Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Archive for the ‘Church Response’ Category

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.

 

 

Episcopal Litany for Ash Wednesday

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!

Baylor Releases Study on Church Response to CSA/CSM

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. 

“There’s more to the gospel than forgiveness.”

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.

Episcopal Church Called to Repent

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.

Never sign an NDA

Harvey Weinstein is in the news, as are dozens of his victims. Today, the Washington Post shines a light on one of Weinstein’s self-protective tactics: the NDA, or Non-Disclosure Agreement.  This week, actress Zelda Perkins broke hers. “I wanted to publicly break my non-disclosure agreement,” she said. “Unless somebody does this, there won’t be a debate about how egregious these agreements are and the amount of duress that victims are put under.”

Thank you, Zelda Perkins! Non-Disclosure Agreements reveal the institution’s true goals: not to heal the victim, but to protect the offender. I’ve always known this truth. I knew I couldn’t heal without telling my story. When I settled with the Episcopal diocese, I agreed not to disparage my offender, and to keep the terms of the settlement confidential — but I steadfastly maintained the right to talk about my experience. 

It seems NDAs are so ubiquitious, in the church just as in Hollywood, that everyone assumed I must have signed one. When I started talking openly about why I’d left St Paul’s, my new pastor asked me, “Are you allowed to say these things?” Even worse: the bishop who co-created and signed my settlement apparently assumed it contained an NDA. When he learned about my blog, he had his attorney send a threatening letter to my attorney (I wrote about it here)  If I didn’t “bring this whole episode to a close,” the letter warned, the bishop would make a public statement denying my experience.

I stood my ground then, and I stand it now. It’s my story, and I have a right to tell it. In fact, survivors need to tell our stories  to seek justice, protect others, and heal our souls. When we were negotiating my settlement, I told my attorney that I would never agree to keep silent about my experience. I had no problem agreeing to keep the terms of the settlement confidential, and to refrain from disparaging (legally, “making a false and injurious statement about”) my offender, but I insisted on my right to tell my story. I have kept my word; I’ve spoken and written nothing but the truth, and I even protected Scott’s identity on this blog until after my bishop had told St Paul’s the truth about him. 

Don’t allow the church to silence you. Don’t sign an NDA. Hold fast to your right to tell your own story. 

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