Child Sexual Abuse and Institutional Shame in Black Churches

(Pages 7-22)
Cassandra Chaney1 and Juan Barthelemy2

1School of Social Work, 331 Huey P. Long Field house, Baton Rouge, LA, 70803-4300; 2Graduate College of Social Work, 3511 Cullen Blvd Room 340 Houston, TX 77004



Abstract: In the wake of child abuse allegations surrounding Pennsylvania State University and Syracuse University, there has been renewed interest in the ways that organizational structures allow this type of abuse to occur. Within the Black Church, the child abuse allegations against Bishop Eddie Long, leader of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, has led many scholars and members of the lay community to wonder whether the contemporary Black Church has the same relevance as in decades past. The purpose of this paper is to highlight how Black Churches consciously and unconsciously heighten feelings of shame among victims of child abuse and discourage these children and their families from seeking help. We integrate components of Reuben Hill’s [1]. ABC-X model, Derrick Bell’s [2] Critical Race Theory (CRT), and Black Feminist Theory as our foundation. In particular, we offer a theoretical framework that demonstrates and explains suspicion and/or knowledge regarding abuse (A), the resources to which the child and his/her family can rely (B), the meaning that the child and his or her family attributes to the abuse and abuser (C), as well as how race, power, oppression, and church teachings directly and indirectly endorse shame among child victims and their families and maintain and solidify power hierarchies within Black Churches (X). In addition to providing various conceptualizations of shame among victims of child abuse, we define “The System of Black Religious Privilege” and provide recommendations regarding how Black Churches can simultaneously protect the well-being of Black children without sacrificing the primary goals of the Black Church.

Keywords: ABC-X model, African American, black, black feminist theory, children, church, critical race theory, sexually abuse, shame, victimization.