Amid #MeToo, Evangelicals Grapple With Misconduct In Their Own Churches Christians focus deeply on a narrative of sin and redemption, but that theme can complicate how church leaders respond to sexual misconduct within their own ranks.

Amid #MeToo, Evangelicals Grapple With Misconduct In Their Own Churches

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The #MeToo movement has reverberated throughout our culture - in Hollywood, Capitol Hill, through newsrooms and boardrooms, on factory floors and in houses of worship. NPR's Tom Gjelten looks at how evangelical Christians are distinguishing sexual sin from sexual crime.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: In Tennessee earlier this month, a young pastor named Andy Savage stood before his congregation and emotionally confessed to what he called a sexual incident years earlier with a 17-year-old girl. Savage said he had repented before God back then, and then he said this.


ANDY SAVAGE: For any painful memories or fresh wounds this has created for anyone, I am sorry, and I humbly ask for your forgiveness. I love you all very much.


GJELTEN: A clip of that moment is getting a lot of attention in evangelical circles, less having to do with the pastor's confession than with the congregation's response. They gave him a standing ovation.


GJELTEN: Some evangelical women see in that reaction a tendency in their faith culture to celebrate people just for tearfully confessing their sins, no matter if they've been held accountable.

KATELYN BEATY: Christians love a redemption story.

GJELTEN: Katelyn Beaty is an editor-at-large for the magazine Christianity Today.

BEATY: That really gets to the heart of what Christians believe, that God can redeem the most broken of people, the most broken of sinners.

GJELTEN: And the darker the story, the better.

BEATY: If I highlight how bad I was or how bad I sinned, then the story of the grace and forgiveness that God offers is all the more dramatic, is all the more amazing.

GJELTEN: Beaty has lately been focused on how evangelical women relate to the #MeToo movement. She worries the notion of forgiveness is incomplete when a man - a church leader, for example - confesses to sexual misconduct with a woman only to have the story end there.

BEATY: In these cases, you have a very vertical understanding of forgiveness. So forgiveness is something that happens between the perpetrator and God. But we lack a horizontal understanding of forgiveness. There really has to be a reckoning with the wrong done to this woman.

GJELTEN: A sexual sin might actually be a sexual crime. The question of forgiveness versus accountability and maybe a declining trust in the church are hot topics in evangelical meetings like one held last week in Washington. Pastor Daryl Crouch from Green Hill Church in Mount Juliet, Tenn., sees an important lesson for church leaders facing questions about sexual misconduct.

DARYL CROUCH: I think everyone who has offended others has to recognize that while God may forgive us, and our friends and church may forgive us, there may be a trust gap that is going to be hard to overcome.

KELLY ROSATI: It's about violation. It's about power and control.

GJELTEN: Kelly Rosati, a vice president at the Focus on the Family organization, says her evangelical culture holds to a biblical ethic regarding men, women and sexuality. Leadership positions are generally reserved for men, but she wants to keep that ethic separate from what she sees in cases like that of Pastor Andy Savage, who largely escaped church and legal punishment for his misconduct.

ROSATI: I think what you saw in that incident was a conflating of those two issues and a failure to understand that what one person might describe as a sexual incident really is about those other things - the power, and the abuse and the violation.

GJELTEN: The growing awareness of that reality, Rosati thinks, will soon, in her words, be shaking the ground in the evangelical world. Tom Gjelten, NPR News.


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