Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Posts tagged ‘clergy sexual abuse’

Broken and Beautiful: One Survivor’s Story

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.

 

Books for the Journey

Dear readers,

Four years ago I posted a list of books I’d found helpful in the journey of healing. I still have most of those titles, but I’m ready to let them go. If you are still struggling to understand what happened to you, or struggling with any aspect of healing, take a look at my reading list. Send me an email with your address and the title of the book you’d like to have (you may want to add a second choice just in case), and I’ll put it in the mail as a gift for your healing journey. 

In solidarity,

Catherine

Pastor or Predator? Sexual Misconduct in Youth Ministry.

Kudos to Princeton Theological Seminary! Their Institute for Youth Ministry recently invited six leaders to submit responses to the topic on clergy sexual abuse in youth ministry. The series, “Pastor or Predator? Sexual Misconduct in Youth Ministry.,” was published this week. 

Here are the highlights. To read the whole essay, just click on the author’s name.

Linda Crockett says that the church often shortcuts justice by urging survivors to forgive too soon. As a result,  “victims carry the burden of shame that rightfully belongs to the offender.” Crockett urges the church to help young people recognize the red flags of sexual abuse. Although youth programs often each about the dangers of substance abuse, “we shy away from frank discussion about sexual offenders and how they operate. … We don’t tell them most offenders are not strangers, but people in our families, churches, neighborhoods, schools, and sports clubs.” 

Sharon Ellis Davis shares for the first time that “my Black Church experience also includes my being the victim of childhood sexual abuse by ‘men of God.’” She says, “It was the secret I was determined to hold onto no matter how much this abuse had negatively impacted my life choices… I could not, and I would not go against the ‘men of God.’ “ Ellis Davis only began to heal when she found a wise, compassionate listener who was willing to be a holder of her long-kept secret. As she healed, she was able to become a holder for others’ secrets as well. She reminds youth leaders that “many times we are… called to be holders” even if we “may not have adequately dealt with [our] own childhood victimization and are now forced to remember while providing care for others.

Hillary Scarsella writes, “Sexual abuse and assault are silencing.” She explains: the offender and the religious institution work hard to silence survivors, but survivors also silence themselves because of the stigma surrounding the experience of sexual assault. “We need to make it our regular practice to talk about sexual violence accurately, sensitively, and often,” she says, “because talking about abuse and assault has a significant degree of power to prevent and stop both.” The kind of speech we need, says Scarsella, “is the kind that believes and respects victims and survivors, the kind that empowers youth to love and protect their bodies.”

Justin Holcomb offers biblical encouragement to survivors dealing with the stages of aftermath of sexual abuse. He assures survivors that “what happened to them is not their fault. They are not to blame. They did not deserve it. They are not responsible for what happened to them. Nobody had the right to violate them… They were sinned against.” To survivors who despair of ever healing, Holcomb reminds them, “God promises a hope and a future.”

When Wes Ellis was in the 7th grade, his “funny, likeable” youth pastor inspired him to go into youth ministry. In college, Ellis was devastated to learn that this minister had sexually assaulted several young woman who had been Ellis’ friends in youth group. Ellis offers a clear, challenging theological response to clergy sexual abuse. “For me to come to terms with my own story,” he writes, “is to accept that the person who was eventually imprisoned for sexual misconduct… was the same person who mentored me, cared for me, and helped me to find my calling. He was not a monster, but a human being like me. … In recognizing his actions as sin… I am forced to face the sin of which I myself am capable.” At the same time, Ellis urges readers to “not treat this as an abstract philsophical problem or a problem of mere policy, but as a real human experience.”

I am honored to be the sixth voice in this series. I share the case study of a young woman who became suicidal when the church tried to silence her complaint against a youth minister, and I offer a series of steps the church must take to protect the young people in its care, including age-appropriate boundary training for youth and regular, vigorous discussions of this topic by the adults in the congregation.  

As I researched my piece, I discovered two great resources. 

1. Author and clergy spouse Sabrena Klausman has a wonderful piece entitled “Dangerous Volunteers: Understanding Signs of Sexual Abuse in Youth Ministry.”  She says the church MUST do a better job screening, monitoring, and training the clergy, staff, and volunteers who work with youth.

2. Tim Challies spells out “6 Reasons Why Sexual Predators Target Churches.”  It’s not a hopeful essay. Challies points out the deeply rooted structural issues that put children and teens at risk in just about any church. But it’s required reading for anyone who wants to solve the problem.

Teresa Pecinovsky and #YesAllWomen

The massacre at Santa Barbara triggered a twitter campaign, #YesAllWomen. (This triggered another campaign, #NotAllMen; you can read this excellent response by Presbyterian pastor-in-training Chris Chatelaine-Samsen on the Sojourners website.) Riding the #YesAllWomen wave, blogger Rachel Held Evans published a guest post by Vanderbilt divinity student and clergy sexual abuse survivor Teresa K. Pecinovsky. Teresa tells a story of abuse of power, first by her minister/professor/mentor, and then by the university that employed him. When her offender began sending personal emails, she thought she was safe because he was a minister. (“He wouldn’t do anything to hurt me, right?”) When he sent a sexually explicit email, Teresa cut off the relationship, but the trauma continued to haunt her. Her institution offered therapy to both her and her offender — but they paid for his PhD, while they turned her away from their seminary.

You can read Teresa’s account here. She writes beautifully, and there’s not a physically graphic word in the story — but I’m still going to offer a trigger warning. If, like me, you were the victim of a skillful emotional seduction and an institutional silencing, Teresa’s story may bring up painful memories. But since she was brave enough to write it, I can be brave enough to read it and share it.

I salute you, Teresa K. Pecinovsky, for the courage you showed in stopping the abuse, reclaiming your life, and sharing your story to encourage other survivors.

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