There is a different kind of global epidemic that we are facing as the Church about which no one wants to talk.
Sex trafficking and exploitation is happening everywhere, even in our own backyards, and its root cause — childhood sexual abuse — is rampant. One out of three girls and one out of five boys are sexually abused in their lifetime. One out of nine children are approached by a predator from their smart devices.
These statistics are not bound by race, socioeconomic status or religion. In an unfortunate reality, we have seen headlines showing ministers, priests and youth workers taking advantage of their positions, either falling prey to sexual sin, turning a blind eye to exploitations in their church or not taking the steps to adequately protect those in their care.
Ignoring the topic and reality of abuse is only causing further harm to our children and families and will no longer suffice, especially within our churches. The first step in redefining this culture of silence is creating an environment where women and men alike, who have been burying secrets, feel comfortable sharing their past. The second step is dutifully equipping church staff with the tools and knowledge needed to handle such discussions and promote healing and recovery.
The Church is hesitant to talk about these topics. I have a feeling it’s due to the shame, guilt and overall feeling of discomfort that surrounds the experiences and conversation, but it is vital to bring these conversations out into the open and make them more normalized. It is imperative that ministries prepare now and that congregations train all their leaders, giving everyone a common language so that there are finally words on the grid to speak about the unspoken and to address the difficult but necessary discussions around the issues that plague our churches.
January is National HumanTrafficking Prevention Month. Here are some additional resources from Church Executive to help keep your flock safe.
For those that have their own wounds and trauma but haven’t been able to speak to it because they still haven’t acknowledged their need, it’s time we actively work toward healing so that we’re better able to be advocates for the next generation and their peers. Research shows that if someone hasn’t had their own healing and walked out of their trauma and shame, they cannot properly advocate effectively for those around them – they go silent.
The Church can be a place of healing and recovery. It is important for those still in the process of healing or who’ve mended their wounds to fully believe they have value and are worthy. Labels like “victim” should not define their entire life because support from a loving church body that connects them to provision programs should be a greater reality, allowing them to know freedom is possible.
The Church needs to be the frontline of protection. I know what it’s like to lead a ministry and I know what it’s like for the spirit of accusation to smother you. I want to help ministers safeguard their camp and help the Church become the beacon of light it was originally designed to be. It’s time for some uncensored real talk and for the Church to take a stand and be leaders in overcoming the darkness with light.
The stakes are high as we work to protect the reputation of the Church. Now more than ever, the Church needs to be a place of comfort, safety and restoration. The enemy is prowling around like a roaring lion seeking to kill, rob and destroy. He is looking for cracks in our walls, anywhere to get a foothold. We know too much and can no longer hide behind wishful thinking that it won’t happen here. Our goal should be that the Church is an example of how to care for and protect people, how to help them heal and break the cycles of abuse.
That’s why I’ve launched a program specifically to help the Church address these vital issues. Through REAL TALK, leaders can receive instruction to help them be comfortable addressing difficult topics, and then we have training programs for all parts of the congregation – men’s, women’s, youth and children’s groups. Adults can learn how to look out for warning signs, children can learn how to speak up for themselves and their peers, and together, we can help the Church become the safe space for all of us that it was intended to be.
Elizabeth Melendez Fisher Good is the co-founder/CEO of The Foundation United, and the founder of Free with E, a catalytic new ministry providing REAL TALK ministry training modules to empower the Church and its leaders to walk in complete freedom and transparency regarding the current global pandemic of childhood sexual abuse. Elizabeth brings decades of ministry experience and a Master’s Degree in Psychology to the task of creating healthier, safer churches with no foothold for the enemy. She is a passionate pioneer and inspirational thought leader with a desire to expose the root issue behind sex trafficking — childhood sexual abuse. Her book Groomed (HarperCollins, 2020) recounts her own story of loss, abuse and triumph.