Taking a closer look at two recent cases: The Christian Post and Leadership Journal (published by Christianity Today) made bad judgment calls in their articles, but later retracted and made amends because of powerful voices defending victims.
by Julie Anne
Sometimes it seems like we are not getting anywhere when it comes to defending and protecting victims and giving victim’s a voice.
I’m happy to share a couple of encouraging stories so you will be able to see that we are making a difference with our collective voices!
A while back, The Christian Post published an article about the Doug Phillips in which he “accused three of his close friends of trying to tear down his reputation and organization.” However, part of that article mentioned an alleged sex abuse victim by name. At the time, this victim had not been named publicly and she had not gone public with her identity. The sexual part of their relationship began when she was a legal adult, but regardless, in the state in which this alleged crime took place (Texas), it was illegal because of his position of authority. (Texas Penal Code Chapter 5. (22.011)
The Christian Post identified this victim when she had not given them permission to do so. In cases of sexual abuse, the media typically refrains from identifying victims, so it was very troubling to see a Christian publication not following mainstream secular media guidelines.
I immediately contacted the reporter asking her to remove the victim’s identity and she encouraged me to contact the editor. I then wrote to the editor urging The Christian Post to remove the victim’s name. I also mentioned this situation on the Spiritual Sounding Board Facebook page and I know that some of you also contacted The Christian Post to ask them to remove her identify from the article.
Amazingly, several days after the article was published, they did in fact remove her name from the article.
Hooray! Our collective voices were heard!
Not long after this Christian Post article was published, the victim, Lourdes Torres-Manteufel, filed a lawsuit against Doug Phillips and in doing so, she made the choice to publicly reveal her identity. We continue to stand behind and support Lourdes during this lawsuit.
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Another situation happened this week when Leadership Journal (published by Christianity Today) published a piece written by a former youth pastor, now convicted sex offender, currently serving his sentence in prison. When reading the story, it sucked the readers into his perception of the events, how he lost his family, his job, the consensual love relationship he had with a young lady, the temptations they both faced in the relationship as they both knew it was wrong since he was a married man.
The author gave us an illusion that this relationship was consensual, a normal affair beginning with flirtation. He seemed to blame his wife by saying he didn’t feel appreciated at home and saying there were parenting pressures.
In the early stages of this extra-marital relationship, I thought that I was seeking approval from someone other than my wife because I was not receiving it from my wife.
This particular paragraph is very revealing and shows how self-absorbed this man is:
The “friendship” continued to develop. Talking and texting turned flirtatious. Flirting led to a physical relationship. It was all very slow and gradual, but it was constantly escalating. We were both riddled with guilt and tried to end things, but the allure of sin was strong. We had given the devil far more than a foothold and had quenched the Holy Spirit’s prodding so many times, there was little-to-no willpower left.
Take note in the above quote how accuses the victim, “we were both riddled with guilt.” The victim is portrayed here to be an equal participant. She absolutely was not. In the article he refers to sexual crime as an extra-marital relationship. No, you are not imprisoned for extra-marital relationships.
Also, it’s important to note the word “sin.” What a great choice of words for this perpetrator to use because he knows that all Christians sin. So in essence, we’re all in this together with our own sin in how we sometimes give the devil a foothold. This guilty convict is quite the con man in making himself look like just some ordinary sinner.
Isn’t it striking that both this former youth pastor and Doug Phillips respond the same way by calling their alleged crimes an affair to minimize their abuse. (It disturbs me to have to type “alleged,” but I must because Phillips has not yet been convicted.)
What was lacking in his article were words like: rape, crime, illegal, etc, and we were not told until the end of the article that the victim was a student from his youth group whom he was pastoring.
It was wrong for Leadership Journal to publish this and it set off quite an alarm in social media, especially from sex abuse survivors who have now found their voices and are using them in such a powerful way.
A new hashtag at Twitter was created to begin a campaign urging Leadership Journal to: #TakeDownThisPost.
— Amy Smith (@watchkeep) June 13, 2014
— Levi Boldt (@LeviBoldt) June 13, 2014
The Leadership Journal was inundated with comments on their article and sadly, many comments were removed.
Next, we saw the Leadership Journal revising the original article changing some of the wording.
— Richard Louther (@RichardLouther) June 14, 2014
— Laura Means (@unlockdestiny) June 13, 2014
Again, editors at Leadership Journal did not make the right choice. But it showed the world clear evidence that the editors at Leadership Journal were responding to strong pushback.
Finally yesterday, Marshall Shelley – editor of Leadership Journal, and Harold B. Smith – president and CEO of Christianity Today International, removed the article and issued a statement in place of the original article (the entire statement can be found here):
A note from the editors of Leadership Journal:
We should not have published this post, and we deeply regret the decision to do so. The post, told from the perspective of a sex offender, withheld from readers until the very end a crucial piece of information: that the sexual misconduct being described involved a minor under the youth pastor’s care. Among other failings, this post used language that implied consent and mutuality when in fact there can be no question [sic] that in situations of such disproportionate power there is no such thing as consent or mutuality. The post, intended to dissuade future perpetrators, dwelt at length on the losses this criminal sin caused the author, while displaying little or no empathic engagement with the far greater losses caused to the victim of the crime and the wider community around the author. The post adopted a tone that was not appropriate given its failure to document complete repentance and restoration.
This next part was very encouraging to me:
Any advertising revenues derived from hits to this post will be donated to Christian organizations that work with survivors of sexual abuse. We will be working to regain our readers’ trust and to give greater voice to victims of abuse.
There has been much celebrating going on:
— Mildred Ratched (@anne_sades34) June 14, 2014
Proud of the #TakeDownThatPost “family”. We stood up for a rape victim when even the Church wouldn’t. Much love!
— My Cuppa Chai (@mycuppachai) June 14, 2014
The brave, impassioned, and straightforward movement launched as #takedownthatpost has further enlightened me beyond measure. Thank you.
— Jean Kavich Bloom (@BloominWords) June 14, 2014
This was a victory and victims’ voices were heard because of brave people calling this atrocity out and holding this Leadership Journal and Christianity Today accountable. This is much more work to be done, but we are seeing positive results. And for that, I am so thankful.