Sexual abuse is a reality among far too many women, children, and youth in North America. An estimated one in four girls and one in six boys in the general population experience some sort of sexual abuse during their lifetimes. Similar statistics are also found in the church.
The North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (NAD) recently sponsored its annual enditnow Summit on Abuse. It featured professionals presenting on support for children and their families, legal obligations for church members and staff, the threat of pornography, and the dynamics of power and control. The summit was streamed live on YouTube and Facebook on Nov. 14, 2021, in English, and on Nov. 15 in Spanish.
enditnow began in 2009 as an initiative of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) and the General Conference Women’s Ministries Department to stop violence against women around the world. What began as a global initiative has become a staple of Women’s Ministries of the NAD. “God abhors abuse of every kind,” reads the NAD’s enditnow website, “and we are working to prevent it.” This year’s digital event featured presenters from across North America.
During the presentations in English, Lori Lettrell, a member of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, pointed out that while children are typically warned about trusting strangers, most perpetrators of abuse are individuals known to victims: family members, Sabbath school teachers, Pathfinder leaders. The threat is more dangerous because of the level of trust built into those relationships. Lettrell pointed out that children have to be believed when reporting inappropriate touching or sexual contact; that they almost never imagine such instances.
The legal aspects of abuse in the family and the church were addressed by a panel moderated by Grace MacIntosh, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada. Panelists emphasized that incidences of abuse have to be reported to child protective services. They said it is never appropriate for family members or church members to “investigate” such reports. First, because it prevents people who are trained in such situations from being involved early on. And second, because it pits families and church members against each other, and children, with less authority, are likely to be manipulated. Once an incidence of abuse has been alleged, the perpetrator has to be removed from active fellowship with the congregation until the allegations have been thoroughly investigated, a process that could take up to two years.
Andrew Bauman, a licensed mental health counselor and director of the Christian Counseling Center for Sexual Health, spoke about pornography, and how it corrupts the beauty and trust that’s present in mutually beneficial sexual relationships.
The last presentation, about power and control dynamics, was by Tom Pryde, pastor and founder of the PS82 Initiative. Truth, righteousness, and justice are the boundaries of true, godly authority, he said, and that misplaced authority leads to domination, which often ends in some form of abuse.
Between presentations, Beverly Sedlacek, a counselor and co-founder of Into His Rest Ministries, offered short messages of support to victims of abuse. Her counsel emphasized the need for them to understand that they don’t have to suffer alone; that there is support in community; that healing is a process; and that while abuse attacks the identity of victims, even victims are identified as God’s children in His Word.
Spanish presentations, which largely focused on the similar presentations and topics as the English portion, included Ingrid Slikkers, César De León, and Allan Machado. These presentations can be viewed here.
— Stephen Chavez writes from Silver Spring, Maryland.