I received a phone call yesterday from the brother of someone who was sexually abused by a minister in their church when she was 13-16 years old. Without giving full details on the rape(s), he mentioned that his mother approached the rapist in church, and after speaking with him chose to sweep it under the rug. The ministry leader (who was not head pastor) was engaged to be married, and of course their was ministry to consider as well, so she never pressed charges.
Now 25, and struggling with life itself, this woman has disclosed what happened to her brothers. The sexual predator disguised as a minister is married with three girls, still in ministry and never held accountable for his actions.
Her brother is furious and not taking this lying down. When he went to a gathering in this pastor’s home (not the predator but the pastor of the church) the pastor said that in the face of something like this you should remember Matthew 7 and never take your Christian brother to court. If you do, you will be outside of the will of God.
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I found this pastor’s answer to be a form of spiritual abuse and here is why:
- The pastor never acknowledged the victim
- The pastor never acknowledged that their was a sexual predator in ministry
- The pastor only acknowledged that a victim should not take a predator to court
- He used the scripture out of context in order to manipulate and confuse the victims
I do not want to speak ill of this pastor because I do not personally know his walk with God. It is possible that this pastor is uneducated about the bible and child sexual abuse. It is also possible that this pastor does not know how to handle situations where child sexual abuse has happened in church. However, I find his words and his actions a form of spiritual abuse because he was using scripture out of context (likely on purpose) to avoid personal punishment. In other words, his advice was to clear himself of any wrongdoing.
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The pastor understands that if he ignored sexual abuse when that child was 13-16, he is also responsible for any recompense that would be ruled in a court of law. There are a few things that I want to tell the victim, and a few things I want to tell pastors.
Victims and their families
The scripture in Matthew 7 is not saying that you should not take your fellow christian to court. The scripture was referring to the structure of the court system at that time. During this time in scripture there was a Christian court, and a Secular court.
In The Bible and Child Sexual Abuse II I say this:
We do not have a separate Christian Court where pastors judge conflicts. We say we do, but we don’t. Many pastors, and clergymen ignore very serious issues, and not follow the bible as it pertains to handling church disputes. When a person in the church takes another person’s money to do a fake investment, believers are told to just pray for them and walk in love. The same is required of adultery and other forms of Christian misconduct. I am not saying all churches do this, but many.
Finally, the bible does not indicate that you can not as a Christian take someone who is, or is not a Christian to court. The bible says that the dispute should be able to be handled outside of court because of your spiritual sophistication, but there are exceptions. If you call the police because you or your child have been a victim of sexual violence, you are not wrong, or sinfully unrighteous. You use wisdom.
Paul advised the church of Corinth to avoid giving an unbeliever the right to judge situations between believers, Paul was not saying that Christians should not take Christians to Court, they had a court system for believers only.
- If you go to your pastor and they ignore you, if you are well and desire to seek justice, make a formal complaint in writing. If you want to take them to court, you are not out of the will of God. Do what is necessary, and call me if there is any way that I can support you in your journey.
- If your pastor is the perpetrator call the police and file a complaint now! This is not about money, when any person in leadership abuses this position by abusing children, or adults through spiritual abuse, it devalues the name that put them in office (to those who are hurt), God. If you feel strong enough to make a formal complaint, do so. If you want to take measures within the church call me for suggestions.
Pastors (Decision Makers)
I understand that you fear being litigated because of mishandling a case of child sexual abuse. I also agree that pastors should not be mandated reporters. A pastor’s position is very different from anything else on earth, and in spiritual leadership people need to have someone who they can go to for counsel.
However, with this position God does guide and direct you in making decisions out of love and not fear. God does guide you in who should be reported, and who is choosing to turn from wicked ways, and obey God and the law.
Instead of selfishness and fear of being sued motivating you to blame the victim, and cause more emotional and psychological violence to a broken spirit and soul, I have some specific suggestions for you to make things right in your church.
- Bring in someone who has a personal relationship with God, who is a speaker and educator on the subject of the bible and child sexual abuse.
There are many organizations who are forming pamphlets and workshops for churches to tell you how to handle these situations in church but they have no relationship with God, and can not reconcile scripture with the issue. I highly encourage you to bring in someone who is going to speak from a spiritual perspective, and deliver messages that will heal, and transform your congregation.
- Confront the predator.
If he admits his actions, or denies his actions but you believe he is lying, sit him down (from leadership.) The victim and other members of the church need to see that you are willing to do what is right, even if it is someone you know and have close connection with. A predator will groom many people around the victim(s) so that you feel that silence is the best way to handle it as well.
If liability is really your concern, then why are you pretending that something did not happen? Someone was psychologically affected by these actions, and you can’t just pray this away because child sexual abuse is an abomination to God. He hates it!
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Put together an action plan for if something heinous like this arises, and be prepared to make decisions that support the victim(s) and your congregation in healing, and understanding that there is no tolerance for this behavior.
Note: The reason education is necessary for you and the entire church is because there are different kinds of sexual predators. I use the term child sexual abuse grooming to describe the process that perpetrators take in order to gain access to a child for the purpose of abuse. Some of the complexities of child sexual abuse are important for you to learn to prevent you as a pastor from also being groomed, and impairing your spiritual judgment.
- Meet with the Victim and their family
This is the honorable thing to do. You are the shepherd and it is your responsibility to make sure that your “child” is not going to go astray (from God – not you) because they have been sexually abused.
You want to comfort the family, and set an action plan in place so that you can help the family heal from what has happened. You also need to explore partnerships with child sexual abuse counselors who are christian to be available to help those (on a referral basis) that you send. Perhaps you can find one that you have on staff, who can provide family and individual counseling.
For additional information on what your church can do to prevent or solve a domestic or sexual violence problem, please contact Ressurrection Graves directly at: 202.717.7377
Ressurrection Graves is a licensed minister, child sexual abuse educator and H.E.A.L.E.R. She supports victims of domestic and sexual violence in their healing, and teaches child sexual abuse prevention to churches, and mandated reporters. She is a regular radio guest and speaker who can be reached at: ressurrection dot wordpress at yahoo dot com. To check out her speaking topics, please click here.