True forgiveness leaves offenders in their own noose… And a sneak peek at survey results

We Anabaptists say that for a Catholic priest to forgive a penitent sinner is false doctrine. He has no such authority, we say, to stand in the place of God and forgive sins.

We then turn around and teach that victims of sexual abuse and violence must forgive their offenders. It is his/her Christian duty. And we teach that it brings freedom not only to the offended but also to the offender. Moreover, we have members’ meetings in which the guilty are singled out, and the congregation stands to declare forgiveness.

Tell me, if the Catholic priest has no such rights and authority, how can we say that we do? Do we not also stand in the place of God, and encourage victims to do so, when we make forgiveness about the offender? (I understand the priest ‘absolves’ the sinner, which sounds much worse, but only means to set free from guilt or responsibility. So, same thing as forgiveness. Same doctrinal practice).

Forgiveness is one of the most crucial aspects of *our own healing*. It has nothing to do with setting the other person free from their sins or wrongs. It sets *us* free from *their* sins and wrongs. It’s like it cuts the rope of the noose the offender placed around our neck, and allows us to truly live, completely released from him/her and the crimes committed against us.

Part of that noose is vindictiveness; entertaining the urge to retaliate. Part of that noose is vengeance; the act of getting even and letting them have it. Part of that noose is hatred; despising the person rather than the vile acts they committed. When we cut the noose, we release hatred for the person, and we release vengeance and vindictiveness. We are no longer obsessed with getting back at them. We trade those things for compassion, and maintain a desire for truth and justice, and to protect the vulnerable. The latter qualities do not evaporate with forgiveness. In this exchange, when we forgive, we become whole and the noose about our neck is severed.

When we cut that noose, however, offenders are no more free from their noose than before we forgave. He/she must come before God taking full ownership and in full repentance to be freed from the noose around his/her neck. Both ‘cheap forgiveness’ — the kind that quickly tidies things up to look good,  and lack of forgiveness — that keeps us constantly seeking vengeance, hold offender in bondage and do nothing for the freedom of the victim. It is a gift to the offender to be held accountable.

We are set free when we forgive, and we release them to accountability before God and the law.

In other words, forgiveness is an act of faith in God. Through forgiveness we recognize that the offender remains accountable before God for his/her sins/crimes, not to us. Vengeance is not ours; it is Gods.

Forgiveness also does not fulfil the demand of law and government. That is a separate accountability structure. (Romans 13). We have no more authority to ‘forgive’ the offender and ‘free them from responsibility to the law’ than we have to offer eternal life through forgiveness of sins.

False doctrine surrounding forgiveness keeps both victim and offender in bondage to the sin/crime committed. It keeps the victim in bondage to the consequences of the offender’s sins/crimes. We were not designed to carry the consequences of our own sins, let alone the sins of another. We can only choose to take ownership of our healing needs that result from those sins/crimes.

Forgiveness leaves the offender, right there in his/her own noose, before God. Because that noose has nothing to do with the victim. It has everything to do with his/her heart before God. It leaves the offender with the choice to reach up and cry out for forgiveness from God, and turn from the wickedness, or to slowly strangle the life out of him/herself. Our false doctrine of forgiveness leaves the offender to strangle, not realizing that’s what is happening.

True forgiveness, separated from the offender and his/her story, sets the victim free from the offender. It sets the victim free from the offence. It sets the victim free *from the consequences of the offence*. It releases the victim *from* being a victim *to* being empowered.

True forgiveness frees the victim to become an overcomer. And it frees the victim to take ownership of his/her own healing.

That’s what real forgiveness does.

***

SURVEY:

Currently we have a survey looking at Conservative Anabaptist Leaders’ Responses to Sexual Abuse and Domestic Violence.  We have 77 responses in under two days, which is outstanding. We are also collecting data on relationship of offender(s) to victims. Some of the results, as usual, are pretty much what we expected. Others are startling. For example:

SNEAK PREVIEW OF SURVEY RESULTS BASED ON 78 respondents:
• 40% of victims have been assaulted by their brothers
• 31%  of victims have been assaulted by family friends
• 27% of victims have been assaulted by their fathers
• 10% of victims have been assaulted by their mothers
• 15% of victims have been sexually assaulted by more than 5 offenders
• Roughly 57% of victims who suffered only SA or only DV left the conservative; When the two are combined — SA & DV — that number jumps to nearly 70%
• 30% of SA victims (no DV) who left the church say leaders played a significant role in their leaving the church; coincidentally 42% of all SA victims (no DV)  would recommend going to leaders
• 36% of DV victims who left the church say leaders’ response played a significant role in leaving the church; 87% advise victims NOT to go to leaders for support
• 42% of SA & DV victims who left the church say leaders’ response played a significant role in leaving the church; 100% advise victims NOT to go to leaders for support

NOTE: While the numbers are startling, it should not be assumed that 10% of all CA survivors (outside of this study) were molested by mothers. There are many factors that could contribute to this representation in this particular survey.
….

There is much more emerging, and when we have enough participants to feel fairly confident in the data, I plan to do a deep analysis and share some of the graphs and stats here. I’m hopeful that we will have around 200 participants with a bit of time. (Currently we are at 78, so climbing even since writing the last two paragraphs).

I have fine-tuned that survey, and will release the improved version on our new Survey’s Page shortly. (Hoping later tonight). I plan to update this page with new surveys as I get then ready, so check back. While this blog is the sole ownership and responsibility of myself, Trudy Metzger, the data gathered will be used by Generations Unleashed to better understand sexual abuse in our culture. I will also share surveys for other individual i trust, and who are researching sexual abuse.

I am hopeful that as the conversations continue, professionals and support persons alike will be equipped to give better advice and support sexual abuse survivors in our conservative Mennonite culture. For example, if professionals are encouraging victims to go to their leaders, but victims are finding their leaders to be abusive, then such advice should stop.

But it should not end there. Leaders should be trained and equipped to respond in more effective ways. Looking at the results above it appears (and has consistently throughout the survey) that leaders’ response to DV is even more neglectful than sexual abuse. There are many things that play into responses, including silence surrounding the topic. Respondents talked about ‘seeing change’ and ‘being hopeful’ that there is improvement. And some referenced ‘the last 10 years’.

This makes sense to me. The last 10 years is when we’ve started addressing sexual abuse more and more openly. It is anecdotal evidence that conversation is necessary for change. So let’s keep talking!

And, lest I’ve completely distracted you from good intentions, you can take the survey Conservative Anabaptist Leaders’ Responses to Sexual Abuse and Domestic Violence and let your voice make a difference. Also, for more accurate results.

As always,

Love,
~ T ~

 

© Trudy Metzger 2019

Should survivors of sexual abuse or domestic to go to church leaders to report and/or seek support?

Survivors of SEXUAL ABUSE and DOMESTIC VIOLENCE in ANABAPTIST COMMUNITY:

Should professionals advise survivors of sexual abuse or domestic to go to church leaders to report and/or seek support? Would you advise them to go to leaders, based on your experience? Why, or why not?

In the past I’ve said (and probably will again in the future) that it is not fair to put it on leaders to counsel victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence. They have no training for it. They are not counsellors or psychologists. Not usually, anyway. And how do they effectively support 1 in 3 to 4 women and 1 in 5 to 6 who have been sexually abused, and the domestic violence cases besides? Is it reasonable to expect this? Is it even wise?

Some say it is their duty. Others say it does more harm than good to have those with limited (or no) training and knowledge on these topics be the ‘go to’.  I have my thoughts and opinions, formulated through ten years of working with sexual abuse and occasionally domestic violence victims.

I would love to hear your thoughts, either for or against. To take the survey visit: Conservative Anabaptist Leaders’ Response to Sexual Abuse and Domestic Violence. The survey is completely anonymous.

As always…
Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger 2019

Forgiveness; Compassion; William McGrath a Conservative Anabaptist Leader and Sex Offender, and all the Things

FORGIVENESS
In all the Christian talk about the beauty of forgiveness, we have made the mistake of teaching and believing that forgiveness and justice are at odds. They are compatible. It is not ‘forgiveness *or* justice’. It is ‘forgiveness *and* justice’. God loves both.

The problem is that we really do not understand what forgiveness is and means, and we really don’t understand what justice is and means. (I do not propose to have the understanding either! But to think they are at odds is evidence we are missing something). As a result, most teachings on forgiveness are imbalanced, saying you must choose ‘only’ forgiveness. Many even teach that to forgive means “I am taking the consequences of your sin on myself.”

I would propose that we release ourselves from the consequences of their wrongs and sins when we forgive. Forgiveness is a matter of releasing my heart from the burden I carry as a result of the evils done against me. The greatest longterm ongoing consequence for most sins committed against me is what I believe as a result of that wrong. (There are exceptions. If a drunk driver kills my child, the longterm consequences is my grief, the loss of that child and all that goes with it. I speak here specifically to my experience and most wrong committed against me).

My forgiveness cannot free the other person; only God’s forgiveness can do that. In fact, if handled in such a way that the other person never truly comes to grips with their wrongdoing, ‘forgiveness’ (as taught by many) keeps that person in bondage. There is a kindness in a person being confronted with their own capacity for evil, when paired with compassion, mercy, grace and consequences that holds him/her accountable. If the offender is truly repentant, this encounter is life altering and a gift to him/her and those in relationship with them.

I believe in forgiveness. It transformed my life. It continues to transform my life. It is what set me free to live a whole life, to pursue my calling. And it is what breaks the power their actions had over me. It does not impose on me any code of silence. It does change the way I speak about it. I still call out evil. I still call out corruption and manipulation. I do not hate. I do not call for beheadings, literally or figuratively. I still support going to the law and ensuring offenders cannot continue to hurt people. That’s part of justice.

There is no justice in leaving children vulnerable to predators. None. Nor is that forgiveness. That is ignorance. But true justice never calls for the destruction (death or other) of the wrongdoer. Because true justice recognizes that I, too, am fallen humanity who deserves judgement, and the grace I have received is the grace I pass on. God did not remove this life’s consequences; I continue to live with those to this day. But He did offer me eternal life and removed from me the consequence of eternal death.  That is a gift I offer others, along with restoring their humanity, seeing them as having both capacity for good and for evil, and treating them with dignity even while holding them accountable for that evil.

***

Over my mother’s funeral several of my offenders showed up . One, in particular, stood out. He looks but a broken shell of humanity. Though he is not a family member, I’ve seen him at numerous family events such as weddings and funerals — I anticipate I will see him again tomorrow — and always what it stirs in my heart is grief. Not for what was done against me — I’m done with that grieving and am healed — but of what sin robbed him of. That’s not to say he hasn’t made his heart right before God. I’m not one to judge that. But the eyes tell a story…. and the story his tell… 

I saw him there… So I walked over, stood behind the gentleman talking to him and waited ‘in line’ to speak with him. When my turn came, I shook his hand, and thanked him for his expression of sympathy by coming to mom’s funeral. Admittedly, he looked relieved when my thanks was all I had to say to him.

Whatever he took from me when he molested me, it does not compare with what he lost within himself, and the consequences he has to live with for his choices. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not downplaying his crimes; they had a huge impact on me. Truth is, odds are high I would still be conservative Anabaptist if he had not done what he did. That is where and when I started feeling lost in the culture to such a degree that I knew I could not stay. I saw myself as a misfit who would never survive, and whose dreams would never come true ‘among them’. Trust me, I do not bemoan the outcome, but at the time, as a young teen who dreamed of marrying a Mennonite man — ideally a farmer — it was devastating. I saw only ‘old rejected spinster’ in my future, and that belief isolated me.

The greater harm was the sexual confusion it threw me into. Feeling things for which I had no words or teaching, and the ensuing years of deep shame it cost me. And because word got out, I had no idea who all knew. Every time a young man looked at me, I was sure he was thinking “slut”. So I would sit through special meetings at other churches, blushing and ashamed, whenever a young man looked my way. Yes, the cost was significant.

But I saw the consequences in his eyes at mom’s funeral, and felt only compassion. Since seeing him at mom’s funeral, I’ve said to Tim from time to time, “I think I need to go visit him and his wife. I need to have a conversation with them….”

We will see. If and when the time is right, I will do it. And that visit won’t be for my own good or healing; it will be for his redemption. Not relational restoration. That is not necessary. But his deep soul redemption and freedom.

If I do it, I do it of my own choice. And that choice has nothing whatsoever to do with forgiveness, other than to give me the courage to do it. Forgiveness is something I did in my heart before God many years ago. These things should not be confused with forgiveness, because they are not a requirement of the forgiving process.

COMPASSION
I felt that same compassion standing in the courtroom at Jeriah Mast’s hearing. First, and foremost, I felt deep grief for those whom Jeriah victimized. When the judge read the list of crimes Jeriah confessed to committing, it was all I could do to hold myself together and not begin sobbing. When the judge read how only weeks before the sentencing, Jeriah still said his sexual assaults (at age 25) of minors under 13 was ‘consensual’, I felt frustrated that he still doesn’t ‘get it’ how incredibly vile it is to use children and that there is no such thing as ‘consensual’ when adults take advantage of children. And when the judge handed down the sentence and explained why he chose the 9 years instead of a lesser sentence– because Jeriah is an ongoing risk to the public, in part because he doesn’t get it — I felt a mix of sadness and gratitude. Sad that it is a judge who ‘gets it’, not the church, and gratitude that at least someone does.

And when I saw Jeriah handcuffed and taken from the courtroom before a numb audience (his church and family, by all appearances), I felt compassion and deep sorrow. Sorrow that Jeriah’s crimes caused so much loss and harm to the victims, his wife and family, and his friends. Sorrow that so much of religion doesn’t grasp the harm and rallies for the offender. (I was one of less than a handful of people – and that’s a generous number – who were there to support the victims in a courtroom so full that people were standing around the room). And compassion for Jeriah’s soul and the things that took him down this path. It came out in court that he had been sexually abused by an older brother. This in now way excuses his evil deeds. To commit them was a choice, and he must own that before God and man.

Some say he has owned it. I reiterate that his comments not long before sentencing, minimizing his crimes to ‘consensual acts’, are revealing of his lack of grasping the severity of his crimes, which means he isn’t safe around the vulnerable, but the rest — repentance and forgiveness — I leave between him and God. And leave it with God to fully break him and help him understand how evil and far reaching the crimes/sins are. And to understand that children should be protected by 25 year old men; they should not need to be protected from them. 

***

William McGrath. The name evokes many and various responses, depending who is in the audience. Those who hold him high, and idolize this cultural trophy with his charismatic (so some say) personality, it evokes high praise and reverence. For his victims, and those near them, who watched a religious culture idolize him, then (some) question him, followed by deafening silence and cover-up, the name is a reminder of loss and suffering without proper acknowledgement of truth, and certainly a lack of justice. For the Beachy Amish leaders who investigated and then fell short of being honourable, I imagine the name brings shame.

For the woman whose husband — a victim of McGrath — committed suicide… I cannot imagine the deep suffering she has experienced at the silence, and at not hearing McGrath’s name where it should have been spoken, and where his actions should have been unequivocally condemned. And I can’t imagine how healing it must be for her to know that someone has heard her cries.

And ‘that someone’ who heard is the author of Anabaptist Medical Matters, a Conservative Anabaptist (CA) Medical doctor who has recently written several articles addressing the epidemic of sexual abuse in the CA community, including a current one on McGrath. He is forthright, gentle, honest, and — from what I see at a distance — seems to live honourably. (I have never met him, but still hope to one day).

In this article he tells of the case of William, and dares to speak to that which lies carefully buried. But the truth does not die with the body, and the consequences ripple throughout the generations, when sex crimes are left unaddressed. Especially when it is at a religious leadership level. To read the article, visit, “Blessed Are They That Mourn“.

(Warning: The article may be triggering for survivors. Trigger or not, I would read it for the gold that is in it. By giving you a heads up, I hope it will prevent extreme triggering and make it possible for you to push past the triggers. The first potential trigger is in ‘mourn for the offenders’. I agree with the author, but have worked long enough with survivors to know the general consensus is that offenders’ needs are always placed first. If able, push past this and read on. The second trigger is in addressing Jeriah Mast. The author may not be aware that only weeks prior to his sentencing, Mast was still defending/excusing his actions against boys as young as 11 — when he was 25 — as consensual. For those who know this, the author’s statement “By all accounts, he has sincerely repented, even expressing a desire to be rebaptized” could be very triggering).

I do not agree with everything written here, and that’s ok. I see a sincere and honest acknowledgement of deep failure in the CA community, in this writing, and bless the author for daring to go there. It is not a popular move in that culture.

Frankly, until survivors have permission to speak, and those who remain (whether family or culture) repent for the coverups and abuses, there is no changing the course of history. But God forbid that the abusers be the ones to ‘stand in the gap’ and repent for other offenders, if they have not first done so with their own offences. If you are godly, and if you have taken ownership for your wrongs and repented at a personal level, only then have you any right to stand in that gap without making things worse.

***

Tomorrow is my 50th birthday. I feel blessed to be alive and doing so well. I’ve had some near-death encounters in my life — two in particular stand out — including numerous events this year that reminded me of the fragility of life. To have made it half way to 100 and thriving, is the mercy and grace of God.

I have no personal needs but have many in my life who do have needs, so to celebrate my 50th, I invite you to support the following:

  1. THE GATHERING, our second annual event offering survivors of abuse a safe place to gather and connect, a place to find hope, safety and healing. This year we were able to offer attendance considerably below cost, thanks to donors. It is our hope to continue making this event affordable through donations. To donate, visit Generations Unleashed Donate and scroll down to The Gathering 2020.
  2. Support for victims of Jeriah Mast in Haiti who did not accept payouts from Christian Aid Ministries. We started this fund just prior to my mother’s decline and death, with a team of people willing to help oversee it, and with reports. To date we have received two donations — one for $200 and one for $20 — but unfortunately holds were placed on both donations (presumably because it was a new PayPal account, since we could not put this through GU). One hold has now been lifted. Furthermore, the tragic events in Haiti have made it impossible for us to set up vendors where these survivors can go for prepaid supplies, whether groceries or other. As of this week, that has changed for some survivors who have relocated. We will now work toward arranging for their needs to be met, where they have relocated, but will require considerably more funding than the $220 we presently have. Donate: Here and scroll down to Haiti Victims.

 

As always…

Love,
~ T ~

***

UPCOMING EVENT, ELMIRA ONTARIO:
November 28 and 29
Emmanuel Missionary Church in Elmira Ontario

To see details and register visit: Generations Unleashed Events Page or print flyer (below)Thanks to donors, we are able to offer this training at discounted. If you have questions, please contact Generations Unleashed.

To read more about what to expect on Training day, click HERE and scroll down to the Elmira training announcement.

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© Trudy Metzger 2019