July 10, 2018
By Doyle Sager
In August of 2017 I made a commitment to preach a series of sermons on rape, abuse and assault. Little did I know that two months later the #metoo movement would explode all over social media as women courageously stepped forward to tell their stories.
In the months leading up to the sermon series, I grew more nervous. What if this approach is too much? Not enough? What if the sermons trigger unanticipated responses? But gut-wrenching personal stories and pervasive data persuaded me to stay the course. One in every four girls will be sexually abused or assaulted by the age of 17. Sixty-three percent of all rapes go unreported. Estimating the size of my congregation, I did the math. My pastoral instincts told me that the issues needed to be addressed, and that words like sexual abuse, sexual assault, rape, bullying, domestic violence and harassment needed to be spoken from our pulpit (in later feedback, this proved to be among the most liberating and helpful things).
To prepare the congregation, we sent letters to the parents of all children, birth through high school, explaining the upcoming worship emphasis and its rationale. We also provided parents a resource list of books, online sites and state and national hotline numbers, encouraging them to read ahead and to have conversations with their families. This same resource list was available on our church’s webpage and in our lobby throughout the sermon series.
As an added layer of support, we enlisted several ordained clergy who are members of our church, all trained in clinical pastoral work and with years of experience, to be in the lobby during the most difficult sermon which recounted the rape of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13. I announced that if anyone became uncomfortable during worship, counselors were in the lobby, available to listen and offer support.
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