Prominent Evangelicals Share Stories of Sexual Abuse at Wheaton Summit

Jenny Hwang, from left, Tammy Schultz, Nancy Nealious and Ed Stetzer participate in a panel discussion at Wheaton College on Dec. 13, 2018, during a summit on sexual abuse and misconduct. RNS photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

For popular Bible teacher Beth Moore, the church always has been a safe harbor.

That was especially true when she was growing up. Church was a place where she could escape from the sexual abuse she experienced at home, she said.

“I’ve seen glimpses with my own eyes what a church can do for victims of sexual abuse and assault. I am a survivor,” Moore said.

Moore was a featured speaker at a one-day summit on sexual abuse and harassment Thursday (Dec. 13) at Wheaton College in suburban Chicago — and one of many who described their own experiences of abuse and harassment.

Some shared their stories of sexual abuse for the first time, including bestselling Christian author and pastor Max Lucado and child advocate Kelly Rosati.

“We’re trying to help amplify a conversation others have started,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton, which organized the summit.

Evangelicals have not always done a good job of listening to survivors, Stetzer told attendees at the summit, and “we want to do better.”

“We’ve tried to listen to survivors today — you’ve noticed the overwhelming theme was people who have walked through this journey.”

About 750 people registered for the event, according to organizers. Another 300 signed up to watch the livestream, and more than 40 groups livestreamed the event, including churches, universities and the headquarters of the Evangelical Free Church of America.

It comes as a survey from Nashville, Tenn.-based LifeWay Research earlier this year found that about two-thirds of Protestant pastors say members of their congregation have experienced sexual or domestic violence. Fewer than half of those pastors said their training equipped them to address the issue.

At the summit, prominent evangelical Christians from a number of denominations urged churches to educate themselves about mandated reporting laws in their states regarding sexual abuse, pressed for more female leaders in the church and denounced abuses of power by church leadership.

Attendees join in a song at Wheaton College on Dec. 13, 2018, during a summit on sexual abuse and misconduct. RNS photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

And a panel of trauma and counseling experts from the college shared a clinical understanding of how trauma affects survivors and how the church can help them heal. They stressed the importance of believing survivors when they come forward and simply sitting with them in their sorrow.

“We expect someone who’s experienced trauma just to get up and be OK, and because things have been shattered, it’s going to take time to put them back together,” said Nancy Nealious, a trauma recovery and licensed clinical psychologist in the Wheaton College Counseling Center.

In his closing remarks, Lucado revealed he was sexually abused as a child by a community leader. That’s why he said he accepted the invitation to speak at the summit — because he understand the difficulty of “regaining a balance, having gone through this type of situation.”

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Source: Religion News Service