5 Things church leaders should do to treat the wounds of survivors

In my last post, I gave 5 reasons why church leaders don’t treat the wounds of abuse survivors. It’s one thing to continually point to the deficiencies of the church (which could go on forever!), but I like to instead offer tangible solutions. Really, God offers the solutions. We just have to put them into practice. That’s it. Jesus offered very real solutions to some very real problems. There are two things that will cause harm to people who turn to the church for help–inactivity and the wrong activity. I used a hospital metaphor the last time, so I’ll use it again here. We should be aware that there are some hospitals that are in decline. They will continue to fail until someone takes the lead and begins offering tangible solutions and actually follows through! The church is no different. We need to talk solutions and actually find people willing to lead the charge and make changes. If the church is really going to be a hospital for sinners and if we are serious about healing, then we must have a clear plan. Here are my top 5, in no particular order of significance.

#1 Leaders need to know that triage is essential for people who are hurting
Every emergency room has triage nurses. They are trained to assess and assign, and are the first point of contact when a patient comes in. They assess the degree of urgency the minute a patient comes through the door. Every single patient’s needs are assessed and from there they are assigned to the proper specialist at the proper time. Certain patients are given priority over others due to the severity of their illness or injury. There is good reason for this. I’ve been in full time ministry for nearly a decade and have rarely seen this done in the church. In fact, rather than assess and assign, we most often assume and avoid. We assume everyone either is in their happy place or they should be and we avoid the people with the deepest wounds. Even if desperate people are lucky enough to find someone who will listen to them, it could be days until a scheduled appointment takes place. This is unacceptable for people in crisis.

Jesus and his disciples assessed and assigned constantly. Think about it. When they fed 5,000, they didn’t just happen to find a group of thousands hanging out one day. No, the reason they crossed the Sea of Galilee was because so many people came and went that the disciples couldn’t even find time to eat (Mark 6:31). They crossed the sea to escape people and find a desolate place to rest and recover. According to Matthew, this was right after John the Baptist was murdered and Jesus wanted to get away. But the crowds figured out where they were going and beat them there by foot (Mark 6:33). Exhausted from sleep deprivation and hunger, they saw a crowd of thousands waiting on the shore. Jesus “had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” He taught them and fed them that same day. When Peter and John went to the Temple after Jesus ascended, a beggar who was lame from birth cried out to them. Peter stopped, looked intently at the man, and said three words that changed his life forever: “Look at us” (Acts 3:4). Probably for the first time ever, someone was intentional about making eye contact with this man. Many of you know the significance of what Peter did for this man by uttering these three words in that moment. They didn’t give him money that day. But they gave him something far more significant. Peter and John let him know that they saw him. And they healed him. Not everyone received this level of care, and not everyone was treated immediately. Jesus taught us how to triage–to assess and assign.

#2 Leaders need to use discernment
The seeker friendly movement, in my opinion, has removed discernment from church leaders who once upon a time had common sense. Suppose a woman comes into the hospital with severe bruises. An intoxicated man is beside her yelling and cursing at her. Trained staff know how to read signs and act accordingly and immediately. The woman is immediately shielded from the man, police are called, and she is prioritized for treatment. Every hospital has procedures for how to protect people from abusers. Rethink this scenario. The battered woman comes in and the nurse begins asking her, “What did you do to provoke him?” “You really need to forgive him if you’re going to find healing for these wounds.” The man says he is sorry, that it was all a big misunderstanding. He is now prioritized, brought back to a room, and nurses begin looking at the cuts on his knuckles. They hug him and say how wonderful it is that he apologized to his wife out in the waiting room. He displayed what the model patient should look like. He took the “high road” when his wife was yelling and screaming about how he’s to blame.

This sounds ridiculous but I’ve seen this scenario play out over and over and over again. All the hundreds of biblical references to protecting the oppressed, caring for the needy, and ferreting out the wolves in sheep’s clothing get tossed aside in the name of cheap grace. We proudly proclaim, “All are welcome. . . come as you are.” That’s fine, but where is the discernment in this process? Not all sins are equal. Nor is the treatment of people who commit the sins. Sometimes Jesus flipped tables and made whips of cords. Other times he talks about it being better for people to have massive rock tied around their necks and to be drowned in the depth of the sea compared to what’s in store for them. Still other times, he is defensive and compassionate to prostitutes who scrub his feet with tears and hair, women who are caught in the act of adultery, and Samaritans who have had five failed marriages. Why? Because Jesus showed us how to use discernment and know the difference between oppressors and the oppressed.

#3 Leaders need to sit on the ash heap with people
Spending time with friends in crisis is not something that can be outsourced. I don’t know of a church leader who has not outsourced a church member to a professional therapist. While it’s wise to know our limitations and expertise, this needs to stop being the catch all response for every person in crisis. Not every person needs or is willing to see a therapist. Many people have been badly burned by therapists and are coming to church leaders because they need someone who will just simply listen. Let the words resonate from Job. He literally lost everything. . . everything. Then he gets painful boils all over his body. Listen closely: “And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes” (Job 2:8). While he’s sitting on the ashen remains of what once was his successful life, his wife told him to curse God and die. When Job’s friends showed up, they didn’t recognize him. “And they sat with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw his suffering was very great” (Job 2:13).

His friends were great companions until they opened their mouths. When Job was on his ash heap, he didn’t need advice. He needed to feel the presence of his friends. He needed silence. We cannot sprinkle some encouraging Bible verses on people who are on their ash heap and expect them to feel better. When people are in the middle of their ash heap, they don’t need Bible verses. They need comforters. They need someone who has the wisdom and willingness to drop everything, drive over to their house, and check on them. And leaders need to be sensitive and accountable. They need to know when showing up alone is a bad idea.

#4 Leaders need to know when to prescribe home time
Jesus often sent people away to be with their families. Many people were called to follow him and others were sent home instead. To the woman caught in adultery, he said, “Go in peace.” To the demoniac named Legion who begged to follow Jesus, he said, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mk. 5:19). He often prescribed time at home for hurting people. Home is where some people need to be for healing to take place. Jesus spent lots of time in people’s homes. He was teaching in a home when the paralytic was lowered through the roof. He prayed in people’s homes, ate in them, taught in them, worshiped in them, and often just sent people back home even when they wanted to follow him. I feel like we’re so focused on “getting people to church” that we’ve lost sight of the ones who need to be with their family in their own home. Time and time again I hear survivors explain how they are shamed for not going to church. Many were sexually abused in the church buildings. For some, setting foot inside triggers them in all kinds of ways. Others have been spiritually abused. To shame them into “coming to church” or to speak of their lack of faith or lack of commitment when they are not able to come into a church building stands counter to Jesus’ example he gave us.

#5 Leaders should seek to improve the world, not just the church
Church leaders can easily experience mission drift. Mission drift is when we no longer know what our mission (purpose) is as a church. It’s always troubled me when I see churches pump millions of dollars into a building that gets used a few hours a week, but don’t have much time or money for helping the needy. Some church leaders are obsessed with improving the local church to the point that they fail to see that it’s the world that needs improving. The church should lead the way in changing the way the wounded are cared for. I’ve asked local churches what they are doing to help victims of abuse in our community. The typical response is, “Don’t you know that we have different child services? That’s what they’re here for.” I’m working closely with one of those services and was told that I’m the only minister in town who has volunteered to work with them. We have a great relationship and we envision together what it will take to make the world a brighter place. That’s a conversation that I don’t want to have with just my church. We need to network and join hands with others who have a heart for caring and nurturing others who are hurting.

I’m calling other church leaders to move into action. It’s time we start offering success stories for the oppressed. They need to know that church is a safe community where people care for their neighbors.

5 Reasons church leaders don’t treat the wounds of abuse survivors

The church is the last place survivors of abuse want to come for help. As a minister, it pains me to write that. But it’s true. Imagine a hospital where ambulances whizzed past because the patients were better off not arriving at that particular hospital. I’ve spoken with hundreds of survivors and have read even more of their stories. Nearly all of their voices echo through the empty chambers of the church’s callous heart. I believe as Jesus did, that “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matt. 9:12). And there are a lot of sick people, desperate for someone to believe them–to listen to their pain and to expect nothing in return. Alas, we’ve become terrible at sitting on the ash heap with people whose lives have burned down around them. To be honest, I get impatient and even angry with church leaders who do nothing to validate survivors of abuse. Worse yet, many of them are unknowingly abusing survivors all over again. Your faith isn’t “strong enough,” you keep “holding on to bitterness,” aren’t “willing to forgive.” You get the point. But why is it this way?

The more I travel, the more I realize that this isn’t a fringe group of churches. On the contrary, mistreatment of abuse survivors is the norm. As someone who, prior to turning in my own father for sex crimes against children, was completely oblivious to survivors, I offer five reasons why this is the case.

#1 Abuse and trauma are not even on the radar in our seminaries
Everyone I talk to says that they were never trained in seminary to handle cases of abuse. But the problem is much worse. Many seminaries are not even discussing abuse and trauma at all. Even worse, unless this has recently changed, there is zero screening to even get into seminary. Believe me when I say that many pedophiles are graduating from seminaries every year. I went to seminary for 4 years and I don’t recall ever talking about physical or sexual abuse in any of our classes. Rather, we were taught how to think–a skill that I am eternally grateful for but one that does nothing to awaken us to trauma. Church leaders are generally clueless when it comes to abuse. I was. It’s not that I didn’t have a heart for the abused. It’s just that I had no idea that so many people in our pews would be suffering in silence. Nor would I imagine that so many predators lead churches and sit in our pews. It wasn’t taught.

#2 We live behind the pulpit, not in the trenches of life
Let’s face it, Jesus tells us to lay our lives down for one another. The biggest threat most of us face is that the office air conditioner will quit. In all seriousness, most of the pain we ministers experience is the pain of disappointment and strained relationships. That becomes our focus. We don’t have a clue what it’s like to live in constant fear. Fear of being molested or raped. Fear of being beaten or shot. Nearly all of the survivors I’ve met are incredibly good at compartmentalizing their grief. What we see (and, frankly, what we want to see) are the smiles, good grades, and successful jobs. People who haven’t experienced trauma have a difficult time imagining that we are surrounded by a sea of friends and family who are struggling to make it through another day. As preachers, our weekly task is to dig deep into the Word and put a series of lessons and sermons together. Somewhere in the shuffle, we’ve forgotten that Jesus always preached in crowds out in the real world. His preaching was often interrupted with desperate cries for help. And he stopped everything to tend to the wounded.

#3 Our theology views wolves as the ones who need a hand and the oppressed as the ones who should “move on”
The number one question I get asked by churches after an abuser is outed is, “How do we surround this brother and help restore him back to the church?” Savannah Guthrie, after announcing Matt Lauer’s firing said, “I’m heartbroken for Matt. He is my dear, dear, dear, dear friend and he is beloved by many many people here.1 For the first year after my father’s arrest for molesting 23 prepubescent children, I lost count how many times I was asked, “How’s your dad doing?” I only recall one time where someone asked, “How are your father’s victims doing?” Our bad theology makes no distinction between the sinner who is tempted from the oppressor who takes pleasure in harming innocent people. Therefore, church leaders feel a need to “rescue the sinner,” as if they were just wrestling with some desire. Our bad theology doesn’t allow us to see that the Matt Lauers of the world are warped reprobates who are fully aware that they are harming their victims. They just don’t care. Yet leaders continue to dote over the abusers and either ignore or intimidate the abused.

#4 Because trauma is not personal to leaders, they don’t develop a desperation to intercede
To be honest, sometimes help can’t wait until the next elder’s meeting. I’ve personally met with some who needed their pain to be triaged and treated immediately. I’ve sat in offices as trembling women file protection from abuse orders against husbands who vow to murder them. I’ve patiently loved others as they enter drug rehab for the 3rd and 4th time. Trauma is horrible and people need someone who will listen in their darkest hours. And they need someone who knows how to respond. Saying that “I’m praying for you” is not enough. We need to weep with survivors. We need to believe them, to really hear them. And we need to intercede. It’s our job as leaders, whether we like it or not, to shield the abused from the abuser. What message does it send to victims when we surround the abuser with hugs and praise and talk about how “beloved” they were by so many?

#5 We church leaders are addicted to instant transformation
We’ve all seen the cardboard testimonies. On one side of the card there is a word or phrase for who the person was before Jesus transformed their life. On the other side is a word for phrase for who they’ve become after Jesus transformed them. Emotional music is played while a group of people are paraded across the church stage. It is a preacher’s fantasy lesson because transformations are powerful. This is not to knock cardboard testimonies. We should celebrate transformation and I’m happy that people do it in front of the church. But these instant testimonies are indicative of our poor theology. I often wonder how many people are agonizing over what in the world they would write on the back of their piece of cardboard. So many survivors are in process. And this frustrates church leaders. We want crave quick and powerful stories of radical transformation. Ironically, you know who offers just what the itching ears want to hear? That’s right, the abusers! Church leaders migrate to them because, how powerful a story is it for a man who once sexually abused children and has now found Jesus? The abusers know this about church leaders and they are playing them like the fiddles they often are. John says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

In my next post I will offer solutions to my friends who are leading churches. This behavior is counter to the Gospel of Jesus and is doing nothing to help survivors find healing.

Three predictions for sexual abuse in the church for 2018

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I am no prophet who can predict the future, but I do pay attention to patterns. Patterns can be good predictors, and it’s my attention to patterns that has helped me develop some powerful insight into the mind of pedophiles. In my work with churches, I always pay attention to patterns–what are some universal responses to abuse, the most common questions, biggest concerns, etc. And I read and analyze news stories on abuse every day. So what are some of my predictions for how 2018 will play out?

#1 Churches will continue to be sympathetic to abusers
This is, by far, the biggest uphill battle that we will continue to face. The church has become a refuge for registered sex offenders. The dirty little secret is that I have yet to visit a church that doesn’t have at least one registered sex offender. This is no exaggeration. Sadly, the lay church members are rarely made aware by the leadership. This toxic pattern is driven by bad theology (no sin is worse than others) and is fueled by abusers building the ideal facade. When I train churches, I actively demonstrate techniques abusers use in churches to abuse kids. I used to get frustrated that, no matter how much or how convincingly I spoke, church leaders still believed that “keeping an eye” on the abuser was enough. It is not. Many of you survivors know how brazen your abusers were. Being in a public place is not a deterrent for them. At all. They will still molest children when others are within eyesight. So I shifted to demonstrations. Seeing is believing, so I demonstrate that we are not as perceptive as we think we are. Nevertheless, the vast majority of churches will continue to be swooned by dangerous child rapists in 2018.

#2 Child sex abuse will be a hot button topic
Ironically, many churches are talking about child sexual abuse and are coming out of of denial. Sadly, this is because it usually takes a personal experience to awaken us to the reality of abuse. I personally don’t believe that in most cases “silence is acceptance.” I was silent for years, until it happened in our church. I’ve always hated abuse. God knows, I turned my own father in. But I literally had no idea it was so common because I hadn’t been awakened to it. Many, many churches are being awakened to it because survivors are tired of living in silence while their abusers waltz their way through life, producing more and more victims. We are witnessing a radical cultural shift where churches have no choice but to address sexual abuse in all of its forms. Which leads me to #3.

#3 Survivors are outing their abusers like never before
This is the one that is most encouraging. Survivors are almost always made to believe that they are alone, that somehow the abuse was their fault, and that if they tell there will be major consequences. The Harvey Weinstein scandal opened the floodgates, flipped the script, and has activated an army of survivors who are ready to fight for justice. My opinion is that the Jerry Sandusky, Jared Fogle, Bill Cosby, and Anthony Weiner cases laid the foundation for survivors to become empowered. They were all high profile cases and the public was outraged as more and more details were released. When the Weinstein case broke, millions of brave survivors shouted, #MeToo! Just in the last 30 days, we’re seeing politicians, a host of Hollywood actors, news anchors, and comedians being outed as abusers, including names like Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Richard Dreyfuss, Steven Seagul, Sylvester Stalone, Al Franken and on and on it goes. Here is a partial list of recent accusations. And let’s not forget how public Corey Feldman has been, naming pedophiles by name and promising to out every Hollywood pedophile he knows. If you’re like me, you’ve not been able to keep up with the abuse scandals that broke in the past seven days. The list continues to grow, and will continue to do so in 2018. For the first time in a long time, abusers who go on to abuse run a very big risk that their closet skeletons will be brought out for the world to see.

Comment on some trends that you see.

A Peek Behind the Catholic Veil in the Pennsylvania Sex Abuse Cover-Up

Last week Pennsylvania was in the national spotlight for another big sex abuse scandal. This time it involves over 50 Catholic priests and other leaders who sexually abused hundreds of children in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. The investigation began 2 years ago in Johnstown, less than 20 miles from my home. I am currently working my way through the Grand Jury’s 147 page report, which I will post below. I highly recommend reading this report in its entirety after reading my thoughts on how cover-ups of this magnitude still happen regularly. But first, we need to remember that these are real victims with real names, real families, and lasting struggles. Many of the hundreds of victims in this report thought about or attempted suicide, and these hundreds of victims only account for an 8-county radius around my home. This kind of abuse is going on every single day all over the country. There is an estimated 42 million living people just in the US who have suffered sexual assault by an adult when they were a child. This 147 page report is significant.

The late Father Joseph Bender became angry with young boys who refused his advances. “Bender would lash out in anger when the children rebuffed his advances. In a particular incident Bender grabbed a boy by the neck and asked ‘don’t you love me anymore” when the child insisted on wearing underwear to bed. . . The challenge after being Bender’s victims wasn’t to attempt to live well, but to attempt to simply live.” One of Bender’s victims from the 70s wrote an anonymous letter to Bishop Joseph Adamec in 1991 giving details of forced foreplay, masturbation, and oral sex. The victim wrote, “Because I respected his position, and feared the consequences of disobeying him, I would remain silent. I would estimate that I was abused approximately one hundred times.” That letter was stored along with scores of others in the secret archive of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

As I read through this report about priests abusing in the name of God, forcing 8 year old children to perform oral sex on them hundreds of times, forcing them to get drunk, anally raping them, and inflicting unfathomable mental abuse on top of the sexual abuse, I get angry. But my anger is not only reserved for the pedophiles who were relentless in their abuse of helpless children. It’s also aimed at the deadbeat bishops and law enforcement officials who knew about the abuse and chose to shuffle these pedophiles from church to church while remaining silent. But my righteous anger doesn’t stop there. While the Catholics get their share of justified finger pointing, they are not alone–not by a long shot. We at Church Protect regularly hear stories about churches of every stripe who chose to invite pedophiles into their ranks and grant them access to children. In our experience, church leaders routinely allow even convicted pedophiles to waltz back into their churches, “redeemed” by the blood of the lamb and with very few restrictions. One desperate message to me chronicled a group of elders who gave their blessing to a convicted pedophile who had recently been released from prison. The registered sex offender offered to house a struggling youth in his basement under the guise of offering moral support and being a positive role model. Not surprisingly, he attempted to rape the young church girl. Surely an attempted rape of a young troubled youth from their church by a convicted child predator would cause the elders to ban him from that congregation, right? Nope. The girl was told to sit elsewhere if this man made her feel uncomfortable.

I would not experience daily anger if I didn’t daily hear these same stories time and time again. My guess is that people reading this post are getting angry that this kind of thing goes on in churches regularly. I also imagine that anyone who actually takes the time to read the Grand Jury’s report will get angry reading it. But here’s my question–why do people get angry at stories about child predators but turn completely passive when actually interacting with them in real life? All of a sudden we move from the facts of raping young children to shoddy theologies of sin, grace, and assimilation. “Well, they seem genuinely remorseful,” the argument goes, “so I’m sure they’ll never harm a child again.” But they do. Again and again and again. Read the report. It’s full of records of rehab, confessions, promises to change, victim blaming, and minimizing the abuse. The sad thing is that it works and pedophiles know it.

In his book Child Sexual Abuse and the Churches, Patrick Parkinson has a short but excellent section on repentance. Here’s what he says:
Forgiveness can have little meaning if the offender has no intention of stopping the abuse. . . In the area of child sexual abuse, repentance has often been confused with remorse. Remorse is what happens in the back of a police car. Repentance means taking full responsibility for the offending and walking the painful road of lasting change. . . The offender may well feel devastated by the prospect of losing these things. Such deep remorse may well be taken for repentance, but the signs of true repentance are in deeds, not in tears. . . The repentant offender ought to be willing to acknowledge to the police and the courts that he has done wrong, that he has committed criminal offences of the utmost gravity and deserves to be punished.

Parkinson also argues that a repentant abuser will take every step to make reparation. Just as we learned as children that an apology for a broken window must be accompanied with an offer to pay for the window, so there must be reparation as adults. The abuser will at very least voluntarily pay for counseling bills of all of his or her victims. In more significant cases, Parkinson rightly argues that the offender may have “to sell his house, or his car. It is costly, but it is also just.” I have argued, and continue to argue, that a repentant child molester will insist on being removed from the presence of children precisely because they have proved time and time again that they cannot be near children without fondling, massaging, raping, and performing oral sex on them. This response does not mean that the church “has it out” for pedophiles. Rather, they have the safety of children as their top priority. A repentant offender will be more than happy to be part of a church with strong accountability–where he or she is still free to worship with other adults and not be near children.

But sadly, this biblical stance of repentance and accountability is viewed as inhumane, cruel, and unjust. And so, like the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, churches of all denominations in 2016 continue to mistake remorse for repentance and they routinely let pedophiles join their worship, preach, lead children’s programs, all while keeping their congregants in the dark about the abuser’s past. So why do churches enable (and thereby bless) abuse to take place in practice while condemning it in theory?

If we peel back the veil in the Pennsylvania Catholic abuse case, I believe we would find two bishops who covered up the abuse not because they hate children and like to know that they’re being abused, but because they mistook remorse for repentance. In the report, they did confront accused clergy time and time again. But every single time they allowed them to continue in ministry. Why? Unfortunately, the power of persuasion by an offender is a louder voice than the cries of abused children. The best leverage an abuser can get (and they may even request it!) is face time with church authorities. Abusers know how easy it is to use emotion to minimize abuse, explain details away, rewrite children’s memories, and plead for mercy. And it works. This is one reason we recommend churches never investigate allegations of abuse themselves. Church leaders need to remove themselves from the abuser emotionally and look at the facts. They need to listen to the cries of children and vow to lay down their lives to protect them. They need to always report allegations of abuse to authorities and not speak to the accused about it. Trust us that you will always leave those meetings second guessing yourself, having sympathy for the abuser, and wondering how such a good child could be so mistaken as to what happened to them.

Church leaders have a very long way to go. Churches continue to be ripe for abusers. The harvest is plentiful and the workers are naive. My prayer is that, for the sake of our children, we wise up and learn from cases like the PA Catholic scandal.

Tips For Protecting Kids

It’s a question that all of us parents (should) want to know–How do I keep my kids safe from predators? I get asked this question on a regular basis, and I’m glad. The fact that parents and church leaders are asking means that they take seriously the charge to protect the kids who are in their care. I wish I could say that abuse in the church is rare. It is not. Not by a longshot. In my opinion, we do not do nearly good enough a job preparing our church leaders on how to handle this issue.

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus prepared his disciples by saying, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16 ESV). What comes out of the Son of God’s mouth next is riveting: flogging in the synagogues. Beatings. Hatred. Murder. Fathers killing children. Children killing parents. Persecution. Fleeing. After 9 years of college and graduate school I can honestly say that there was nothing even remotely similar to this in discussions meant to prepare us for ministry. Sadly, these things are going on in our churches today, here in the USA. It is out of my personal experience of living among a wolf that I share these tips for protecting your children.

#1 Educate Kids–I understand the need to shield our children from certain things. But keeping them completely sheltered is a mistake. And it’s costing our kids big time. The number one thing we can do to help keep our kids safe from predators is to teach them what abuse really is and how to say no. We teach them fire safety and have firemen come to the schools. We do fire drills. We teach them to cross the road safely. We do tornado drills in Pennsylvania, for crying out loud! They learn the safest places to be in lightning storms. So why are we not teaching them how to say “NO!” to a predator? My e-mail is backed up with requests from people to speak with me about their children being sexually abused. I’ve received dozens and dozens just in the past few months, and these are all just within the Churches of Christ. Child molesters will not mess with a child who they think is going to tell on them. So teach your child to tell.

#2 Create Boundaries/Policies–It’s astounding how many churches, schools, and daycares don’t have any written policies. These places are easy targets because there are lots of children, accessibility is unrestricted, accountability is non-existent, they are desperate for volunteers, most people are automatically trusting, and many Christians are naïve. We have created the perfect place for abusers and a nightmare of a place for children. My father wrote me from prison before and said, “Churches and Christian daycares are the easiest places to sexually offend children. It’s so easy to gain the trust of people and they just hand you their kids.” If you want to see a discussion on boundaries, see my articles on boundaries.

#3 Educate Adults–As I mentioned, we ministers are ill-equipped to detect, prevent, report, and deal with the aftermath of abuse. This is not a knock on our schools. I think of where I was prior to finding out that my own father was an abuser–I didn’t want to believe that this went on in the church. But it does. A lot. Paul says to expose the deeds of darkness, not to pretend that they don’t exist or ignore them altogether. For every incident of abuse in the church that I hear, I hear just as many incidents of cover-ups by church leaders. This is not only illegal, it’s immoral. We’ve got to educate our adults on how to detect abuse, how to prevent it, how to report it, and how to bring healing to victims of abuse. Shame on the churches who cover it up and pretend like it didn’t happen.

#4 Accept Reality–When we fail to accept the reality that some of the most trusted, respected, productive people in our churches are perpetrators themselves, we help them to multiply their victims, as I will demonstrate later. I speak from experience. I never in a million years dreamed that my own father, a minister himself, was capable of abusing children. It never crossed my mind. He was one of my best friends. Maybe I didn’t want to believe it. But worse, his crimes are crimes that are incredibly easy to hide. Gavin de Becker once wrote, “The solution to sexual violence in America is not more laws, more guns, more police, or more prisons. The solution to sexual violence is acceptance of reality (quoted in foreword of Anna Salter’s Predators, Pedophiles, Rapists, & Other Sex Offenders, pg. xi.)

#5 Keep Records and Do Something–In Carla van Dam’s The Socially Skilled Child Molester, she talks about a “trail of slime” that molesters leave behind. After someone is arrested, we can all recount things that didn’t “seem right.” It’s amazing how many people have since told me how uncomfortable they felt around my dad when he was with children. Yet nobody, including myself, ever talked about it with anyone else. Van Dam recommends that, if you see an adult interacting with children in an inappropriate way, you should start talking to other parents and see if they have similar feelings. Then she recommends documenting specific interactions. I’ve called police on several occasions just to inform them of things that I’ve seen with individuals. Though the acts were not illegal per se, the police have a running tab on certain individuals. I reported one man to the police this summer and said, “This man will have a rape victim very soon if he is not caught.” Sadly, my words turned prophetic about a month ago. He is in jail for sexual assault.

Many people argue with me that abuse is not common in the Churches of Christ. Spend one day facing my computer screen and read the daily e-mails I get from victims just within the Churches of Christ. Your perspective will quickly change. It is an epidemic. Here are just a few cases within the Churches of Christ in the past few years:

December 16, 2014–Former preacher of Elm and Hudson Church of Christ in OK, Tommy Lynn Bailey, 56, was arrested yesterday for having sex with a minor beginning when she was 14 and lasting 7 years. She lived in his home and was under his direct care. Bailey also worked at Open Arms Behavioral Health counseling center in Lawton.

September 11, 2014–A 14 year old church member had her own 9/11 tragedy when her preacher of Palisades Family Church of Christ, 55 year old Glenn VanZandt, was caught by a cop in a vacant city park parking lot raping and sodomizing the young girl. He had been doing this for months to this young victim.

July 2012–At Pennsylvania Christian Camp at nearby Blue Knob State Park, a Churches of Christ camp, a camp counselor forced 9 year old boys to get on all fours and play a “whipping game,” where crying kids were forced to whip each other while the counselor watched.

August 2011–On August 1st, 2011, I reported my father John Hinton, 62, former preacher of Somerset Church of Christ to local authorities. He was initially charged with 150 counts, including producing child pornography with his victims, which were as young as 4 years old. He is currently serving a 30-60 year sentence.

September 2011–86 year old long-time preacher Clarence Caldwell Arquitt, Jr. is arrested and released on $30,000 bond for molesting and sodomizing a girl over an 8 year period. She was 3 when the alleged abuse began and 11 when it stopped. The abuse occurred at his homes in Wood Stock and Sandy Springs. Arquitt helped found North Cobb Church of Christ in GA and is the founder and initial director of Georgia School of Preaching and Biblical Studies. He has preached at North Cobb Church of Christ, Olive Street Church of Christ, Piedmont Church of Christ, and Wood Stock Church of Christ.

October 10, 2011–70 year old trusted church member Paul Buckman murders my good friend Les Ferguson, Jr.’s wife, Karen, and 21 year old disabled son, Cole, after raping and sodomizing Cole for a period of months. Les was the preacher at Orange Grove Church of Christ in Gulfport, MS at the time. Karen and Cole were murdered while Les was at a preacher’s meeting. It was their 24th wedding anniversary that day, and exactly 1 year later to the day, my son Cameron was born.

November 12, 2010–Matthew Jordan, 51, was fired from Center Road Church of Christ in Saginaw, MI in January 2010 for “performance issues.” In November, family members tipped police off that Jordan may have sexually abused a 12 year old boy from his church. Jordan pleaded guilty and investigators recovered pictures and videos of Jordan sexually molesting the boy in the basement of Jordan’s home. Jordan was convicted in TN in 1987 with assault with intent to commit rape of a minor. Yet, he freely traveled around preaching in our churches, free to abuse more children.

2010–Skillman Church of Christ near Dallas, TX hires then 50 year old registered sex offender and person from America’s Most Wanted, Chuck Adair as to oversee a prison ministry and as leader of ministry and coordination. Adair still serves today as one of their ministers. Adair had an affair with a college girl years ago, has moved from youth ministry position to other youth ministry positions. And in 1992, he landed a job as a youth minister at Golf Course Road Church of Christ in Midland, TX, where he began a sexual relationship with a 13 year old girl who would roller blade over to his house for “counseling.” Adair married that same girl from prison the day after her 18th birthday. They divorced 2 years later and Adair is now married for the 3rd time. Adair has his supporters, like long-time church member Billy Faye Curtis, who said in an interview, “The girls would just throw themselves in his lap,” she said. “They loved him so much.” Others aren’t as convinced, like former church member Robin Kintz who said as a teen, Adair named her breasts, “Bip” and “Bop.” The article says of Adair’s current elders: “Dishman said elders haven’t restricted Adair because he limits himself.” Adair said he also abides by the church’s policy and sets his own boundaries. This isn’t too reassuring to me, since previous church leaders asked him to set boundaries, to which Adair reflected, “I set some, then violated them.”

July 2005–Then 55 year old Dr. Bert Thompson was fired from Apologetics Press for inappropriate sexual misconduct with several minor boys. Several victims came forward only to be met by church leaders who opted to protect Thompson’s “good” name. Sadly, there was a trail of slime that was blatantly obvious and could have prevented Thompson from rubbing his grimy fingers on more victims. A year and a half prior Thompson stood before a grand jury for allegations of sex with a 17 year old boy. “We had information about the allegations,” said Ted Norton, an Eastern Meadows elder. “We were not in a position to know whether they were true or not. We as individuals had our own personal feelings, but we did not have evidence so to speak.” Well, now we do.

I could go on and on. These are just ones that I found in the matter of a few minutes. There are more. . . many more. And these are just the ones involving people who got caught. I’ve worked with at least a dozen Churches of Christ where there are known incidents of abuse going on in the church and churches are either covering it up, or the perpetrators’ attorneys are able to find loop holes and get their clients off. In one case, an adolescent raped a very young boy in the church building. There was plenty of evidence (including blood and semen). There was a plea deal and that perpetrator still attends the church, minus any charges.

It is vital that we work together to protect our children. Their lives and souls depend on it.

Some Good News About Abuse!!

It’s so easy to get discouraged. All you have to do is turn on the local news or read a local paper. Even in our little town, stories of abuse abound. . . . and abound, and abound even more. Every few weeks, a name appears who I know personally. Here’s the bad news–these stories that appear on the news every day only include the abusers who got caught. For every abuser who appears in the paper, there are 10 more out there abusing scores of children unhindered.

OK, enough of the depressing news. The great news is that more and more survivors of abuse are being empowered to speak out and find healing, thanks to some wonderful people with huge hearts. And I predict this pattern is going to continue to emerge. There is strength in numbers, and more and more survivors are fed up with living in the shadows of their abusers. There are ministries being born out of conviction. I’m happy to see the work that my friend Angela Williams is doing over at Voice Today. As a survivor of child sex abuse herself, Angela has courageously placed herself in a vulnerable position to help others heal from their abuse while training others to prevent abuse.

James 1:12 (ESV) says, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” I don’t say this lightly–anyone who is in the fight against Satan’s attack on the human soul will come under trial. Satan does not like healing and will do everything to discourage and deceive. I am proud that Angela and many other friends are fighting this fight along side us, in spite of the trials.

My good friend Les Ferguson, Jr. is another one of those faithfully fighting this battle. Les will be keynoting Angela’s Standing In the Gap Prayer Breakfast on November 1st in Marietta, GA. If you have not heard his story, you need to. Les is such an encouragement to so many. Please consider being a part of this event, whether you are able to attend or not. Angela will have survivors telling their stories of healing. There will be prayer, tears, and a lot of love at this event.

Dr. Bruce Wilkinson (Prayer of Jabez) will be speaking in the evening at Emory University. Please consider supporting this wonderful effort and be encouraged that more and more people are joining forces to combat and prevent abuse!