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Male Sexual Violence & the Church (with Lyvonne Picou)

Male Sexual Violence & the Church (with Lyvonne Picou)

When was the last time you heard a preacher—or any religious or ethical leader—talk about sex, bodies, or male sexual violence from the pulpit? And yet—if you look around your congregation, so many of us have been affected by male sexual violence, gender-based violence, and sexual trauma. If we are the Body of Christ, why do we shy away from actually talking about…bodies?

Lyvonne “Proverbs” Picou is a preacher, speaker, poet, educator, creative social entrepreneur, and an Emmy-award-winning media producer.

Through her organization, beautiful scars, the Reverend Picou promotes healthy and safe conversations around religion, sex, and Blackness in order to, ultimately, address the silence in the Black Church on sexual abuse.


Speaker 1:           You’re listening to “In Times Like These”, a production of CLU live at Claremont Lincoln University. “In Times Like These” explores the difficult spaces we humans navigate in culture and religion, in dialogue and doubt.

Stephanie:          When was the last time you heard a preacher or any religious or ethical leader talk about sex, bodies, or male sexual violence from the pulpit? And yet, if you look around your congregation, so many of us have been affected by male sexual violence, gender-based violence, and sexual trauma. If we are the body of Christ, why do we shy away from actually talking about bodies?

Lyvonne Picou is a preacher, speaker, poet, educator, creative social entrepreneur, and an Emmy Award-winning media producer. Through her organization, “Beautiful Scars”, the reverend Picou promotes healthy and safe conversations around religion, sex, and blackness in order to ulitmately address the silence in the black church on sexual abuse.

In this episode of “In Times Like These”, the reverend Picou helps us understand why it’s essential to use language to talk about bodies, trauma, confrontation, and the realities that come in to terms with healing. She also helps us realign our understanding of the human person of Jesus Christ, and why theological distortions lead to catastrophically bad theologies.

Lyvonne, thank you so, so much for making time to talk to me, and I’m overwhelmed with excitement to learn more about your work. I wanted to start out, I was looking-

Lyvonne:             Oh, you’re welcome.

Stephanie:          I was looking at your website, and I was thinking a lot, in the last few days, about “Beautiful Scars”. That phrase is so evocative. How did you come up to those words, and how does it work with your larger work?

Lyvonne:             “Beautiful Scars” used to be a blog. I started it on Tumblr, where I was just exploring the church, and society, and technology. It came out of my own story, growing up in church as a survivor of male sexual violence. So, “Beautiful Scars” basically encapsulates the beauty in our healing from trauma. When you think about getting a cut, there’s some type of laceration, or break in the skin, but when the wound starts to heal, it’ll scab up, there’s renewal, but it might leave a little mark. So, scars are reminders that we’ve been through some kind of incident, some kind of trauma, but that we are healed/healing. So, that’s where “Beautiful Scars” comes from.

Stephanie:          Do you think it’s important that we not forget that the trauma happened and just “move on”?

Lyvonne:             Absolutely. Oh, you’ll never hear those words come out of my mouth. I really don’t believe in-

Stephanie:          So, tell me more about that.

Lyvonne:             Yeah, this ideology of forgive and forget, or just move on. Forgiveness is inherently confrontational. In order to forgive something, you first have to face it, name it, and identify it, and that comes from acknowledgement. Telling someone who’s been traumatized that they need to just move on doesn’t honor them. It doesn’t hold face for them to face it and sit with reality of it. We don’t like to be uncomfortable. We don’t like to be in pain. We don’t like to suffer, even though Christian identifying folks will lift up this suffering savior, like, “That was fine for him, but not for me.” So, other people’s stories that make us uncomfortable, we try to minimize or silence.

Stephanie:          So, that phrase, you saying, “Forgiveness is inherently confrontational,” it actually makes me feel a little bit anxious. Like, I got activated a little bit.

So, I grew up in the midwest, good, Christian, Sunday school-going girl. And a lot of that, for me, was about, probably is about, being modest, being good, being quiet, being respectful. And the idea of confronting feels a little anxiety-producing. So, what does this work look like? And I think I appreciate what you’re saying, and it rings true, absolutely true, but it feels very daunting. So what is this work like, and how can we, as teachers and religious leaders, help this work take place?

Lyvonne:             Yeah, that’s a great question. I think confrontational, the term, confrontation, it connotes some sort of anger. It connotes some sort of tension, and it’s going to be loud and violent. And it doesn’t have to be that way. It just means coming face-to-face with the truth, to literally be with and in front of the truth. And so, confrontation can be quiet. It can be gritten. It can be a ritual. But, it’s essentially saying, “This trauma happened, and we acknowledge it in all of its grittiness and earthiness, and we’re sitting with that pain and that discomfort.” Because when trauma is disclosed in religious communities, sometimes there can be a tendency to minimize it. Many times, if it’s sexual trauma, the perpetrator is someone who’s well-respected in the community, and there might be some hesitation to out him or her. And so, we have to really put the person who’s been traumatized at the center of the narrative and figure out what it is that they need. Is it a word of comfort? Is it just a listening ear? Is it to say, “I believe you,” right? Because once you acknowledge and believe someone, then you have to do the follow-up work. So, if I believe that you were hurt by someone, now my actions have to line up with this statement of belief.

And so, I would say for religious leaders, to one, be courageous, to know that statistics don’t lie. One in four women will be sexually abused before they turn 18, one in six men. When you start looking at black communities, it’s more like one in two. And so, it’s an epidemic, and it’s in your congregation. It’s there whether you name it or not. So be bold, name it. If you’re a preacher, or you’re some sort of public speaker, name it in that sacred moment. Let your congregation, your members know, that this topic is not off-limits, that it’s not “taboo”. I don’t believe in taboo topics. I believe sacred text, the word of God, the divine scriptures, our English language, the words will go into the heart, and depth, and breadth of pain and trauma. But if we, as human beings, who don’t wanna follow the word. So, I want us to think broadly about serving holistically those who are in our communities of faith.

Stephanie:          So, you used the word alignment, and I’m thinking about … It’s so essential and inspiring, what you just said, that that turning to the truth and centering the person who has experienced the trauma, once we say, “Yes, I believe you, I am centering you,” then yes, our next alignment is to do what’s right. And I’m thinking about the fact that, and I’ll speak as a Christian, for many religious institutions, because of systematic racism, and because of systematic misogyny, and because of systematic patriarchy, we are in misalignment with capital teaching already because of the [inaudible 00:08:23].So even an individual pastor, or an individual deacon, or sister, or friend, I can attempt to confront, and live truthfully, and be in alignment, but it’s also the organization that has to do the work.

Lyvonne:             Absolutely, absolutely, we need that-

Stephanie:          And what does that look like? And have you seen communities, when you see communities exemplify that kind of realigning work, alignment to capital teaching, what do you see? What does that look like? What will I see and hear?

Lyvonne:             Yeah, that’s good stuff, Stephanie. So one of the phrases I hate hearing is, “The church doesn’t do X,” right? The church doesn’t talk about sexual abuse. The church doesn’t … And I’m like, that’s not true, whether it’s a black church, black Baptist church, a white Presbyterian church, charismatic Latina church, there is a critical mass of preachers, pastors, ministers, lay leaders, congregational members, who are willing and able to do this work. And so, we have to be mindful that, using this antiquated language about, “We don’t talk about sex in the church,” or, “We don’t talk about bodies,” is … It’s old, it’s ancient, it’s irrelevant. And we have to talk about bodies. We talk about a body being crucified in the man that we call Jesus. So if Jesus had a body, and we’re supposed to be like Christ, and we obviously have bodies, too, that are holy, and sacred, and divine.

So I think it starts in institutions with very basic stuff. We don’t talk about sexual abuse, because we don’t talk about sexuality. We don’t talk about sexuality, because we don’t talk about sex beyond it being in a marriage, heteronormative paradigm. We don’t talk about sex, because we don’t talk about bodies. If you are talking about a human body, I need you to use the anatomically correct terms. I need you to say words like penis, and breast, and vagina, and be okay with that, and not snicker like a middle schooler, and not use words like “down there” or “man parts” or-

Stephanie:          Right, right, right-

Lyvonne:             I’ve heard some really ridiculous terminology coming from the pulpit. Because once you say that, it becomes normalized to talk about our bodies openly. And I want us to take the power out of shame about our bodies, and about the language about our bodies.

Stephanie:          Yes. That’s healthy practice that every single person in a community or congregation, right? Parents, Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, married couples, old people, simple.

Lyvonne:             Everyone can do that. Everyone can do that, so, so simple. I mean, from the children’s church to Senior Sunday, everyone can use the right terms for our body parts. Because then, once we get used to hearing those terms, then we can start talking about them. So it’s not just about sexual trauma. It’s about prostate, you’re prostate health. Are your members getting their screenings, mammograms, cervical cancer. There are all different kinds of health concerns that are wrapped into body talk that, once you lift up those concerns in the congregation, you can then have a holistic conversation about body, and health, and wellness.

Stephanie:          Right. Can you imagine if I suffered from epilepsy, and I was unable to use the word seizure, or medication, or … It’s bizarre. We’re really stifling our ability to be honest about what we need.

Lyvonne:             Right, absolutely. And then, if you’re saying that you’re caring for this person spiritually, you can’t care for a spirit without caring for a body. We’re spiritual deities enwrapped in flesh. Christ came, and we talk about Emmanuel, God’s with us. Well, God is with us in the flesh. He’s brown and black, and light and dark. So we can’t look past the issues that come with different tones of flesh, so talking about institutional racism, talking about colorism and inter-racism, talking about internalized oppression in black and brown communities because of a Eurocentric, white Supremacist Christianity. These are the kinds of issues. If we wanna talk about flesh, let’s talk about the brown skin that Jesus was walking this earth in. So it opens up a whole conversation about identity, and culture, and community, just from talking about our body.

Stephanie:          Right? My eyes just filled up with tears with that, because I was going to say, this lens that you’re giving us is helping us … is a lens to a more accurate Christian theology. But then I realized, this is not a lens, this is Christian theology. I, somehow because of the way I’ve been cultured, I’m thinking of the word disjointed. My neck is cranking, looking a wrong way, and the wisdom of what you’re saying has allowed me to sit up straight, and look straight ahead, and realize that this is true. This is actual Christian theology. Theologically, ontologically, what happened was, God came into the world as a human being. That’s the very first thing, that’s foundational. And so I can’t skate over that. The minute I skate over that, I’m disjointed. I’m looking in a weird direction.

Lyvonne:             Right, and a very particular human being, right? Poor, brown, revolutionary, table-turning, who-

Stephanie:          Yes, with anger, yes-

Lyvonne:             With anger, with righteous rage. And so I love that idea about moving from the disjointed to the sitting uprightness. Because if we look at the language that we use around being the body of Christ, the body of Christ is disjointed, because we are succumbing to trapped theology that says that Jesus has blonde hair and blue eyes, and that anything that looks like that is what is right, what is good. If it’s white, it’s good. If it’s black, it’s evil. All these antiquated notions that we inherited from Greco-Roman sensibilities that we have then internalized, and then conflated and misconstrued, and now, try to put God on it and give it to people as dogma, and it’s inherently wrong. God is love, and light, and liberation. And so I think we need to go to a spiritually chiropractor, and go to someone who has a hermeneutic that is liberation-centered and work out these things-

Stephanie:          There’s a reason we’re not flourishing, because part of our limbs, or part of our vision, part of the way we can move accurately in the world, is truncated a little bit.

Lyvonne:             Absolutely. And that’s why it’s so important to hear about theology from the margin, because what can black and brown people who are ostracized because they’re poor, or because they’re queer, or because they’re woman, what can they teach us about the Gospel? And that’s who Jesus came to say, he’s always like, “Hey, look, go out and get those who you don’t wanna be around. I’m a chill with the tax collectors. I’m gonna chill with the prostitutes.” So what are we doing to center the voices of those we would rather not hear?

Stephanie:          Right, no. We do. I mean, honestly if you think about it, if you ask an ordinary person to describe what church looks like, it does not include people who are bleeding, people who have skin disease, even children. He’s constantly upending what was respectable, and yet-

Lyvonne:             Right, my mom-

Stephanie:          … into these museums and respectability.

Lyvonne:             Right. My mom grew up in Barbados, a British colony, and so very Anglican, very high church. But that seeps into the culture, too. So she grew up in a space where children were to be seen and not heard. So now, she has a daughter, and she encourages me to talk all the time. I remember her telling me a story once where, we were on our way to Manhattan, I grew up in New York City, in Queens, going to Manhattan on the train, and 6:00 in the morning, and I’m just going off. I don’t know what I’m talking about, but she’s like, “What else? What else?” And the people around her in the subway car are irritated. They want this little girl to be quiet. It’s super early in the morning. But my mom is encouraging this talkativeness, this inquisitiveness, which then kind of backfires on her, ’cause-

Stephanie:          Your voice! Your literal voice! It’s your voice!

Lyvonne:             Right. So now, here I am, talking all the time. So it worked.

Stephanie:          Yes. And this happens. I mean, I’m a K-12 teacher background, so this happens in school. We tell children, especially children of color, to sit still, to be quiet, to be in control, to sit in a space, to line up and be quiet for me, the teacher. I mean, this is what we do in lots of our cultures, is minimize, and quiet, and literally silence people who don’t have power.

Lyvonne:             Right. I mean, statistically, black children are reprimanded more than white children in schools, and that’s because of teachers’ biases. And we really need to funnel and vent a little better. That’s why this whole thing with Starbucks, it’s a symptom of the disease of racism in the country, so I really don’t know why people are surprised. And one-day trainings are not the solution. All of America needs to shut down for a training if that’s the case, indefinitely, until we get it together.

But when I was a youth and young adult pastor, I remember working with one of my primary classes, and they were coloring some printouts. And one of the little girls starts coloring all outside the lines, like on the margins of the paper. And I was like, “Oh, you’re supposed to color inside the lines.” And she kind of looked at me, and I was like, “I am so sorry. I am wrong. I am sorry. You color wherever you want to color.” Right? Because here I am, putting my limitations and my impositions onto this child who’s free. So we have to be able to encourage that in our young people and allow them to come in into question. And I think that’s the disconnect between millennials and Gen-X and Y, and our elders, because you didn’t question authority. This is the word of God, this is what the pastor is saying, so this is truth. And we’re coming along, and in an ever increasing globalized world, we have access to information in nanoseconds. So it’s like, actually, “What about this?” Or, “Where did we get that?” We have to be open to the question.

Stephanie:          Yes. And you’re talking about both a posture of curiosity, like, “Oh, what about this?” and a posture of humility. Like in that moment, when you corrected, that’s good [inaudible 00:20:31]. Just because you’re older than her and maybe a little bit wiser than her. And we would want the same from our professors, and teachers, and pastors, to be able to say, “You know what? The way I’ve been talking about this is wrong. I have gotten new information. I have gotten new wisdom. I have grown, and I wanna be more accurate now. Let me tell you about what I’ve realized and what I wanna do differently.” That’s just healthy.

Lyvonne:             “I don’t know,” is a valid answer, but there’s this little thing called ego, and we don’t wanna be wrong, and we wanna look like we have it all together. But what is life without learning? We have to remain teachable, even if we’re 80, 90, or older.

Stephanie:          Right. And that gets so tricky in religious institutions, because, you know, ego. And actually, one of my seminarian classmates posted on Facebook the day before yesterday, and she said, “How can we find leaders for whom charisma does not become a stumbling block?” And it opened up a giant conversation thread. Because on one hand, we want leaders who are compelling, and articulate, and inspiring, and where’s the line between me being the sage on the stage, and being inspiring and charismatic, and I was teaching. It was the Miss Hughes Show. I could just keep the kids engaged, talk, and go all day. But then I get affirmed for that, I get hired for that, I get promoted for that. And then, at a certain point, no one’s asking me to grow, and no one’s challenging me.

Lyvonne:             Yeah. And I don’t think we want people to grow, not really, not truly. If you think about Beyonce, who I love. When she was in Destiny’s child, I thought I was the fifth member of Destiny’s Child when I was in high school. I wanted my outfit from Mamma Tina. I was ready to go. But she progressed, through the years, to becoming a solo artist, and this dancing diva, this vixen with this voice. And as the past four years, probably since Beyonce, when she started telling her story and owning her sexuality in a more empowered way, I don’t think people are really interested in this new afro-centric, pro-black, which does not mean anti-white, Beyonce. They wanna go back to Austin Powers, and dresses in clubs and high heels. And she’s like, “No. You’re gonna get some politics with this pop, okay?” And so, there are people who are uncomfortable with that, because they want you to make them feel good.

And translate that to the church. You have prosperity Gospel tomfoolery. You have pastors who don’t preach about race or racism. After the 2016 Presidential Election, I don’t know how you can be a pastor and not talk about politics. And so there are people who would rather feel good, and have their ears tickled, and come to church, and be social, but not be challenged, not be changed. And that is problematic, because Jesus came to revolutionize.

Stephanie:          Yes.

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Stephanie:          And that, we’ve been talking about change throughout this conversation, and you mentioned early on, that idea of renewal, and the idea that if we really want to grow individually and in relationship, there’s going to be some discomfort. And that’s natural. We know, as teachers, disequilibrium precedes all learning, Piaget. So I think it must be that one of the primary responsibilities of leaders is to help communities and congregations be okay feeling dissonance.

Lyvonne:             Absolutely-

Stephanie:          And we prove it-

Lyvonne:             Yeah, lean into it, and always point people back to the divine. The issue with personality-driven churches is that people are coming to hear you, to see you, to laugh with you, as opposed to get closer to God, to be redirected, renewed, plugged in after a long week. And so that’s when you find that a pastor goes on vacation or sabbatical, attendance drops, because people are there for a person and not the spirit, not for the divine, not for the Creator. And so I think even with the rising personalities, always, always redirect people’s attention, efforts, to God.

So for me, yeah, you can come in, and you can say, “Hey, we’re going to have a series.” Series are great, because they’re focused, and they help carry through, and you can build on them. So that’s another practical tip. Conversations, using bible study to really dive into the sermon that you just preached this past Sunday. Being able to create a holistic, intergenerational, educational track, as opposed to just acute Sunday worship, I think that would really help open up conversations and give people space to be uncomfortable, and to know that that’s okay, too.

Stephanie:          Right, right. I’m just taking so many notes. I feel like I’m having [crosstalk 00:26:38].

Lyvonne:             Awesome.

Stephanie:          Earlier, in the very beginning, you used the phrase “male sexual violence”, and I haven’t heard that phrase before. I’ve heard other terms, and that seems like a very specifically chosen phrase. Tell me about why that phrase.

Lyvonne:             So I read an article, the gentleman’s name is escaping me, but he essentially argued that when it comes to sexual violence against women, we tend to say phrases like, “sexual assault”, “sexual trauma”, but that makes it some obscure-

Stephanie:          “Domestic violence”-

Lyvonne:             Domestic violence, right. I’m like, they sanctioned police violence as a domestic violence. What are we talking about here?

Stephanie:          Right.

Lyvonne:             So, he argues that you have to say, “Male”, even though there is female-to-female sexual violence. But, by and large, it’s typically men on women. You have to say, “Male sexual violence” to qualify it, to show where this violence is initiating so that we can then, not just help with psychological symptoms and aftercare, but look at the root cause of the issue, and address things like toxic masculinity, things like insecurity, things like a need for power, which is where trauma, sexual violence really stems from. So I’m gonna see if I can find that article right now.

Stephanie:          And I just got full-body goosebumps. I had not thought of that before, and that simple … And again, clarity in language, clarity in speech, illuminates. And so-

Lyvonne:             It’s really important-

Stephanie:          Both the idea, yes, someone who’s an aggressor is also needing lots of interventions, and preventions, and we need to really think about all the things that we do to young boys and men that create environments where this happens. And also, the idea of male sexual violence, the reason I got these full-body goosebumps is because even I, and I’m very educated, I have a lot of social capital, even I, when I hear the term sexual violence, I always think about the woman, and I always picture what the woman was doing. Where was she? Is she married? Is she unmarried? Was she dressed? Had she cooked dinner? Was she a mother? Was she dating the man? And I always think, and when I think about protecting myself, I also think, “What am I doing? Am I wearing a [inaudible 00:29:24]? Did I smile? Am I sitting by myself?” And just putting that word, “male”, on there, removes the onus from me. Because the idea of sexual violence sounds like it was something that was just happening, it was happening to these people. But there was a perpetrator, there was an aggressor-

Lyvonne:             Right, right. Yeah, we live in a world that protects perpetrators and blames the victim. And so I would rather we live in a world that doesn’t teach girls, “Hey, don’t get raped,” but that teaches boys, “Don’t rape.” Because it doesn’t matter what I’m wearing, where I am, how many dates we’ve been on, how many drinks I’ve had. If we’re butt-booty naked on the bed, and you’re about to penetrate me, a no is a no, is a no. So I think we just need to talk to men about women not being property, women not being objectified, humanize, re-humanize women.

Stephanie:          Well, and the fact that … And speaking as a Christian woman, hearing you speak as a Christian woman, also the idea, male sexual violence. I have heard so many sermons about love is patient, and love is kind, and pray for your husband, and we will pray for your husband, and you are being faithful.

Lyvonne:             Oh, God.

Stephanie:          You are being faithful, you are being long-suffering, and we will pray, as if sexual violence just happened like mold in a household. Oh my goodness, what are we gonna do about this mold problem? No. Male sexual violence, someone is doing it. Let’s look at that.

Lyvonne:             Yep. And to religious leaders who use sacred text to tell women who are being abused, raped, because you can be raped by your spouse, to stay in that marriage ’cause God doesn’t honor divorce, I say that it’s crap, and that is trash theology. God is never okay with God’s creation being mishandled, being violated, being abused. And so as religious leaders, current, future, otherwise, it is your responsibility, once you know that a situation is harmful for a woman or man, ’cause we’ll include them, you have to do everything in your power to open up resources. So have a resource list for your congregation, whether it’s shelters, you can call 2-1-1, that’s the localized number that’ll give you access to mental healthcare, emergency housing, food pantries, things like that. So don’t just pray about it. There’s a Zimbabwean proverbs that says, “When you pray, move your feet.” You have to do something.

Stephanie:          Yes. Don’t just pray about it. Amen. Holy goodness, wow.

Okay. So we have, you’ve given us a lot of resources. You’ve given us ideas for longterm strategies for communities, religious and ethical communities, to both right away think about our language, the way we name things, also plan, the longer-term strategies, intergenerational, not just one sermon during Women’s Month, which you think about, how do people learn? People learn when you do things over time and tie it to things that matter, like text study, meals, and holidays. So really, it’s one of the other things that we’re learning about as a human, flourishing community.

Lyvonne:             Right. And I mean, at the end of the day, you can pull in other resources. There’s YouTube, there are manuals, there are books. You can hire professionals. I am a seminary-trained practitioner, so you can hire me to come facilitate a workshop for you clergy leadership, or I can come be the guest preacher and name these issues that maybe you can’t do in your congregation. Because I also take into account that when you’re pastoring, or when you are working in a parish, or ministry, or congregation, an ethical community, you are their week in and week out. You are sitting with people through highs and lows, through joys and pain. And so maybe male sexual violence or sexual trauma isn’t something that you can name every single Sunday or every single worship service. But if you bring someone in who’s a fresh voice, I don’t know why, people tend to hear it differently from new voices than they do the one they hear all the time, and then let that be sort of the launch into multi-generational conversations around sex and sexuality.

So there are resources available. We don’t have to fear these conversations. God has not given us the spirit of fear. It’s the [inaudible 00:34:35] scripture people. So when you realize you’re operating out of fear, then you have to realize, I’m not operating out of love. So what is causing this fear? It might be your own trauma.

Stephanie:          Oh, yes. Yes, yes, yes. Now, that’s a whole nother conversation. That’s a whole nother conversation. When we, as leaders, as parents, as community leaders, if we are paralyzed by fear, then we must not be operating out of a place of love. That’s everything. That’s mayors, that’s CEO’s, that’s part two to this conversation. Oh my gosh-

Lyvonne:             Absolutely-

Stephanie:          Right, right, right. And that’s even brain science, right? When the fear activates the brain, critical and creative thinking shuts down. So I really can’t.

Lyvonne:             Right. So it’s either fight or flight or paralysis, which is honestly lifting up and centering those who have suffered male sexual violence, it’s what happens in the moment. You’re so rigid, because you can’t believe what’s happening, and you’re so fearful that sometimes, people can’t even recall all of the details of the moment. And so then, when people like, “Well, what happened, and how?” And a survivor is like, “Well, I … I think it was 8:00. I don’t really remember.” “Well, what was he wearing?” “Maybe a black T-shirt.” It’s not that they’re making it up or that they’re lying. In fact, less than two percent of people who disclose sexual trauma are lying. So let that number sink in-

Stephanie:          Say that again, say that again, less than-

Lyvonne:             When a survivor comes forward and discloses sexual violence, less than two percent of survivors are lying. That means 98 plus percent of survivors are telling the truth. #metoo, #churchtoo. So it’s … Fear can be so weighty and such a burden, even in the moment of trauma. So I wouldn’t be surprised, as religious leaders, that we find ourselves having to deal with our own stuff. If you don’t have a therapist, I highly suggest you get one and then encourage members of your congregation to get one, too.

Stephanie:          Because it’s work. It’s good work, it’s valuable work, it’s necessary work. But just because it’s not easy doesn’t mean that we need to jerk it or turn away from it.

Lyvonne:             Yeah-

Stephanie:          Just like anything good, like parenting, like relationships, like friendships. This is the work of being human.

Lyvonne:             Right.

Stephanie:          Thank you so much-

Lyvonne:             So I realize you wanted me-

Stephanie:          Yes-

Lyvonne:             I realized, really quick, that you wanted me to say that statistic again, and I think I got turned around with my words. I’m gonna say it again the way I said it the first time, which is-

Stephanie:          Okay, say it again.

Lyvonne:             Less than two percent of survivors who disclose sexual trauma are lying. So that means 98 percent of survivors who come forward are telling the truth, 98 plus percent.

Stephanie:          That’s right. That’s why we have to listen, and believe, and be present.

Lyvonne:             That’s it. That’s where it starts. I acknowledge you, I hear you, I believe you. I’m so sorry this happened to you, it wasn’t your fault, and God is angry about this.

Speaker 1:           Thanks for listening to “In Times Like These”, where we explore issues of politics and faith, and learn from one another how to navigate difference for maximum flourishing.

“In Times Like These” is a product of CLU Live at Claremont Lincoln University. For those interested in ethical issues in the workplace, CLU offers a master’s degree in human resources.  For more, subscribe, share, and visit us at claremontlincoln.edu.

Ways to listen to this episode:

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How congregations can talk about bodies and sexuality to ensure both positive health and mental health outcomes, but also to address sexual trauma and violence
  • Why a Christian theology includes talk about bodies
  • What to know about forgiveness—both as someone who has been victimized and as an ally or pastor
  • How our culture deliberately de-centers the voices and experience of people with less power—and what we need to do about that
  • Why it’s essential that all of us remain teachable and willing to grow
  • How churches and religious communities are often complicit in compounding or hiding male sexual violence, and how we can change that
  1. “Forgiveness is inherently confrontational.”

We often hear that forgiveness is life-changing, is necessary, is a key part of our religious or ethical practice. But it’s hard work—and necessarily confrontation. Confrontation doesn’t have to be scary. Confrontation just means coming face to face with the truth. For those leaders working with survivors of violence and trauma, knowing how to cultivate spaces where truth can be told is necessary.

‘Forgiveness is inherently confrontational. Listen now: Click To Tweet

  1. “ ‘I don’t know’ is a valid answer. But there’s this little thing called ego.”

We expect leaders to know everything. And we as leaders get caught up in community expecations and sometimes, our own charisma. We fall short when we are unable to learn, change, and model what it takes to change. We have to remain teachable even if we’re 80 or 90 years old—or older. Asking people to grow is hard work, so how can we do that? What does it take to remain teachable, even as “the expert”?

‘I don’t know’ is a valid answer. But there’s this little thing called ego. Listen now: Click To Tweet

  1. “You can’t care for a spirit without caring for a body.”

We don’t talk about sexual abuse because we don’t talk about sexuality. We don’t talk about sexuality because we don’t talk about sex. We don’t talk about sex because we don’t talk about bodies. How can we deeply engage in religious and spiritual leadership if we’re ignoring one of the most foundational parts of being human?

‘You can’t care for a spirit without caring for a body. Listen now: Click To Tweet

Mentioned on the episode:



How to connect with us:

Lyvonne Picou

Proverbs, a New York City native, is a preacher, poet, educator, and Emmy-award-winning media producer. She is passionate about ending male sexual violence against women and children, the arts, and being Black af. Proverbs lives and loves in Oakland with her hubby, Brandon, and can be found on the media of social: @LyvonneP



Twitter, Instagram: @LyvonneP



YouTube, Tumblr, Snapchat: ProverbsthePoet



You can connect with me on Twitter here: @SVarnonHughes.

And you can always connect with us at CLU on our FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn accounts linked here.

Like the show? Help us spread the word by giving us a rating and review on iTunes!

About the Podcast

In Times Like These explores the difficult spaces we humans navigate in culture and religion, in dialogue and doubt. We talk to voices from the field, in law, activism, civil rights, and from places of struggle and places of deep learning. In Times Like These, we unpack the most troubling issues of politics and faith we face, together.

In Times Like These is hosted by Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes and is a CLU Live production by Claremont Lincoln University.

Claremont Lincoln University offers the following graduate degree programs:

Stephanie Varnon-Hughes

Stephanie Varnon-Hughes, Ph.D., is the Director of the Claremont Core at Claremont Lincoln University, and an award winning teacher and interfaith leader. She is the host of the religion & culture podcast In Times Like These and author of Interfaith Grit: How Uncertainty Will Save Us. Varnon-Hughes was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Journal of Inter-Religious Studies, a peer reviewed journal, and its sister publication, State of Formation, an online forum for emerging religious and ethical leaders. She holds a Ph.D. from Claremont Lincoln University, an M.A. and S.T.M. from Union Theological Seminary and her undergraduate degrees are in English and Education, from Webster University.

Claremont Core

Claremont Lincoln University

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Stephanie Varnon-Hughes

Stephanie Varnon-Hughes, Ph.D., is the Director of the Claremont Core at Claremont Lincoln University, and an award winning teacher and interfaith leader. She is the host of the religion & culture podcast In Times Like These and author of Interfaith Grit: How Uncertainty Will Save Us. Varnon-Hughes was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Journal of Inter-Religious Studies, a peer reviewed journal, and its sister publication, State of Formation, an online forum for emerging religious and ethical leaders. She holds a Ph.D. from Claremont Lincoln University, an M.A. and S.T.M. from Union Theological Seminary and her undergraduate degrees are in English and Education, from Webster University.

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