S.O.S. Sexual Assault at a Retreat by Clergy

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This story is part of Safe Church Ministry's SOS Series. Due to the volume of discussion already generated from this story, the comments on this post are now closed. The author of this article has provided the final comment.

In 1980, my husband and I began attending an annual retreat for CRC clergy which was affiliated with my husband’s profession.  It was always a great time of fellowship and mutual support with other clergy and their wives. In 1995, when I was at the retreat, I was standing in the pre-retreat social gathering area with a beverage in one hand and a small plate of fruit in the other when I felt a pinch on my buttocks and heard this whisper in my ear, “Why do you have your ass sticking out that way?” I was surprised and stunned.  It was done by a long time clergyman who was high up in the organization. He insinuated I was being intentionally sexual with my body. I was not, it was his problem and he was totally out of line. I should have decked the guy with a back hand but I was too shocked. After the evening meeting when a group went out to a restaurant for a while, I recounted what had happened. I was assured that his behavior was assaultive.

After a sleepless night, I sought him out the next day and asked if he remembered what he said to me the previous day; his answer, “Yes, I do, but please don’t tell anyone what I said.”  I asked if he was still in therapy and he told me he had completed the therapy upon recommendation of the therapist. I suggested that he likely needed to go back and continue addressing his inappropriate behavior (I was aware that he had a previous incident wherein he had blackmailed a woman with money to keep quiet about sexually inappropriate behavior with her. It was found out by her spouse who reported it through an appropriate channel. As a result of that situation he was required to attend therapy).

After that exchange I told him that I had already spoken with others about the incident and was also planning to inform the board overseeing the organization that sponsored the retreat. Interestingly, I was told that Safe Church Ministry could not deal with it because the incident did not happen in a church. The organization’s board chose not to deal with it either because he was no longer the director. What did happen was that the man’s credentialing church formed a committee to deal with the situation. It is my understanding that he and his wife were in the process of changing from one church to another at that time and a committee of all men had been formed from the two churches. After several communications with a committee member, I and my husband were contacted and asked to meet with the man and his wife and the committee of all men.

At the beginning of the meeting we were informed that the purpose of the meeting was to bring about reconciliation. In response, I informed them that I felt that reconciliation would be premature because the incident had never been discussed openly with me, the perpetrator, and the committee. The convener of the meeting agreed, and time was spent discussing the incident and why I felt his statement was inappropriate.

After some discussion, the man was asked point blank whether or not he had said what I reported and whether he understood it was inappropriate. His response was, “She is accurate but I will never ask for her forgiveness.”  I told him that I was hurt and disappointed but no changed response followed. The meeting ended.

I was told that the committee would decide what consequences would be levied and that I would be informed of the status of the decision. I was contacted several weeks later and informed that the committee recommended a two year suspension of his ministerial credentials. I did not ask to have a report sent to me in writing and I did not inquire/monitor as to the continuing status of the situation during the two year period of time. I believed that what I had been told by the head of the committee was done.

Several years later I was informed by a reliable source; who knew the situation and outcome, that his credentials were never suspended.  I believe this was a deal made by the “churches’ old boys’ club.” That was very surprising and disappointing, as well as a reminder that situations are not always handled with honesty and in respect of the one who was assaulted.

Before the next yearly retreat I was informed that he would not be allowed to attend the retreat. This was the decision for several years before a new director of the organization asked if I would allow him to again attend the retreat. I told him that I did not think it was my place to prevent his attending as long as he understood that there should not be contact with me. That was the situation for at least the last dozen years.

I always hoped he would not be at the yearly retreat, and if he was, my husband and I avoided him and would not sit anywhere near him. One year, just before the beginning of a session I was caught off guard. He pushed himself in front of others through the row where I was sitting and stuck his hand out toward me, wanting to shake my hand. Sickening!

His presence at the retreat always resulted in anxiety for me because I never knew where he might be lurking. He is now deceased and I can finally attend the retreat without the anxiety of his presence.

Several years ago, while in the process of moving to a different location, I happened upon the written information about the incident. I decided to throw it away, knowing that I would likely not revisit the situation with others in the future. In response to the recent #MeToo movement, I was again reminded of the devastation that sexually inappropriate and assaultive behavior causes for women and men in all walks of life.

 

***This article has generated a great deal of discussion. The author of this article has provided the final comment and comments are now closed on this post.***

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Let's Discuss…

We love your comments! Thanks for your help upholding the Community Guidelines to make this an encouraging and respectful community for everyone.

I am sorry for how this man assaulted you and for the way the appropriate people did not deal with it.
Ths was unfair to you.
Also unfair to all the others he would have assaulted.
Thank-you for talking about it.
It is important that people understand how one incident can impact us for many years.

Community Builder

Yes, thank you for sharing your story so that more of us can learn and take the right steps in the future. 

Also, we wanted to note that in a situation like this Safe Church Ministry would advise putting the Advisory Panel Process into place so that the church council holding the credentials can make an informed decision to carry out discipline.

This is the case, even if the assault happened outside of a church or if the person is "retired" - they still hold the positional authority that comes with being a retired Minister of the Word - and a church still carries their credentials and upholds that they have been faithfully adhering in doctrine and life to the Word of God as interpreted by our Forms of Unity and the Church Order.

Participant

You were incredibly brave by taking all the steps you did when the incident happened. I am sorry that so many, especially those in positions of authority, failed you in your time of need; I imagine that only added to your pain.

You are incredibly brave to publicly share your story and your pain. Aside from the importance of making others aware that abusers come in every personality type and professions, I hope that by sharing you will find a bit more peace.

Therapy rarely works for those who abuse. I am not surprised that it, especially mandated therapy, was not successful for your abuser. In his groundbreaking bestseller Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, Lundy Bancroft—a counselor who specializes in working with abusive men— points out that he has “never seen a client make a serious effort to confront his abusiveness unless somebody required him to do the work. The abuser who truly enters counseling voluntarily, with no one holding anything over his head, quits within a few sessions, unless he finds a counselor he can manipulate.” Very insightful is Bancroft's comment that “Abuse counselors say of the abusive client: When he looks at himself in the morning and sees his dirty face, he sets about washing the mirror.” 

I am saddened, but not surprised that your abuser would never ask for your forgiveness. His perceptions of his responsibility are distorted; he did nothing wrong. If he was ready to accept responsibility for his actions, he would have been apologetic. 

Thank you for your courage, and I admire your resilience. My God continue to grant you the peace that only He can give.

Community Builder

Thank you for your wise words Jane. Lundy Bancroft is an excellent resource in helping us understand and recognize the patterns we see in situations of abuse. It's also a good reminder that specialized resources are needed, not just any counselor.

No one is ever outside the loving reach of our Lord, and he can do miraculous work. He is a God of invitation, and works only with those who are ready to cooperate with him to do the hard and painful work of acknowledging what is true and committing to the long journey toward healing.

Admin

A comment in this thread was removed because it violated our community guidelines. We regret any harm that the comment caused, and we encourage readers to be respectful in tone and language, especially when writers are sharing their personal experiences.

Thanks, Safe Church Ministry, for publishing this account of a woman who felt she was sexually harassed by a minister at a CRC ministerial retreat.  I was personally offended by this account and felt an injustice was committed.

I believe the punishment sought by this women was not comparable to the wrong that was committed by this pastor.  Let me explain.  Petty theft and grand theft are both crimes of stealing.  Petty theft might involve the stealing of a candy bar from a grocery store, whereas grand theft might involve robbing a bank of a million dollars.  Grand theft might result in twenty years in prison, whereas petty theft might result in paying for the candy bar.  But both involve the act of stealing.  Pinching this woman on the bottom amounts to petty theft, whereas a man exposing himself to a woman, or rape, or proposing sex might be considered a more serious crime approaching grand theft.  To seek the suspension of this pastor’s ministerial credentials is way beyond the seriousness of this wrong doing (pinching a women on the bottom and making an ill chosen comment).

Put the shoe on the other foot, and consider that it was the woman who pinched the man on the bottom and said, nice hiney.  More than likely the man would not be offended, but see it as light hearted humor.  I doubt that very few men (including pastors) would consider this as sexual harassment.  And I’m almost certain that many women feel the same sentiment.  It, at least, demonstrates that most men think differently than women in regard to sex.  I would imagine this pastor was acting in accord with his innate male personality and saw his actions as light hearted humor.

It is often said a speaker should know their audience before speaking.  Although this pastor thought he knew his audience (this woman) for a variety of possible reasons, he had misjudged her.  What he intended as light hearted humor was taken as sexual harassment by her.  He knew he was in trouble the minute she made his action known to her breakfast group (which, by the away, amounts to gossip).   I cannot imagine this pastor had any designs on this woman sexually, especially with her husband present.  Again she was going for his throat for what he intended as humor. 

The fact that he would not apologize reinforces his position.  Although his outward actions accorded to her statement, he would not admit to sexual harassment (her accusation), but only to an intended humor.  And, also, the fact that the elders did not likely consider this incident to involve serious sexual harassment, they were willing to review the proposed course of action and reduce the charges. 

As I see it, this woman overstepped reasonable bounds in wanting to destroy this man.

Guide

Roger,  It is very evident from your comment that you have disregarded the lived reality of so many women - you have also made many assumptions of women that I strongly believe are wrong.  I'm not willing to comment on all the ways I disagree with you. 

So many times comments like yours have silenced women - accusing them of things like gossip and have further enabled a culture of harassment and gender discrimination. Finally our society underwent the #metoo movement in which millions of women and men have finally said, enough is enough, this must stop and had enough courage to finally share their story.  Yet, there is this comment from you that minimizes it as just humor... 

I pray that men will finally stand up and say, this will not happen anymore and real change will finally come - not to mention this misconduct was from an ordained pastor? When will it end? 

Check out this article written by a pro basketball player Steph Curry, he is one of my favorite athletes:

www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/stephen-curry-womens-equality

I’m with him, when he is talking about raising his son, “I think you teach him to always stay listening to women, to always stay believing in women, and — when it comes to anyone’s expectations for women — to always stay challenging the idea of what’s right.”

 

There is no where in this article where it says that this pastor thought he was being humorous in his treatment of this woman. If he did think it was funny why did he whisper rather than saying it out loud so that all the people around them could enjoy a joke? Why also did he ask her not to tell anyone?

His whispered statement was crude and totally inappropriate as was the pinch. It would have been wrong wether it was a man or a woman as clergy or victim.

When the pastor was informed that he had offended and been inappropriate with this woman why did he not apologize then? Even if it is true that he did not mean to, he should have apologized and asked forgiveness, As any of us should who discover we have harmed someone.

Your comments here show how much education is still needed    about sexual harassment.
 

.

Community Builder

Roger, this may sound familiar to you, since it's part of a response that you've already received personally. I thought it might also be helpful to others as well. 

I know that it may be difficult for you, as a man, to understand how misconduct like this affects a woman. And frankly, it's difficult for anyone who hasn't experienced it, regardless of gender, to understand the experience of sexual misconduct. That is one of the reasons that we are publishing this S.O.S series. People are complex, and each person's story is unique. Please take time to truly listen. We invite you to enter the painful experience of another to gain understanding about the impacts of sexual misconduct. We long for our CRC congregations, and the entire Church to be places of healing, places where the value of each person is honored. It saddens me to see that you chose to minimize and dismiss the experience of your sister in Christ - an experience that you could have instead chosen to learn from.

From my position as director of Safe Church Ministry for the last 7 years, I have heard the stories of literally hundreds of people, most women, but not all, who have left the CRC, or left church altogether, because of sexual misconduct and/or lack of an appropriate response to misconduct by church leaders. I keep wondering when the church will begin to listen, truly listen to those who are hurting.

Thanks, Bonnie, for your concern about me.  I don’t want you to get the wrong idea or impression of me.   I am definitely against sexual harassment.  I read the news accounts about men like Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer, Bill Hybels, and Catholic priests taking sexual advantage of children and think such people should be prosecuted severely.  And such real predators in our denomination should be taken seriously, as well.   But to prosecute a man severely (take his career from him) for a pinch on the but does not make sense.  My guess is that this woman needs counseling as much as this pastor, or more so.  And remember, we never got to hear the pastor’s side of this story.  There’s a reason that he wouldn’t apologize for sexual harassment.

Participant

Rev. Gelwicks; It is my hope that you will be open to my thoughts regarding your commentary.

Grab a cup of coffee – or two for this long one.   ;)

First, I believe that your severity of crime with corresponding degrees of punishment examples (theft and assault crimes) need further examination.

Let me explain.

Your second paragraph argues that “the punishment sought by this women was not comparable to the wrong that was committed by this pastor.” You go on to compare the degrees of theft (petty to grand theft) to the degrees of sexual assault (pinching to rape). Your words lead me to believe then that you believe the minister in question did commit a crime worthy of punishment. I use the word crime because of your theft/sexual assault analogy.

Then regarding punishment and staying with your analogy, law enforcement will also consider the number of previous thefts or assaults. Looking back at our story, the minister in question “had a previous incident wherein he had blackmailed a woman with money to keep quiet about sexually inappropriate behavior with her.” While there is no indication of any other assaults by this minister, we do not know if there were any others. Only because of the current #MeToo movement have women been breaking their silence. Expert Lundy Bancroft, the counselor who specializes in working with abusive men, believes based on professional experience that an abuser can change, but most don’t. Bancroft tells us about specific signs which can indicate whether an abuser has changed; there are:

  • Admitting fully to what he has done.
  • Stopping excuse-making.
  • Making amends.
  • Accepting responsibility and recognizing that abuse is a choice.
  • Demonstrating respectful, kind and supportive behaviors.
  • Changing how they respond to the victim’s anger and grievances.

The minister in this story appears to have done none of these.

Also, we do not know what type of sexually inappropriate behavior he previously committed; was it petty theft/pinching, grand theft/rape, or something in between? Looking even more closely, this minister not only committed a previous crime of sexual assault, he also committed blackmail.

Second, your “shoe on the other foot” needs further analysis.

Let me explain.

Your third paragraph, I believe, is based on your assumptions. You state that “very few men (including pastors) would consider this as sexual harassment.” How many men did you ask? How many of those men are pastors? I did survey one man (my husband, who is not a minister) about your hypothetical situation, and he replied that he would feel it very inappropriate if, especially in a CRC public setting, a woman pinched his bottom and said, “nice hiney.” He would not find it humorous, and actually “would wonder what drugs she was on.” One must be very careful when assuming how others might feel and act, much less making broad gender-based statements based on those assumptions.

Viewing the pinch and whisper as light-hearted humor is very dangerous. The victim had no idea of the intent of the minister. How could you or anyone know he intended his pinch and crude words as humor? The minister’s request for secrecy the next day does not indicate any kind of humor at all. As MJill H, in her comment above, so astutely observes, humor does not clothe itself in whispers and vows of secrecy.

Your fourth paragraph contains more assumptions and a puzzling statement.

Let me explain.

How could you or anyone know that “this pastor thought he knew his audience (this woman) for a variety of possible reasons?” How could you or anyone know “he intended [it] as light hearted humor? How could you or anyone know this pastor did not have “any designs on this woman sexually?”

Your last sentence in this paragraph is indeed troubling to me: First, I find no evidence in the story that the victim “was going for his throat.” No where do I read that she was seeking any specific punishment; I only inferred that she was seeking justice of a wrong committed against her. Secondly, the last part of this sentence can only be an assumption that the minister intended his pinch and whispered crude words as humor.

Your fifth paragraph causes more puzzlement for me.

Let me explain.

You state the “fact that he would not apologize reinforces his position;” can one then apply this same rational to other wrongs? If the petty thief, the grand larcener, the groper, or the rapist will not apologize, does that just “reinforce his position?” You then write that “he would not admit to sexual harassment (her accusation), but only to an intended humor;” I see nothing in the story that matches that statement. The story does indicate that the day after the incident, the minister confesses to the victim when confronted, and later at a meeting with others investigating the incident, he stated that “She is accurate but I will never ask for her forgiveness.” You also mention that “the fact that the elders did not likely consider this incident to involve serious sexual harassment, they were willing to review the proposed course of action and reduce the charges.” This statement suggests a greater knowledge of the incident than the story allows the rest of us readers. What is further injurious to the victim is that she was “informed that the committee recommended a two year suspension of his ministerial credentials” and then later discovered on her own that the minister’s “credentials were never suspended.”

Finally, your last sentence lacks creditability.

Let me explain.

It is always the responsibility of pastors to maintain healthy boundaries in all of their relationships. Physical contact to someone’s “hiney”, whisper crude words, and blackmail by a anyone is always sinful behavior. Church leaders, those who act in the Lord’s name, must be held to a high standard. Abusive/assaultive behavior by a pastor reveals a misuse of the power and position entrusted to him.

It is disrespectful; “abuse and respect are diametric opposites – you do not respect someone whom you abuse, and you do not abuse someone whom you respect.” (Lundy Bancroft; Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men)

It does not honor God who commands us to “treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (I Timothy 5:1a - 2).

It does not honor the women who bear the divine image. 

So, in our story, here is a minister, someone who should be held to a higher standard, who has:

*Committed at least one other crime of sexual assault of unknown degree in the past.

*Committed a crime of blackmail to cover up the sexual assault.

*Was required to undergo therapy because of the sexual assault and blackmail.

*Committed another sexual assault crime (“pinching this woman on the bottom”).

*Requested secrecy for his wrongful actions.

*Admitted his wrongful actions (pinching and crude words) to the victim, but refused to apologized.

*Had been sentenced to mandatory therapy for his previously committed sexual assault.

*Confront the victim at a later date when requested not to.

 

So, in our story, the victim suffers many injustices:

*The assault.

*Rejection of help from the organization that sponsored the retreat where the assault took place.

*Rejection of help from Safe Church.

*While it is commendable that the minister’s credentialing churches investigated the incident, the process was done poorly with little care and attention to the victim; the emphasis appears to be on the abuser.  

*When the investigation did involve the victim, reconciliation was considered the first step. While reconciliation can be part of the process of justice, it is one of the last steps.

*While the minister admitted his wrongful conduct, he would not apologize.

*The recommended punishment (two-year suspension) was never implemented.

*The victim only discovered on her own that the punishment was never implemented.

*The victim graciously asserted that she did not “think it was my place to prevent his attending” the retreat, but with the stipulation that “he understood that there should not be contact with” her; then this minister actually confronts her for a handshake at a later retreat.

Godly “men know that women are made in the image of God and deserving of dignity and respect—they are image bearers. This is how God desires our world to operate; as the Bible relates at the very beginning in the book of Genesis, “So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female” (Genesis 1:27 NIV)” (Act Like Men, part 3: Men Treat Women with Respect; Christianity Today; 20 October 2014).

May God be glorified in all we do.

Shalom.

Hi Jane.  I have tried twice now to respond to your last comment.  It seems as though they were both removed.  So be assured there was a response.  I think the submitter (Safe Church Ministry) of this article was looking only for supportive feed back to this story.  No room for differences of opinion.

Community Builder

I am thankful that the guides will not permit any more victim shaming. That in itself is abuse, and you've said enough (in my opinion).

If you think pinching the butt of a parishioner and making a sexual comment is okay, then I'm concerned for any woman under your pastoral care or in your network.

Community Builder

Thank you, Jane, for your well thought-out, informed, sensitive response. I am just shocked that anyone, let alone a pastor, would think that the sexual assault was okay under any circumstance. It's time we look abusive men directly in the eyes and say, "No more." We will not be intimidated, we will not accept accusations of reporting being gossip, we will not permit an environment for the young women and girls behind us that considers "sexual humor" (whatever that means) to be okay. I am a pastor, and even in my wildest dreams I would not ever touch a male or female in a sexual manner. We are called to live a life beyond reproach.

Amen Bonny. Thank-you for these important words that needed to be said.  I pray that you have spoken for the silent majority.

Thanks for sharing your story.

I pray that the sharing of such stories and the momentum of the #MeToo movement may bring an end to such inappropriate behaviour and "whispering." 

I appreciate the many well written comments as well.

Community Builder

Hi everyone following this post,

I have been a campus minister and commissioned pastor for a number of years in two denominations.

In both the denominations I have served, sexual harassment and clergy spiritual and sexual abuse have been observed. Sexual harassment and abuse usually begins with emotional and spiritual abuse. The abuse is a common thread in all church denominations according to exhaustive research done by several universities, especially Baylor University School of sociology.

I have counselled too many victims who suffer in silence from the trauma of being regarded simply as sexual objects in the eyes of leaders who are supposed to bear positions of trust.  Pastors who do not understand that there is a power differential between themselves and their parishioners, who are to exhibit behavior recognizant of the fiduciary responsibility to treat others under there power with dignity and resect, according to the Gospel, are not fit to bear that office and should be deposed.

The act initially described in this post was an act of abuse of power and a direct assault on the dignity of a sister in Christ. How can she ever, when she needed it the most, go to that pastor and trust him with her soul? The pastor by his act sexualized a relationship that is required to be imbued with trust and dignity.

I am tired of the "Old Boys Club" that treats the assembled congregations under their power and control as sexual play-grounds for the titillation of their base desires. I have prayed with too many victims who bear the trauma of lost trust in the men they once regarded as sent from God for their spiritual growth and development.

CRC Church order was recently changed due to an especially egregious case of clergy sexual abuse of adult parishioners. The changes in church order (Article 83, Synod 2016) reflect the degree of pain and suffering of countless women and men who have suffered clergy spiritual and sexual abuse (and that includes a whispered sexualized butt pinch) at the hands of those who clearly ought to know the power differential their office holds. And, with such power, use it as coming from and ordained by God. Jesus Christ as a man, only used his great power to elevate women to places of respect equal with men.

Kelly Sibthorpe (Rev.) 

Community Builder

Thank you Kelly for clearly stating the issue; and noting the very real trauma involved when the ministerial relationship is sexualized in this way.

Thanks for the variety of responses to this post.  As all the responders stand against sexual assault and abuse, not all see this particular situation through the same lense. 

As I see it, this pastor was vindicated of the charge of sexual assault (title of article), seeing as the elders of two churches, after final review of this case, did not charge him.  No penalty was inflicted, nor any public pronouncement of guilt.

I think there may have been more to this story than what is told here. We heard no account from the pastor involved, except that he did not ask forgiveness of the charge of sexual assault, for which he obviously did not feel guilty of.  It is difficult making a final judgement without hearing the accounts of both parties involved.  A balanced hearing would have been helpful to the readers of the Network.  Thanks again for this story and the many comments.

Community Builder

A "balanced" hearing is a key concept. It must include an understanding of the power differential, the inherent positional power in the role of a pastor. As Synod 2016 reminded us in its revision of Church Order, "One of the key dynamics in considering abuse of office is the imbalance and misuse of power. The power inherent in the role of officebearer represents a sacred trust and must not be misused."

Community Builder

Roger,

The CRC is in the very early stages of educating it's membership on our dedicated, organizational power structures i.e., (Classes, Counsels, Pastors, Elders and Deacons) regarding the various abuses of power that exist in our denomination. The 180,000 (plus or minus)  people who willingly subject themselves to the CRC's power structures (office bearers), do so trusting that they will be a part of a safe, and relationally accountable body.

Up until recently, there was minimal or no understanding of the power differential between the appointed powers managing the activities of the membership. The power structures themselves usually have an inherent desire to protect their upper-echelon membership and holy reputation from blame for a number of factors, not the least of which is avoiding a "disastrous" fall from grace or a "de-frocking".

The normal course of action for an office bearer crossing the boundaries into sexual harassment or abuse were labeled as those guilty of having had an "affair" with a parishioner. "Affair" was the language used in Church Article 83 prior to Synods' amendments to the same in 2016, to describe sexual misconduct. Shameful, possibly worthy of some discipline yes! However, it was just an affair, It takes two to tango you know! A short suspension will suffice and possibly after a year or two, this pastor may seek a new call. This is how the "Old Boys Club" played out back in the day. The perpetrators of office-bearer sexual harassment and abuse were simply supported back to a place of leadership following minor discipline, only to repeat the same ingrained patterns of behavior in new contexts of power.

Thankfully, those days are over and we are collectively trying to make the church a safer place for all. We must continue on the path towards relational integrity and the proper use of power that the Synodical amendments clearly dictate. Our denomination will be fully ridiculed for having not properly reformed to place of promoting, through education, relational respect and equality with a clear understanding of the proper use of delegated power in power-differentiated relationships. Until we get to that place as a body of Christ, victims will continue to take the blame, lose their faith in God and the church and become suicidal substance abusers. Do we love all of our people or not? Do we love them enough to not ever sexualize relationships of fiduciary trust, knowing that if we do, our actions have the potential to destroy that person? 

Any church denomination is fertile ground for abusers of the power they receive at ordination. The research by the Baylor School of Sociology cites the average rate of abuse is all church denominations is approximately two percent, meaning that two office bearers out of 100 are actively engaged in emotional and sexually abusive behavior. If you do the math, we have 1200 churches with an average of 6-10 office bearers per church being about 85% male. At any given time, statistically, our denomination hosts approximately 190 practitioners of sexual abuse or harassment. Here's the math: 1200 churches X 8 office bearers/church= 9600 people (more or less) in positions of power. 9600 X .02 (2%) =190  sexual abusers of power. There are, at any given time, a minimum of 24 ordained Ministers of the Word who are guilty of clergy sexual abuse, representing 100's of victims. De we need education and increased awareness of this phenomenon? I think so. Our children and grandchildren need this level of diligence for their protection.

Thank-you Safe Church for trying to educate, against a strong tide of remaining, yet thankfully diminishing misunderstanding surrounding this horrific practice found among us.

Thanks Kelly for your input.  I agree with the idea of educating our members in regard to our dedicated, organizational power structures.  And sure there are abuses of power in leadership and by individuals in our denomination, as there are in every Christian denomination.  So educate away.  In the past, such as when this account took place (1995), there was no “safe church ministry.”  Throughout the history of the church and our denomination, we trusted men to give pastoral leadership to the church.  These were gifted men chosen by their congregations to lead to the best of their ability.  It was a biblical concept to trust the governing authorities (elders) of the church.  This is the principle by which all our churches were and are governed.  This is the principle by which this pastor (in this story) was vindicated of the charge of sexual assault in 1995.  As you suggest Kelly, “our members willingly subject themselves to the CRC’s power structures (elders), do so trusting that they will be part of a safe and relationally accountable body.”  And such was the case of this woman and pastor.

Community Builder

Dear Roger,

Thanks for re-stating the fact that these were gifted men, I agree. Do you agree that 2% of these "gifted" men were actively abusing their office? I am not sure what you mean by "educate away".  Please clarify.

You're exactly right, in 1995 there was no safe church ministry...so the 2% of abusers got away with a lot as I outlined. Please elaborate if you're able, on what role safe church does play, so we have a common understanding of its mission in 2018. I would like to hear your thoughts! In your opinion what does a "safe" church look and feel like for women? 

-peace,

Kelly

 

Thanks Kelly, for trying to further this conversation.  You ask if I agree that 2% of our elders and deacons are actively abusing their office, a total figure of 190 abusers annually.  I suppose abuse of office could come in many forms, sexual abuse being just one form.  If 2% is the is the average figure for sexual and emotional abuse in all denominations, is that average in the U.S. or the U.S. and Canada, or is it world wide?  Does that include 3rd world countries, as well as 1st world countries?  Your figure is pretty vague and hard to evaluate.  I would guess sexual abuse in our denomination involves a much lower percentage.  To get a more accurate figure, you would have to check with our denomination or maybe even Safe Church Ministry.  I doubt that the number comes close to the 190 abusers that you cite.  I’ve been in a number of Classes over the last 25 years and the number of reported incidents seem much lower.  So I have a difficult time with your figure of 2% or 190 abusers annually amongst our elders (including pastors) and deacons.

The simplest definition of Safe Church is, “Equipping congregations in abuse awareness, prevention, and response.”  A more elaborate definition is, “Safe Church Ministry equips congregations in abuse awareness, prevention, and response. We help build communities where the value of each person is honored; where people are free to worship and grow free from abuse; and where abuse has occurred, the response is compassion and justice that foster healing.”  I would imagine this equipping of congregations comes, first and foremost, through education.   I imagine that Safe Church is also willing to offer counsel when asked for.  So when I said, educate away, I meant this as a means of encouragement to continue this educational ministry.  This was a positive encouragement, in contrast to a negative, such as saying, “This is how the "Old Boys Club" played out back in the day.”  Are you serious?

You ask what a safe church might look and feel like for women.  Isn’t that contained in the longer definition of Safe Church Ministry?  “...communities where the value of each person is honored; where people are free to worship and grow free from abuse; and where abuse has occurred, the response is compassion and justice that foster healing.”

Thanks, Kelly, for your input to an interesting conversation.

Community Builder

Safe Church Ministry began in 1994 as the Office of Abuse Prevention. It came about as the result of a study committee, which was begun by Synod 1992 to look into situations of abuse. The name was changed in 2008 to Safe Church Ministry to reflect a broader scope of abuse awareness, prevention, and response. So, we've been here in the CRC since 1994, and obviously still have a lot of work to do to build awareness about the dynamics and impacts of abuse, and to create safer communities where the value and dignity of each person is honored.

Roger you have already stated that you thought this incident was meant in humor
Quote: I felt a pinch on my buttocks and heard this whisper in my ear, “Why do you have your ass sticking out that way?.

I just want you to know that I read this to my husband and he was appalled and shocked that anyone would think this was funny. As an elder in our church he would not let this go as a joke. He would expect the perpetrator to be held to account and relieved of his position, at least for a time,  while he was educated about inappropriate sexual behavior and power dynamics,  and an accountability system was set up for him. My husband also said he believes that the majority of men he knows in our church would agree with his position.

Unless you are saying that the victim has not told the truth of what this man did to her, then whether or not  we know his thoughts or the elders thoughts is irrelevant -though it would be educational.
If we are talking about what is acceptable behavior from one human being to another then it has to be said that this pastor was absolutely inappropriate to this woman.
It cannot be 'just a matter of difference of opinion', what this pastor did was wrong.

Thanks, Mjill H, for your further comment.  I don’t know who you were quoting at the beginning of your comment, but it wasn’t me. I think you are quoting the original article.

As to your husband’s response to this story (and my comments), it is fine that he takes a different point of view than I did.  I don’t expect everyone to agree with my opinion.  I don’t expect all members of the consistory (elders) to agree with each other either.  That seems to be the obvious scenario in the case of this pastor and woman that came before the elders of two churches.  In the end, though, he was vindicated of the charge of sexual assault.  It would be interesting to know his side of the story, because in the end he was not charged in any way.  So it would seem that his thoughts or opinions were relevant to this situation.

I’m not saying that what this pastor did was right.  Definitely, pastors should not go around pinching parishioners on the rear end.  I simply said, that this incident did not rank in the category of “sexual assault.”   As to how he intended his pinch and comment, we will never really know.  We haven’t and will not hear his side of the story.  But the elders did, and charges were not pressed.

Community Builder

Hi Everyone,The statistics I cited come from Baylor University are accurate for all North American Denominations (+ or - 3%). Baylor is a highly respected institution that produces state of the art research in religious sociology. Baylor's research into clergy sexual abuse and statistics describing the degree of the  problem have been used to assist law enforcement agencies and judiciaries in several states change their laws to criminalize acts that clergy do that sexualize relationships meant to be professional. 

Roger, your opinions are simply not valid. The reason most women report acts of abuse is because they fear retribution or recrimination. Only 1in 7 incidents are ever reported or if someone wants to come forward they are told by an elder to "let it go, you will harm his reputation". The victims are ignored and the powerful are protected. I will never forget, after speaking on the floor of our Classis during the  overture debate process to revise church article 83,  what happened to me in the washroom at break. I was speaking quite strongly in defense of victims saying, "how long will so many of our people continue to sit in silent suffering while we allow perpetrators of sexual abuse to go with a slap on the wrist. It has to stop!" Our session ended with a break and I went to the washroom. There were two older men in the washroom. They both, one at a time, told me of their daughter's and a grand-daughter' sexual abuse at the hands of an elder and pastor. The daughter is now a depressive alcoholic. The other victims has depressive disorder complicated by substance abuse. These men came to me on behalf of the silenced who have no voice. Roger, your lack of empathy for the writer of the story of which these comments are a follow-up reveal that you do not understand the issue. You opinion is irrelevant because it is not true. The case was obviously mishandled, justice was not done. There are no teeth in church courts...A guilty man is saved, the victim is squashed. 

I'm happy to report that all the men under the leadership of my wife (Ordained Minister of the Word and Sacrament) feel safe, as she adheres to her marriage vows and would never consider abusing a man under her pastoral care. She is one of the 98/100 pastors who are Not abusers.

God preserve and protect those who are under the power of the 2% of leadership in the CRC and all denominations who abuse their power. Thank-you Lord for the 98% of our leaders who adhere to their ordination vows and who do not break them. We love them so... Help us to identify and root out those among us who need to be deposed for their abusive behavior. Preserve the lives of victims, heal them from depression, suicidal ideation and fear. Many have left both the faith and church.  Restore them once again to your community. Strengthen them Lord and help them to be courageous survivors, fearlessly telling their stories.  Provide all the support and pastoral care they need. Amen.

 

Thank you, Kelly’s husband, for your input.  I take it this comment was written by Kelly’s husband because further in the comment you say, “My wife (an ordained minister of the Word and Sacraments).”  You also mentioned going to the men’s washroom during a break at a Classis meeting in which you talked to other men.  That would be unusual for a woman, especially at a CRC Classis meeting.  It would be helpful if you would identify yourself at the beginning of your response, like everyone else.  Thanks.

As to Baylor’s accuracy of + or - 3%, we are talking of 2% on average of abuse in American denominations.  Wouldn’t a 3% change up or down change a 2% figure drastically?  Beside that, if only one in seven incidents are ever reported, how can an accurate count be formulated?  If the other six incidents are never reported how would Baylor know to include them?  Something’s fishy here.

You say my opinion is irrelevant in regard to this particular story because it is not true.  All opinions are relevant, yours included.  Church councils work on the basis that all opinions count, especially when a vote is taken. Not all council members are going to vote the same, but when the tally is taken the majority wins.  In this particular situation, this man was vindicated of sexual assault, plain and simple.  In the CRC we trust our church councils to make the best decisions in situations they deal with, regardless of the male/female make up of our elder/deacon boards.  If you don’t trust your elders and are accusing them of dishonesty, you are either in the wrong church or wrong denomination. 

Everyone sees situations through different lenses or biases.  Obviously this woman saw this incident through a bias of thinking she was sexually assaulted.  And obviously this pastor saw it as something other than assault, significantly less.  When these two groups of elders (two churches) heard their stories, in the end, they didn’t judge the situation as assault either.  Pinching a person on the rear end is not good decorum or right, but is it assault?  My opinion says no, as was the opinion of this church council. 

You say that this case was obviously mishandled and my opinion is irrelevant.  Is that your opinion, or fact?  Was there ever an apology by the council to the congregation for their decision?  Was the church ever reprimanded by the Classis or Synod for a wrong decision?  Then I take it the church was not at fault in their decision making process.  

Community Builder

Roger,

The + or - 3% is the statistical variation of 100 individuals in a sample.

I am a man Roger and my wife is my pastor at Good News CRC in London Ontario. She has been ordained  as a Minister of Word and Sacrament for 11 years.

And again, church article 83 disqualifies your "opinion". Please take the time to read it. Synod has ruled against your opinion on this matter.

Kelly

Community Builder

Roger,

The + or - 3% is the statistical variation of 100 individuals in a sample.

I am a man Roger and my wife is my pastor at Good News CRC in London Ontario. She has been ordained  as a Minister of Word and Sacrament for 11 years. Please look at the avatar on my post. That's me with the beard, my daughter and grand-daughter.

And again, church article 83 disqualifies your "opinion". Please take the time to read it. Synod has ruled against your opinion on this matter.

Kelly

Hi, husband of Kelly.  This is awkward, not even knowing your name.  How should I address you?  I do like your picture, although it is a little fuzzy on this website format.  Please use your name in the future.  It clarifies which family member is responding, or use the personal pronoun “we.”

Art. 83 of CRC church order states, “One of the key dynamics in considering abuse of office is the imbalance and misuse of power. The power inherent in the role of officebearer represents a sacred trust and must not be misused.”  There is no official documentation citing that this incident violated the new article 83.  Nor do I believe that past settled and binding cases are retroactively retried according to the new legislation.  Past councils (elders and deacons) did their honest best to resolve all cases in Christian love.  But certainly art. 83 is a good reminder in moving forward into the future in considering cases of abuse.

So, husband, I don’t see how anyone’s opinion is invalid according to this article, mine included. Does this article also mean that your opinion is invalid?  We are both simply stating opinions.   Blessings to you.

Hi Roger.  I think you made the initial error of assuming that Kelly was the name of a woman and that the picture attached to the account was intended to illustrate Kelly as the female in the picture.  In actuality, it appears as though Kelly is the man that you are talking to, and he is in the picture as well (to the rear).  It appears as though Kelly is married to Willemina Zwart, who is not only his wife, but is also his pastor.  So, carry on your conversation with Kelly the man.  :)

Thanks, Eric, for clearing that up.  That was easy.  And I apologize, Kelly, for my mistaken identity.  The picture threw me off.

Community Builder

This article is helpful in showing why it is so difficult to come forward in situations such as this an highlights the power differential involved. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2018/07/09/willow-why-the-women-went-public/. It takes all of us working together and holding each other accountable in these matters to maintain an environment that is welcoming and safe for all of God's children.

Community Builder

For those interested, here is the link to some of the research papers produced by Baylor.

The document by Dr. Garland, "Wolves in Shepherd's Clothing" (see the link for bibliography) is of particular interest and outlines the progression of the "Grooming Process" of victims used by predatory clergy. This paper among the other academic papers listed was referenced extensively during the article 83 process of revision for Synod 2016. I'm sure you will find it "eye-opening". It is a great educational tool for safe church and was used in our presentations to Classis.

 

https://www.baylor.edu/clergysexualmisconduct/index.php?id=68148

peace,

Kelly

 

 

Community Builder

Baylor is a great source of information re/clergy sexual abuse! Thanks for pointing out these helpful resources.. One of my favorite resources there is this Bible study guide, Power and the Christian, about use and misuse of power. It would be a great study and discussion for any group of church leaders. 

Thanks, Safe Church, for your concluding statement, “ It takes all of us working together and holding each other accountable in these matters to maintain an environment that is welcoming and safe for all of God's children.”  I would think that is a statement we can all agree to. Thanks.

Participant

Both secular legal and the church systems get judgements wrong – OJ Simpson was found not guilty by a jury of his peers and, more recently, Willow Creek admitted to mishandling abuse allegations. A Christianity Today article details how Willow Creek (WC) is coming to terms “with the areas of our hearts, minds, and souls that blinded us to the pain and suffering of the women and their advocates. We ask forgiveness from God, our congregation, the women, their advocates, and those who have been calling us to repent” (WC elder Missy Rasmussen).

As intended, and rightly so, this S.O.S. article and discussion has focused on one woman’s story. My prayer for her is that, while her healing journey has been long and hard, she may be free from the trauma caused by this situation of abuse. May she find someone who can walk alongside her so her journey is not alone. For the rest of us, my hope and prayer is that the discussion has prompted some soul searching for all of us as we seek to honor God and the dignity of every other person created in His image in everything we do. May what we do individually and collectively as the church always glorify God and advance His Kingdom here on earth. For that we are deeply dependent on God’s wisdom, strength, and transforming power.  “Ultimately this church is in God’s hands. … Please know that I am not giving up on this church. Most importantly, God is not giving up on this church. He created it. He has always been faithful to it (WC pastor Heather Larson).

In closing, I echo WC elder Missy Rasmussen, “we want to be the kind of church God is calling us to be. “A church that learns lessons, grows through healing … and demonstrates the love of Christ.”

Link to CT article: https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/august/willow-creek-bill-hybels-heather-larson-elders-resign-inves.html

Participant

Bless your heart. I'm so sorry for the way you were treated... wow... I hope you continue to use your voice, to help heal and to help others heal... I pray blessing, that you will experience how the Lord gives you a crown of beauty for ashes, and a garment of praise for your pain and the oil of joy for your grief...  He always trades up... 

I'm aware of similar stories, and similarly, how something like this gets minimized and dismissed by leaders, when someone's body and soul were violated...  how the pastor is viewed as more important than the person harmed...  this exposes the idolatry in how we view those in that office.  sadly, the office of pastor has been misused for the pastor's own selfish pleasure and then when that pastor is not held accountable by his peers, the trust in that office deteriorates even more...  now it's not just the original individual, but a group of leaders that biblically are called to protect the harmed and seek justice on their behalf and instead are doing the very opposite... further harming the person and betraying the sacred trust that was already violated, and instead protecting the one who did the harm in the first place... just mind blowing how the response cannot be any more opposite of what God calls us to do... this ungodly response is "lording it over"... protecting and benefiting those in power at the expense of those harmed...  so wrong!  and that is why the trust in leadership, especially with the younger generations is almost gone.  and the continued actions of leaders is doing very little, if anything to restore that trust... trust is earned, it was given freely by many to the office of pastor, and it was seriously betrayed and exploited and then often covered up, etc.  Forgiveness does not restore trust, only truly genuine repentance and restitution, making things right and doing what's right.  the ball is in the leaders court to restore trust.  Forgiveness only opens the door for that possibility... any action to restore trust is up to the leaders... and many are waiting... and many are disappointed and have walked away from the institutional church, and I don't blame them.

Very interesting discussion via the comments, appreciate the many insights, but also indicative of the significant gap in the understanding of abuses... and the impact it has on those harmed... 

someone mentioned in the comments how we all have different lens to look at this, and i think the context was justifying the response of leadership in this woman's situation... sadly, the lens some leaders are looking at abuse through, is a lens of porn... porn distorts peoples view of other people, often treating women as objects instead of  being respected and treated with dignity because women are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God... porn warps the brain, warps attitudes and warps behavior... the decision process is no longer capable of sound judgment, but has warped and distorted views of women, gratifying selfish pleasures, and when we focus on indulging the flesh, our reasoning deteriorates... when over 50% of pastors are struggling with porn, how can we trust their judgment?  

also... sadly, but indicatively... in a survey, 96% of victims of domestic violence who went to the church for help would NOT recommend going to the church for help... while in another survey 80+% of pastors say that that their church is a safe place for domestic violence victims... HUGE disconnect here... why?

Oh, as Kelly said, we have so much to learn about abuses and leadership and we are in the early stages of that process...  Father forgive us, Lord have mercy, Holy Spirit help us...

Hi Roger,

As a male and an uneducated "lay" person I rightly or wrongly look to our denomination for leadership on a variety of topics.  That includes pastors, elders and deacons on a local level. I am married and have 5 children.  2 boys and 3 girls.  In light of this account and your understanding of it, and you as a pastor or leader in our denomination.  I am wondering if you are able to help me answer some questions I have, as I counsel my children in light of this story.

I'll start with my boys. As I'm hearing it from you it seems okay for a male to pinch the bottom of a female as long as it's done in the context of being a "joke".  From reading this story I'm not concluding that she thought it was a joke and no where in the story does it say that they had joked in this manner previously so I guess my questions are as follow;

If one of my sons wants to pinch a girls bottom should the comment that goes with it not be said out loud? That way everyone will know it was intended as a joke?  If it's whispered as it was, anyone who observed the pinch may not understand that it was intended as a joke? Or do you make sure you do the pinch when no one is watching?  That way you don't need to explain things to people who may not understand? Clearly from this story the female didn't understand that it was intended as a joke, so should he have immediately explained to her he was joking? That may have cleared up any confusion? Also wondering if you are allowed to do this as a married male? The story doesn't say if he was single or married? So would it be okay when they are single and even after they get married? I guess I can presume that because he pinched a married women's butt it would definitely be okay to pinch a single women's butt?  (Again as long as it's intended as a joke)

Now how do I explain this to my beautiful daughter's? Should I tell them not to take care of themselves so that way no male will be interested in pinching their bottoms? Or is it better to tell them that that's life and boys will be boys?  That way they can prepare themselves for the inevitable? Or do I tell them not to put much thought into how the touching makes them feel, but they should be more concerned about what the intent is of the person doing the touching? What do I tell them if the person doing the touching isn't joking? Please help me explain to them how to discern what kind of touching is meant to be a joke and what might not be a joke? Where is that line? Or is there a line?

Something doesn't feel right about telling my daughters that males can pinch their bottoms whether they like it or not? Am I being over protective? I guess in all of this I also wonder what terms like "unwanted" touching means? Is there such a thing? Does no actually mean no? Or is it dependent on what the person is wearing or looks like? And "personal space" what does that mean? 

I look forward to hearing from you.

Hi Frank.  I understand that you are baiting me with this comment.  That’s true because you have misconstrued most of what I have said in previous comments.  But I will still try to answer your questions.

First, and foremost, it is never ok to pinch any woman on the rear end, unless perhaps your own wife as gesture of love or compassion, like a kiss on the back of the neck.  Of course, kissing other women on the neck would fall into the same category as giving her a pinch on the hiney, and is off limits. 

As to pastors doing this, certainly it seems to be in order to give training in seminary to both male and female students.  In this new age of #Me too, it might be in good order to teach future pastors to never touch a women or a man, whether on the arm or shoulder or anywhere.  It can too easily be misconstrued as sexual misconduct.   As to this pastor, in this story, I have no idea what his motive was, other than I doubt that he was sexually assaulting her (in her husband’s presence).  His motive, whether in jest or as sexual assault, does not justify his action.  So pastors, “No pinching.”  Don’t be stupid.  And you can tell your sons the same.

As to what do you tell your two beautiful daughters.  I have one, too, and she is beautiful.  Should boys pinch her on the hiney, I would have suggested that she should face the boy or man and confront him immediately. “What do you think you are doing?”  Demand an explanation, as well as an apology if the pinch was unwanted.  If the pinch was from her boyfriend, that might be another story.  I imagine that would be the end of the incident.

I hear the stories of other men in leadership misusing their authority.  We’ve all heard them.  I hear stories in the news of men drugging women and while semiconscious raping them.  Or men holding a woman’s future career over her head unless she has sex with him.  I hear of pastors pressuring their staff members to perform oral sex on them.  But I’ve never heard of someone being brought up on sexual assault charges, whether in society or the church, for a pinch on the hiney.  And in this case, I can certainly understand the decision of the elders.

Hi Roger,

Thank-you for getting back to me. May I remind you of a few things. This happened between a pastor and a married women who was not his wife, at a church sanctioned function. This is not the first time this pastor has done this. This is for sure the second time and he has received mandatory counseling as well for this type of behavior.  The perpetrator does not get to tell the victim how their actions may or may not affect them. Do you understand that this situation can potentially have devastating effects on an individual and cause them to leave the church and never want anything to do with God or his Kingdom?

Roger, if this pastors's actions prevented even one person from entering the Kingdom of God isn't that grounds enough for them to be removed from office?  

If the pastor was truly repentant there are ways in which he could return to being a pastor.

Article 11 of our church order states "The calling of a minister of the Word is to proclaim, explain, and apply Holy Scripture in order to gather in and equip the members so that the church of Jesus Christ may be built up." Sometimes we use terms like  "Kingdom building"

So if a pastor is to be a kingdom builder and one who is part of God's team, how then can anyone in our church leadership support anyone who is a kingdom destroyer? These are two opposing forces! This wasn't a "one off" there is a pattern here. When the shepherd is the wolf, the sheep are in serious trouble!

Just because the elders decided not to do anything about this situation doesn't make it right. In fact it makes me seriously question our leadership and where their loyalties lie. Maybe it's time our denomination set up an inquiry to look into these sorts of things? Sadly I am sure this isn't the only time things were swept under the carpet. 

For me it is mind boggling that you can say things like" it was just a pinch"! In fact it wasn't just a pinch it was also the words that were said to this women and it's the previous actions that were serious enough to put him in mandatory counseling. It's not an isolated pinch. It's a sum of actions that this pastor has done to prove that he should not hold the office of minister of the Word. 

Thanks Frank, for your further comment.  I appreciate your concern for situations like this.  This incident took place in 1995, some 23 years ago.  That’s a long time ago.  This story is the retelling of an incident as she saw and remembers it from the past.  This is her account of what happened, but we have no accounting of events from this pastor, from his perspective.  In fact he is dead and cannot even tell his story.  But I do believe these elders from two churches heard his perspective, and finally sided with him in judging this was not sexual assault and dismissed any charges.  I am not at liberty, nor should you be, to hear a one-sided account and make a judgement.  If I had heard only his accounting and not hers or others, then I would be just as at guilty in making a biased judgement.  It’s too bad that these S.O.S accounts are given from only one perspective, therefore not impartial.

As I read this story and hear of the bitterness held still many years later, it would have been helpful to arrange for some counseling for this women to help her through her trauma.  It may or may not have been offered.  I don’t know seeing as this is a story as seen through one person’s lens.

Roger,
I do not understand why you keep harping about not knowing both sides of this story and now classifying the woman's hurt as bitterness.  Really you are implying that she could be lying so she does not deserve being listened to and also that her hurt is invalid.
You seem unable to acknowledge that it could be true and that she was treated wrongly.
Instead you seem to blame her for letting the 'imagined' hurt last so long.

Sure it would be interesting/helpful/educational to know more about it, but that we don't does not automatically invalidate what she says.

While discounting this woman you state: "But I do believe these elders from two churches heard his perspective, and finally sided with him in judging this was not sexual assault and dismissed any charges." So while you cannot believe the woman's story is true you do believe that the elders  and abuser made a good decision. What is that choice of yours based on? You say "not to make a one sided judgment" but you judge this woman and side with the elders and abuser. 

I am not sure you aware that when a person is treated inappropriately, sexually,  even if you do forgive the offender from your end, if they do not apologize  and if no one calls them to account, one never feels comfortable with seeing that person. You feel vulnerable and exposed. Sexual misconduct affects us deeply. 

I am not sure you realize that most abuse is done by people in a place of power over the victim, it is mostly hidden,  it is mostly hard to prove and most people's response is disbelief. Almost everyone tends to believe a leader or elder or person with 'standing' over a 'regular person'. There is often the assumption in churches that an elder or pastor or leader is  more honorable or Godly or he was placed there by God so it could not be.  Check out what David did in the Old Testament to rearrange your thoughts about this.

While you won't  know you are doing this, many of your comments have triggered for me the pain of other cruel responses I have heard after talking about the abuse I suffered. Your comments could prevent many from coming forward to report abuse. 

( and no, I am not going to offer proof of the abuse that was done to me, here,  so I know you will be free to disbelieve or invalidate anything I say.)

I know all about walking in forgiveness and grace towards abusers. It has been a long journey of hard work to come to peace and healing. Through it all I have had some good responses from church leaders and a number of bad ones. For example:

-no response and no offers of help and no mentioning again after I did ask for help.
"If you had grown up in our congregation this abuse would not have happened."
"It is in the past, just let it go"
"Forgive and forget"
"You are a new person now -Quoting 2 Cor. 5:17 'Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.' therefore your past should not affect your new life in Christ" 
"God never gives you more than you can bare" !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Helpful responses always began with:
"I am sorry this was done to you"
"I do not know how to help you but I will try to find out" and then they followed up .

If your daughter came to tell you she has been sexually assaulted would you show care or would you say "hang  on a minute, let me talk to the abuser and see what he/she says".  Then when the abuser denied it would you discount your daughters words? Would you suggest she just not fuss about it because after all, who could know what the truth was about it. If your fellow church leaders did not believe her and stood up for the abuser, what would you do? "Oh well, they are good men placed in this position, their decisions must be correct."
 

The good thing about your comments here, (those erased and those still public) is that they help show why our entire denomination needs education about sexual abuse in the church.

Participant

MJill H: Thank you for your courage in relating the pain you experienced as a result of how others responded to you in your own abuse. I congratulate you on the hard work you did to come to peace and healing and your ability to forgive. Too many women suffer in silence, but when they do come forward, there are messages that the church can uniquely give – you are loved by God; you do not deserve to be abused; God is moving in your life to bring you liberation and joy; you are not alone, not only is God with you, but we, as people of God in the church, are sensitive, supportive, and ready to walk beside you ....

Abusers are often manipulative, and can be effective in triangulating church staff and elders to remove accountability from their actions. It is important that above all, the church continues to hold abusers accountable, which in no way removes its ability to see them still as children of God.

In support of this woman's story is the fact that this particular minister was a serial abuser. The elders who evaluated the situation appear to be derelict in not taking that fact into account.

May you feel God's tender hand and everlasting love in your life .....

Thank-you Jane for your kind and thoughtful response.

I appreciate your words in italics of the message the church can give.
However, the carer needs to be sensitive first as to where the survivor is at in his/her relationship with God.

Many of us question "where was God?", "why did He allow this to be done to us?". We may not be able accept that God loves us.
I remember a moment when I was sitting in the church balcony, surrounded by people singing praises to God. I thought, if God is so loving and amazing, why do I feel so bad?! I wanted to biff hymn books off the balcony! Not to hurt anyone but just to say -"What is this thing we are doing? -why does God not 'work' for me? -where is this peace that you all sing about?"

These questions in my case were compounded by the fact that the abusers used God's Name and words against me and twisted Who He was. This caused me to believe lies about Him for many years.
It took me a long time to recognize God's love for me. It is splendid now that i know it and that He enables me to love Him back.

The helpful thing was when friends let me talk and be angry and question God, without reprimanding me or correcting me. They listened and loved and said helpful things like "It is good you are getting this out" or "I would be angry too." Some wept with me which was so validating. Eventually I learned that God was angry too and hated what the abusers did. (while still loving them)

Perhaps I have hi-jacked this thread a bit but I wanted to take the opportunity to add to the education purpose of these stories.

Participant

MJill H: Thank you for letting know what was helpful to you. Your words will guide me as I work with our church's Safe Church Team.

Shalom.

Thanks, M Jill H, for sharing your own story and how you perceived the abuse that you experienced.  I have little comment for what happened to you, except that I’m sorry.  I hope that time and the love of those who surround you will contribute to your healing and comfort.

Life is full of valleys and mountain tops.  The mountain tops can come from a hundred different directions, as can the valleys.  Some people are struck with physical, mental, monetary, or psychological ups and downs that can be an extreme benefit or deficit upon one’s life.  In this roller coaster of life, it’s hard to predict the presence or beneficence of a loving God, especially when caught in a valley (as you have suggested).  The Psalmist often felt abandoned by God.  “The length of our days is seventy years—or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10) The deist suggests, that God exists, he created this world as a watchmaker but is far removed from human activity.  His activity might be best seen in and through the natural laws (including the laws of relationships) that we experience daily.  So, to experience God’s healing and comfort in the valleys of life, it is important to avail ourselves of that which brings healing, such as counseling, understanding and loving friendships, and time.  I only wish the best for you in your situation.

Throughout my posting of comments, I have focused, in my opinion, on one flaw in this story.  The retribution sought by this women against this pastor far outweighed the crime.  Yes, he was wrong to pinch this lady on the hiney.  Even the church elders seemed to indicate this by their initial response.  But to classify this as “sexual assault,” was going too far.  And so the elders, of not one church, but two, dropped the charge.  To remove his pastoral credentials, even for a short time, would probably bring the end (ruin) to his ministry, a ministry that he had spent years preparing for.  I believe that these elders recognized this and refused to charge this minister with sexual assault, a charge that did not fit the crime of a pinch on the hiney, even with an unkind comment.  That’s my opinion, and now after all these other comments, I am convinced is still valid.  Thanks for stating your opinions, as well.

Participant

Rev. Gelwicks: MJill H's abuse was not "perceived", it was "suffered."  Attempting to minimize abuse is hurtful to the victim especially when done by a pastor who should know better how to minister to those who are hurting. The abuse was real, not perceived. I think you might benefit from reading some books on abuse. I will list some very good ones at the end of this post. I highly recommend the book titled "Why Does He Do That?" by Lundy Bancroft, a counselor who specializes in working with abusive men. You would find insights into why men abuse, and also how to respond to victims. In fact, I will purchase it for you, and mail it to you; it is that good. Let me know if you want it, and somehow I will get it to you. I have recommended it to elders, pastors, and others who deal victims and abusers; the feedback has been tremendous. Although I have not yet read it, there is a book titled "Domestic Violence: What Every Pastor Needs to Know" by Al Miles that is addressed specifically to pastors. 

I consider myself a life-long learner, and as I just today learned from MJill H, ministering to abuse victims and abusers is different. I am so thankful to her for providing me with some helpful ways and comments for ministering to abuse victims.

What does puzzle me is that even though this fact has been repeated throughout this blog post, you have yet to address the fact that this minister "had a previous incident wherein he had blackmailed a woman with money to keep quiet about sexually inappropriate behavior with her.” While there is no indication of any other assaults by this minister, we do not know if there were any others. This brave survivor also mentions in her post that "I was contacted several weeks later and informed that the committee recommended a two year suspension of his ministerial credentials." So yes, initially, a committee found him guilty of something including blackmail that warranted a two-year suspension of his credentials. 

Maybe a better question and line of discussion is why this minister still had his ministerial credentials after previous sexually-deviant behavior and blackmail (!) that resulted in mandatory counseling. It would help me to understand your perspective if you would address that past behavior, mandatory counseling, and the pattern of abuse.

Respectfully, Jane Elzinga

Great books to read:

  1. A Cry for Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in your Church - Authors Jeff Crippen & Anna Wood
  2. Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife: My Story of Finding Hope after Domestic Abuse - Author Ruth Tucker
  3. The Cry of Tamar - Author Pamela Cooper-White
  4. Domestic Violence: What Every Pastor Needs to Know. - Author Al Miles
  5. Family and Friend's Guide to Domestic Violence - Author Elaine Weiss
  6. Helping Her Get Free: A Guide for Families and Friends of Abused Women - Author Susan Brewster
  7. Is It My Fault: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering. - Authors Justin S. Holcomb and Lindsey A. Holcomb
  8. Man Enough - Author Frank Pittman, MD
  9. Violence Among Us: Ministry to Families in Crisis. - Authors Brenda Branson & Paula J. Silvia
  10. Why Does He Do That? - Author Lundy Bancroft

 

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