Is church a safe place for victim of sexual violence? (Or domestic violence, for that matter. While not my areas of expertise to the extent that sexual violence is, the more I hear, the more I realize the glaring similarities.) I have asked this question for a great long while, and have been asked by survivors. I wish to offer a resounding ‘yes, it’s the safest place on earth for you’. But, I cannot. Sadly. I fear the institutional church is one of the most unsafe places for them. It would not need to be that way. If I am perfectly honest, my advice to those who have suffered sexual abuse would be to never open that door in church. Find a safe place outside those walls, unless your leaders have made it very clear and proactively let you know that they care and will hear you. (There are safe places/pastors, and I could list some, but will refrain. And if you are one such church or leader, thank you. Please don’t take this personal, but recognize you are not the majority, regardless of denomination.)
While (most times) church is not safe for the abused, it is one of the safest places on earth for offenders. So to offenders looking for community and a space to find belonging and acceptance, I recommend church. Almost any church, really, but with some being especially accepting. By virtue of this reality, it cannot be equally safe for survivors. In fact, it cannot be safe for victims at all, as long as preferential treatment exists for offenders. It simply is not possible.
The idealism some churches hold of wanting to be a safe space for both abuse survivor and offender is often an illusion. Most end up advocating for one or the other which is different than ‘being there’ for people. Inevitably, and of necessity, to advocate for one is to disadvantage the other, and church has a way of advocating for offenders. “They are sorry, and can’t undo what they did. They repented, therefore you should forgive. They were tempted by the way you dressed. You threw yourself at him. You flirted with him. It if un-Christ-like to not forgive”.
Blatant advocating for offenders inevitably and effectively silences victims; it is 100% impossible to advocate for both. You can advocate for one and try to point the other for help elsewhere but you cannot advocate for one and offer both help. If they are searching for community, so long as they remain silent about abuse, church is a great place for victims to find community, but it does require excluding that very significant experience. Therefore is not safe.
When someone does bring allegations forward and victim or offender needs to leave a congregation, almost without fail it is the (alleged) victim who leaves. And often they simply give up on church, but more importantly, many give up on their faith journey. Yet, ironically, many still long for that safe place within church, and a safe place to grow in faith, but it simply is not there for them.
So what is the answer?
Advocating for truth would be a brilliant start. Just truth. Just brilliant. Truth in every circumstance. But we don’t know what truth is, or what really happened – we were not there, we are not God, so we cannot judge the offender. Just truth, without rationalizing. Without saying, if it was my son I’d want to believe he was innocent, and I’d want everyone to believe he is innocent. It fascinates me how many are comfortable with asking that question – what if it was my son – but how few are comfortable asking, “what if it was my granddaughter… my daughter who was raped/groped/molested?” I would dare to say if we are going to ask the first, we better ask the second too, and really pause to consider what that would mean… especially if you happened to walk in as it was happening.
If you choose the path of believing the offender, by virtue of that stance, you immediately say, “the victim is guilty of lying, misconstruing facts” or some such thing.
What if, instead, we sat ‘near’ and listened with the heart… very near; near enough to feel the pain? What if we honoured the suffering and cared for them without determining whether she/he is lying or not? What if we simply acknowledged pain? And, for the offender, what if we ‘entered in’ and gave them a place to come clean and confess? And what if we walked with them simultaneously toward grace and consequences, if they confess, thus offering true freedom?
By releasing the accused immediately from guilt and judgement, we automatically sentence the victim to guilt and judgement. And if the accused are indeed guilty, we have sentenced both to bondage a life of struggle and injustice. We’ve also done two things God hates: acquitted the guilty, and condemned the innocent (Proverbs 17:15). He hates both. So we are right to pause when we hear an allegation, but we are not right to make a judgement call either for innocence or guilt. It is our duty to get our hands bloody and feet dirty, so to speak, and ‘enter in’ with both.
The church community has not done well with this on either front. We have made quick judgements – usually against the victims – and in this we have sinned against God. I have spent 8 years standing in the gap, working with both victims and offenders, making myself available 6 or 7 days many weeks. It has been lonely, in many ways, but it has been more fulfilling than lonely. And it has been sheer joy watching the downtrodden rise up and find their identity, their voice, their Hope. It has been church, for me, more than any gathering I’ve attended anywhere. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Hopefully with less mistakes. But I’d do it either way.
I say that to say, I acknowledge it is hard to care well for victims. I know it is easier to look the other way than to get into that messy real of pain and suffering, and the brutal injustice. But it is possible, and we (church) could do better. We must do better, if we want to name the name of Jesus.
We have a conference in Lewisburg, PA), in a few weeks, where the abused gather, and feel understood. When it’s over, people often linger a great long while after. Sometimes just ‘resting’. Sometimes sitting and chatting with one another. Sometimes weeping. Sometimes praying together.
We don’t decide if alleged abusers are guilty. We don’t accuse anyone of lying or making up stories. We simply offer compassion and love.
That’s safety. That’s what it means to be understood.
The Oct4 Training Day is for those wishing to support victims
SESSION ONE: The role of Restorative Justice in Addressing Crime (Mike Yoder)
SESSION TWO: Understanding Victims’ Needs (Trudy Metzger)
SESSION THREE: Protecting Against Secondary Trauma (Trudy Metzger)
SESSION FOUR: Setting Healthy Boundaries When Working with Victims (Trudy Metzger)
Wishing you blessings this week, praying for peace and hope on your journey, and the courage to trust God on your healing journey. You are not alone. You are not forgotten. Together, we are ‘church’, and together we will create a safe place for the abused to struggle, to worship, to heal.
Scattered on the ground
He loves me, He loves me not…
He loves me, He loves me…
And I bend down,
Picking petals off the floor.
I need just one more…
He loves me.
Does He really love me
This Maker of all things
Does He see them,
Falling, falling, falling…
Does He catch them in a bottle
Remem’bring all my cries?
He loves me, He loves me not…
He loves me, He loves me…
And I bend down once more,
Pick one more petal off the floor.
He loves me.
Should it be this hard,
Being loved, and being known
Finding a place inside His heart
That I can call my own?
He loves me, He loves me not…
He loves me, He loves me….
I bend down, I look around
But there are no more petals on the floor
He loves me, not?
Does He love me? Really love me?
This Maker of the skies
Does He see the teardrops
Falling… falling… My soul suffocates, and dies?
He loves me, He loves me not…
He loves me, He loves me…
He loves me…
He bends down and gathers
Bleeding teardrops from the floor
Slips them in a bottle…
“I love her, I love her…
I only love her more.”
Daisy petal teardrops
Gathered in a bottle …
He loves me, He loves me…
He loves me.
…Because when ‘church’ represents Jesus, and justice has no place, survivors of abuse:
1) We weep our tears alone
2) We question God’s love for us and often lose faith completely
This is a reminder that He sees your every tear. He is not ‘church’ – the institution – He is love, He is truth, He is justice, He is compassion.
He loves you. He loves me.
There’s always one more daisy petal to end on love.
Next Thursday I will lead a discussion in my Sociology of Deviance class. Our prof has given us an extensive list of readings from which to choose, as discussion leaders, out of which we choose two for our class to read and discuss. One of the two I chose addresses whether pedophilia is a sexual orientation, versus a crime. My interest in the topic is self-explanatory. My father was a pedophile. But my interest in this slant to the subject is not so straight forward.
I’ve long taken issue with church protecting pedophiles in the name of forgiveness, and then fretting over how they can protect their children from predators ‘out there’. The same holds true with the prevalence of homosexuality and lesbianism in our Anabaptist culture, and then being all horrified at the ‘sexual perversion’ that exists ‘out there’. Or, as one elderly conservative Anabaptist woman told me a few months ago, they knew ‘back in the day’ that if you missed your period and were not ready for another baby, that you just purchased naturopathic products to cause a miscarriage. But abortion is met with extreme judgement against those ‘out there’. (I understand that some readers will find this shocking and hard to believe, as I did also, at first. Now I have enough stories documented from eight years of working mostly with ‘my people’, and by that I mean conservative Mennonite, not the people of my birth culture – that the shock factor is lost on me.)
Of all of these, pedophilia is the only one that is blatantly and openly ‘protected’ in our culture, by many at the leadership level, as well as lay members. And, I shudder to say this out loud, but in my experience women more actively cover for men than men cover for themselves, many times. Homosexuality/lesbianism, premarital sex and abortion are present aplenty – albeit, with much denial all around – but harshly condemned, whereas pedophilia is openly and actively protected. Yet, not one person in my experience has ever expressed that pedophilia ‘out there’ should be overlooked. In fact, when such news comes to light ‘out there’ all the appropriate gasps escape lips in church.
This double standard ‘because we are sorry, so we must be forgiven and not face consequences’ boggles my mind. I would think that if we are so sorry, truly, deeply sorry, then we would face the consequences with humility. (I also know if I was a sex offender looking to hide, I’d put on some cultural attire and adhere to the strictest rules possible, and look as holy as possible.) It has been my observation that many times when society pushes for a particular agenda – ie; same-sex rights and marriage – that church has already long lived that very thing in some form and hidden it. Same holds true for abortion. It was in church, secretly, long before it was legal at a political level. So who are we to judge?
Pedophilia is no exception. It has not only been present in church for ages, but there’s the blatant protection of those who engage in child molestation. It is only reasonable to expect (and dare I say support) society to legalize it as a sexual orientation, and decriminalize it, if we are already there in how we handle these crimes. So, when this happens, church, spare us all the gasps. At least until first there has been a great repentance across the many denominations in Christendom because we have blood on our hands, and pointing bloody fingers at others is especially shameful. And when that repentance has come, the gasping will cease – because gasping at ‘their sin’ is the work of arrogance, self-righteousness and denial, not the work of love, grace and the Gospel of Jesus, and especially when we begin to acknowledge we have the same sins among us.
So, on Thursday, when I engage a handful of young scholars, I anticipate there will be a stronger stand against pedophilia than what I am accustomed to in my work, as relates to engaging leaders of pedophiles, or their spouses, parents or families. On Thursday I anticipate the class will say even if it is determined to be an orientation, that the person should have to face consequences, and it should still be a crime.
Ironically, in this secular space there seems a much clearer view of the horror and damage done by molestation than I am used to hearing in church …. unless, of course, if we are talking about the man ‘out there’ who, God help him, ‘used’ his children. Or the school teacher ‘out there’ who touched a student. Or the neighbour man/boy from ‘out there’ who so much as makes a flirtatious pass at one of ‘ours’. Or the ungodly man who stalks, kidnaps and rapes one of ours. When it is one of ‘them’ we gasp and weep and ask why. We cannot grasp what wickedness would drive such a person. We acknowledge the horror and the trauma. Our worlds are rocked when ‘one of them’ invade our space and do the very thing that is already happening among us. But when it is one of ours, we don’t believe the victim.
I was around fourteen years old when a young aboriginal boy attempted to rape a girl at knife-point in our community. We were all shaken. He was one of my best friends and had never so much as looked at me in a way that felt inappropriate. In a matter of days he was shipped back to where he came from, leaving our community reeling. I felt both loss of innocence (mostly because of the knife, and thus the violent nature of the crime) and loss of my friend. But no one shipped away the leader’s son who, minus the knife, sexually assaulted some of us to varying degrees. He was successful. It wasn’t an attempt. But he claimed at least one as mutual consent, and took ownership of what he did to me, and life went on as always. It is the most profound example of my youth, of that ‘us and them’ difference, and how in church it just goes away.
There comes a steep price tag with that kind of thing. God says “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). I am convinced that most of what we gasp at ‘out there’, is directly linked to what we hide and overlook among us as God’s people. I am convinced that our repentance and the ‘turning from wickedness’ that moves the hand of God to heal our land is not because we repent for them ‘out there’. He heals our land because we repent for having first wandered away from Him.
Our land needs healing. God’s people need to stop pointing out there and living a double standard, and start repenting in here. If ‘ours’ don’t deserve punishment for molesting children, then I vote that the law criminalizing such behaviour be done away with. The day our expectations of society are higher than that of God’s people, we have absolutely nothing left to offer. And shame on us if that is how we live while proclaiming the name of Jesus.
INK SPILLS Red ink
Spills on white paper
Paper thin hearts
Hit the ground
Left to die
No one sees
No one cares
No one hears
Not a sound
On wounded flesh and
Tender souls where
Red ink spills…
They button suits
Suit up in crisp white shirts
They tie their polished shoes
Walking carefully, they step in
Red ink, spilled on their floor…
They point to the noisy bleeding…
New shoes, with red footprints,
Crushing paper thin hearts
Scattered here and there.
Who made this mess?
We didn’t know
They were there
You unforgiving souls!”
Aren’t those messy ones
Have you noticed how good and kind I am?
Just like Jesus.
Do you see my beautiful new shoes?
These are my Gospel shoes
To spread good news.
We better go;
Go save souls
Do things that matter
It’s such a beautiful day today,
A brilliant red
Isn’t that cloud stunning?
Almost like a crumpled
Have you ever wondered,
Does God cry?
Scattered on the ground
His heart crumpled, crushed,
His life, His Love, His hope, etched in forever tattoos on my heart.
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.
“Only trust Him… Only trust Him… Only trust Him now…
He will save you, He will save you, He will save you now…”
Hell licks their feet.
Where has Jesus gone?
Why do angels weep dry tears?
Tongue cut out
Oh hell be warned!
Death gives birth to unmatched power!
Thunder shakes the strongest tower.
No more politics.
No flow’ry speech.
Truth will stand in ruthless silence,
Shouting without sound
Crying from the highest mountain
And all will hear
As, Truth, forced to silent grave,
Rises from the ground.
No white flags.
No powerless surrender.
Wrapped about my throat.
I cannot speak.
But I have my sword.
Jesus walks into the room.
What will you say now?
Did silence pave His way?
Or was it the voice of those who cried against the norms:
“Make a path in the place of death… the wilderness… where nothing of life has ever grown.
Where children’s souls are laid bare by reckless men!
Behold! He comes! The Son of God! Make way!”
Holding no regard for rules.
Honouring no politics.
Crying louder for the lost
Standing silent only to accusation.
Crying out against their sin,
He eats of the forbidden grain.
I eat. With no regard for silence. Breaking all the rules of polite society. Hearts are not healed by U N S P O K E N HOPE.
In my previous blog I touched briefly on the topic of pastors being charged with failing to report. As I pondered it, afterwards, I decided to expand on it somewhat, as one thing I failed to mention could be misleading.
In my previous blog I stated that “I wouldn’t in any way interfere with a prison sentence for such a leader“, but that is where I missed one critical detail. I mention that I support reporting, but I fail to say that I would do much more than ‘not interfere’. I would actively do my part in such a process of holding leaders accountable, and I would also personally report leaders who fail to protect and fail to report. However, if at any point they stop looking the other way and don’t justify or excuse having done so in the past, I am inclined to work cooperatively with them.
And, frankly, I would rather see them not receive a prison sentence by the time they ‘get it’ – no matter how they arrived there – because they are key to ending the cycle. We need men – leaders in particular – inside the conservative Anabaptist culture who will help end this dreadful cycle. And if we put them behind bars, we essentially work against our own end goal; to stop the cycle and have those within the culture help stop it. But if they return to covering for abusers, then let the full extent of the law be applied, as far as I am concerned. Taking ‘ownership’ just to get off the hook isn’t taking ownership at all. It’s manipulation. And it isn’t acceptable. It is but another contributing factor to the epidemic of abuse.
If reporting and sentencing all who ever covered would end the epidemic, then I could support such an argument, however it would more likely push the problem further underground. Many victims would rather carry their stories in silence than to see their leaders charged when, in their minds, they were doing what was in the best interest of all involved. So, if pastors are charged without any attempt at working with those who recognize in the process that their decision brought harm, and genuinely want change, then we will inadvertently bring further harm by pushing victims into deeper silence. But this silence will not be imposed. It will be chosen to prevent the fallout of leaders ending behind bars.
Furthermore, if leaders come around – even if only after a warning – and work cooperatively to end sexual violence, then doing so is our single best shot at impacting the next generation. Removing them at that point seems counterproductive to the true goal – breaking the cycle of sexual violence in our culture – for the sake of ‘giving them what they had coming to them’. This is not justice. Because justice considers the big picture. It considers the longterm impact. It works always in the best interest of those most vulnerable. Therefore, if we toss every pastor behind bars because he asked for it by not reporting, and it inadvertently causes an outcome that sacrifices the victims and potentially creates more, then we have failed.To navigate this objectively, and not cause more harm than good, will take wisdom and discernment.
I continue to see God moving, and I see progress within the conservative Anabaptist culture, as more an more leaders, as well as parents and other non-victims rise up to say “enough is enough”. As it becomes increasingly apparent that some leaders are colluding to cover up, and some are doing so to hide their own history of abusing, those in the pews are growing discontent with the facade and taking a stand against both abuse and coverups. And those leaders who are transparent are joining those discontented in the pews, or even leading them. That is a very good sign!
For this day we have prayed, and to this end we continue to press forward.