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Currently, the Cleason Martin case in Durham Ontario, shows how effective going public with evidence of sexual harassment can be. In the comments (in that link), family members are not covering for him, but are actually asking victims to come forward. (Who does that?! I’ve never seen such a response before! I’ve encountered all manner of extremes of defending perpetrators, even when there were eye witnesses to the crime, but this? All I can say is, good on them!)
My heart is sick for the family – wife, children and grandchildren – but I also applaud those who are taking a stand against their father’s crimes and sins. I try to imagine his wife’s grief, and my heart squeezes a bit tighter… it must hurt like hell, that betrayal. I don’t support or engage in dehumanizing perps, or name-calling, and my heart is never for vengeance or destruction; it is for truth and justice, with mercy. However, I will not judge the family as they go through this process and pick up the pieces from the wreckage of their father’s sins. They need space to grieve and work through the betrayal, and time process their anger without my judgement and without being marked by the father’s sins. (I know this too well. I am the daughter of a pedophile… or child molester, whatever term you choose.)
I am all for exposing perpetrators and their crime. And, seeing how effective this is, I wonder if we couldn’t be quite effective in exposing other perpetrators. Especially upstanding ‘spiritual’ people who align themselves with ministries to look good, and use them to gain access to vulnerable women and girls. They attend events, offer financial support, reach out to hurting girls and women, and then tell how the hurting are flocking to them. They portray a deeply spiritual ‘presence’ and then turn around and make sexual advances. If this is happening to you, or has happened, I urge you to speak out. If you have experienced sexual advances, whether verbal or physical, speak out. If your children have been enticed with money or gifts, be aware that this is predator behaviour. And if you have accepted gifts or money and feel bound to silence about sexual advances or sexual assault, because “surely I am the only one… a slip in the moment… a weakness in temptation”, I urge you to come forward. These are often predators who will sexually violate numerous (or many!) victims, and each one thinks he or she is the only one, because the perpetrator is so spiritual, “surely they wouldn’t…”
Odds are high you are not the only one, but rather one of countless victims.
When confronted, these perpetrators apologize quickly and profusely, desperate to know they are forgiven. This is how they convince themselves they have a ‘pure heart’ and good reputation, that they are good and righteous, even while they continue committing sins and crimes against the vulnerable. They also ask for forgiveness to silence you; if you speak, others will hear about it and their cover is blown, so forgiveness is vital to survival.
Their greatest fear, I believe, is for victims to find each other, though they would never call the people they’ve used ‘victims’; they have so thoroughly convinced themselves there is nothing wrong with what they’re doing. They have convinced themselves, too, that it is but a slip in the moment, too strong a temptation to resist. And, besides, they have boundaries; they would never rape someone. They stop short of rape, seldom (if ever) going beyond groping genitals and fondling breasts or buttocks, or possibly exposing their own genitals. But seldom if ever, do the go to full penetration (aka rape). So it’s not a ‘real crime’. Grabbing breasts, and buttocks and touching… they tell themselves these things are virtually harmless. And by repenting quickly and apologizing immediately, they convince themselves of their own spirituality…. Even if this means repenting several times a day for the same sin with different victims…
They don’t see the suicidal struggles of their victims. They don’t hear the tears cried alone at night. They don’t see the loss of trust in God… The God whom their attackers represented, sometimes weeping with their soon-to-be victims, praying over them, gaining their trust… and then violating them. One… and then the next… and the next and the next…
We, too, are accountable for the suffering and spiritual trauma of these victims.
One victim is too many. But turning a blind eye, time and time again, is inexcusable. Completely inexcusable. If you have been warned about these behaviours, take them seriously.
God has called me to be there for them in the aftermath, and it is a calling I carry at times with trembling, as I watch the deep agony of victims whose hearts are betrayed by those who pretend to represent God.
God forbid that hundreds of people see the signs and turn a blind eye, as victims turn their hearts away from God because we failed to pay attention. That is blood on our hands. I cringe at standing before God one day and giving account for it. It is inexcusable, the silence and ‘overlooking’ – because the abuser came to us weeping and repentant (some, time and time again) and therefore we must forgive. It must stop. That is not repentance. It is manipulation. If you are aligned with such predators, do the right thing. Break the alliance and expose them. God will not bless the alliance, and the cost to you will be greater than you could imagine, if it comes to light.
You are welcome to email me and I will help you. Alternatively, if you’re uncomfortable sharing with me, feel free to ask, and I’ll forward contact information for law enforcement professionals who can help you. I have established contacts in USA and Canada who will offer such support.
In any case, the abuse must best stopped. We are no longer voiceless.
~ T ~
EDIT: (Since posting this and the previous blog, I discovered several websites doing the same thing we started here. As a result, and since there is no good reason for a few of us to do the same thing, 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.)
Our goal is not to bring destruction, but healing, hope and accountability. This accountability includes accountability to the laws of the land, and also includes a willingness (even preference for) working with Restorative Justice initiatives where victims voices are heard and included, and where offenders are offered support to help them overcome their addictions and remain accountable to a team of people upon release from prison.
We are not targeting ‘our people’ to destroy anyone (not even the culture), to shame anyone (not even the leaders or the culture), but to give victims who are terrified to speak out a safe place to be heard. The power under which many victims function is suffocating. And in a purity culture of silence, the shame and consequences for speaking out make it all but impossible for victims to break free and find a voice. Advised to take medications (by leaders, family and friends) while held in that silence, is deadly. The spirit dies. The soul dies. The mind goes insane. Or numb. Everything goes numb.
Medications have a place, but they are not the answer, and the number of victims barely surviving, popping pills but speaking to no one, is tragic. It is also unnecessary to suffer in silence. If you are a victim, I encourage you to find the courage to speak out. We will support you as much as possible in helping you find the supports you need. Those who want people ‘on the inside’ (leaders and lay people in the conservative Anabaptist church) we can connect you to these leaders. We trust them, and we are confident you can too. Those who wish for support only outside of the culture, we will honour that.
But you need to know, there are conservative leaders (none on our team, as that would prove intimidating for many victims) whom we know are 100% supportive of you and who will fight for you. They are amazing, godly men and women who are real ‘Jesus people’. Yes, in their straight-cut, plain suits, and black hats, and their wives in cape dresses, white coverings and black bonnets… they are there rooting for you and fighting for you. They pray and they care. They don’t ever need to know what you are going through (nor will we disclose your info to them) but you need to know that they are among you. That is true in Ontario, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and beyond. We are not asking you to trust them, or have any interaction and (it bears repeating) we won’t leak any info to them. But you deserve to know there are those who sit in your pews who bless the work we are doing, as Generations Unleashed. (Those who oppose and hate people who work with sexual violence in the church are often (eventually) exposed for sexual sin and/or hiding it for family or friends.)
God is moving on the inside… He has heard the prayers and cries of many, many wounded and their families, and is keeping His promise in Habakkuk, that he will do a thing that we would not have believed if someone had told us. Early in ministry, a conservative Mennonite woman sent me those verses and said God showed her that in relation to our ministry to victims. I still have her note. And I still believe that God is doing just that.
To this end, I pray…
~ T ~
© Trudy Metzger 2018
One of my favourite things about university has been the freedom to guide my own path in the area of research. Returning to studying after years of experience it was critical that it fit with my work with sexual violence in religious communities. For most projects and all research I chose to look at various aspects of religion and crime – mostly sexual abuse – in a variety of contexts, including Latter Day Saints, Orthodox Judaism, and conservative Anabaptists. I grew up in a series of conservative Mennonite churches – thanks to parents who never found peace in any of the ones we tried – so I am not unfamiliar with the terrain of religion. But I was shocked by the similarities in function between other fundamental religious groups and my background. We are not the only ones structured to protect top leaders.
At first I questioned if it was actually structured that way (on purpose) or if it was merely the inadvertent and inevitable outcome of ultimate power given to bishops and leaders. But after a bit of digging and searching for answers, I concluded some are intentionally structured to make leaders untouchable. Why? I am not certain, beyond the need to make the religious culture look perfect and maintain image. (To see how this plays out in the Orthodox Jews, read Michael Lesher’s: Shonda and Concealment). And then there is this notion that those called to ministry are just a bit more sacred and holy than the rest. Here I would propose that the calling itself may be entirely holy, but the human executing that calling is entirely flawed, completely human and particularly vulnerable to corruption when placed at such a level.
Someone said, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, or something close to that. I would echo that. Power that is accountable to no one is absolute power, and it absolutely is corrupt. No human gets to play God, be untouchable by those they lead, and still stay human and flawed in their own mind. That kind of power leads to grandiose thinking, narcissism and idolatry. When people who follow such a leaders start believing they have a special kind of ‘in’ with God, and maybe it’s okay for them to do things others can’t, rather than exposing leaders’ crimes, we have a real problem. And these were the testimonies of some of the women in the studies I read; rather than exposing crime they saw leaders are having ‘special permission’ from God. This matches what I’ve heard from victims I’ve worked with.
Every spiritual leader and person in ministry I’ve known is prone to failure and sin, myself included. We all have to repent. Every last one of us. Knowing many others, and knowing myself, I have concluded we are all the same. All human, just like you. All sinners saved by grace. We, like the Apostle Paul, do the things we don’t want to do and don’t get done what we want to do. But true leaders do not justify sin and crime in their own lives.
Do away with the pedestals. They are not stable and only stay up as long as people are willing to hold them up. On a pedestal repentance is difficult, as is facing consequences for sin and crime. There’s the fear that if people discover how broken and human we are they will be destroyed by our imperfection and lose their faith in God. Even in this we raise ourselves to a God-like-status. But it’s not truth. They’ll be fine, believe it or not, if they see our humanity. And if they aren’t, the perception of perfection is better crushed. It’s their one hope of replacing leaders with God, and giving God His rightful place.
So how do leaders rise to that place in the minds of (their) people? Because, let’s face it, none are ‘all that and a bag of chips’ once you get to know them. They may be wonderful and nice, and all, but they are human. And I’ve not met one that isn’t somehow selfish, no matter who they desire to be. Me included. We are all human; you and I, and on the same level.
I can’t speak to the ‘how’ of every religious community, but it struck me in my readings for the research I did, that it is a taught and controlled path to the top. A path carefully laid out in the constitutions and rule books, including Anabaptists and Orthodox Jews among others. Of course my ‘knowing’ from experience and observation also gave me insights other ‘outsiders’ wouldn’t see. (Regrettably, I cannot use the material from that research publicly at this time, t is also part of my PhD application package.)
Some church constitutions state that charges or allegations can only be brought against a church leader if there are several witnesses. If there is one thing sex offenders and child molesters know, it is to never leave room for witnesses. The lengths to which they go in planning and scheming, or their skill at taking advantage of the vulnerable person at hand, would leave room for little chance of ever having even one witness, let alone two. They are opportunistic, and have an uncanny ability to sniff out the vulnerable ones who have no voice.
Now take those skills, give them to a revered church leader who knows who is who, and what church families struggles with, and who is vulnerable, insecure, abused (by parents, spouse or teacher etc), and you have a perfect storm. When sex offenders and molesters become preachers and bishops, or ministry leaders, and especially if they have that lovable personality, they have access to victims with a reputation that is well fortressed. Offenders in church leadership are often very charismatic leaders who ‘love’ people, and are loved and worshiped by their followers. They have no need to defend themselves, because they have built their empire so that no one will believe the allegations, and the people will rise to their defence so they need only to sit back and watch as their voiceless victims scramble for someone, anyone to hear them.
These offenders will likely have made certain to have enough trusted relationships with the demographic of their victims who can vouch for them as respectful and safe, to ensure that allegations sound foolish and far-fetched. (For example, students are often shocked when the teacher is caught molesting because the teacher was respectful to most students. The ministry leader or minister who violates the vulnerable wives of the abusive men they help may have the respect of many of the wives of these men, having never made moves or crossed lines, thus making the rest sound ridiculous when they bring forward their allegations. And the leader who molests girls may leave his own daughters untouched, so that the whole family can vouch for him. You get the picture.)
These are skilled criminals, not people who ‘fall’ into affairs in leadership. These are not pastors, bishops and ministry leaders; they are wolves. They are predators. They are power-mongers with lust issues; lust for power and lust for sex. They excommunicate and ostracize those who fail to live up to the constitution, and excuse their own sin. They have no regard for the sacredness of sex and God’s laws, not to mention the laws of the land. They rape, overpower, molest and lust… and excommunicate victims for not being silent. (In any case, if a leader molests or abuses someone, he/she should be removed and dealt with, even if only a one time offence. They are not safe in positions of power.)
The more these allegations against church and ministry leaders come to light, in various communities and churches, the more certain I am that one of the key sources of the larger problem is the result of corrupt leadership. Be that 20% of the leaders, or 50%, or 5%, it’s too many. And, unfortunately, those leaders who are pure of heart genuinely struggle to grasp that a fellow-leader would/could do such a thing, and they too write things off as false allegations made by a troubled church member. This needs to change.
And that leads me to the the next thing in the constitution… The word of a member in good standing, according to some constitutions, is to be taken over that of those who are not in good standing. It takes little imagination to see that sex abuse victims are often very troubled and don’t do ‘constitution following’ very well, making their testimony easy to write off. And those victims who are faithful constitution followers are silent, because that’s what the constitution sets up. Some state that members are to first attempt resolving issues directly with those who wronged them, before going to leaders, meaning victims must first face their offender before seeking help. They further state that once communion has been observed and peace is expressed, a matter is to be considered forgiven and done.
The way these things are structures make church leaders – especially bishops, but also prominent ministry leaders and lay members of good rapport – almost untouchable. And that perpetuates the crimes both at a leadership level and among the people. Almost untouchable…
But God is not done. He will expose. He will bring to light. And He will give voice to victims so that these wolves will be stripped of their facades, and they will stand naked in their sins. And more than giving them a voice He will be their voice and He will speak boldly. And then there will be no constitution to manage damage control. There will be no hiding. The truth will be revealed.
What excites me is that God is raising up leaders ‘among them‘ who will not be silent. Leaders who will not look the other way, and who will hold them accountable and turn them over to the law. These leaders and their wives have reached out to me, internationally, and encouraged me to never quit, never give up… And God is also raising up a network of law enforcement workers across USA who are listening. They are seeing the patterns, the cover-ups and the crime in the name of God.
Reckoning day is coming…
And that doesn’t even begin to account for standing before God with these sins exposed, their covers blown.
Victims have long been brutalized by organized religion, and have been silenced. But God…
(To be continued…)
~ T ~
So help me God, if I don’t say things I am supposed to keep to myself… Not confidential client things, but other things… Things that my inner being says should not be silent, and yet there sitteth a large and smothering creature on me…
It arrived in my FB inbox, had I seen the Mullet’s blog? I had not, and then I had. I felt something rise inside of me – a feeling, a real true deep feeling – and not a happy one. I felt angry. There are things that make me ‘angry’, in the sense of knowing they are wrong, but even as I say that it ‘makes me angry’, I realize it is a ‘knowing the wrongnesss’, not a feeling. Well, tonight I felt it.
The author expresses deep anger – and I don’t know which party wrote it, because the whole thing never did load for me, and if the author signed it, I couldn’t see it. But whoever it was, sounded kind of ‘hoppin’ mad’ as we used to say. Like, some righteous indignation had found it’s way out, and there was no holding back. And as a reader, I felt their anger. Not as my own anger, but as their anger. Oddly, that part made me feel good. They were angry, and not afraid to say it.
Finally. Someone all Christian, and nice and put together. Not to mention from my Anabaptist background. Finally, one of them tackling this whole thing of sexual abuse and cover up in the church with passion. There comes a certain satisfaction when I’ve been more less silent for a long time, and such a thing happens, because it feels like ‘they’re getting it’ on the inside, and not just the victims who can’t hold their (you know what) together. It’s the other talking – the one in the spotlight, one of the ‘stars’ if you please. (Can we have a hallelujah? Thank you very much!)
Even as I read that blog and felt a certain relief, I started to feel angry. Not their anger. But my anger. And it wasn’t anger at sexual abuse. It wasn’t even anger at the church’s mishandling of it, which was the tone of their blog, and put into their words what I’ve said for years. (And, no doubt they have known for years). This anger came from the realization that if a victim was that honest, they’d get labeled. I’d get labeled. (Actually, even without the anger, I am labeled. Behold, I careth not.) We would be bitter, unforgiving, have issues, not healed…
There is something brutally wrong with that picture. I have spent the past two falls and winters (meaning this present winter as the second) studying and investing in learning, preparing myself to make a bigger difference. People at university have listened. They have cared. They have encouraged me, launched me further. They have cared for and fought for victims… I am not two weeks into working with the ‘church’, and already am asking myself how I used to survive that part of it… Working with clients is not the hard part. Watching the other religious stuff… that’s what wears a soul down.
There is something backwards about that. Or at least lopsided
Thank God people are rising up to acknowledge all this abuse carefully hidden. That’s long over due. But seriously, shaming and silencing victims, telling them they are reacting? And then applauding others when they explode? Encouraging fellow ministries while shaming those who actually lived the hell? The fault is not on those who do what Mullets did. But it does expose the bigger problem, and one of the horrible roots of this thing: Victims have no voice. I am one of the fortunate few who refuses to be silenced. I am one of those who has chosen to stay in a faith-based community, continue to fight for a relationship with God, and choose not to be stopped by those who stick out their feet to trip me, or try to put duct tape over my mouth. On that front I am incredibly fortunate.
But all around are victims who are silenced by the church. By ministries. By Christians. The previous generation hid their sins. No one talked about it then, and by pushing it way far away in the memory, many left a string of victims in their wake. They went on to do quite well, many of them, while the victims got lost in their pain. Then they turned around and silenced the cries of the victims because they reminded them of their own sins, and they refused to face that truth. Because that truth is too overwhelming.
Never mind that the victim cuts to feel anything at all, or to numb the overwhelming pain. And drinks too much alcohol. And does drugs. And hates God. And the abuser for robbing her… Spiritually starving, she shrivels in the cold of church, without cover… and is scolded for lying naked and not eating, while the abusers grow fat and rich.
It ought not so to be. So tonight, I’m angry. Angry that victims are silenced, over and over and over again.
And I’m thankful. So very thankful that the Mullets are speaking out. I don’t know them, so this is not an endorsement of them or their ministry. (Anymore I feel like I have to throw in a disclaimer. Thank you, Andy Savage, et al., for making that necessary by hiding your sins behind the pulpit.) But because they dared to show feeling and anger, I trust their motives. There’s little religious whitewashing in what they have to say. (Thank you for that! You give me hope. You can read their blog here.)
So I’m angry and thankful, and a whole lot sad. With a glimmer of hope, that maybe, just maybe… One day victims will be heard in church, if enough of the compassionate ones, and especially those with power, start shouting for them…
As for the Mullet’s friends’ case, I hope it is dealt with, and the victims are not blamed. There is an uncanny ability in the church to manipulate the law. (Read Shonda and Concealment by Michael Lesher). But there is hope, even on that front. There are law enforcement officials across USA who are starting to see it, and they are finding one another. As that number grows, they will be a force to be reckoned with.
Tonight in spite of the frustration… And as always…
~ T ~
There isn’t much that worship can’t soothe in my spirit, in the day to day. The key and the challenge is to be diligent in setting aside time for intentional worship in the chaos of this thing we call life, which can quickly feel more like a slow and painful death if we’re not careful. Especially for people in ministry, whether pastors or other ministries. There is something spiritually and emotionally draining about ministry, apart from taking time to refuel and ‘drinking deep’ from the well of God’s love, whether through worship music, meditation and prayer, or reading truth.
Hearing horrific stories of child rape, or watching adults weep or go into shock to the point of physically going pale and clammy, as they recall someone forcing themselves or some harsh object inside of them, tends to wear on the soul. In the past year I’ve heard so many of these tragedies it leaves my head reeling, and my heart aching…. though, in honesty, something of my ability to ‘feel’ was destroyed in childhood, so it is usually more of a ‘factual’ pain, than a feeling one. That is, until it is incorporated into art or music… there, and in God’s presence or Tim’s arms, I am able to feel pain. Rarely any other place. But back on track…
In recounting details with a local police officer regarding the third or fourth case involving forcing objects inside children or youth, the officer looked at me and said, “Yeah… what’s with that about forcing objects inside kids? That’s just crazy!” I couldn’t agree more. It’s insane, actually. And I realized when he asked, that this and molestation is the horror I listen to or deal with, in one form or another, almost daily. And when it gets too much, or hopefully before it does, I escape into a place of worship, filling my heart with a truth greater than the wickedness all around. If I didn’t do that, I would burn out relatively quickly.
And I’m not alone in the intentional battle against burnout. While painful to hear, I’ve listened to pastors confess the struggle that goes with their role. I’ve heard the admission that sometimes it seems atheists are more at peace with life than believers, and live to the fullest with greater kindness than those in the Body of Christ. I’ve listened as they told how difficult it is to be attacked or back-stabbed by their congregants. While that is not something I am familiar with, since I have no congregation, my imagination works well enough to know it would be hard; much harder than ‘distant’ attacks from those who oppose what I do, I imagine.
That is one of the things that has given me the courage to press forward in ministry, knowing the deep appreciation of clients. At least most of them, and most of the time. I’ve been very blessed with good outcomes in working with clients, walking them through to healing and developing longterm relationships. In five years of 1:1 ministry, most clients continue to keep in touch from time to time, letting me know how they are, and sharing struggles and victories from time to time. In fact, only one case has truly gone wrong, either due to sincere misunderstanding or blatant lies–and I am uncertain which–and it is the one case that made me realize how blessed I am that attacks are virtually never part of my life, with clients. (Attacks from strangers, or from ‘friends’ behind my back, and attacks on our ministry don’t bother me much any more. They’re par for the course.) Nonetheless, initially it is jolting to be thrown into a world of unfamiliar accusations and it can feel like God has let you get hung out to dry… Giving 12 hours in one day, and extra time and expense over a period of time, all pro bono, to the person who ends up stabbing you in the back is disheartening. And in that moment, questioning why I would continue, the thing that carries me through is the knowledge that God knows the truth… that God sees all our hearts–not only mine, not only theirs, but everyone of us… And, again, my heart is drawn to healing worship and I am refreshed.
In contrast with the ‘fatigue’ of fighting against the darkness so often covered up, a man spills his story without being confronted, and tells how as a teen he molested numerous children. We end the conversation and of his own accord, as I prepare to leave, he says he would like to talk to a police officer.
“Are you sure you want to do this? What if he has to charge you?” I ask, feeling a sense of duty to let him know the potential consequences, and to see if that changes his mind. “I thought about that before I said anything,” he continues. I tell him I will talk with an officer, and get a time set up and other details if that is what he wants. “If it takes making an example of me to stop this, then I am willing,” he says. And with that we part ways. A day later I have a time, and all the details of what this will look like. He responds with the admission that it looks pretty scary and overwhelming, and I tell him it is up to him. I don’t have enough information to do anything; it’s entirely up to him. He asks for a night to contemplate it.
The next morning, first thing, a text comes through saying he wants to proceed. And with that it’s a plan. As I type out the message to the officer, tears flow generously. I realize the man is not one of the ones who is a greatest threat to our community. He came forward of his own free will and asked for the police without so much as a hint of it from me. And through the tears, I worship a God who sees hearts and understands my struggle with knowing that many hide vicious crimes while a rare contrite soul exposes wickedness out of a desire for truth and freedom. And that one chooses to pay the price publicly, if that’s what it takes, to help end the epidemic.
Ah worship… it makes ‘right’ a world all wrong. It’s necessary to worship when the heavy stuff of life lands on us like a bucket load of bricks… or worse. It’s easy to worship when things are good. But when we sacrifice and are met with not so much as a passing thank you, but rather an attack, worship is critical. Drinking the toxic sludge of lies, rumours, manipulations and growing bitter quickly sucks the life out of us, so that we have nothing to give. And when the darkness hides in the crevices of Christian cloaks, it is worship that turns my heart back to my Heavenly Papa, and I am again lost in love, clothed in righteousness that is not mine.
So tonight I bask in the wonder of the ove of Jesus, who died to give me life… who died to give life for the one who comes back to say ‘thank you’… and for the one who manipulates and takes for granted sacrifices made on their behalf. He understands each of us with equal affection, and grants extravagant grace for our various struggles and burdens. And suddenly I realize that I have no enemies, only brothers and sister with pain, struggling through their story. And I pray that Jesus will meet each one in the place of their battle, and lift up the weary hearts and breathe life into us, every one, so that His purposes are fulfilled in us.
With confidence I move forward because Jesus didn’t stay trapped in a grave: Christ is Risen from the Dead, and that gives me hope for every one of us. Deep, eternal hope.
~ T ~
“We are heard. Our suffering has been acknowledged.”
It took only a few meetings with the police to have them ‘rise up’. (Much like the employees at the Boston Globe, in Spotlight.) In my first meeting I felt truly heard about the need to do something. Anything. I’d rather do it wrong, trying to do it right, than to do nothing at all. So we sat there and brainstormed, the constable and I. And that started the ball rolling. The next meeting they asked for my story, and I sat there with an audience of four, and spilled it out, bit by painful bit, for two hours, asking questions, and answering questions. Speaking from my heart in a way that felt terrifying, yet safe. And then the commander and sergeant of the Major Case Unit each offered a heartfelt thank you, acknowledging the courage it must take to do that…
Two meetings with the police, resulting in redemptive, informative and healing action. Only two meetings…
And that created a sense of thankfulness, but also a struggle. Because there was no resistance, no fighting against, only compassion and support, when in churches, there is still so much resistance….
I sat in a pastor’s office and admitted that I wasn’t sure I could keep doing the whole ‘church thing’. Heck, I wasn’t even sure I could keep believing in God. If He and so many of His people–leaders in particular–apparently cared not one iota for the lost children, whose lives were wrecked by molestation in the church, then it seemed there was no place for me in His Kingdom.
Pastor Gord Martin listened compassionately, and then encouraged me to connect with others who share a similar vision, if not the same one. If I didn’t find that support, he said, my fears would easily become a reality; I would turn my back on my faith, because the fight against abuse is intense, and having support critical. That was a few years ago.
I now have a solid group of people praying for our ministry and a handful who offer support in various ways. It’s still mostly hard slogging, with a few leaders who really seem to ‘get it’ about the magnitude of the problem and the need to do more. But there are a few, and that’s worth a lot. It will take time for the silence of the church to lose its power, and for the broader church to take action in a meaningful way. I pray the day will come, and believe it will.
On that bright note…
In conversation with Pastor Blake from Westpointe Church Grand Rapids Michigan, he asked what I would share with their church, on Sunday March 20. I was thinking about ‘Radical love and Reckless Grace’, I said. There was a short pause before he said, “I thought you might talk about sexual abuse…” I told him I don’t do that on a Sunday morning unless specifically asked. Without skipping a beat he said he would like if I did. “It needs to be talked about,” he said. I was taken off guard, but encouraged that a pastor would not only welcome opening that can of worms in church, but actually ask for it.
To Pastor Blake, Pastor Gord, and other pastors and leaders who have heard with compassion, and those who have fought for victims, Thank you.We have a ways to go, as the church, but we’re making progress. That death-grip of silence and shame is being shattered, little by little.
We will keep chipping…
~ T ~
What about Reporting to the Law?
As a believer I am asked how I can endorse going to the law with a fellow believer. Doesn’t 1 Corinthians 6 make it clear that ‘brother is not to go to the law against brother’?
To this I ask, Does 1 Timothy 1:9 not make it clear that the law is in place for the lawbreaker/lawless? Also, is child molestation not one of the most lawless acts a human can commit?
And for good measure let’s jump to a well-worn passage, in Romans 13 (KJV…just because), and read it in the context of obeying the law, including when the law requires us to report crimes. While this if often used to draw compliance from church members, it refers specifically to ‘sword bearers’, therefore hopefully isn’t talking about pastors and church leadership. I mostly avoid attending churches where the pastor carries a weapon.
It seems to me that we’ve gone cherry picking if we blithely toss 1 Corinthians 6 out there to guilt fellow Christians in reporting to the law. It is an agenda-driven-doctrine/belief to make such a thing a sin. Especially when some of the very people who fight against such a thing turn around and use it for financial gain and sue a fellow brother in a business deal gone awry. In essence that sends the message that we are willing to sacrifice our daughters and sons, but not our money. But that’s another topic for another day.
All that said, I can count on one hand–without using my fingers twice–the number of times I’ve gone to the law with cases in our ministry, and of two of those times it has been to support someone reporting, not to file an actual report. (Sorry to blow holes in the theory that I have only one goal: to put Mennonites in prison.) The reporting numbers are not low because I am against going to the law, but rather that clients are most often no longer minors, and it is out of my court. When victims are over 16 in Ontario it is utterly useless to file a report to F&CS (Family & Children Services) or the police. If I call F&CS, I am told it needs to be reported to police, and whenever I have called the policed, they have asked if the victim is filing a report. When I’ve answer that they are not, then they’ve told me there is nothing that can be done. And they are right.
Internationally I have made one report, and that was not about molestation but a homicide/suicide threat. While it was investigated, the officer pretty much snarked me off for bothering to call from Canada about it. (Okay then! Just trying to save a life in my spare time.) In several other cases I have made myself available to answer questions for police or social workers, and in two cases I shared details of crimes with a US citizen local to the crimes, and left it to them whether it was ‘reportable’ or not. Sometimes I receive updates and hear the outcomes, other times I hear nothing. When I have done my duty to the best of my ability, before God and man, I leave it in the hands of those responsible, and spend little time worrying about it or checking up.
Child Molesters in Church: Are they Criminals or Saints?
I’m not God, so I shall refrain from passing judgment. Whether a person is ‘right with God’ or not, or ‘saved and born again’ or not is none of my business, in the context of judging. But I know with certainty that God doesn’t look lightly on the violation of children. Consistently through scripture it is clear that sexual sin has consequences unlike other sins. From Old Testament consequences–take the group of men who were slaughtered after Dinah was violated–to Paul’s words in the New Testament (ironically also in 1 Corinthians 6) about it being the one sin against the body, and a sin that ‘joins Christ with a prostitute’ (v.15) when those who profess Christ engage in prostitution. And Matthew 18 offers harsh judgment for those who ‘offend’ children.
The grace of Jesus is big enough for every sin. There isn’t a doubt in my mind about that. But the grace of Jesus doesn’t wipe away all consequences. It never has. It never will. I’ve volunteered at our local Federal women’s prison (Grand Valley Institute) long enough to hear some amazing stories of grace, but the women remained behind bars. A woman who murdered her husband never saw another day of freedom outside those prison walls from the time of her arrest, until the day of her death, but she was free on the inside. (She died during my time volunteering). She is one of countless stories behind those walls, of people for whom Jesus died, and for whom God’s grace was enough, but for whom the consequences remained.
The consequences for those who molest children (thereby ‘murdering’ the soul of the child) should not be overlooked, and the consequences for these crimes not be neglected. (Whatever those consequences ought to be, which also is not my call to make.)
Does Prison Change the Offender?
In December I was invited to our local police station to meet with an officer and discuss the problem of crime in the Mennonite and Amish communities. At one point he leaned back in his chair and commented that he pictures taking them and booking them, “20 at a time” and then going back for the next 20. “What do you think?” he asked.
“Well sir,” I said, “we both know that wouldn’t work, don’t we?”
His shoulders sagged a little, he leaned forward, and said, “Yeah… so what do we do?”
We spent over an hour talking, brainstorming and exploring thoughts and ideas. We agreed to meet again after Christmas, and explore further possibilities. That meeting took place January 11, 2016. Several Staff Sergeants were present–including from the Major Case Unit–as well as the director of an assault treatment centre. In the end we all concluded, without exception, that there must be a way to help without pushing the crimes further underground in the church, thus creating an environment that will breed the problems, and create more victims in the next generation. At the same time they confirmed what we all know, that any cases that come forward must be dealt with according to the law.
What is the Solution to the Problem of Molestation in Closed Communities?
In the meeting on January 11, I presented some thoughts and ideas I’ve been brainstorming about for about 2 years, of ways that could help deal with past and present crimes, while focusing on protecting the next generation. These were the ideas I had run by the other officer in December, and in our brainstorming together, the ideas had morphed into an outline of a plan that would potentially make a dramatic impact for future generations.
It is unclear if such a plan is possible–now or in the future–but at least we’ve started the conversation. In the near future I plan to meet with several other senior team members from the assault treatment centre, to see how we can collaborate in the ‘here and now’.
The prospect of pursuing options that could potentially impact the generations to come is far more important to me than any longing for personal justice, for which I have no desire any more. I support the law, and work with the law, and believe firmly that there ought to be consequences for these crimes. But the hard reality is that seeking justice for past and present crimes is a reactive approach–which is currently necessary–when we so desperately need a proactive approach. And, in particular, we need a new approach in closed communities that have their own ‘internal laws’ and ‘justice systems’, so that the use of ‘the law’ doesn’t inadvertently push the crimes further underground.
This is true of Amish and Mennonites, and it is also true of Muslims and other ‘closed communities’. No, they should not get to make up their laws and have a double standard. What is offered to them should be offered across the board, but whatever the ‘justice system’ of the land is, it needs to become a partnership between the law and closed communities to work against crime, while not allowing closed communities to circumvent the law, or define it. Such a thing would create chaos. One extreme would let them all off the hook with a quick ‘I’m sorry’, and victims would be entirely overlooked and neglected, while the other extreme would stone them to death…. possibly both victim and perpetrator.
There is a better way. There has to be. And I am out to find it, and then do whatever it takes to fight for it. I will fight for the freedom of the children of tomorrow, and for ‘my people’… whether they like it or not.
On that note and to that end, God willing and if University of Waterloo accepts me–which I am fully counting on, I will start the Master Peace & Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel University College this fall. If I’m super lucky, I will be accepted without a qualifying term. We will wait and see.
Either way, I press forward and if I trip and fall a few times, I do. I will get right back up and press on. This issue needs a few warriors, and I am committed, by the grace of God, to be one who blazes trails.
And if I’m little old Granny Gertrude walking with a cane, and with gnarled little fingers for counting on, before I get there, then so be it. One thing my tombstone won’t say is that I didn’t try…
~ T ~
Over the years of our ministry with sexual abuse victims, there are a host of questions that have been asked by numerous people trying to understand the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of the way in which we handle meetings where a victim addresses his/her abuser. And the questions that have come to us are good ones; the answers to which are worthy of mention.
The Parachute Approach
The first question I will address is in regards to ‘springing surprises’ on the alleged offender when we go to confront. To some, it seems harsh to ‘parachute in’ out of the blue, so to speak, into the life of the alleged offender–typically accompanied by the victim–to address past molestation. To others it seems dangerous. Others are just curious as to our thought process or motivations.
The main reason we simply ‘show up’ and start talking, in most cases, is because of lies and deception we come up against. I don’t feel at all compelled to give the devil time to organize himself with that darkness. By going in, we get spontaneous responses, and when I compare with times we’ve given ‘a heads up’, the meetings are far more effective. Besides the lies and deception, there is this desperate need for abusers to try to overpower the mind of their victims, rather than take ownership. Giving them time to prepare attacks is entirely counterproductive.
First things first, I typically ask the person being confronted if they know what I do, and if not, I explain. I follow this up with asking if they know why we are there, given the work I do. Sometimes they know, sometimes they don’t. And, sometimes when they know why, they make excuses before we ever get into the confrontation.
(Details shared by permission) In an effort to declare innocence, one man immediately said he knew why we had come, then followed this up with, “…but it wasn’t sexual.”
Hmmm… Such a quick defense, before any allegations were ever made.
“Yes, it was sexual,” I said.
“No, it wasn’t,” he repeated. We continued with this little ‘yes/no’ routine about three times, at which point I tired of it and an idea popped in my head… There were several gentlemen present, including my husband, a ‘witness’ from the offender’s church, and the husband of the victim.
“Well” I said, “then I suppose you wouldn’t mind if these men did to your wife what you did to that young girl?”
“Okay… okay… it was sexual…” he said.
With that settled, we moved forward. Almost immediately he broke down weeping and before long started asking for forgiveness, asking the husband of the victim to relay his apology to his wife. That would have been a convincing repentance, had it not been undone a few weeks or months later, when the church leaders asked the victim to not shop in the town where the offender shops, because it makes it too hard for the offender when he has to see her.
I. See. …!
That’s one outcome.
More often the alleged offenders have no idea why we are there, and claim to have no memories, which (for the most part) I believe. They have forced those memories so deep, and blocked any sense of ownership, that they really don’t ‘remember’. In these situations I start with telling some of the scenes in graphic and horrific details, with the victim’s permission, and in the victim’s presence. When the ‘telling’ gets too painful, memories suddenly start coming back.
In one of the very earliest confrontations, some years ago, as the memories started returning, the individual started with, “but it was mutual”. To this I pointed out the age gap–also something I’ve had to do more than once–and made it clear that ownership doesn’t fall on the victim. At once the ‘repentance’ started, and asking for forgiveness, followed immediately by challenging the victim with what would have happened to her soul, if she had died knowing this sin and not having followed Matthew 18…
That was interrupted quite abruptly by yours truly, putting an end to such nonsense and re-victimization.
Responses are as different as the individuals being confronted, and there are no cookie cutter confrontations or responses. But always it is intended as an opportunity for the offender to come clean, and admit to the crimes committed, and take ownership.
Reclaiming Victim’s Voice
One of the things we hope to accomplish in that painful moment when a victim stands before their abuser, is for the victim to reclaim his/her voice. When a child is molested, the offender overpowers the victim physically, sexually and mentally. (And that doesn’t even touch the spiritual impact that takes place when the offender professes faith in Christ… that’s another power altogether, though intertwined with the former.) Furthermore, victims are often told to not speak of it, and some are even threatened should they choose to defy the abuser. In that overpowering, the victim’s voice is either ignored or never heard, and that disrespect and violation follows them through life. Until…
When the victim stands before the offender and says what is on his/her heart, it breaks something of that power. Granted, there is often a high price to pay if that offender is a family member and the family gets protective, or if the church rises up in defense of the offender, and attacks the victim and us. A price I warn the victim of before going in, but a price I am very willing to walk them through. In every case I’ve worked with so far, the victims have not regretted going that route.
As part of that ‘reclaiming the victim’s voice’, we give little voice to the offender, in that initial confrontation. And, going by the previous examples, it is not hard to see that if given liberty to speak without challenge, offenders still try to overpower the victims in that moment of confrontation, given half an opportunity. It is imperative that the victim is not subjected to such a thing.
Why We don’t Give Offenders Opportunity to Say, “Forgive me”
In evangelical settings this boundary is particularly offensive, when we don’t give that opportunity. In the case above, where the guilty party was given opportunity to offer an apology, and immediately launched into an attack, the ‘unsorry’ spirit landed before us with a bold ‘thud’. It was still about taking power. And that is only one of the reasons we stopped with giving that opportunity in an initial meeting. It certainly isn’t because we think the offender shouldn’t be sorry!
There is an intriguing reality in how offenders block memories. Whether it is the same way in which victims block, I am uncertain, but I have come to the conclusion that it is (at least sometimes if not often) real. They genuinely cannot access the memories because they have spent such a long time burying and blocking… lying to themselves or downplaying the severity. Whatever the reason or method, it is what I see playing out. I have not studied the psychology behind it, but it’s consistency tells me a lot about the human mind, and human nature.
With these blocked memories (or blatant denial, as the case may be), to move to a quick, “If I did those things, I’m sorry…” or “I’m sorry for anything I might have done…” is to rush a necessary step in this process: facing reality. A rushed ‘I’m sorry’ with no memories of wrong doing can leave the victim feeling further victimized, and allows the offender to quickly soothe the conscience, and keep things blocked. Then, if those memories come back, it is easy to say, “I’ve taken care of it”, and never acknowledge those wrongs. By not allowing that rushed apology, and by letting the offender mull it over and struggle against his/her conscience, those memories are far more likely to return, at which time taking ownership validates the victim’s suffering, and makes it far more meaningful.
(To be continued… )
~ T ~