Ex-wife of convicted pedophile writes open letter to Editors of Christianity Today after they published and then removed an article written by a former youth pastor and convicted pedophile.
Sometimes when people go through a horrific experience, they become an expert in their “field” from what they learn and are able to benefit so many others because of what they have gone through. Brenda is one of those survivor-advocate people. She and I connected on the blog after she found this article: Being Married to a Pedophile: A Wife Speaks Out and Offers Hope to Other Wives of Pedophiles. Since then, Brenda has been using her devastating experience to help others who are walking a similar path.
Last month, Christianity Today (CT) ran an article, From Youth Minister to Felon, in their publication, The Leadership Journal. It was written by a convicted pedophile and former youth pastor. After a huge negative public response, the editors at CT eventually pulled the article and left an apology. But for Brenda, it was not enough. As the ex-wife of a pedophile, she felt inspired to write an open letter to the editors of Christianity Today to encourage them to address this issue more proactively and more deeply.
A few people who understand systems of abuse have looked over Brenda’s letter before it was sent out to CT and published here. We all think what Brenda has written is very important and helpful to the Christian community, because we’ve not done a very good job of handling sex abuse cases – and we can learn much from victims. If CT follows her strong suggestions, they could set the standard for the church’s response to sexual abuse within our midst.
Below you will find Brenda’s open letter she sent to Christianity Today and allowed me to publish. Thank you, Brenda, for going beyond the grief and pain in your family’s personal circumstance to help so many others by writing this excellent piece. ~Julie Anne
photo credit: j0sh (www.pixael.com) via photopin cc
Predators in Our Midst
An Open Letter to the Editors of Christianity Today
Recently you published an article in both Christianity Today and The Leadership Journal from a convicted felon who was formerly a youth pastor. After an avalanche of protest, you correctly removed the article and issued apologies. Thank you for responding to the deep pain and concern of many who are deeply impacted by the predators in our midst.
However, as the ex-wife of a convicted pedophile – Dr. Donald Ratcliff, former Wheaton College professor specializing in Children’s Spirituality – I urge you to go further and take the next step: suggest new standards for churches and ministries by doing a series called “Predators in our Midst.” Certainly you must be aware of this growing problem, particularly after the high-profile cases in your own backyard during the past few years, including that of my ex-husband. I believe you have an opportunity, if not a duty, to more thoroughly inform your readers about the challenges of living with predators in our faith communities. Therefore, I strongly encourage you to devote an entire issue of both publications to this pressing problem.
I would urge you to address at least these 10 topic questions. As a set, they cover key human, church, and legal elements and create a core introductory resource library for developing healthy systems in addressing childhood sexual abuse (CSA).
1. What is a complete and honest psychological profile of those sexually attracted to minors?
The caricature of the “dirty old man” no longer applies, if it ever did. These individuals are incredibly difficult to detect because they are so good at hiding their criminal behavior, manipulating and deceiving others and abusing in plain sight. The letter you published and then retracted had several glaring characteristics that I have learned are quite common among predators. People sitting in the pew need to understand the devious, manipulative and deceptive tactics that predators use to both target and groom their victim. This is probably the most important piece of a good safety plan and is woefully missing in our communities of faith.
2. What are the distinctive challenges facing victims of sexual abuse by a trusted member of the faith community?
These victims in particular tend to struggle with a host of problems including issues of faith, trust, and intimacy for decades, if not for the rest of their lives. It is not simply a matter of forgiving and forgetting, as many are urged to do! The church needs to unequivocally support the victim and assist them in accessing services that they need to heal, including services inside and outside of the faith community. Under no circumstances should the church act as the “investigator” and take on the role of law enforcement but rather should do what they are called to do which is to serve as the hands and feet of a God whose heart bleeds at the pain of the abuse victim.
3. What are core emotional and relational requirements for spiritual healing for victims of abuse?
Sexual abuse within the context of a faith community has the potential of destroying the victim’s faith. One author called childhood sexual abuse a soul killer (Michael Reagan, Twice Adopted). The church has a unique opportunity, indeed responsibility, to seek to tenderly and sensitively model compassion, understanding, empathy, and comfort for the deep spiritual wounds CSA creates, both within the victim and his/her family. This support is not to replace ministering to the very real tangible needs the victim and family face, but rather to enhance that ministry by sensitivity to the challenges to faith that CSA creates. Spiritual healing for victims must not include insistence on forgiving the perpetrator. Eventually, victims may come to the place of being able to forgive, but it is incredibly detrimental to their recovery to insist on this too early in the process.
4. Do not forget educating and ministering to the partner of the predator!
Include at least one article on warning signs that you may be married to a pedophile. The signs are there but they are very subtle and the perpetrator easily and convincingly explains them away. Partners of pedophiles are really our first line of defense against child sexual abuse, but they need to know that what they are sensing, if anything, is real and it is dangerous. Pedophiles are experts at minimizing, covering up, blaming, explaining away, and telling you that you do not understand the situation correctly. It is not innocent or harmless, though the pedophile may insist it is. We need to educate partners to reconnect with their gut so they can recognize the subtle signs that something may be off in their relationship.
5. How should the church respond to all of the people caught up in an allegation or incident of CSA?
First, there is an absolute moral and, in the majority of states, a legal responsibility to report known or suspected abuse, period. Civil authorities – police and child protective services – are trained to intervene and investigate. Clergy and/or congregation members should not delay or fail in reporting, or seek to investigate on their own, lest they potentially destroy evidence, tamper with witnesses, or otherwise impede the important legal processes for perpetrator and victim. Second, there is also the need for a timely and strong ministry response. This includes compassionate and unconditional support for the victim and his/her family, as well as the secondary victims—the predator’s spouse and family. Most pedophiles are married and have children, some molest their own children, and others don’t. These spouses and children are also devastated when disclosure occurs and are often labeled as collaborators and thrown to the curb with the predator. The children are seen as future perpetrators, even if they were never molested. The faith community also needs to tend to the betrayal wounds suffered by the members of the congregation when a trusted leader is arrested due to crimes committed against children. How can this be done without inflicting yet more pain on the victims, their families and the congregation?
6. How should the church respond to a partner who is in denial?
Recognize the partner of a perpetrator may, in rare cases, deny the abuse claims and insist that her spouse is innocent. Faith communities need to know how to deal with this tricky situation, should it occur. Support for the victim needs to be the first, second, and last concern of the church even if it means a partner in denial is gently asked to remove herself from the community so healing can occur for the victim as well as the congregation. At the same time, it will be crucial to the partner’s well-being to keep connected rather than to separate and shun.
7. How should the church respond to the families of perpetrator and victims?
Often the faith community extends grace and mercy to the perpetrator and forgets the perpetrator’s family as well as his victim. We become so enamored with “ministering to the fallen” that we fail to adequately care for the spouse and children of the fallen or of his victims. Both families are traumatized, and often financially devastated (i.e. loss of family income for the perpetrator’s family and cost of intensive therapy for the victim). They need the faith community to tenderly and carefully meet their spiritual, emotional and financial needs. Overnight the members of the perpetrator’s family have become widows and orphans when the life they thought they had ended. Both families are fragile and need the faith community more than they ever have.
8. What safeguards must a church have in place to protect the children in their congregations?
These safeguards must be far more than mandatory background checks. Most predators are not caught because they are that good at manipulation and deception, so background checks alone are not sufficient. There are excellent resources out there with vital information that needs to be disseminated. For specifics, see the work that Boz Tchividjian and GRACE consistently do in this area.
9. What should the leadership in a faith community do to encourage healing of the congregation after an event?
What does healing look like? How can we avoid extending naive forgiveness and trust to the predator? You have correctly recognized, after the fact, that the author of your article does not exhibit true repentance or remorse for his criminal behavior. This is common with pedophiles; church leaders need to be informed so they don’t put the welcome mat out to an offender without protections in place.
10. What should the response of a faith community be when a registered sex offender wants to attend their church?
Far too often, I fear, the response is an open-armed welcome without appropriately strong and consistently enforced boundaries and restrictions. Discipleship offered needs to involve highly-knowledgeable and skilled ministers – not just someone who sincerely wants to help. Pedophiles are liars and manipulators; they simply cannot be trusted with children, period. Again, Boz Tchividjian wrote an excellent article on a church that hired a known sex offender as pastor and then was surprised when he molested one of their children.
As a woman deeply impacted by marriage to a now-convicted pedophile in a high-profile case, I urge you to grab the awareness and momentum that have arisen from your retracted article – do something substantial to address this growing problem within our faith communities. Don’t stop at just an apology, you owe your readers more. Become the banner carrier and set a higher standard!
52 thoughts on “Open Letter to Editors of Christianity Today from Ex-Wife of Pedophile: “Predators in Our Midst””
It really is, Sheila. I hope this spreads far and wide into our Christian communities. It is much needed. We must protect our children.
Oh my gosh, this makes me cry that someone is “Getting it”. Does Brenda have a blog, website or a BOOK to hand out? Her insight is SO needed!
I’m glad CT got pressured into retracting such an appalling article. I hope they have learned something from this.
Thanks for your comment. Yes, she does indeed get it. Maybe she’ll stop by and respond.
For the record, on the private SSB forum, we have a group of wives/ex-wives of pedophiles and helpful support there. Can you imagine how alone these wives must be when they discover their husbands are pedophiles? It’s not like they can pick up the phone in their community and ask where a wives-of-pedophiles support group is.
This is a shocking thing for families where wives/moms are sometimes forced to go back to work, may be completely abandoned by friends, family, and even their own church. It’s horrific.
This is well written. She should consider joining forces with Clara Hinton. Clara’s website “Finding a Healing Place” is her story. She was married for 40 years to a pedophile who used his on the road job and position in the church to sexually abuse children without her knowledge. She also speaks out regarding the red flags of abuse in the church wherever she can. Some churches have disinvited her to speak once they found out that she divorced her abuser husband. How sad!!
What a brave and amazing post! I can not imagine all the pain and suffering a woman experiences when she discovers that her spouse has deceived the family and has victimized children. It is such a heinous crime that many people shun the wife and children of the pedophile, believing “I would never marry a man who molests children. Of course she should have known.” I hate to break it to them, but most predators don’t have signs on their heads that say, “I molest children”. I use to do psychological testing and the sociopaths and predators I encountered generally had the highest I.Q.s and were very clever. Anyone can be tricked. One pedophile was married to a Social Worker and they were preparing for their first child. Listening to him sweet talk her on the phone made me sick. BTW, with all the horrible family scenarios they see, you would think a S.W.’s radar would detect this man’s sociopathy. But she didn’t and she married him.
Brenda, you are very brave for speaking out instead of hiding. Thank you for allowing us to see that the families of perpetrators often suffer in silence. Generally people want to find a big flaw in the offender’s family to reassure themselves that they(or their sisters, daughters or cousins) could never become a “mask” which a sociopath would hide behind. They are only fooling themselves as they distance themselves from the family. I hope your post reaches a wide Christian audience to help them empathize not only with victims and their families, but also to recognize the legitimate pain suffered by a perpetrator’s family.
As someone who works in the child abuse prevention field, I can tell you this is an amazingly well-done letter and 10 steps that are critical. I would add one more…strongly encourage if not require two things of all church staff and volunteers: sign a strict code of conduct outlining how contact with children can/should/will happen AND participate in a prevention program like Stewards of Children from the organization called Darkness to Light. These two steps are practical ways to put the responsibility of protecting children where it belongs…on adults.
Great letter, thank you for your boldness in writing and allowing it to be shared.
Reblogged this on Speakingtruthinlove's Blog.
Brenda, thank you for sharing your experience and insight. And Julie Anne, thanks for reviewing it and posting it here. I hope some church leaders RACE to be the first to do this.
Great letter, Brenda and thanks to JA and all who helped bring it to publication.
Now we await Christianity Today’s response!
#4 is especially important. People wonder why we ex-wives stayed and how we could be unaware. (Yes, I was one too.)
In my case, historically I knew my husband had an “attraction to children” but he was being treated by one of the top therapists in the U.S., and was attending Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) every week. So how could he be molesting children?
I knew that treatment involved being transparent and keeping the wife in the loop, but his counselor never did. I knew that something was wrong, but I trusted this Christian Ph.D.-level psychologist for more than 5 years. What a mistake. He never told me the truth about the prognosis (which I learned much later): “Nothing in the literature indicates that pedophilia ever goes away.” It turns out that this therapist had sexual boundary problems himself, and ended up being sued by some of his other patients. He lost his license and fled to another state.
It wasn’t until a long time after the divorce that I found out that my ex-husband was forced to go to another treatment program (this time a court-appointed program) and after several years they deemed him “bright and manipulative,” a person who needed a “strong therapist” because he did psycho-babble so well. He was excellent at confounding trained counselors. My husband had his masters in marriage and family therapy from a Christian university. He was a pro at acting contrite and transparent, but actually had no remorse and continued to cruise schools and parks. He was eventually classed as a “treatment failure,” and dropped out.
If therapists with extensive training cannot always detect true remorse and change, even after weekly meetings over many years, how can wives know for sure?
I’m so glad I divorced him when I did. I got out when my kids were young and they turned out to be fine adults.
My advice? If a man says he’s attracted to children — no matter how he tries to explain it away or says it’s no longer a problem, get out. Run, run, run. If a therapist says he’s okay, don’t believe him. Run, run, run.
This problem will never go away. It will go underground. It will be hidden deeper than you can imagine. And you will live for years thinking everything is okay, when in reality you’ve got a obsessed predator in your home, hiding in plain sight.
I need to add something—
My life and my children’s lives turned our just fine after divorcing the pedophile. Today, we are happy and financially stable. My children are well-adjusted; they went to college and are solid citizens who love the Lord.
Being married to a pedophile was the biggest mistake of my life, but you can move on and have a happy life, a new and healthy marriage, and your kids can heal and move forward in life.
Thanks for an excellent letter Brenda and thanks Julie Anne for giving Brenda a forum. I hope this letter gets wide distribution.
I tell you what. It is so very encouraging to to read Anon3’s story. Since Anon3’s original comment which was made into an article a while back, many wives of pedophiles have found hope in the midst of probably the darkest days of their lives. We need to provide hope to these precious ladies. Thanks, Anon3 and Brenda for all you do! This is compassion in action.
Thank you for this. A lot of these same truths can also apply to families of ministry men (ie. pastors) who have been cheated on and abandoned by these men. The pressure to “forgive and forget,” the Christian community’s unwillingness to really give practical help to the devastated wife and children–it’s all too real. I know this now from personal experience. There was so much insult added to injury. I lost my home, my church, most family and friends, my business, my peace of mind, my income, my trust in pastors… among other things. The only things I didn’t completely lose were my 3 boys and my faith in a God who has carried me through this nightmare. I appreciate the testimony of Anon3–I am especially encouraged to know her kids turned out okay. I am remarried now to a godly man who is loving and leading us. There is hope for healing, but it is going to be a long time.
I’m so glad to know you found life after divorcing a pedophile. What a blessing to have a wonderful godly husband now.
I don’t have any magic formula, but for me, I think it’s best to give God time to heal the children. Mine needed about 12 years — even though they were never victims themselves.
Anon 3, Thank you for including the information about therapists. Even with a graduate degree, therapists can be duped. Sometimes people put therapists, doctors and pastors onto a superhuman pedestal that no human can possibly achieve. Sociopaths and addicts are experts at manipulation and know the tricks to feed a poorly trained or relatively new therapist’s ego. I am glad you are informing others that even “experts” can be tricked! I think the true experts are the wives who have lived through this pain and have learned to recognize manipulative behavior. Thank you for your insight.
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You’re welcome. I’d like to add one other insight. It is true that Ph.D.-level psychologists get duped by sociopaths and pedophiles. They get into the profession because they think they can help, and believe that people can be helped. And hey, the money is good when you can attract clients with PPO insurance.
But therapists, pastors, and counselors are negligent when they see a couple in premarital counseling and discover the man has child sexual attraction and do nothing to warn her that it never goes away.
I hold my late psychologist responsible. He should have known better. He apologized to me a year after the wedding. A little too late.
And what about incest? This puts a family in both situations – victim and predator family, a very confusing and difficult situation. Incest in the pastor’s family can also mean the victim’s abuser was the first, and perhaps the only, spiritual leader the victim ever had. If the spouse/mother is in denial, the victim experiences a full betrayal. No mother, no father and no God to trust or turn to.
Welcome to the blog. Incest by a pastor has got to be one of the most hideous kinds of abuses because there are multiple abuses: sexual abuse and spiritual abuse.
And you are absolutely right – the betrayal of trust by parents and spiritual confusion is horrific. I can’t fathom that kind of pain and emotional/spiritual abandonment.
Incest is so destructive, and doubly so in a Christian leader’s home. That level of betrayal is far more prevalent than we know. Often the spouses are in denial or cannot imagine that God is able to provide for them and their children if they leave.
It is vital that they leap out in faith and call the authorities. God is not pleased with the torture and rape of children. And God can rebuild their life and make it better than ever (Psalm 71:20-21).
Spouses of pedophiles need to pray for courage to call the authorities and stand up for their children.
• Believe and rescue the children. Get them help.
• Stop the perpetrator by reporting them to the authorities.
• Seek justice in the legal system.
Sweeping it under the carpet is exactly what the pedophile wants. But exposing it to the Truth will redeem the situation.
We are dealing with a high profile (within the Adventist Church) academic and young adult leader who is being outed as a sexual predator. Can we reblog this letter? Would anyone like to contribute to our website on the topic of Clergy Abuse?
Dr Pipim Truth,
I’m sorry to hear that your church is also dealing with a pedophile. Yes, absolutely, feel free to post this letter, including the links. That is our utmost desire, that the info in Brenda’s letter can be beneficial to others going through similar circumstances.
It is encouraging to know that this article has spread around. Thanks for your comment.
I am gratified to see all of the positive responses and to feel that we are making a difference. As partners or former partners, we live the shame daily and we learn quickly that we have to hide in order to stay safe. We are vilified, ridiculed and despised. But hiding, while it may feel safer, takes a toll as well. It may be protective for a while but eventually it becomes a heavy burden and weighs down our progress and recovery.
This is an epidemic and hiding only allows it to grow. I am committed to doing what I can to bring what is hidden to light and to do all that I can to make this world a safer place for our children and to encourage and support women who are in toxic and difficult marriages. And that means that I must come out of hiding, as fearful and yes, dangerous as that may be.
I have been writing under a pseudonym for the past two years so that I could share my story but stay safe while trying to put my life back together. But on this day of independence, I feel it is time to stop hiding and to live my truth unashamedly. So yes, peggyfromoregon, I do have a blog. My pen name is Brenda Elysium and my blog is at A Solitary Journey.
[JA added link. BTW, Brenda’s blog has been in the blogroll for quite some time. Please do check it out.]
Rock on, on the Rock, Brenda!
Thanks, Brad but you are the real rock star!
Happy Independence Day to you, Brenda! Your comment is very powerful and timely. I look forward to seeing how God works in your life as you help others to gain freedom.
Brenda, Happy Independence Day in more ways than one!!! As you speak out, many women who have been in your shoes will feel less isolated, stigmatized and alone. You are one brave woman!
I guess it’s time to hear from a victim of incest. You’re right Elaj…it’s hell at every level, because every level is involved in some kind of betrayal. No one want to hear incest stories, because there’s always a power shake-up, and the victims are so often blamed by the church and family around us. YOU CAN’T IMAGINE what it’s like to have a parent in ministry be your abuser, a missionary and prominent church leader…then to have your other parent collude by remaining silent…even after they were told.
Attending a prominent church in Wheaton, the elders dealing with my case were initially receptive to my situation, but then turned hostile toward me when another family member meddled behind my back. I was attending the same church as my abuser. I had survived almost 30 years by dissociating. The truth is, no one understood abuse trauma, and such things were NEVER mentioned from the pulpit. I had three children under 13 at the time, and began to have serious reservations. I also needed space to work on my own healing. The elders started talking to me in bullying ways, frustrated that I would’t forgive and reconcile as they thought I should, including sitting with my abuser. I was told that a year should be enough time and that I should “move on to victory.”
Soon after, I was disciplined by the Elder Board, and received notice through an email. They never really understood what they were doing. With my wife at my side, I left that church and helped start a Support Group for survivors an another church.
Among the glaring errors they committed were: (1) not letting the needs of the victim set the agenda, (2) putting their time-table on the situation, (3) confusing forgiveness with reconciliation, (4) talking in condescending, rather than informed pastoral ways, (5) having no wounded leaders (male or female) assigned to me who could create a connection to my paiin, (6) assuming their “corporate culture” ways of power-plays and ruling translate to the sexually traumatized in the church, (7) confusing obedience (to their rules) with healing, (8) not understanding that TRUST needs to be rebuilt and may never recover, (9) naively asserting “biblical” truth over against trauma-informed psychological categories (very common in hyper-conservative circles), (10) keeping the pedophile in the church rather than taking the church to the pedophile, (11) providing no church Support Group, pulpit teaching or healing services that name, validate, and reintegrate the molested, incested, and raped individuals back into the community of faith.
Addressing incest is always messy, and my experience almost destroyed my own family and faith. Most victims–already traumatized by power used in sexuality–have left their faith community, family…and God. They have their reasons. As a theology professor, I contacted over 20 other professionals (theology, psychology, pastoral care) who “get it,” and edited a book on sexual abuse: The Long Journey Home: Understanding and Ministering to the Sexually Abused (Wipf & Stock).
[mod ed: added Amazon link – great reviews, btw – ja]
I found a pastor who wept with me and kept saying, “Not on my watch! Not on my watch.” He got pain and was not afraid of tears. Victims of incest are betrayed at every significant level of their lives…during the DEVELOPMENTAL years. But no one wants to hear this. Families and churches would just prefer us to return to our silence. I can’t. I talk with too many abused young men and women where I work. While I never asked for this, this victim became an advocate. Who wants to hear?
I knew Don Ratcliff. He wrote me a letter. I have yet to respond.
Oh Andrew–thank you for chiming in. I have wondered often how you were doing. I am so sorry for yet another betrayal and for all the pain and sorrow you have experienced. Say hi to your lovely wife for me.
Thank you so much, Andrew, for sharing your story. The listing of errors your church committed was a difficult read, but very important if churches want to actually care for someone who was sexually abused. It’s hard to imagine being a survivor let alone think about the ways church leaders re-victimize an abuse survivor. Ugh!
Thank you for what you do in helping survivors. If you’d be willing to share your story, I’d love to post it. Reading personal stories was what gave me strength to deal with abuse and I’m sure others would be greatly encouraged.
Andrew, My biggest issue with church folk is the idea of reconciliation. Why the hell would a victim want to reconnect with a person who has crushed their soul? I understand that some level of forgiveness may assist someone in healing, but reconciliation requires that the survivor has to give up any boundaries or defenses that keeps him/her safe. I suspect the victim would be forced to feel re-victimized, re-traumatized, unsafe, and hyper alert when around his/her abuser. This serves no purpose except to make church leaders’ jobs easier. They can avoid the hard work that comes with assisting someone who has experienced long standing trauma. They can pat themselves on the back for their part in this so-called travesty dressed up as “We are a Biblical Church where every problem can neatly disappear by easy grace and no consequences”. This also helps them avoid those pesky little lawsuits.
Andrew, please keep this conversation going, especially for those in high control churches. And I say F*** you to anyone who responds with, “Don’t let Satan steal your joy by being bitter”. Maybe the men/women who pervert sex and victimize others to feel powerful have a little (sarcasm) to do with stealing someone’s joy. Thank you for your openness.
Thank you for telling your story. My heart is broken for the betrayal you experienced from those who should have cared for you in childhood, and for the lack of kindness and understanding from your church.
It’s encouraging to see you and Brenda talking about this publicly. I hope others do the same. A couple years ago Josh McDowell talked about being a child sexual abuse victim, and others have as well.
The more we talk, the more the walls break down. And victims can get help.
Even for someone like me who is maintaining my anonymity for my children’s sake, I am emboldened to speak out and do more as a result of your powerful testimonies.
Andrew, I found your article “A Theology of Sexual Abuse: a Reflection on Creation and Devastation.” It is available online and I read it today. It is at once brilliant, insightful, caring, and scholarly and I think we should be sharing it with our pastors. I would think it would be a good way to educate them. Thank you!
I agree, Marsha. I see more work in church attempting to integrate the perpetrator with the survivor and back into the church family, but I rarely hear much talk about the implications of faith and how God is perceived (or even rejected) after having been abused – and especially if the abuse was by clergy or someone in ministry. Andrew’s work is very good.
Andrew, I’m so thankful you added to the discussion here.
Ann, thanks for your outrage. It’s comforting to hear at 47 what I really needed to know at 14. Your disgust and questions point up how confused church leaders often are when working with victims, and how re-victimizing their actions can be to the already traumatized. I can point to a few ‘reasons’ why the reconciliation mantra is used.
It’s common for many abused and especially raped individuals to damn the person–or even ‘forgive’ just to get the monkey off their back. Far and away, this is the standard story. No one EVER tells these victims that they must reconcile with their sexual molester! This broad response is reinforced in the secular culture where “let the bastard have it” is the default narrative. There is a serious complexity here: for incest survivors or those abused by close family members, the victim actually lives between love and hate–that person is still family, making Christmas, Fathers/Mother’s Day…and even the 4th of July hellish times. While there is still a measure of love, healing means boundaries must be introduced where they obviously never functioned before.
*BTW, you make an excellent point about boundaries!
As a general rule, the church culture is trying to cultivate healing and shirk the suit and protest drama. Regardless, church leaders really become psychologically agnostic when it comes to trauma theory, toxic social SYSTEMS, and complex psychological problems that don’t fit their “Bible only” narrative. Pastors are NOT taught how to address the complex psycho-dynamic issues swirling abound sexual abuse, with its flashbacks, acting out, and cutting. Generally speaking, it’s a conflict of authority for them between Scripture and psychology. They don’t understand how to integrate Revealed Truth with Observed Truth. So because Scripture talks about “being reconciled to one another,” “forgiving one another,” “confessing sins to one another,” trauma like CSA is forced to confirm to simplistic biblical notions (e.g., not being angry…are you serious!?). The incest victim is basically forced to prove their forgiveness (the unseen part) through reconciliation (the see part).
You raise the power differential issue, and this is also played against the victim. The perp is used to a far higher profile anyway, and the victim looks like a real jerk for “not showing real forgiveness.” Can you imagine how those grandparents are suffering…the question goes. And the down-talking leaders have already forgotten who the victim is, because much church culture is about VICTORY. “Aren’t you desiring victory in Christ?”
In my opinion, it is a combination of: a very shallow anthropology, a grasp of healing as a PROCESS, a perfectionistic mentality among many religious leaders, a culture of image management, a lack of understanding about how evil lives on in family SYSTEMS, and a simplistic notion of confessing sin to move on. Face it, some leaders are actually triggered by wounds they’ve not addressed or wounding they’ve done to others.
So reconciliation is their proof that forgiveness really occurred. When the victim starts applying boundaries for the first time(!), they are branded as disobedient, and functionally excommunicated. One can see all kinds of reasons why abuse survivors don’t hang around this kind of church for long. Fortunately, some faith communities do get it…but far too few!
I hope this helps. You certainly kept the conversation going.
I almost envy you, “Anon3,” but I finally had to speak. I never write anything I’m not willing to back up. And as some of you are noticing, there are several articles of mine on line if people really want to delve into this. But pain doesn’t market well, so we will often see poster for “peanut allergies” but none for 1in4 women and 1in6 men. That’s too ugly. Silence always hurts the victim more than the victimizer.
Over time, my anger was replaced by pity, for my abuser. When I realized how often victims in turn, acted out on the next generation, I spoke for my children’s generation. I gave up my anonymity and they lost their naivety. I really wanted to break the cycle, even it It was too late for me.
I have a son heading off to college, and no one understands the depth of my joy. It broke.
I just found an article it touches on the topic of reconciliation with the abuser which we’ve been discussing here. This article has to do with Bill Gothard – the man who taught at least 2 generations with his “how-to” manuals on Christian character. Some of his works I would say are either abusive (can lead to abuse) and/or are extra-biblical.
It’s very revealing to watch his behavior after he stepped down from IBLP. Many, many people are still connected with this group and defend/support him.
Andrew, God bless you, and thank you for your brave and insightful testimony! I am trying to start a survivors’ group at my Episcopal church. (I am a survivor of other kinds of child abuse, co-leading the group with an incest survivor.) I’m glad to have discovered your article “A Theology of Sexual Abuse” via this comments thread. In theory, our liberal churches are open to integrating extra-Biblical sources of knowledge such as psychology, but in practice, there is still a ton of avoidance of the topic, and naivete about how trauma operates.
Congratulations on breaking the cycle, Andrew! Thank you for going public and speaking out. It encourages me and many others. I’m sure your children have benefited spiritually and emotionally.
Andrew, I am so thrilled to hear about your son! I know your buttons are bursting off your shirt. :-). I think the best healing (some may call it revenge) is to be a better parent than yours were. No disrespect to your family, but you can look at some of your son’s choices and know your woundedness did not have to be passed on to your kids. Richard Rohr (a Franciscan) says, “those who can not transform their suffering will transfer it.” I am sure their are many victims who were unable (or unwilling) to wrestle with the demons that came from being abused and hid behind a strongly constructed false front. As a result, their children often unconsciously absorb the hidden pain that their parent carries around. So congratulations on your son and happy Fourth! Thank you for your well thought out responses and thank you JA for providing this forum ( and raising children and going to school and fighting the power :-)). I am tired just thinking of all you do!
Andrew, I am so glad that you are using your voice. I resonate with your fight for your children’s generation. It occurred to me today that by my silence, I allow my granddaughter’s legacy to be all about the pain that her grandfather inflicted. But by using my voice, breaking silence and working to make change and to raise awareness, I can switch the emphasis on what her grandfather did to inflict pain to what her Nana is doing to make things better for all the children, including her. Silence only benefits the victimizer, as someone mentioned in this thread.
Also, I totally agree with the Rohr’s idea that we either allow pain to transform us or we transmit it. I want to be transformed.
Brenda, I have just shared this on my Facebook page for my website and will be adding links to the articles I have on the site about Jordan Young, convicted pedophile out of Faith Tabernacle Apostolic Church in Junction City, Kansas. May many read it and be helped. Thank you for speaking out and reaching out to others.
I have a question for those who know more about all this than me: what, if any, should “gut instinct” play in abuse prevention? Here’s my situation and why I’m asking, the pastor of my husband’s church (I myself am an ex-christian) retired, and a new lay pastor was sent two weeks ago. We met him at a vbs meeting last week, and from the moment he shook my hand, my spidey-senses were tingling and I really got the heeby-jeebies about him. And this is the first time in my entire life that I’ve had this ill feeling from meeting someone. It’s this “I don’t want to be around him nor do I want my children around him” feeling. I shared with my husband and a friend about this. Husband thinks I’m reading too much into it, but at least has agreed that there will always be one of us watching the kids anytime we’re there. My friend is telling me to go with my gut instinct. To me, it’s confusing and I am wondering if I’m reading too much. I’ve been following SSB and TWW for about 2 years now, reading on the GRACE website, and I’ve also done some of the boy scout leadership training on abuse prevention, so the topic of abuse and the statistics are definitely there at the front of my mind. Am I merely projecting this onto a stranger because I am more aware, or is there truly something to that instinct?
Trust your gut! If you are wrong, your extra precaution with your children will have hurt no one. If you are right, however, you can prevent your children from being victimized. There is scientific research to support the gut as a reliable source of information so we need to pay attention.
Doesn’t Wheaton offer a PhD program in clinical psychology? Even if your ex’s colleagues in the education department proved to be clueless, isn’t there somebody in the institution that should be able to understand, to get it? Frankly, I am cynical when it comes to the question whether prominent evangelical institutions will ever see their way clear to take on something as messy as ministering to victims of pedophiles and other abusers. It would distract from their pursuit of influence, prestige and, yes, money.
The more prominent the institution, the greater my skepticism. For example, though I have no knowledge of any scandal touching the prominent church located just across the street to the west of Wheaton’ Blanchard Hall, it’s very success would deter me from ever associating with it. They simply have too much to protect for me to have any confidence the would be willing to take unpopular stands, even when it comes to ministering to “the least of these.”
Inasmuch as I have very fond memories of my own time at Wheaton, and Inasmuch as I owe a very deep debt of gratitude to our God for the time He allowed me to spend at the College, this is all extremely disheartening to me.
I am so sorry. I know that I do not need to apologize for the college because I am not responsible for their actions. But I am sorry that as an alum you are disappointed and disheartened. I know this is painful for you.
I can’t speak to the PsyD program at Wheaton, in terms of whether they deal specifically with CSA and the complexities of dealing with victims, etc. I agree that this is a very messy topic and very few really want to take it on. The risks are huge when an individual or institution steps into this arena so many pass by on the other side.
We can hope that CT will take up the charge and lead the way for the evangelical world. We can hope. But if not, then blogs like SSB, GRACE, A Solitary Journey and others will continue to do the work. We may not be as influential as some of the giants but together we can be effective. We can make a grass-roots difference.
No, of course you do not need to apologize for the College’s acts and omissions, though I do appreciate your expression of sympathy. FWIW, I can see that I had been holding the College up as something of an idol. While I had come to see that church organizations are not worthy of the allegiance they tend to demand, I was still looking back at my Wheaton College experience as evidence that institutions can get it right. I think it had to do with the fact that the College is non-denominational proof that it is possible for Christians to be in fellowship without all the sectarian strive and division I have observed and experienced in each of the handful of churches I have attended since my days at Wheaton. Well, your experience has demonstrated that the College is just one more real life example of the priest or Levite ignoring the man left naked and half dead on the road to Jericho. While I continue to believe the College is doing much good–one can still get a good education there–my idolatrous devotion to the institution has been delivered to and firmly planted at the foot of the Cross. I thank you for the part you have played in getting me to that point.
Oh Gary–why does it take us so long to get to the foot of the cross?
Brenda, any response from CT? I’m not optimistic.
They have asked me to write an article but nothing in terms of devoting lots of space to this issue.
Well, an article is not nothing. We shall see.