There is also the problem that when allegations of abuse are made, those who see abuse as endemic in that community tend to automatically assume that the allegations are automatically true, and view even a reasonable defense of the accused as the community corruptly attempting to protect guilty members of “the tribe.”
At a time when the number of Conservative Evangelical Christian men committed to the church, orthodox doctrine, and their families, have never been lower; and when higher percentages of men NEVER attend church than attend once a week (35% vs. 31% according to Pew); I’m seeing an increasing stream of internet articles attacking them from other professing members of Reformed denominations—in which they are made out to be a huge pool of sexual predators, misogynists, spiritual abusers and basically the greatest threat to Christian women in America.
Most of these articles are being written by people who grew up in or around Conservative churches, and therefore these churches represented an outsized influence in the childhood and adult life of the authors. It’s important to remember that while these communities were effectively the world of the authors of these articles, the actual size of that world is tiny when compared to the overall population of the country.
For instance, only 22% of Americans attend church every week (and that’s self-reporting so there is inevitably the “halo effect” inflating the actual number) and Evangelicals represent a shrinking and aging portion of that community. So while White American Evangelical protestants make up 26% of the church-going community in the 65 and older demographic, that proportion shrinks to 8% in the 18-29 demographic; and if we quantify for Reformed Evangelicals the stats dip even lower. The authors have an outsized perception of the size of their community because their friend groups are made up of people who also grew up in it or (increasingly) have left it. However, if you go to a major US city or the community I grew up in (Northern NJ/NYC), you’ll find it is quite possible to live one’s entire life around thousands and thousands of people without ever actually meeting a Conservative, Evangelical Christian.
Additionally, if everyone the authors of these articles knew was a member of their small religious community, then if they encountered abuse, the abusers were usually members of this community and therefore they would forever associate that abuse with the community itself and on leaving it assume that the non-religious community was not subject to the same kind of abuses even though an objective perusal of the news would show that to be a demonstrably false impression.
The problem is that in the postmodern world one’s “lived experience” often becomes the arbiter of reality while actual statistics become a tool of the oppressor in silencing victims. Similar perceptions can be found among people who grew up in other small Conservative religious communities like the Amish or Orthodox Jewish communities and encountered some form of abuse.
There is also the problem that when allegations of abuse are made, those who see abuse as endemic in that community tend to automatically assume that the allegations are automatically true, and view even a reasonable defense of the accused as the community corruptly attempting to protect guilty members of “the tribe.” And even when the discipline process results in the conviction of the accused, it is often alleged that the process itself was too difficult and traumatizing for the accuser, even when the practical result was the destruction of the reputation and/or ministry of the accused.
This kind of attitude became evident when writers such as Aimee Byrd complained in articles like, “Who Is Valued In The OPC?” that the ordinary OPC church discipline process, when applied to Elders accused of spiritual abuse, would lead to women, “continuing to be harmed by the process.” Again and again, in articles like this one, there was an assumption that the court itself was misogynistic and that they should repent of their misogyny by taking the side (and even the worldview) of the woman accusing the male member, elder, or pastor of spiritual abuse and heavily curtail the right of accused to speak in their own defense. The fact that this would create a hopelessly jaundiced trial and make it virtually impossible to acquit the defendant, who would have to prove he was innocent under a worldview that presumes he is an abuser by nature, didn’t seem to matter much.
Now, while we shouldn’t take a stance that abuse in any community regardless of the size is not a problem, nor should we foolishly assume there is no abuse going on in the Reformed community (especially because we believe in the doctrine of Total Depravity), the idea that there is an outsized abuse problem among Reformed Evangelicals simply isn’t true, and the only major study available that quantified sexual abusers by religious affiliation done in 2006 indicated that the two largest groups were Catholics (28%) and Anglicans (27%), followed by NO religious affiliation (24%). Most sexual and physical abusers in the USA are not Reformed or even Evangelical, and Roman Catholics and Anglicans cannot be reasonably quantified as “Fundamentalist” either.
I grew up in a non-religious community and date rape and child abuse were certainly more prevalent there than they were in the Conservative Reformed community. The fact is anecdotal evidence and personal experience (even though they are one’s own “lived experience”) does not a trend make. In the same way, just because someone had an abusive marriage, or was raised in a spiritually abusive church, doesn’t mean ALL marriages and churches, or even MOST, are abusive. Neither is there a discernable line from Conservative theology to abuse. I’ve been counseling in the Conservative Reformed community for over 20 years, and yet I can tell you that most of the people I’ve counseled who suffered abuse, suffered it outside the Reformed community and often in theologically Liberal environments.
The idea that Conservatives are abusers may be popular among political and theological Liberals (and social Libertarians), but that’s largely a result of believing their own propaganda regarding people they view as evil. This is incredibly commonplace among leftist tribes today because of their overarching Oppressed/Oppressor dialectic. If you are a Feminist, every male is usually either an abuser, a potential abuser, or a friend or member of your family (and therefore excluded from the sample) and every woman is a victim of abuse who needs to be freed from an abusive, patriarchal culture. If you are a Communist, every business owner is a greedy, employee-abusing capitalist, and every worker is an oppressed, saintly martyr who must have his chains broken. The fact that most of the most verifiably abusive and sexually abusive communities on earth, such as the American porn and sex-trafficking communities; or the security forces of the Chinese Communist Party, are either non or anti-religious, and definitely inclined towards the left; or the slew of #Metoo allegations made against celebrities who identify as Liberal and Feminist, should be enough to cause one to at least question if leftists are indeed less likely to abuse than Conservatives.
But to even consider that would be to betray one’s tribe and to open the door to the possibility that all people are subject to a natural tendency towards depravity since birth and that the answer to the problem is not to be found by reordering society, smashing the patriarchy, eliminating privilege, redistributing wealth, or any of the Marxist answers to the problem of human sin.
From my perspective, the saddest part of all of this is that the only solution to the problem of human sin, the Biblical Gospel, is being identified as part of the root of the problem of abuse, and the more faithful one is to the Bible, the more likely one is to be perceived as an abuser. In fact, a bizarre redefinition of ‘Christian’ is occurring in which it is asserted that the more willing you are to reject Biblical solutions to the problem of abuse and embrace Feminist and Marxist solutions the more authentically compassionate and Christian you are. We are told that the same Jesus who answered the devil and His own human opponents from Scripture would reject people who got their answers from the same source and would instead compliment people who found their answers in a modern dialectical materialist philosophy derived from the writings of atheists.
Needless to say, I don’t think this is true, and I will conclude by issuing the same warning that Paul issued to people who were tempted to find their answers to the problems of life in the popular philosophies of their own day:
“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Col. 2:8)
Andrew Webb is a Minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and is pastor of Providence ARP in Fayetteville, N.C.