4 Suggestions for preachers to broach the subject of abuse

Bible

With so many churches covering up abuse or ignoring it altogether, its vital that we be serious about tackling abuse. The reality is that many, many people don’t trust the church anymore. I’ve heard survivors vow to never grace a church building again. Sadly, we’ve given them plenty of reasons not to and it breaks my heart. With that said, there are things that we must do if we are ever going to truly be a shelter for the oppressed. These are my suggestion, and I’d like to hear what others would add.

#1 Confront the issue head on
We preachers like to tip toe around uncomfortable subjects. I used to be so worried that I would offend someone and they wouldn’t come back. I don’t intentionally offend people, but I’m no longer afraid of doing so either. We have to to quit sanitizing our language. I’ve literally heard preachers say, “There are people out there doing bad things.” Seriously. We’ve got to stop intentionally keeping people naive. I still get requests when I speak places not to say anything that is “offensive.” My response usually is, “With all due respect, adults raping children is offensive to me. If you’re not willing to get offended for their sake, how can I trust that you will actually protect them from their rapists?”

I’m not at all suggesting that we use gory details and traumatize our audience. But our language needs to be direct and strong. “Abuse” is way too generic. Acknowledge that both adults and children are being raped, neglected, beaten, and verbally assaulted.

#2 Recognize that you know that some in the audience are currently being abused
Every time I speak at a church, there are multiple survivors of abuse who speak to me afterwards. There are no exceptions. Many survivors I’ve spoken with feel emotionally invisible. They wonder why nobody within leadership has ever seen or acknowledged their pain. Jesus publicly said, “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus was quoting from Isaiah 61 and he simply summed up his mission. Why did the poor and oppressed feel safe to speak to Jesus and not the other religious leaders? It was because Jesus was crystal clear that his mission was to set them free. He never pretended like everyone had it together. Quite the opposite. Jesus routinely acknowledged, embraced, and protected the poor, the sick, and the oppressed in every town he went to.

#3 Be ready to respond to allegations of abuse
Have a plan for how you will respond if your message empowers survivors to speak up. Most importantly, have a plan for how to respond if one of your fellow leaders is the abuser. I cannot overstate the importance of this point. Of the dozens of churches I’ve consulted with, over 80% of the alleged abusers were in some form of church leadership. Take it from someone who had to turn in his own father, reporting someone you love, respect, and admire is one of the most difficult things you will ever have to do. Be prepared and make no excuses. If someone in your congregation discloses that a church leader is abusing them, be prepared to take action immediately. If it is with a minor, assume that you are a mandated reporter and report it immediately to law enforcement. Talk with the parents and hold their hand through the entire process. Assure them that you will not protect the abuser, no matter who he or she is.

If an affair is uncovered or if there was spiritual abuse, be prepared to take action to protect the person who discloses the abuse. Removing someone from leadership and keeping quiet about the abuse is immoral and unethical. Let the church know the reason why the person had to be removed. I get nauseated every time I find out that a minister was fired for misconduct and the church leaders lie to the church and say he “resigned.” Then the person moves to another city or sate and reinvents himself. Pennsylvania and Texas have “Pass the Trash” legislation that prevents school administrators from turning a blind eye to teachers who abuse students then seek employment in another district. We churches need to stop “passing the trash” too.

#4 Come up with a plan to bring healing to survivors
One of the fair criticisms of my church leaders has been that I preach a lot about oppression but don’t offer enough solutions. Survivors especially need to know that we are going to do more than just preach about it. Jesus didn’t just protect. He provided hope. He believed in the oppressed and admired their faith. I recently began working with local agencies to network survivors in the community with our church. They need more than just sermons. They need to know that people believe in them and that there is hope and joy.

If all people ever hear is that there are tons of evil people out there and that churches keep perpetuating abuse, they’ll get discouraged real quick. Offer a tangible solution to the problem and cast that vision to your church. Invite people to join you in this mission to help the oppressed. But be sure to have a clear plan.

Do you have any suggestions?

Exploited Children in Churches and How Our Denial Fuels Abuse

Surprisingly, I had never heard of the televangelist sensation Todd Bentley until a friend of mine showed me an outrageous Youtube video (thanks, John!). Known as the “BAM, BAM, BAM” faith healer with hundreds of thousands of followers”1, Todd is known for outrageous claims and violence on stage.

Though I believe that Todd is an embarrassment to Christianity and everything that Jesus stands for, the purpose of this blog is not to poke fun at Pentecostals. There are plenty of genuine Pentecostal/Charismatic believers who openly distance themselves from Todd and others. The purpose is, however, to generally demonstrate how easy it is for people to be blinded, manipulated, and groomed into believing the unbelievable while denying the reality of sexual abuse.

I admit that I am, as millions of other viewers are, intrigued with Todd Bentley. It is easy to get sucked into his videos because of the entertainment and shock value. But I have a tendency to profile nearly everyone and the more I watched Mr. Bentley, the more I began to see major red flags common to pedophiles–narcissism, the ability to quickly groom a crowd and gain trust, intentionally and unapologetically crossing boundaries (there is a video of Todd kicking a man with stage 4 colon cancer in the gut and the man falls over in pain), offering unwanted rewards, too helpful, too eager to be around children, too aggressive when confronted, too good to be true, etc.

It didn’t take but a few minutes to find that Todd has a dark past and has spent time in prison as a juvenile for sexually assaulting a 7 year old boy. “They were sexual crimes,” Bentley admits. “I was involved in a sexual assault ring. I turned around and did what happened to me. I was assaulted too.” “I don’t like to talk about it publicly because it would hurt [my ministry],” he concedes. “I don’t whip it out in the newspapers or on TV because people will go ‘Whaaa?’ I’ll say ‘I was in prison, period. Let’s move on.’”2 It is subtle and most people miss it, but narcissists begin most statements with “I.” Not only that, but when Todd speaks, the focus is all about Todd. “I” don’t like to talk about it. It would hurt “my” ministry. Sounds like a repentant sinner. . . or does it? Contrast him with King David, a truly remorseful sinner: “For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever before me. I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin” (Psalm 38:17-18 ESV). Never mind, though, that a 7 year old boy has to live the rest of his days with the shame and guilt that “you” placed on him Mr. Bentley. We wouldn’t want that to get in the way of your ministry.

The fact that Todd admits “I turned around and did what happened to me” would turn the head of every professional psychologist who works with pedophiles, and it should church leaders as well. That fact is vital for public disclosure, since adult pedophiles, who were themselves molested as children more than 50 times, begin assaulting others at a much younger age (Todd Bentley was 14 when he assaulted the 7 year old) and they commit well over 100 more acts of abuse as non-abused molesters (Gene Abel, The Stop Child Molestation Book, pg. 321). Todd admits that he was part of a sexual assault ring, which implies this was not a one time event that happened to him. If Todd was abused more than 50 times, and if he had objective testing by a sex-specific therapist showing that he is sexually attracted to children, he is by clinical definitions a potential lethal weapon to children. But he will never submit to testing, nor will any church demand he be tested. Mr. Bentley, who divorced his wife in 2008 following an inappropriate relationship with his current wife, says that the subject of his past sexual assaults on children is “dead and buried to me.”3

Surely this stance is unacceptable to people who look up to Todd, right? When pastor Denny Cline of Albany, OR, who happens to consider himself a “spiritual son” of Todd Bentley, was asked about Todd’s past abuse with children, he replied, “I don’t think he told me that, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. It wouldn’t have mattered in regards to what he is doing now, and the person that he is now…If he’s paid his debt to society and God’s forgiven him of everything, then who am I not to forgive?” “4

It wouldn’t have mattered anyway? To who? To the multiple young boys I’ve seen in Youtube videos with Bentley wrapping his grubby arms around them on stage as he nonchalantly caresses their shoulders? Should it matter to their parents who either blindly, like pastor Cline and God TV 5, ignore the fact that Bentley has a past of sexual assaults on a young boy, or who don’t know because Bentley insists on hiding it?

We parents and church leaders further exploit children by denying that abuse is going on in the churches. Children are extremely susceptible to suggestion, vulnerable, and malleable. Before blindly shoving our children into the hands of trusted church leaders, we ought to ask very hard questions and demand transparency. I close with a disturbing clip of Chris Harvey, a friend of Todd Bentley who put on quite the show when visiting Bentley at a Florida revival, tapping into the susceptibility of very young children. Shame on us when people like this go unquestioned by others: