Abuse in Church – Fear Hides, Love Frees

mean preacher

Maybe the church has too much time on its hands. Like kids near the end of summer when Mom is saying, “Okay, two more weeks and they’re back in school. No more boiling a baseball so it will bounce higher or using conditioner on the dog.”

I say this because so many in the evangelical church spend a lot of time making enemies of the LGBTQ and allies, protecting its own power structure, and generally distinguishing itself as devoid of the compassion Jesus showed everyone on earth (except, ironically, the religious elite).

Two close friends of mine were severely and chronically sexually abused as girls. By church pastors. ‘Kacey’ was repeatedly raped by her pastor of one church and by her youth pastor of the next church—as well as other abusers. ‘Becca’ was repeatedly raped by her two youth pastors—a married couple. Both were abused in other serious ways as well.

Both these women outcried to a parent; both outcried to someone on the church staff. And despite evidence, both girls were told they were lying and made to confess. Kacey had to tell of the abuse, in detail, to the (all male) church leaders—the elders and deacons. Becca had to confess she was “lying” to to the entire congregation. Becca remembers the look on the women’s faces as they came up to “lay hands on her and pray for her.” She also remembers the flurry of the kids in the days after, saying, “Mom asked me if they ever touched me.” Becca knew even then (at age 11) that many of those women believed her. Kacey remembered not concern but smugness on the elders’ faces. Here’s the upshot: No one took action for either girl. Even if some people believed them, they still threw these children under the bus.

I want to think this is isolated. Rare. Hardly ever happens… and I just happen to know two of the very few women this happened to. But that is not the case. Boz Tchividjian,* grandson of Billy Graham, and founder of GRACE  (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), says the “evangelical sex abuse record is worse than Catholic’s.”

Church as a system is designed for its own survival. Like a fortress. No one is going to take ‘us’ down. And by us, I mean the men in charge, not the children or (the LGBTQ or spouses trapped in abusive marriages, or women who get a smile and a nod but not a voice, or others outside the power grid). Society has long known that the church system is a magnet for pedophiles—where else do you find easy access to kids whose parents are trained to trust without question and that anger in underlings is a sin? The church system is also a magnet for controlling, abusive men—where else do you find a patriarchal system that encourages women to submit quietly and joyfully to men? Finally, the church system is a magnet for homophobes—a place where you can use God’s microphone to vent your disdain for LGBTQ.

Of course I’m not saying every man in church leadership is a controller or pedophile. But I am saying the power structure draws those men with ultimately little in place to obstruct them. And like any power system, those who rise into its ranks are not eager to dismantle it.

I’ve been told I unjustly malign the church, but hey, I’m standing with Jesus as he makes his own whip, and then uses it to throw down the religious elite who dared abuse the innocents in their charge.

You are probably not a child molester, nor necessarily part of the church elite. But if you are in a church, you’re part of the power structure; the power can’t exist without the beams that hold it up. Do you sit quietly as the pastor speaks condemnation instead of compassion? Are you wise to those who need a voice? Are you risking yourself to provide that voice?

Fear hides abuse and holds the structure in place. Love frees and dismantles it.

* Professor Tchividjian created the “Crimes Against Children” division of the Office of State Attorney and was personally responsible for the prosecution of hundreds of cases child sexual abuse cases. Tchividjian is a frequent lecturer on the various legal issues related to the prosecution of child sexual abuse and is active in training prosecutors, investigators, social workers, and medical personnel.  He is a founding member and Executive Director of GRACE  (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), which educates and equips the faith community to correctly respond to sexual abuse disclosures, while also providing practical guidance to churches on how to protect children.  GRACE also provides confidential consultations to churches, schools, & other organizations which are struggling with issues involving sexual abuse. Professor Tchividjian speaks extensively on this subject at various conferences, schools, and denominational gatherings. He has also appeared numerous times on radio and television to discuss the work of GRACE. In 2006, Professor Tchividjian was a contributor to the video series Caring for Kids God’s Way produced by the American Association of Christian Counselors.

3 thoughts on “Abuse in Church – Fear Hides, Love Frees

  1. Wow! I didn’t know that the evangelical record is worse than the Catholic one. Does not surprise me though. Thank you for taking a bold, frank look at this! I know God is appalled at what men do in His name. I endeavor to never be one of those that would treat my fellow creation with anything but love.

    * * *~Autumn Fowlkes* How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. – Anne Frank *


    On Wed, Oct 30, 2013 at 10:59 AM, FreedHearts wrote:

    > ** > Susan Cottrell, FreedHearts posted: ” Maybe the church has too much > time on its hands. Like kids near the end of summer when Mom is saying, > Okay, two more weeks and theyre back in school. No more boiling a > baseball so it will bounce higher or using conditioner on the dog. I say > this”

  2. Susan, you bring up such important points regarding sexual abuse and the church. I commend you and thank you for your courage in shining a light in a very dark place. Sexual abuse of children by faith leaders is certainly the most hideous blight on the church, and it is on ALL of us to call it out and do what it takes to eradicate it. There is another kind of power abuse on the rise in church circles, as well, but it is less talked about: Clergy Sexual Abuse of adults. Like sexual abuse of children, CSA is the result of power run amuck. As you’ve so aptly pointed out, church power structures invite abuse. When the equation is POWER + VULNERABILITY, VICTIMIZATION is often the result. And, when victims seek help inside the church, they are usually met with a ‘circle the wagons’ mentality and/or a closed – and locked – door. What’s behind that door? A circle of FEAR.

    Hundreds of thousands of children and adults have been abused by their faith leaders. Maybe someone reading this blog is a victim. If so, please know that you are not alone – not by a long shot. Susan, if you would consider posting this article about CSA, it may help someone find healing. God bless you, sweet friend.


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