Sermon Audio and Fundamentalist Silence on Abuse

Sermon Audio. It’s a collection of nearly a million sermons from Fundamentalist churches, schools, camps, special meetings, ladies retreats, pastors conferences, and just about any other gathering of the Faithful you can imagine.

So if reporting and assisting in sexual abuse cases is a topic in which Fundamentalist leaders are so well-versed, we would expect to find a vast library of sermons detailing their methods.

We would expect to find lots of evidence here that Fundamentalist pastors don’t encourage, by their silence, the culture of shame and neglect which too often keeps the abused silent and abusers in power.

We would certainly hope that areas of lesser importance would be less preached-about than such a vital topic as abuse. That these Men of God wouldn’t shy away from speaking out on a subject which might weaken their pastoral power in favor of messages more in line with traditional Fundy soapboxes.

If you’re hoping against hope to find those things on Sermon Audio, you’ll be disappointed. In fact, searches for “abuse” and “molestation” on the site returned just 13 sermons which deal, even marginally, with child abuse of any kind.

I haven’t analyzed these paltry few sermons to find out if they’re even good or helpful. We’ll just give them the benefit of an enormous doubt and call them shining examples of nobility and assistance for the hurt, the mistreated and the neglected.

But even if we manage that level of belief suspension, simple math tells us that sexual abuse is a topic about which Fundamentalist churches avoid speaking. In fact, if we pretend that Sermon Audio is one big Fundamentalist church meeting every Sunday and working through its sermons at random, you’d have a 1 in 36,615 chance of hearing a sermon on abuse on any given week. Just for fun, I figured out how long you’d have to live in order to hear 36,615 Sunday sermons. With 52 weeks in a year, it’s 704 years.

For more fun with numbers, here’s how other topics on Sermon Audio stack up against sermons on sexual abuse prevention and resolution.

Football–9
Oprah–12
Bob Jones–14 (These are just the sermons about the various members of the Jones family. They alone outnumber sermons on child abuse.)
Harry Potter–17
Sports–21
Y2K–27 (That’s not a typo–there are twice as many sermons on this ridiculous topic than on dealing with molestation and rape.)

Billy Graham–61
The DaVinci Code–69
Halloween–70
Dinosaurs–77
Obama–106
The Pope–178
Islam–246

Money/Tithing–1,000+ (the site limits search results at 1,000.)
America–1,000+
Calvinism–1,000+
Pastors–1,000+

So what do we learn from all this, besides that Fundamentalist leaders only publicly address this issue 0.002% of the time?

-Fundamentalist preachers are really, really proficient at calling out other Christians they deem “false teachers”, but pretty much worthless when it comes to explaining how to help victims of sexual abuse.
-This movement is more concerned with “worldly” trends and competing theological views which threaten its power than with giving public affirmation to the downtrodden and abused.
-Churches of this stripe aren’t doing nearly enough to show support to kids. In the absence of this support, victims will remain silent since they’ve no reason to believe they’ll be believed or helped.

Here’s more to consider:

-The numbers are a bit skewed because two pastors (Trevor Hammack and Kevin Swanson) account for 11 of the 13 sermons I did find. That means 99.9% of the churches and “ministries” on record at Sermon Audio have no recorded sermons on sexual abuse.
-No sermon titles reflect an emphasis on compassion for victims above pastoral reputation or ego.
-Ready for some irony? 91 sermons are on Paul’s command to “preach the whole counsel of God”–apparently all but 5 of the preachers on Sermon Audio don’t consider abuse prevention part of that counsel.

Well isn’t THIS a surprise.

These numbers just reflect what so many of us already knew–sexual abuse (and sex in general, unless it were a harangue against “the strange woman” or teenage promiscuity) is a hush-hush topic in Fundamentalist circles. This deadly silence endangers kids right now. It’s up to pastors and leaders of the movement to humble themselves and turn this situation around–but that’s not looking too likely.

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31 thoughts on “Sermon Audio and Fundamentalist Silence on Abuse

    1. Mike

      Probably most of the speakers/pastors on Sermon Audio would not be considered fundamentalists. There are a good number no doubt, but it is mainly a reformed site. I also noticed that neither RC Sproul, John MacArthur nor Charles Spurgeon preached on the topic. What should we assume about them?

  1. K.T.

    The numbers also might be even more skewed, as Kevin Swanson hosts a radio program. So they may not be actual “sermons,” per se. And, well, his take on child abuse might also be a little skewed if this is anything like the discussion I once heard him give on corporal punishment. One of the search results also gives the sermon title as “A Family Loses Their Children – Social Services Abuses: Child Destructive Services.” Hmmm… Of course, the search for “Harry Potter” also brought up a bit by Swanson, as well.

  2. Jon W

    also consider that sermons might deal with that particular topic that have a seemingly unrelated title. A sermon might touch on child abuse that deals with related passages/topics (e.g. parent’s responsibilities toward their children, proper (and improper) discipline methods, etc.) I’m not sure how thorough your searching was, but it was just a thought. Also, there are many churches that don’t contribute to sermonaudio, I know mine doesn’t, but my church has been labeled fundy (errantly, i think).

    1. clintonverley Post author

      You’re right that sermon titles don’t mean everything. But consider that even the most minor of topics (Dinosaurs?) got more sermon titles than did sexual abuse–a horrible tragedy that happens in real life to 1 in 4 kids.

      Don’t kid yourself. If this issue mattered to these pastors, it would be preached about more often.

      1. KS

        I would think that dinosaurs would be tied to a creation evidences sermon which would be far less than a minor topic.

        However, most IFB churches don’t even use Sermon Audio.

      2. Clinton

        @KS:

        “Dinosaurs” might be part of a larger issue which some would consider “major”, but it’s still a really flimsy topic to base a whole sermon on. C’mon.

  3. Abigail Rebholz-Jones

    I grew up at Fairhaven Baptist Church from the age of 3 to 19 and I can say that I NEVER heard one sermon on sexual abuse! I have no doubt that the above article is 99% accurate!

  4. Eric

    As was mentioned by Mike further up, there are many preachers on this site who would not be classified as fundamentalists. There are those like Sproul, Beeke, Begg, and Ferguson who are still alive and preaching today who wouldn’t classify. Plus there are thousands of sermons from the Puritans through Spurgeon that were preached before the “birth” of fundamentalism at the turn of the century and well before the big shift in fundamentalism towards legalism in the 1950’s. With that said, the fact that there are more sermon subjects devoted to The Da Vinci Code than towards addressing abuse is sad. Not surprising, but still sad.

    However, and I’m not trying to play both sides of the fence here, sexual abuse is not exactly a family friendly topic to be preached on a Sunday morning. Granted some of fundamentalist’s scare tactics aren’t either, but I still would want my 12 year old daughter to sit under an hour of a fundy preacher talking about sexual abuse. Of course I wouldn’t sit and listen to a sermon about Oprah, politics, or Y2K either. I’d be up and out the door in a matter of minutes.

    So maybe the better way to examine this is why isn’t it the primary topic being discussed at pastor’s conferences? Shoot, why isn’t a breakout session at pastor’s conferences? The answer to that gets back to your original point. Fundamentalist conferences on KJV only-ism, Soul winning, Anti-Calvinism, are more important in their minds than helping the broken and the weary.

    PS-I have listened to Begg a lot and while I don’t ever hear him address sexual abuse straight out, I have heard him challenge his congregation to go to the needy, to open their homes to unwed mothers, to house homosexuals with AIDS, because the Gospel calls us to let our good deeds be seen before all men. His appeal was for the church to go to the needy, the broken, and the victims and while not mentioning sexual abuse outright, it could certainly be applicable. Either way, he says things I never heard in fundamentalism.

  5. Terry

    With the fundamentalist mindset firmly in mind, how many of them would consider it appropriate to address the topics of *sexual* abuse and molestation in a service of combined genders and ages? Most anything of sexual connotation is viewed . . . .well . . . . you know what I mean. Their are certain topics that are just not appropriate. I did notice that a couple of their favorite topics are money and themselves . . . could that mean anything?

    1. Clinton

      “Not appropriate”

      1 in 4 children are sexually abused. You’re telling me that a sermon reassuring those kids that Jesus is on their side, that he loves them, that he supports them and wants justice for them, would not be appropriate?

      The fault here is that Fundamentalist churches do not know HOW to address this issue publicly and have no desire to do so.

      1. Mike

        Clinton, You wrote:

        “1 in 4 children are sexually abused. You’re telling me that a sermon reassuring those kids that Jesus is on their side, that he loves them, that he supports them and wants justice for them, would not be appropriate?

        The fault here is that Fundamentalist churches do not know HOW to address this issue publicly and have no desire to do so.”

        Ok, you have made a strong assertion. I won’t even argue that it’s not true. But instead of just stating that, have you given any counsel, teaching or help to fundamental churches, or any other church for that matter, as to “how” to address this issue Biblicaly? If it’s not mentioned by reformed or fundamental churches all over Sermonaudio, obviously we all have a problem with how to address it. Could you give some constructive helps as to how to do that?

        I think that your first sentence above would be a great starting point for that. I think that a lot of people are just ignorant of the facts. I personally didn’t have any idea that 1 in 4 children are sexually abused. I live in Mexico and I was just talking to my wife several weeks ago about how many children here are abused. We’ve seen it over and over. And I think it probably happens more here than even in the States. Your blog post has given me much pause for thought about how to deal more with the issue in our own church here. Thank you for that. I’d look forward to even more help in trying to think Biblically through the issues. It seems that for many years, it has been overlooked, ignored, or people just don’t know about it in the circle in which they live. There is shame in being a victim and shame in being a perpetrator–so much of it does go unreported I’m sure.

      2. Eric

        @Mike The issue of abuse in the IFB and abuse in the Reformed community are completely different issues I believe. I’m not saying that abuse doesn’t happen in both. It does. However, the polity and theology differences usually determine how abuse cases are handled. In the IFB, due to man-centered polity and theology, it has been to cover up, look the other way, and believe that a few crocodile tears from an abuser means they are repentant. In Reformed churches, the polity determines elder boards where cover ups are much more difficult, and a theology that demands actions to back up words of repentance.

        If you compare how Phelps handled the Willis/Anderson rape in his “church discipline” with how most Reformed churches would have handled it, I think you would see that in a Reformed church Willis would have been arrested immediately and that Anderson would have never been put up publicly.

      3. Clinton

        @Mike

        Thanks for bringing up a really important point–how do we move forward positively with bringing change in this area?

        I did already talk about this a little bit on a prior post. http://bit.ly/sPJuIy

        I am totally with you in your enthusiasm and desire.

        I tend to think that pointing out negative examples is an important part of improvement. You have to know you have a problem before you can fix it, right?

        Thanks again for your comments here, I appreciate your input.

      4. Mike

        Thanks Clinton,
        I had not seen that prior post that you linked to. That is very helpful. If people are willing, I think it’d be a great follow up to see how we can help our kids better be informed about sex in a Biblical way and how to help those who have been abused, even beyond the points that you mentioned there.

      5. BJUNews

        I’ll be the first to say: I’m no expert on how to improve things. I’m not a pastor. I don’t have years of experience in any of these areas. That’s why I pretty much stick to what I do know–pointing out silly things that I see.

        I’m very open to learning from smart people about positive, good methods.

  6. Former Bobser

    ” I also noticed that neither RC Sproul, John MacArthur nor Charles Spurgeon preached on the topic. What should we assume about them?”

    That none of them had the guts to bring it up either? That they were also probably just as incapable of empathy for victims of sexual abuse? That they fell prey to the same unnecessary taboos around discussing sexuality still rampant in fundmentalist circles?

    What, you think Spurgeon is above anone’s criticism? Grow up, man.

    1. Mike

      My point was don’t make this out just to be a “fundamentalist” problem. Most of Sermon Audio is not “fundamentalist.” The whole tone of the blog post speaks to the contrary. Sexual abuse and its victims may not be mentioned in many fundamentalist sermons; that much is apparent. It’s also apparent that the same topics are not mentioned in any reformed sermons either. If you want to place the blame on everyone, that would be fine, but I don’t believe it’s honest to go to a site that is not fundamental and make a post against those with whom you have a bone to pick.
      So, It’s just not honest to go to Sermonaudio.com, not a fundamentalist site per se, but a site that fundamentalists do use, and say that that’s fundamentalism. If you took a website that was totally fundamentalist and that contained only fundamentalist sermons, and drew the same conclusions, that would be honest and I would have no quibble. Even in the screen grab, probably 1at the very least, 10 or 11 of the 16 mentioned would not claim to be fundamentalist churches or institutions. I’m just saying that if anyone wants to be taken seriously, we should be at least intellectually honest in our judgments.

      1. Clinton

        “My point was don’t make this out just to be a “fundamentalist” problem.”

        It most certainly is a Fundamentalist problem, though other factions may have the same problem.

        ” Most of Sermon Audio is not “fundamentalist.” ”

        *waiting for proof*

        Look at it this way. Even if we accept your premise that Sermon Audio is not even mostly Fundamentalist, you still must acknowledge that there are lots of Fundamentalist institutions represented there. And they don’t preach about this topic–AT ALL. It isn’t mentioned.

      2. Mike

        “you still must acknowledge that there are lots of Fundamentalist institutions represented there. And they don’t preach about this topic–AT ALL. It isn’t mentioned.”

        I agree with the above statement Clinton. I did make that point in my comment.

    2. abaantu

      It is interesting to note that Christ never preached a sermon on sexual abuse. What should we assume about Him?

  7. Stitch

    Just as an aside, I never heard of Sermon Audio until I went to BJU. And I didn’t grow up IFB. So while it may not be a strictly IFB place…it’s still at large within and supported by the IFB. That’s my gathering, at least. The only people I’ve ever seen endorse it have gone to BJU (not to say that only BJU people support it – my sphere of experience within the IFB is limited to BJU).

    Also, holy crap with the acronyms. Sometimes it cracks me up. This is one of those times.

  8. Terry

    Clinton–I never said any such thing in my post–please read it again. You are putting words in my mouth and criticizing me for things I never said.

    1. Clinton

      “Their [sic] are certain topics that are just not appropriate.”

      That’s what I was referring to. Sexual abuse is a 100% appropriate, and urgent topic. What isn’t appropriate is silence.

      1. Terry

        You still aren’t getting it Clinton–maybe in your thinking such a topic is 1005 appropriate; but to the fundamentalist mindset–it is not. That is my point–to them it is not appropriate to address in a public, mixed gender, mixed age forum. I was not commenting on whether their mindset is right or wrong–only on how they see it. Don’t be so quick to judge.

  9. Jon W

    I think I’d tend to agree with Eric (way, way up there) that the topic of sexual abuse isn’t always appropriate for a sunday morning sermon. I’ve found over the years that the leadership in my church is more likely to discuss such topics in a small group or family-talk-style discussion (I’ve participated in many of those, none on the topic of sexual abuse, however) The smaller amount of people and more face-to-face style of speaking lends itself to decrease the . . . anxiousness that usually accompanies those discussions. What I’m not saying is that the anxiousness should be enough to deter us from such topics, but that it can be a hindrance to understanding and fully confronting the issue and smaller groups are a way of overcoming that problem. That being said, my former youth pastor, who incidentally is one of my favorite people on the face of this planet, held a discussion that touched on this topic. It definitely takes a certain kind of person to be able to discuss that thing with high schoolers. Not everyone would, should, or even can.
    Essentially, what I’m trying to say is that that topic has not gone wholly unobserved in my circles, however I am only one person and you are right, Clinton, it definitely does not get nearly as much attention as, say, dinosaurs (which, on a side note I think might just be a catchier way of titling your creationism cosmotology sermons, instead of the cliche “In the Beginning . . .” but I digress.). I think that regardless of the attention or lack thereof this topic has received in the past, it definitely receive more especially concerning recent events.
    Also, @Former Bobser, people like spurgeon are generally considered to be “giants of the faith” to use a term I’m not a big fan of. To say that the lack of sermons from him about sexual abuse signified the incapacity for showing empathy for victims and that it shows that he fell victim to the taboos of discussing it is, in my opinion, arguing from silence. It could, as many people are advocating here about others, mean that none of those sermons are recorded or as widely distributed as his others. I think Mike’s point was that, spurgeon was a pretty cool guy, which I reiterate, is commonly agreed upon. But we should just immediately dismiss him and everything he ever said because sexual abuse didn’t make a high enough percentage in his sermon topics.
    Also @Stitch: yes, yes, yes. So many people take the “acronyms aid memory” thing to heart and treat it as a law more than a guideline. There are so many other ways to aid memory other than twisting words and hitting the thesaurus just so your sermon on Luke 2 can fit the acronym CHRISTMAS (yes, that was from personal experience)

    So, to wrap up: is sexual abuse a pertinent topic? Absolutely yes. Is it to be discussed all the time? I think, as everything else, those discussions have a time and place (such as after the wee tots have left the auditorium).

    Ok cool I think I’m caught up. It’s been a long day apparently.

  10. lbkirsop

    Hmmm . . . Having grown up in fundamentalism, I can honestly say I can recall more than just a couple of sermons dealing with abuse (at school and camp especially, but also at church). I know I’m just one person, but while this post is nobly expressing a strong concern it may be doing so on information that is not completely representative or thorough. Easy mistake. Sermon Audio is somewhat comprehensive–but consider that probably the majority of sermons you will find on the topic (the ones intended to help victims) are probably going to be within a camp or youth group setting (and those are not represented well on Sermon Audio). Just an observation.
    There is also a possibility that some churches may choose to withhold certain messages from being aired, especially if dealing with personal issues within the body of the church, so that no speculation about individuals can be made (for example, a message arises from a recent church discipline or the like). I’d imagine such messages might be kept private and personal for the church. Just a thought.

  11. Cindi

    This has been an interesting read. It is certainly something that needs to be addressed, as all sin does. I have a few observations and a few questions.

    Questions first: Clinton, you posted a link above in response to a question from Mike. That link no longer works, so I would like to ask if you are willing to share an updated or working link?

    What is your definition of abuse? Are you addressing only sexual abuse or are you including everything from physical but nonsexual to sexual to simple neglect (a legal term as I am not trying to insert any personal definition of the word)? Where are you getting the statistics that one in four children are abused every day? This seems to be talking only about sexual abuse, in which case I haven’t found stats to support that ratio. Overall abuse, including physical and psychological and medical, have been lumped in to the overall abuse stats on the National Child Abuse Hotline website here: http://www.childhelp.org/pages/statistics/. Those stats do include neglect as a type of abuse. The US Dept. for Health and Human Services Administration for Children & Families has their stats here: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/pubs/cm10/cm10_excel.htm.

    Second, I also observe that the legitimate question asked by Abaantu was ignored. If Christ Himself is not recorded as addressing child abuse, and off the top of my head I do not recall any specific passage in Scripture specifically addressing it, were they wrong? Obviously not.

    Simply put, all sin would be addressed by the systematic and thorough preaching of all Scripture. It cannot be that difficult to start in Genesis and go through Revelation. And repeat. It might not fit into a personal plan of what one wants to preach at any given time, but it certainly will address both sinners and victims.

    Many churches of all denominations have not addressed sexual abuse or any other abuse, Catholics most notoriously. It is not endemic to only one group, unfortunately. Have IBF churches mishandled sexual abuse? Absolutely!

    I agree with Mike in the response above that instead of sitting around pointing fingers and being angry/frustrated/critical that things haven’t been handled properly in such churches, be part of the solution and give Scripture-based council on how to do it right.

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