#metoo campaign highlights the need for churches to receive additional training

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Suomen teologinen opisto (Finnish theological institute) on 30-31.8 will organize a #turvallinenseurakunta symposium (#safechurch), the goal of which is to prepare and offer tools for building safe churches.
Abuse victims keep it their secret often throughout their lives that they have experienced sexual trauma. The Christian framework may add to the victim’s burden, misconstrue the victim’s perceptions of what happened and cause misplaced guilt, which, in turn, may lead the already wounded individual to believe that she herself was the cause of the abuse or the sin.

The symposium will demonstrate how sexual abuse can continue undiscovered and how the offender may hide in the church pew or pulpit for decades due to systemic or unintentional structural dysfunction.
How should appropriate social rules for behavior in the church be determined? From where do we get the guidelines and tools for church workers who are responsible for creating safe spaces and respecting other people’s roles? How should we approach the individual whose boundaries have been violated?

Symposium attendees will learn what sexual abuse is and why it is important to focus on its prevention. The organizers aim to lead the participants through practice-oriented constructive, factual, research-based dialog about sexual abuse in the church. The theme of the symposium #turvallinenseurakunta #safechurch presumes that sexual abuse and harassment is a reality and, recognized as such, is a preventable phenomenon. In addition to creating systematic and appropriate codes of conduct for organizations, the goal of the conference is also to provide assistance and guidance for abuse victims in their psychological and mental healing process.

Desire to help others rose from own experience

The symposium is led by Dr. Marjo Mitsutomi who has personal experience with sexual abuse.

  • Retelling and reliving my own experiences has been tough, but I have an internal mandate to help others who have experienced the same. I am angry that women’s situation at this day and age is still so poor. Other genders experience harassment as well, but in my case the offenders were all Christian men, or at least, that is what they claimed to be. Among them there were ministers, preachers, men, who had a certificate to proclaim the Word in front of other people. What they did and said, when others weren’t listening, is far from exemplary. I am sure that present were also those who were aware of their actions, but as a young woman I had to carry my secret alone and for a long time, Mitsutomi shares.

Besides Dr. Marjo Mitsutomi, other trainers present at the symposium will be Drs. Tracy Covington, Jerry Platt, Margaret Green and Kurt Bickford, as well as the director of the Free Church of Finland Hannu Vuorinen, youth work director Tommi Koivunen, and the principal of the Finnish theological institute Timo Lehikoinen.

The symposium is designed for Free Church personnel, people in positions of authority, and volunteers, but is open to all who are interested in the topic across denominations. The trainers are psychologists, professors, pastors and other leaders of in the church. The event is bilingual (Finnish and English with simultaneous interpretation) and is organized in cooperation with the Finnish theological institution, the Free Church of Finland, Paiva Inc., the Sisu Advantage and Bickford & Covington Associates.

(Published in Finnish in Suomen Vapaakirkon Viikkolehti 2.8.2018, by Karoliina Leikkari.)

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