Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Posts tagged ‘silencing victims’

UMC Protecting a Predator

Dozens of young Methodists are in immediate danger.

This Sunday, July 31, unless leaders in the UMC take action, at least three youth groups from Greater New Jersey will arrive at Olivet Blue Mountain Camp in eastern Pennsylvania to spend a week under the leadership of a known sexual predator. 

Here are the facts.
* In 2013, “Lisa” (not her real name) filed a complaint of sexual misconduct against then-Rev. Darryl Duer. He wasn’t her minister, but he was the minister who led the summer service project that she had attended with her church youth group since she was in junior high. Duer had begun giving Lisa love notes and personal gifts when she was only 15. When she turned 18, he offered pastoral support, but very soon began demanding sex. He abused her for several years, telling her that his sexual abuse was God’s way of loving her. He knew of her history of abuse growing up, and he correctly assumed she wouldn’t know she was being abused. But eventually she figured it out.
* Bishop John Schol of the UMC’s Greater New Jersey jurisdiction received Lisa’s complaint. Rather than launching a formal investigation, Bishop Schol simply asked Duer to hand in his ministerial credentials. He later characterized Lisa’s complaint as “serious and substantiated,” but at the time he chose to cover it up. He hid the truth from Duer’s congregation, his fellow ministers, and the parents of the youth who had participated in those summer camps over the years.
* In 2014, Lisa learned that Duer was again offering the camp, and that three of Bishop Schol’s ministers were bringing their youth groups. After a great deal of effort on Lisa’s part, and with the involvement of the national church office, Bishop Schol agreed to inform those three ministers of Duer’s offense. In response, Duer canceled the camp.
* Lisa thought this was the end of the story. But in early 2015, Lisa saw online postings for Duer’s camp on one of the same three church websites. She wrote to the minister immediately. He assured her it was “old information,” and he promised to take down the posting. She believed him at the time, but later that summer she found evidence that this minister had brought his youth group after all, despite Bishop Schol’s warning in 2014. This youtube video shows the youth group’s presentation afterwards. Duer’s face is prominently shown in one of the slides.
* The horror continues. A few weeks ago, Lisa learned that Duer is still running the camp, and the same three churches are still bringing their youth. On July 5, Lisa sent a powerful email to Bishop Schol and a to key contact in the denomination’s national headquarters. She waited two weeks for a response, then wrote to a higher authority in the national church. She also reached out to the bishop in Eastern PA where Duer’s camp would take place. Although she’s heard from the national office, she has yet to receive a response from either bishop, and the national office seems to lack the power to take action.
* Lisa posted a comment about this situation on Bishop Schol’s facebook page. An administrator immediately took down her comment, but at least she had their attention. The bishop has finally agreed to speak with Lisa by phone about how he handled her case. He has also promised to “talk to” the three ministers when their youth groups return from Darryl Duer’s camp. But with a full week left before the train wreck, Bishop Schol said it was too late to stop his district’s youth from attending, or to inform their parents of the danger. 

Where is the leadership? Where are the shepherds who are supposed to protect the sheep from wolves like Darryl Duer? Does it really fall to an obscure blogger to get this word out? The odds that any of my readers know any of those parents is infinitessimally small. Still — if you do know someone involved, please share this warning. Young people have a right to expect a safe experience when they attend a church-organized camp, and parents have the right to know if their children are about to walk into a viper’s nest.


Update, afternoon of July 28. I’ve now spoken with the bishop of Eastern PA. She had not received Lisa’s email; she is very concerned and has promised to do what she can to keep UMC youth safe.


Update, January 2017: Bishop Schol’s excellent response.

“If Our Secrets Define Us”

After three years of blogging, I’m taking a much-needed sabbatical, but I can’t ignore the opportunity to share a message I just learned about. Every year on the last night of the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association, one minister is invited to deliver prophetic words at the Berry Street Conference. This year’s Berry Street Essay came from the Rev. Gail Seavey, whose work I wrote about last August.

Gail Seavey asks what happens “If Our Secrets Define Us.” She sets the stage with a scene from the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The Nazis have stolen the Ark and captured Indiana and Marion. As they begin to open the Ark, Indiana shouts, “Don’t look, Marion! Whatever you do, don’t look!” Marion doesn’t look, but the bad guys do, and we in the audience do, and we see the bad guys turn into corpses and dissolve into dust. Implying, of course, that some things should never be seen. 

“The movie was wrong,” says Seavey. “Some things SHOULD be seen.”

She tells the story of her first ministerial internship, under the supervision of the Rev. Frederica Leigh, in a struggling Southern California congregation haunted by stories of “screwing around” in the 60s and 70s. When a retired minister died, a line of elderly women came to Frederica’s office seeking pastoral care, needing to tell the secrets they’d carried for decades. A few years later another minister died, and another line of women came seeking care. Frederica Leigh provided care to legions of victim/survivors during those years. She “insisted on impeccable boundaries… and advocated that her colleagues practice clear ethical guidelines concerning clergy sexual abuse,” writes Seavey. As a result, some colleagues shunned Frederica Leigh, but others became champions for victims of misconduct who chose to report. Seavey says that “the lessons I learned from Frederica laid the foundation for my career.” 

Seavey took these lessons to her first settlement in a church in Minnesota. When church leaders refused to tell her why the previous minister left, she insisted that “I had to know church-wide secrets or I could not accept a call there.” The next day she learned that the minister had arrived single, married a long-term congregant, divorced her to marry a second congregant whom he’d been counseling, and been asked to leave quietly. Seavey asked the first wife what she most needed. “She asked only for one thing, that the previous minister never come into the building.” Seavey made it happen. For the next eight years the departed minister lobbied for a chance to guest-preach; Seavey faithfully and consistently said “no.”

Just as Frederica Leigh had, Seavey had to deal with massive distrust from her wounded congregation. Just as Leigh did, Seavey practiced impeccable boundaries with her new congregation and slowly regained their trust. 

In the late 1990s Seavey became active with national UUA. Working with the association of female ministers and with the UUA’s guidelines committee, she tried to address the issue of clergy sexual misconduct. She and her colleagues explored “the differences between confidentiality and secrets. Confidentiality requires protecting someone else’s story; keeping secrets involves hiding our own stories.” This work began to feel as if they were looking into Indiana Jones’ Ark. “Several women reported that [prominent New York UU minister] Forrest Church had had affairs with them when they were members,” “a wider circle of colleagues started to confide in me their painful secrets,” and even “alleged sexual misconduct by UUA staff members who were involved in an official response to clergy sexual misconduct.” The longer they worked, the more ugliness the task force uncovered.

As they pushed for transparency, the UUA began to push back. They disenfranchised the task force, blackballed its convener, Deborah Pope Lance, and told her “she would never again work for the UUA or any UU Group.” But survivors, impacted congregations, and after-pastors continued to seek support from Deborah and the task force.

In 2005, Seavey accepted a call from First UU of Nashville. “I was attracted to them because they were open about their history as a congregation that had suffered and healed from clergy misconduct” by past minister David Maynard. Anna Belle Leiserson, the only one of Maynard’s victims who dared to report her experience, was “harassed, bullied, and shunned by the minister’s supporters. That first year, her hair turned pure white. She says that the attempts to exile her from the congregation were even more painful than the original betrayal by the minister. Healing began in the following year when First UU held a ‘Listening Process’…”

Healing began, but it is far from complete. Seavey, Leiserson, and their colleagues discovered more and more layers of institutional secrecy and resistance to justice. Leiserson served as liaison for victim Amanda Tweed in 2005. To this day, Amanda Tweed has never been told the official results of her investigation.

And yet this same secret-keeping, justice-blocking UUA invited Gail Seavey to deliver the Berry Street Essay. 

What if our secrets define us, asked Seavey? “When we don’t tell the truth about a minister who betrayed our trust and yet another person becomes invisible to our community, who are we? How does keeping our UU institutional secrets about abuse and trauma define us? Are there actions or rituals … that would allow us to walk again on Holy Ground and see what we do not want to see?” 

“It can start by telling a secret — a secret that is your story to tell… So therefore I say, let us open our eyes and see. May we continue to weave sacred stories together until we form new rituals of re-membering… Maybe then the exiled will be safe to return. Maybe then we will discover what freedom, love, and justice really feel like. May it be so.”

You can read Rev. Seavey’s essay in full here. You can watch her deliver it here

A Plea for Truth and Transparency

Dear readers, please pray with me that the bishop will share the truth at the congregational meeting this week. Here is the email I sent to him this morning.

Dear Bishop _____,
Thank you for reaching out to me last week. The news about _____’s new offenses has awakened powerful memories and emotions. It was helpful to get the news directly from you.
When we met, I urged you to disclose the fact of my complaint to the congregation. I feel strongly about this. Your continued silence prevents my full healing, leaves my reputation at the mercy of the rumor mill, and — by feeding a culture of secrecy and innuendo — makes healing harder for new victims of abuse at St. ____’s.
With this email I am giving you my permission and my urgent plea to disclose the fact that _____ received at least one substantiated complaint during his tenure at St ____’s. Especially now, the congregation deserves to know the truth.
Respectfully,
Catherine Thiemann

“Silenced and Marginalized”

“In the spring of the year, when kings go out to battle…” began the liturgist at worship last Sunday. My ears perked up: I know this story well. We studied it in healthy boundaries and sexual ethics classes at my former and current churches. In the season when kings go out to battle, David stayed home. With no real work to do, he entertained himself by sexually violating and impregnating one of his subjects. To cover the pregnancy, the king ordered Bathsheba’s husband home from battle, but Uriah refused to sleep with his wife. So David staged his murder and claimed Bathsheba as his own.

I know this story well. Preachers often use it to show that even when we mess up, God still loves us. But Pastor Scott’s sermon – I now saw in the worship bulletin – was called “Silenced and Marginalized.” Was he really going to preach the truth? Not only about David’s sin, but about Bathsheba’s wound? Would Pastor Scott acknowledge how women suffered then and now, even in the church, because leaders abuse their power? I dared not let myself hope. I prepared myself to hear the usual script.

Then Pastor Scott got up to preach. Normally he launches right into his text, but this time he began with prayer. I could hear the trepidation in his voice as he asked for God’s guidance. He seemed to feel he was setting a risky course. I began to realize that this might be the moment I never thought would come: when a pastor openly called out the church’s abuse of power not only against individual victims of sexual offenses but against all women, simply because of our gender. Would he name the way that leaders abuse their power against – predominantly – women? Would he call out the church’s complicity in silencing the victims of abuse? Most important, would he acknowledge the bleeding wound in our hearts and souls?

Pastor Scott began by praising two women — both seminarians — who had preached during his two-week absence. “The Christian Church has not looked kindly upon women beyond Sunday School teaching, baking cookies for memorial receptions, and heading out to mission fields,” he admitted. “Too often women have been given a resounding ‘NO’ when it comes to preaching or serving on the altar. Or worse still, they have been used — or abused, marginalized and objectified by the more powerful men who for too long have controlled the ecclesiastical structure for their own benefit. I include myself in that oft-forgotten privilege.”

Tears began to flow. This was real. I pulled out my handkerchief, but I wasn’t about to leave. Nothing could have pulled me away from this message. Here’s the sermon that rocked my world.

No, this is not going to be one of those “feel good” sermons where you leave church feeling so much better than when you arrived. Sometimes reality is not that polite. Even a casual reading of the lesson from 2 Samuel will not allow it. This is one of those dark passages in the Bible that we rarely read and frankly ought to be ashamed of. There is no good news here. Any attempt to twist the message to make “Good King David” look – well, good – is a mistake. But if we really name what is going on here, we just might learn something about David, about ourselves, and about how not to live.

It’s hard to miss what is going on here. Like many charismatic leaders, David became a victim of his own success. He was riding a very powerful wave. Following the miserable two-year tenure of King Saul, David had begun to unite the people by centralizing his power – which he felt came directly from God – in Jerusalem. The people believed in him completely. They put their trust in him. He was seen as the king who could do no wrong. He was God’s representative. And David began to believe his own press. He actually believed that he was doing God’s will in every decision and in every act.

The problem was, despite his being divinely appointed and inspired by God, he was human. And the funny thing about us humans: we are rarely satisfied with what we have. We always want more.

And so that fateful night. David’s men were away fighting foreign threats to “God’s kingdom” (where he himself should have been, but he elected to stay home) when he spied a beautiful woman — Bathsheba — bathing nearby. He inquired about her and learned that she was the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Now David already had seven wives, but evidently that wasn’t enough. He wanted more. He wanted this “delight to his eyes,” Bathsheba, despite the fact that she was married to one of his officers who was out in the field fighting on his behalf. 

So he sent guards to “take” her. They brought her to him.

And David raped her.

Now, the scriptures do not say that specifically, and scholars have long debated whether this was rape. But if it’s not rape, what do we call it? It was certainly not a consensual relationship. It could never be. The guards did not have the power to say “no” to the king. Bathsheba certainly did not have the power to say “no.” David had all the power, and he abused it to get what he wanted. So I think it’s high time we name it what it is.

But the story gets even darker. When Bathsheba informs David with the only words she is given in this passage, “I am pregnant,” he summons Uriah home expecting that he will sleep with his wife and the child will be mistaken as his. But Uriah makes David look even worse when he will not sleep with his wife while engaged in battle despite David’s attempt to get him drunk.

So David sends Uriah back to the front lines carrying his death orders in his own hands! Astonishing – what one will do when one has the power to do whatever one wants.

It’s difficult for us to look at stories like this because, I know, for many of us in this room, we know all too well the plight of Bathsheba. And the memories are painful: the inability to speak; the shame involved; the fear that “no one would ever believe me if I did speak my truth”; and the false notion that many have erroneously adopted that “it was all my fault.”

At this point Pastor Scott stopped and looked out at the congregation. “Many in this congregation, mostly women, have suffered this fate. I know this story may be painful to hear, and all I can say is, I’m sorry.” These compassionate words opened a dam. My tears began to flow faster.

Pastor Scott continued:

This is not just an occurrence that happened several thousand years ago. This is happening every day, and it is critical for the church to name it and be willing to help those who fall victim to such atrocities as they begin to reclaim their voice and seek the healing they so desperately need.

It’s no wonder Bathsheba says next to nothing in this story. Think, for a moment, of the position she is in. Who would believe her? She was a throwaway in King David’s harem and he had deployed the perfect cover-up. No one would ever know or believe he could do such a thing…

This story, if it is ever addressed, is almost always told from the perspective of David, but I want us to come at it today from that of Bathsheba. Doing so requires going beyond the text to some degree because it is not much interested in Bathsheba’s feelings, does not identify the rape as a crime or sin against her and shows no word from God directly to her or through any intermediary.

Professor Wil Gafney of the Brite Divinity School states, “In the aftermath of the rape, the text says that Bathsheba purified herself after her ‘uncleanness.’ Many translations render this as ‘after her period,’ which is a possibility accounting for the ease of conception as she would be fertile then. But any vaginal discharge, [including] the act of intercourse, also required the bathing ritual before which a woman was ‘taboo,’ a better translation than the traditional ‘unclean.’ Read in this light, Bathsheba does what many rape victims do; she washes as much of the rape off of herself as she can. Both text and culture support this.”

Bathsheba is forced to live in the house of David, to lie repeatedly with her rapist and to eventually have more children with him. The one she bore as a result of this rape dies. But later, one is born named Solomon. Bathsheba and [the prophet] Nathan work together to get Solomon on the throne. In Bathsheba’s last appearance in the scriptures, Solomon installs her on a throne at his right-hand side, gets up off of his throne and bows down before her.

Saying these words, Pastor Scott stepped down from the chancel, turned toward an imaginary Bathsheba on the chancel steps, and – as if he were Solomon – bent low to honor this woman who had suffered so much. He stepped back into the pulpit and continued.

This text is an important supplement to Bathsheba’s rape narrative in 2 Samuel 11 because she survives the rape of David and thrives in spite of what it — and he — has done to her. Not all women are so lucky. And neither does this in any way make up for the emotional and psychological damage she incurred.

So our story is a powerful challenge: perhaps a painful reminder to many, but, I hope, a wake-up call to most. We cannot turn our backs on those who can so easily be objectified in our culture — those who have been marginalized, those who have lost their voice at the hands of the powerful, the privileged, the ones who appear to be in control.

But we also must be aware of how easy it is to justify our own wrong-doing, how easy it is to rationalize our use and, at times, abuse of power based on our privileged position in society. It begins with honest personal reflection and recognition and confession of our complicity in such a system of dominance by the privileged. It’s important to sit with the passage and really name it for what it is, and to recognize it as a piece of our Judeo-Christian history and a part of our story today.

So I invite you to let these words from Samuel stir in your soul this week. Listen to what God wants and needs to reveal in you as we seek to be faithful in our following as people of integrity, justice, compassion and peace.

Amen.

This sermon was preached on Sunday, July 26, 2015 by the Rev. Dr. Scott Landis at Mission Hills United Church of Christ, San Diego. As soon as the link is available, I’ll be listening to it again. I’ll share the link here.

Elements of Justice: Compassion

Com*pas*sion: Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it. From Latin com*pati, to suffer with. 

Along with other members of my new church, my family is marking Lent by limiting our food budget to the amount a SNAP participant spends. The foods I used to take for granted (avocados, grapes, cake mix) now seem like luxuries. In the grocery store, I have to make hard choices. It’s a fiction, of course; we have plenty of money for food. But in our small way, we’re suffering with our low-income neighbors, and we’re learning concrete ways to help them.

The day after I filed my complaint in 2010, my beloved grandparents fell on a moving escalator. While I was surviving emotional trauma, I was helping them survive a catastrophic physical trauma. My grandfather died that summer; my grandmother and I kept each other going. She lived almost to her 99th birthday. When she was strong enough, I told her my story. We suffered together, and we healed together.

When my other church friends distanced themselves, “Diana” took me in. I cried on her shoulder for months. I talked about nothing else, for months. She saw me at my pale and ragged worst — for months. She didn’t experience my ordeal, but she hurt because I hurt. She suffered with me, and her compassion helped restore me to life.

I’ve walked the journey toward death with four people whom I loved. I couldn’t take the last step with them, but I could be with them in those frightening final months. When I was in the deepest pain, that’s what Diana did for me. That is what we need from the church: we need you to be willing to suffer with us. We need the church to see our pain and respond to it. In the months after I filed my complaint, I tried literally to make my pain visible. On Tuesday mornings, I took the long way to my therapist’s office. I walked several blocks along my church’s grand boulevard during the morning commute. Gaunt and hollow-eyed, I embodied the pain I felt. I wanted my friends to see it. It was a desperate measure, but I desperately needed compassion.

To be fair, my bishop tried to offer compassion. He thanked me for my courage. He told me that what happened wasn’t my fault. He told me I would have to separate from my church during the investigation, but he offered me a chaplain for spiritual support. I believe he did his best, but there was too much he didn’t understand. Can I blame him for his ignorance? On one level, yes: it was his job to know that stuff. On another level, no. He’s only human, and he’d only been bishop a few years when this happened. My complaint may have been the first one he ever had to face. If he harmed me with rookie errors, maybe he felt bad about it. I can forgive an honest mistake.

And I can offer to help him understand. I did that two years ago, when I sent him my notes on how to offer better support to victims. Here, I’ll reframe my suggestions to be more generally useful.
1. Church leaders, please educate yourselves about trauma. Talk with people who have survived trauma. Read Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery. By the time a victim comes to you with a complaint, she or he is already deeply traumatized. Above all else, you don’t want to cause more trauma.
2. Learn about clergy sexual misconduct: how it happens, what it looks like, and how it affects the victim. The Hope of Survivors and the FaithTrust Institute are great resources. You can find more helpful readings on the Survivor’s Bookshelf.
3. Seek support for the victim. Make responsible disclosures at the right time. If you limit the accused pastor’s ministry, even temporarily, the congregation needs to know. When you speak, remind the congregation that the accuser is suffering, and that she or he deserves their compassion. Remember: the congregation may still turn against the accuser. Do all you can to prevent a shunning; it can cause even more harm than the original abuse.

“Compassion” has been a challenging topic. It’s hard to write about compassion when I’m still reeling from a threat, but Jesus calls us to be compassionate in all circumstances. As I reflect on compassion, I realize I have some to offer to the bishop.

Dear Bishop _____: I am sorry if my writing distresses you. I write to heal, not to harm. Healing can be painful; I pray that any pain I’ve given you is the kind that heals. You needn’t worry that my words will harm your reputation. First, I don’t have as much influence as you think. On a good day, maybe twenty people see my blog. Most of my followers are people who have watched me heal. Aside from my parents, very few Episcopalians follow my blog. Second, readers come here not to learn about my experience, but to understand and heal from theirs. With all due respect, they don’t care who you are.

But I feel the most compassion for my fellow survivors. I don’t presume to know their pain and loneliness; all I know is the pain and loneliness I felt. I know what it felt like to be shamed, despised, and thrown out like trash. Then, I needed someone to stand with me. Now, with these words, I stand alongside my sister and brother survivors. When I write and speak with my real name, I reject not just my shame but all of our shame.

On behalf of all survivors of clergy sexual misconduct and abuse, I call on the church to have compassion and let us speak. When you silence our voices, you cut us off from the very people who can help us heal. We will never have the power of the institutional church. Our only power is our voice, and you must protect that power. With it, we can heal ourselves and others. And if you will listen, we can heal the church.

Elements of Justice: Acknowledging the Violation

In the 1944 thriller-mystery film Gaslight, Charles Boyer’s character tries to convince Ingrid Bergman’s character that she has gone insane. His best-known technique, and the one from which the film gets its name: gaslighting. Boyer secretly dims the gas lights in their home. When Bergman comments that the lights are flickering, he tells her that she’s crazy. She comes to believe it.

Psychoanalyst and author Robin Stern defines gaslighting as “the systematic attempt by one person to erode another’s reality. This is done by telling them that what they are experiencing isn’t so.” Gaslighting usually takes place within a romantic relationship, she says, but it can also happen between friends, family members, and work colleagues. All it requires is “a gaslighter, who needs to be right in order to preserve his own sense of self and his sense of having power; and a gaslightee, who allows the gaslighter to define her sense of reality.” (You can find this passage on page three of Stern’s book The Gaslight Effect.)

I want to make it clear that the church did not gaslight me. On the contrary: by acknowledging my former pastor’s violation in writing, the bishop concretely affirmed my experience. But now that seems to be unraveling. On this blog and elsewhere, I have used the term “sexual misconduct” to describe my former pastor’s actions. The bishop’s attorney now says, “It would be incorrect to imply that __________ ever concluded there had been clergy sexual misconduct.” Is the church attempting to gaslight me after the fact?

A year and a half after the bishop closed my case, I sent him a letter with thanks for his helpful actions, and I suggested ways that his process could offer better support to people like me. Among my bishop’s most helpful actions: the letter that he handed me on March 15, 2010. Although it focused only on the words my former pastor spoke on a single day (which I have described here), and it ignored the earlier behavior that I now see as red flags, the bishop’s letter affirmed that a member of the clergy had harmed me by violating my boundaries. Although the bishop didn’t ask me to keep that letter confidential, I have always considered those words to be holy ground. I won’t share the letter, not even here, not even to show why I was so sure that the bishop had labelled my former pastor’s behavior as “sexual misconduct.” The bishop may now disagree with that term, but we both know what was in the letter.

In Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman describes what often happens after “traumatic events of human design.” After a human-originated trauma, bystanders cannot remain neutral. They have to choose whether to stand with the victim or the perpetrator. The victim demands compassion and empathy; the perpetrator demands only that bystanders go on with their lives. “Silence and secrecy are the perpetrator’s first line of defense,” says Herman. “If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure that no one listens. … After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same predictable apologies: it never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it on herself; and in any case it is time to forget the past and move on.” Is my church now saying, “It never happened”?

I’m about to describe an out-of-print book by Judith Rowland titled “Rape: The Ultimate Violation.” Because the church is sensitive to how I describe my experience, I want to be perfectly clear: my former pastor did not physically harm me in any way. He never violated my physical boundaries, not even once. But Rowland’s work is still relevant to this discussion. In her book, she describes the symptoms of “rape trauma syndrome” (sleeplessness, weight changes, nightmares, isolation, fearfulness, poor job performance, etc). Even in the absence of physical evidence of rape, courts have begun to see these symptoms as evidence that “something happened.”

Could there also be “clergy sexual misconduct trauma syndrome”? The Hope of Survivors lists the consequences of abuse as “fear, grief, anger, anxiety, shame, guilt, low self-esteem (self-respect), self-abuse, suicide, eating disorders (anorexia or bulimia) depression, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and a host of physical illnesses and symptoms, damaged ability to relate to others and to God, trust issues, etc.” Even without a physical violation, I suffered most of the symptoms on this list. Is that not evidence that serious harm happened? If no violation occurred, why would I still be so focused on this issue? If my former pastor hadn’t nearly stolen my soul, why would I spend my time thinking and writing about such a painful subject? Honestly, I don’t want to be doing this work. I want to be traveling, gardening, painting, enjoying my family, and writing about happier things. I want to feel comfortable sharing my writing with my family and friends, but because people are so uncomfortable with this subject, I can’t share this blog with most of the people I know. I don’t do this work for fun; I don’t do it for revenge (my God, life is too short for revenge!) I do it to heal myself, to heal others, and because I can’t ignore the call of God.

When the church refuses to acknowledge the violation, one of two things may happen. The victim may come to doubt her own experience — or she may start fighting like hell. She may refuse to be gaslighted. She may insist on holding to her truth.

My bishop is now offering to set the record straight publicly. If he does, I hope he tells the whole story. I would like to know: if it wasn’t clergy sexual misconduct, then what was it that nearly destroyed my health, my marriage, and my faith?

More Healing and A Blatant Threat.

I went to the Ash Wednesday service at my former church. This wasn’t something I had planned. A friend who knows how much I miss the Episcopal liturgy approached me on Tuesday night. “I’m going to St. _____’s tomorrow,” she said. “Would you like to join me?” My first response was “No,” but then I remembered how kind she has been the past few years. I thought, “I can do this for her.” So I went, and to my surprise I was genuinely blessed. Unlike my previous two visits (a funeral and an ordination), this time nothing bad happened. No one glared or sneered; no one turned their backs. I ran into half a dozen friends, and every one greeted me warmly. I was impressed with the new pastor. Even though I’m now firmly planted in the UCC, I realize that St. _____’s can be a home for me too.

I tell this story because I want my readers to know: healing continues. Even four years later, I am still finding new hope.

…..

Thankfully, the bishop wasn’t there. In my most recent post, I hinted that he is unhappy about my public writings. Here’s the full story: ten days ago, he sent me a threatening letter through our attorneys. If I don’t “bring this whole episode to a close,” the letter read, the bishop might make a grossly misleading public statement about his findings in my case. (When I told my husband what the bishop now claims, he could only say, “What???!”)

I hope the bishop read my last post. I hope he understands that I’m writing not to harm the church or anyone in it, but to heal myself and others. Even after all the trauma, I still love the Episcopal Church. I am hoping to make it (and all churches) safer for vulnerable people. I hope the bishop understands this now, and I hope he writes to tell me so. But until he does, I need to assume that he meant what he said in his letter.

How do we respond to threats from the church? I’ve decided to share my process transparently on this blog. As I respond, I want to model as much strength and wisdom as I can muster. So, what steps have I taken since I received the bishop’s letter?
1. Panic. I responded exactly as he may have hoped I would. When I first read his letter, I bought into his narrative and genuinely believed he had the power to harm me. But then…
2. Reality check. What can he do to my reputation? My former pastor already took care of that. And has the bishop thought about what the community will think if he suddenly makes a public statement about something he has never publicly acknowledged?
3. Pray. For some survivors, prayer is impossible; I’m one of the lucky ones. After years of healing, I can pray again. I ask God to guide my thoughts, words, and actions as I face this challenge. I am angry, but I don’t want to respond in anger. I’m scared (the threat has reawakened old fears), but I don’t want to respond in fear. So I’m praying for courage, peace, and the power to respond in strength and love.
4. WAIT. My daughter told me, “You should post that letter!” I may some day, but not until I get a clear sign from God. I approach this blog the same way. While my feelings ran hot and chaotic, so did my writing. I’ll never publish most of those words. Before I post anything, I wait until I can draw my words from a well of healing and strength.
5. Watch for affirmation. Am I doing the right thing by sharing my story? Am I helping to make the church safer? It seems so. Marie Fortune offered encouragement to people like me in her Ash Wednesday blog post. She said, “No longer does the great silence stifle the truthtelling that must be done. Resistance is strong and enduring.” Another sign: my traffic has doubled since the day I received the bishop’s letter. Surprisingly, most of my new readers come from other countries. Today for the first time, my words reached readers in Croatia, Portugal, and Uruguay. This is thrilling and affirming. A note of assurance for all of my readers: your identity is safe. I can’t see who you are. My statistics only tell me in which countries you live. I am delighted to have non-U.S. readers, and I’d love to hear from you. If there’s an issue I haven’t addressed that’s important to you, please send me an email. You’ll find my address here.

What do I do next? Reflect and Write. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be taking a fresh look at Marie Fortune’s Seven Elements of Justice-Making, which she first outlined in her book Is Nothing Sacred?  Fortune built this list after listening to hundreds of victims and survivors. My former bishop may recognize the list; it’s the same one that Fortune shared when she spoke in our city two years ago.

What are the elements of justice-making? What do victims of clergy sexual misconduct need from the church? According to Marie Fortune, we need:
* Truth-telling
* Acknowledging the violation
* Compassion
* Protecting the vulnerable
* Accountability
* Restitution
* Vindication

In the next seven posts, I’ll be looking at these elements one by one. I welcome other survivors to this conversation. If you reported your abuse to the church, what elements of justice did they offer to you? What did they fail to offer? You can share in the comments below, or you can respond privately by sending me an email.

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