Thursday, December 5, 2013

Things Not Talked About: Abuse in the Religious Community & Church

This is a topic I never dreamed I would write about. Abuse. Sexual abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse, emotional abuse, they’re all out there. Abuse is rampant in our society. For many years I was a public school teacher, and also a mandatory reporter of anything that looked suspicious. It comes with the job. Did I ever make a report? You bet. More than once. There are times when a mandatory reporter saves a life. In today’s world, there is a greater awareness of what abuse looks like than there used to be. It is an uncomfortable business. We also have children who know how to cry “wolf” if they think it will be to their advantage, especially in custody battles, claiming mistreatment of some kind. They understand how it works. A young lady may accuse someone of rape, when there was no rape. I assume that is more the exception than the rule. Children do show up at school with bruises, burns, and wounds. It is a terrible thing.

However, we haven’t grown used to talking about abuse in the church or in religious families. In recent years, we’ve heard about catholic priests preying on young children. They’ve received the most press. Sadly, that is only the beginning of what is starting to be reported.

This article will highlight some areas in religious circles in which abuse is now being reported. It has opened my eyes and made me weep for the many victims of another person’s rage, sexual assaults, emotional domination, or cruel control. The sufferers of abuse are many. They cannot put off the damage to their person-hood like you take off a coat. Rather, it takes years, often a life-time to put to rest the demons unleashed through abuse. And the lies believed.

I have decided to refrain from documenting the names of people and publications, or web addresses. However, everything I will share comes from a publication or first-hand account. These stories can be substantiated. I prefer to stay clear of this side of things. However, I am willing to dialogue in a private email at

I was browsing the web to find a Baptist mission’s address when I came upon an article about a man, a missionary doctor, who had sexually abused different missionaries’ children and summer interns. I recognized his name. Early in his missionary career, this doctor had been reprimanded for an adulterous affair with an intern, but received counsel and then continued on with serving on the field. The first young woman to formally accuse him of sexual molestation, a fourteen year old, was forced to recant by the mission board, to sign a confession that she had made it up. However, it was true. Years later, other women came forward reporting the same thing had happened to them. Several molestations were reported. By this time, this missionary doctor was in the United States practicing medicine and was a leader at one of the Baptist colleges. One of the articles was written by a man, this doctor had been his children's general practitioner. He was sickened when the allegations were made public. I remembered the doctor from when I went to college. His work on the mission field was highly respected. He and his work was often referred to as a fine example of a prime servant in the service of God. I remembered seeing a movie about his work on the mission field. Wow! This was shocking! The mission board had been slow to act after the victims came forward, preferring to stall and keep it in-house, rather than having an outside group do some fact-finding. It ended up costing the president of the mission organization his job.

A woman in a writing group I am a part of was describing her childhood, the abuse she suffered as a child cloistered away in a fundamentalist institution of higher learning. She (and one hundred victims over time) had lived on campus at this isolated college. The victims were the children of staff members, families who lived on the grounds. This strict college did not allow women and men to speak with each other in public. She could not talk with her brothers even when they passed each other. Her father was on staff. The family was not given freedom to go elsewhere. All meals and activities centered in this closed Christian community (that failed its children). No one was allowed to go other places. The Christian authority was strict and demanding. To deviate was to invite severe repercussions. This woman has a youtube video where she describes what it was like to live in such a situation where you have no alternative, and no outlet. The biblical teachings were severe, demanding. Yet, there was the sexual abuse. I believe she was quite young when this happened, yet I'm not positive. The sexual abuse was something that stole her virginity and made her feel like she had lost the very thing that a good Christian boy would desire in his future mate. Her story was quite sad, more than sad, tragic. I checked out her claims on the web, guessing at the college from the little information she had given in her disclosure. I found it. Some people I knew had attended that college in the 1970s, students who later attended the Christian college where I was a student. They would talk about the separation of the sexes and the strict environment. The allegations of abuse had plenty of documentation. That college has changed leadership in recent years. I listened to a video of the current president addressing the issue and its investigation. He does not deny that wrongdoing has happened, he acknowledges that something happened in the staff's families. He continued on to say that it is a past chapter, and that the college is handling the reports in-house. I have to feel that this must seem very unsatisfactory to the victims. They deserve more than a brush-off. But, that is only my opinion.

A woman I know was sexually abused by someone in her church when she was a teenager. It was on-going. That abuse was the start of a descent into promiscuity and a living hell before she came to the end of it. Today she is still trying to deal with the destructive memories that come unbidden as her mind replays the abuse. In the church? More than we realize. It has come close to home. Not in my own family but in other situations. I can think of two people I know who have preyed on others. Men of the church known for their upright views. Their wives, unsuspecting at the time. One of the men was convicted and went to prison. From what I've been told, his was the greater crime. His wife and family have suffered terribly because of this. My heart has hurt for them. My children used to ride to church with this couple for youth group on Sunday evenings. My first thought when it became public was, what about my children? In the other situation, a  woman, close to forty,  told me about her youth leader, a man who led in several capacities in the church, had made overtures toward her at various times, once trying to kiss her at a youth event when she was away from the group, often embracing her when she entered the church on Sunday mornings. Her parents were unsuspecting, encouraging her to be involved in the church’s youth group, thinking he was just being friendly. She never told. It was years later that she was telling me about it, yet she still shivered at the unpleasant memory. Some have suffered more than a kiss. I’ve read several personal stories of women who were sexually abused by someone in the church. They are women I have contact with, who are seeking inner healing through interventions and God's grace. They need to heal and restore, trying to reclaim the young girl they lost--who was them as an innocent. It appalls me that anyone would use their position in the church to take advantage of a child or youth. But, it happens. Probably more than we realize. I can imagine the scar, and the mixed feelings about church and religious people and God, that love-hate thing.

The local paper ran a story about a religious couple who had punished their adopted daughter with a rubber tube for mispronouncing a word during her home-school reading lesson. The punishment continued on for a long period causing internal damage. Eventually, the child went limp. The parents took her to the hospital but the child died. The parents are now in prison for the murder of this child. The paper said that they isolated their children from others, and they followed a book that many home-school families use, as their guide for discipline. It is written by a couple who believe in corporal punishment to the extreme, deprivation, and so forth. Two of the natural born children in this family, attended school with my daughter at a Christian school after their parents were arrested. It was horrible for these two teenagers during the trial of their parents. They feared that they would be asked to testify. Since then, I have read in the paper of two other children who have died from similar circumstances, both were punished by homeschooling parents who were following the advice in this book, one who died was a child adopted from out of the country. The similarities were striking. Alarming. On the flip side, I have read articles about the difficulties of adopting children with attachment disorders, who were deprived of affection to the extent that it has impacted their ability to adjust to the new home. Some are extremely violent and destructive.  Drugs in the womb can cause this as well. Special help is needed.  It is a difficult situation requiring knowledgeable human resources. 

Home-schoolers are uniting as well. Many feel they were treated severely and isolated from being given the opportunity to sustain healthy relationships or even to access general knowledge like how to order a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Escaping the parental dominion and control is almost impossible in some homeschool families. Don't misunderstand me, I’m not opposed to homeschooling. But, there is growing evidence that some children have been mistreated to an unknown extent.The homeschooled children are the ones speaking out. The public viewpoint is that on the average homeschooled homes are better than many regular-schooled homes, which is why they are not monitored, and, really, they should have their independence. The point is, if the home becomes violent. punitive, or over-bearing, it will harm the child emotionally and quite possibly, physically.

In closing, much is wrong with this picture. Some of this abuse may stem from ignorance or wrong beliefs, like in the homeschooling situation, which is overly severe or punitive, where children are guilted for having a differing view.  Others are injurious to emotional, physical, and mental health for victims suffering from all kinds of abuse. Most have been threatened with death or death to their families if they dare(d) to talk. So, they suffer(ed) in silence, unable to get free of the violator. Last night I read two long articles. One was a list of homeschoolers who were blogging about the difficulties in their experiences. A young man, a former homeschooled child (from a good home-school situation) had compiled their stories. He was still reeling from the experience, bothered by what he had observed and recorded. I could tell this by how he was writing it. The other story was written by a man who has recently written a book chronicling the abuses by priests in the catholic church. He has written a blog where he quotes a man who still has faith but not belief, that is, belief in the one apostolic church. The church has robbed him of his beliefs, but not of his faith. His abuser was never brought to trial for his crimes and is dead now. The church covered up the priest's tracks and moved him when the seat got hot.The man said that there would never be justice because the church doesn't care about the victims. That's scary stuff.

Part of me has grown up in a state of denial. I would read an article like this and think people were fabricating the information. I didn’t want to believe it could be true. Maybe some of the accusations aren’t/weren’t true. But, I doubt very many of them are/were that way. The exception? Unless the person is a liar who has a history of making allegations (which is true at times, causing good people to be maligned--which is why there are investigations). I am aware why a church might cover-up a situation. It doesn’t bode well for the church. But, when the allegations are not believed or are ignored, the victim then realizes that the church doesn’t really care about them. When this is the case, the church or institution cares more about its programs and its reputation than its people. In the past, some church leaders were allowed to continue serving despite the knowledge of their past sexual abuse, some continued living a life of harming others. How could a church be so callous, so uncaring? Pretty easy, it seems. They know the perpetrator and like him or her. They also may have a measure of doubt. And, quite possibly, they just don't care about the right things. I'm guessing. I really can't speak for others.

As a strong believer in the church’s roles and responsibilities, I think we MUST be aware and proactive in protecting our children and young people. I believe we MUST be vigilant in making sure that everyone is safe in our programs. We must be bold where it is needed. We must create plans and structures to PREVENT opportunities for abuse to happen behind closed doors. We must not leave children alone with one adult. Lastly, we MUST be kind with those whom have known abuse, helping them with their recovery.

Honesty is the best policy. It's true. The church needs to address the issue when there has been abuse. The church needs to offer help for those who need to go through a healing process. We must become aware and active.  True religious belief MUST be bound to Christ, not to a man

A statement about those who abuse or have abused: I believe God can and will forgive and set free. I believe in forgiveness and the power of love. I also believe one should make right, restitution, when one has caused pain to another, whether emotional, physical, or sexual. What hurts the most is when no-one says it was wrong, or acknowledges that there was wrong-doing. A girl, who was hurt despicably in her home, once said, "The hardest part was that no-one said to me that what was happening to me was wrong." Teachers and adults ignored the evidence. She now goes around the country speaking about what sexual abuse looks like, informing educators so they can become aware of the signs that point to children who are being assaulted or exploited. 

Even at the end of a tumultuous journey, an abuser can still say the words, "I'm sorry." There is healing in those words. 

For the ones of you who are reading this blog who were abused. I am sorry that the abuse happened to you. It wasn't right. I know it hurt you. You lost something dear to you during the abuse, your sense of self-worth, your identity, your right to be loved and honored, and your personal dignity. Although I can do nothing to change what has happened, I do know that God can and will extend His love to you. Seek Him until you find Him. Find a place where you can heal and be set free. It is a process that will take time and effort. There are people who can help you. A starting place might be,, a good site for women, especially if you would like anonymity. JoAnn Fore was abused and found healing. Many women share on her website. Catherine Darnell is another woman who has overcome (Hope's Tapestry). Mary DeMuth, as well. All three write on this topic and can be found on the web. God bless you. Norma
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Written in connection with, "When a Woman Finds Her Voice," by JoAnn Fore.

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