Nearly 20 percent of women report being raped in their lifetimes, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control. With the prevalence of sexual violence against men, women and children in our society, it is becoming an issue that churches are seeking to approach with understanding and empathy.

Mennonite Central Committee will offer a series of free webinars entitled “Sexualized Violence and the Church” beginning in April for churches wanting to learn more about how to address sexualized violence within their congregation, and how to encourage healthy sexuality and healthy masculinity among members.

“This kind of work falls within our peace and justice work,” said Karin Kaufman Wall, who works in peace and justice education for MCC out of the organization’s North Newton offices. “Addressing sexualized violence is an important thing.”

Katherine Goerzen, co-pastor of Tabor Mennonite Church in Newton, will speak alongside Benjamin Reynolds, pastor of First Church of the Brethren in Chicago on “Healthy Sexuality in Our Congregations” from 2 to 3 p.m. on April 11.

Wall noted Goerzen’s experience includes teaching a series on healthy sexuality at Tabor Mennonite Church. Goerzen and Reynolds will focus their program on what role the church can take to nurture and support healthy views of sexuality. 

While participants can choose to view one or all of the webinars, Wall said pastors’ voicing a lack of resources for how to address sexuality in their churches led to the “Healthy Sexuality in Our Congregations” portion being offered first.

“There was quite a number of people who said, ‘we don’t know how to talk about healthy sexuality, let alone unhealthy sexuality,” Wall said.

Cyneatha Millsaps, MCC Great Lakes program director and pastor of Community Mennonite Church in Markham, Illinois, and Silvia Rios, West Coast MCC office coordinator and police chaplain, will present “Sexualized Violence – How Should Churches Respond?” from 2 to 3 p.m. on May 9.

“There could be practices put in place that are healthy,” Wall explained.

“Sexualized Violence – How Should Churches Respond?” will address issues from providing a safe place for children and adults to worship and interact to aiding victims of sexual violence with resources for healing.

“On many different levels, our churches have been a source of harm, if we can just be honest about it, instead of a place of healing, justice and clarity about what is right and what is wrong,” Wall said.

The webinar will also touch on how some churches are taking a role in restoration of those who perpetrated sexual violence through accountability.

“When leadership is the cause of the violation, that’s extremely complex,” Wall said.

“Healthy Masculinity” will be the topic of the final webinar, presented from 2 to 3 p.m. June 13. Glen Guyton, Mennonite Church USA executive director, and Isaac Villegas, pastor of Chapel Hill (North Carolina) Mennonite Fellowship, will speak on how the church can prepare men to talk with their sons about masculinity and what to tell them about sexual violence.

“Sexualized Violence and the Church” is free and open to anyone who wishes to view the webinars.

“Some of it will be directed towards folks in leadership in church, but everyone is encouraged to participate,” Wall said. “It’s been important to connect ecumenically.”

Recordings of the webinar will be available on MCC’s website about two weeks after the presentation date. Plans for a similar series this fall are in the works.

For more information about the “Sexualized Violence and the Church” webinars, call 316-283-2720 or visit https://mcc.org/learn/more/we-will-speak-out.

Contact Patricia Middleton by email at pmiddleton@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.