The statistics are disturbing. One in three women and one in six men have histories of sexual abuse and assault. Pornography use among men (60%) and women (30%) is no lower within the church-going population than outside of it. Yet only 5% of people engage in open conversation about these histories with church leaders says author Jay Stringer, who spoke at a recent B.C. Safe Church Ministry conference. Shame and guilt are powerful silencers he says.
The Safe Church Ministry partnership for the B.C. Christian Reformed churches sponsored the conference “Safe Spaces” Nov. 16 in Abbotsford, B.C. The goal was to provide an opportunity for dialogue which might lead to breaking silences and to healing from shame. Faye Martin, coordinator of abuse prevention and response for B.C.’s Safe Church Ministry, organized the conference. “We hoped attendees would include parents, grandparents, church leaders and pastors,” she said. About 90 people attended, representing all those and more.
Stringer, author of Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing, offered the opening keynote address. A pastor and therapist, Stringer speaks boldly and openly about a topic that many are hesitant to confront. He is pastor of Awake Church, an emerging congregation in the CRC in Seattle, Wash.
Hearing from Stringer was freeing, Martin said. "There is a freedom that comes with being able to talk about pornograply and abuse in the church. Breaking the silence becomes preventative because 'these things' thrive in silence.”
Other workshops at “Safe Spaces” included those to equip parents of young children growing up in a highly digitized context and to support teens who experience pressure and loneliness in a hypersexualized, yet isolating, environment.
Carol Glanville, a presenter from Protect Young Eyes, commented that she “was very impressed with the holistic approach (of) the work (that) Safe Church Ministry is focused on and glad to be part of the effort.”
Safe Church training for the B.C. Christian Reformed churches is usually offered within each local congregation. Martin said this conference, which was the first such offered, was able to reach a broader group with important in-depth conversations.