~ T ~
~ T ~
Currently, the Cleason Martin case in Durham Ontario, shows how effective going public with evidence of sexual harassment can be. In the comments (in that link), family members are not covering for him, but are actually asking victims to come forward. (Who does that?! I’ve never seen such a response before! I’ve encountered all manner of extremes of defending perpetrators, even when there were eye witnesses to the crime, but this? All I can say is, good on them!)
My heart is sick for the family – wife, children and grandchildren – but I also applaud those who are taking a stand against their father’s crimes and sins. I try to imagine his wife’s grief, and my heart squeezes a bit tighter… it must hurt like hell, that betrayal. I don’t support or engage in dehumanizing perps, or name-calling, and my heart is never for vengeance or destruction; it is for truth and justice, with mercy. However, I will not judge the family as they go through this process and pick up the pieces from the wreckage of their father’s sins. They need space to grieve and work through the betrayal, and time process their anger without my judgement and without being marked by the father’s sins. (I know this too well. I am the daughter of a pedophile… or child molester, whatever term you choose.)
I am all for exposing perpetrators and their crime. And, seeing how effective this is, I wonder if we couldn’t be quite effective in exposing other perpetrators. Especially upstanding ‘spiritual’ people who align themselves with ministries to look good, and use them to gain access to vulnerable women and girls. They attend events, offer financial support, reach out to hurting girls and women, and then tell how the hurting are flocking to them. They portray a deeply spiritual ‘presence’ and then turn around and make sexual advances. If this is happening to you, or has happened, I urge you to speak out. If you have experienced sexual advances, whether verbal or physical, speak out. If your children have been enticed with money or gifts, be aware that this is predator behaviour. And if you have accepted gifts or money and feel bound to silence about sexual advances or sexual assault, because “surely I am the only one… a slip in the moment… a weakness in temptation”, I urge you to come forward. These are often predators who will sexually violate numerous (or many!) victims, and each one thinks he or she is the only one, because the perpetrator is so spiritual, “surely they wouldn’t…”
Odds are high you are not the only one, but rather one of countless victims.
When confronted, these perpetrators apologize quickly and profusely, desperate to know they are forgiven. This is how they convince themselves they have a ‘pure heart’ and good reputation, that they are good and righteous, even while they continue committing sins and crimes against the vulnerable. They also ask for forgiveness to silence you; if you speak, others will hear about it and their cover is blown, so forgiveness is vital to survival.
Their greatest fear, I believe, is for victims to find each other, though they would never call the people they’ve used ‘victims’; they have so thoroughly convinced themselves there is nothing wrong with what they’re doing. They have convinced themselves, too, that it is but a slip in the moment, too strong a temptation to resist. And, besides, they have boundaries; they would never rape someone. They stop short of rape, seldom (if ever) going beyond groping genitals and fondling breasts or buttocks, or possibly exposing their own genitals. But seldom if ever, do the go to full penetration (aka rape). So it’s not a ‘real crime’. Grabbing breasts, and buttocks and touching… they tell themselves these things are virtually harmless. And by repenting quickly and apologizing immediately, they convince themselves of their own spirituality…. Even if this means repenting several times a day for the same sin with different victims…
They don’t see the suicidal struggles of their victims. They don’t hear the tears cried alone at night. They don’t see the loss of trust in God… The God whom their attackers represented, sometimes weeping with their soon-to-be victims, praying over them, gaining their trust… and then violating them. One… and then the next… and the next and the next…
We, too, are accountable for the suffering and spiritual trauma of these victims.
One victim is too many. But turning a blind eye, time and time again, is inexcusable. Completely inexcusable. If you have been warned about these behaviours, take them seriously.
God has called me to be there for them in the aftermath, and it is a calling I carry at times with trembling, as I watch the deep agony of victims whose hearts are betrayed by those who pretend to represent God.
God forbid that hundreds of people see the signs and turn a blind eye, as victims turn their hearts away from God because we failed to pay attention. That is blood on our hands. I cringe at standing before God one day and giving account for it. It is inexcusable, the silence and ‘overlooking’ – because the abuser came to us weeping and repentant (some, time and time again) and therefore we must forgive. It must stop. That is not repentance. It is manipulation. If you are aligned with such predators, do the right thing. Break the alliance and expose them. God will not bless the alliance, and the cost to you will be greater than you could imagine, if it comes to light.
You are welcome to email me and I will help you. Alternatively, if you’re uncomfortable sharing with me, feel free to ask, and I’ll forward contact information for law enforcement professionals who can help you. I have established contacts in USA and Canada who will offer such support.
In any case, the abuse must best stopped. We are no longer voiceless.
~ T ~
One of the worst things about being sexually assaulted is the power the offender has, both in the moment of the attack and after. Especially if that offender ‘presents well’ spiritually or socially (or both), in which case he/she has even more power, and the word of a victim is easily dismissed. Especially where there is little evidence, or where victims didn’t keep evidence they had, and present with anger and ‘issues’. No one wants to believe that good citizens and spiritual men and women would victimize the vulnerable, so it is easier (less messy) to protect the offender and write off the victim.
And often victims think they are the only ones, but truth is, when offenders self-report, they often have over 100 victims, and the average offender has 117 victims. (To those who only have one or two, for heaven’s sake don’t use this to make yourself feel good. One victim is 100% too many).
If you’ve been molested, raped, or sexually assaulted in any way, report it sooner than later, whether it is rape, sexual groping, perverted phone calls or any other thing that victimized you. The more influential, powerful or ‘spiritual’ the person presents, the more critical this is. The more you fear ‘No one will believe me’, it is especially important to document, as soon as possible and with as much detail as possible. People who do these things should not be in ministry or leadership. And the ‘spiritual’ ones will make it appear as though people are flocking to them in droves for spiritual support, when in reality they manipulate things behind the scenes to entice the victims and then abuse the ones who are most vulnerable. If you are a victim of such a person, odds are high that you are not one, but one of many victims. The average offender has 117 victims. This number is based on self-reporting on how many victims offenders in prison have. Think Larry Nassar. That is highly skilled victimization, and I know of others who are as skilled and still moving through churches but until victims rise up *together*, they will not be stopped. So let’s do this. Document, document, document…
You can do this by:
• Save all communication – screen shots of conversations, emails, copies of voicemail etc, copies of pictures sent etc (Keep *everything* that is evidence.)
• Mailing yourself a letter that is date-stamped. Don’t open it. Store it in a safe place.
• Report it to police, even if you don’t want to press charges. At least it is documented.
• Email someone you trust who will keep if confidential… or even email it to yourself.
And if/when you are ready, report it. If you need help reporting, find a trustworthy support person and do it. If you don’t know of anyone who will support you, email us at https://www.generationsunleashed.com/contact-us, and we will do our best to support you. You don’t have to do this alone. (Where feasible, we will physically have someone present with you as you report. I’ve traveled many miles to support a victim reporting, and if possible, will do so for you, or where we have contacts in your area, will connect you with someone trustworthy and supportive.)
By the time a powerful person becomes your church leader or political leader, if the sexual assaults are not previously documented in thorough detail, exposing it will re-victimize you more likely than it will stop them from moving into power. Or it may do both, and you both lose credibility because there’s no evidence that the assaults were previously documented. And, let’s face it, false allegations do happen, when there is an agenda. They are documented as far back as the story of Joseph in the OT, and by the time people rise to positions of power, they are usually surrounded by those who idolize them and see them as victims of heartless attacks. And in their eyes, you are the villain, fighting with hate and anger against the Kingdom of God, or against the beloved politician or church leader.
So document. Document. Document. Keep a journal. Talk to a counsellor. It is a tragic thing when evil hides behind the guise of goodness (wolves in sheeps clothing, as they are often called in New Testament) and the victims are publicly slaughtered. Jesus has some choice words for this type:
Matthew 23:27-28, 33
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.
28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. […]
33 Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?
The grace of Jesus is great enough for every sinner, but the one who hides sins and crimes behind the cloak of spirituality casts that grace aside and invites condemnation in its place.
Victims, document, report, speak out as you are able. Together we can help stop this madness and crimes against children.
Offenders, I encourage you, don’t hide your sins and crimes. We (the church) have paid a high price for hidden sins among us, and have carried the curse of criminals being applauded and lifted up while victims are shamed and blamed. Just as in Joshua’s day, when innocent men fell dead because of the hidden things under Achan’s tent, many innocent victims today have turned their hearts away from God because of what you did against them, betraying their trust and blaming them. Your hidden sins have pierced the Bride of Christ through with a sword and left her bleeding. I urge you to repent, turn yourselves in, and bring an end to the haemorrhaging church. There is grace for you… there is forgiveness, but you cannot and will not access it as long as you hide behind a facade, and protect yourselves from the consequences while you let those you’ve wronged carry the burden of your sins in silent shame.
~ T ~
Recently, in the middle of a crazy situation involving sexual abuse, it struck me how blessed I am in our marriage. I told Tim that. Again. Our marriage isn’t not perfect, and we’ve had moments of ‘gasping for air’, so to speak, just to get through. Times it felt like we wouldn’t make it. But, thank God for grace, determination, forgiveness and the kind of love that fights through when feelings are weak and life is hard. And thank God Tim is so respectful. I’m blessed.
I’m blessed that with all the sexual perversions I see, that I can still look Tim full in the face and think, “What a sexy man of God!” (And I love his beard!) I add the ‘sexy’ part, not flippantly or even sensually, but because I truly am blessed that God has protected that ‘appeal’ in spite of all the sexual corruption I encounter when supporting victims. That is a real gift, because God intended sex to be a wonderful part of marriage, and I’ve heard of people becoming asexual when working closely with this kind of thing, or becoming so repulsed that it wrecks their marriage. So I am thankful that Tim is every bit as appealing to me today as he was 24 years ago when we made our vows.
The other thing that struck me, though, is that I see men as generally good-hearted, respectful and kind. A compliment gets a thank you. And a man who holds the door open also gets a thank you. There are gentleman in this world, who remember chivalry, and they deserve my respect and appreciation. (I also understand why some men are hesitant to hold the door). Even in my teens, a rebel among other things, I appreciated a sincere compliment. (That said, when compliments were sexualized, I responded with the lift of a finger. Just being honest.) When I think of the men I know and/or encounter, I feel respected and my general perception is that most are not corrupt to the core. I think most struggle sexually, with few exceptions. And those ‘exceptions’ are, no doubt, still tempted but have learned to turn their eyes away. Being tempted doesn’t make a person perverted or evil. It makes them human and dependent on grace. Falling into temptation also doesn’t make them perverted and evil. It makes them human and in need of grace. Excusing such behaviour, that’s a different ball game.)
That all got me to thinking about what it must be like to be a man. A few men in one community, church or club, can make the whole seem perverted and not trustworthy. If a sex predator aligns himself with that church, club or community to gain credibility or access to vulnerable people, then the whole lot become a bit suspect because victims really are not sure about their affiliates. Using those affiliations to gain public trust and respect of people and get access to vulnerable people is pretty low down. Because it makes them well buffered and virtually untouchable, and leaves victims 100% voiceless.
That is, until a few find a voice… and more find a voice and eventually the truth is revealed. But by that time the church, organization or ministry – and especially the other men there – will pay a high price for not having been more discerning and for (apparently) turning a blind eye. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t look the other way. Sometimes they were just too trusting.
Being a man suddenly isn’t that appealing. (In spite of the fact that, as a little Mennonite girl I desperately wanted to be male and thought surely God could still do a miracle and transform me into a male. If he can make babies from scratch, surely turning a girl into a boy wouldn’t be that hard. Boy, am I glad He didn’t, because it would be hard being a male in today’s world.) It isn’t appealing to me, but it is honourable when stewarded well. The strength of character it must take to be a good and honourable man, when those who are brutal and abusive shape how women see you, must be immense… and discouraging. That really struck me. And I thought about men, how I generally view them, and realized that percentage wise, they have a very good track record in my life.
In my ‘close’ experience the greater percentage have been kind, gentle, empowering and value their wives, and respect women in general. And then there is that small percentage who are cruel, controlling, abusive and demeaning. Some with strong religious affiliations and presenting a spiritual image, others with no such claims. But men, in general, are blamed and shamed, because to many victims all men represent what was done to them, so they trust none.
I was blessed. Men invested deeply in my healing. As much, if not more than women. But they played a different role. They didn’t ‘hold me’ to ‘give back’ what had been taken. (That wouldn’t have worked!) Sure, a few of them gave me healthy hugs, but they pointed me to Jesus, to God as my heavenly Papa, for Him to restore that brokenness, rather than trying to be that for me. They showed me I am valuable and worth caring for. They listened, but they let God be my Hero. And most of all they loved and respected their wives and daughters.
So, to every man who is honourable (even if imperfect), to every man who does not take advantage of vulnerable women, and every one who honours his wife and respects women in general… to every one who handles his sexuality well and does not use it against women and children: Thank you. (Even if you struggle and are tempted.) I respect you. You are noble. You are the unsung heroes of our time, and I can only imagine how hard it must be to not bow to shame and defeat on behalf of the abusers. I encourage you, hold your heads up, and don’t give in. We need you. You are the healing many of us need. We see you love your wives and children well. You give us hope for our children and grandchildren.
To honourable men: I am sorry I even need to write the blogs I write, speak out about the abuse…. I’m sorry for how that must, at times, make you struggle with your manhood. Know that I honour you, and I believe there are more of you (by far) in my world than there are abusers. And if I am wrong and you are outnumbered, I honour you yet more.
As always, and with deep honour for these men…
~ T ~
© Trudy Metzger 2018
To everyone who submitted emails via “Behind our Pulpits” website, thank you for your emails. If you would please send an email again as there were technical issues that caused us to lose all contact information and email addresses. (Or simply forward your previous email again to: behindourpulpits (at) gmail (dot) com.
Our goal is not to bring destruction, but healing, hope and accountability. This accountability includes accountability to the laws of the land, and also includes a willingness (even preference for) working with Restorative Justice initiatives where victims voices are heard and included, and where offenders are offered support to help them overcome their addictions and remain accountable to a team of people upon release from prison.
We are not targeting ‘our people’ to destroy anyone (not even the culture), to shame anyone (not even the leaders or the culture), but to give victims who are terrified to speak out a safe place to be heard. The power under which many victims function is suffocating. And in a purity culture of silence, the shame and consequences for speaking out make it all but impossible for victims to break free and find a voice. Advised to take medications (by leaders, family and friends) while held in that silence, is deadly. The spirit dies. The soul dies. The mind goes insane. Or numb. Everything goes numb.
Medications have a place, but they are not the answer, and the number of victims barely surviving, popping pills but speaking to no one, is tragic. It is also unnecessary. If you are a victim, I encourage you to find the courage to speak out. We will support you as much as possible in helping you find the supports you need. Those who want people ‘on the inside’ (leaders and lay people in the conservative Anabaptist church) we can connect you to these leaders. We trust them, and we are confident you can too. Those who wish for support only outside of the culture, we will honour that.
But you need to know, there are conservative leaders (none on our team, as that would prove intimidating for many victims) whom we know are 100% supportive of you and who will fight for you. They are amazing, godly men and women who are real ‘Jesus people’. Yes, in their straight-cut, plain suits, and black hats, and their wives in cape dresses, white coverings and black bonnets… they are there rooting for you and fighting for you. They pray and they care. They don’t ever need to know what you are going through (nor will we disclose your info to them) but you need to know that they are among you. That is true in Ontario, in Ohio, in Pennsylvania, in Virginia and beyond. We are not asking you to trust them, or have any interaction and (it bears repeating) we won’t leak any info to them. But you deserve to know there are those who sit in your pews who bless what we (Behind Our Pulpits team) are doing, as well as the work of Generations Unleashed. (Those who oppose and hate us are repeatedly (and eventually) often exposed for sexual sin and/or hiding it for family or friends.)
God is moving on the inside… He has heard the prayers and cries of many, many wounded and their families, and is keeping His promise in Habakkuk, that he will do a thing that we would not have believed if someone had told us. Early in ministry, a conservative Mennonite woman sent me those verses and said God showed her that in relation to our ministry to victims. I still have her note. And I still believe that God is doing just that.
To this end, I pray…
~ T ~
© Trudy Metzger 2018
“I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men,
with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong.
If there is any presumption it is the other way against holders of power,
increasing as the power increases.
Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility.
Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
~ John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton ~
Victims have long been brutalized by organized religion, and have been silenced. But God…
How I love those words. But God… He is gracious. He is kind. He is loving. He is for the brokenhearted and wounded. And He is a fierce and gentle Warrior. He has no room for abuse and victimization of the vulnerable in His Kingdom. He says He will cast down the arrogant and judge those who abuse their power. Those who do and justify these things are not affiliated with His kingdom. And those who cover these sins and silence victims do not represent anything of the heart of God or the life of Christ.
While God will not hold on forever, He is patient. He is loving. He is the Redeemer. He is the Restorer. And He will give even these offenders opportunity to come clean, to bring their own sins to Light and receive His grace and forgiveness.
But God’s process will not fall in line with the constitution.
He moves in Truth, Justice and Mercy… And He is calling…
But, having deceived many, betrayed many, violated some physically and sexually, and many spiritually, it is not enough for these leaders to fall on your knees and say sorry to God while you continue lying to the public and deceiving them. That is neither repentance nor receiving God’s grace. That is self-preservation. And what abusers try to hide, God will expose… or they will accidentally expose. Most offenders, no matter how skilled, make fatal mistakes in their cover-up plans and God is using those fatal flaws to expose them.
When King David had a man killed so he could have Bath Sheba, he thought he had a pretty good ‘secret’ going on. Shameless murder and the victimization of another man’s wife by the most powerful man in the country. But God…
God sent the Prophet Nathan to expose the sin, and when the prophet spoke, King David got it about repentance. Really got it! He, as king, humbled himself in sackcloth and ashes and let the whole nation know that he had sinned. There were no justifications or excuses. Never did he blame Bath Sheba. (Who was naked, by the way, never mind dressed to constitution standards). He owned his sin so he could give it over to God, and he understood it was his duty to protect her. And that is what we need from these leaders.
God has sent “Nathan” to some of you leaders, a ‘prophet’ to confront your sin, and you have lied, rejected and further covered up your sins and crimes. But God… He will not leave it at that. He’s not done, and the empire of lies is transparent; glass smeared with blood, but there are places exposed. And you still have the opportunity to take ownership for your sins, vindicate your victims, and repent.
Enough with blaming how she dressed. When it’s a male victim, whose fault is it then? (And please not the ‘he/she is troubled line! That’s all the more responsibility on you to protect them!) Enough accusing her of lying when you know the strangle hold of power you have over her and what she had to overcome to even tell one soul. Enough of all else except personal ownership, repentance and seeking help… Let the King David humility rise up…
If you are a spiritual leader (teacher, pastor, ministry leader, boys’ ‘rehab‘ centre support staff, Sunday school teacher, or other) – no matter how conservative or how not conservative – and you have committed sexual crimes and sins, whether against a child, a teen or a woman – I am committed to helping you get the help you need. (Yes, the law will be involved, no I will not keep a secret, but my motive is not destruction and I will walk gently even with you.) You don’t have to carry this to your grave, and your victim(s) surely should not have to! The first email I received from a pastor who had offended early in his life, came unsolicited in 2011 or 2012 from out of country. It was so shocking I fell to my knees and wept, and prayed for him and his victim, and prayed for wisdom. I then coached him through appropriate steps to take. I can tell you this, if you come forward and deal with your sins properly, which includes not covering for yourself or making excuses, you will fare much better than if it gets reported, whether by one, or a hundred and one victims. While I don’t expect a flood of these emails, I welcome them. Send an email here or visit this link and fill in the form: Pastors & Leaders Self-Reporting Sex Offences.
If you are a victim of sex crimes, molestation and abuse at the hands of a church leader or ministry leader in a conservative Anabaptist church, and you feel voiceless, I (and others with me) are committed to supporting you in finding the help you need. I am not a counsellor, and as a mentor I have limited time available, but there are people who can help you. I am committed to supporting as many of you as possible in finding your voice and offering you a place to expose your leaders without your names being made public, and helping you find the support you need. If numerous allegations come against a particular person, you will be contacted to ask if you are willing to have allegations investigated. Your name will not be forwarded to anyone without your consent to do so. If you wish to connect and share your story, please visit this link: I Was Abused By An Anabaptist Church Leader, Teacher or Ministry Worker and fill out the form. (Ministry workers includes any staff at any Anabaptist organizations, whether missions, residential facilities where offenders are sent, schools, Bible schools and all religiously affiliated organizations, whether male or female. I know this is a problem in those organizations). If information submitted is unclear, or vital details are missing, you will be contacted for clarification. You will also be contacted to see ask what support you most need, and we will do our best to connect you with the appropriate people and resources for healing.
If you are a counsellor, police officer, or social worker – or any other professional – wiling to be a resource for victims and/or offenders and are committed to confidentiality (except in the case of crime, risk to self or others, or involving minors), and if you are willing to serve conservative Anabaptist people, please scroll down to the ‘Contact Us’ section of this link: BehindOurPulpits. Before being connected with victims or offenders, to volunteer or offer counseling, someone will check your credentials, and you will need to go through an interview process before you are recommended to these exceptionally vulnerable victims.
As the magnitude of the problem looms before me, I am hopeful that some will do the right thing, and expose their own crimes and face consequences. I am also hopeful that as leaders rise up within who will be like Esther, and as more and more victims come forward and find a voice, those who have hidden behind their facades and the pulpit, will be crowded out of leadership roles by their own sins. As this happens, more and more godly leaders will rise up in their places. And I am deeply hopeful that as a result many victims will find healing, and offenders will find help for their addictions, forgiveness for theirs sins, and face the consequences of their crimes without excuse.
To this end I pray…
DISCLAIMER: This idea was birthed (and discussed publicly) in 2016, through my work with victims through Generations Unleashed and the growing awareness that leaders victimizing their ‘flock’ and denying allegations is too common, leaving the victims with no voice. The information collected will be used to offer support to victims and connect them to resources, to hold offenders accountable, and to work in cooperation with law enforcement as required. The data will not be publicized or used for any other purposes, research or otherwise, without the explicit consent of contributors. All cases involving minors will immediately be turned over to appropriate authorities.
NOTE: I apologize that active support needs to be limited to my conservative Anabaptist culture. There are unique dynamics we deal with as victims in these cultures, and it is the area to which I am called and where I have most connections and am most equipped to help. That said, I welcome your messages, no matter who you are or where you are from, and will do what I can, but cannot commit to helping everyone find resources and support.
~ T ~
One of my favourite things about university has been the freedom to guide my own path in the area of research. Returning to studying after years of experience it was critical that it fit with my work with sexual violence in religious communities. For most projects and all research I chose to look at various aspects of religion and crime – mostly sexual abuse – in a variety of contexts, including Latter Day Saints, Orthodox Judaism, and conservative Anabaptists. I grew up in a series of conservative Mennonite churches – thanks to parents who never found peace in any of the ones we tried – so I am not unfamiliar with the terrain of religion. But I was shocked by the similarities in function between other fundamental religious groups and my background. We are not the only ones structured to protect top leaders.
At first I questioned if it was actually structured that way (on purpose) or if it was merely the inadvertent and inevitable outcome of ultimate power given to bishops and leaders. But after a bit of digging and searching for answers, I concluded some are intentionally structured to make leaders untouchable. Why? I am not certain, beyond the need to make the religious culture look perfect and maintain image. (To see how this plays out in the Orthodox Jews, read Michael Lesher’s: Shonda and Concealment). And then there is this notion that those called to ministry are just a bit more sacred and holy than the rest. Here I would propose that the calling itself may be entirely holy, but the human executing that calling is entirely flawed, completely human and particularly vulnerable to corruption when placed at such a level.
Someone said, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, or something close to that. I would echo that. Power that is accountable to no one is absolute power, and it absolutely is corrupt. No human gets to play God, be untouchable by those they lead, and still stay human and flawed in their own mind. That kind of power leads to grandiose thinking, narcissism and idolatry. When people who follow such a leaders start believing they have a special kind of ‘in’ with God, and maybe it’s okay for them to do things others can’t, rather than exposing leaders’ crimes, we have a real problem. And these were the testimonies of some of the women in the studies I read; rather than exposing crime they saw leaders are having ‘special permission’ from God. This matches what I’ve heard from victims I’ve worked with.
Every spiritual leader and person in ministry I’ve known is prone to failure and sin, myself included. We all have to repent. Every last one of us. Knowing many others, and knowing myself, I have concluded we are all the same. All human, just like you. All sinners saved by grace. We, like the Apostle Paul, do the things we don’t want to do and don’t get done what we want to do. But true leaders do not justify sin and crime in their own lives.
Do away with the pedestals. They are not stable and only stay up as long as people are willing to hold them up. On a pedestal repentance is difficult, as is facing consequences for sin and crime. There’s the fear that if people discover how broken and human we are they will be destroyed by our imperfection and lose their faith in God. Even in this we raise ourselves to a God-like-status. But it’s not truth. They’ll be fine, believe it or not, if they see our humanity. And if they aren’t, the perception of perfection is better crushed. It’s their one hope of replacing leaders with God, and giving God His rightful place.
So how do leaders rise to that place in the minds of (their) people? Because, let’s face it, none are ‘all that and a bag of chips’ once you get to know them. They may be wonderful and nice, and all, but they are human. And I’ve not met one that isn’t somehow selfish, no matter who they desire to be. Me included. We are all human; you and I, and on the same level.
I can’t speak to the ‘how’ of every religious community, but it struck me in my readings for the research I did, that it is a taught and controlled path to the top. A path carefully laid out in the constitutions and rule books, including Anabaptists and Orthodox Jews among others. Of course my ‘knowing’ from experience and observation also gave me insights other ‘outsiders’ wouldn’t see. (Regrettably, I cannot use the material from that research publicly at this time, t is also part of my PhD application package.)
Some church constitutions state that charges or allegations can only be brought against a church leader if there are several witnesses. If there is one thing sex offenders and child molesters know, it is to never leave room for witnesses. The lengths to which they go in planning and scheming, or their skill at taking advantage of the vulnerable person at hand, would leave room for little chance of ever having even one witness, let alone two. They are opportunistic, and have an uncanny ability to sniff out the vulnerable ones who have no voice.
Now take those skills, give them to a revered church leader who knows who is who, and what church families struggles with, and who is vulnerable, insecure, abused (by parents, spouse or teacher etc), and you have a perfect storm. When sex offenders and molesters become preachers and bishops, or ministry leaders, and especially if they have that lovable personality, they have access to victims with a reputation that is well fortressed. Offenders in church leadership are often very charismatic leaders who ‘love’ people, and are loved and worshiped by their followers. They have no need to defend themselves, because they have built their empire so that no one will believe the allegations, and the people will rise to their defence so they need only to sit back and watch as their voiceless victims scramble for someone, anyone to hear them.
These offenders will likely have made certain to have enough trusted relationships with the demographic of their victims who can vouch for them as respectful and safe, to ensure that allegations sound foolish and far-fetched. (For example, students are often shocked when the teacher is caught molesting because the teacher was respectful to most students. The ministry leader or minister who violates the vulnerable wives of the abusive men they help may have the respect of many of the wives of these men, having never made moves or crossed lines, thus making the rest sound ridiculous when they bring forward their allegations. And the leader who molests girls may leave his own daughters untouched, so that the whole family can vouch for him. You get the picture.)
These are skilled criminals, not people who ‘fall’ into affairs in leadership. These are not pastors, bishops and ministry leaders; they are wolves. They are predators. They are power-mongers with lust issues; lust for power and lust for sex. They excommunicate and ostracize those who fail to live up to the constitution, and excuse their own sin. They have no regard for the sacredness of sex and God’s laws, not to mention the laws of the land. They rape, overpower, molest and lust… and excommunicate victims for not being silent. (In any case, if a leader molests or abuses someone, he/she should be removed and dealt with, even if only a one time offence. They are not safe in positions of power.)
The more these allegations against church and ministry leaders come to light, in various communities and churches, the more certain I am that one of the key sources of the larger problem is the result of corrupt leadership. Be that 20% of the leaders, or 50%, or 5%, it’s too many. And, unfortunately, those leaders who are pure of heart genuinely struggle to grasp that a fellow-leader would/could do such a thing, and they too write things off as false allegations made by a troubled church member. This needs to change.
And that leads me to the the next thing in the constitution… The word of a member in good standing, according to some constitutions, is to be taken over that of those who are not in good standing. It takes little imagination to see that sex abuse victims are often very troubled and don’t do ‘constitution following’ very well, making their testimony easy to write off. And those victims who are faithful constitution followers are silent, because that’s what the constitution sets up. Some state that members are to first attempt resolving issues directly with those who wronged them, before going to leaders, meaning victims must first face their offender before seeking help. They further state that once communion has been observed and peace is expressed, a matter is to be considered forgiven and done.
The way these things are structures make church leaders – especially bishops, but also prominent ministry leaders and lay members of good rapport – almost untouchable. And that perpetuates the crimes both at a leadership level and among the people. Almost untouchable…
But God is not done. He will expose. He will bring to light. And He will give voice to victims so that these wolves will be stripped of their facades, and they will stand naked in their sins. And more than giving them a voice He will be their voice and He will speak boldly. And then there will be no constitution to manage damage control. There will be no hiding. The truth will be revealed.
What excites me is that God is raising up leaders ‘among them‘ who will not be silent. Leaders who will not look the other way, and who will hold them accountable and turn them over to the law. These leaders and their wives have reached out to me, internationally, and encouraged me to never quit, never give up… And God is also raising up a network of law enforcement workers across USA who are listening. They are seeing the patterns, the cover-ups and the crime in the name of God.
Reckoning day is coming…
And that doesn’t even begin to account for standing before God with these sins exposed, their covers blown.
Victims have long been brutalized by organized religion, and have been silenced. But God…
(To be continued…)
~ T ~
Tim and I promised each other, twenty-four years ago today, that no matter what, come hell or high water, we would stay and fight for our marriage. Hell has come and the water has risen until it was so deep we had to learn to swim… or float… or doggy paddle; anything to keep our heads above water. We’ve struggled to hold true to those promises in various ways, and multiple times.
Our first baby was born nine months, one week, one day and two hours after that ceremony. (But who’s counting? Especially when eight months and 3 weeks would have raised the eyebrows of more than a few.) In the 6 years that followed, God blessed us with five more healthy children, and carried us through losing two others. We cried. We misunderstood how the other grieves, and at times felt hopelessly lost in this thing we call marriage.
Over the years we both have been in situations at various times that, if we had been so inclined, could have led to infidelity and unfaithfulness. But we communicated and risked opening our hearts to each other. Sometimes it meant one of us seeing the risk the other was in, and sometimes it meant seeing it ourselves and together working through navigating those relationships… and ending them.
We’ve each failed the other. We’ve looked out for our own interests instead of the other. We’ve had to own our wrongs, and say “I’m sorry”. And, when we could have walked away from each other, always we chose to stay and forgive, and support each other.
We’ve had crises and challenges and blessings, all blended together into a sometimes confusing mosaic. But when I step back, I see beauty, love and grace. We’ve hurt each other and been disappointed, and wondered if we’d make it through. Yet we’ve never, even in the hell of life, stopped loving. Even in our ‘fights’ – such as they tend to be with both of us not liking conflict – we have kept our love alive. (Yes, you can be angry and love someone. You can hurt deeply, and love them. And you can look at them and say “I still love you… I just can’t keep doing life this way”.)
I am, by nature – or maybe because of past experience – a hedgehog with rhino tendencies. I extend grace, and more grace, and more grace, and then something tips the building blocks neatly stacked, and it all comes tumbling down. And when it all erupts, we haven’t much choice but to stumble through the mess on the floor and work through it. Tim is, by nature, a hedgehog. That’s how we did the first ‘many’ years of marriage, as two hedgehogs – one with rhino tendencies.
Gradually we have learned (and are learning still) that if we talk about things as they happen – which we have done times since all hell broke loose nearly two years ago -things are so much better. When I’m cranky, I take inventory about what’s happening to my heart. Sometimes it’s just hormones. (Seriously! this middle-aged stuff…!) But it’s not all bad. As my naturopath Dr. Jim Farquarson told me, it’s a time when God invites us to the past and heals a lot of stuff that we’ve ignored. (Okay. I can do that!) Sometimes when I’m feeling hurt it is the result of a subtle little thing that I’ve decided ‘isn’t a big deal’ because I want to be mature. Many times that works and such grace is good. But sometimes, if it lingers, the best thing for me to do is to tell Tim. I’ve learned that often if I tell him, it breaks that negative power, and it’s over “just like that!” with the little things that build up and cause explosions. So we have less and less ‘Mt. St. Helen’ moments in our marriage all the time, and more peace.
Through it all, we’ve never stopped holding and loving each other. Sure, a few times there were several days of space and distance while we sorted ourselves out, but rarely did that stop us snuggling, even if in silence, and often falling asleep in each other’s arms. That intimacy of physical closeness – with or without sex – has been critical to us thriving. (Please understand, Tim has never violated me physically or sexually. Not in word, not in deed, not in an affair, and not by using pornography. This deeply impacts my trust in physical touch. He has hurt me in other ways, but not sexually. If that is your marriage, I encourage you to seek help. And, in any case, please don’t compare with us. Every story is different.)
Our closest friends have seen our struggles, and I’m thankful for that. I don’t know if we’d have survived if we had kept it all secret. (Special thanks to these closest friends who knew the battles and loved us anyway. In part it is thanks to you we survived those times and came out thriving!) I’m good with confidentiality, but I’m not good at ‘hidden things’ and ‘secrets’, so having safe places to process hurt and anger has been a lifesaver for me, and for us. Twenty-four years later, I spend my life with my best friend because we pushed through those struggles, and are pushing through still.
Tim, you are my best friend. I can imagine my future a thousand different ways and be excited about it. From continuing in our ‘extraordinary ordinary’ life… to pursuing my PhD (scared as I feel at moments), or being rejected from the PhD program… From staying where we live now, to downsizing as our family continues to shrink… I can imagine staying home more, or working a 9 – 5 job, or pursuing my current line of work more – or some variation of it….
I can imagine my future a thousand and one different ways and be excited. But I cannot imagine a future without you… without my heart breaking.
You are my best friend, my lover, my constant support. In the past two years you have carried me through deep loss and grief. When my heart was so crushed it physically hurt to breathe, you held me. I don’t cry easily, even when life hurts like hell, but in your arms the tears unlock and I am comforted by your love. You have healed me and built confidence in me. You’ve showed me that amazing men exist; men who don’t worship sex, porn and control. (And as I said last week… thank you for staying away from that stuff. In this you honour our marriage so well, and spare me the shame and betrayal many women feel.)
Because of you I generally view men as trustworthy in spite of my past, and because of you I feel respected by all men. You have taught me the stability of faithfulness through the certainty of your love. You call out my strengths, you challenge, you encourage and above all, you bless me. You have learned to fight for me… for us. And you have, in all of these things, showed me the heart of God. Because of you, I trust Him with all that I am… because you have showed me that He is trustworthy. Your faithfulness replaced fear and terror of Him, with love and trust, and helped me see that He adores me.
And if next week some hell hits, or the crick begins to rise, we will paddle and swim and float… And we will fight our way forward. I love you, with all my heart! Happy 24th Anniversary!
~ T ~