Following the 2021 Society for Pentecostal Studies Annual Meeting, Pentecostal leaders released a statement calling on the global Pentecostal movement to denounce all forms of sexual violence, reclaim faith communities as safe places of healing, and hold perpetrators accountable. Titled Pentecostal Sisters Too, the statement references and borrows its name from the #MeToo movement. At the SPS’s 2018 meeting, in response to the hashtag #pentecostalsisterstoo, survivors, both men and women, shared their own stories of sexual abuse.
The theme of the 2021 meeting was This Is My Body: Addressing Global Violence Against Women, a topic that could not be more timely. The past two weeks have seen the exit of Beth Moore from the Southern Baptist Convention (in part due to her vocal support of sexual abuse survivors), the murder of Sarah Everard, and the murder of eight people at massage parlors in the United States—including six Asian women. The man who killed these women blamed his actions on a “sex addiction,” claiming that he committed murder to prevent temptation. An active church member, the shooter expressed “extreme self-loathing, guilt and public confession” after visiting massage parlors. He expressed his fear of “falling out of God’s grace.” In response, a statement from his home church says it will remove him from membership, since it “can no longer no longer affirm that he is truly a regenerate believer in Jesus Christ.”
In stressing that the victims are not to blame, the statement also removes the church from any connection to the shooter’s beliefs, stating, “He alone is responsible for his evil actions and desires.” However, it must be recognized that the shooter formed his religious beliefs about sexuality from his church. It is interesting that the church’s statement links together the shooter’s evil actions and desires, without clarifying their meaning. Are they implying that the shooter’s sexual desires that led him to visit massage parlors are on par with his actions—the murder of eight people, murders clearly motivated by sexual shame?
This sort of sidestepping seems to be what the Pentecostal Sisters Too statement seeks to address. By targeting these women, the shooter was reducing them to the status of dangerous objects of desire that threatened his ability to stay pure. This sin was not addressed in the church’s statement. Pentecostal Sisters Too affirms, “Rather than reducing others to their gender or to their sexuality, we should love one another as whole persons, as Christ loved us (John 13:34).” But without changing the theology that informs actions that prove otherwise—actions like the shooter’s—these words are hollow. The statement therefore disavows “proof-texts being exploited to minimize Scripture’s larger witness to the full embrace of all God’s people, regardless of gender.” It also calls for church leaders to “Develop a holistic theology of human sexuality, of the body, and of male and female relations that reflect the holiness to which we have been called.”
I see this statement as a turning point for the Pentecostal movement. Pentecostals are seeking to develop our own theological voice and public witness distinct from evangelicalism, with which we are often lumped. Entrenched anxiety around holiness and the body has kept the movement from developing a holistic theological vision of sexuality. We now have the opportunity not to shrink from difficult questions surrounding gender and sexuality, but to move deeply into that discomfort. By inviting in the voices of those who have been excluded due to these fears, we can hear how the Spirit is calling us to a fuller, more life-giving vision of relational sexual holiness. Let us embrace God’s call.
Faith Van Horne received her Master of Divinity from the Methodist Theological School in Ohio. She is currently a postgraduate researcher in Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham. Her thesis explores how perceptions of selfhood and the body influence theological visions of redemption for survivors of sexual abuse. She also blogs for Red Letter Christians UK.
Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!