Theresa Harvard Johnson

Copyright 2018 Theresa Harvard Johnson
#WeToo #MeToo #clergyabuse #apostolicmentorship

It happens.

A person becomes a part of a congregation, ministry group or enters a mentoring relationship, and find themselves the victim of the most humiliating and misunderstood crime imaginable – sexual assault.

Sexual assault, sometimes referred to as sexual violence, takes on numerous forms. It includes rape, sexual intercourse against a person’s will; forcible sodomy, anal or oral sex against a person’s will; forcible object penetration against a person’s will; fondling or unwanted touching (regardless of how slight); forcing someone to perform sex acts via threats, intimidation or coercion; sexual contact with minors whether consensual or none consensual; and incest, sexual relations between close relatives.[1] Non-contact sexual assault also includes exhibitionism and verbal sexual harassment.[2]

Both men and women are affected. In addition, the crime doesn’t just take place between different genders but same gender as well. This means that women can sexually assault women; and men and can sexually assault men.[3]

Spiritual abuse, clergy abuse or pastoral abuse occurs when a spiritual leader who has tremendous doctrinal influence and/or power in a person’s life uses that power to control and manipulate a person to fulfill their will or desire. This is how I have come to define spiritual abuse. In addition, these “leaders” specialize in using spiritual manipulation to deceive or force another person into their selfish will by deception, coercion and/or force. To better understand what this looks like, read or listen to the accounts shared below:

According to a “handful of studies compiled by the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence, some more than a decade old, suggest that up to 15 percent of clergy members in all religious groups have engaged in some inappropriate conduct, whether a stolen kiss or full-fledged sexual abuse. But few authoritative statistics are available on the number and type of complaints, and what information churches collect is usually kept secret.”[4] This statement was made more than twenty years ago, and sadly the statistics remain the same today. Many congregations are more concerned with protecting its image than it is protecting the people behind the pews. Here’s some real-life examples in these articles concerning the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and the protestant church. Unfortunately, there’s just “no hard data available” in this area to provide greater insight.[5]

What can be proven statistically, however, is that “one in four women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, and nearly 1 in 2 women (44.6%) and 1 in 5 men (22.2%) have experienced sexual violence victimization other than rape at some point in their lives.”[6] The facts are: Someone standing near you RIGHT NOW has already been or will be sexually assaulted in their life.

And if you leave the United States of America, those stats increase dramatically especially among women and children – the most victimized people group in the world.

A wide range of research shows that it is nearly impossible to gather accurate stats among Protestant congregation’s due to irregular reporting practices; a lack of education concerning the prevalence and impact of sexual assault; disinterest in the issue; and the conspiracy of secrecy. It must be acknowledged, however, that times are changing for larger religious groups as scandals break and force the congregations to be accountable. Among those groups in the forefront of bringing the church into accountability is The United Methodist Church, the Baptist Conventions, the Roman Catholic Church. Some other larger, independent protestant denominations, have also joined the fight. This article could not stand without acknowledging this truth. In addition, numerous programs, businesses, coalitions and legal agencies have emerged specifically to help congregations and clergy develop strategic plans, policies, etc. to combat this issue.

We must remember, sexual assault affects everyone. As the church continues to change and different types of communities form, like “arts communities, home groups and apostolic mentoring networks/groups” many of us are so involved in today, we need to consider the state of the congregation with new eyes - and our liability as it relates to the issue.

The congregation must WAKE UP - traditional and non-traditional congregations and leaders! (Read Part II: Sexual Assault in the Congregation: What can the church do?)


Check out my book, “Apostolic Mentorship: Critical Tools to Help Artisans Identify Their God Ordained Mentor” at The Scribal Arsenal, This book addresses what “real spiritual mentorship” should look like – offering a line in the sand that will clearly expose signs of spiritual abuse. Theresa Harvard Johnson, M.Div, Biblical Studies is the originator of the teachings on The Scribal Anointing, which unveil the ministry of the present day scribe; and a powerful apostolic voice concerning ministry integrity, especially as it relates to the worship arts community.


[1] West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information & Services, “Understanding Sexual Violence,”

[2] Ibid.

[3] Definition, “Sexual Assault,” The Legal Dictionary Online,

[4] Jim Yardley, “Abuse by clergy is not just a Catholic Problem,” April 13, 2002, New York Times,

[5] Ibid.

[6] Cristina Rutkowski Ford, “How Sexual Abuse in the Church Is Real,”

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