Pt 2: Religious leaders are NOT untouchable! How we can stop them…

“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 ~

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Victims have long been brutalized by organized religion, and have been silenced. But God…

But God…

How I love those words. But God… He is gracious. He is kind. He is loving. He is for the brokenhearted and wounded. And He is a fierce and gentle Warrior. He has no room for abuse and victimization of the vulnerable in His Kingdom. He says He will cast down the arrogant and judge those who abuse their power. Those who do and justify these things are not affiliated with His kingdom. And those who cover these sins and silence victims do not represent anything of the heart of God or the life of Christ.

While God will not hold on forever, He is patient. He is loving. He is the Redeemer. He is the Restorer. And He will give even these offenders opportunity to come clean, to bring their own sins to Light and receive His grace and forgiveness.

But God’s process will not fall in line with the constitution.

He moves in Truth, Justice and Mercy… And He is calling…

But, having deceived many, betrayed many, violated some physically and sexually, and many spiritually, it is not enough for these leaders to fall on your knees and say sorry to God while you continue lying to the public and deceiving them. That is neither repentance nor receiving God’s grace. That is self-preservation. And what abusers try to hide, God will expose… or they will accidentally expose. Most offenders, no matter how skilled, make fatal mistakes in their cover-up plans and God is using those fatal flaws to expose them.

When King David had a man killed so he could have Bath Sheba, he thought he had a pretty good ‘secret’ going on. Shameless murder and the victimization of another man’s wife by the most powerful man in the country. But God…

God sent the Prophet Nathan to expose the sin, and when the prophet spoke, King David got it about repentance. Really got it! He, as king, humbled himself in sackcloth and ashes and let the whole nation know that he had sinned. There were no justifications or excuses. Never did he blame Bath Sheba. (Who was naked, by the way, never mind dressed to constitution standards). He owned his sin so he could give it over to God, and he understood it was his duty to protect her. And that is what we need from these leaders.

God has sent “Nathan” to some of you leaders, a ‘prophet’ to confront your sin, and you have lied, rejected and further covered up your sins and crimes. But God… He will not leave it at that. He’s not done, and the empire of lies is transparent; glass smeared with blood, but there are places exposed. And you still have the opportunity to take ownership for your sins, vindicate your victims, and repent.

Enough with blaming how she dressed. When it’s a male victim, whose fault is it then? (And please not the ‘he/she is troubled line! That’s all the more responsibility on you to protect them!) Enough accusing her of lying when you know the strangle hold of power you have over her and what she had to overcome to even tell one soul. Enough of all else except personal ownership, repentance and seeking help… Let the King David humility rise up…

If you are a spiritual leader (teacher, pastor, ministry leader, boys’ ‘rehab‘ centre support staff, Sunday school teacher, or other) – no matter how conservative or how not conservative – and you have committed sexual crimes and sins, whether against a child, a teen or a woman – I am committed to helping you get the help you need. (Yes, the law will be involved, no I will not keep a secret, but my motive is not destruction and I will walk gently even with you.) You don’t have to carry this to your grave, and your victim(s) surely should not have to! The first email I received from a pastor who had offended early in his life, came unsolicited in 2011 or 2012 from out of country. It was so shocking I fell to my knees and wept, and prayed for him and his victim, and prayed for wisdom. I then coached him through appropriate steps to take. I can tell you this, if you come forward and deal with your sins properly, which includes not covering for yourself or making excuses, you will fare much better than if it gets reported, whether by one, or a hundred and one victims. While I don’t expect a flood of these emails, I welcome them. Send an email here or visit this link and fill in the form: Pastors & Leaders Self-Reporting Sex Offences.

If you are a victim of sex crimes, molestation and abuse at the hands of a church leader or ministry leader in a conservative Anabaptist church, and you feel voiceless, I (and others with me) are committed to supporting you in finding the help you need. I am not a counsellor, and as a mentor I have limited time available, but there are people who can help you. I am committed to supporting as many of you as possible in finding your voice and offering you a place to expose your leaders without your names being made public, and helping you find the support you need. If numerous allegations come against a particular person, you will be contacted to ask if you are willing to have allegations investigated. Your name will not be forwarded to anyone without your consent to do so. If you wish to connect and share your story, please visit this link: I Was Abused By An Anabaptist Church Leader, Teacher or Ministry Worker and fill out the form. (Ministry workers includes any staff at any Anabaptist organizations, whether missions, residential facilities where offenders are sent, schools, Bible schools and all religiously affiliated organizations, whether male or female. I know this is a problem in those organizations). If information submitted is unclear, or vital details are missing, you will be contacted for clarification. You will also be contacted to see ask what support you most need, and we will do our best to connect you with the appropriate people and resources for healing.

If you are a counsellor, police officer, or social worker – or any other professional –  wiling to be a resource for victims and/or offenders and are committed to confidentiality (except in the case of crime, risk to self or others, or involving minors), and if you are willing to serve conservative Anabaptist people, please scroll down to the ‘Contact Us’ section of this link: BehindOurPulpits. Before being connected with victims or offenders, to volunteer or offer counseling, someone will check your credentials, and you will need to go through an interview process before you are recommended to these exceptionally vulnerable victims.

As the magnitude of the problem looms before me, I am hopeful that some will do the right thing, and expose their own crimes and face consequences. I am also hopeful that as leaders rise up within who will be like Esther, and as more and more victims come forward and find a voice, those who have hidden behind their facades and the pulpit, will be crowded out of leadership roles by their own sins. As this happens, more and more godly leaders will rise up in their places. And I am deeply hopeful that as a result many victims will find healing, and offenders will find help for their addictions, forgiveness for theirs sins, and face the consequences of their crimes without excuse.

To this end I pray…

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DISCLAIMER: This idea was birthed (and discussed publicly) in 2016, through my work with victims through Generations Unleashed and the growing awareness that leaders victimizing their ‘flock’ and denying allegations is too common, leaving the victims with no voice. The information collected will be used to offer support to victims and connect them to resources, to hold offenders accountable, and to work in cooperation with law enforcement as required. The data will not be publicized or used for any other purposes, research or otherwise, without the explicit consent of contributors. All cases involving minors will immediately be turned over to appropriate authorities.

NOTE: I apologize that active support needs to be limited to my conservative Anabaptist culture. There are unique dynamics we deal with as victims in these cultures, and it is the area to which I am called and where I have most connections and am most equipped to help. That said, I welcome your messages, no matter who you are or where you are from, and will do what I can, but cannot commit to helping everyone find resources and support.

As always…

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger 2018

Pt 1: Are religious leaders (who offend sexually) untouchable?

One of my favourite things about university has been the freedom to guide my own path in the area of research. Returning to studying after years of experience it was critical that it fit with my work with sexual violence in religious communities. For most projects and all research I chose to look at various aspects of religion and crime – mostly sexual abuse – in a variety of contexts, including Latter Day Saints, Orthodox Judaism, and conservative Anabaptists. I grew up in a series of conservative Mennonite churches – thanks to parents who never found peace in any of the ones we tried – so I am not unfamiliar with the terrain of religion. But I was shocked by the similarities in function between other fundamental religious groups and my background. We are not the only ones structured to protect top leaders.

At first I questioned if it was actually structured that way (on purpose) or if it was merely the inadvertent and inevitable outcome of ultimate power given to bishops and leaders. But after a bit of digging and searching for answers, I concluded some are intentionally structured to make leaders untouchable. Why? I am not certain, beyond the need to make the religious culture look perfect and maintain image. (To see how this plays out in the Orthodox Jews, read Michael Lesher’s: Shonda and Concealment). And then there is this notion that those called to ministry are just a bit more sacred and holy than the rest. Here I would propose that the calling itself may be entirely holy, but the human executing that calling is entirely flawed, completely human and particularly vulnerable to corruption when placed at such a level.

Someone said, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, or something close to that. I would echo that. Power that is accountable to no one is absolute power, and it absolutely is corrupt. No human gets to play God, be untouchable by those they lead, and still stay human and flawed in their own mind. That kind of power leads to grandiose thinking, narcissism and idolatry. When people who follow such a leaders start believing they have a special kind of ‘in’ with God, and maybe it’s okay for them to do things others can’t, rather than exposing leaders’ crimes, we have a real problem. And these were the testimonies of some of the women in the studies I read; rather than exposing crime they saw leaders are having ‘special permission’ from God. This matches what I’ve heard from victims I’ve worked with.

Every spiritual leader and person in ministry I’ve known is prone to failure and sin, myself included. We all have to repent. Every last one of us. Knowing many others, and knowing myself, I have concluded we are all the same. All human, just like you. All sinners saved by grace. We, like the Apostle Paul, do the things we don’t want to do and don’t get done what we want to do. But true leaders do not justify sin and crime in their own lives.

Do away with the pedestals. They are not stable and only stay up as long as people are willing to hold them up. On a pedestal repentance is difficult, as is facing consequences for sin and crime. There’s the fear that if people discover how broken and human we are they will be destroyed by our imperfection and lose their faith in God. Even in this we raise ourselves to a God-like-status. But it’s not truth. They’ll be fine, believe it or not, if they see our humanity. And if they aren’t, the perception of perfection is better crushed. It’s their one hope of replacing leaders with God, and giving God His rightful place.

So how do leaders rise to that place in the minds of (their) people? Because, let’s face it, none are ‘all that and a bag of chips’ once you get to know them. They may be wonderful and nice, and all, but they are human. And I’ve not met one that isn’t somehow selfish, no matter who they desire to be. Me included. We are all human; you and I, and on the same level.

I can’t speak to the ‘how’ of every religious community, but it struck me in my readings for the research I did, that it is a taught and controlled path to the top. A path carefully laid out in the constitutions and rule books, including Anabaptists and Orthodox Jews among others. Of course my ‘knowing’ from experience and observation also gave me insights other ‘outsiders’ wouldn’t see. (Regrettably, I cannot use the material from that research publicly at this time, t is also part of my PhD application package.)

Some church constitutions state that charges or allegations can only be brought against a church leader if there are several witnesses. If there is one thing sex offenders and child molesters know, it is to never leave room for witnesses. The lengths to which they go in planning and scheming, or their skill at taking advantage of the vulnerable person at hand, would leave room for little chance of ever having even one witness, let alone two. They are opportunistic, and have an uncanny ability to sniff out the vulnerable ones who have no voice.

Now take those skills, give them to a revered church leader who knows who is who, and what church families struggles with, and who is vulnerable, insecure, abused (by parents, spouse or teacher etc), and you have a perfect storm. When sex offenders and molesters become preachers and bishops, or ministry leaders, and especially if they have that lovable personality, they have access to victims with a reputation that is well fortressed. Offenders in church leadership are often very charismatic leaders who ‘love’ people, and are loved and worshiped by their followers. They have no need to defend themselves, because they have built their empire so that no one will believe the allegations, and the people will rise to their defence so they need only to sit back and watch as their voiceless victims scramble for someone, anyone to hear them.

These offenders will likely have made certain to have enough trusted relationships with the demographic of their victims who can vouch for them as respectful and safe, to ensure that allegations sound foolish and far-fetched. (For example, students are often shocked when the teacher is caught molesting because the teacher was respectful to most students. The ministry leader or minister who violates the vulnerable wives of the abusive men they help may have the respect of many of the wives of these men, having never made moves or crossed lines, thus making the rest sound ridiculous when they bring forward their allegations. And the leader who molests girls may leave his own daughters untouched, so that the whole family can vouch for him. You get the picture.)

These are skilled criminals, not people who ‘fall’ into affairs in leadership. These are not pastors, bishops and ministry leaders; they are wolves. They are predators. They are power-mongers with lust issues; lust for power and lust for sex. They excommunicate and ostracize those who fail to live up to the constitution, and excuse their own sin. They  have no regard for the sacredness of sex and God’s laws, not to mention the laws of the land. They rape, overpower, molest and lust… and excommunicate victims for not being silent. (In any case, if a leader molests or abuses someone, he/she should be removed and dealt with, even if only a one time offence. They are not safe in positions of power.)

The more these allegations against church and ministry leaders come to light, in various communities and churches, the more certain I am that one of the key sources of the larger problem is the result of corrupt leadership. Be that 20% of the leaders, or 50%, or 5%, it’s too many. And, unfortunately, those leaders who are pure of heart genuinely struggle to grasp that a fellow-leader would/could do such a thing, and they too write things off as false allegations made by a troubled church member. This needs to change.

And that leads me to the the next thing in the constitution… The word of a member in good standing, according to some constitutions, is to be taken over that of those who are not in good standing. It takes little imagination to see that sex abuse victims are often very troubled and don’t do ‘constitution following’ very well, making their testimony easy to write off. And those victims who are faithful constitution followers are silent, because that’s what the constitution sets up. Some state that members are to first attempt resolving issues directly with those who wronged them, before going to leaders, meaning victims must first face their offender before seeking help. They further state that once communion has been observed and peace is expressed, a matter is to be considered forgiven and done.

The way these things are structures make church leaders – especially bishops, but also prominent ministry leaders and lay members of good rapport – almost untouchable. And that perpetuates the crimes both at a leadership level and among the people. Almost untouchable…

But God…

But God is not done. He will expose. He will bring to light. And He will give voice to victims so that these wolves will be stripped of their facades, and they will stand naked in their sins. And more than giving them a voice He will be their voice and He will speak boldly. And then there will be no constitution to manage damage control. There will be no hiding. The truth will be revealed.

What excites me is that God is raising up leaders ‘among them‘ who will not be silent.  Leaders who will not look the other way, and who will hold them accountable and turn them over to the law. These leaders and their wives have reached out to me, internationally, and encouraged me to never quit, never give up… And God is also raising up a network of law enforcement workers across USA who are listening. They are seeing the patterns, the cover-ups and the crime in the name of God.

Reckoning day is coming…

And that doesn’t even begin to account for standing before God with these sins exposed, their covers blown.

Victims have long been brutalized by organized religion, and have been silenced. But God…

(To be continued…)

As always…

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger 2018