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.

Thanks, Jane, for furthering the conversation.  I’ve been trying to step away from this dialogue.  My last comment to M Jill H was not meant to be sarcastic, as you seem to imply, but helpful if anything.  Read it, again.

Perception is very important to our understanding for a variety of actions.  I had suggested in an earlier comment (to Frank) that, [“In this new age of #Me too, it might be in good order to teach future pastors to never touch a woman or a man, whether on the arm or shoulder or anywhere.  It can too easily be misconstrued as sexual misconduct.”]  Perception can indicate to a person whether a touch is a “come on” or an expression of caring or concern.  How a young person perceives the discipline of his/her parents can be entirely different from that of the parents, whether as an expression of parental abuse or as an expression of parental love.  Perception is the difference.  This is just plain common sense.  I’ll not pursue this further.

Thanks for the suggested reading list of helpful books on the topic of abuse.  No need to send a hard copy.  I’m a Kindle reader and can order it from Amazon.  I imagine that you and I probably agree on many things, just not in regard to this particular story.  Blessings to you.

Community Builder

 

Hi All,

This public forum is important. The hearing of stories helps to bring to light to abuses of power in our midst. Thank-you to "The Network", for publishing sensitive personal histories of people who have the courage to go public.

I myself was the recipient of two incidents of abuse as a young man. I was groped in the genital area twice by perpetrators. I barely escaped one incident in our school washroom by screaming as loud as I could. The perpetrator let go and fled, thankfully. Throughout the remainder of my time at this school, I was terrified of retribution and did not dare tell anyone out of fear and shame. This incident remains in my psyche. God has been gracious in allowing me through grace to bear it.

Of course there are differing interpretations of incidents involving harassment and abuse. From a judiciary view, opinions don't count, only facts count. If the event brought forth by the courageous story teller is true, there is only one interpretation, " guilty of sexual abuse and harassment" based on the incident. The perpetrator has no right to offer an explanation of "I did it in fun" and my intent was misinterpreted. The facts are as follows:

1) A person of unequal (greater) power, granted through ordination, ignored their fiduciary responsibility to respect the sexual safety of someone with lesser power (the retreat participant) contravened this person's right (through church order) to sexual safety.

Roger, or others who may not understand the fiduciary responsibility of a pastor please take the time to research it. A short definition from Webster's dictionary is as follows:

Definition of fiduciary 

 of, relating to, or involving a confidence or trust: such as

a : held or founded in trust or confidence a fiduciary relationship. All pastors and office bearers through ordination vows have a fiduciary responsibility to honor and respect and never contravene the right to sexual safety, a person under their pastoral power and authority. Period. This includes any incidents of sexual innuendo or any form of touch not in keeping with that  responsibility. Sadly, in the nineties and even today, the 2%, give or take of office bearers within the CRC who abuse their relationships of trust are often defended as "wandering for a time". 

2) Professional associations including the Canadian Medical Association, Governments, Police Associations, the military, National Counseling Associations and other bodies that employ professionals have strict codes of codes of practice outlining the grounds for sexual harassment and assault. Research shows that professional associations all experience the same rates of abuse, i.e., approximately 2% of the professionals in their ranks abuse their power.

The penalties within these associations vary, however within medical associations, any contravention involving sexual harassment or abuse against patients requires relinquishing of professional credentials. The same is true for Psychiatric and Counseling Associations of professionals. Interestingly, the same holds true for our denomination through the institutional and constitutional framework of church article 83 (revised 2016, Acts of Synod). For anyone reading this blog who believes their opposing opinions matter regarding contraventions of church order article 83 would do well to inform themselves of the dangers in 2018 of abuse of power. This is not 1993. A lot has changed since our courageous story teller was harassed by this pastor. Unfortunately, the ecclesiastical power structures still in place may lead to the protection of those in power and the silencing of victims and survivors due to the very nature of how power is exercised. For every victim that tells their story, there are 10 victims who remain in silence out of fear of the power that dominates them.

There is still much work to do to make our churches safe. Proceeding with initiatives including Classical Safe Church Coordinators for every Classis with ongoing education of congregations and pastoral education courses at seminary outlining  the nature of abuse and its consequences are a step forward. A reminder to those who believe their is room for interpretation or opinion regarding incidents of harassment that are in fact true, take heed.

As in a court of law, when there is proof beyond reasonable doubt of a break in the relationship of trust, through boundary crossing, the accused is guilty and should bear the necessary consequences of their actions, including relinquishment of professional credentials.

Kelly

Community Builder

Yes, Thank you for sharing from your own experience. Indeed, the purpose of these stories is to help others understand the experience of abuse. Anger and questions toward God are common, such as "Where was God?" or "How can an all-powerful, all-loving God allow his children to be abused?" 

The church must be ready to embrace those who are angry and who are questioning, to walk alongside with compassion and hope. The healing journey can be long, winding, and difficult; finding others to walk with on the journey is critical. It is our prayer that sharing these stories will help us, the church, do that better so that no one walks alone. 

Thanks, Kelly, for the effort you have put into this last comment.  There’s much to agree with and gives me reason to pause.  But I think you, yourself, have hit upon the distinguishing factor.  You said, [“Of course there are differing interpretations of incidents involving harassment and abuse. From a judiciary view, opinions don't count, only facts count. If the event brought forth by the courageous story teller is true, there is only one interpretation...”] But of course interpretations do matter.  Our perception of an event may be entirely different from that of someone else.  The lens through which we see an activity shades the truth of what actually happened.  So you say, “if the event brought forth is true...”  Is a pinch on the hiney considered sexual assault?  What if it was a pinch on the arm?  Would that make it different?  What if it was a slap in the face?  As I have suggested we have one accounting of an event.  We don’t know what led up to it, if he was incited.  We have one account.  And obviously there is another accounting.  The pastor’s.

A high school boy gets into a school yard fight and is hurt, a broken arm, leg or finger.  He brings charges to the principal against the other boy. Does it matter who started the fight or if the other student was hurt?  I would think the accounts of both boys would be equally important in finding fault.  The lens through we see an event will make a difference.

Remember, also, this was a pastor’s wife.  As a pastor’s wife, certainly her word carried some weight.  And I would imagine that her husband (a pastor) supported her and his word as a pastor would contribute to her weight and influence in testifying. The charge was sexual assault, according to the article, a serious crime. Was the charge justified?  Apparently not.

The jury (the elders of two different churches), after hearing the two sides of the story did not charge this pastor with sexual assault.  You can talk about the abuse of power by 2% of pastors, that’s an average across all U.S. denominations.  Some would be lower and some higher.  What is the final tally for the CRC?  Does that 2% percent average mean all councils, made up of men, abuse their power?  Of course not.  And the likelihood of these two groups of elders making a biased judgement seems very unlikely, based on a 2% average.  By suggesting so, shows a bias on your part.  Thanks, Kelly, for your contribution.

Community Builder

Hello Roger and all,

With due respect to your office Roger, please take the time to do your own investigation into this issue. There have been a variety of current resources cited here to read. It will be much more helpful to you if you read all the information cited in this blog in a process of discovery, rather than asking me questions. Clearly, you do not believe the information I provided.

The research and information you discover will enlighten you surrounding changes that have taken place since 1995. The changes to attitudes in society and the practical re-engineering of church order to reflect those changes  would not have resulted in the exoneration of the accused pastor nor would have judged the judgment of the elders in question as correct or disciplinary. 

Kelly

Community Builder

Finally, we are seeing some change, hopefully. Yet, this is not new, see also the Agenda to Synod 1994 pp. 146-154, when the Office of Abuse Prevention, now Safe Church Ministry, was formed. You will know why Synod 2018 had to lament, "the ongoing failure of some classes and congregations to implement Safe Church practices". How long, oh Lord? Have mercy on us, Lord, and teach us your ways.

Has the comment section been closed down for this article?  I've noticed several new comments, both pro and con, on my internet alert, that have not made it onto the website.  Is the opportunity for comments closed down for this article?  I won't write further comments if it has.  Thanks.

Participant

Roger... there have been so many comments for this discussion that the comments are now on Page 2!  =) at least on my computer...

thankful to see the discussion going on here in a fairly respectful manner...

sadly, I'm personally aware of too many situations (recognizing even one is too many, but I'm aware of about a dozen in my very limited sphere, not including what is in the public sphere) where the leaders have protected the pastor/leader at the expense of the one harmed...  that the leader is treated as more important than the person who does not have a title... that is favoritism and lack of impartiality... both unbiblical, let alone acquitting the guilty and deny justice to the innocent, also something God does not look favorably upon. at all.  Yes, we can debate what action would be appropriate to the offense in this specific incident, but honestly as a woman, I would not be able to listen to or respect a "pastor" who assaults women in any way, shape or form and honestly this is the type of behavior that has caused many to lose trust in the office of pastor, and even more so when the person is not held accountable by other pastors.   This destroys the trust in pastors and defiles the office, and sadly, we are reaping the lack of trust in pastors, because that is what has been sown by the actions that minimize and dismiss the seriousness of inappropriate behavior of someone who holds office as a pastor.

We are to be above reproach, some counselors will not even shake the hands of their clients to avoid any appearance of any impropriety... now, I'm NOT recommending that in the Church...  but this minimizing of inappropriate behavior is part of the problem... leaders minimize porn.  is porn on the same level as what this man did here?  I have heard the seriousness of porn minimized and dismissed by leaders in the CRC more than I care to think about right now... ie "it doesn't hurt anyone" when the damages are devastating in so many ways... including objectification of women and distortions of attitudes and beliefs due to the warping of the mind that goes with viewing porn.  and sadly, the current stats are 57% of pastors have a problem with it...  whatever we are doing to address these inappropriate behaviors, is not working!  Wish I had better news, but that % just keeps going the wrong direction... and my guess based on anecdotal evidence, etc. is it's probably understated...  sadly porn spawns this type of behavior and worse...  

 

 

Kelly, you questioned my understanding of the nature of a power differential of those in leadership, what might be the boundaries and possible abuse of such leadership of those holding office.  Certainly our form of church government and even civil government protects against such abuse.  A jury of twelve, or a consistory of several elders protects against placing the power in the hands of a single person.  Even the pastor holds no more power or authority than the other elders in our churches.   Power, authority, decision making is placed in the hands of many, not just one.  An example or two might help.

In the city I live in, we are witnessing a widely publicized trial of a police officer who is being tried for first degree murder of a young man on the streets of our city. There is no doubt that this police officer shot and killed the young man. It was caught on the police dash cam and has been shown to the public many, many times.  The charge against him is first degree murder.  Although acknowledging that he shot and killed the young man, he pleads not guilty to the charge of first degree murder.  He claims this was justifiable homicide.  In this trial there have been and will be expert witnesses giving their testimony that shows, in their opinion, either innocence or guilt against this officer.  Does the evidence against the defendant involve a possible abuse of power by an officer?  Of course.  Will he be found guilty of the charges against him?  Maybe so or maybe not.  It all depends whether the evidence weighs in favor or against the defendant beyond any reasonable doubt in the collective mind of the jurors.  This is a trial that is taking place presently in our city.  Those involved have an understanding of the possible ‘abuse of power of those in authority’ issues that are important today.  If he is found innocent of the charge of first degree murder, he will be set free.  He may still be guilty of murder in the mind of the plaintiff, but that is just his/her opinion and is not legally binding.  Expressing his/her opinion does not determine guilt.  That would have already been legally determined.  So again, charges sought, or the plaintiff’s opinion (or story) does not determine guilt.  The verdict will come from twelve people who equally have the power of decision.   This protects against either the accuser (plaintiff) or the accused (defendant) of abusing what power they might have, and protects from either deciding the verdict.

Also, presently going on, is the sentencing of Bill Cosby, being found guilty of “sexual assault,” the same charge brought by the woman in our published story.  There were many witnesses who testified against Cosby, testifying to being drugged and sexually assaulted while under the influence of drugs.  The evidence was conclusive and the jury brought forth a guilty verdict of sexual assault.  Although the charges are the same, does Cosby’s crime even remotely compare to the charge in our story? I can’t help but wondering if the same charge of “sexual assault” was brought against Cosby for pinching a lady on the bottom, if the case would even make it to court.  My contention all along has been that what this pastor did (in 1995 or today) did not constitute sexual assault and the sought after retribution did not fit the act.  The jury (elders) made their final decision in good faith and their decision would stand, whether in 1995 or today (whether considering the possible abuse of power by those in authority or not).  Have a great week.

Community Builder

Hi Roger and all.

Thanks for attempting to answer the "power differential" question.

Power is more than having people voted into positions of authority and knowing their titles and roles. Inherent in the position of power are psychological, moral and spiritual advantages (power) that come with the office. Because of the power differential in the relation between pastor and parishioner, any sexual innuendo or act in that relationship is never consensual and therefore an abuse of power. The pastor or office bearer, through their fiduciary responsibility to protect the relationship charged to them  is responsible for placing proper boundaries to protect the relationship from harm, so "incitement" from a parishioner may never be used as a defense by the bearer of power. Any breach of safe boundaries is never consensual. There is no such thing as "incitement", because of the imbalance in power in the relationship.

Please read the following for a full explanation of this, then respond. Others please respond too :)

https://futuristguymedia.wordpress.com/clergy-sexual-misconduct-fiduciar...

Kelly

Participant

Thanks Kelly, appreciate your input and all your work in this area over the years, especially in 2016...

Transference/emotional affairs can be a significant concern when there is counseling or some other emotional connection between the pastor and parishioner...  I'm not sure how much this is recognized or understood.  It seems to be more of a problem the more charismatic a pastor is?  I've only heard one pastor ever mention this... otherwise... crickets...  wonder why?  is this discussed in seminary?  in the informal meetings when pastors get together for breakfast?  are pastors aware of this and taking advantage of transference at the ignorance/expense of the rest of the congregation?  Are some pastors meeting their emotional needs through this transference?  which is spiritual abuse and exploitation by the way...

I'm somewhat familiar with Brad's/futurist guy material and appreciate it, and think his work is very helpful to understand the power dynamics of leadership... I appreciated his analysis of an unhealthy system via the pyramid of abuse with the various levels of perpetrator, perpetuators, procurators and pawns...  and how this cover up/ lack of accountability happens...  and sadly, this is what i've witnessed in many of the various situations I'm directly aware of.

 https://futuristguymedia.wordpress.com/pyramid-of-abuse-and-culpability-...

Pyramid of Abuse (c) 2018 Brad Sargent

 

Community Builder

Bev,

 

Thank-you for the link to the "Pyramid of  Abuse". It is a fine summary of organizational systems theory, surrounding the foundations of abuse of power in its forms. Church systems have similar organizational structures, varying of course by denomination and therefore open to the development of abusive practices. I'm sorry you have to know many of the stories. Its hard to ingest and remain unchanged. I do not believe most pastors talk about this. When pastors get together, the talk surrounds theology, preaching, troubles or success with council. I do believe that most pastors understand "emotional affair". The pastors I know are men  and women of good character. I personally do not know, the 1 in 50 pastors that are serious abusers. I did know one, but thankfully, deposed. 

I remember studying in my pastoral theology class that women sometimes will set a "trap" for a pastor and ensnare him. We were taught to be wary of this type of woman as she could "ruin your ministry." (We now understand that the pastor ruined his ministry, not the woman). We were taught to report such a person immediately to wife and council. In other words, keep your professional boundaries. 

A pastor whose marriage is not functioning well may be vulnerable to transference and thus the temptation to overlook  proper boundaries, This continues to be known by some as "incitement" and thus victim blame and shame are the result, the sacrificial lamb to save the more "Important" ah-hem... "shepherd".

 

Thanks, Kelly, for your endurance in responding to this article and the comments made here.  I think we both get frustrated with each other because we are arguing in two different lanes of traffic, although they are tangential.  Be advised, just because someone suggests reading outside sources doesn’t mean they will be read.  I don’t consider the “Network” a research project, so I expect those who express ideas here to concisely explain their point of view and leave it at that.  I try to express my thoughts from a “common sense” explanation and expect others to do the same on this website.  This is a website to express opinions.

In our debate, I do recognize that in general the male psyche is different from that of a woman’s when it comes to sex.  Hence the preponderance of interest in pornography by men in comparison to women.  I also recognize that there is a power differential for those in authority, such as teachers, clergy, management, and those considered experts in certain lines of work.  And there is a greater tendency to abuse that power for those in leadership positions. 

Does that mean all those in leadership, in actuality, abuse their authority or power?  Of course not.  You suggested that in the role of the pastorate and elders, approximately 2% do abuse their power, a total of 190 elders and deacons in our denomination.  That means that 98% do not abuse their power, or over 9,400 (of the total of 9,600) elders and pastors are upstanding as to the use of their power in matters of sex.  That’s sounds pretty impressive.  Although 100% would be ideal, 98% is a good standing.  None of us expect a 100% in our growth toward total sanctification here on earth.  Adding to the safety of our church members is the fact that all pastors in our denomination are under the supervision of the consistory (elders).  Nor do our pastors hold higher authority than that of the other elders.  Added to that is the mentality that those who serve in leadership in our churches, serve in the spirit of servant hood or humility, not lording it over others.

Obviously, the pastor did not fit the 98% of upstanding pastors.  I’ve said this before.  He admitted to pinching the lady on the bottom.  But he obviously did not agree that he sexually assaulted her and would not ask for forgiveness of such charge.  He may have been guilty of misconduct, but not assault.  This has been my contention all along.  The charge did not fit the crime.  As in any trial or hearing, the plaintiff can make accusations or charges but the charge does not confirm any guilt of such charge.  Nor does the defense of the defendant determine innocence.  It’s the elders or jury who determine guilt or innocence.  In this story no verdict was brought against the pastor by these two consistories.  He was set free.  For whatever reasons, these consistories did not agree with the charge brought by this woman.  In trust of our leadership format we trust that a wise decision was made.

Has our denomination added precautions to its church order in considering matters of sexual misconduct by church leaders?  Yes, but the consistory still governs in the spiritual well being of its members, including the consideration of sexual conduct of its leaders.

I’m wondering (you don’t have to answer) if a woman pastor takes advantage of a male member of the church, even should she have been provoked by him, is she the one who is at fault for sexual misconduct and not him?  It seems that, according to your understanding, he bears no responsibility for any misconduct.  As a pastor, it is solely her responsibility and any fault is on her shoulders as the one with pastoral power.  This could sound like a double standard.

Community Builder

Hi Roger and All,

Frank, you just made a correct observation. The penalty was staid, likely, and of course I admit conjecture, yet I do know that dismissal or cover-up has been common practice, to protect the reputation and career of a man with power and influence. About 75% of the time according to national statistics, charges of adult clergy abuse against the accused are dismissed in deference to "sacrifice" and minimize a less powerful congregant, usually a woman to protect against the much greater loss of a man's career, job or reputation. Bev, in her recent post outlined that the numbers of cases she's aware of ending in dismissal are probably greater than the national average.

Regarding, "I’m wondering (you don’t have to answer) if a woman pastor takes advantage of a male member of the church, even should she have been provoked by him, is she the one who is at fault for sexual misconduct and not him?  It seems that, according to your understanding, he bears no responsibility for any misconduct.  As a pastor, it is solely her responsibility and any fault is on her shoulders as the one with pastoral power.  This could sound like a double standard."

This is a great question and thanks for asking. Yes, it is her sole responsibility to protect the pastoral relationship by maintaining emotional, spiritual and sexual  boundaries and be able to perceive inappropriate behaviors in parishioners, i.e., "incitement".  She is responsible in her calling and profession to know, understand and respond with pastoral care to inappropriate behaviors. When she does just that, the male parishioner who is in error, will receive the spiritual care he needs to move forward in Christ.

 

 

 

Hi Roger,

I'm not sure if you misread the story.  You keep implying that he was found not guilty but the story says "I was contacted several weeks later and informed that the committee recommended a two year suspension of his ministerial credentials." He was found guilty by the committee, the fact that his punishment was never carried out is what is disheartening to say the very least. 

Thanks, Frank, for the input.  I admit it is somewhat unclear as what happened when this situation went before the elders of these two churches.  My assumption is that this women received information from her “reliable source” before the case was closed out.  Perhaps a two year suspension was only a possible alternative.  I’ve witnessed church discipline cases that have gone on for over a year before being finally settled.  Beside, what reliable source would divulge confidential consistory business prior to a written report being given to her at the completion of this case.  If it was the decision of the elders to suspend this pastor’s ministerial credentials for any period of time, he would have been placed under a formal process of church discipline, known to the whole congregation.  This obviously didn’t happen.  Why?  Because after further discussion, the elders came to the conclusion that he was not guilty of “sexual assault.  The verdict was “not guilty.”  No discipline was necessary.  The elders with due deliberation completed their task of supervising the congregation and their pastors.  Perhaps the elders only misstep was, as Kelly suggested, that she was not provided the spiritual care that she needed to move forward in Christ.

Kelly, you said in your last comment,  I do know that dismissal or cover-up has been common practice, to protect the reputation and career of a man with power and influence.”  What a surprising comment to make about the leadership of our churches in which only 2% of our leaders are guilty of abusing their power.  98% are not guilty of such abuse.  And yet you suggest that such cover-up is common to protect the 2% errant ones.  In my years of familiarity with our denomination, I’ve witnessed an overwhelming sense of integrity amongst our elders and pastors.  I don’t know what circles you run in, or what is common in your classis (regional churches), or cases that come before Synod, but if dismissal of charges or cover-up are revealed, they are very uncommon.  Such statements by you are helpful in understanding your position on this entire topic.

Community Builder

Roger,

keep going. What is my position on this entire topic?

Kelly

Hi Roger,

Unless you were on the committee that made the recommendation or at the meeting of the elders that should have enforced the recommendation, you don't get to change the narrative of someone else's story! Period! You don't get to make assumptions about someone else's story. I don't know which planet in God's universe where it would have been acceptable for this pastor to do what he did! Especially since this was not his first offense! Frankly I find your defense of this pastor's actions pretty upsetting.  It appears no amount of reasoning with you is going to change that. So for me, you have proven that the moral of this story is true! and that is, that certain pastors will defend other certain pastors actions and try to discredit or re-write the story of anyone who brings forth allegations of sexual misconduct. Thank-you for proving to me we live in a fallen world, and thank God for Safe church!

Frank and Kelly, greetings.  Thanks again for your take on this particular story and on sexual abuse in the church by those in leadership, especially pastors and elders.  I’m hoping this will be a final comment.

As to this story.  My take is that there are only accusations, whether by this lady or by most of those commenting on this story.  Accusations do not make a person guilty.  The fact that there was no punishment states, to me, that there was no verdict of “sexual assault.”  That there was no formal process of church discipline also states there was no guilt involved (as to sexual assault).  I conclude that the two consistories did their job in good faith, and now there is only dissatisfaction and complaining by others after the completion of their task.

You two seem to imply that these two groups of elders, working together, was little more than an “old boys club” out to protect its own.  They had no interest in getting to the truth, but only of protecting those in leadership positions.  From your understanding and experience, this is common, not only in U.S. churches, but also within our CRC denomination.  You, Frank, explain this as the result of living in a fallen world.  Sin is rampant in the world, as well as in the church.

Your view portrays a very sick view of the church and Christianity.  What you have portrayed is what the typical non Christian believes about Christianity, that it does nothing for the way Christians live their lives.  Christians claim the inward working of the Holy Spirit in a process of sanctification, but such sanctification is far from evident.  Even pastors, who testify to a calling from God and who are led by God’s Spirit, do not portray such a Spirit led life and are poor examples, especially when it comes to sexual misconduct.  In fact, it is common for our pastors to falsely protect each other when it comes to accusations of misconduct.  There is no evidence that Christianity is any different from any other religion in aiding a godly life.  In evangelism, or campus ministry, is the gospel call, “Come to Christ.  He will do nothing for you?”  That’s what the non Christian believes and you seem to affirm this.  Thanks for your input.

Community Builder

Many would agree that there are many pastors who act with integrity and do the right thing. That said, many also believe that, "certain pastors will defend other certain pastors actions and try to discredit or re-write the story of anyone who brings forth allegations of sexual misconduct" (I tend to agree with because I've seen it, in the CRC and in other denominations). Neither of those statements takes anything away from the Gospel and the healing, transforming power of our Lord Jesus Christ. Those who don't know Jesus are watching the Church; may his name be honored in all we do.

Community Builder

Hi All,

Thank-you Roger for confirming the fact that there is an element of "circling the wagons" in times of crisis including times of accusation of sexual abuse against an office bearer. Circle, protect, hope for the best when he's let go, minimize and ostracize the accuser as being a temptress or the one who incited an incident.

You ask in which circles I run, inferring that the Christian communities, the churches and campus ministry I've served over the years, do not carry levels of integrity commensurate with the standards of progressive sanctification that you claim differentiates our contexts? Roger, I work in the same circles. I'm a commissioned  CRC pastor at present serving in Campus Ministry. I run in the same circles...Thanks for asking. One of my goals in ministry is to fight for justice for victims and survivors of sexual abuse by office bearers. You have expressed the you do not like what I do and that's your prerogative. I ask you to adopt a more curious and realistic approach to understanding the intricacies of victimization, its consequences and the terrible damage wrought on those we swear to protect from harm as ministers of the Gospel. I understand why you want to deny the facts, we do not want to believe there is this type of evil among us. "Not in My Church", is the common refrain of those who do not want to believe the reality of clergy sexual abuse. I do not hate the abusers, they need pastoral care that allows them to grow in Christ and away from this sin against the innocent. This type of pastoral care is best exemplified in David's story of his betrayal with Bathsheba. When confronted by the prophet Nathan with the truth of sexual abuse and murder, David's heart broke, he repented  and wrote Psalm 51. The goal in safe church is not to hang out to dry the guilty, its to restore them to a place of shalom within the body of Christ through proper pastoral care. The focus however must be on the victim, their right to be heard, understood, providing hope for the possibility of justice or opportunities for restorative justice with the restoration in so far as possible, God helping them, Christian human dignity. 

Community Builder

Hi All,

Thank-you Roger for confirming the fact that there is an element of "circling the wagons" in times of crisis including times of accusation of sexual abuse against an office bearer. Circle, protect, hope for the best when he's let go, minimize and ostracize the accuser as being a temptress or the one who incited an incident.

You ask in which circles I run, inferring that the Christian communities, the churches and campus ministry I've served over the years, do not carry levels of integrity commensurate with the standards of progressive sanctification that you claim differentiates our contexts? Roger, I work in the same circles. I'm a commissioned  CRC pastor at present serving in Campus Ministry. I run in the same circles...Thanks for asking. One of my goals in ministry is to fight for justice for victims and survivors of sexual abuse by office bearers. You have expressed you do not like what I do and that's your prerogative. I ask you to adopt a more curious and realistic approach to understanding the intricacies of victimization, its consequences and the terrible damage wrought on those we swear to protect from harm as ministers of the Gospel. I understand why you want to deny the facts, we do not want to believe there is this type of evil among us. "Not in My Church", is the common refrain of those who do not want to believe the reality of clergy sexual abuse. I do not hate the abusers, they need pastoral care that allows them to grow in Christ and away from this sin against the innocent. This type of pastoral care is best exemplified in David's story of his betrayal with Bathsheba. When confronted by the prophet Nathan with the truth of sexual abuse and murder, David's heart broke, he repented  and wrote Psalm 51. The goal in safe church is not to hang out to dry the guilty, its to restore them to a place of shalom within the body of Christ through proper pastoral care. The focus however must be on the victim, their right to be heard, understood, providing hope for the possibility of justice or opportunities for restorative justice in so far as possible, God helping them, with the goal of restoring some level of the victims' Christian dignity. 

Thank-you safe church for providing a venue where stories of hurt can be shared in a safe environment. I also hope this can be a place of learning.  Learning how to empathize with a hurting individual, learning how to "hear" someone's story, without adding or subtracting to it. Learning appropriate responses.  I believe that most who have received any healing from their hurt know all to well that yes there is power, incredible power in the precious blood of the Lamb. I know i do.

Participant

I am curious on the 2% of leaders abuse their power stat... what I've found is significantly higher... ie. various surveys results indicate that 30-40% of pastors have had inappropriate sexual activity/contact with someone (this is what I call abuse of power on the individual level).  In the Catholic church, Richard Sipe (former priest, worked w Catholic clergy for 30 years as a mental health professional) estimated 50% of the leaders were not celibate based on his work... with 6%-20% acted out on molesting children... the rest of the sexual abuse of power has been with adults... which has barely been recognized yet in the Catholic scandal.  This doesn't even address non-sexual abuses of power/lording it over/controlling & manipulative leadership on an individual level which happens to all different degrees.

Then the percentage of those who abuse power (or are negligent with their authority) grows with the response of leadership that does not hold the leader accountable and instead responds with some form of  "circle the wagons" , cover up, damage control, collusion, you get the idea... (this is what I call abuse of power on the institutional or systemic level).  again, the 30%-40% does not include those who spiritually abuse in other ways such as via manipulation, domineering/lording it over leadership, or using political power plays and posturing to influence and intimidate...  it's quite likely the same 30-40% who have been sexually inappropriate are doing this as well, but only God knows the percentage of those who abuse their power in other ways besides sexual assault, to control, and to cover up and protect leadership at the expense of those harmed, the victims who are often treated as expendable, compared to the leader. 

in my experience, conversations with clergy about this response (or lack of response) by leadership are NOT welcomed by most (I do recognize a better response from women leaders generally speaking, but that's not a given either).  Hopefully this is changing...  in 2014 Synod DID adopt the recommendation "abuse is acknowledged as an important issue and can be freely discussed".  Sounds good on paper, but to what extent that has been actually happening is very debatable...  there's a lot of times where the response from leadership is silence and the advocates, victims and families who speak about it are treated as a persona non grata...   but that's an entire discussion on it's own. 

oh wait... i wrote an overture for that reason...  http://dojustice.crcna.org/article/story-behind-abuse-overture 

Wes' story is heartbreaking, and his family still struggles and have been deeply affected with what happened and the harmful response of leadership at all levels.  Wes found his healing and peace on July 7, 2006, but his family still hurts, Wes' family has given me full permission to share anything from Wes' and their story of his journey, and I honor that by sharing about Wes as I believe it would be helpful to the CRC to do what's right and learn from our past mistakes... and the patterns of resistance from leadership that Wes and his family and advocates experienced, is sadly not unique to their journey seeking justice.  It's systemic...  and it's still happening...  I hope it's changing... I think it is...  I believe it is... Thank God!

Participant

That's right, i forgot about this interesting article based on the first survey recently completed on spiritual abuse... the estimate of those who have experienced spiritual abuse in some way, shape or form... based on 1500 respondents...

67%!! 

but again, only God know the actual percentage...

https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2018/12-january/news/uk/spiritual...

https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2018/12-january/comment/leader-co...

Community Builder

Bev,

Correct, the actual statistics are higher. The 2% a"across the board in  all professional spheres represent the percentage of cases where actual  conviction with disciplinary action was carried out.

Wes's stroy is heartbreaking. The church is too safe for perpetrators and unsafe for many vulnerable people. The importance of Safe Church in turning this evil around is vital to the health of the church. Safe Church practice must be practiced in every CRC, sadly as Synod laments, only half of Classes and churches  support safe church practices. Why the resistance,? The typical answer being, "Not in my Church, it doesn't happen here". 

 

Thanks, Bev, for sharing those alarming statistics.  67 percent and counting!!! That’s like saying the majority of those in leadership, including pastors, are abusers of their power.  And they are the example setters to the flock.  Where is the Holy Spirit in all of this?  I think that must be worse than the secular setting.  And yes, the Catholic church: abusers of children, as well as adults.  The church is looking like a pretty sick place.  And Christians are telling those on the other side of the fence to turn to Christ and his body (the church) for new and abundant life.  It looks, Bev, like you are confirming the non-Christian’s skepticism toward Christianity.  At least, you are up front, in revealing the church with all its warts.  As Kelly suggests, the church is unsafe for vulnerable people.

Community Builder

 "Until all CRC's", Synod lamented, "adopt safe church policies", vulnerable people could be subject to abuse of power. Synod is aware. Are you?  Where is the Holy Spirit in this? The Spirit leads toward seeking justice for the weak, just as Jesus modeled for us in the call to be his image bearers.  

Participant

just to be clear 67% of respondents said they had experienced it... that doesn't mean 67% of leaders abuse their power... we don't have a stat on that at all that I'm aware of...  and at this point, we can't say there is a direct correlation... maybe, maybe not...  but there has been very little research done on this...  it has been deeply hidden for decades... (that's another discussion, but just think Catholic church, and there are similar patters in the protestant, sad to say)

It is very sad Roger, that in regard to abuse and victims, the Church is far too often doing exactly the opposite of what God calls us to do, and I grieved for 4 years as I was discovering how sick we are and how often this has been going on... if we go to a doctor and the doctor tells us we have cancer, or something serious, most usually take immediate steps to address it (recognizing some are at the point where their quality of life is more important than trying to extend their life and that is each person's choice)...   however with spiritual cancer, or whatever disease/epidemic we compare it to, the church has been "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil"... not healthy, and it has left us in a very dysfunctional state.   so heart breaking... as Christians, we love the Bride of Christ, and to see her in the state she is in, grieves us greatly. 

This is our watch Roger!  What are we doing to make her healthy again?  How are we helping bring healing for those who have deep soul wounds, that are still festering and infected because of what happened to them and how the church responded, far too often, very poorly and often adding to the hurt (most victims will say the response after reporting it was far more hurtful, and destroyed their trust more than the original incident)... 

however, God's way is confess your sins one to another and He will heal us... are we willing to put down our arrogance and pride and be honest with ourselves and recognize the state we are in?  not saying there isn't any good, just like a person with cancer... they might have a healthy heart, good brain, be physically fit, etc. but if they don't deal with the cancer???  none of that will matter...  so we are asking God to consume the dross and refine the gold... we have both...

God is gracious and merciful.  I believe He is giving the CRC opportunities to be forthright...  It is a time for honest lament AND authentic repentance.   Again, this is our watch... how are we responding?  I'm not trusting leaders to lead this... that would be great if they did, but historically that has not been the case to a significant extent...  I continue to see resistance... but I also see the priesthood of ALL believers stepping up more and more... and I believe that is the healthy response God has in mind for us... however, leaders do have a choice and their support and equipping of the priesthood of all believers would be much appreciated, instead of continued resistance and silence.  I am NOT saying all leaders are resisting... but until I witness genuine support from some key leaders, I will continue to note the resistance.

There have been several warning shots across the bow (Willow Creek, Southern Baptists, Mars Hill, etc), are we taking heed? 

I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit and prayer (my testimony on Do justice refers to that a bit), there is no way I could have submitted the overture without His leading and God knew that and strengthened my relationship with HIm preparing me for these battles... 

I believe He is empowering and equipping the priesthood of all believers to do what's right!  Are we heeding His leading?  this is our watch!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Community Builder

This article has generated a great deal of discussion. The author of this article has provided the final comment (below) and comments are now closed on this post. Thank you for your participation.

I am the woman who wrote the account of sexual assault by clergy at a retreat. When my article was first posted, the last comment feed entry I had read was on Sept. 10 before my husband and I left for an out-of-state vacation for two weeks. I did not take a computer, and for the most part was unplugged from technology during the time we were away. Imagine my surprise when I returned home and read the continuing comment feed in response to the article. My intent with sharing the incident and aftermath, as requested by the Safe Church Ministry, was to engage dialogue, and inform others of the difficulty with holding perpetrators accountable. It seems that goal was accomplished.

I used the term sexual assault because that best fits the description of what happened to me. According to the United States Department of Justice, sexual assault is “any type of sexual conduct or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” In 2009, Emily Austin founded Violence Against Women, a global project. Ms. Austin describes sexual assault partly as “contact with genitalia, breast, buttocks, or other intimate body parts” (www.self.com/story/sexual-assault-definition). For those interested in a word/description search, i.e. abuse, assault, misconduct, or harassment, assault is the best description of what happened to me that day.

After reading the entire feed, I would like to thank each responder who read and responded empathically to the information as presented.

Jane, your responses on August 30 and other times were insightful, accurate, and challenging.

MJillH, for identifying that nowhere is it indicated that the perpetrator thought he was being humorous. I knew he was not being humorous. Also, your reference to your being abused was an invaluable part of the posts. However, I experienced Roger’s post of September 22, in regard to the abuse you suffered, as lacking empathy.

Angelyn, for removing an inappropriate post from the feed.

Bonny MB, for identifying and refuting victim shaming and that reporting was inaccurately labeled as gossiping.

Bart, for reminding everyone about the importance of the #MeToo movement.

Kelly, for your extensive input regarding confronting abuse on its many fronts, faces, and facets. Statistics are helpful, challenging, and yet disappointing. Education, accountability, and change are slow and tedious but so necessary. Your incidents of being abused when you were a young man no doubt left a negative impact. Although research shows that fewer males are abused than females, the shame and hurt are no less significant for them.

Bev, on September 15, you referenced porn and the high percentage of pastors who struggle against porn use. This is a very important issue which must be confronted. This topic would be in itself worth discussing. I have witnessed individuals, families, churches, and businesses destroyed by someone’s porn use. On his September 26 post Roger states, “I do recognize that in general the male psyche is different from that of a woman’s when it comes to sex. Hence the preponderance of interest in pornography by men in comparison to women.” His comment minimizes the dangers of porn use. A husband’s porn use is the ultimate insult to a wife feeling loved and safe in their relationship. The same damage to a relationship occurs if the wife uses porn.

Eric VD, for your attention to detail on September 14, details do matter.

Frank, your pondering how to counsel your children regarding the abuse subject was integral to the discussion. I much prefer a male with your kind spirit over against an educated male with issues of entitlement. Your reference to Article 11 of the church order was appropriately applied.

Safe Church Ministry: Bonnie and Eric, for your continuing support of the process of confronting abuse on all fronts in our churches. Also, for clarifying that the Office of Abuse Prevention began in 1994, a year before the reported incident of assault. Also, thank you for asking, and thus challenging me, to allow the incident to be printed and exposed to discussion and feedback.

Finally, Roger, there was no intent on my part to seek punishment or retribution against the male, married, perpetrator. I was only interested in his being held accountable for his inappropriate assaultive behavior. My husband was not at my side at the time of the incident but was well aware of what roadblocks would be incurred. He asked me if I was sure I wanted to pursue the situation. I told him, “No, I don’t want to, but it needs to be done.”  If I had sought punishment or retribution I would have requested that the elders’ recommendation be sent to me in writing. I would have also monitored whether the recommendation was carried out. In retrospect, why did the elders not inform me that the recommendations had changed?

Several years later I was informed by a reliable source, who knew the situation and outcome, that his credentials were never suspended. I wonder who and what silenced that person for so long. I still recall the sick feeling in my gut that day. At that time I still had all the written correspondence regarding the incident, I chose not to seek further information or reopen the case.  I had had enough and that is when I termed the elders “the old boys’ club.”

There is not another side to the incident, the perpetrator admitted it, tried to silence me, and refused to ask forgiveness. I did not incite the assault and I was not dressed provocatively. My belief is that his grand ego would not allow him to apologize to me, a woman. I knew him for fifteen years before the incident and he had decades after the incident to contact me if he had wanted to change or revisit the results of the situation.

In case you have any concern, I am not bitter or depressed and do not need therapy about this incident. I do, however, remember it as if it happened yesterday, that is the power of an assault.  I have not left the CRC. I served for years on a classis Safe Church Team and sat on an Advisory Panel. I know what I am talking about and also know many of the persons at the top of the CRC power chain.  I am very aware how some clergy with substantial power have protected other clergy from consequences of questionable behaviors and possible abuse toward others. 

I am a retired LCSW psychotherapist who enjoyed a very successful career. During that career I listened to accounts of abuse of a variety of types.  Many patients and family members’ lives were negatively affected by the abuse of someone else. I also listened to the angst and regret of abusers. The number of persons whose lives and relationships were destroyed due to alcohol and drug use in attempt to self-medicate anxiety, PTSD, depression, and/or suicidal tendencies resulting from any type of abuse is astounding.

Finally Roger, if you wrote your responses as an antagonist, you played your part well. If you really believe all you wrote about this incident and the results of it, my heart hurts for you.

I would like to end the post feed with the following: the letter S is in each of the words linked to deviant sexual behaviors: abuse, assault, misconduct, and harassment.  Let’s cut to the chase and use a very short word instead: SIN

As Bev so aptly stated in her last post, “This is our watch.” My hope and prayer is that the Christian Reformed Church will be a beacon of light in the darkness of that watch.

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