WHEATON, Illinois – Best-selling author and pastor Max Lucado has revealed that he too is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Lucado was one of many speakers that self-identified as victims during an evangelical summit on abuse at Wheaton College on Thursday.
"My name is also on the list of those who have been sexually abused as a young man in my boyhood," he said. "Not by a church member or a family member but by a community leader."
Lucado called the decision to speak at the summit "easy and quick" saying he wanted to help other survivors learn how to "regain their balance."
Speaking at the end of the summit, Lucado also said the day had spurred in him a desire for personal repentance as it had brought out memories of his locker room banter from earlier football days and some condescending attitudes from his years as a senior pastor.
Bible study author and speaker Beth Moore also spoke of her years of struggling through childhood abuse. "Home was not where I thrived – church was," she told the audience.
Moore called church a "safe harbor" as she was growing up, describing it as "the place I saw authenticity and healthier affections."
She lamented, however, that church was more of a place for her to hide and less of a place to heal. She and others, like pastor Eugene Cho, called on pastors to speak openly of abuse as a way to let victims know that their stories are welcomed.
Wheaton College organized the one-day summit known as "Reflections: a GC2 Summit Responding to Sexual Harassment, Abuse and Violence."
A spokeswoman told CBN News that more than 700 attended in person as well as 300 individuals who participated via livestream. Another 40 faith-based groups watched remotely.
Church consultant Nancy Beach spoke at the conference. The former Willow Creek Community Church pastor has spoken out against sexual harassment by her former boss, Willow Creek founder Bill Hybels.
She told CBN News she believes there's great interest among many church leaders in understanding how to respond to abuse. The summit, she said, was evidence of that. "I do think the fact that so many people are streaming in and many organizations are doing that is a sign that there's a need," she said.
Wheaton College's Billy Graham Center and School of Psychology, Counseling and Family sponsored the summit. Dr. Ed Stetzer, the Billy Graham distinguished chair for church, mission and evangelism at the college, told CBN News that the event organizers aimed to invite a diverse group of speakers with professional and also personal experience with abuse.
"We have people who are survivors, sexual abuse survivors, who are speaking," he told CBN News. "We also have activists and advocates and we have trauma counselors and pastors because we think the whole church needs to respond better and hopefully well to this issue."
The summit repeatedly emphasized that survivors' voices must be heard. Moore told CBN News that focusing on that would indicate real progress for the #churchtoo movement.
"When they become the priority for us," she said, "for all of us--for all of us in leadership and servant leadership and lay leadership--that's health."
Several speakers called on pastors to speak more directly about abuse and also to create more accountability for themselves within existing church structures.
Stetzer said, "An unaccountable pastor is both unbiblical and unhelpful and can even be dangerous. I think pastors need to be in an accountable community with others."
Beach said the reverence with which many churchgoers view their pastors can create an opening for abuse. "We have a tendency to put our pastors, worship leaders and others up front on kind of a pedestal, treating them as celebrities," she said. "There's a danger with that and I think we're learning."