By Peggy Hahn, Executive Director of LEAD

Sometimes the truth hits a little too close to home. What happens when the sanctuary isn’t a safe place?

Don’t live in la-la land.

Sexual assault is not just a scandal in the Roman Catholic Church.

It is not a Facebook gimmick.

Sexual assault is real and has happened at your church too.

One in four women and one in ten men have been sexually assaulted and that is just the number of people willing to admit it.

This is a leadership conversation that may make you squirm. You can start by asking yourself, “why does this make me uncomfortable?” Your answer to that is reason enough to have the conversation.

To truly make your sacred space a sanctuary, we need to talk about this.

Why are we uncomfortable talking about creating a space where women don’t have to fear being squeezed too hard or children don’t have to feel afraid when they go to the bathroom?

Telling off-color jokes, stereotyping people by race, gender, sexuality or ethnicity – these things are not okay. The “boys will be boys” phrase we use to excuse our children, youth or men from bad behavior is unacceptable.

Here are a few things to help you start this conversation – don’t shy away from taking steps to make your congregation a safe place.

First, resist asking the women in your congregation if this is true. If women want to talk with you about this they will.

People may be retraumatized by pushing them into conversations they are not ready to make public. Their assaulters may be standing next to you. Instead, let it be known that this kind of behavior is not tolerated and if people want to share their stories you would be willing to listen and support the conversation.

Set boundaries and policies that protect children, even if your congregation does not have a children or youth ministry.

There are children in the neighborhood or in the family and this conversation may be what is needed to free someone to get help, to speak out, or to call out a high-risk situation. Every church should have safe haven guidelines of some kind, do background checks if there are any children on the campus, and have a no-adult-alone-with-a-child policy. People new to the church should NOT be allowed to work with children or youth unsupervised until they a have been there for over a year. Sexual predators can’t wait a year before targeting a victim.

Call out the subtle practices for what they are – dehumanizing to women.

Stop asking the man in the family for the stewardship commitment card as though women do not contribute to the household or have a brain in their head. Stop expecting the women to be “in the kitchen” while the men hang out in decision-making conversations.

Women stop making excuses for your husband, father, brother, or son.

You are not helping yourself or the world when you apologize to others for the bad behavior of the men in your life. If you are in a violent situation, we urge you to find a safe person to help you.

Men stop participating in the machismo culture.

Passing around pictures of women as if they are objects, feeling empowered to comment on someone’s breasts or a million other ways men undermine women are not acceptable. This behavior hurts everyone including their own mothers, wives, daughters, and granddaughters.

If you think a #metoo@church? conversation is hard, that is a good indication that you need to have one. Use this article to prompt a conversation at your church council table.

How will you create a culture of respect and safety for all people?

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