We are in an era where social media is often the forerunner for change. Hashtags start trending and suddenly we are paying attention and watching a movement happen. Collective voices start uniting together to raise awareness for an issue and geography no longer predicts the reach.
Recently, Safe Church invited Ruth Everhart to be the guest speaker for our 2020 webinar series, author of The #Metoo Reckoning: Facing the Church’s Complicity with Sexual Abuse and Misconduct. Ruth was extremely direct in pointing out that the church has been reluctant to deal with issues of sexual abuse and misconduct within our churches. She does not shy away from the important conversation on abuse of power and cites many examples from her personal history as a part of church clergy where there was a lack of care provided when abuse happened.
As a community of believers, we need to recognize how vulnerable any church can be to the potential for sexual abuse or harm to happen. The church is a space that welcomes everyone, regardless, and often without knowledge, of an individual’s personal challenges. Therefore, it is essential that our congregational staff and volunteers not only work to meet the spiritual needs of their church community, but also ensure the safety of all people as well. This extends to increasing awareness and training related to sexual harassment within the church.
Recently, Christianity Today released an excellent article titled What Churches Should Know About State-Mandated Sexual Harassment Training Laws. The article, written by Myron Steeves, focuses on current US legislation about sexual harassment and the impact it is having on the church. While the legislation that is being implemented in various states across the country does not always specifically reference churches as needing to comply with organizational guidelines, he notes this very crucial perspective if they do not follow legislation: “church may appear to have been insensitive to the risks faced by the alleged victim.”
Steeves outlines important questions for churches to ask as a church as they consider creating their own policy on sexual harassment. It is strongly encouraged that churches research the state/province policies as a guideline. As the #metoo movement has grown at a rapid speed across North America, the implementation of these policies has been swift and that has led to some variances in perspective state-to-state, province-to-province.
The first aspect to consider as a church is in regards to the implementation of harassment training. It is important to understand what level of training your staff and volunteers are required to have. If your church wants to align with state legislation, explore what that involves. Consider the following questions:
Who is required to have training?
How old do you need to be to be required to have training?
How often would you have to be trained?
What material do you cover in the training and do you provide different training depending on the level of responsibility of the individual within the church?
The second aspect to consider as a church is how you will respond to the following:
How you define harassment (your state/province should have a definition for you to use for your own church policy)
How you respond to claims
General rights and responsibilities of the employee/volunteer
While the article notes that there are organizations that have created training programs, it is noted that they are secular in nature and this could pose a challenge to churches. However, referring to these resources as a foundation for building a training program that speaks to the mission and vision of your church is encouraged.
Steeves leaves us with two thoughts to consider:
1. “the liability exposure to churches that are unprepared for sexual harassment training is significant.”
2. “Every church preparing its training program will need to consider how it will approach gender identity and sexual orientation issues.”
Example of an excellent training program: State of Illinois Sexual Harassment Prevention Training
Steeves leaves us with this thought to consider “the liability exposure to churches that are unprepared for sexual harassment training is significant.”
This article is free until July 16th, at which point it is available for free only to subscribers.