a staff member has been harassed in a church setting.

Two-thirds of pastors say domestic or sexual violence occurs in the lives of people in their congregation. And many pastors believe the #MeToo movement has made their churches more aware of how common sexual and domestic violence are.

More pastors say they are addressing these issues from the pulpit. Still, half say they lack training in how to address sexual and domestic violence.

Those are among the findings of a new study on pastors’ views on #MeToo and sexual and domestic violence in churches from Nashville-based LifeWay Research. The study, sponsored by IMA World Health and Sojourners, is a follow up to a 2014 survey.

Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, says the #MeToo movement—and more public discussion of sexual and domestic violence—seems to have gotten pastors’ attention.

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

#MeToo

For the study, LifeWay Research conducted a phone survey of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors earlier this year—then compared the results to a similar survey in 2014.

Researchers also asked additional questions specifically about the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements.

Eighty-five percent of pastors in the survey say they have heard of the #MeToo movement. Fewer pastors (16 percent) have heard of the #ChurchToo movement, which focused specifically on sexual harassment and abuse in the church. Eighty-four percent have not heard of #ChurchToo.

Three-quarters of pastors (76 percent) say they know someone who has been sexually harassed. Mainline pastors (82 percent) are more likely to say they know someone who has been harassed than evangelical pastors (71 percent).

Twelve percent of Protestant pastors say someone on church staff has sexually harassed a congregation member at some point in the church’s life. Eighty-five percent say no staff member has been found to have done so. Three percent don’t know. Pentecostal (94 percent) and Baptist (89 percent) pastors are more likely to say there has been no harassment found. Christian/Church of Christ (79 percent) and Presbyterian/Reformed (79 percent) pastors are less likely.

Sixteen percent say a staff member has experienced sexual harassment in a church setting. Eighty-two percent say that has not happened. Two percent don’t know. Mainline pastors (22 percent) are more likely to say a staff member has been harassed than evangelical pastors (11 percent).

Eighty percent of pastors say their church has a policy for sexual harassment allegations against staff. Nineteen percent say they don’t have a policy. Two percent don’t know.

A few pastors have firsthand knowledge of abuse. One in 5 pastors say they personally have experienced domestic or sexual violence. Four out of 5 say they have not.

#MeToo Leads to Action, Confusion

The #MeToo movement has prompted some pastors to action. It also appears to have led to some confusion among pastors and their congregations.

Forty-one percent of Protestant senior pastors who have heard of #MeToo say they are more inclined to preach about sexual and domestic violence in response to the movement. Forty-eight percent say they are inclined to speak about the issues about the same amount as they had in the past. Twelve percent say they are less inclined to speak as a result of #MeToo.

Methodist (57 percent) and Presbyterian/Reformed (52 percent) pastors are more likely to say they will preach more about sexual and domestic violence. Fewer Lutheran (37 percent), Church of Christ/Christian (36 percent), Baptist (30 percent) and Pentecostal (24 percent) pastors say they are now more inclined to preach on those topics.

Forty percent of those who have heard of #MeToo say they understand issues of sexual and domestic violence better because of the movement.

Twenty-one percent say their understanding of the issues has not changed. Thirty-nine percent say they now have more questions.

Congregation members also have questions, according to pastors.

A third of pastors (32 percent) who have heard of #MeToo say their congregation is more confused about sexual and domestic violence. Sixty-two percent say their congregation has more empathy for victims. Fifty-eight percent say their congregation is more aware of how common sexual and domestic violence is. A few (14 percent) say their congregation has become callous toward the issue.

“We are encouraged that more and more pastors are speaking out and seeking training to make their churches safer sanctuaries for survivors of violence, but the results also show that we—as a Christian community—still fall short,” said Sojourners President and Founder Jim Wallis.

“If we believe that how we treat the most vulnerable is how we treat Christ, we must be in deep solidarity with the women and men who experience domestic or sexual abuse at some point in their lives,” Wallis said. “If we believe we are all created in the image of God, we cannot tolerate that only half of pastors feel prepared to respond to domestic and sexual violence situations.”

For more information, visit LifewayResearch.com.