Why sexual abuse goes unnoticed

Hidden abuse

Nobody wants to think they would ignore the signs of abuse. But they do. I did. Some always will. Abusers do not always isolate children to molest them. The world was shocked as survivor after survivor explained that Larry Nassar would penetrate their vaginas without gloves, for up to 40 minutes at a time, while their parents were in the same room just feet away. He would whisper in their ears, “How does this feel?” As I listened to an army of brave survivors describe how Nassar abused them in front of adults, I was not shocked in the least. My father is a pedophile. I wrote him a letter a couple years ago asking if there was anything that consistently surprised him all of the times he successfully molested children. He wrote back from prison, “The one thing that always surprised me is how easy it was to fool adults. Oftentimes, after abusing kids right in front of them, I had to pinch myself and ask, ‘Are these adults really this stupid?'” I’ve personally listened to countless survivors tell me how often their abusers would molest them in front of adults. All of them have wondered, “Why did nobody protect me from my abuser?”

All of my research began to focus on what techniques abusers use to molest children in open spaces. As the son of a pedophile, I obsessed over the fact that we all missed it with my father. I was one of those adults who didn’t protect kids from their abuser–my father. But I genuinely did not recount a single time where I remembered him abusing them either. I learned that pedophiles are not just manipulative. They are literally using the same techniques magicians use to keep adults blind to the abuse. I was fascinated with this finding. I learned that, in order to see the abuse from pedophiles in real time, we need to stop looking for them and instead start looking for us! As Nassar molested his hundreds of victims and my father his dozens, how did they see those of us who were standing in the same room? How did they know that we were not catching on to them as they groped, caressed, and violated these children while looking at us? What were their exact techniques? I began growing increasingly frustrated with the “red flag behavior” that experts share about abusers. These signs are so generic that it tells us nothing about how abusers abuse and get away with it. By the time anyone notices “red flag behavior” it’s too late. Children have already been abused.

Should we assume, then, that parents and adults are just naive? Or that they don’t care? Rachael Denhollander gave a heart-stopping statement where she named victim after victim who told adults that they felt uncomfortable around Larry Nassar. Each and every time, the adults, including investigators, excused the abuse away. It’s inconceivable for most untrained people to believe that a child can be molested in the same room as an adult–especially a parent–and that adult not see it. So when children tell their stories, they are told that they must have “misunderstood” what really happened. Children who are molested, especially when their parents are nearby, have no understanding that the abuser is using very specific techniques to fool the adults into believing they’re not seeing the abuse. Rachael described brilliantly what every little child experiences when adults fail to protect: “As Larry was abusing me each time, I assured myself that it must be fine because I thought I could trust the adults around me.” Nassar knew that every one of these little girls was thinking this, and this is one of the reasons why it’s important for the pedophile to molest a child with their parent just feet away.

But again, should we assume that the adults don’t care? Kyle Stephen’s parents, who radically defended Nassar for years and repeatedly made Kyle apologize to Nassar, certainly cared. When Nassar had charges brought against him, Kyle’s father did what he could to make amends for not believing her. He was so riddled with guilt and shame for not believing his little girl that, in 2016, he committed suicide.

So why did hundreds, if not thousands, of adults fail these children, including their own parents who were in the same room as they were penetrated? While there certainly were some adults who didn’t care, we cannot assume that the majority of them just didn’t care. We’ve got to stop assuming that all adults don’t care and instead look at the techniques abusers use to keep us blind. I recently discovered a brilliant book by the husband-wife team of neuroscientists Macknik & Martinez-Conde called Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals About Our Everyday Deceptions. This book was my “aha!” moment. They say, “The spooky truth is that your brain constructs reality, visual or otherwise. What you see, hear, feel, and think is based on what you expect to see, hear, feel, and think. In turn, your expectations are based on all your prior experiences and memories.” Every word inside of this book juxtaposed with the hundreds of letters from prison by my father began to reveal a very clear picture. We are all incredibly “hackable” and abusers intuitively know it. I glossed over the apostle Paul’s words for years and now they jump off the page at me: “. . .evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13).

Magicians make a living off of hacking our belief system. They are masters at deception. They know what the audience expects to see, hear, feel and think. They hack our “want to believe system” and show us exactly what our brains expect to see, hear, feel, and think based on past experiences. Kyle Stephens’ parents wanted to believe the best in Nassar. Put another way, they didn’t want to believe that their 12 year old daughter had be sexually violated for 6 years by Nassar. He was a family friend. Larry Nassar knew this, hacked their belief system, and made it their new reality. When confronted by Kyle’s parents, Nassar was not nervous because he already knew exactly what conclusion they expected to hear from him. And he delivered the rehearsed response with eloquence. Kyle recounted what Nassar said in that meeting: “I listened to you tell me, ‘No one should ever do that. And if they do, you should tell someone.'” Nassar knew that making it appear as a “misunderstanding,” combined with the fact that the Stephens’ wanted to believe that “no one should ever do that” was a guarantee that his audience would latch on to this expectation and make it their new reality. The power of this technique can’t be overstated.

I see this happen over and over and over again. Church leaders, when presented with the facts, will choose to believe that the person they love and respect is not capable of abuse. Or that he is remorseful and repentant and will never do it again. It’s not that they don’t believe the child. It’s that they don’t want to believe the child. Abusers hack this belief system and make that a new reality for the church leaders. Leaders almost always soften their approach to the abuser when face to face with him in a confrontation. I’ve studied this phenomenon for the past 7 years. I began to get increasingly angry with church leaders who defended abusers at the expense of their victims. As a minister, I wanted to get into the minds of people like me from the perspective of an abuser. The abuser knows exactly what church leaders expect to see, hear, think, and feel–what they want to believe–and so he delivers. Every single time.

Until we start teaching people the specific techniques abusers use to keep others blind, we will never be able to prevent abuse effectively. When I train people, I do demonstrations. Seeing is believing and is way more powerful than another lecture on abuse. It’s a way to “pull someone up on stage” with the abuser–to allow my audience to see us the way abusers see us. A couple years ago I started doing a facility walk through where I demonstrate just how easy it is to exploit people, their belief systems, and their buildings. Last year I was asked to train staff at a Christian camp. I had 5 volunteers–none of whom were abuse survivors–and I asked if I could touch them in benign ways throughout the day to see if others on staff noticed the behavior. What stunned me was how blatantly I could touch them (hugs, petting hair, breaking them off from the rest of the group, etc.) and at first nobody noticed. The first encounter was an exaggerated hug with a volunteer. We counted 9 people who made eye contact with us. I later asked the group how many people saw me hug this male staff member. Only 2 said they saw anything and neither of them thought it odd that I was embracing one of their staff members right in front of them.

These techniques aren’t a checklist that I can put down into a blog. It’s something that people need to experience. And what I’m seeing is that once others know the techniques pedophiles use to abuse kids in front of us, they can see things in real time and intervene before the abuse happens. There is no reason why Nassar, or my father, or any other pedophile who uses sleights of mind, shouldn’t be intercepted and stopped before they can carry out these egregious and horrific crimes. The following video is one that forever changed the way I understand pedophiles. When I first watched this, I shouted at my computer, “That’s it!” Apollo Robbins’ question at the end is more prophetic than he knows: “If you could control someone’s attention, what would you do with it?”

Dear Church: Stop trying to convert wolves

Wolf

There was a recent article published at The Gospel Coalition titled Beware of Broken Wolves. While I appreciate the notion that we need to beware of wolves, this idea that wolves are broken is something that has permeated the church and has no biblical basis. We have spoken to dozens of churches in recent months and I can assure you that the vast majority of them are sympathetic to the wolves who are child rapists (this is not to suggest that only child rapists are wolves; more about this in the next post). I recently wrote about churches defending child rapists here. “We need to gently restore this brother” is the mantra of the day. It’s become so predictable that we expect this phrase to roll off the lips of church leaders as blood and flesh are dripping from the wolf’s. We have grown weary of churches who want to nurture the wolves back to “health.” The root of the problem is that church leaders don’t really think in terms of sheep and wolves. They are thinking like sheep, so they assume that wolves are really just broken sheep who can repent and come back to the sheep pen. They are not. They are wolves. Genuine wolves. Wolves do not convert into sheep. They disguise themselves as sheep. This is a crucial difference. What church leaders overlook is how wolves are described in Scripture and, most importantly, that Jesus and his disciples never spoke to their conversion or repentance.

Jesus used word pictures to drive his points home. He used parables and metaphors to describe the Gospel. He used images that connected the brain to the heart and moved people to action. When he was on a rural mountain, he told his disciples to “beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15 ESV). He was in sheep country. It’s likely that there were sheep grazing within eyesight of the disciples as Jesus was preaching this very lesson. No shepherd would have heard these words and thought Jesus was calling them to be gentle, kind, or understanding of a wolf. Shepherds didn’t sit wolves down and say, “What pain is in your life to make you like this?” In fact, in this context Jesus didn’t speak of pain at all. He spoke in terms of fruit! “You will recognize them by their fruit. . . the diseased tree bears bad fruit.” He shifts images from a wolf to a tree. Does God’s justice require the wolves to turn their hearts and become sheep, or the bad trees to become good trees? No! In fact, Jesus’ words are chilling: “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:19, 20). There was never a plea to rescue them from the flames, like we find in Jude 1:23. A clear distinction was made between sinners and wolves.

In John 10, Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd who is the door for the sheep. Those who enter by way of the door will find pasture. What about the wolf? Does Jesus call him a “brother?” Does he speak about his or her pain? Let’s listen to His words, “The thief only comes to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). Is Jesus clear enough? This is who they are. Though they deceive and disguise themselves as sheep, they are not sheep. They never were. Their diabolic mission, their very identity is to seek sheep to devour. They have no interest in repentance.

We also have the tendency to apply “wolf” to people in the church who cause division. Not all people who cause division are wolves. Some people are like wrecking balls and they are so ignorant they don’t even know it. Others are well intentioned but still manage to run people off. When the Bible describes wolves, it’s not describing what they do. It’s describing who they are. I grew up in a very conservative church where anybody who taught doctrine that wasn’t in line with our tradition was labeled a “wolf.” I received a letter after guest preaching once where I was described as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” by a youth minister from one of the extreme right schools in the Churches of Christ. Wolves are not other Christians with whom we disagree. They are not “brothers” or “sisters” who got caught up in sin. They are what they are. They are wolves. They are diabolic. They crave the flesh of innocent lambs. And they will do anything to kill and destroy the souls of people.

Contrast the descriptions and responses that Jon and I hear when we work with churches who have child rapists with the truths of the Bible. Here are the things we hear most often:

He’s a pillar of the community
This man is one of my best friends
I believe he genuinely loves the Lord
We are willing to do whatever it takes to help guide him back to the Lord
We want him to be surrounded with love
The Lord expects us to forgive
The Lord hates the sin and loves the sinner
Everyone has abandoned him, it’s our duty to rally around him
He’s been a member of this church for 30 years
Nobody is beyond redemption
The Lord’s grace is sufficient

Here are some of the things the Bible says about wolves and false prophets who, by the way, are false teachers because their goal is to ultimately destroy the souls of God’s children:

The wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience (Eph 5:6)
Evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived (2 Tim 3:13)
Secretly bring in destructive heresies
Irrational animals, creatures of instinct
Born to be caught and destroyed
They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime
They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you
They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin
They entice unsteady souls
They have hearts trained for greed
Accursed children!
Following the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing
Waterless springs and mists driven by a storm
For them the gloom of utter darkness is reserved
They entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error
The dog returns to its own vomit
The sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire (all the above from 2 Peter 2)

Make no mistake. Genuine wolves derive pleasure in inflicting harm on innocent souls, and the most effective way to do this is to do it in the name of Jesus. Why do we fail to see what’s already clearly laid out in the Bible? I will follow up with a blog post or two giving us practical things that we can actually do to identify who the real wolves are and how we protect the flock from them.

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.

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.

Tenancingo: Home Grown Sexual Abusers

Trucking had always been a dream of mine. I’ve always liked operating heavy machinery and traveling, so trucking was a natural fit. I drove truck coast to coast for one year in between college and seminary, while I was still single. My first time across the Rockies was in a bad snow storm. Dropping down a hill in a semi truck from 11,000 feet when it’s hammering snow is quite an experience! What makes it more adventurous is looking down and seeing other tractor trailers that have careened off the interstate to the bottom of ravines from years past. It’s an eerie feeling to see multiple unrecovered trucks at the bottom of a mountain. Once a truck has fallen so far, it’s impossible to tow it back up to the top of a mountain, so many of them end up being left there permanently.

I believe evil is the same way. Once someone has fallen so far down, it becomes impossible to tow them back to the top. I had a Bible professor who has another helpful analogy called the “chained dog” theory. Evil is like a dog that’s chained up. It has boundaries set by God. Evil still exists, but the chain restricts evil’s reach. We can either stay outside of evil’s reach, or we can taunt it and risk it latching on to us and dragging us deeper into its territory. Have any of you ever been to a place that is so dark, you can “feel” the evil?
chained dog

God warned the Israelites, “But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will be swept away” (1 Samuel 12:24-25 NIV). Romans 12:21 says, “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” The Bible mentions evil and its variants (evils, evildoer, etc.) just shy of 500 times. There is a consistent message throughout the Bible that many Christians deny. . . there is a level of evil that creates a suction point, a trap, a point of no return.

The small town of Tenancingo, Mexico is one of these places. It is the breeding ground for a major pedophile ring and sex trafficking to the United States. Young children are saying that they want to be like their dads and sell women for sex. There is no remorse, and darkness plagues the town. Psychologists are divided on what “makes” a perpetrator act out on very young children. Is it psychological factors, environmental, genetic, addictions to pornography, etc.? To be fair, nobody really knows for sure. If we are honest, we would admit that there are many hidden factors, both in the brain and in the home, that we will probably never figure out as far as causality. But one thing we can probably all agree on is that perpetrators who sexually act out on children are committing an evil. And once you begin messing with the dog, eventually it’s going to bite. And in Tenancingo, the dog has claimed its territory and is dragging people all over the place. I highly recommend watching this documentary on Tanancingo’s trafficking of sex slaves to the US. It is worth every minute.
****WARNING: We need people to watch this and raise awareness that this stuff happens all the time****

So what’s my point? Or rather, what’s God’s point? At the top of the list, remember the old saying, “If you play with fire you’re bound to get burned?” Well, if you play with evil, you’re bound to get bit. According to Scripture, we’ve all done evil. But it’s the perpetual toying with it that leads to the point of no return. There is, however, great news in all of this. For those who struggle with pedophilic thoughts at a younger age, rehabilitation is quite successful. I’d encourage parents who have allegations come against their children to not be so quick to defend them. Rather, get them the help they need.

I’ve received several phone calls with similar scenarios–a 13-15 year old boy was inappropriately saying things, doing things, or was infatuated with young children. And in all the cases (so far), the parents or guardians defended the perpetrator, not the alleged victims. Folks, if you see your child getting too close to a chained dog, don’t tell everyone else to buzz off. Help pull your child from that evil. Seek professional guidance from a sex-specific therapist. Help your child get out before it is too late. The more children learn to keep this a secret, the more they will be emboldened to act out. Help them get out. Help them find a way to deal with their attraction and aggression toward younger children. Love does not defend evil. It helps pull people from it before they become so debased that they cannot stop.