Faith Leaders Send Powerful Message To Sexual Assault Survivors: We Believe You

Faith Leaders Send Powerful Message To Sexual Assault Survivors: We Believe You

In a new video, 10 pastors lament the harm churches have done to sexual assault survivors — and seek new ways to move forward.
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Ten Christian leaders have come together to send a message they believe is crucial during a week that has been emotionally draining for many sexual assault victims.

“I believe you, and people will believe you,” Rev. Karoline Lewis of Luther Seminary, said in a powerful Facebook video addressed directly to survivors.

“You’re not crazy. What happened to you was real,” Rev. Kyndall Rae Rothaus, of Texas’ Lake Shore Baptist Church, said in the video. “And if the people in your life don’t believe you, keep working until you find people who do.”

Sojourners, a progressive Christian activist organization, published the video Thursday evening ― hours after the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh, and the woman accusing him of sexual assault in the 1980s, Christine Blasey Ford. Kavanaugh’s nomination moved forward Friday, after Senate Republicans agreed to a one-week FBI investigation into Blasey’s allegation.

The Senate proceedings this week have prompted an outpouring from sexual assault survivors across the country. Several women called into C-SPAN during the Senate hearing to share their personal stories about sexual abuse. The National Sexual Assault Hotline experienced a dramatic surge in calls.

At the end of a tough week for survivors, Jenna Barnett, women and girls campaign coordinator for Sojourners, told HuffPost she felt it was important for pastors to acknowledge the harmful messages churches have sent to victims in the past. From telling women to stay in abusive marriages at all costs to shaming women for violence someone else inflicted, Barnett said churches have much to lament.

With the new video, Barnett said, she wanted to remind people that even when it seems as if churches aren’t safe spaces to speak about abuse, there are pastors out there who will believe and grieve with survivors.

“We wanted to show visually what if feels like to have a pastor prioritize survivors and speak to their healing,” she said.

Christine Blasey Ford is sworn in before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday. She said that Brett Kavanaugh, now

Melina Mara/Pool/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Christine Blasey Ford is sworn in before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday. She said that Brett Kavanaugh, now a Supreme Court nominee, sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers.

The video was filmed at Neveretheless, She Preached, a conference that took place earlier this week in Waco, Texas, that centers on the voices of female church leaders. The 10 women who shared their thoughts in the video were from a mix of Protestant backgrounds.

While many secular activists have already spoken out in defense of women this week, Barnett said that it’s crucial for people of faith to chime in.

“Especially if the person who has experienced violence is religious themselves, there can be a spiritual trauma in that,” Barnett said. “That’s why I think faith leaders need to speak to that trauma and try to provide a balm.”

Jenna Barnett, the women and girls campaign coordinator for Sojourners, was one of 10 women who participated in the video.

Sojourners / Facebook
Jenna Barnett, the women and girls campaign coordinator for Sojourners, was one of 10 women who participated in the video.

It’s part of a broader effort by Sojourners to call on faith leaders to speak out against sexual violence from the pulpit. On Friday, Sojourners launched a website featuring 100 real sermons about domestic and sexual abuse, preached by clergy from a wide spectrum of denominations. The project seeks to provide guidance to pastors who are unsure of how to address the topic ― and ultimately, help make churches safer places for survivors.

By preaching about domestic and sexual violence from the pulpit, pastors signal to survivors that they will believe victims and make healing a priority, Barnett said.

“There are pastors and faith leaders who, when [survivors] come forward, will believe them and walk alongside them in their suffering and are ready to direct them to services in the community when it goes beyond what a pastor is able to offer,” Barnett said.

“You are not alone.”

Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.

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