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

Graph

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.

Preventing Abuse: There Are No Monsters

I’m working my way through Gavin De Becker’s excellent book, The Gift of Fear. De Becker works with the highest ranking government officials, including presidents, to assess risk of violent behavior. He created the MOSAIC Threat Assessment Systems, which is still used by the CIA, high profile public figures, and the public. Though De Becker specializes in predicting violent behavior, many of the principles should be applied to predicting child sexual abuse.

My experience working with churches tells me that they are generally way too trusting of everyone. The majority of church leaders I speak with equate kindness with morality and trustworthiness, they have a high level of naivety when it comes to protection of children, they are oftentimes strongly resistant to making drastic policy changes that include background checks on all volunteers and accountability for volunteers working with children, and they believe that they would be able to detect an abuser if he was among them. Put another way, they believe that abusers look like monsters and therefore are easy to spot. I might add that this is not a problem that’s isolated with churches. Daycares, schools, camps, and people employing babysitters are just as trusting of individuals.

But, as De Becker rightly observes, it’s precisely because we are looking for monsters that we are such good targets. In fact, abusers are not monsters at all. They are people like you and I. They look like us, talk like us, dress like us, work like us, pray like us, and are likely some of our best friends or family members. Because we don’t want to believe that people we personally know are capable of such crimes, we hear things in the news like, “He was such a nice man. I still don’t believe he was capable of doing such bad things. He must have just snapped.” De Becker’s point is that, simply because we ourselves wouldn’t commit a certain crime, we don’t want to fathom that our close friends would either. He says:
Every day people engaged in the clever defiance of their own intuition become, in midthought, victims of violence and accidents. So when we wonder why we are victims so often, the answer is clear: It is because we are so good at it. A woman could offer no greater cooperation to her soon-to-be attacker than to spend her time telling herself, “But he seems like such a nice man” (De Becker, 30).

Point well taken. It’s so important for us to realize that real crimes are committed by real people who don’t necessarily look like whack-jobs. De Becker adds:
So, even in a gathering of aberrant murderers there is something of you and me. When we accept this, we are more likely to recognize the rapist who tries to con his way into our home, the child molester who applies to be a baby-sitter, the spousal killer at the office, the assassin in the crowd. When we accept that violence is committed by people who look and act like people, we silence the voice of denial, the voice that whispers, “This guy doesn’t look like a killer” (De Becker, 46).

He recommends doing the exact opposite of what we are doing every day–we need to observe behaviors, not personalities. Crimes are never created out of thin air. People don’t just “snap.” There are always behavioral indicators prior to acting out. This applies to murderers and it applies to child molesters. We need to be more observant of behavioral patterns that indicate problems and malevolence. I recently had a person give me a laundry list of red flag behavioral issues with a man at church–he’s giving gifts to young kids, he offers to baby sit, he takes particular interest in certain kids, he tries to isolate them by offering rides, he invites them to his house, etc. I explained that he is very high risk and should be removed from activities which include children, to which this person replied, “But he’s so nice and is highly respected by everyone.” My response was, “So what?”

So many of us fall into the trap of believing that abusers look like monsters, that we don’t even want to entertain the possibility of abuse and so our interpretation of certain behaviors becomes tainted. Consider the questions we ask the applicant for the baby sitting job or the Youth Leader position at church–Are you good with children? What are your strengths? What is your experience working with kids in the past? These questions tell us nothing of their behaviors with children. Nor do they put a would-be abuser on the spot so that we can observe their mannerisms in real time. Should we not be asking questions like, “Do you have any sexual attraction to children? Have you ever physically touched a child inappropriately or thought about doing so? Have you ever viewed child pornography? What would you do if you felt a child was soliciting sex?, etc. We can learn a lot about a person by asking the right questions. A 3 second pause or a shift in the chair can reveal a lot of information. But rare is it that I speak to people who are asking these kinds of questions. We’ve got to do a much better job at prediction and prevention of abuse.

If you don’t believe me, take it from an abuser himself. I recently visited my dad in prison and he had this to say, “Two things shocked me each and every time I abused a victim–How easy it was to get a child to act out sexually and how easy it was to get away with it.” He is absolutely right, to our shame.

I Teach My Kids to Hate (And You Should Too)

The Bible, through the words of Jesus, instructs us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). If your enemy is hungry, we are told to feed him. If he is thirsty, we should give him drink (Romans 12:20). Point well taken. But the Bible also gives us another vital instruction. It’s one that we don’t take seriously enough, in my opinion. We don’t even like the word. Yes it’s true; we are told to hate. We’re not instructed to hate people, but to hate what is evil. Romans 12:9 (NIV) says, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” This particular word for hate appears only here in all of the Bible. It is the strongest word for hate. It literally means “to have a vehement dislike for something.” It is likened to a state of rage. In contrast, we are to “cling” to what is good. That word means something like “being glued to; to be inseparable.”

Do we have a vehement hatred for evil? I mean, really–does the thought of evil make us rage inside? I’m not so convinced that it does. Neither am I convinced that we’re teaching our kids to hate evil. Let me give a little backdrop for why I hate evil. When I read story after endless story of abuse, especially abuse of children, something snaps inside of me. After hearing stories of shame, humiliation, and torture, Evil is no longer an abstract concept. It becomes personal. Extremely personal. People sometimes ask me, “Why do you subject yourself to all these stories of abuse and surround yourself with people who have been abused?” My answer is, “Why do you not?” Avoidance makes abuse no less real to the people it’s actually happening to. The vast majority of people in our nation choose to ignore this evil, and so it continues.

In my frequent travels, I hear lots of gut-wrenching stories of young children being sexualized and used for pervert predators’ own little sex experiments. Let me be clear–this is not an “attraction” or “addiction.” It is evil. Pure wickedness. Attraction means exactly that–someone is attracted, for whatever reason (I’m not arguing causality here), to children. Attraction turns evil when there is intent to act out. The word “addiction” does not properly explain child molestation either. There is a vast difference between addiction and abuse. Addiction is a craving for something. Abuse is a craving to act out on someone. Children are not drugs. They are humans. They have a soul. They are precious. When they are used, manipulated, sexualized, tortured, emotionally screwed with, brought to orgasm, forced to perform sex acts on adults, and thrown out, we cannot ethically say, “Boy, Eric was addicted to Jennifer.” Let’s not cheapen the child by referring to molestation as an “addiction.” Acting out on a child is always evil because every time molestation happens, an innocent child is harmed.

I am very cautiously optimistic about the epidemic of child sex abuse. The optimistic part comes from shaking hands with people like myself who are speaking out against abuse on a national (and some an international) level. Many people are listening and are willing to take strong measures to prevent abuse. This is commendable and hopeful. The very cautiously part comes from my experience speaking at churches. Church leaders are generally still naïve and are way too willing to give people the benefit of doubt. This reduces the likelihood of church leaders reporting suspected abuse in a timely manner. In fact, I’ve witnessed on several occasions strong resistance by church leaders to report alleged abusers because “they just don’t seem like the kind of guy who would do something like that.” I often tell people who respond this way not to confuse their desire for people to be pure and innocent with them actually being pure and innocent. I could wish all day long that my own father had not committed atrocities against multiple children. But that doesn’t change the fact that he actually did. We’ve got to stop pretending like evil is not around us. We can’t cower in fear, either.

Ephesians 5:11 says, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” And so we unapologetically expose the works of darkness and shed light on the people who are abusing children in the dark. But more than exposing this darkness, we hate the evil. And we should have no embarrassment or apology for teaching our children to hate what is evil and cling to what is good. Let’s start raising up the next generation to be kind, loving, and opposed to evil.