Spiritual abuse is difficult to talk about because often those who spiritually abuse have sincerely held intentions. But as Jesus clearly saw, the cost of a faith that is driven by fear and legalism is too high for us to ignore.

September 20, 2016 2 1 comments

I am looking to set up a protection policy in an older generation church that wants to focus more on youth. I'm looking to put a policy in place for programs running from nursery to high school. Any ideas? 

September 14, 2016 2 1 comments

Safe Church Ministry is called to equip congregations in abuse awareness, prevention, and response. “It’s a ridiculous mandate,” I’ve heard myself say. It can be overwhelming, with progress slower than I'd like. 

September 12, 2016 2 4 comments

Be sure to check out the new resources on Safe Church's website, and see how you can be involved in the upcoming Safe Church conference — even if you can't come to Grand Rapids! 

September 12, 2016 2 2 comments

During the Rio Olympics, a disappointing report was unveiled, detailing years of USA Gymnastics ignoring allegations of sexual abuse of gymnasts by coaches. The report is a stark reminder that fighting for justice is never an easy task.

August 23, 2016 2 0 comments

Are you aware of all the resources Safe Church offers? Safe Church only works when we are well-connected, working with YOU, CRC church members and leaders.

August 16, 2016 0 0 comments
Resource, Article

What is trauma and how can the church better serve those suffering from it? Dr. Danjuma Gibson offers helpful guidelines both for understanding the nature of trauma and responding compassionately as a church.

August 8, 2016 3 1 comments

When we feel safe, we can be curious, learn, and grow—attributes that we especially want to foster in our children and youth. As faith communities, we need to invest time and resources into safety. 

August 2, 2016 2 0 comments
Resource, Conference or Event

The Restorative Practices for Congregations Training helps church members and leaders better engage in conflict and build healthier, more restorative relationships in their congregations.

July 26, 2016 1 0 comments

This anonymous reflection of a woman's ordeal addressing sexual harassment from a CRC pastor is an eye-opening account to understanding sexual harassment. 

July 26, 2016 5 4 comments
Resource, Article

Check out this powerful introduction to Samaritan Safe Church's approach to keeping children safe, written by Linda Crockett, a speaker at the upcoming CRCNA Safe Church Conference. 

July 19, 2016 1 0 comments
Resource, Conference or Event

Our Safe Church Ministry conference is coming Nov. 3-5, 2016. Now is the time to begin planning to attend!

July 7, 2016 0 0 comments

How can the church do justice to the reality of abuse—which means we need to hear more allegations, not fewer—without being controlled by a fear of false allegations?

July 5, 2016 1 0 comments

Sometimes the work of Safe Church Ministry is heartbreaking. But I'm so thankful for my elders, for those who have come before me, giving me courage to continue the journey. Who are your elders? 

June 28, 2016 1 1 comments
Resource, Article

Social media can be and is a powerful force for advocacy, but the battle cannot be fought solely there. The real battle is the day to day struggle to confront misogyny and deep-rooted injustices. 

June 14, 2016 1 1 comments

When we tolerate subtle abuses of power on a daily basis, drawing a line in the sand once a situation has gotten out of control becomes incredibly difficult, almost impossible.  

May 31, 2016 4 6 comments

"Out of this one day of training, the Circle of Grace program is beginning to ripple through our community."

May 18, 2016 1 0 comments

Before we can prevent and respond to abuse we need a basic awareness of what abuse is. What are the dynamics? Are there signs that can help us recognize it? 

May 10, 2016 0 0 comments

“You will never fully heal until you forgive,” is a phrase I’ve heard more times than I care to acknowledge. Is it possible that modern ideas about forgiveness do more harm than good? 

April 26, 2016 6 1 comments

The most powerful agent for hope, healing and justice for abuse survivors in the church is something both simple and surprisingly elusive: people of compassion.

April 12, 2016 4 0 comments

Too often I hear from women who are hurting because of something that happened to them within the church family. Dare I hope that this can change?  

April 5, 2016 1 0 comments

In her recent book Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife, Ruth Tucker offers a compelling and harrowing account of the ways in which unchallenged assumptions about gender hierarchy can create a climate of enabling abuse within the church.

March 15, 2016 3 2 comments

What do you think of when you think of an act of courage? This article explores the necessary courage to leave an emotionally abusive marriage.

March 1, 2016 2 0 comments

When is it the right decision to leave an abusive marriage? This anonymous author shares her painful journey of wrestling with the decision to leave an emotionally abusive marriage.

February 23, 2016 2 8 comments

The “Cosby effect” is a sober reminder to churches to do whatever possible in their power to make it very clear to their congregations that they desire abuse to be reported.

February 10, 2016 1 0 comments



Thanks Monica for a very thoughtful article about a very important topic!

Thank you for your comment Joy. This is the piece that is so often misunderstood or neglected. We have just added resources to our website around church leader abuse - and we hope to be able to offer a "study guide" for church councils that will go along with the report and the changes to Church Order. Not sure when that will happen yet; patience is a virtue :)

Thanks again.


I am grateful for the role you and your staff played in spotlighting "power" as the key component of abuse.  

This proposed change to article 83 (see below) should have a significant impact on how we all identify abuse in our churches and relationships. Through this work, you will continue to have a significant impact on shifting the culture of the CRCNA if churches have the courage to address the imbalances of power that lead to abuse. 

"One of the key dynamics in considering abuse of office is the imbalance and misuse of power.  The power inherent in the role of officebearers represents a sacred trust and must not be misused."  


Thank you so much Geri, you just made my day.

And we couldn't do our training in the local churches with out YOU! Thank you for your webinars and posts about Safe Church! I recently used some of your resources for an on-line training form for our volunteers. I'll send it to you to check out. If you have any suggestions to make it better, I welcome your thoughts!

Thank you for your question - so glad you are being proactive in asking it and in creating a safe place where faith and worship can flourish and grow. An environment where everyone feels valued and safe provides the best context for faith formation. 

Safe Church Ministry offers many resources on its website for equipping congregations in abuse awareness, prevention, and response. If you click on the left hand side bar where it says 'Creating a Safe Church Policy' you will find resources specifically related to that. In addition, you may contact the Safe Church Ministry Office, we may be able to connect you with a local safe church team member who can help. Please don't hesitate to call or send us an email. And your church insurance provider may also be a good source of information regarding policy.

Thanks for asking! Blessings to you.

Thanks Bonnie! 

The letter from Steve Timmermans to councils and classes can now be found on the Safe Church website along with lots of other resources. Please feel free to contact your local safe church team member or the Safe Church Ministry office for more information.

Thanks for this excellent article Monica, and also for the wise words from Dr. Gibson! May we, as the church, heed these words as we increasingly learn to walk alongside those who have experienced trauma. 

Thanks for the link to information for new laws in Ontario that apply to churches. We need everyone's help to get the word out. Sexual harassment has serious impacts and needs to be taken seriously. As difficult as it might be to address, we cannot be the kind of community that God is calling us to be as long as such behavior is allowed to continue. Thanks for this excellent post and for bringing this important issue to light.

Thank you so much - both for your support in sharing regarding your ordeal and providing that important information.

Thank you for posting this reflection Monica. My heart goes out to the writer and for the courage it took to share her story. I was subject to similar harassment when I first started working full time in my early 20's - by other employees. I never did anything about it, as I was young and didn't know how to address it. In Ontario the government has addressed this issue this year and is now legislating employers (including churches) to investigate incidents or complaints of harassment or sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers will need to build on their written harassment program (Safe Church) and instruct workers (including volunteers) on the program. Employers need to comply with these new requirements as of September 8, 2016 and Christian Reformed Churches in Ontario are being encouraged to include this legislation in their Safe Church policies. For those living in Ontario, here is a link to that information.

Dear Anonymous Child of God: You are courageous for taking the steps you did to survive your horrible experience. You are also courageous for telling your story.Your advice to others experiencing sexual harassment is important to share. And thank you for encouraging churches and ministries to be proactive. Grace and peace to you.

Bonnie, God's sustaining blessing and care to you and those around you who continue to lead us in this vital ministry of being Safe Churches. 

Thanks. This truly is on all of us. We must no longer deny this issue that affects so many among us. May more people have the courage to share their stories, to help those who have not experienced it to understand. And may this lead to a better response and more healing, both in and outside the church.

Hi Jill,

Thanks for your comments. Regarding spiritual abuse - yes, that's worth adding, and I will go ahead and make that edit - I think I pictured spiritual abuse as a related to emotional abuse, but it's also a distinct category. I'm sure there are other forms of abuse I could've mentioned as well.

 I absolutely agree sexism is a huge element of why women are more likely to be victims of abuse, and the church hierarchy does contribute to not equally valuing women's perspectives. For example, if it is natural and biblical for a man's perspective to subsume (be the head over) women's perspective, it becomes quite difficult to untangle when "headship" becomes emotional/spiritual abuse. You might be interested in the review I wrote recently of Ruth Tucker's new book which explores that. The difficult place we're in where the CRC presently recognizes both views as biblically sound shouldn't prevent us from emphasizing the serious dangers involved with a hierarchal view of gender in relation to abuse and the difficulty of fully respecting women while also disbelieving their calling to church office.

Thank-you for writing this Monica.
In your first sentence you talk about a
"culture accustomed to constantly rationalize and justify abuse of power, be it physical, emotional, or sexual". 
maybe you should add spiritual abuse to this list?

Is it a stretch I wonder to say that if a congregation does not permit women  in office, this contributes to continued tolerance of sexism or normalizing of inappropriate behavior?

I am told by some men that I contribute greatly to the congregation. They have respect for me, but no, women cannot be in office. There are other men who do not appear to value me at all, though they are patronizingly kind.

Both of the above lead to me feeling 'less than'.
If we, as women, have less value then does that make it seem to us  to be okay to be abused?
If woman have less value than men then does that give men 'a right' to abuse us. Or to belittle us when we report, or ignore it as not important?


 "We all must acknowledge that we were all made in God's image and are loved by Him, and therefore must relate to each other as we would our God" - really well said. Thanks, Elly. 

Rationalization of abuse is one of the most difficult situations to deal with.  "He/she has their own problems that led to it", "He/she didn't know any better", "The victim sort of asked for it/invited it", "If such-and-such hadn't happened the abuse wouldn't have happened".  The excuses (another word for rationalizations) go on and on.  However, we must all take responsibility for the decisions we make and our actions.  Bullying would stop if we taught our children to treat all others with kindness and respect (like they would want to be treated), so they can make the right decisions as well.  We all must acknowledge that we were all made in God's image and are loved by Him, and therefore must relate to each other as we would our God.

As members of a Christian church we have a huge role to play.  First of all, we need to set the example of how to relate to each other with kindness, respect and dignity.  Secondly, we need to educate on what constitutes abuse, how to recognize it, and more importantly, how to prevent it from occurring in the first place.  Thirdly, we need to address it head on if it occurs in our communities.  Finally, we need to be there to assist victims to heal from the trauma and pain of abuse.  Can we be that for each other?  That's the challenge.

We can never know the transforming, healing power of our Lord, if we will not acknowledge our own deep woundedness. 


Thank you, Monica, for another really thoughtful piece on cultivating a church culture of grace. We can be so dismissive of each other's pain at times, that we fail to reflect the fact that we are part of God's Kingdom. So often people walk away from the Church because of what we didn't do, namely, having the courage to stand up for and protect each other, but that is where we find the abundant life in Christ that you write about--when we are Christ to each other. Well said.

Thanks Monica for this very thoughtful post! Forgiveness is so difficult. I like the idea that both forgiveness and repentance are a journey and must not be taken lightly.  Serious sin has serious impacts, and it then makes sense that there would be serious consequences. I resonate deeply with your call for increased accountability. For the sake  of Christ and his Church, may we move in the direction of taking the sin of abuse seriously enough to hold those who abuse accountable. 

Thank you for your response and for connecting with Safe Church Ministry on The Network. I appreciate your comments,  and share your wish that more people would read and respond to the often excellent articles that are posted on The Network.  Thanks again.

I appreciate you writing about Ruth Tuckers  book.
In my congregation women are not permitted to be in 'office'.
I have had 2 conversations about this with elders recently. One elder had been in council in another church where women were equal members and he much prefers that.
The second elder is adamant about women not being in office but he still has a high respect for me and encouraged me to speak out to council on issues that I know about. He says that he pushes other elders and deacons to value the women in our church community. This man has asked me for help in the past...
I told him that I know which men  value me and which ones do not. The second group there is no point in talking to.

What bothers me about this article is that it has been here for 10 days and I am the first one to comment.
There is a very small group that comment on any issue under 'safe church'
So not matter how good the writing most of the CRC never reads it.
As I have said before, I am banging my head on a brick wall     -and it hurts.

Faith Trust Institute has recently come out with a multi-faith discussion guide related to the movie Spotlight. You can find it here. A free webinar on the movie, also hosted by Faith Trust will take place in April "Join us for a roundtable conversation about the movie and how it illustrates the issues of institutional and personal responsibility for preventing and responding to child abuse." Presenters: Mary Dispenza, SNAP and Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune - See more at:

 You're right. It is a complex issue,and I didn't mean to blame her for being abused.  Dr.Phil often says that abusers are predators who intuitively know how to spot a potential victim rather than the victim unconsciously attracting their abuser, and they latch onto the hapless woman--since most of the time the victim is a woman--and makes it very hard if not almost impossible for her to get out alive.  When I lived in Sherbrooke, Québec, I got to know a former victim of domestic violence, and she did not dare to appear on photos that could be published outside the province since her ex-husband had threatened to kill her if he found out where she lived.  She got out alive, but her safety depended on his ignorance of her whereabouts.

Thanks for your insightful comments.

Ms. Gyselinck: Thank you for your insightful comments. The bravery of Anonymous to "chose the lesser of the two evils" and break free of an abusive relationship is awe-inspiring. The support of her father is compassionate and Christ-like and an example to be followed.

While I agree that there may have been warning signs during the dating period, pointing out that the victim did not see or should have seen those signs is non-productive and may be inaccurate. It is very important that all of us trying to support victims of domestic violence avoid a very common pitfall that is blaming the victim. Elaine Weiss, Ed.D in her powerful book Family and Friends’ Guide to Domestic Violence makes this enlightening observation: she often hears the question "why don’t these women just leave?" when she feels the more pertinent question is "why don’t these abusers just stop?" The first question is yet another example of blaming the victim.

While each victim's story is unique, all victims need to know:

1. the violence is not her fault;

2. she deserves to be safe, loved, respected and cared for;

3. she is made in the image of God and belong to Him alone;

4. she has rights too.

Domestic violence is intensely complex, and ending domestic violence is an ongoing movement that must involve the support of family, friends, the church, and the entire community.

Book citation: Weiss, Ed.D, Elaine. Family and Friends’ Guide to Domestic Violence: How to Listen, Talk, and Take Action When Someone You Care About is Being Abused. N.p.: Volcano Press, 2003. Print.

Thanks, Shannon - "pulling out the knife" - that's a painful but accurate image of the kind of healing required here. I really appreciate your compassionate perspective.

This is really beautiful, and bravely written. Thank you for sharing. When I was in Seminary, we were taught that divorce is "the murder of a marriage". I believe that when one spouse abuses the other, they have already "murdered the marriage" by failing to fulfill their vows. In cases of emotional and physical abuse, where the one who abuses will not change the that way God (and the Church) asks, filing for divorce is more about "pulling out the knife" so that the wounds can begin to heal. 

It's true that abuse in a relationship does tend to escalate rather than diminish; and that is also something that needs to be considered in a decision about leaving. And it's true that there may be warning signs, recognizing those is important - Safe Church Ministry has resources that can help here. When I worked leading support groups in a local domestic violence shelter I learned a lot about how this story plays out. Though each woman's story is unique, there are some themes that emerge in story after story. One theme is how wonderful the man was when they first met, he did beautiful things, swept her off her feet, and treated her very well. There are real and strong feelings of love there. The abuse begins and escalates very, very gradually only after the "hook" is in deep. And as humans, we are always hopeful. When someone says he's sorry and it won't happen again, everything inside us wants to believe that it's true. I remember one woman's words very distinctly, she finally came to the point where she said, "I know I have to find a way to leave someone that I love more than my very self". It's difficult and it's complicated. And I've seen strong, intelligent and beautiful women get hooked into an abusive relationship; and then come alive and build a new life again once the abuse ends.

 I'm glad this woman left before things got even worse.  This kind of abuser often ends up killing his wife because she left him, or was on the verge of doing so.  I hope that one day she can come out of the closet and no longer have to fear that people will condemn her for choosing life over hell.  It's unfortunate that she didn't see the warning signs before she married the guy because for one, I find it difficult to believe there were none.  But often the victims are in denial and figure the guy will change once they're married.  On the contrary, you often get more of the same.  In an issue of Scientific American Mind some years ago there was a story about a woman who was murdered by her husband when she broke up with him under the title "Love and Death," and in that story of spousal abuse the abuse had begun before the couple got married.  I don't remember when that article was published, but with the title of the magazine and the article people should be able to find it.

Thanks so much to the one who has courageously shared her story.

I have walked this road with many women. And I've seen the amazing positive changes that can happen when the abuse ends. We don't often realize the HUGE damage caused by constant emotional, psychological, and even spiritual abuse. Until we've walked in another's shoes; we need to be very careful not to judge. Instead, as the Church we are called to love. It is not loving to encourage someone to stay in an abusive relationship. It is not loving to allow someone to persist in their sin of abuse. Of course we want to uphold the permanence of marriage. But at what cost? Don't we also need to also uphold up the sanctity and purity of the marriage relationship? That doesn't happen when abuse is allowed to continue.

Thank you for your comments Bev. My ongoing, fervent prayer is that the CRC will do the right thing in responding to abuse, especially abuse that involves church leaders. In addition to our work to prevent abuse and create safe environments, we must also respond appropriately when abuse occurs - that's part of what it means to be a safe church. Our vision states, "...and where abuse has occurred, the response is compassion and justice that foster healing." We are called to be light and salt in a world that needs Jesus. Emotional and spiritual abuse must be addressed and challenged if our congregations hope to reflect rightly our Lord and Savior.

We need to get a better understanding of all forms of abuse... not just when there is a tangible, physical/sexual abuse/adultery that can be "proven".  Spiritual/emotional abuse is a much more subtle, but also very damaging type of abuse, and is often abuse of power.  these all can trigger PTSD symptoms.

I have mentioned in a christian group, something about spiritual abuse, and one of the responses was "well what is spiritual abuse?"  or "is that really abuse"?   I think all of my research has been from sources outside the CRC (but am aware of a number of situations in it)... it seems we don't like to discuss spiritual abuse much, if at all...  and it seems we are on the high risk end...  quote from article BOQ Today, many American churches and denominations are susceptible to it (spiritual abuse), particularly “reformed” Calvinistic churches or those with a highly disciplined authority structure. EOQ

it seems abuse has far too often been minimized and dismissed in the Church... exposing this is a threat to leaders.   I'm thankful these patterns of control, intimidation, manipulation and other "subtle" forms of silencing a person are coming into the light.

Recently, the practice of a technique that was called a "softer discipline" came to my attention in the CRC... this is a misnomer, because it is a manipulative passive aggressive practice of leadership to shut certain people from being in leadership positions, instead of talking to the person directly if there is an issue, and it is so stinking subtle, so very difficult to prove...  it includes not being recommended for positions or committees.  Not getting this job or nomination.  Being overlooked and ignored.  its subtle and quiet.  How often is this practiced on someone who is a threat to the leader, because the person would not be loyal to protect the leader from being exposed for the leader's manipulative/abusive practices, and would instead call the leader out on that sort of behavior.  So, the leader surrounds themself with "yes" people who are loyal to the leader and will not challenge the leader on the manipulative behavior, because the "yes" people possibly benefited from the manipulation at some point, in some way.  ie. favoritism, flattery, cronyism/good old boys club, etc. 

I hope and pray safe church and synod addresses the different ways there is abuse of power.  Keeping the process secret (lack of transparency) is one of them.  The executive session has been far over-used to protect those who abused at the expense of those harmed, because God's way is to bring things into the light, and it is generally those who fear their abusive behavior being exposed that resist that light!  Non-disclosure agreements are another one that I think have been far over used in the CRC to silence people.  forcing/intimidating/manipulating the person who was hurt to forgive and move on, when there has been far less than honest repentance, very little justice, and/or for leadership to avoid dealing with the abusive person, yet calling the person who was hurt unforgiving and telling them their soul is in danger if they don't forgive and let it go, is spiritually abusive.  finding a technicality to dismiss the appeal instead of addressing it, is abuse of power.  Using (intentionally) misleading language at council, classis and synod levels to manipulate the outcome of a decision is abuse of power.

Come on Church, come on CRC!  It's time to do the right thing!  expose and address the many ways abuse is happening in the Church, validate the hurt of those harmed, so they can heal, and discipline those who caused the harm with their abusive/controlling behavior, this is what we, the Church are called to do...  and no longer allow further harm to be brought to the one abused, and no longer protect the one who abused from consequences, because far too often, what the Church has allowed when it comes to abuse is the exact opposite of what His Church is called to do...

this is justice...

this is the right thing to do!

I believe the Hosts of Heaven rejoice and celebrate, when His Church does the right thing!

Thanks for that important correction, Karen! I mistakenly assumed Safe Church posted the articles the same year they were published! I have corrected that data, and a corrected version should post soon.

Monica, thanks for keeping this topic in view. One correction: the articles were written in 2001 -- 15 years ago already, though I'm glad to see Synod is now taking some important steps. 

Hi Kelly - my email is Looking forward to seeing what resources you have!

I often recommend The Hope of Survivors - - It's a wonderful resource for those who have been sexually abused by clergy or ministry leaders; also a good resource for anyone wanting to know more about this issue.

posted in: Counting Voices

totally agree Bonnie... and in the secular world I feel this happens more often than not, that the one harmed is given the choice... in the Church, not so much... and I think because the response of the Church is often so hurtful (the one harmed gets blamed, discredited, shunned, the abuse is minimized, dismissed, get over it, move on, let it go, forgive, what's the big deal, nobody's perfect, etc. the abuse is invalidated in so many ways), even if someone is given a choice, that is a significant reason someone would choose to keep it silent if they are given the choice... they are already so vulnerable and unfortunately going public would open them up to more hurt and pain, etc. from the Church instead of the justice and healing that the Church is called to on their behalf...   but usually if it's kept silent in the church the purpose is more in the interest of protecting the reputation of the person who did the abuse (especially if it's a well-liked leader).

and then I came across this statement a few days ago, that made me think about this discussion on confidentiality... from Unholy Charade (p 114, 2015, Justice Keepers Publishing, Jeff Crippen, Rebecca Davis)

God does not want us to keep evil in the Church a secret. EOQ

and that lines up with John 3, where it's the enemy who wants to keep evil things in the dark.  So the point is, that confidentiality isn't a cover for the enemy.

I'm wondering if we need an advocacy ministry that is somehow separate from any particular denomination or congregation.  When the church pays a person's salary...  there is too much potential for the employer to exert control/influence over that person and can make it really, really hard for the person to do the right thing, when there job/pay is threatened...  however, even if a ministry is independent, church leaders can subtly sabotage that ministry if they feel threatened.    the impartiality/avoiding conflict of interest seems to be very difficult in Church leadership in abuse situations... it's one of my concerns...  maybe i'm wrong, but I'm really wrestling with that aspect.






posted in: Counting Voices

In situations of abuse between adults, the purpose of confidentiality must be to guard the one who has been victimized. He or she has experienced the traumatic powerlessness of abuse, and now must be empowered again. One way to do that is give choices to the one who has suffered abuse. He or she must be the one to make the choice about whether or not the abuse becomes public - no one else has the right to make that choice for him or her. I know people who have been victimized, but are not at all willing to make their experience public. It's their choice, and that choice must be honored. However, there may come a time in the process of healing,  when someone may choose to make their experience of abuse public, to increase awareness, to protect others who may be in harm's way, or for many other reasons. It's sad to me that our churches are not always safe places to disclose abuse. These stories of abuse must be met with understanding and compassion. 

We must be careful in using an argument of confidentiality to protect the one who chooses to abuse: What is the potential for future harm, are we putting others at increased risk? Are we complicit in minimizing the issue? (Minimizing prevents the person who has perpetrated abuse from fully acknowledging the sin, which is the first step toward repentance and change.) What is the message being sent about the value of the one who has abused compared to the one who has been victimized - whose reputation is more important in God's sight? (Note: Jesus is almost always seen in the Gospels standing on the side of the powerless rather than the powerful; we are called to follow his way.) How will this action help or hinder genuine fellowship and unity in the community?  It's truth that sets us free. Abuse must be acknowledged before any healing is possible. 


posted in: Counting Voices

I know this is months after the original post...  I struggle with how the Church has expanded and elevated confidentiality to conform to the patterns of the world instead of to scripture...  ie.. attorney client privilege, pastor-penitent privilege, the confidentiality of the "confessional", robert's rules of executive and strict executive session, non-disclosure agreements...  as one pastor shared with me... confidentiality is killing us...  there is something very unhealthy with the way we, the Church, practice confidentiality...  God's way is to bring things into the light so that it may be clearly seen that is was His way... the enemy's ways is to keep things hidden in darkness out of fear...

I Timothy 5 says to publicly rebuke a leader who is sinning, in the presence of ALL, without partiality, that the rest may fear and as a warning.  and of course the 3 steps of Matthew 18... with the 2nd and 3rd expanding it beyond 2 people.  Of course we do this with wisdom and discernment (see Bonnie's comment), but somehow we have sacrificed justice on behalf of those harmed on the altar of confidentiality. A significant reason is protecting reputations, especially if we like the person who did the wrong and so are not impartial and want to defend our friend, our colleague... so we protect the reputation of the one who did the harm, instead of protecting the dignity of those harmed (although leaders will say that they are protecting the reputation of the one bringing the charges, but they are empty words because in reality it is damage control and cover-up because this secrecy actually does more harm, and instead of validating, this response ends up being as harmful if not more so than the original situation and traumatizes further instead of being part of the healing process - there is a reason that many who have been harmed by the Church struggle with post traumatic stress).

I'm pretty sure that is not what God intended in Proverbs about keeping people's secrets.



posted in: Counting Voices

Thanks so much Kelly for your response. This issue must not be swept under the rug, but must be faced. I'm currently on a committee that is addressing CRCNA Church Order Articles 83-84 regarding sexual misconduct by church leaders. The power inherent in the church leader position and the use/misuse of that power is a key dynamic that will be addressed. And children are not the only ones who suffer from misuse of that power. A study by Pamela Cooper-White from Columbia Theological Seminary reveals that 90-95% of victims of clergy sexual misconduct are female congregants. She goes on to say that once having disclosed their situation, survivors depend on the response of the institution or faith group for their healing. Often our response has instead created additional harm for many who have survived abuse at the hands of a church leader. We simply must do better. A book that I often recommend is:

When Pastor's Prey  edited by Valli Boobal Batchelor and also

It has several authors, reviews various studies as well as includes stories from survivors. One of the primary prevention strategies noted in the book is to educate about clergy sexual misconduct as abuse of power, not a consensual affair between persons of equal power; and also to provide biblical education about the role of power and its use and abuse. Baylor School of Social Work has done many studies and also has resources regarding the use of power by church leaders; these can be found here. (

Thanks again for all the great comments on Monica's good article.

Excellent point, Jill - I was disappointed in that some reviews of the movie seemed to see it as primarily about a historical period in the Catholic Church; I tried to emphasize that abuse of power within the church is an epidemic problem across denominations, but I think we need to continue to do work to expose the reality to people's minds on a regular basis.


Having dealt with cases and survivors from several denominations in a pastoral care and recovery role, I have discovered a wealth of research and supporting documents. Much of the research has been done in the United States among protestant denominations there, through several universities conducting research on the phenomenon of abuse of power and clergy sexual abuse. Baylor University's department of sociology did much of the research in the past two decades. In addition, several denominations undertook separate research on their own due to their own internal needs. I will be happy to forward links to the data and resources.

A follow-up article on office-bearer/clergy abuse in the Protestant Church will be a welcome read and help to many who continue to suffer in silence in the pews. Once victims feel "safe" enough, some may come forward with their stories to the right people. Publishing a helpful article with victims redemption and justice in mind is a step in this process for victims to feel "safe" enough to come forward. Please forward your e-mail or contact information and I will forward the resources.



Thanks, Bev. I agree completely. It is appalling and sad. I am hopeful that little by little eyes will be opened. Thanks for your work and support. I appreciate you referring to Boz's article: that is a great article that came to my mind as well.



Thanks for your concern, passion, and support, Kelly. I'd be interested in any resources you could point me to on clergy abuse. I would like to follow up with an article assessing clergy abuse in the Protestant  world and possibly the CRC (though we may have less data on the CRC.)



Amen and Amen!  bless your heart Bonnie...  keep it up!

bless your hearts... an answer to my prayer that what is hidden in darkness be exposed!  and that includes spiritual abuse/abuse of power in the CRC!

When I heard about this movie, I went to see it right away... it is a very sobering film, especially for those who might not realize the extent of abuse in the Church and leaderships' patterns of cover up and that it is far more extensive than we recognize (we tend to minimize and dismiss, and think it's not that bad)...  for me, it was an answer to prayer on behalf of all those who have been harmed by the Church, Catholic or Protestant.  It validated what happened to them, but also exposed the abuse of power by leaders in the Church to protect themselves and the reputation of the Church at the expense of those harmed.   The exact opposite of what God calls His Church to do!

the article and several of the replies refer to the fact that this is not just a Catholic problem... here's a powerful article from Boz Tchividjian stating that very thing:

Over the last number of years, I have come to a beyond grievous conclusion that breaks my heart, and I believe is extremely painful to God's heart, and no denomination or congregation is exempt (this is also true in gov't and with any institution) but I am addressing the Church here: when leadership is threatened, such as sexual immorality being exposed, the response has far too often been abuse of power and that is often far more harmful than the original incident (and I would say always more harmful in the spiritual sense/realm), because it is betrayal and spiritual abuse by those in leadership, who are called to do what is right in the eyes of God.  Instead of doing what is right and bringing this into the light (John 3:21), and validating the one who was violated, instead, the response by leaders is far too often, "damage control" aka sweep it under the rug, aka John 3:19-20 keeping it in the dark out of fear, which is the enemy's ways... this response breeds manipulation, intimidation (silencing), deception and further shame for those harmed, those violated, those abused.  So now, it is not only physical or emotional harm, but now (at least in the Church) they have been spiritually abused as well (there are entire books on this).  and I quote... Spiritual abuse is always a power issue! EOQ 

Spiritual abuse = abuse of power!

Again, the exact opposite of what the Church is called to... 

and unfortunately, that's still not all of it... when this type of thing does get exposed... here's the reaction from those in the Church  which again further harms those violated...

I know, this is not stuff that we want to hear, again, it is very sobering, but the Church needs to hear it, because we are all guilty... pray about this, process it, ask God to show you His heart regarding this...  He is bringing abusive behavior into the light!

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”  Bonhoeffer

We need to boldly address this... we cannot stick our heads in the sands, and only listen to fables and fairytales, myths that make us feel good (2 Timothy 4:3-5)...  this is the truth coming into the light (SpotLIGHT), and it's time for the Church, to open our eyes and ears to the abuse we have allowed to continue by not addressing this in the light... and repent... and the longer it takes for us to acknowledge, confess and repent, the more harm that will happen and abuse be allowed to continue...  I realize this is not a message that we want to hear or believe, but right now, we are guilty of the same things the Pharisees are... making the cup look pretty on the outside, when there is filth and rottenness on the inside... and no denomination, including the CRC is exempt.

I understand the Church is not perfect and this isn't 100% the case true in every situation, but we can't use these as an excuse to not address this type of behavior in the Church...

the world is doing a better job at holding leaders accountable than the Church does.  Part of leadership responsibility is to bring justice to those harmed, we have significantly failed in this area.  I wish I could say this is the exception rather than the rule, but when it comes to institutional leadership feeling threatened, it seems "damage control" and/or "non-disclosure" type agreements have become the rule...  water gate, Catholic Church, Sovereign Grace, Mars Hill/Mark Driscoll, Bill Gothard, Pat Tillman's death cover up (US Army), human trafficking (US gov't contractors in Bosnia), etc. and countless more that have never seen the light...  I recently had a friend who did the right thing, and reported abusive behavior of an elderly client by another employee at her job... she lost her job, for reporting it... bless her heart for doing the right thing!  I have a friend who has experienced these patterns and been intimidated, manipulated, deceived, discredited, spiritually abused, etc. by Church leadership and continues to be shut down in addressing this pattern of behavior, and when I shared the "unholy alliance" article with my friend, the reply was, "I find myself getting mad when I read this..... Because it's EXACTLY what they did!!" ...   abuse breeds so much evil!  and that is the EXACT opposite of what we, His Kingdom Church, are called to do.

we're not giving up on exposing this evil in the Church!  yes, it is hard, and leaders feel threatened...  but it is time to bring abuse, especially spiritual abuse/abuse of power into the light...  and this needs your help, your voice, your response.  We cannot stay silent. 

Our response starts with prayer and repentance, seeking God's heart and His ways for healing and choosing to walk in obedience to His ways...  If My people, who are called by My Name, will humble themselves, pray, seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then, will I hear from heaven, forgive their sins, and heal their land.  and He will call us, His Church into action as part of that healing.  and He will call us into action as part of that healing..  This is my prayer for His Church... 









this section to get email notifications of new posts
Carol Vander Ark Champion
Bonnie Nicholas
Elizabeth Schultz
Steven Bowman