Washington Post: The sin of silence - The epidemic of denial about sexual abuse in the evangelical church

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Jim's picture

cross the United States, evangelical churches are failing to protect victims of sexual abuse among their members. As the #MeToo movement has swept into communities of faith, several high-profile leaders have fallen: Paige Patterson, the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was forced into early retirement this month after reports that he’d told a rape victim to forgive her assailant rather than call the police. Illinois megachurch pastor Bill Hybels similarly retired early after several women said he’d dispensed lewd comments, unwanted kisses and invitations to hotel rooms.

So many Christian churches in the United States do so much good — nourishing the soul, comforting the sick, providing services, counseling congregants, teaching Jesus’s example, and even working to fight sexual abuse and harassment. But like in any community of faith, there is also sin — often silenced, ignored and denied — and it is much more common than many want to believe. It has often led to failures by evangelicals to report sexual abuse, respond appropriately to victims and change the institutional cultures that enabled the abuse in the first place.

Without a centralized theological body, evangelical policies and cultures vary radically, and while some church leaders have worked to prevent abuse and harassment, many have not. The causes are manifold: authoritarian leadership, twisted theology, institutional protection, obliviousness about the problem and, perhaps most shocking, a diminishment of the trauma sexual abuse creates — especially surprising in a church culture that believes strongly in the sanctity of sex. “Sexual abuse is the most underreported thing — both in and outside the church — that exists,” says Boz Tchividjian, a grandson of Billy Graham and a former Florida assistant state attorney.

...

Diagnosing the scope of the problem isn’t easy, because there’s no hard data. The most commonly referenced study shows how difficult it is to find accurate statistics. In that 2007 report, the three largest insurers of churches and Christian nonprofits said they received about 260 claims of sexual abuse against a minor each year. Those figures, though, exclude groups covered by other insurers, victims older than 18, people whose cases weren’t disclosed to insurance companies and the many who, like Denhollander, never came forward. In other words, the research doesn’t include what is certainly the vast majority of sexual abuse. The sex advice columnist and LGBT rights advocate Dan Savage, tired of what he called the hypocrisy of conservatives who believe that gays molest children, compiled his own list that documents more than 100 instances of youth pastors around the country who, between 2008 and 2016, were accused of, arrested for or convicted of sexually abusing minors in a religious setting.

The problem in collecting data stems, in part, from the loose or nonexistent hierarchy in evangelicalism. Catholic Church abusers benefited from an institutional cover-up, but that same bureaucracy enabled reporters to document a systemic scandal. In contrast, most evangelical groups prize the autonomy of local congregations, with major institutions like the Southern Baptist Convention having no authority to enforce a standard operating procedure among member churches. This means researchers attempting to study this issue have to comb through publicly available documents....

...

Why are so many evangelicals (who also devote resources to fighting sex trafficking or funding shelters for battered women) so dismissive of the women in their own pews? Roger Canaff, a former New York state prosecutor who specialized in child sexual abuse, tells me that many worshipers he encountered felt persecuted by the secular culture around them — and disinclined to reach out to their persecutors for help in solving problems. This is the same dynamic that drove a cover-up culture among ultra-Orthodox communities in New York, where rabbis insisted on dealing with child abusers internally, according to several analysts.

But among evangelicals, there is an added eschatological component: According to a 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center, 41 percent of Americans believe that the end times will occur before 2050. In some evangelical teachings, a severe moral decay among unbelievers precedes the rapture of the faithful. Because of this, many evangelicals see the outside world as both a place in need of God’s love and a corrupt, fallen place at odds with the church. (“New Secularism is an attempt to undermine and destroy Christianity,” warned a headline in Christian Today a few years ago.)

Don Johnson's picture

"No hard data" = rampant abuse epidemic

This is what "objective" journalism is today. Say what you want, "no hard data" needed

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Jim's picture

About the use of the word "epidemic". It's twice in the article:

  • It's in the title: "The sin of silence: The epidemic of denial about sexual abuse in the evangelical church"
  • And later: "Sexual sin is talked about constantly, and extramarital sex is considered a heinous moral lapse. (A student at Patterson’s seminary who told him she’d been date-raped was disciplined for being in the man’s room) It stands to reason that churches don’t want to air an epidemic of wickedness among their flocks."

I rarely read the Washington Post for two reasons:

  • It's a subscription that I don't want to pay for (one typically gets x free reads a month. Eg the NYTimes is 10). My [whatever x is for them goes quickly] and then I am locked out
  • It's about as a left learning as I can't stand
  • On the other hand it is very influential. There's little to argue about here!

Is sex abuse an epidemic in fundydom? Evangelical circles? An epidemic is a "a widespread occurrence". I don't see it as widespread! Are we in denial that it exists? Doubt that to.

By the way - BJU gets unjustly (my view) slammed by the article.

 

Jay's picture

"No Hard Data" does not mean that the problem isn't real.  That's all I have to say about that.  It may be comforting to believe, but that's all.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

GregH's picture

I am about to bite the bullet and pay for the Washington Post and NYT online. The WaPo does outstanding journalism and the NYT does as well. Far from the kind of nonsense you read on Fox News and much of CNN, etc where you see lots of agenda-driven stuff.

I watched the movie The Post recently about the WaPo breaking the story on Nixon and how Nixon tried to bully it. It was quite similar in a lot of ways to what we see today. Frankly, when I see the absurd and anti-democracy attacks on the WaPo from the White House these days, it makes me want to buy a subscription and support them for that reason alone.

In regards to an epidemic in evangelicalism regarding sexual abuse, I suppose you have to define what "epidemic" means. However, it is sort of undeniable that evangelicalism has a problem with abuse. You can debate whether it rises to an epidemic or not if it makes you feel better. Seems to me the time would be better spent fixing the problem though.

Joeb's picture

Donn you and your FBFI and BJU and connected churches along with ABWE and connected churches are probably some of the biggest offenders.  So of course you would minimize the Truth.  

Is not that what  your hero Chuck Phelps did when he just reported Ernie Willis as only having a consensual relationship to the Police when he full well knew it was rape.  For the record you guys their is another young lady who was allegedly sexually abused in Godly Chuck’s church prior to Tina Anderson and she alleged that Godly Chuck covered up and minimized her situation to. Once bad judgement but twice  

Its interesting how Godly Giovoni.  used the same Attorney as Godly Chuck. used to try  to wiggle out of giving up his notes to the court that showed Godly Chuck CLEARLY KNEW it was a rape.  Oooops Donn. How does your clan know to use the same Attorney or his father to wiggle out  of covering up sex abuse.  What is it under Snake Attorney in your Rolodex. Same one Jack Hyles used or  related Attorney ie  father . A FIXER. Speaks real good of the reputation of your clan and how honest they are that you all use the same fixer(s) when you get your chest’s  caught in the ringer. 

PS. Hey Donn was it not your gang who  supported Bart Janz trying to stop Jocelyn Zichterman from coming out with her book.  Boy that speaks well of you clan considering the Former Owner Of Sharper Iron supposedly admitted that he sexually abused his sister once but as usual he probably left out it was once a week.  This helps confirm Zichterman’s allegations along with her sister and Zichterman’s children.  I guess the BJU crowd backed a loosing horse again. 

Minimize that’s seems to be the  way of your section of the clan just like Gothard who by the way Patterson’s Wife was involved with along with Michelle Duggar.   

Joeb's picture

I apologize Donn. I got carried away.  I’m very passionate about our Christian Sisters being abused.  

Bert Perry's picture

....for hard data--by which I'd suppose Don might be referring to peer reviewed data or DOJ data or something--when we've got abundant evidence that big names in our movement have had some huge problems?   Let's face facts; we had a scandals at ABWE, BJU, SEBTS, SWBTS, New Tribes, and SGM where we have had issues where not only the perpetrators, but also people around them decided to keep matters quiet until outside commentary made it impossible to ignore.  

Let's face facts, folks; there are an awful lot of us with a code of omerta, and the longer it takes us to admit it, the longer that list of scandals is going to grow.  We can't afford to point fingers at everyone else anymore--if we ever could.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Don Johnson's picture

Bert, if there is no data there is no story. That's it. It's beyond ridiculous to huff and puff about nothing. 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Bert Perry's picture

The cases I mentioned are nothing, Don?  Even though they're bound by consistent habits among the perpetrators and abettors of the behavior?

Really?   We're going to wait for a few years for some "lucky" grad student to get around to studying it, a few more while he writes his dissertation and does the math, all the while new Donn Ketchams relieve themselves on what's left of the reputation of fundamentalism, until the whole edifice resembles little so much as a cesspool on a hot, steamy day?

Seems to me that Paul did not wait until he had peer reviewed results before he rebuked the Corinthian church for tolerating the lover of his stepmother, and John did not wait until he had peer reviewed results before he promised to rebuke Diotrephes in person.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

G. N. Barkman's picture

I don't understand why BJU gets lumped together with ABWE (and similar cases).  Unless I have missed something, the two situations have virtually nothing in common.  Did BJU cover up known cases of school employees guilty of sexual abuse?  It is my understanding that when such occurred, the perpetrator was reported immediately to local authorities.  Am I mistaken?

G. N. Barkman

Jim's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

I don't understand why BJU gets lumped together with ABWE (and similar cases). 

My view as well

The ABWE case was egregious (like the New Tribes)

Jim's picture

The following is a statement given by the Pastors of Immanuel Baptist Church to the Washington Post.

We Were Rachael’s Church

In January of this year, Rachael Denhollander’s victim impact statement went viral. Her face-to-face confrontation of her convicted abuser, Larry Nassar, was marked by tremendous courage and grace. As Bible-believing pastors, we delighted to hear Rachael’s clear proclamation of biblical justice and forgiveness. In Rachael’s words, these twin themes were presented with the same balance with which God presents them in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. At the cross, God’s justice is satisfied, and His forgiveness is extended. To this day, we delight in the impact that Rachael’s statement and subsequent public witness have had in the cause of protecting the sexually abused.

However, delight was not our only reaction. During Rachael’s impact statement she lamented, “My advocacy for sexual assault victims, something I cherished, cost me my church.” As the pastors of Immanuel Baptist Church, we knew that we were that church. After years of membership at Immanuel, Rachael and her husband Jacob had left our church voluntarily just weeks before the Nassar trial began. This departure is why ‘delight’ was not our only reaction to Rachael’s testimony. Instead, we felt confusion, sadness, frustration, introspection, fear, and had a host of other thoughts and emotions. Fortunately, because of Rachael’s decision not to name our church publicly, we were able to enter into a season of deep self-examination without the scrutiny of the outside world.

From Questions to Confession

The weeks that followed produced a flurry of questions, conversations, and clarifications. We read every article, talked to hundreds of our church members, solicited advice from multiple church leaders, met with the Denhollanders personally, spent hours meeting as pastors, and, finally, met with our entire church family. By the time we met with our church family, we saw we had sin to confess. We had come to see that there were ways we had failed to serve the church we love, and we had failed to care adequately for the Denhollanders in a time of deep need.

Our particular failures did not stem from discouraging the Denhollanders to pursue justice in the Larry Nassar case. We did not discourage them in their pursuit of justice; in fact, we applaud those efforts. Rather, our failures stemmed from not listening to and properly understanding Rachael’s concerns about our invitation to have Sovereign Grace Church leaders preach to our church. We simply did not have the categories to fully discern what Rachael was saying at the time. This misunderstanding then played a role in our seeing the Denhollanders’ articulation of these concerns as divisive instead of informative. Finally, the poor pastoral care that resulted from these assumptions led the Denhollanders (understandably) to choose a new church.

As we interacted with the Denhollanders over their departure from Immanuel, we expressed things which we now deeply regret. In hindsight, we see we were sinfully unloving. We have since thoroughly repented to the Denhollanders and to the church we serve, seeking to confess every known sin. In return, the Denhollanders and our church family have been very gracious and forgiving. The Denhollanders have assured us that there is no longer any breach in our relationship and that all of our wrongs against them are forgiven. It is a deep joy to us that the gospel can restore our relationships when we fail.

Don’t Misunderstand

Sadly, many will view our listening to Rachael (and the concerns of other abuse victims within our own congregation) as a condemnation of Sovereign Grace Churches (SGCs). It is not meant to be any such thing.  While we lament the victims who have experienced abuse while attending SGCs, we do not have any information that would lead us to the definitive conviction that SGC leaders have broken any laws. Instead, we have seen that by partnering so closely with them while accusations against them were unanswered, we unknowingly communicated to those who have experienced abuse that we were not concerned to hear their voices. While charges against SGCs remain unanswered, we have thought it best to discontinue inviting their leaders to minister to our church. This change is in no way a pronouncement of guilt on SGCs. Rather, it is part of our attempt to repent of our failure to listen to the victims of abuse within our congregation.

The Gift of Reproof

During a long, hard pastors’ meeting in which we were beginning to see some of our faults, one of our pastors said, “We have been given a gift.” After months of reflection, we believe this statement more than ever. Being made to see our blind spots has been a gift to us. In the last few months, God has increased our sensitivity to the concerns of the abused. He has called us to look at our own shortcomings as pastors. He has allowed us to seek and receive forgiveness from those we have failed. He has motivated us to ensure that Immanuel Baptist Church is a place where the abused are cared for and abusers are vigilantly protected against. He has renewed our sense of the importance of being held accountable to one another, to our congregation, and to the watching world. We pray that God would continue to write these lessons deeply on our hearts so that the gospel can continue to be clearly proclaimed in and through our lives.

Don Johnson's picture

as usual, this thread is drifting into another attempt to make whipping boys of various institutions. Whatever the merit of all the charges alleged or proven against these institutions, this thread isn't about them. I earlier posited that some on this site have a huge problem with reading comprehension. The current thread drift is evidence in support of this.

If you will go back to the top of the page, you will see that the thread began with a link to the Washington Post, claiming an epidemic of sexual abuse in evangelicalism.

Jim quoted extensively from the article, which clearly admitted there was no hard data on said epidemic, but, nevertheless, it must be true because... the WaPo said so, I guess.

then comes the hysterics, trotting out the favorite whipping boys, which no matter how you figure it, represent a tiny segment of evangelicalism/fundamentalism. These allegations don't equal the hard data missing from the WaPo story. It's all rather pathetic.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

TylerR's picture

Editor

I agree.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

....are united by the factor of people keeping the allegations inside and not releasing evidence of sexual assault to the police.  It is true that one involves an internal (non-student) actor and the other does not.

I view these sad situations as indicative of a larger problem simply because of the outsized influence of both institutions in our circles.  You can hardly swing a dead cat around at many churches without hitting a BJU grad or ABWE missionary, no?  For that matter, we're (rightly except for recent events I think) getting closer with SEBTS and SWBTS.  

Regarding the absolute incidence, sorry, but I'm not going to wait six years for someone to get their sociology Ph.D proving that the incidence of tolerance of this kind of abuse is higher, lower, or about the same as society as a whole.  I simply have to note that (a) a few very important institutions in fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism have been caught in huge issues along these lines and (b) if we're even a factor of ten lower than the culture at large, we have a huge issue.  Why not get ahead of the curve instead of waiting for it to hit us upside the head?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jay's picture

BJU isn't the same as ABWE, for sure, but I don't think that minimizing what did happen at BJU helps anyone or makes the issue any better.  Do I really need to pull out the findings of the GRACE report again to remind everyone on SI what happened there, and how badly some of their missteps were?  Do we really want Don's church to be swept up in allegations before it becomes serious/significant enough to discuss and learn from?  Are we so stupid as to believe that someone has to be led away in handcuffs before we can respond to claims like this as having some kind of factual basis?

The position of some seems to be that we can ignore any allegations and then not discuss it when the problems strike in our circles because it's not MY church and it's not MY friend.  That...doesn't seem terribly wise to me. 

Good luck trying to explain to a sexual assault victim that what happened at BJU is different from what happened at ABWE.  You'll need it.

Maybe we should pioneer our own counter-hashtag: #notmyproblem.  That'd be helpful, right?

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Joeb's picture

Aaron the main problem is Fundy/Evangelicals are not reporting and they’re  STILL COVERING IT UP AND LYING. 

The BJU Grad that sexually assaulted the girl at BJU is still being hid overseas to escape prosecution.  BJU WAS CAUGHT RED HANDED COVERING UP OR HIM.  The  current Baptist Mission still refuses to bring  him home to face charges, BECAUSE HE REPENTED. BJU MINIMIZED WHAT HE DID TO THE GAL.

 One of the main supporting churches is where GODLY SERIAL SEX PERP  JOSH DUGGER went for his sex addiction treatment. This church was appealed to by the Maddening Crowd to cut the support and they ignored the appeals.  This GODLY BAPTIST Church and PASTOR had direct ties to JACK HYLES.  Also to this date the church is still tied tight with the DUGGARS. 

In the investigative business into ORGANIZED CRIME GROUPS you called those people organized crime associates.  You would have to be a total idiot not to say BJU The Church and the Mission have acted in concert to protect the Sex Perp.  DONT YOU GET IT YET AARON THIS CLAN OF THE TRIBE ARE ALL ENGAGING IN CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR.   So your argument is a total wash and that’s what Bert is arguing.  ITS GOT TO BE REPORTED AND YOUR GUYS ARE STILL NOT DOING IT.  

In the public arena not hiding behind religious freedom these organizations would be shut down.  Here is a straight up question Aaron how do you defend such behavior still going on. Church Autonomy.  ITS DISGUSTING.  YET ITS STILL GOING ON.

Pastor Schifflet saying it’s an epidemic in the IFB circles is absolutely true with everything that has gone on. The Fundamentalists are still trying to get away with it.  That’s a serious SIN problem amongst the Fundementalists and the Evangelicals. The poor underage gals and few underage boys and young gals only have the Maddening Crowd in their corners along with the IFB Pastors who have any scruples.  You know the ones above a CIRCUS  CHIMP in intelligence and not below.  You can spout all the verses you want Aaron it’s totally absolutely meaningless if the people in authority are still covering it up and/or not doing the right thing ie reporting criminal behavior.   

This idea that we think of the well being of the Sex Perp and his family prior to the concerns of the victim is gross. I don’t care about the needs of the Sex Perp and his family until after the needs of the victim are met first period.  

Don Johnson's picture

No available data means the Washington Post is making up their accusation of an "epidemic" out of NOTHING.

you can be part of the hysterical crowd if you want, but the fact is, the "story" is a non-story.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Bert Perry's picture

 Don, how many victims would Donn Ketcham and BJU have had to have had, and how many staffers at ABWE would have had to be "in the know" for you to think this is more than a non-story?  Just askin'.  Maybe if it was over 300 like at Michigan State, or over 400 like at USC?  Maybe a few thousand or something?  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jay's picture

I’ll humor you, Don and agree with you for argument’s sake that it is not an “epidemic”.  Is it a systemic problem?  Is it even a problem or do we just blow it off as #notmyproblem?

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Don Johnson's picture

You guys are in the wrong thread. This one isn't about ABWE or BJU. It isn't about anything systemic or epidemic to evangelicalism. It's about the Washington Post non-story.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

G. N. Barkman's picture

I read a great deal of the Grace report regarding BJU.  It was critical, but I don't remember any evidence that an employee of BJU sexually assaulted a student and was not reported to the authorities.  Am I mistaken?  (I asked the same question earlier on this thread, and received several critical comments about BJU, but no evidence of an unreported sexual assault by an employee.  Again, have I missed something?)

G. N. Barkman

Jim's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

You guys are in the wrong thread. This one isn't about ABWE or BJU. It isn't about anything systemic or epidemic to evangelicalism. It's about the Washington Post non-story.

Non-story? Perhaps (I already made some comments about the use of "epidemic"). One value of the article is that it portrays how the Washington Post views us. And because the WAPO is influential:

  • We need to know about it AND
  • Be prepared to respond (the next person you present Christ to may have read this article)
Bert Perry's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

You guys are in the wrong thread. This one isn't about ABWE or BJU. It isn't about anything systemic or epidemic to evangelicalism. It's about the Washington Post non-story.

ABWE, BJU, SWBTS, SEBTS, SGM, and New Tribes are not part of the broader evangelical movement?  It has absolutely nothing to do with whether we have problems we ought to address?

Keep those blinders on, Don.  Keep them on!

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Don Johnson's picture

Jim wrote:

 

Don Johnson wrote:

 

You guys are in the wrong thread. This one isn't about ABWE or BJU. It isn't about anything systemic or epidemic to evangelicalism. It's about the Washington Post non-story.

 

 

Non-story? Perhaps (I already made some comments about the use of "epidemic"). One value of the article is that it portrays how the Washington Post views us. And because the WAPO is influential:

  • We need to know about it AND
  • Be prepared to respond (the next person you present Christ to may have read this article)

yes, I agree with that. It is worth noting, but the hysterical want to make it proof of their thesis

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3