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Simon Says: “You Can Prevent Clergy Sexual Abuse!” — 27 Comments

  1. Thank you, Jennifer, for this important message which demonstrates that those who shield abusers are not demonstrating genuine love to them, let alone to their victims. As I understand it abusers will not generally stop unless they are exposed. They will just find new victims. The Kingdom of heaven is not for such. Yet there is hope for them. If someone loves them enough to confront them and expose them, they can experience genuine contrition, honesty and the gospel, and only then can Jesus save them.

    Too many times have abusers been moved from one city to another in mistaken notions of love. And they have found new victims while they themselves slipped into an even darker hole. I hope everyone who reads this heeds your counsel:

    If a Simon comes into your life, help him out by doing what he wants least. Tell the truth. It’s not “tattle-tailing” to reveal that a clergyman has taken advantage of a member of the flock. Do as Mary did and tell Jesus what happened; then share it with trusted counselors and friends. Do all you can to stop the abuse; thus you’ll be sparing future victims.

    • In dealing with manifested sin I think it is important to follow the council given by Christ:

      Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that `by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Mat 18:15-17 NKJV).

      I do believe that if the problem is a pastor or a teacher and it must go beyond step 2 then the conference has to be brought in. If the conference does the pass-the-buck thing then it should be taken to the next level, etc.

      I think it is wise to keep it as local as possible but if the perpetrator moves or is moved by church authority because of the issue then much more drastic steps must be taken. To me the whole idea of the steps Jesus outlined is for it to be redemptive rather than vindictive.

      • Tyler, sexual abuse is a crime, and it occurs any time a position of authority entices a person under his/her authority into a sexual act. Because the abuser is in a position of authority, the victim is not regarded as giving free consent. The employer (i.e. Conference) should always be notified immediately. Trying to keep the problem local allows offenders to re-offend in another place.

        When the victim is underage, it is also a crime not to report this to the police immediately in most places in North America.

        Matthew 18:15-17 is not applicable here. What is applicable is Matthew 18:6.

        Unfortunately abuse by persons in positions of authority happens way too often. And it's not always the pastor. The first gay person I got to know well was sexually abused at the age of 11 at camp meeting, where his parents had trustingly sent him under the care of the elder who abused him. The abuse continued after that (possible since the elder was a friend of the family), and the boy was too ashamed to tell his parents. The effects on that man's life were incalculable. (We know now that several factors contribute to homosexuality. There are biological factors and environmental factors. Sexual abuse is a contributing environmental factor.)

        Whenever abuse is suspected, steps need to be taken to protect persons who could be victims. When sexual abuse is known, drastic steps need to be taken to prevent further victimization.

        Also see: Startling Statistics: Child sexual abuse and what the church can begin doing about it We are allowing way too much of this to happen in the name of "love." It is neither loving the offender nor loving the child!

        • [Moderators Note: Please comply with our full name policy]

          Inge, you nailed! Too many crimes are committed and covered in name of "love". Just recently in my city in Brazil, a SDA pastor was accused of pedophilia, the victim was a boy. When the accusation came to light the pastor was "transferred" to another state in 24 hours! Another case was an acquaintance of mine who was a Sabbath School teacher who was molesting his stepdaughter from the time she was 6 years old to 12 years old. What did he get? He lost his Sabbath School teacher position and went to another church, by the way, he also molested his own children (a boy and a girl, who today are adults completely out of control). In the name of "love" and "redemption" this two SDA pedophiles are free to go and destroy other lives, covered by "the robe of righteousness of Christ". Who of us, in our right mind, if we have one of our little children raped, lying in a hospital bed bleeding to death, will say: "Let's first talk to the offender, if he doesn't repent, let's take to church, let's give him the chance to repent, and if he repents, let's hold hands together and sing "Kumbaya". In my opinion, pedophilia is a crime, and should be reported immediately to the authorities, if the offender repent and comes to God, the Lord will deliver him.

    • Yes, Inge, I agree. Tell, tell, tell. There are many things that happen in our church that people cover up and some of the offenders have remained in active service. Some have even continued to teach children.
      Great Story telling Jen. Thanks!

  2. Wow thank you for this very practical and crucial post Jennifer! I can relate to all of this especially the legalism part. I have met people who go on and on about how they don't eat cheese, hoping that will make them look so religious and righteous that you won't notice that they are abusing their family.

  3. Friends I'm normally very respectful of my church and its leadership. But on this issue I must say our abuse allegation-handling policies are in great need of reform. I have found as I've worked with victims of SDA clergy abuse that very few conferences "get it" i.e. take the allegations seriously and handle them appropriately. Some do. I was encouraged talking to a leader in Northern California last summer. My own conference, PA, is on the money. But the grass roots must cry out for justice in our own ranks. Things can and will change, this is God's church--but we must learn to be wise as serpents in how we deal with abuse reports.

    • Hi Jennifer,

      I was one of those who this happened to and it's tough when you lose your church family and your church because of it. Now the new pastor makes a point of repeatedly telling me I'm not a victim in this. It hurts deep when I can't go back. He is putting what I call 'stipulations' I have to do before I could return to fellowship with that congregation. I won't be going back there. It is very difficult to get involved with another church yet I'm working on being more comfortable in doing so. Baby steps. A friend sent me this today and it's comforting to know people are aware of what's happening and others are there to support people who have fallen victim to this. I take responsibility for my actions though. I don't take it lightly. Thank you for posting this.


  4. I don't think brother Tyler is excusing the crime, rather he is outlining steps in which we are to proceed as outlined by Jesus. These steps will give the sinner two choices, admit his/her wrongdoing or deny, regardless of the outcome, the crime then has to be reported to the respective authorities for action and justice. God loves the sinner, but not the sin (includes us all). There are many issues plaguing the Church and it is because we have aligned ourselves with the world and lowered God's standards to our own expectations. Reformation & Revival can not occur, unless one is converted and sanctified by God's truth. Refer John 17.

    • Thanks, Harold. Yes, you're right, even in cases of sexual abuse, we must follow the steps in Matthew 18:15-17, and I erred in saying this is not applicable.

      But there is a difference: Even if the abuser repents (or pretends to repent, since we can't tell the difference), it is still necessary to hold him/her responsible for the crime and ensure that s/he will not be put in another position where the abuse can continue. The appropriate authorities need to be notified whether or not the person repents. That's because Matthew 18:6 is also applicable. I disagree strongly with the idea that the "problem" needs to be contained in the local context, because that clears the way for repeat offenses in a different locality.

      Abusers have been given a free pass in the church and have abused again and again precisely because they "repented" and their superiors believed it was a one-time offense and were willing to give them "another chance" in another place. And the person abused again, and again.

      Jennifer has direct experience in dealing with abusers, and I would like to see her outline the appropriate response to clergy Sexual Abuse beyond what one individual can do. By the title of her essay, I think Jennifer meant that we can prevent the abuser from offending again.

      The way I see it, first offenses can be prevented only by an iron-clad enforced rule that no religious authority figure may ever spend time alone with a woman who is not his wife. Come to think of it, that is not an unreasonable rule at all, and I think most responsible pastors will follow this rule. The change we may need to make is to institute consequences for breaking this rule, seeing that it paves the way for abuse, whether or not that is the intention. (We cannot read intentions, after all.) And, of course, such a rule strictly enforced would also prevent re-offense.

      • It needs to be reiterated that in many countries it is a legal requirement to report alleged and/or suspected sexual abuse. Currently in Australia, there is a long-running inquiry into church organizations about the handling of sexual abuse claims. The stories that are coming from boarding schools, orphanages, youth groups and similar institutions are horrific and if anyone doubts the need for public accountability they only need to read the submissions from the abused. Time after time authority figures in these organizations have stated that they have tried to handle the cases internally, seeking the ultimate "salvation" for the perpetrators. It is clear that it has not worked. In many cases it is regarded that the perpetrators were protected by the organization at the expense of the abused. Any work for the "salvation" of the perpetrators must now be done within the legal framework that the public expects.

      • Inge:

        Your preventative suggestions may be a good start.
        It reminds me of a story in the news not long ago.

        There was this Christian married Dentist who fired an assistant because he found he was too attracted to her.
        You see the problem was not the assistant, he will be attracted to others as well, yes?
        And what is he going to do about the attractive ones walking down the street or jogging along the path?
        If he or she is an offender he or she is probably going to offend when the opportunity arise.

        Your suggestion doesn't get to the root of the issue. It only included women.
        Have you considered pastors and other men, or children?
        My brother, what we need to do as a group is to admit that we have a problem and then we can begin to address remedial actions.

        We can look at Psychological evaluations for all authority figures, past of present deviant behavior, certain propensities, basic criminal record checks, vigilant parents and members, centrally located camera systems, And a record that must accompany any offender wherever they go.
        And If per chance that individual leaves the jurisdiction without warning, then through other family members and friends we must investigate their whereabouts and make sure we relay that record to the receiving church.

        I know in anger the first thing that comes to mind is to make the individual pay for what he or she has done, however, the Scripture tells us that we should not take our church family to court. At the same time though,it doesn't mean that we can't develop our own systems to effectively deal with these individuals. Perhaps the law requires us to report a crime, if so, then so be it. And that is beyond our control.

        We know that the church is a hospital for sin sick souls and as such we must stop putting people of pedestals. Only then we can see people for who they are.

        We must pray for each other genuinely, love our children especially and be true to the meaning of loving thy brother as thyself, and stop sending our children to babysitting camping trips if we ourselves are not attending because we are too busy amassing wealth for the temporal life.

  5. I have two observations on why abuse (physical, mental etc.) are a particular problem for conservative/traditionalist societies and movements (like our church):

    1. Respect for hierarchy and authority gives perpetrators undue influence over their victims. Victims that do speak out are maligned because they have a lower standing.
    This is a big factor with spousal abuse in some societies.

    2. Communities that are traditional love order, continuity and the status quo. They do not like disruption or upheaval.
    Taking action often involves this and it is frowned upon for this reason.

    That is a peculiar weakness of organisations like ours* and so we need to understand the language and concept of power and privilege.

    *(This is why we hear of similar problems among the Orthodox Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses and Fundamentalist Mormons to name a few)

  6. The base question I was raising has to do with whose authority and council we as Christians operate under and who we follow as an example - how the world deals with things or how Christ does. The world is involved in self and self preservation so it deals with things on the basis of self protectionism and seems to have little real interest in redemptive activity. I found after years in prison ministry that penal institutions are used more to cull out the undesirables than to rehabilitate them. So, what I would like to do here is to ask what Inge asked, how would Jesus treat these people. He was a master at personal relationships and knew how to maximize a situation to get out of it the most good that could ever be expected.

    Jesus could have easily reverted to Old Testament law that basically said "Your eye shall not pity: life shall be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot" (Deut. 19:21 NKJV; see also Ex 21:24; Lev 19:21) but He didn't; instead He said, "You have heard that it was said,`An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also" (Matt. 5:38-39 NKJV). He also said, "love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (Matt. 5:44 NKJ). Why? Not because we are to condone abuse but because those that do such things need salvation too and often they need to be handled tactfully or else rebellion will set in leading to a lost soul and the damage of many others (here the proper understanding and application of Mat 13:29 and Isa 42:3 comes to mind).

    Everything Jesus did and said was redemptive not only for us but also for those that would shamefully use innocent people to satisfy self. That is why he did things the way He did in the situation involving the woman caught in adultery. He could have easily exposed those who forced Mary into prostitution and could have called for church discipline on the matter but Jesus had something deeper in mind, save both the victim and the victimizer. If we could only look beyond the present and envision both being saved as Jesus did! Incidentally, what they did to her basically destroyed her because practicing adulteress' won't go to Heaven (Gal 5:19-21) and in her case she apparently was so bad that out of her, "had come seven demons" (Lk. 8:2 NKJV). Because of Christ's tactfulness at the moment not only was she saved but most likely it worked salvation for some of those involved as accusers in that incident as it is written, "the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7 NKJV). Further, as I have said many times in other threads Jesus never condemned slavery even though it is every bit as destructive as abuse in other forms and maybe even more so.

    Besides, what we are dealing with here is a chain reaction. Most abusers have been abused themselves. The idea then is to break the chain and salvage as much as we can from the mess. But, that apparently does not seem to be what any of you want to do. You shed a tearful eye when it comes to things such as homosexuality and so we should but then you want to crucify those having other sins that also end up in destruction as well. I am not talking here about ignoring gross sin - I am talking about dealing with it head on but with the idea of changing behavior. Authority needs to be held accountable and that includes church officials that tend to ignore a sinful situation. In my opinion Jennifer is right. Our church's way of doing things needs a drastic makeover - a major reformation but we need to be careful here that we don't push the judicial pendulum drastically too far to the other side and open up abuse in an opposite direction. The one thing we need is to let it be known that the church will not tolerate unrepentant sin, no matter what it is, and that we do believe in church discipline that includes bringing in civil authorities when needed (Rom 13:3-4; 1 Pet 2:13-14).

  7. It has been a journey for me to admit that sexual abuse in the church context should be reported immediately, but I'm there now. As Maurice said, it's a law in many places. Beyond that, the church should follow Matthew 18.

    In most cases I believe it to be advisable for the offender to attend a different church. But some churches want to prevent an offender from attending anywhere. This, I believe, goes too far.

    Sexual offenders can be treated with good outcomes. An important part of treatment is accountability. Church presents a great opportunity for that accountability to take place. If a registered offender comes to a church, I believe a person should be assigned to stay close to them and also have weekly meetings and prayer with that individual. This requires some time and energy investment, but less than what some churches have to deal with in drama because they refused to let a sex offender come at all. And beyond that, giving people a second chance is right in most cases.

    There's an Ellen White statement where she says that if a certain man is to be saved, it will have to be outside the church. That may be applicable in some sexual abuse cases. But I still think we should reach out in love.

    I have a client who used child porn. I believe he was reacting to child abuse he suffered--horrible abuse. He's been arrested and is facing trial. I believe he's a changed person, though. He's in recovery, out of the lifestyle. People do change!

    We tend either accept sex offenders--and their apologies--blindly, or reject them completely. I think the way of Jesus is that middle road of accountability plus acceptance of the person. Overall the church has done little to nothing about sex offenders, especially when it's a pastor. We need reform in this area.

  8. Andrew Legall you're right about how traditionalist communities tend to be authoritarian and rife with abuse of authority. Power corrupts. I would hasten to add that truly standards-conscious Adventists should adhere to the standard of love, which leads to protection of the weak.

    • Thank you and I agree.
      I think though, that our relationship to power depends on our view of God.

      If we view God as some kind of benevolent Caesar (arbitrary, overpowering, do-what-I-please) and present Him that way; we will become what we worship.

      We tend to look at the worlds's strongest leaders as examples of power and superimpose that idea upon God. In other words, God is "like us but bigger". But this is not so. God does not rule by brute force or coercion. Not now and not ever.

      Lastly, I also think we fail to understand that abuse is not about sex but about power. Because we look in the wrong place, we never see it coming and we do not know how to deal with it afterwards. This leads to all kinds of hurt like victim-blaming and treating systemic abuse as a "moral fall" or "slip-up". This is a serious misunderstanding (and a huge pitfall, since as a church we are otherwise concerned about chastity/purity--and rightly so) that does not deserve one paragraph--but that will have to suffice.

  9. Penny thanks for your honest sharing. I'm so sad that you're been revictimized. I regret to say we hear of these things. I don't believe it is bad PR for the church to out perpetrators. No one would hold against us that there are bad apple clergy. But if we fail to deal faithfully with them? This would bring reproach. It isn't those who are sounding the alarm that are bad PR for the church, but those who are causing the alarm to need sounding.

    Anyway, back to you. While what you experienced is all too common, it is really just a few pastors who engage in these crimes. Beware of our tendency to generalize one experience to every possible experience. I'm praying that in small, careful steps you start to trust again by the grace of God. He hates what happened to you and He is your defender and shield.

  10. In Australia it is law that any sex crimes involving children are reported to the police,and rightly so!! if it involves consenting adults than the church needs to deal with the problem as no crime has been committed in regards to civil law,if it involves any type of rape it has to be reported to the police immediately.

    we need to protect our children and our ladies (and everyone else)in the church against any form of abuse especially sexual abuse.

    The church needs to be a place where we all feel safe.

    We welcome sinners that are looking for repentance but not sinners that are coming to church to prey on our congregation!!!

  11. Thomas, thanks for those straight words. The most difficult cases are those like Mary Magdalene, who was most likely a "consenting" adult but because of the power imbalance was overpowered psychologically. I see these things on a spectrum--on one end rape or child abuse and on the other using a position of power as a means of seducing adults. The victim has some responsibility on the latter side of the spectrum, but it's still abuse because it's abuse of power.

  12. Thanks Jennifer, I agree with you totally, our churches should be a place of refuge for all, and no type of abuse should be tolerated.

    thanks for your ministry.

  13. Silvia, thanks for your clarion call to justice. Just a quick note- I believe pedophilia is simply a deviant desire or preference for sex with children. When someone acts out sexually against a child, that's sex offense, not necessarily pedophilia. Not all pedophiles are sex offenders and not all sex offenders are pedophiles, even if the sex offender molests a child. Just a tech thing, I know what you mean. And I agree with you.

  14. Iam grateful for this discussion blog on clergy sexual abuse. It is timely, and I sincerely believe necessary in preparation for Christ's coming. The church must deal with these issues that so that victimization cease. It isn't a quick fix, moving a individual to another conference or another position, isn't the answer. All the dynamics must be taken into consideration that includes the perpertrator's history, the victim's mental state, available resources such as counseling, legal obligations (laws governing abuse) etc. When these facts are collected a restoration process should be implemented from start to finish to ensure holistic as well as spiritual healing.

  15. In Australia there is a current inquiry into institutional child abuse that is very wide ranging and includes orphanages, schools and other institutions both government and church run. Some of the stories are horrific. What is clear is that for many of the abused, the rehabilitation process is often inadequate. The justice system typically ends up jailing the perpetrators and providing some form of financial compensation to the victims. That is about all that a justice system can do.

    There is however a very real cost that no justice system can ever repair, and that is the on-going effect in the lives of the victims. In my experience I have seen some people recover well and put the abuse episodes behind them, but I have also seen too many cases where the past comes back to haunt individuals again and again. These people need more that the recitation of a few Christian platitudes. We need to make church a safe place for these people. And that means a whole lot more than just saying "Hello" on Sabbath morning.

  16. Barbara, thanks for your words and yes, we need a much more effective system. I think the reason we don't is because the brethren think it would be too costly in time and money. But they will eventually find that failing to run a tight ship will cost them more.

  17. Maurice, Unfortunately we've waited until the law mandates certain reparations and actions before we've begun to implement them. Oh, that we would act out of love for the least of these.


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