I’m on the road this week with my home-schooled son, so it’s been hard to keep up with the news. But I can’t miss the furor around one story. A few days ago, Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal published a former youth minister’s account “My Easy Trip from Youth Pastor to Felon.” The author wrote about his predatory sexual assault on a teenaged girl as if he’d enjoyed an extramarital affair with a consenting adult of equal power.
The online community of survivors and survivors’ families and allies spoke up in strength. Here are three of the best responses.
* An anonymous survivor writes, “I am the other side of the coin.” She writes, “Just like the youth pastor in that article, [my abuser] made me believe it was a consensual relationship. He made me believe I wanted it just as much as he did.” She adds, “These things? They do not happen by accident. A youth pastor does not accidentally become ‘friends’ and later ‘sexual partners’ with a female minor from his church. A 40+ year old does not accidentally find himself actively and relentlessly pursuing a 15 year old.”
You can read her courageous account here.
* Suzannah Paul makes a strong claim that Christian “purity culture” protects abusers and harms victims by reframing pastoral sexual abuse as a sin against sexual purity, in which “victims are rendered ‘impure’ and at fault alongside their abusers.” She writes, “Leadership Journal allows a convicted child abuser a platform to manipulatively frame this as a story of personal selfishness and infidelity without one word about molestation, statutory rape, sexual grooming, or the abuse of power.”
Suzannah’s message is superb, and you can read it here.
* Tamara Rice speaks directly to the editors. She asks, “Did you ask [the victim’s] family for permission to let this predator tell it this way? Did you ask his wife (his former wife?) for permission to let him tell it this way? Did you consider getting perspective… from ANYONE who is a victim here?” She suggests a warning that this pastor should have offered: “If you find yourself attracted to one of your students, get out of youth ministry ASAP and get yourself into counseling… YOU ARE CONTEMPLATING A SEXUAL CRIME.”
You can read Tamara’s excellent post here.
Without time to comb the internet this week, I don’t know whether anyone has made the point that just as children and teens are never to blame for the predatory sexual abuse committed against them, neither are adult victims to blame. Even if we believe we are consenting to our pastors’ predation — indeed, even if we believe we are initiating the connection –we are not to blame. I was a middle-aged woman when my powerful pastor targeted me. I’ve already shared the story of how he took advantage of my vulnerability when I sought spiritual guidance. Because I stopped the abuse before it became physical, he was able to frame me as an emotionally unstable parishioner whose sexual advances he responsibly turned down. But the truth is: he abused his power, pure and simple. Even if I had allowed him to violate my physical boundaries, the blame and shame would have been his, and his alone.
Thankfully, the Leadership Journal has taken down the offensive and harmful post. In its place, they share an unreserved apology for posting a story that focused on the predator’s losses while ignoring the far greater harm to the victim. They will offer any revenue from the post to Christian organizations that work with survivors of sexual abuse.
By speaking our truth, the community of survivors and advocates has turned on one more light. The Leadership Journal now knows who we are and what we stand for. They owe much to the courageous souls who called them to account. If they want to repay the debt, they can open their pages to our voices, to our stories and to our call for safer churches.
* Heather Celoria (Junia Project, June 17) offers an excellent reflection on the decisions of the Leadership Journal both to post the article and to take down the post. The Junia Project website is a great resource for understanding and deconstructing the patriarchal mindset that makes it so easy for male clergy to abuse female congregants with impunity.
* The first link in my essay now leads to the complete original article (my original link did not). I have also captured all the text in the article as a Word file. If the link stops working, send me an email and I’ll send you the article. The Leadership Journal is rightfully ashamed and embarrassed of having published the story, and they may hope that by taking it down they’ve made the controversy go away. But the story is evidence, and we can’t let it disappear.