My first contact with you was when I reached out to see if you would be available to speak to a group of (roughly 250) women at a conference for survivors of sexual assault and molestation. I wrote the following to you:
“I am inviting 4 individuals to make confessions to the women on behalf of men in general, fathers, mothers and pastors. My husband has lived with integrity and honour in my life and will address sexual abuse on behalf of all men. Our lead pastor died of cancer in May and he also lived with the same honour [in my life] on a spiritual level. I come from a deeply religious culture (Conservative–white bonnet–Mennonite) where our family suffered deep abuse so I cannot go back to those leaders. The other pastor I had is not available that night […] So, here I am, asking you if you would consider driving to our church […] to make a confession to a group of women at a conference. It’s not glamorous but it is a great honour. I recognize that I’m asking you to speak in a church when your calling is to minister to those who are sick of organized religion and its politics but so many of us have been ‘spiritually mutilated’–as one young lady said recently–and need someone to stand in the gap. I know you ‘walk the talk’ because three of our neighbours go to The Meeting House (Cambridge) as do some friends who left our church and my former doctor and his family and they all speak with respect and honour of you” (Messenger, August 30, 2010).
Your schedule was full. You did not fill the role. Within approximately two years of that, you violated a young woman’s trust and sexuality.
When it became publicly known that there are allegations against you, the shock left me reeling. I had not fully recovered from the allegations against Ravi Zacharias….
I met you and Ravi Zacharias in the hall when we took our youth to Fluid Gathering the first year it was held. There was no one else present; you and he were in conversation.
It was brief, our meeting; nothing memorable …. to you, I imagine. It was but a passing greeting. You seemed to not be the most social person I had met and looked relieved when you could offer a quick ‘hi’ and escape. That did not offend me. I had listened to your teachings which made it memorable for me. I had also heard quite a number of friends speak highly of your teaching style and personality. So I was not surprised when you seemed reserved; I already knew this about you.
Ravi was charming and clasped my hand in both of his. He leaned in and kissed me on both cheeks as he spoke ever so graciously; for one moment I was the only person in his world. I bought many of his books, either hard copy or ebook, and listened/read with fascination.
Starting in 2012 we attended The Meeting House (TMH) when I wasn’t traveling internationally, in ministry to survivors of sexual assault within religious communities. TMH was our place to land while I did my degrees at UWaterloo (overlapping with ministry); a place to sit and absorb teaching with no ministry duties, to avoid burnout.
In 2015 I wrote a second time: “[I]t is ministry that inspires me to write today… Until recently I had a ‘personal pastor’ in [USA], who was my ‘go to’ in the ministry[…]. That pastor is going through a very dark time […] and has retreated completely, not even responding to my encouraging notes. […] I do ministry to sexual abuse victims[…] and find it necessary to have a personal pastor1 with whom to connect, from time to time, with whom I can be honest and raw.” (Messenger, May 21, 2015).
That request led to semi-regular meetings with our site lead who was, from what I could tell, one of the most transparent pastors I had ever encountered. This was a huge support during a time when I had very few support systems in place while doing the hard work of listening to survivors, almost daily. I am so grateful for time he invested in me.
I recall well some of your messages. I can’t say that for a host of pastors, though there are others. But the one thing that stands out most is a statement about interacting with the opposite gender. You talked about acknowledging beauty, and honouring the person as God’s creation, never objectifying or using and dishonouring them. (I don’t remember your words. I only recall what they communicated). You were speaking my language. (My Blog Post on the topic: Every Erection Is Not Lust).
Over the years since you taught that, I brought it up to my husband from time to time, and shared it here and there. Finally a pastor who addresses the subject and honours women….
When allegations against you of sexual impropriety were made public, I felt numb. My heart sank. I held out ‘hope against hope’ that they were not true. If true, I held out hope that you would humbly acknowledge, resign and step down.
You were the third in a series of leaders I had (to varying degrees) respected, who had allegations brought against them. The first was a bishop, Howard Bean, in my former Mennonite affiliation. He had sexually assaulted a young woman when he taught school. I befriended her when I was 17 and she told me the tragic story, but withheld his name. When the story came to light in recent years, I was shocked to learn he had been a church leader in my denomination for years. Ravi Zacharias was second. Both cut to the core, leaving me shaken.
But when I heard the allegations against you, as someone who had attended TMH and sat under your teachings, and someone who works with survivors of sexual abuse… it about knocked the wind out of me. I still have no words for the shock. And how sick I felt telling my husband. The sadness. The sense of betrayal and loss.
When the allegations were confirmed as valid, I read your blog (My Confession). I saw the title and felt a wave of relief: you were owning the wrong committed and harm done. But as I read what you wrote, the sadness and betrayal moved to anger and trembling with grief.
I have worked for over 12 years with sexual abuse victims, and I have also sat with many who have sexually offended. I have heard true ownership. And I have heard self-preservation and blame-shifting or justification. I felt sick to my stomach — and do still as I recall — as you referred to the sexual impropriety as ‘an affair’.
(The following details, to the best of my knowledge, are fully accurate. I wish to be corrected if I have erred in anything). You were 46. She was 23. You a pastor in a large and growing church. She barely past her youth, looking up to a man in a position that (sadly) is often equated as representing God more than any other human; a pastor does lead the bride of Jesus, after all. You, experienced and exhibiting both knowledge and wisdom. She a young mind finding her path, embracing her beliefs, discovering who God is… who you portray him to be.
And you write that it was an affair.
The incredible power imbalance makes your claim so utterly shocking — from a man who has taught against abuse of power against cultures of less power; a man who has taught humble servanthood; a man who has taught sacrificing self for others…. The list could go on and on.
Yes, when I saw you were admitting that allegations of sexual impropriety were true, and especially when I heard of the age and power differentials, I expected you to humbly confess your wrong, own the harm, and free the victim from any responsibility.
Instead, you placed squarely on her shoulders the shame and the blame. You are a man revered to a fault; to some you cannot be guilty no matter what you did. Some defend you still. You have power on your side. You state you had confessed it to God, as though there was no need for any further action to free her from the power of the secret you carried… the weapon you became in her world. And the deception many of us feel, still. You had confessed. You were free. She carried the secret affair, as you called it, with a revered pastor.
The moment you freed yourself further from responsibility with a public ‘confession’ — that sounded like most offenders I’ve worked with, who self-justify and transfer blame — you also sentenced her to more shame, more blame, and more disillusionment with God. At 23 that’s a pretty heavy burden to carry, with life-long consequences. I don’t know her, or where she is in her faith today, but I do know many like her. And I have heard the struggle. If it isn’t impacting her that way, it is impacting others. I know because victims who admired you have contacted me.
My math tells me this took place soon after my request to represent pastors in the acknowledgement of sexual harm against women. You asked me to check with your secretary to see if your schedule is free. Surely you must have known the harm this would do…
If you had taken full ownership in “My Confession”, and stated you abused the trust of someone young enough to be your daughter, and called it pastoral abuse of power and sexual misconduct or sexual assault, it would have freed the young woman and set a noble example for others to also own their wrongs. Is Jesus not enough for that? What would He have called it?
Many of us counted on you to do this… to fully take ownership for taking advantage of youthful naivety. The added betrayal when you called it an affair, after all I heard you teach, shredded any trust that might have been rebuilt.
I have served as an investigator in a case not unlike this, as part of a team along with trained law enforcement and a pastor. I know what is involved and how exhausting it is to be thorough and call it what it is. What I can’t grasp is in what world a pastor at 46 and a youth at 23 have an affair.
If this was your daughter, at 23, with a well-known pastor with your level of power and influence (keeping in mind that influence is power) at 46, would you still call it an affair?
If this was an injustice involving the Indigenous and other Canadians, what would you teach God’s people to do? How would you address the power imbalance? How have you addressed these injustices in your peace teachings?
You have spent years teaching against violence. This is the most insidious of violent acts in the church, to prey on the vulnerable and young, and place the burden of that blame on their back.
Do not think that God will overlook when we, as leaders in His kingdom, take advantage of the powerless. Nor He will take His eyes off of those harmed. Spiritual Abuse and sexual violence to among the greatest harm in religious community. Especially when so intricately intertwined.
Praying, with hope, that you will rename your wrongs, call your actions by the power imbalance that this was (therefore, pastoral sexual abuse/assault), and publicly free her of blame.
There is grace. There is forgiveness. With truth.
© Trudy Metzger 2022
1. This is leftover teaching that I’ve long since abandoned, that each person in ministry must have a pastor under whose ‘umbrella’ they function. While I see the value of having someone with whom we share, who challenges, offers wisdom and simply listens, I no longer believe it needs to be a pastor. Nor do I believe it needs to be a male. In fact, as one pastor after the next after the next is exposed for sexual misconduct, or other betrayal, I find myself wondering how such power was ever given in the first place to such a position. Yes, there are noble and sincere pastors. But it certainly isn’t important to have a pastor over us in ministry. It is important to have strong relationships with fellow believers who can walk with us. I have Tim, for whom I am grateful, but he is also my lover and may just be a little bit biased. Sometimes we need not only our spouse, but a spouse and other mentor or friend who sees our blindspots. In any case, I am not interested in inadvertently promoting beliefs that I once held and now see to be destructive.