Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Last month I shared an open letter from Geraldine Stowman to Jim Daly, president of para-church mega-ministry Focus on the Family. Professor Stowman objected to a recent FOTF broadcast that minimized the harm of clergy sexual abuse by casting it as mere “marital infidelity.” In nearly 40 years of operation, FOTF has never identified CSA as a problem on its own. When they mention it at all, they call it “adultery,” “an affair,” or “sexual indiscretion.”

Inspired by Professor Stowman, I sent my own letter to Jim Daly:

Please insist on a strong distinction between “affairs/adultery” and clergy sexual abuse. An affair, or sexual consent, can only happen between two people of equal power. This is never the case between a minister and a congregant or church staffer. We hold our ministers in such high respect that there’s no possibility of meaningful consent to a sexual relationship. A minister cannot have an “affair” with a congregant. If he allows the relationship to become sexualized, he is guilty of a harmful abuse of power. Many victims lose their marriages, their health, their faith, or even their lives in the wake of a pastor’s abuse.

Two weeks later, FOTF’s Jeremy Hill responded on Daly’s behalf:

We appreciate your willingness to share your thoughts regarding our recent broadcast featuring Dave Carder… We could tell from what you wrote that you speak to the problem of clergy sexual abuse from personal experience, and we want to assure you that we would never wish to diminish the significance of this issue. At the same time, we feel we should explain that this broadcast wasn’t intended to explore the topic of abuse. Instead, Mr. Carder offered the story that opened this program simply as background in explaining what drives his encouragements for married couples to guard themselves against sexual infidelity. Furthermore, this radio show was excerpted from a presentation given by Mr. Carder to a broad Christian audience; it was not directed at members of a specific demographic.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Plenty. With help from the insightful Professor Stowman, I offer this translation. Here’s what Focus on the Family is really saying.

Thanks for writing, little lady! Since your perspective is jaundiced by your experience as a survivor, let me help you understand our work more objectively. We aren’t trying to diminish the importance of this issue. Instead, by consistently refusing offers from ministries like The Hope of Survivors, Tamar’s Voice, Advocate Web, and the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute to appear on the show, we flat-out deny that the problem exists at all.

It goes without saying that this broadcast wasn’t intended to explore the topic of clergy sexual abuse, because NONE of our broadcasts have ever explored this topic. We are confident that our “broad Christian audience” wouldn’t be interested. When we say we want to help couples guard against sexual infidelity, we aren’t talking about the couples whose marriages are threatened by predatory ministers, nor are we interested in helping inexperienced ministers understand the risk of transference and counter-transference in their counseling.

In short: don’t waste your breath trying to tell us anything. We don’t care, and we’re not listening.

Comments on: "Focus on the Family: Ignoring the Voices of Survivors" (8)

  1. What a pathetic reply you received. Your “translation” is right on the mark.

  2. Nicole Kanofski Photography said:

    Minimisation is what I would call it, or perhaps ‘ignorance’ wheres your backbone FOTF, I bet if it was one of their wives/ daughters it would be a different story. Sickening, and (pathetic, like Rena said)

  3. I find their response insulting. I believe I would like to write them too. Can you share the contact information?

  4. I’m not surprised. Sad, but not surprised.

  5. I lost my respect for Focus on the Family a long time ago. This whole issue just solidifies my feelings about the organization. The truth of the reality of ministers engaging in misconduct and abuse is something churches and so-called Christian organizations would like to leave in the dark. They don’t want their “boat rocked” with too many questions no one wants to have to try and answer. It’s all about maintaining power. Sadly, I don’t see it ever changing. People like their comfort zones too much.

  6. Mary Ramsay said:

    Survivors awaken the church

    I am a survivor of child sexual abuse, being forced into sexual activities with strangers. My father was paid for these atrocities,
    I was later sexually exploited by an Episcopal Priest with whom I’d been in Counseling. I was a young women and this experience shattered me, and I was re-wounded by the disbelief of my church when I timidly told them.
    They simply could not face the trauma it would cause the congregation.
    This trauma has affected every part of my life, I have now been celebate for almost 20 years. And after he was busted, he wad passed on to another diocese.
    That makes me sad, such a huge aspect of human life, lost for so very long.
    I am grateful for the two sponsors who have changed, or is changing, my life.
    Thank God!

    • Mary, I’m so sorry for what you suffered in the Episcopal Church. Your story is my own; my bishop also refused to “traumatize” the congregation, so he hid the truth of what my priest had done. Our story is all too common, yet because the church insists on secrecy, each one of us feels as if we’re the only one. When we share our stories, we shatter that illusion. Because you shared, I (and any other survivor who reads it) feel less alone.
      Healing from clergy sexual exploitation is a long, long journey. I’m grateful to everyone who helps us along the way. I thank God for your two sponsors.

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