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Our History

A brief history of FaithTrust Institute

It was 1976. Jimmy Carter was president and Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune was fresh out of seminary. Rev. Fortune had been ordained in the United Church of Christ to a “specialized ministry,” a ministry outside the local church, to address sexual and domestic violence within the church. Although she had no idea what that would look like, her volunteer work at Seattle Rape Relief had made it clear that someone needed to initiate the conversation. She often received calls from women who, when they learned she was a pastor, would begin to explore their spiritual concerns: “Why did God let this happen? Do I have to forgive the rapist? Does God still love me?”

Concurrently, Rev. Fortune was serving a small rural church near Seattle and would sometimes talk about her volunteer work at Rape Relief and her concerns about sexual violence. In most large groups, the response was silence, discomfort and “Can we talk about something else?” In one-on-one time with congregants, however, disclosures of past experiences gradually began to come forth.

Rev. Fortune’s instincts were clearly correct. An early survey of clergy revealed that over 70% did not know of a single resource for victims of sexual or domestic violence. Even though Rev. Fortune knew that most clergy had the best intentions, she shuddered to think what they did offer to those victims who had the courage to disclose.

Rev. Fortune knew then that the church was unprepared to talk about sexual assault and that the sexual assault programs were unprepared to talk about religion. Yet somehow, both intuitively knew that these conversations needed to happen.

An idea began to take shape: Rev. Fortune wanted to train clergy to respond to sexual assault when their congregants were victimized. She went to the City of Seattle’s Rape Reduction Project office and told them her idea. Amazingly, they told her that just that week they had been talking about how to reach clergy in the Seattle area. They recognized that religious leaders were an important part of community response and prevention, but they didn’t know how to go about reaching them.

FaithTrust Institute was beginning to be born. Rev. Fortune knew that Seattle was a good place to try this experiment. In the early 1970s, Seattle was on the cutting edge of developing direct services for victims of sexual assault and abuse. With basic direct services in place, she knew she could focus on education and prevention within the religious community.

Before long, Rev. Fortune secured support from United Presbyterian Women and she began to train local clergy. That was the extent of her vision at the time: train the clergy of metropolitan Seattle to understand sexual assault and to refer to community resources.

In 1979, as the initial project to train local clergy was drawing to a close, the US Department of Justice approached the group to develop a pilot project to initiate work in rural communities addressing domestic violence, using the churches as the base of organizing. This notion was based on a recognition that rural communities relied on churches as an institutional base for leadership. So with federal funding in place, training in five areas of the US began. From this effort, FaithTrust Institute’s basic training model was developed - the same model we still use today. And the project worked. We began to see the possibilities of national work and the potential leadership in local communities and in national denominations.

Thirty-five years later we are still here. We continue our efforts, even as we have seen change happen. Some denominations have made significant commitments to addressing sexual and domestic violence. Secular advocates have begun to appreciate the importance of having religious leaders at the table when discussing local communities and national strategic planning. The long-simmering crisis of sexual abuse by clergy, which began to emerge in the 1980s, is out of the closet and not going back into hiding.

Possibly the most exciting development in the past fifteen years has been the expansion of our interfaith work at FaithTrust Institute. With our support, strong leadership has emerged in Jewish communities to address both domestic violence in Jewish families and sexual abuse by rabbis. In many Muslim communities, men and women leaders are breaking silence about domestic violence and leading their communities to address this reality. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops continues to encourage parishes to address domestic violence, even as they struggle to respond to the need to make parishes themselves safe places, and Roman Catholics in these parishes take the lead. Evangelical Christians from many groups are pressing forward to name sexual and domestic violence as realities within their churches and to confront the misuse of scripture to justify these evils. Additionally, the Jains have begun to examine the issue of domestic violence as something from which they are not immune and Buddhist teachers are raising the issue of abuse by spiritual teachers and seeking ways to hold their colleagues accountable.

Over the past 35 years, our work has shown us that abuse touches all of us regardless of our race, class, age, sexual orientation or religious affiliation. FaithTrust Institute has become a catalyst within religious communities -- teaching, urging, challenging, and supporting leadership to address sexual and domestic violence, two of the most persistent social ills of our time.

Today, FaithTrust Institute is a leader in training and education efforts around sexual and domestic violence in the context of faith and spirituality issues. We offer a comprehensive menu of services and products to address these issues, including intensive in-person trainings, webinars, books and DVDs, online trainings, and customized consultations.

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