Jimmy Hinton is rooting for the #Churchtoo movement in a big way. Hinton serves as pastor of Someset Church of Christ in Pennsylvania and also as a consultant with the nonprofit GRACE on sexual abuse issues related to churches and faith-based groups.
But Hinton is personally invested as well. Six years ago as a new pastor in the church his dad pastored for years, he found himself listening as a member described abuse at the hands of his father. "Literally in a matter of seconds my life had changed forever," he told CBN News, "there was a big part of me that didn't want to believe it was true...but she had no reason to make it up."
Hinton realized that believing the woman could upend his life dramatically. "I looked at her and I said 'I believe you.' I said 'I don't know what this is going to look like. I don't know if I'm going to lose my job...there's one thing I do know. It stops now.'"
Hinton then reported his father to the police and he confessed to multiple crimes against children. Today, he's behind bars and Hinton still corresponds with him, hoping to understand the mind of a pedophile in order to help protect other unsuspecting children and families from predators in their midst.
Hinton says he's hopeful that as the #metoo movement has morphed into the #churchtoo movement that church leaders will begin to address the issue of abuse, both past and present. "Survivors are ready to fight for what's right and they're ready to fight to have their voice," Hinton told CBN News, "Abusers bank on having their victims silenced and I think for the first time in history we're having en masse large numbers of these survivors saying that they've had enough."
Boz Tchvidjian is a Liberty University law professor, a grandson of evangelical preacher Billy Graham and the founder of GRACE. For years he's sought to bring awareness and explain the need to protect children and bring justice when abuse happens.
Tchvidjian has developed a certification program to teach churches best practices for safe guarding children and says more and more churches are signing up in the wake of #metoo. "They see that as a value as a result of becoming more familiar with this issue in the last six months," said Tchvidjian.
Katherine Snyder is one victim who spoke up and now, GRACE is investigating what she says happened twenty years ago at Orangewood Church in Maitland, Florida. Snyder, a paid youth intern at the time for youth pastor Jeff Jakes, says he spent months harassing and emotionally abusing her, all the while assuring her that church leadership knew about what was happening and telling her that she should not tell anyone.
She posted on Facebook last month that she was done keeping the secret from the public. "Jeff told me that his feelings for me were more than fatherly. He emphasized that he would not leave his wife for me but that he could not help the way he felt." Although Snyder said she repeatedly rebuffed him she felt tremendous guilt and shame. She eventually told her parents and church leadership, only to see Jakes keep his job and eventually assume the position of senior pastor.
The Orlando Sentinel reported over the weekend that Jakes recently apologized to the congregation for his "sinful actions" 20 years ago after which dozens of members lined up to hug him. He's now on leave from preaching.
Hinton says he's concerned about churches giving alleged perpetrators the chance to tell their story while leaving victims behind. "We give them the floor and we let them defend themselves and do it publicly and the victims never get that opportunity. They're silenced and they're told by church leaders that they need to forgive their abusers and move on."
Hinton and many other church observers credit Rachael Denhollander with shining the spotlight on the church. She captured national attention recently as not only the first US gymnast to publicly accuse USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar with sexual abuse but as the last of more than 150 survivors to share her impact statement in court. When she did so, she also shared the Gospel. "I pray you experience the soul-crushing weight of guilt so you may some day experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me, though I extend that to you as well," she told Nassar.
Now, Denhollander is shining the light on Sovereign Grace Ministries and a 2012 abuse lawsuit that was dismissed. In a recent interview with Christianity Today she characterized the situation as "one of the worst, if not the worst, instances of evangelical cover-up of sexual abuse." Over the weekend, Sovereign Grace called her characterization untrue and the abuse accusations false.
Denhollander responded with a follow-up Facebook post. She noted that the lawsuit was dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired. "This dismissal means that the evidence against SGM was never examined by the courts. This is not evidence, in any way, shape or form, that SGM has not done what is alleged," wrote Denhollander.
She is calling for an independent investigation of SGM by GRACE, a move that Hinton supports although he's not optimistic about the chances of it going forward.
Meanwhile, evangelical women are continuing to speak out and press for faith leaders to take action. Abuse survivors and Christian leaders Kay Warren and Beth Moore spoke about sexual abuse at Saddleback Church services last month. Also, writer and Liberty University English professor Karen Swallow Prior tweeted today on behalf of Denhollander's questions to Sovereign Grace. "Honest exchange and confession is decent, respectable and biblical," she said, "There is nothing godly to lose through honesty."
"I don't really understand why some of these questions are not being answered," she told CBN News. Prior would like to see Sovereign Grace explain its current policy on reporting child abuse. "Is there a policy of reporting every report of child abuse to police currently and if there is currently and was not in the past why is that something that is not acknowledged and confessed?" she asked.