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.
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.
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.
A promise made is a promise to be kept.
And God knows I’d rather forget.
It has been a few weeks since June 8… that fateful day in the present situation with attempting to expose an offender, and challenge the way the case was handled. Soon after that day, and after my ‘apology blog’, I pulled down the blogs I had written that opened up the crazy can of worms… or snakes… that led to that day in the first place.
I pulled all the blogs after discovering my apology was not warranted. I wrote it in sincerity, having been made to believe that I was wrong about the offender’s repentance and the way in which his public ‘confession’ came about. But I also wrote it in absolute confusion because the evidence I had didn’t line up with what I was made to believe. And I pulled them because I needed time to process the shock factor at discovering I had been tripped and gas-lighted.
I have yet to fully understand all the motives behind that day, but I made a promise to tell the truth that I know, after a bit of rest.
On June 4 an apology was posted by the man who sexually assaulted one young woman, and made sexually explicit phone calls to many others. I was told that it was a coached apology, written by a group of men – and that this information came from the leader I previously called into questions, who had been part of that process. On June 7, I called that out because of the incredible damage it was doing to the victims. The leader who knew about the sexual assault, and did nothing to protect other vulnerable individuals, had played a role in this ‘apology’, and had asked one of the leaders I was working with if it would ‘help’ if the abuser apologized. And then, as the attacks and poop-flinging ensued, he watched the destruction and attacks without the integrity to step in and intervene, but instead ‘liked’ abusive comments… on the bogus ‘confession’. (A pastor involved told me that he ‘is not repentant, but wants to be’.) Shortly after calling this out, a comment was posted attacking me. It was so vile and abusive it left me shocked. (And it takes a lot to shock me.)
In the wee hours of June 8, having spent a sleepless night processing what it all meant, another message came in… I had spent the night struggling with the abusive comment, and the fact that this leader who works with sexual abuse victims would think such an apology was a good idea, (and then stand back and watch the destruction… as though that was ‘helping’), without the honour to stop it and admit what had been done.
And then I read the message that came in from one of the leaders I had worked with and trusted, “Trudy the misinformation coming from your public posts is staggering. It is truth with assigned motives that are very faulty. I also know about the editing. And why it was edited...” (There is a bigger piece to this that I am not free to tell, but will say that this leader did not agree with a half-baked confession, and if his advice had been taken, things would have shaken out very differently.)
I read it. Numb. Shock.
First, I understood ‘it is truth’ as meaning that the confession was true and sincere, and ‘with assigned motives’ as meaning that I was assigning faulty motives to the confession. And in that moment, I was a young teen, waiting to be excommunicated again. The allegations were not true, back then; I had not sinned the sins I was accused of. And in that moment, I was hurled into full blow flashback and PTSD. (It was not the first time in this experience of attempting to confront the abuser and bring an end to the abuse and hold leaders accountable that this happened. A previous time was when I was told that the leader (who appears to be) protecting the abuser, rates the man at a ‘3 out of 10’ for risk and/or perversion “because he gets no sexual pleasure from what he does”. Wait… Wha…? I can’t even go there…)
In 27 years of working through my past, I recall a total of 6 … maybe 7 extreme PTSD/flashbacks. At least 3 have occurred in the past 3 months of dealing with this scenario and attempting to work with leaders, while watching as sexual abuse is downplayed, victims are re-victimized, and I am gaslighted. It is not an easy thing to deal with high level abuse. And hearing things like rating an offender a ‘3 out of 10’ because ‘he gets no sexual gratification from his crimes’ was horrifying on so many levels. That means many, if not most, child molesters are not a big deal because many touch the child without any form of penetration. This, again, effectively makes it all about the offender. God forbid we look too closely at the hell it brings into a child’s life.
By June 9 two things happened. I was informed that, in fact, what I had written in my status updates was truth. It was a group effort apology, and was intended to calm the chaos. (I am no longer convinced I was ‘off’ in what I assigned to it. It was to protect the offender, as I understand/see it, by calming the chaos. And such apologies always serve only to further victimize the victims and make the offender look good. It’s wicked, in my opinion and is often mentioned by victims as being one of the most damaging things in they have suffered in religious context related to the handling of abuse they suffered. “Let your yay be yay…” Don’t say an apology that isn’t true. That’s not appropriate. And if the man *wants* to be repentant, for heaven’s sake, help him face the consequences and stop lying to himself so he *can* be repentant!)
The other thing that happened by June 9, is that several people (unrelated to each other, and still unknown to each other) called me to tell me to watch my back. One said the leader close to the abuser had said I’m a Jezebel (more than once, over a period of months since January). And another said the leader called me a matriarchal woman and called one of the victims is a matriarchal witch. They commented on his hatred for Jezebel and his determination to destroy ‘Jezebel’. (Based on this, they were concerned that the leader was assigning his hatred for Jezebel to me, since that is who/what I represent to him.) Rather than ‘throw me’ or upset me, it brought clarity and understanding, and helped put all the ‘crazy’ in context.
I draw a line in the sand. I stand against abuse, and this is spiritual abuse to which I will not subject myself, and against which I will take a firm stand, not only for my sake but also for the sake of every woman and man subjected to this kind of abuse while Christian leaders rise up to protect each other. Until full ownership is taken (by him)for this abuse, and other abusive behaviours (by this leader), I am taking a firm stand to endorsenothing and partner with nothing in ministry that involves this leader. And ownership includes acknowledging the careless handling of the situation, disregarding those who approached him before me (at least 5 godly men and women – info that was forwarded to me via someone the leader’s wife shared it with), and apologizing for the name-calling and spiritual abuse.
I am choosing a path of forgiveness, but not a path of silence. And forgiveness also does not mean I won’t have firm boundaries, because forgiveness does not include letting abuse go unchallenged. And if we cannot hold each other accountable as leaders for abusive behaviours and putting others at risk then shame on us all. If we fear the blood-bath at our feet, when it involves leaders and ministries, and don’t recognize that the bloodbath has been going on for victims for many generations, with no one to intervene for them…. If we protect leaders and/or from consequences for abuse, and don’t protect victims from such individuals., then we have failed…. and God have mercy on us all.
I do not know where things stand with this whole situation, as far as what other leaders are doing with it. But I do know I am taking a stand against abuse, and I stand firm on the evidence and the account I have given of this situation.
If you have questions, send me an email. If it’s out of curiosity with no higher purpose, I’m not interested in engaging. If it’s to destroy people – whether ‘them’ or me – I’m not interested. If it’s for the sake of truth and for the good of your community, the actors involved here or some positive end, I’m more than willing to interact.
Her white gown flowed with grace and beauty. She was stunning. The bride. She stood at some distance from me, and I watched. Who was she? What was that glow? I couldn’t see her eyes clearly, but I had no doubt they sparkled with joy. Her ruby lips, full and sweet carried the kiss of love for her Bridegroom.
I, a stranger, watched from the fence line of my property. I didn’t know the bride or her groom, but when everyone talks about the most amazing wedding of all time – even greater than Prince Charles and Lady Diana, or their children’s weddings. The greatest wedding ever. That’s what the rumour was, when I heard it. So, from my place, my yard, I watched it unfold. She moved closer, the bride, on her path toward the groom, where he stood waiting to make her his. His eyes… Oh his eyes….
My heart skipped a beat, and a tear slipped down my face. Such love! I wondered what it would be like… But I pushed that thought back. Not me. Not in my world. Such love has no room in the rejected ones. My mind slipped back in time. I could hear my father beating her, the woman who had carried and birthed me. I was three then. I heard her, the woman who gave birth to me, curse me, curse my siblings, call us things… things so dark that I felt like a whore. I was still three then. I turned again to the bride, to the groom, trying to grasp this love… But, no, that love was not my destiny. I would always be one of the rejected ones, the unlovables. Best to not dream…
I could see her eyes now… the sparkle. Another tear … and then another. Oh, if only I could be part of that wedding! There were crowds and crowds on the other side of the fence, all wearing white. It was breathtaking…
But, I … I was one of the castaway ones.
And then, as the bride moved closer, the most amazing thing happened. She turned, in her glory, and her eyes looked right into mine. She raised her hand, gesturing for me to come join the wedding. I looked at my overall denim jumper, my gardening gloves covered in dirt, weeds still hanging from my hand. I looked at my weedy garden. And I shook my head, looking down, ashamed. She moved closer. I could smell the sweet perfume and hear her voice singing. The bride was singing to me, still beckoning.
I looked at the crowd. The white, in stark contrast with my rubber boots, covered in mud. They sang. The words. Why were they praising the groom, but also singing my name? Why was the bride beckoning? I looked around as if to find someone to pinch me and wake me. Surely this had to be a dream… a vision. I was nobody. Worthless. But the singing continued. They were all inviting me to join the wedding march. “Come just as you are”, they sang.
The bride pointed to the groom. He stood there, holding a white dress, for me. There was water for me to wash myself. Overwhelmed, I did the only thing I could do. I crawled over that old fence and ran to the Groom. Having washed, and dressed in white, I joined the crowd. The words of the song formed on my lips, and I sang. From my heart, I sang of the wonderful groom. And when I met them, the people on the other side of the fence, the bride and I sang the praises of the groom, and the names of those we met. Some joined. Some didn’t. All was well.
We were dressed, we were fed, we had every need met. I hardly thought of the past, the beatings, the name-calling, the rapes and abuse I had suffered. My new life was good. Too good to be true. But it was true. No one shook my body, calling my name to wake up. Reality. Truth. I knew love and care for the first time, in the wedding march.
One day I surveyed the train of the bride’s veil with great curiosity. It was long. So long, in fact, I couldn’t see the end of it. And then I saw it. A movement, as if there was struggle under the train, for as far as I could see, the bulges and movement continued. The bridesmaids carried the train, seemingly without questioning the thing I saw. Did they not see it? Maybe it was nothing. But it troubled me.
I ran for a groomsman – because the bride had said if ever we need something, anything at all, we should go to the groomsmen. They would help. And if it required a bridesmaid, the groomsmen would know which ones were equipped to help. The groomsman looked at the commotion I pointed to, and calmly responded, “There is no struggle. That’s nothing. Keep singing.”
His voice rose louder, and the people around sang louder too. The commotion under the train continued. I squeezed between the bridesmaids and reached for the train, trying to look under it. But, to my shock, one of the groomsman slapped my hand and then motioned for me to sing. I tried to sing. I wanted to sing, but something told me I had to see under the train. I lagged behind, trying to hide in the fringe crowd. From there, I would slip in and see what was under the train. I could see the writhing, and I would not quit until I knew what it was about.
I whispered to a sweet looking bridesmaid, and asked her what is under the train. She shushed me, urged me to focus on the wedding, on the groom, and keep singing. Seeing I would not stop, she explained. To look under the train would leave me deceived. I must not. I dare not. There was nothing under the train, she assured me. These imaginations had been presented by other deceived ones who wanted to destroy the bride, the groomsmen and the bridesmaid. She was only trying to protect me, she said. Her voice was sweet, consoling, reassuring.
I wondered what was wrong with me, and why I would imagine such things?
A man and a woman walked toward the train, carrying something. But what? The bridesmaids lifted the train, and I watched as they flung the large ‘package’ under the train. Their hands were red… Was that blood? I shuddered. No. This imagination, it needed to stop. I was going insane. I sang louder, more enthusiastically.
But it happened again. Another one tossed under the train of her robe. And another. And another.
I sang louder. And louder. And louder.
But the words… the words fell flat.
We sang of how the groom had given his mansion for us…
And then I heard the scream. Bloodcurdling, life-stopping scream.
A few in the audience mimicked it as if to make me believe it was part of the song. But I knew. I knew… I remembered that scream… It was my scream. I had screamed in the night. A child. A teen. A young woman. And the train had suffocated me. I would not, I could not hold back.
I ran, full force between the bridesmaids holding the train and grabbed it, trying to wrestle it from the bridesmaids. But they would not let me near it. They pushed me back.
A small hand reached out from under the train. I tried to grab it, but the bridesmaid stomped on the hand, and quickly it disappeared.
The bridesmaid called over a groomsman and soon others gathered around me, and gave me a row for creating such havoc in the wedding party. Had I no awareness that the groom wanted my attention? Did I not know that he would take care of these things? Why was I so intent on destroying the groomsmen and the bridesmaids? Did I not know that these men and women were forgiven? Had I learned nothing?
The small hand slipped out again.. and then another… and another… and another. And feet, as bodies tried to crawl out. I saw them, moving, blood-covered, flesh grown wild with disease and gangrene covering limbs.
Shocked, I gasped. Then vomited.
How…? “My God! My God!” I wept. I looked at the groom. The groom this wedding march had pointed to and told me to worship… Our eyes met. I watched as his body doubled and he vomited, and he wept. And I knew…
Without a thought, I dove under the train. Dead bodies. More diseased bodies. Bones from ages past. Some delusional ones holding bibles, trying frantically to find some word to heal them of their disease. Others, cursing the groom and shaking their fists at him, lifting middle fingers high toward the heavens. Fingers bleeding from being stomped on.
Men in what robes dove under, raped the corpses, the dying… even the infants. Women in white robes joined in, forcing objects into their little bodies, or forcing the little and dying ones to bring sexual pleasure to their own bodies, before kicking them and leaving them to bleed. As those in white exited they stood tall, and told those near them they had done things that displeased the groom. The crowd wept, and patted them on the back for their honesty, and washed the blood and diseased flesh off of them, and reminded them that the groom had forgiven. And together they sang.
I screamed at the top of my lungs, with everything in me, “These children are dying!! These women are dying!! These men are dying!! They carry the disease of the men and women who have raped and beaten them!”
A boot landed in my face. A white boot. A lead groomsmen. It left me reeling. Surely he doesn’t know what is going on here? I grabbed his hand and tried to show him the devastation. He nodded. “What you see here,” he said, “isn’t the fault of those who raped them. These are the ones who cannot forgive. They don’t know the groom. That’s the problem.”
He seemed to speak from a place of truth. So I started to sing. I sang under the train to those dying. As I sang, their flesh fell off their bones. Why, when I was singing the life-giving words that had brought me hope… The words the groomsmen had taught me… the words they said were the groom’s words… Why was the flesh falling from their bones? I was baffled.
The men and women who had raped and beaten the wounded ones, pointed at me. “You are angry. You are bitter! You won’t forgive!” they shouted. “Stop blaming us! We are forgiven! You need healing! We are suffering for the groom here! Can’t you see what you are doing?” And as they shouted the crowd gathered around them and sang, patting them on the back.
I looked at the dying child in my arms. Clearly these people were not going to help these wounded ones. I ran to the groom. I yelled. I screamed. I wept.
“Why?!!! Why are they dying? Why can’t they just forgive those who infect them with this flesh-eating disease? Why? I am singing! I am praising you! It’s supposed to heal them!”
The groom looked at me, tears running down His face. “As they have done it to the least of these… the most vulnerable among them, they have done it to me. If they have disregarded them, they have disregarded me. Come with me…”
He led me back to the dead and dying and eyes were opened. There I saw the groom, nearly naked, dressed in nothing but rags, and taking on the flesh-eating disease and other illness. He was healing them. He reached out, without shame or reserve, and touched the bones which held no flesh. And suddenly there was flesh. His hand bore the scar, having taken on their diseased flesh. He knelt down, breathed deep into the face of a dead child, and suddenly there was life. He took the hand of a cripple, and he danced with joy. He kissed the eyes of the blind and they saw. The heart that stopped beating, he laid his hands on and in one instant it started beating.
Then he stood and walked into the crowd and shouted. “I called you to be like Me! I confronted religious spirits. I healed the broken hearted. I acknowledged pain. I let the prostitute weep on my feet. I walked among the diseased, the lepers, the untouchables and unlovables. I never condemned them for speaking out. I never condemned those who spoke truth. I confronted half-truths and deception. And I healed the contrite sinner who held nothing back. I was not popular! I was hated, not protected by religious institutions. I called you to be like Me!”
He paused. He did not praise me, and he did not shame me. He pointed to the bodies, diseased and dying and commanded, “acknowledge their pain and let me heal them!” And then he walked deeper into the audience and began stripping the robes that had been handed out in his name, but without his blessing. There, the flesh-eating disease was carefully hidden, gangrene setting in.
“The truth… The truth will make you free. I AM Truth. Live my Life and Love among them,” he said, again pointing to the wounded ones.
He moved forward and lifted the train, exposing the bride’s feet. They were mottled, a sign of poor circulation and pending death. Gangrene was setting in. The groom fell to the ground and wept. “My bride! My beautiful bride! I gave everything I have for you!”
He turned to the groomsmen and bridesmaids. “I called you to protect her! I called you to guard her, not to destroy her by hiding diseases under her train! Pointing under the train he shouted, “This will destroy my bride if you do not rise up! Rise up! Stand for truth. I came to confront religious arrogance. I came to heal the broken-hearted. I came to set the captives free. You have not only neglected them, but added to their broken-heartedness and led them into deeper bondage. You will give account.”
And the people kept singing. A few touched up the bride’s makeup. But the train could never again hide the dying children, the diseased women and men, young boys and girls who had long lay under it. It could never again hide the dead bodies, the stench of which had stained the inside of the train.
And the groom, he stayed there on the ground. He did not dance and sing. He wept for the wounded ones even as he wiped the tears. He held them, as he sat there in sackcloth, and he healed them. He gave them each a white robe as he healed them. Most joined him in the ruins. Others went to the groomsmen, the bridesmaids and the crowds and kept pointing to the groom, directing the crowds away from the din and noise. They even spoke to the men and women who raped and beat the unlovables, and pointed them to the groom.
Because the groom… The groom will heal all who humbly accept truth.
Proverbs 31:8 “Open your mouth for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all who are destitute.”
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
Matthew 12: 20
A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.
Praying for the courage of many to rise up. We are losing too many victims to atheism, pain and depression. Dare to do what Jesus would do. Confront predators. Walk gently with the broken hearted. Settle for nothing less that truth. And invite all to Jesus.
“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.
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. Powerthat is accountable to no one is absolute power, and it absolutely is corrupt. No human gets to play God, be untouchable by those they lead, and still stay human and flawed in their own mind. That kind of power leads to grandiose thinking, narcissism and idolatry. When people who follow such a leaders start believing they have a special kind of ‘in’ with God, and maybe it’s okay for them to do things others can’t, rather than exposing leaders’ crimes, we have a real problem. And these were the testimonies of some of the women in the studies I read; rather than exposing crime they saw leaders are having ‘special permission’ from God. This matches what I’ve heard from victims I’ve worked with.
Every spiritual leader and person in ministry I’ve known is prone to failure and sin, myself included. We all have to repent. Every last one of us. Knowing many others, and knowing myself, I have concluded we are all the same. All human, just like you. All sinners saved by grace. We, like the Apostle Paul, do the things we don’t want to do and don’t get done what we want to do. But true leaders do not justify sin and crime in their own lives.
Do away with the pedestals. They are not stable and only stay up as long as people are willing to hold them up. On a pedestal repentance is difficult, as is facing consequences for sin and crime. There’s the fear that if people discover how broken and human we are they will be destroyed by our imperfection and lose their faith in God. Even in this we raise ourselves to a God-like-status. But it’s not truth. They’ll be fine, believe it or not, if they see our humanity. And if they aren’t, the perception of perfection is better crushed. It’s their one hope of replacing leaders with God, and giving God His rightful place.
So how do leaders rise to that place in the minds of (their) people? Because, let’s face it, none are ‘all that and a bag of chips’ once you get to know them. They may be wonderful and nice, and all, but they are human. And I’ve not met one that isn’t somehow selfish, no matter who they desire to be. Me included. We are all human; you and I, and on the same level.
I can’t speak to the ‘how’ of every religious community, but it struck me in my readings for the research I did, that it is a taught and controlled path to the top. A path carefully laid out in the constitutions and rule books, including Anabaptists and Orthodox Jews among others. Of course my ‘knowing’ from experience and observation also gave me insights other ‘outsiders’ wouldn’t see. (Regrettably, I cannot use the material from that research publicly at this time, t is also part of my PhD application package.)
Some church constitutions state that charges or allegations can only be brought against a church leader if there are several witnesses. If there is one thing sex offenders and child molesters know, it is to never leave room for witnesses. The lengths to which they go in planning and scheming, or their skill at taking advantage of the vulnerable person at hand, would leave room for little chance of ever having even one witness, let alone two. They are opportunistic, and have an uncanny ability to sniff out the vulnerable ones who have no voice.
Now take those skills, give them to a revered church leader who knows who is who, and what church families struggles with, and who is vulnerable, insecure, abused (by parents, spouse or teacher etc), and you have a perfect storm. When sex offenders and molesters become preachers and bishops, or ministry leaders, and especially if they have that lovable personality, they have access to victims with a reputation that is well fortressed. Offenders in church leadership are often very charismatic leaders who ‘love’ people, and are loved and worshiped by their followers. They have no need to defend themselves, because they have built their empire so that no one will believe the allegations, and the people will rise to their defence so they need only to sit back and watch as their voiceless victims scramble for someone, anyone to hear them.
These offenders will likely have made certain to have enough trusted relationships with the demographic of their victims who can vouch for them as respectful and safe, to ensure that allegations sound foolish and far-fetched. (For example, students are often shocked when the teacher is caught molesting because the teacher was respectful to most students. The ministry leader or minister who violates the vulnerable wives of the abusive men they help may have the respect of many of the wives of these men, having never made moves or crossed lines, thus making the rest sound ridiculous when they bring forward their allegations. And the leader who molests girls may leave his own daughters untouched, so that the whole family can vouch for him. You get the picture.)
These are skilled criminals, not people who ‘fall’ into affairs in leadership. These are not pastors, bishops and ministry leaders; they are wolves. They are predators. They are power-mongers with lust issues; lust for power and lust for sex. They excommunicate and ostracize those who fail to live up to the constitution, and excuse their own sin. They have no regard for the sacredness of sex and God’s laws, not to mention the laws of the land. They rape, overpower, molest and lust… and excommunicate victims for not being silent. (In any case, if a leader molests or abuses someone, he/she should be removed and dealt with, even if only a one time offence. They are not safe in positions of power.)
The more these allegations against church and ministry leaders come to light, in various communities and churches, the more certain I am that one of the key sources of the larger problem is the result of corrupt leadership. Be that 20% of the leaders, or 50%, or 5%, it’s too many. And, unfortunately, those leaders who are pure of heart genuinely struggle to grasp that a fellow-leader would/could do such a thing, and they too write things off as false allegations made by a troubled church member. This needs to change.
And that leads me to the the next thing in the constitution… The word of a member in good standing, according to some constitutions, is to be taken over that of those who are not in good standing. It takes little imagination to see that sex abuse victims are often very troubled and don’t do ‘constitution following’ very well, making their testimony easy to write off. And those victims who are faithful constitution followers are silent, because that’s what the constitution sets up. Some state that members are to first attempt resolving issues directly with those who wronged them, before going to leaders, meaning victims must first face their offender before seeking help. They further state that once communion has been observed and peace is expressed, a matter is to be considered forgiven and done.
The way these things are structures make church leaders – especially bishops, but also prominent ministry leaders and lay members of good rapport – almost untouchable. And that perpetuates the crimes both at a leadership level and among the people. Almost untouchable…
But God is not done. He will expose. He will bring to light. And He will give voice to victims so that these wolves will be stripped of their facades, and they will stand naked in their sins. And more than giving them a voice He will be their voice and He will speak boldly. And then there will be no constitution to manage damage control. There will be no hiding. The truth will be revealed.
What excites me is that God is raising up leaders ‘among them‘ who will not be silent. Leaders who will not look the other way, and who will hold them accountable and turn them over to the law. These leaders and their wives have reached out to me, internationally, and encouraged me to never quit, never give up… And God is also raising up a network of law enforcement workers across USA who are listening. They are seeing the patterns, the cover-ups and the crime in the name of God.
Reckoning day is coming…
And that doesn’t even begin to account for standing before God with these sins exposed, their covers blown.
Victims have long been brutalized by organized religion, and have been silenced. But God…