Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Three New Resources

Dear friends, I am happy to share three new resources for survivors. 

Not in Our Church has informative and inspiring articles on topics from awareness to prevention to healing. The writing is good, and the website is gorgeous. Well worth a visit.

The Miller Spotlight features new reflections from former Baptist missionary Dee Ann Miller, the author of the classic How Little We Knew: Collusion and Confusion with Sexual Misconduct (1993, Prescott Press).

Survivors Standing Tall gives survivors a place to tell their stories through words, images, music, or any creative format. The creator of this site, Barbara Graber, edited the survivors’ resource website Our Stories Untold from 2013-2017.

Confidentiality vs Secrecy

In the task force, we were talking about the difference between confidentiality and secrecy. Here’s how I understand it:

Confidentiality protects the complainant. It gives her* the power to decide when, where, and to whom her story is told.
Secrecy protects the institution. It gives the church the power to silence the complainant, or to discredit her if she insists on speaking.

How can a church protect the complainant without keeping secrets from the congregation? With transparency. Share the basic facts (we received a complaint, we’re investigating, we’ve put the pastor on leave, here’s what we learned, here’s what we’re doing about it) as soon as they are known. Don’t share the complainant’s identity or the details of her complaint. Do respect her right to share those things herself.

* or him. Men and boys can be victims too.

 

 

A few weeks ago I reported good news from the Episcopal Church: a call from top leaders for the church to repent for having mishandled complaints of clergy sexual abuse and misconduct. The letter from the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies called for an Ash Wednesday Day of Prayer, but did not offer any specific prayers. 

I have more good news. A newly formed task force in the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego, the Task Force for the Compassionate Care of Victims of Clergy Sexual Misconduct*, has provided those prayers. The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, co-author of the forementioned letter, has published San Diego’s revised Ash Wednesday Litany of Penitence to the whole church. Here’s the announcement  and here’s the litany

Episcopalian readers, please consider encouraging your parish priest to use this litany on Ash Wednesday.

* Full disclosure: I serve on this task force, which is good news in and of itself. I no longer belong to any Episcopal congregation, yet the diocese invited me to serve. When I started this blog in 2013, I named it “Survivors Awaken the Church” more out of hope than experience — but it seems that if we are patient and persistent, we really can open eyes. Have hope, fellow survivors!

I am pleased to share a new online resource from Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work. In a follow-up to the school’s landmark 2009 study of clergy sexual misconduct, Baylor surveyed and/or interviewed 280 survivors in 2015 to learn more about how churches respond to complaints of clergy sexual abuse and misconduct. The research team, led by Dr. David Pooler, found that only 8% of survivors felt supported by their church after the abuse occurred, only 9% found their church process helpful, and only 7% of churches had policies in place to support complainants. Eighty percent of surveyed survivors agree that the abuse harmed their spiritual life. On the bright side, while only 35% of survivors say they have recovered, 78% feel that they are on the path to recovery. You can dig into those statistics here

You can also find:
* A Best Practice Guide for church response, based on interviews with survivors
* A short article explaining why clergy shouldn’t try to counsel their congregants
* A summary of the 2009 Baylor study of clergy sexual misconduct by the late Diana Garland: how prevalent it is, how it happens, and how churches can prevent it.
… and much more, by exploring Baylor’s home page for clergy sexual abuse research.

Please share widely. 

Former Michigan State University gymnast Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Dr. Larry Nasser of sexual abuse, was the last victim to speak at his sentencing hearing. In addition to being an athlete, a wife & mother, and a lawyer, Rachael is also a devout Christian — and an intelligent, thoughtful, insightful woman. Christianity Today’s Morgan Lee interviewed Denhollander after the trial. Ms. Lee’s article is very much worth reading. I’ve shared three favorite Rachael Denhollander insights below (it was hard to choose just three!)

On the church’s blindness to victims’ pain. “Christians… tend to gloss over… any kind of suffering but especially sexual assault, with platitudes like ‘God works all things together for good’ or ‘God is sovereign.’ … When [Biblical truths] are misapplied in a way to dampen the horror of evil, they ultimately dampen the goodness of God. Goodness and darkness exist as opposites. If we pretend that the darkness isn’t dark, it dampens the beauty of the light.”

On forgiveness and justice. “Every single Christian publication or speaker that has mentioned my statement has … focused on the aspect of forgiveness. Very few… have recognized what else came with that statement, which was a swift and intentional pursuit of God’s justice. Both of those are biblical concepts. Both of those represent Christ. We do not do well when we focus on only one of them.”  

On the evil of the church’s self-protection. “The gospel of Jesus Christ does not need your protection. It defies the gospel of Christ when we do not call out abuse and enable abuse in our own church.” 

Please don’t miss this superb article on the Christianity Today website.

For my Episcopalian readers: Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, are calling on the church to repent for the way it has handled (or mishandled) cases of sexual harassment, exploitation, and abuse. In a letter to the church last week, the two leaders write, “we must create contexts in which women can speak of their unspoken trauma, whether suffered within the church or elsewhere. And we must do more.” They lay out several goals, beginning with an Ash Wednesday Day of Prayer, “devoted to meditating on the ways in which we in the church have failed to stand with women and other victims of abuse and harassment and to consider… how we can redouble our work to be communities of safety.”

I am delighted to read these words of commitment, but I’ll be watching for the church to walk the talk. I’ll be looking at my hometown diocese in particular. The diocese of San Diego has taken a few steps forward on this issue recently; I’ll share those in a future post. I’m encouraged, but again — I’ll be watching to see if they walk the talk. I’ve barely set foot in the Episcopal church in eight years, but what I’m seeing now intrigues me. If I muster the courage to attend an Ash Wednesday service, will I hear this new tone of sorrow for harm done to people like me? Stay tuned.

Broken and beautiful: that’s what we are. Broken and Beautiful is also the title of a new book by CSA survivor Kristal Chalmers and her mother, Eileen Peters. Chalmers and Peters introduce their story by describing the Japanese art of kintsugi: “Instead of discarding a beautiful bowl that has been broken, they use gold to repair it, creating a vessel that is unique and even more valuable.” Rather than seeing breakage as something to hide, Kintsugi artists treat the breaks as part of the history and identity of a ceramic work. 

The same is true for us. Our wounds and healing become part of who we are. 

I’m highlighting this superb book for three reasons.

First, Kristal Chalmers describes her experience of abuse through two lenses at once. She shares what she felt at the time, but she also shares her current understanding of what happened. At the time, Kristal took her offender’s alternating warmth and coldness to heart; she believed what he told her about herself; she even blamed herself for the abuse. Two years later, she writes, “I know that he’d crossed a moral and professional boundary and had been grooming me for many months.” It took Kristal a great deal of time, study, and strong, loving support from her family and others, to reach this level of clarity. At the end of each chapter, Kristal and Eileen add their notes “for further reading,” sharing excerpts from some of the most important non-academic writings about clergy sexual abuse.

Second, Broken and Beautiful looks at CSA through the lens of spiritual warfare, a unique perspective among the survivor accounts I’ve read. Some readers may be unfamiliar or even uncomfortable with this perspective. In my rational mind, I question whether we’re really surrounded by demons and angels, but I’ve had enough personal experiences that I remain open to the idea. After all, who’s to say spiritual warfare isn’t real? The authors’ words helped me see trauma bonding in a new light:

“…the Bible speaks of soul ties when it talks about souls being knit together, or becoming one flesh. A soul tie … ties two souls together in the spiritual realm. Godly soul ties can draw a married couple together and knit their hearts to each other. Ungodly soul ties can cause a beaten and abused woman to attach to a man from whom, in the natural realm, she would run. In the demonic world, unholy soul ties serve as a bridge between two people through which evil can pass.”

In this light, Chalmers shows how a specific method of prayer freed her from this bond. 

“I [asked] God to forgive and cancel any ground or permission I had given over to Satan. I declared that the demons had no right in my life and commanded them to leave. I claimed the victory that Jesus’ death had won on Calvary, and immediately felt freedom!”

Third, the book doesn’t just recount the experience of abuse and shunning, it gives equal time to the arduous process of grieving. It was two years before Kristal Chalmers was able to journal again, but once that door was opened, the words poured out. In the sixth chapter, Kristal shares some of her words from the first three months of journaling, two years after she left her church. We follow her chaotic emotions, we remember our turbulent feelings even after many years of healing, and we feel a little less alone. “Can’t seem to get the grief or sadness or bewilderment out of my mind,” Kristal writes at one point. Another day she writes “I want to … cry, eat, and watch Netflix until bed…”; another day she writes “I keep having dreams,” even a dream about zombies. But she also writes, “When I look back now, I see that it was the beginning of freedom” and “I can’t end [a journal] entry without being grateful for God has done. Come and see what God has done!”

Indeed, come and see what God has done! You can find Broken and Beautiful on Amazon or on Eileen’s and Kristal’s website, MyVoiceBack.com. The Kindle edition includes live links to the resources on their website. 


Christmas can be difficult for anyone; it can be especially painful if you are dealing with current abuse by a religious leader, or if you’re healing from that abuse. If you are struggling, please know that it will get better. More important, the world is going to need you, your voice, and your story. If you are having suicidal thoughts, please seek support from someone you trust, or call a hotline for help. Readers in the U.S. can call 1-800-273-8255. Canadian readers can call 1-833-456-4566; UK readers can find help here; Australian readers can find help here.

 

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: