I promised that when rumours/questions with faulty information come forward, I will publicly respond. So far I’ve done that. But I need to withdraw that, going forward, after keeping my commitment this final time…
I can say in good conscience that I have never intentionally misled, or told anything less than truth. I have tried to speak only to that for which I hold evidence. When I failed, I owned it.
About cutting communication:
Received August 8, 2018, this is the email that I initially interpreted as cut communication, without explanation, or any indication as to why:
About a week later – before I shared with anyone besides Tim, a mentor, two pastors and wives – and before their letter arrived — I received messages saying that Jeremy Sensenig had told several people ASAA cut me off. Only then did I speak out, and I did so publicly, and only then did I call it ‘cutting’ communication… because that is what ‘they’ were saying.
Here are the screenshots of the one of those conversations. It was shocking, to say the least:
On August 22, 2018: I received the ‘statement’ they promised :
(Tim and I both would love and explanation (with or without evidence) as to what ‘personal communication’ I shared, besides the blog about ‘cut communication’ on October 14 – which you will note is the day those text messages came in, making it the third witness that Jeremy was spreading it, and several others were talking about it.)
They invited me to respond to their letter, but gave no indication that other communication was welcome.
Odd too, how I brought forward concerns, for which I hold the evidence, and they started trying to control me. But, then again, they are a band of Anabaptist men… I am an ex-Mennonite woman.
I did respond:
Until they cut communication (and I feel like I have to remind readers that their board member first called it that), I trusted them. After the letter came, remaining trust shattered. Because of my ongoing trust in them, and at the same time my determination to hold their toes to the fire, I lost most people on both sides, leaving me rather isolated. (Also why I thank God I’m back in school, where encouragement and support and teamwork exist.)
Hearing they now deny that communication was cut is… well, it just feels like another form of gaslighting…. much like when the message came from their Chair, saying that I had it all wrong about D’s confession that was orchestrated by a group of men, without any clarification about what the truth was/is. A day later the author admitted he was involved in constructing the confession, and gave an excellent explanation. (Albeit, his advice was disregarded, so he just helped with a bit of the wording). And then a day or two later I heard he had shared at an event that he was part of ‘shutting Trudy down’, and when I confronted him about it, he admitted he may have come across as pleased about it – because he thought I needed to be shut down.
Even after that… I trusted. And I mean, I really trusted. One “I’m sorry”, and I’m back in the race with that person.
I would have been the perfect abuser’s wife. Especially to someone who gaslights. At least until my mind snapped. (Because even now, having posted proof, I question my own mind. For that reason I have to run like hell is after me, or this thing will consume me and destroy more than just me and my faith in God.)
Sadly, if this whole mess had been properly addressed in a timely manner, and with open communication, we wouldn’t be in a position of still having this hanging over our heads, like a tonne of rocks, waiting to crush hundreds, if not thousands of people, in some way.
Maybe God will still redeem … somehow… even if it feels like hell… and I’ve lost most of that faith, and see no good can come from the blood on this ground on which I will die (figuratively)…
Only those who have ever pulled the cover off a nest of rattlesnakes and poked – intentionally, or believing it was something else – know the venom they hold…
It all but kills you, that experience.
And that’s if it ends well.
I hope it ends well.
Because I promised, I am posting this blog.
But, honest to God, I cannot take any more gaslighting. For the first time in all this hell, I regret speaking out. I am finished. I have lost… too much….
Faith, like a mustard seed, Someone once said, is enough. But if that mustard seed gets stomped on by those you trusted… Is a crushed mustard seed still enough?
The plot thickens, more like cream gone sour, surprising the coffee drinker with curdles, than like clotted cream, the essential companion to British scones. The latter is delightful and delicious, especially when topped with jelly. The former is unpleasant and disappointing…. the coffee you don’t bother finishing.
To think, when we learned that others knew about the break-in and did the blog on it, that I thought I was ‘closing the door’ on an impossible situation, having given up on any element of acknowledgement or apology for the real victims. I wanted to return to university without this hanging over my head. Now, here we are, with not a shred more hope of that apology, and new information coming forward.
It is unfortunate, the way this most recent story has shaken out… Several people have continued insisting they knew of the break-in, and one spoke out prior to me writing about it, yet no one owns up to having told it. Mystery among mysteries, I say. So that’s the way that part of the story ends. At least for now,. Or maybe for always.
Rather anti-climactic, in my opinion, and left with too many questions, with no hope for a sequel to provide answers. I’m letting that part go, completely, as there is absolutely nothing I can do, or feel I should do.
On September 6, I was asked by Steve Stutzman to remove the blog addressing this whole mess about the break-in, because “it in fact contains quite a bit of error, even outside of me”. Tim asked if that means it is true there was an actual break-in, and Steve said it appears there was. My response was that I don’t see how removing the conversation will help, when there is a buried crime (or crimes) here. Breaking into a business is a crime, and even the law has a ‘right way and a wrong way’ to obtain evidence, so asking for a bit of accountability seems justified. And not reporting so that the lawbreakers are dealt with – if the law sees fit – is also a crime. And producing child porn and sex trafficking – if those allegations hold any water – are both crimes. (Of course one is bad crime, and the other ‘good’ crime, as measured by some.)
So I responded to Steve with some of my questions and said I need some answers about what really happened. I need something to explain this crazy story I was told by the ASAA member… Because it was told to me by a leader who told me to never to speak of it, and now I am left to hold the poop bag, not knowing for sure if it is dinosaur poop or dog pop, or 100% pure angus bull. I think the least that is owed to those of us who were told some version of this scenario is some kind of explanation – reasonable or not – that tells the truth. That’s what I said – in different words, because I know there was more than a little smoke, and convincing me there is/was no fire isn’t going to happen.
To his credit, Steve responded to my questions by sharing what he knows, or thinks he knows. So I decided to do a blog to tell the ‘rest of the story’ that we know to date, as told to us by Steve, and this time we have screenshots of the conversation. (Since we are not able to communicate with the ASAA member, we cannot verify it with him.) Steve was respectful, and responded candidly… And if it turns out these bits are wrong, well… Try to think of it a bit like a ‘play by play’, because, honestly, the silence of the ages has become deafening, and the lumps under the carpet from past incidents that have allowed time to lapse until everyone gives up… those lumps stink to high heaven.
So, in good faith that what Steve shared is true, I am offering this update.
But first some wonderments…
Thinking back to May 27, 2018, what was the point of the ASAA member telling me the story of the break-in in the first place, but not with enough detail for me to report or do anything? No business name. No exact location. Just a story of a small handful of Mennonite men taking the law into their own hands. The story details all enthusiastically told, but being careful not to say who the players were, or where. The men in that car… the men who went in… full gear and all carefully orchestrated. The alarm, and the crunch time for escaping, so as not to get caught.
It was what he didn’t say, though – especially avoiding names – that left the immediate impression he was involved at the time of the break in, rather than after the fact as it turns out. (It is easy to get lost in a story with multiple characters and no names.) That missing identifying information in such an intense story, I reckon played a role in convincing me that he was actually involved at the time of the initial crime. That impression was so strong, in fact, that I called my husband after that conversation and told him this guy is no ordinary Mennonite… he was part of a break-in, and said how these guys wanted to retrieve evidence that the business owner was producing child porn and/or involved in sex-trafficking. One of the things that made me realize the role this lack of information would have played, was trying to tell the details to a gentleman in PA this week, who is a truth warrior. I went over all the information I have, walked through it, and for the pieces where I was not allowed to use names, or did not have names, it became very hard to track. So I leave room for that having played a role, and that he did not intentionally lead me to believe he was part of the actual break-in… (However, he did become involved after the fact, according to Steve, and I will get to that).
And then, having heard the story from the ASAA member and shared it with Tim on the phone, I forgot about it… The story didn’t resurface in my memory until August 2018.
(Being completely candid, if I could please, and jumping on a bunny trail to keep a promise… It resurfaced after I read the letter from ASAA, August 22, 2018. Processing the content, my first thought probably was something like, “Nice poop sandwich”, the way they had written nice things and thank you, then went on to make it very clear that I had done things wrong that collided with their good way of doing things. For example, I am too public, but they failed to acknowledge that their board member told a reporter to contact me. So one of my next thoughts was, “You hypocrites!! Judge me for speaking publicly, but one of you directed a reporter to me!“
Later I thought, “You judge me for doing the right thing the wrong way, but you are involved and covering for a break-in!” And that’s what I’ve thought ever since. I still do. Yes, believe me, when I read that letter, every inconsistent bit floated to the surface. I’ll spare the analogy that comes to mind, but somewhere in there I lost all hope of truth and justice having any place in this story. It doesn’t take four months to get to a place of saying, “BTW, there is no investigation and the ‘outside person’ is not here for that.” And all the while, I genuinely believed it was happening, and defended them out of pure trust. And all the while people warned me, and I encouraged them to have a little faith. To some of you I promised I would admit if I was wrong, and I would do so publicly. I was wrong. The letter did not come through with the assurance that they would do the right thing with the information. In fact, that part wasn’t even addressed in the closing communication. It never has been, other than leading me to believe they were doing something with it. It has taken me weeks since the letter to process that shock, but what many of you predicated would happen, indeed has. I’m sorry I tried talking many of you into trusting the process. I was wrong when I assured you that, based on what they told me, they would respond thoroughly and quickly. And, on that note, the ASAA member told me not to let him/them take over the situation unless I want action, “because I am an action man”. That was May 27. It is September 8 today. Still nothing.)
But back on track…
One big unanswered question, for me, has been, “Just what was the ASAA member’s role in all of this schmozzle?” In part, that question was answered by Steve, who told us what he had learned about the ASAA member’s role.
According to Steve, the ASAA member was brought in after the fact for a purpose that was not disclosed; a purpose Steve said he did not know. Nor was it disclosed by whom that person was brought into the story, or how soon after the incident. However noble the intent may or may not have been, the law was still broken, and crimes still went unreported. The break and enter was not reported. And the suspected trafficking and child porn production was not reported. So God only knows what children have been put at risk since then, all because of illegally obtained photo-shots of the alleged crime scene, and an alleged download of a hard drive were not turned over to the law.
Assuming Steve’s intel is accurate, then there was, in fact, a break-in. And what could he possibly gain from giving me faulty intel in writing so that we have proof he said it? He knows now I will make public whatever needs to be made public to end this abuse of power, and abuse of women and children. It would be particularly foolish in such a high profile mess to speak what is not truth in such a format that it can be produced as hard evidence of its source. That said, I can’t rule it out, but I lean towards believing these details.
The comfort is that no one conjured the information about the break-in out of thin air. (And, believe me, after the gaslighting earlier on, and the cut communication, and some of the other stuff that happened, it can mess with the mind and leave you wondering if the whole thing is just a nasty nightmare.)
Based on what I was personally told, May 27, the break-in did involve at least some Mennonite/Anabaptist men. What business it was has never been disclosed to me, but according to the ASAA member’s account of it on May 27, the business owner accused of having incriminating evidence in his office was also some sort of Mennonite/Anabaptist.
The reason the alleged evidence of the suspected sex trafficking and suspected child porn production was left unreported was because these menwent in illegally to get that evidence.
That answers a few questions. And it creates an awful lot of new ones, but I am leaving those for the law to look into. There may, or may not be any more updates as it’s hard to say if ever I will get any more information, or how reliable such information will be, unless the law finds something and acts on it.
It’s a bummer, the way this all came flying down the pipe, and not being able to communicate with ASAA, creating that tough spot of needing to make a call; to be silent or speak out when there is no other way to communicate but publicly, and then find out that a) the story indeed proves to be accurate – or – b) the smoke leads to a fire, and it is accurate info – or – c) the smoke did indeed lead to a fire, but not the fire you thought you had on your hands. It turned out to be the latter. There was a fire, and while it’s similar to the one we thought, there are some aspects that are different, and some that absolutely cannot be proven one way or the other.
In a nutshell, allegedly the ASAA member (according to Steve Stutzman) was asked to get involved, and had knowledge of the break-in after the fact, for an unknown purpose. (We do not know if more than one member of ASAA knew of this incident.) This involvement may have been to ‘help’, but it didnot include reporting the break-in or the alleged sex-trafficking/child porn production to the law. (I reiterate, the ‘not reporting’ is according to the ASAA member’s conversation with me, May 27, when I asked if it was reported). There is a legal term for having knowledge of a crime and not reporting it. But in church we call it coverup. In this case I’d be particularly interested in knowing how it was justified, if not to protect those who committed the crime, because the involved leader represents an organization that public states the importance of reporting.
But, frankly, with that said, I am far more concerned about the fact the business owner was not reported, and the proof/evidence – whatever word you want (namely, incriminating photos taken at the scene. If someone has the – whatever it takes – to break into a business to retrieve evidence of a crime, and wants that crime dealt with, then said person better have the integrity and honour to face the consequences for the crime they committed in obtaining that evidence. And if I stand for reporting child abuse, then I better also report suspected sex trafficking and child porn production. Especially if I’m going to judge someone else as “doing the right thing the wrong way”. I am weary of the hypocrisy. And I hope these men will be forthcoming with the law and tell the whole story, the whole truth. There might be consequences, but it would restore a bit of faith in humanity for many of us.
Because if we can’t work with truth, to the best of our knowledge and ability, and be consistent with reporting, rather than selective, and if we don’t have the character to say, “I really blew it and I’m sorry” – and then face the consequences – then what have we got? We have a god-complex deciding who is guilty and who is not, and we certainly don’t believe in reporting.
And that is a good segue to my next thought…
Publicly and privately I have been challenged as to why I would apologize to someone so powerful as Steve Stutzman. The answer is quite simple. Because I was wrong. I don’t need to ponder, debate, negotiate or wonder if that is the right thing. When I am wrong, I own it. If I did not own it, I would be a hypocrite among hypocrites, because from the start the thing I have asked for is that the men involved in this ‘story’ own their wrongs/crime, apologize to the public, and face whatever the consequences might be. I have no right to ask such a thing if I do not first exemplify it. That’s why I apologized. I was wrong, and I try to be consistent and lead by example.
The hardest part in it all wasnot the oversized serving of humble pie. It was watching as the victims of sexual assault, lewd phone calls, name-calling, gaslighting (not referring to myself), and more — who, to date, have not been appropriately acknowledged by any of the men involved in this tragic event – suffer through the neglect to address the concerns. Their trauma has not been appropriately acknowledged by the perpetrator of the sexual assault and lewd phone calls, it has not been appropriately acknowledged by Steve, and the further wounding that they went through (in some of the responses) has not been appropriately acknowledged either. Not by any of these men.
The true victims have received no sincere apology for what they have been through, and have suffered anxiety, nightmares, suicidal ideations, and more. They watched as I apologized publicly for passing on information I had in a “they said he said” situation, when they got no apology. There is no justice in that. They watched as leaders became the victims in the story, while they were judged for their anger, and uncomfortable cry for justice.
That, for me is the hardest part. To watch as the real victims in the scenario are, once again — and as tends almost always to happen — overlooked and disregarded. I have read and studied and worked with too many cases to miss the consistent pattern going on here. It makes me ill.
Until that changes, and leaders rise up and apologize to the victims — and dare I add, in a timely manner — and do so on their own behalf for not doing more to protect, and on behalf of the offenders, until then we can kiss change goodbye. Until then we can definitely count on a new and more whitewashed manner of doing the same old thing.
In this holding pattern we continue to idolize leaders without question, build them pedestals and cushion them, while allowing victims to be oppressed, disregarded and judged. Offenders continue to avoid consequences – at least those offenders whom leaders protect. And that is true of those offenders in any criminal activity. And we continue to live as though we are above the law.
I , for one, want no part of it. I will continue to own my wrongs, but I sure as blazes won’t apologize because I make people uncomfortable. We are way past needing comfort. We need raw repentance from the top down. And I’m talking ‘in action’, not lip service. Any one of us can do the latter.
Living it out consistently is a very different thing. And that I have yet to see happen by the truly powerful religious leaders with image to protect. Just have not yet seen it. And I regret that. In fact, I would dare say it isn’t possible as long as image and power are involved.
On that note,
And as always…
As I close this chapter of life… or maybe the end of ‘this book’… You are in my heart and my prayers…. I care especially about the unacknowledged and true victims in this story, who remain badly neglected. For this, I am very sorry, and I carry that grief with me.
EDIT: (Since posting this and the previous blog, I discovered several websites doing the same thing we started here. As a result, and since there is no good reason for a few of us to do the same thing, I am updating the info for reporting abusers. Please forward all requests to the contact info here: https://www.themaplist.org/#contact and check out the list already started here: https://www.themaplist.org/the-map-list/. This group is posting publicly, which we were not prepared to do.)
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 to suffer in silence. 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, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, 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 the work we are doing, as Generations Unleashed. (Those who oppose and hate people who work with sexual violence in the church are often (eventually) 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.
“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.
If you are a victim of sex crimes, molestation and abuse at the hands of a church leader or ministry leader in a Mennonite/Anabaptist church, there is a place to report and make public these crimes. (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). EDIT: (Since posting this and the previous and next blog, I discovered several websites doing the same thing we started here. As a result, and since there is no good reason to duplicate efforts, I am updating the info for reporting abusers. Please forward all requests to the contact info here: https://www.themaplist.org/#contact and check out the list already started here: https://www.themaplist.org/the-map-list/. This group is posting publicly, which we were not prepared to do.)
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 email us here at Generations Unleashed. Before being connected with victims or offenders, to volunteer or offer counselling, 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 of exposing offenders 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. Any information collected through Generations Unleashed 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. All cases involving minors will immediately be turned over to appropriate authorities. It is the responsibility of each individual to be informed as to how The Map List will handle information sent to them.
Denominational barriers, in my opinion, are a bit like a certain proposed wall between USA and Mexico; we build the wall, and the other side pays. We’re in; they’re out. It’s a divisive ‘us v/s them’ mentality, when ‘denomination-as-an identity’ is what we focus on, rather than focusing on Jesus, and rather than blessing our neighbours who also focus on Jesus, but do it differently. That said, I’ve read several strong ‘anti-denomination’ articles and comments ranging from general anti-denominational rants to calling all use of denomination identifiers demonic, to healthy questioning. (Observation would tell me that those who are totally anti-denomination, are very ‘pro-my-belief-system’ and create the same barriers without the denomination name associated.) And it all made me think below the surface of this problem.
Isn’t the real issue from Whom/whom, or what we draw our spiritual identity? Is it from a denomination? From a leader? (dead or alive) Or from any other person or thing other than Christ? To whom do we look for validation and affirmation? Denominations are an unnecessary thing in and of themselves, granted, but I’d hesitate to call them demonic, as there’s no biblical evidence, nor current evidence that they are. But there’s plenty of evidence that they can be problematic. And that problem is old as the idea of Christianity and church. “I am of Paul, I am of Apollos…” they said in Corinthians, and Paul corrected them, to bring it back to Christ, and that is something that popularly ‘followed’ or ‘idolized’ spiritual leaders sometimes fail to do, as they watch their ‘tribe’ grow in strength in support of them, lifting them up rather than bringing it back to the simple gospel of Jesus. Good spiritual leaders will turn that ‘lifting up’ back to Jesus, not in false humility, but humbly accepting thanks and redirecting glory to God. Less than stellar spiritual leaders will absorb that ‘idolatry’, and as their name grows, the shift happens from Jesus to a person. (I would know… I’m “MENNOnite” by cultural birth, which wouldn’t be a big deal if it wasn’t a spiritual identity.) And as that name grows and ifthe identity becomes about a person or a set of beliefs held by that person, rather than about Jesus, divisions are inevitable. But the problem isn’t about the name, it’s about the position it is given, and the division it causes in the body of Christ.
That divisiveness is not good. But it goes deeper than denominational name, doesn’t it? Is the root not a baser thing than that? A thing of selfish ambition and fear of losing position if we don’t feed and absorb that place of being held high, or having our beliefs held high… even higher than Christ? We forget that the ‘positions’ we are given in spiritual leadership are sacred callings, and they are servant-hood; an invitation by God to do His work, and when He has called, He preserves our calling if we trust Him and humbly turn the hearts of people to Him. This is gracious spiritual leadership, honouring ‘the Christ’, whether with denominational ‘titles’ or not. And I have known men and women of great ‘position’, wealth, and wisdom, who have walked humbly with their God, and whose names hold significant ‘presence’ when referenced, yet always they hold their hands up, redirecting to Jesus, the worship, as did Peter and Paul on the streets, as told in Acts 14. These are men and women of various denominations, or no denominations at all, but they are true heroes of faith, and true spiritual leaders. Because spiritual leaders always lead the way to God; they are never an end in themselves.
I will grant it, I don’t like the whole ‘denominations’ thing much, and find it particularly unnecessary as a frame of reference as to what ‘kind’ of Christian I am. I’m either the Jesus kind, or I’m not one at all. But I can extend grace for the idea of it, because it dates back to the beginning of the church, from what I can tell, though often associated with cities, and now associated with beliefs. I don’t think it will keep people out of heaven, so I come back to the argument that strong labeling or condemnation of denominations seems a bit over zealous.
Revelation addresses unique church identities well, pointing out that each has something to offer, but with areas of deep need for transformation. So I question whether ‘ridding the world of denominations’ is the answer, or even possible. Rather, tearing down the invisible divides we create by holding high our own positions, or this person or that one, rather than lifting Jesus high… now that’s a mission I’m into. Because when Jesus is lifted high, people are drawn to Him. And when He is invited in, the demonic flees and people are made whole and the body of Christ is made whole, not divided. We humans tend to focus on solving a problem so the Christ can be portrayed accurately and we try to rid ourselves (or each other) of the demonic to invite Jesus in, but the reverse is the answer most times; when Jesus is invited in, the darkness scatters. Darkness cannot exist in the light. And Jesus does not fear that darkness. In His darkest hour, He opened His arms wide, welcoming the whole world into grace.
And that’s the problem with us… We tend to cross our arms and close our hearts, but Jesus opened His arms wide, and His heart wider. If we stop ‘fixing the problem’, and rather invite a broad shift in focus away from the denominations that exist, and away from the people who lead them, and collectively lift Jesus high, and walk in the way of His love, transformation will come. Barriers will come down. Walls will crumble.
“Sexual Abuse is when a younger or less powerful person is used by an older or more powerful child, youth or adult for sexual gratification. Sexual abuse can be contact or non-contact” (Canadian Red Cross, 2016). The document goes on to define both contact and non-contact forms of sexual abuse, listing various acts in each category, including oral, anal and breast area touch, and visually exposing victims to pornographic material or nakedness. Health Canada takes it further, stating, “Sexual abuse is inherently emotionally abusive and is often accompanied by other forms of mistreatment. It is a betrayal of trust and an abuse of power over the child” (Health Canada Archives, 1997).
It is accurate to say that Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA) is any act used for sexual gratification in any way by an older, larger or more powerful child or adult, and/or any act that disrupts or interferes with the sexual innocence of a child, whether through touch, visual exposure or in words.
While curiosity about sexuality, body parts and their function, is a normal part of child development, the way in which older children, teens and adults handle this curiosity has tremendous impact on each child’s sexual development. As with any learning, when a child receives age appropriate facts and positive information about his or her body, the child develops a healthy view of his or her sexuality, thereby building self-confidence and healthy self-esteem. In contrast, when the information is negative or abusive—whether taught in words or learned through abuse—the child suffers negative consequences.
Prevalence of the Childhood Sexual Abuse
Due to remaining largely unreported, it is difficult to determine just how extensive CSA is. Among many other issues contributing to the silence, victims often have a relationship with their offender, and fear imposing consequences on them. “An estimated 60% of perpetrators of sexual abuse are known to the child but are not family members […] About 30% of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are family members.” (United States Department of Justice, n.d.).
In recent years CSA has become a more open conversation, thereby giving victims permission to find their voice, reclaim their power, and speak out to break the shame of silence. However, even in this changing culture, shame and the fear of not being heard remain a powerful force, preventing many victims from disclosing or reporting.
Within the context of religious culture, silence remains strong, making it virtually impossible to determine the extent of the problem, particularly in closed-culture communities, such as the Mennonites, Hutterites, Amish and other similar groups. However, glimpses inside the culture reveal a hidden problem. In a case involving a Conservative Mennonite group, in Bancroft Ontario, a school teacher molested a high percentage of her students, including having intercourse with at least one, and forcing others to watch sexual encounters. (T. Metzger, personal communication [interview], January 13, 2016). In another similar small private Christian school, in Southwestern Ontario, of twenty plus students, over a period of approximately seven years, at least fifteen disclosed being molested either at school or in the homes, by older siblings, other students or an adult. (T. Metzger, personal communication [self disclosure], January 10, 2016). So, while accurate statistics are difficult to determine in Christian settings, the cases that do come to light, indicate near epidemic levels in some communities.
Understanding the Impact of CSA (Long-term/Short-term)
CSA is unlike any other abuse, in that it has the potential to produce physical pleasure while inflicting emotional trauma. When an adult hits a child, the child’s emotional trauma matches the physical response; the body confirms a wrong was committed. However, sexual touch potentially awakens pleasurable sexual response, and the body, in essence, forms an alliance with the offender against the victim, leaving the victim helpless and even desiring more of the same.
Further complicating the victimization, is the sense of being ‘special’ and ‘chosen’ by the offender, or receiving treats such as candy or money; a bond that is compounded by the feeling of ‘this is our secret’. While the child’s emotions are confused, and shame casts a long shadow over the joy of the rewards, ultimately the rewards win out for some victims. The result is mental and sexual confusion, self-loathing—because the victim’s body is against him/her, and they cannot resist the rewards—unhealthy obsession with sex, or an extreme repulsion of it, among many other negative impacts on the victim. The hypersexual victim acts out inappropriately, starting at a young age with re-enacting the abuse with other children, with dolls, or grabbing adults in sexual ways. When other children see or experience these behaviours, they tend to reject the offending child, further isolating the victim who already feels alone and different. In contrast, the child who responds with discomfort to all touch and becomes fearful of interacting with others, whether children or adults, is likely to behave in odd ways and also becomes isolated. Both become targets of bullying or being misunderstood, and apart from compassionate intervention, are likely to struggle for life.
In later life the consequences continue, as many victims suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to varying degrees. This plays into anything from the ability to hold a job due to relational issues or feelings of inadequacy, depression or mental distraction, and failed relationships, to name only a few consequences. In marriage, flashbacks and repulsion to sex interfere with sexual intimacy, making it difficult to form healthy marital bonds, and causing frustration for both partners. In parenting, the victim who has pushed down pain and buried confusion, also has deeply buried anger and functions with a short fuse, or emotional distance. The emotionally distant parent fails to bond well with his or her offspring, and draws comfort from the fact that he or she is not abusive, but in the process there is risk of extreme neglect; a reality that comes back to haunt in later years. Fits of unexplained rage leave the angry parent feeling frustrated, inadequate and hopeless; thus the cycle of abuse continues in the form of emotional abuse or physical violence in the next generation. And the parent who vacillates between anger and emotional distance, feels constantly torn, trying to perform well, while feeling ever on an emotional yoyo with the consequence and outcome of either response.
How Does CSA Impact Individuals in Religious Cultures?
In religious communities, nothing really changes in so far as the basic responses and consequences of CSA. However, what does change is the added dynamic of religious teaching and beliefs, often for the negative, though sometimes for positive, not the least of which is faulty teachings on forgiveness. News stories where victims of crime, for example the murder of a family member, speak out and offer forgiveness, draw deep emotion from masses. Many are moved to tears at such undeserved grace, while others groan. Forgiveness, in its purest form, is a beautiful gift that sets the victim free; it releases the victim from the power the offender has over him or her. Tragically, in religious settings forgiveness is often partnered with forgetting, and presented in such a way that it ends up freeing the offender, requiring victims to ‘overlook’ the crime, push down negative feelings and interact with the offender within social context, thereby further victimizing them. This becomes a double-edged sword, particularly in sex-related crimes, first by desensitizing the community to the crime, thus creating an environment for sexual crimes to flourish, and secondly forcing the victim into silence and shame. If or when the victim acknowledges the crime and its impact, he or she is quickly rebuked, and told that to speak of it shows a lack of forgiveness. Biblical references are pulled out of context to support this kind of response, citing that God also forgives and forgets. In reality, the Bible says that God ‘remembers our sins against us no more’, which is a far cry from forgetting. Nonetheless, the approach effectively shuts down many victims, especially those in environments that discourage questioning what is taught.
Furthermore, religious people who commit sex crimes represent God by their claims to faith in Him, particularly when in a position of religious leadership or trust, such as pastor, parent, or Sunday School teacher, causing even deeper confusion. The victim cannot separate the offender and his or her faith, from the God whom he or she professes to serve, making God accessory to the crime. It is not unheard of for CSA victims, whose fathers or pastors have molested them, to close their eyes in prayer and see only their offender’s face, because that offender represents God. Consequently, victims who view God as someone who partners with child molesters, live in debilitating terror of this Cosmic Being to whom they must surrender, and who, in turn, commands them to obey the parents and leaders who would do such things.
High standards of ‘holiness’ and the need to portray a ‘perfect’ religious image, combined with a tenacious sense of loyalty within some Christian communities—particularly in more closed-culture groups—further suppress many victims. To speak out means facing rejection within church circles, family relationship, and the broader Christian community. The fear of isolation, and the inevitable emotional consequences of that isolation, holds victims hostage to pain, forcing them to suffer in silence. Those who have spoken out and faced that consequence, sometimes say in hindsight that the latter is worse than the former, and they regret speaking out.
In stark contrast, victims of CSA in a religious setting for whom the abuser and God remain completely separated, find solace in having Someone bigger than life to turn to; Someone who will, in His time, redeem the impact of the pain, horror and mental suffering. These victims find hope in a higher justice, and in believing that Someone has a redemption plan. Because of promises in the Bible, this victim believes that, while the crimes committed can never be good, indeed good things will one day come from the dark experiences of childhood. Reaching for the hand of God in comfort at night, trusting that His angels stand guard in the dark, and hearing gentle whispers of belonging and purpose, fill this child with resilient courage, even in the midst of fear and anxiety.
And the victim who comes forward in a Christian setting where support is offered, thrives like no other. Surrounded by people of faith, who also believe that God will heal and restore, and who encourage the victim to speak openly and honestly, while holding the offender accountable for the crimes, gives the victim a sense of community, safety and security. While the crime is always a tragic one, these victims stand a chance at full healing.
How Do We Positively Impact & Minimize Risk of Victimization?
This paper addresses many general issues and some unique to Christian settings, but it stands to reason that all cultures have unique dynamics. The secret in any culture, then, is to become familiar with its strengths and weaknesses, and work with respect to both. By building relationships within the community, establishing trust and partnering together, we open doors. By focusing on the strengths of a community, while avoiding the pitfalls, and being respectful of and sensitive to cultural norms, we maximize impact. Finally, by inviting the culture into the solution, we eliminate the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality, and empower the community to contribute to their own, and change from within. Relationship-based solutions create sustainable impact and lasting change.
It has become a thing of habit, posting daily, but also a thing of thinking about the forgotten ones, the rejected ones, and the abandoned ones. Like the lepers in Bible stories, the religious people of today see many victims as ‘untouchable’, fearing their stories… fearing the exposure of their own pain and hidden secrets.
While the fear is understandable, the result is that many victims feel unnecessary rejection, and those who reject them out of fear of facing their own pain, miss out on the wonder of freedom.
Other times victims are rejected is a result of the person(s) needing to protect an offender. To acknowledge the pain of the victims would require acknowledging the consequence of hidden crimes. And in these cases, the offenders miss out on the help they need, and again victims feel rejected. But in this case it is the best interest of victims for these kinds of people to stay far, far away from them. The poison they offer is deadly, and serves only to further victimize and violate the hearts of wounded people. The rejection still bites, if the victims believe it is about them, but it is a gift.
When victims tell me about people rejecting them, my instinctive first response is compassion. And on the heels of that, I explain that rejection is never about them; people are far to self-serving to reject us because of us. They reject us for their own benefit, their own comfort, or their own self-preservation. They hate us because what we stand for or represent offends something in them. They speak evil of us because they have to defend themselves. And the more vehement their attacks or rejection, the more likely it is that our stories and our voices come too close to home, and their controls are threatened.
Again, in cases where it instills fear in victims who are hiding their stories out of shame, I offer nothing but compassion and understanding. And where it is the fear of some perpetrator being exposed, or needing to acknowledge those crimes, I have compassion but all I can say is thank God they stay far away. There is grace in that.
And as for the pain of rejection, it remains for those at the receiving end, and it is hard for most not to take it personally. Especially at first. With time, experience and seeing these patterns, it’s easier to let it ‘run off’ and chalk it up to the realization that these people have issues. But until then, it is a draining experience, and one that takes time to heal from and work through.
Counteracting rejection requires intentionality. Surround yourself with at least a few good and supportive people whom you can trust. Step outside of your own pain and story; a constant and repeated reliving of it is difficult even for those who love you, and does you no good. Find a mentor or counselor who will help you work through the hurt, and help you refocus so that you recognize you are not the problem; these people have issues. And, because I write from a Christian perspective and for Christians, get grounded in your true identity and who you are in Christ. The childish or fearful responses of those around us hold little weight when we know who we are, and Whose we are.
With the love, acceptance and approval of God, the Creator of the Universe, the rejection of a few fearful, angry, bitter or selfish people pales in comparison, and their approval means nothing.
Finally, if it is a close relationship, rather than some distant judgment pronounced by judgmental people who haven’t bothered to hear your heart, take time to have a conversation. If you have wounded them, hear their hearts. If they are afraid, encourage them.
But if it is that distant heartless judgment from those ignorant ones who are hell-bent on bringing you down–and especially the religious ones who misrepresent Jesus and who have not heard your heart–just pick up your boots and keep walking. Whistle a little tune, breathe in the fresh air and let the sunshine kiss your face… and celebrate Jesus, life and hope.
Today I received an email saying I am being cursed by a religious cult because of my upcoming memoir, Between 2 Gods. If their intent is to unnerve me, shut me up, or scare me away, it won’t work. To the contrary, I felt, suddenly, peaceful. The past day or two I’ve been restless. Nothing I could put my finger on, but a gnawing feeling that started getting under my skin. I’ve been here before, a thousand times and more, and, eventually, I always figure out what it is, or it goes away with time. While it’s here I try to be in tune to my feelings and not let them take over, and focus, instead, on the ‘quiet knowing’ that God has my back.
When the email came in, it put a bounce in my step. It reminded me why I do what I do: to penetrate the darkness with light and hope. For a religious cult to be this threatened by what ‘Between 2 Gods’ will bring to the light, thrills me! It means the darkness is threatened and losing power. It also means that, by going to such an extent as to gather and curse me, the enemy also ‘shows his face’. That opens all kinds of wonderful doors and opportunities, not the least of which is people within that cult seeing it for what it is, and finding freedom. That’s one reason it doesn’t frighten me.
The other reason is because I’ve seen the enemy up close, in my darker days. One incident, which I share in my memoir, I experienced darkness so intimately that it made me shiver for years. Coincidentally, I shared that story a few weeks ago with a group of women in Michigan and told them how, to this day, that scene makes me tremble, to recall and tell it. It doesn’t ‘frighten’ me, but the emotional flashback to that day remains strong, the memory of staring the enemy in the eye.
What I didn’t have then, that I have now, is faith in Jesus Christ, and His power. A little black curse falls flat in His presence–and, yes, the biggest curse, in His presence, is but a shriveled and powerless worm. It isn’t my own strength that gives me courage to face curses; it is Christ in me. He has filled me so full of love, courage and hope, that even for those who curse me, I feel nothing but compassion. And given a chance, I’d sit with these folks and tell them Jesus loves them.
It’s only 22 days now, until my memoir is released. Only a few proofreaders, editors and publishing staff have read it, and already the darkness is threatened. On Amazon it has been on the Bestsellers list every day since the pre-order opened, which tells me people are reaching for hope, longing to be heard… and some are just plain old curious. And that’s cool too, because God can work with it.
So, to those in cults, cursing me: go ahead, hold your little curse gatherings and witchcraft rituals, if that’s what makes you feel powerful. Personally, I think it’s a bad idea, for your own sake, but there’s no power over me. None. The blood of Jesus stands between me and any evil thing you can wish upon me. In fact, I will begin to pray blessing over you, and ask the Father to bring confusion to your gatherings, and turn your curses inside-out, upside-down and backwards, so that they come back to you, in the form of a desperate desire to know God in intimate relationship, and reach for His blessing. I pray you will one day be on fire for His Kingdom, exposing the very evil you now worship in His name, and that you will be a great force fighting the things I am about to expose.
As for me… my Jesus has my back… I am at peace… I am loved… I am blessed!
To my friends and fellow warriors, who also fight this darkness in religious settings: we are at war. The area of sexual abuse and molestation has gone relatively unchecked and given the enemy power in the church, like few other things. The warfare and attacks that result from exposing it are a powerful indication that these things are not pleasing to God. The resistance has little to do with those who cover it up for the sake of their own religious pride and arrogance. It is a much bigger battle. God, through Jesus, brings light and hope; the enemy brings destruction, bondage, secrecy and tragedy. And the light is far more of a threat to the enemy than it will ever be to one pastor, or a thousand, who stand behind pulpits hiding sins, thinking it is about his image and reputation. It’s not.
Friends, today we have a voice, like never before, and we need to use that voice. There is a cry from the children–those who are now grown up, and those still being molested–for us to be the hands, the voice and the heart of Jesus. Let’s be Jesus to them.
Please pray for those resisting truth, spreading curses and holding these children captive. Pray for yourself and for me, for courage and boldness. Most of all, pray for the children… the vulnerable, stripped, voiceless children… Yes, pray for them!
When the heart stops ‘feeling’ the truths God has promised, faith stands in the gap for our feelings, giving us the courage to believe what we cannot see.
One day, the heart feels again, but it is faith, not feeling that carries us, even then.
In January 2013 I stopped ‘feeling’ much of what I know and trust about God, and I have continued, and will continue, to declare the truth that I know. I am so thankful for the authority and power of faith.
I received a few messages, recently, asking why I haven’t blogged much, and declaring how they miss reading them. First of all, “That’s very kind. Thank you.” Secondly… I have been writing. I have nearly 100 blogs written, but I have not posted them.
Why, you ask? That is not an easy question to answer. A few of the blog posts are raw pain. That’s all they are. Several are all-out vent sessions, like the emails that you wisely never send, and serve only to offer therapeutic release for you. Others are revelations that I felt were not ready to be shared. Not new revelations, or anything, but old truth–things I rediscovered in Word of God. But mostly I didn’t share my writings because I wasn’t at peace with it, for reasons I cannot fully explain. The few I posted, were ones I felt peace about. And when I am not at peace about posting, I won’t do it. I intend never to be a slave to blogging, and this season of my life, that’s all it would have been, had I forced it.
It has been a heavy season in my life. ‘Heavy’ in the sense of carrying dead weight around, spiritually. It began in January 2013. I managed to stay focused on God, for the most part, in spite of the heaviness. Throughout that year, in ministry, I faced intense spiritual battles with clients, and writing was both my outlet and part of ministry.
Telling the stories victims wanted me to tell, and breaking the silence surrounding sexual abuse in the church, is the single most dangerous thing I have done, spiritually. And I went in with naive faith and trust, having no concept of what that would mean, no concept of the cost. I reached out to several people, when I felt myself starting to drown, but neither they nor I recognized the extent of danger I was in. One foot in front of the other, I pressed forward, always able to keep my eyes focused on the One who called me, and presenting Him as the healer and restorer, when sitting with victims of abuse, or those struggling spiritually. I had nothing to give, of myself, but I knew with confidence that I could lead them to God for healing.
Admittedly, at times it felt as though my lips were parched, and I was dying of thirst, even while I held the cup for others more wounded than I, who had thirsted longer. And watching them come to life somehow quenched my own thirst. Somehow–even though there are areas I have long struggled to trust God, in practical ways–I trust Him without reserve, to heal and restore the broken-hearted. And that is the place where I stood in the gap for many wounded.
As is inevitable, when exposing darkness, the attacks and lies began, and ‘my people’, whom I trusted and believed to be born again believers, started to spread blatant, bold lies. Nothing could have prepared me for this. I knew about the sexual abuse hidden, but I truly believed it was a matter of ignorance–a lack of awareness of the problem, among leaders–and when they knew, I was certain they would rise up as godly men, and fight for victims, and offer help to perpetrators. Instead, I watched as perpetrators were protected, victims further abused, and lies spread to discredit my ministry.
The shock of this climaxed in early January 2014, exactly one year after the intense heaviness began, and I found myself in a state of spiritual shock, struggling to accept that Christians do these things, yet believing that Jesus is enough… enough for me, in my woundedness… enough for them for lying.
Even so, I continued to meet with victims, and offered them hope that can only come from Jesus. I was honest about my own struggles, and shared with them the hope that Jesus is even in a dark place. When I had nothing else to hold on to, I would say, “I know that He loves me, and that is enough”. When I could not pray, I could still whisper ‘Thank you for loving me… thank you for dying for me… thank you for having my back.’ And always He would come alive in me, sitting across from the broken, and prayer would rise from within my own broken place, offering Jesus to the people in front of me.
The final blow, overlapping with this shock, came in the form of a letter. I felt, in ways, as if I was ‘gasping for air’, when a letter arrived in the mail. Handwritten, I opened it eagerly. Until that day all handwritten letters had been encouragement notes, offering prayer and pointing my heart to the Father. It was what I expected and, quite frankly, longed for–some small sign that God had not forgotten me, that He saw my shock, and wanted to reassure me. Yes, the letters and notes I received also carried challenges when a friend felt I was getting sidetracked, but challenges offered with love and care; always they drew my heart to God.
But that day the letter held harsh criticism, attacking my character, offering accusations about a case I was involved in–the one where I supposedly posed as a cleaning girl and lied to get in the door, and then stomped my feet and yelled at the perpetrator. The author of it attacked me, not having taken time to meet with me to ask any questions. Coincidentally–or predictably–it was a relative by marriage of the alleged perpetrator. I understood the defenses. They are characteristic of those who have an agenda to hide abuse and corruption, those who cannot come to terms with their own circumstance. But it was from someone I had known for years. Someone I respected. Someone with whom I shared a church pew. That day a part of my heart died.
In the weeks that followed, we continued attending the church we were trying to make our own, to be ‘our family’. But we were not plugged in enough–being relatively new–and the aloneness of ministry, and this attacks from within, created a deep loneliness. Church became depressing, and draining, rather than life-giving. Having said that, the worship leader and his wife, the Lead Pastor, and, most of all, the wife of the Associate Pastor, offered a kindness and friendship that drew us in.
When another case in a sister church escalated , a few months later, and I was perceived to have been involved, even though I had nothing to do with it–though I would gladly have owned it, had I been involved–more resistance and attacks trickled our way. It was then that we realized that with the ministry of working with sexual abuse in the church, we didn’t stand a chance fitting making church our home, anytime soon, and, for the most part, support for ministry would need to come from outside of church.
Ironically, one ‘hate’ letter from someone in my cultural background, calling me a BEAST, among other things, finally broke the power the lies. The evil in that letter exposed the darkness from which the attacks came, as all ‘niceness’ was stripped, and I was finally able to see the attacks came from a place of pain and denial, and a lot of fear. Until that moment I struggled to call the attacks what they were, and tried to believe that most of the attacks were misunderstandings of well-intentioned people. Reading the harshest version of attacks, all in the name of God, exposed the darkness behind all of it, and I was finally able to make peace with the attacks. I can handle persecution from those resisting truth–even in God’s name–but attacks from the Body of Christ I cannot reconcile.
Now, months later, having taken a step back from Western ‘church’ culture, and removing ‘the noise’ of it, my heart has finally come to life again. The heaviness has lifted, and God is able to touch my heart again, and worship again rises from my spirit in a way it hasn’t in a long time. We have continued to fellowship with believers–for those who might fear we are sinning in not ‘gathering with believers–we’re just not doing it regularly in the context of lining pews, and consistently listening to structured church services, at a specific time of day, each Sunday.
In the last few months, the greatest encouragement has been, not only seeing people break free from past pain and addictions as they begin to understand their position in with God through Christ, but hearing testimonies of the ripple effects of the ministry we did in the Mennonite community. When people break free from addictions, sexual sin, homosexuality, and move into a place of freedom, it makes the ‘hell’ of the past two years seem small, and it is humbling to think that God uses us, so broken and human, to bring the love of Jesus and hope to those who are hurting and struggling. It is amazing to me that, even though I was struggling to come to terms with my own pain, and the shock of what we encountered in church–attacks we might have expected from enemies of the cross–that God still worked, as only He can.
So, why have I not been writing? That is the long answer. I needed time to process, to regroup, to make peace with what I have experienced in ‘church’, the attacks that have come from within, and most of all I needed time to refocus my heart before God. The past two years have showed me that, even though I have forgiven the church of my youth, I carry deep scars and wounds that, when ripped open, cause intense pain. I don’t trust church. I don’t trust system. Even less now than I did two years ago. But, thanks to a few incredible men and women of God, I have learned to trust the hearts of more leaders than I have ever trusted before. I could have mentioned many, including several conservative Mennonite leaders. For this to be the end result in one of the most difficult ‘church’ experiences of my life, is astounding. There is a wonder and a grace in this for which I have no words.
In spite of those wounds and scars, in spite of the hate mail and attacks, in spite of my inability to fit in–and knowing the attacks will continue–I want to learn to trust. I want to connect with a church family. (I didn’t think I’d ever say that again.) I even want to learn to trust church leaders, and let them fail, be human, and I want to pray for them and forgive them in the way I wish to be forgiven when I fail. I want to fight for the Body of Christ–His bride–and partner with her, for the sake of God’s Kingdom. I am committed to continuing in ministry, because I believe it is not our perfection, or our ‘togetherness’ that offers anything meaningful. It is Jesus flowing through our brokenness, spilling out in love, that transforms lives. I’ve never stopped believing that, even in my lowest of lows. He is my hope. Besides my love, encouragement, and some practical resources, He is all I have to offer victims, and He is more than enough.
Thank you to friends, mentors, pastors and leaders who have spoken into my life this past year, taking time to meet with me in my ‘darkness’, or speaking truth during ‘random’ encounters. Special thanks to my faithful friends who have let me say, without judging me, things I could not say to everyone, but needed to get out of my spirit. Thank you to the many online ‘warriors’ who have fought tirelessly for me, through prayer. You are too many to mention, and some I would not mention because you are also clients, but each of you offered me hope at a time when I felt little hope in the Body of Christ, and had only my faith in Jesus to cling to, the support of my husband and family. Finally, thank you to my husband, Tim, who has loved me faithfully, lifting my weary heart in prayer when it was crushed, and holding me when sobs of grief racked my body. I am grateful for each of you, and pray God’s blessings over you.
If God hands out stars for positively impacting another soul, you will each carry a star for me.