A 7 Point Plan for the Church to Care for Victims, not Support Abusers

by | May 16, 2022 | Abuse | 28 comments

Church should support victims not abusers
Merchandise is Here!

What happens when we stress forgiveness over authenticity and confession?

I want to start this morning with the story that got me thinking in this direction, and then propose 7 guidelines for how we, as Christians, handle taking sides when abuse is made public.

Yesterday I was on my feet too much and threw my back out. So after dinner I headed to bed and lay flat on my back and needed something to do. I decided to watch something on Netflix that I knew Keith wouldn’t like, since it was hard to watch something together with me in that position. I found a documentary called “Our Father” about a case I had read about a few years ago–Dr. Don Cline, a fertility doctor in Indiana, had used his own sperm without telling women countless times, and the resulting half-siblings had found each other through DNA testing on ancestry.com.

So far there are 90 half-siblings, but that’s only the ones who have tested. I imagine there are far, far more.

What made it even worse is that not only did Dr. Cline use his own sperm when he told the women it was donor sperm that would only be used two or three times; he substituted his own when a husband’s sperm was available. Many of the half-siblings did not even know that the father’s sperm hadn’t been used until the DNA testing.

And, to top it all off, most of this took place in the early 80s before frozen sperm was used, so you needed “fresh” sperm–like within the last hour. So the doctor would “produce” the sperm in the next room while the woman waited, not knowing what he was doing just down the hallway.

Those are the basic facts (and you can read more about it in the Atlantic story).

What interested me about “Our Father”, though, was the thread of evangelicalism that was woven through the whole documentary.

The doctor had Bible verses cross-stitched all over his rooms, including Jeremiah 1:5:

 

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
Jeremiah 1:5(a)

He used that verse to tell the half-siblings, once they discovered each other and discovered what had happened, that it was all okay because God had planned them into existence.

He never apologized. He never took responsibility for what he did. Instead, he portrayed himself as a saviour, someone who actually gave these women babies who wanted them so badly.

The only thing the state could ever charge him with was obstructing justice by lying to authorities.

He was given a suspended sentence and fined $500.

But at his trial so many members of his church submitted character reference letters. 

The documentary interviewed one member of the church who stayed anonymous, and while he acknowledged that what Dr. Cline had did was bad, he also said that we knew that Cline was forgiven, and that all of this had already been taken care of by Jesus.

That’s the juxtaposition I couldn’t get over: insistence that Cline was forgiven at the same time as so many were in absolute turmoil over what he had done.

It was classic DARVO (the method abusers use to excuse themselves): They were reversing victim and offender by painting Cline as the victim. He had been forgiven; so now everyone else had to forgive him, and what was wrong with them that they were still harping on this?

And they were portraying Cline as this pillar of the community simply because he was a well-known doctor and was an elder in the church who used to baptize new believers.

Do church people have no discernment?

The logic of his fellow church members went like this: “He was actually doing a service for these women because donor sperm back then was really hard to get (since it had to be collected fresh, right when she was ovulating). Sometimes the donor sperm just wasn’t available, and he didn’t want to disappoint these women. So he used his own.”

Like they were painting him as a selfless hero!

And let’s remember that he did this even when the husband’s sperm was available, fresh, and right there. 

By doing this, these church members were spitting in the faces of the victims. They besmirched the name of Christ. As one of the victims, who was Catholic, said, “you don’t get to use the name of my God to justify what you did to me. You don’t get to use God.” Yep.

My thoughts on what we should do about publicly defending someone who has done something wrong

I would like to propose a new standard that we use before we, as Christians, publicly defend a friend, colleague, or someone that we respect, when they are accused of abuse or wrongdoing of some kind.

1. Always speak to the victims too

Before you say anything publicly, talk to the other side. So often we only talk to the perpetrator, and they can defend themselves in all kinds of ways and spin the story. But you won’t know the whole story until you also talk to the victims.

2. Make sure that the perpetrator has done everything they can to reconcile, including apologizing and making restitution

If the perpetrator has not apologized to the victims, and if they have done nothing to make restitution, then they aren’t to be defended yet. Think of Zacchaeus, whom Jesus brought back into the fold in Luke 19:1-10. He was a tax collector who had stolen a lot from his neighbors. When he encountered Jesus and was changed, he gave away half of what he had to the poor, and paid back what he stole 4 times over. That’s called restitution.

3. Make sure the perpetrator has been up front and honest.

If there has been a pattern of truth coming out in drips and drabs–like he admits a bit of something, but only a bit, until something else comes out, and then he admits a bit more–then you cannot assume that the truth is actually out.

In Dr. Cline’s case, he first said that there weren’t more than 10 children, then more than 20, then more than 50. There are 90 at the current count, but it’s likely much, much more.

Unless the perpetrator has confessed to MORE than what can be proven, it’s unlikely the perpetrator has actually owned up to everything he or she did, because usually more was done than was actually discovered.

4. Make the victims’ well-being the focus

When we know someone, we naturally worry about them and want them to be okay. We know their family, and we see the toll that this coming out in the open is having on them.

Often the victims just look like an angry mob trying to cancel someone. They may have substance abuse issues, or they may not be as upper middle class as the perpetrator. But the thing is often these substance abuse issues and problems stem from being victimized in the first place. And often victims are chosen because they don’t have the same support systems.

No matter how much you care about the perpetrator, the well-being of the victim should be the main consideration.

5. Do not advocate for leniency unless the victims want it

Maybe what the victims really need is justice. And if the perpetrator were really repentant and understood what they did, they would be willing to accept the consequences of their actions.

The victims should guide what punishment or consequences are given, and we should not ask for less. And that means encouraging civil authorities to be involved when appropriate! Do not treat abuse like internal matters, or say that the church should keep things inside. No, when civil laws have been broken, then civil authorities should be involved and we should all cooperate.

6. Care for the spiritual needs of the perpetrator

Your focus for the perpetrator should not be to get them off the hook, but instead to shepherd them towards a deeper relationship with God, which will mean repentance and restitution, and acceptance of justice. You do not have to make life easy for them, but you can still be with them to talk, to pray, to guide. That accountability may ultimately mean, however, that they are expelled from a congregation if they fail to own up to what they did. And be aware that abusers often say all the right words without doing any real change. If they aren’t owning up to it, don’t keep meeting with them. 

And you can help their family deal with this too, with practical help if necessary (remembering that supporting the victims is still the #1 focus).

7. Remember that trust is rebuilt over time.

Finally, when someone has abused their power in some way, and restoration looks like it could be in the cards (it often will never be!), remember that we need one more thing first: time. Before restoration is even considered, all six of the previous points have to have been met: the abuser has to admit everything they did willingly, and tried to make restitution in whatever way possible; the victim has to steer the process and must be supported. But even then we still must give this time.

Especially with spousal abuse, you don’t know if someone has changed just overnight. If they have really repented, they’ll be willing to wait to show it in their character. We’re supposed to be wise as serpents. It’s okay to wait and see.

And remember too that restoration doesn’t mean they necessarily get back what they had before. Some sins disqualify you from church leadership forever. Some sins may mean the marriage should never, ever be restored. We need wisdom here!

I am so sick of hearing stories where the church stands up for the abuser.

I’ll see stories of people who have done horrendous things, and the church shows up in the courtroom to support the perpetrator, and no one is there to support the victim. Doug Wilson is famous for doing this for pedophiles in the church he runs in Moscow, idaho, but there are countless stories of it. Julie Roys recently wrote about how John MacArthur and his church supported a pedophile, even after he was convicted, and excommunicated the pedophile’s wife instead.

The Together for the Gospel conference was famous for supporting pastor C.J.Mahaney, even after he was credibly accused of covering up child sexual abuse, and ignored the victims.

And the SBC has allowed those who abuse to stay in the pulpit, while they’ve for decades refused to be held accountable for abuse.

How about next time abuse happens, the church shows up at the courtroom for the victims, too? How about the victim be the focus?

If we want to look like Jesus, that’s what we’ll do. Because otherwise we just look like monsters.

Dr. Cline’s church looked even worse to me than Dr. Cline. There will always be evil narcissists. There will always be sociopaths. But the church doesn’t have to support them.

This shouldn’t be that hard.

Church Should Support Victims Not Perpetrators

What do you think? Have you seen a church support the abuser, or cover up abuse, rather than support the victim? How can we change the focus? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

Related Posts

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

Related Posts

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28 Comments

  1. Jo R

    “5. Do not advocate for leniency unless the victims want it”

    I’m not sure the victims are in a healthy-enough position to ask for this. They’re too often traumatized, and women especially are socially and church-ily conditioned to be so accommodating to wrongs done to them as to damage their own souls.

    “7. Remember that trust is rebuilt over time.”

    Forgiveness is NOT the same as reconciling with the perp. Forgiveness is NOT the same as no consequences for the perp.

    It takes time for the fruit of repentance to grow and show itself, for the perp to change those mindsets and habits that led to these sins, for new habits and thought patterns to establish themselves (assuming in the first place there’s no underlying personality disorder that would prevent positive change). The perp trying to force his (and yes, all to often it’s a male) victim to hurry up and “get over it” are in many cases resetting the victim’s healing clock back to zero, if not actually pushing the victim back even further than where she (yes, she) started. That’s because the perp has seemed to start to change, which gives the victim hope, then when the perp starts to get pushy for rewards he hasn’t earned yet, she gets traumatized all over again, multiplying the new hurt and the old hurt together, rather than just adding them. After all, he seemed to understand, and then his real intentions come right back as soon as he feels like he’s off the hook. Proverbs 13:12: “Hope delayed makes the heart sick.”

    Argh! The fact that we have to have this discussion makes me ill.

    Reply
    • Annie Nonimus

      Yes!! I’ve caught bits and pieces of the media around the Johnny Depp & Amber Herd trial. I think it’s absolutely necessary to see it can go both ways. But at the same time I’ve cringed because I’ve watched a friend get dragged through the mud by her ex and I can just see him using this to get more sympathy. Someone wrote an article about the idea of mutual abuse being incorrect and I thought it made very good points. People weaponize the fight or flight response abuse victims display. Fight back and that excuses it; flee and you’re the one breaking covenant. This is inexcusable.

      Reply
      • Jo R

        “People weaponize the fight or flight response abuse victims display. Fight back and that excuses it; flee and you’re the one breaking covenant. This is inexcusable.”

        Brilliant summary, Annie Nonimus.

        Reply
  2. A2bbethany

    Someone in my church thought they were being helpful to try and tell me that the best thing for me to do for myself was to completely forgive and let any demands for justice go. Why? Because she had and was sure it’d be the same for my situation too.
    I got a lot of fresh hurt from my family feeling more sorry for the abuser than me.
    I came up with my restitution request for a money amount…. because legally my parents robbed me of that.(police said he would have gotten a felony charge, but my parents had elected both non-belief and no action)
    And after a while I got a letter from a lawyer accusing me of harassment and blackmail….. something told me he wasn’t sincere in that apology letter he wrote! I let it go because my family had other much more pressing medical concerns.

    Reply
  3. Viva

    “6. Care for the spiritual needs of the perpetrator”

    As a woman who has gone to church elders and pastors countless times for support as my husband continues to commit adultery, emotional, psychological, physical and sexual abuse against me, my experience is that they are eager to meet with the perpetrator for prayer, coffee, “Bible study”, lunch, talk support, and what they call accountability. I have seen this empower my abuser and firmly establish his status in our church for (I am ashamed to admit, because why don’t I leave) almost three decades.
    At the same time, I am accused, and marginalized, not met with or asked about his behavior. This has happened in all four of the churches we have attended.
    From my experience, this is not uncommon.
    I suggest that instead of praying with perpetrators and meeting with them, they be prayed FOR and the guidelines of not even eating with angry liars be followed by the church.
    Maybe if we followed the instructions in scripture, a higher percentage of these entitled men would turn and repent.
    Please consider changing #6 and being more firm against abusers.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Good point! I meant it as a: If you are going to meet with the perpetrator, you don’t have to make their life better. You can simply hold them accountable and help them see what they did. But I can see how I didn’t word it correctly. I’ll just put your comment up as an update!

      Thanks!
      Sheila.

      Reply
      • Viva

        I appreciate you, Sheila, for following Jesus at cost to yourself as you advocate for the oppressed and harmed.
        I am grateful to God that you do your work from a place of safety and strength as you are not a victim of intimate partner violence and betrayal.

        Reply
    • Saved ByGrace

      I have run into this too, my husband is emotionally and verbally abusive and then demands sex without any repentance of remorse for treating me like a verbal punching bag for weeks at a time. He punishes me if I say I don’t feel like having sex by silent treatmenting me or giving me Biblical lectures on how it’s wrong for me to refuse.

      Sadly churches come along and back him up, I get told sex is a need for a man, that a good wife shouldn’t deny her husband sex. That I should pray more, submit more, basically the whole thing is portrayed as something I can fix if I just behave well enough.

      Marriage counseling with pastors has only exasperated the problems, its give him more ammo to use against me when he gets mad and more ways to be spiritual abusive.

      It’s like there’s no understanding or thought of what it would be like to live this way, I don’t hate sex, but I do not enjoy having sex with someone who verbally berates me, is angry and complaining and has the children and I walking on eggshells.

      When he is pleasant and caring I enjoy giving myself to him sexually….Sadly it’s like a 50/50 split, he’ll be pleasant for a couple weeks then something minor sends him into an anger episode and he’s back to silent treatment followed by verbal attacks and then demanding sex and this lasts a couple weeks until out of exhaustion I finally give in.

      It really caused me a great amount of trauma and heartache when the church backed him, I started to question God, did God really love me? Does God value women? God just wants me to keep having sex with this man even when there’s no love or respect shown and he’s clearly just using my body for a release? Is that what women were made for?

      It’s people like you Sheila and a couple others that started helping me see that this was not the intention of marriage, that a wife is not just a husband’s sex toy and personal slave.

      Thank you. I am here reading today because I told him no yesterday to his proposition of sex and attempts to spiritually guilt and shame me into it. He punished me by not going to church with the children. I needed to be backed up and strengthened to say no to the guilt and shame and spiritual abuse and walk in strength and dignity.

      Reply
  4. Cynthia

    Reminds me of some of the basic steps for wound care.

    You don’t jump straight to stitches to patch things up. First you need to clean the wound, then ensure there is no potential source of infection. Only then do you jump to healing, and sometimes, stitches aren’t even possible because the infection risk is too high.

    Instant forgiveness looks like stitching up a wound that hasn’t been cleaned, and then ignoring the resulting infection.

    Reply
  5. Annie Nonimus

    This would be such a good start. I can’t understand why its so hard to see. A very good friend of mine left an abusive marriage (physically and emotionally) and received so little support it’s astounding. Her ex is known to bully (I’ve had my own run ins with him and he was a friend of my husband’s before we even met, was in our wedding almost 20 years ago, etc.) and went all over spreading his story. Multiple churches got his side and nothing else. So people wanted HER to admit she had also been physical with him. I know her better than almost anyone outside my own husband and mother; the good, the bad and anything in between, and one thing she is NOT is a liar. She said over and over she just wanted him to leave her alone while not shortchanging their son. (Because that’s one of the lines he used on her a lot “You’ll be the white lady with the brown baby in the trailer park…”) He continued to drag her through the mud even when he’s spent weeks in jail over his proven actions. The courts have been more helpful but even they control where she lives because of custody issues. She could move less than 2 hours away and make more to support herself and her child where there are better schools and neighborhoods; but she’d lose custody. It’s insane what is done to victims. What no one seems to realize is that children are not stupid. Their child will see who was actually for him. I can say that from personal experience too. We need to do better and stop excusing churches.

    Reply
  6. Hurting

    Dear Sheila, this article couldn’t have come at a more appropriate and yet painful time.
    I am a domestic abuse survivor, divorced from my husband (a divorce he demanded not me) for several years. Throughout our marriage he physically abused my children and me and engaged in all sorts of verbal, emotional, psychological, financial and other abuse. Since we separated, only the physical abuse stopped.
    One of the ways my exhusband continues the abuse is by pretending to authorities that he was the victim. After I took out a restraining order with only the request that he stay a certain distance away from me so that he couldn’t hit me again, he responded with one demanding that I don’t speak to him even in writing. It sounds simple, but he took my youngest child when we separated and due to the financial and lack of pro bono lawyers, without money I couldn’t get a lawyer and without a lawyer I haven’t been able to get my child home more than one day a week despite my child continuing to be abused and neglected by their father, and even simple things like trying to find out necessary medical information (which the restraining order allows us to communicate over) he then alleges is somehow breaking the restraining order. He works in a job with police as colleagues and uses that influence to have his false allegations accepted as true to have me arrested. Thankfully it’s been thrown out of court each time but with my older children grown up and moved out, and my youngest basically held captive by their abusive father, I’ve reached the point where I’m too scared to leave my house – but at the same time also terrified to stay in my house because I know I’m not safe from harassment from his police friends.
    There is nothing I can do about the local secular authorities supporting him. There is a huge problem here with police, family court and child protection workers ignoring domestic violence and child abuse committed by men. However our church’s leadership know categorically my exhusband is an abuser. It’s quite possible they don’t believe me about the severity of it (because most people don’t believe how bad the secular authorities are at ignoring domestic and child abuse until it happens to them or someone close to them, and up until that time, most people will say “oh if it was really that bad the authorities would intervene” which is painfully not the reality). And it’s extremely probable they don’t understand the impact of their actions on the situation and the pain that it is causing. There was one minister who mostly understood the impact of the abuse even though that minister didn’t know what to do to help and felt like he couldn’t openly show any support after my exhusband also started bullying the minister, trying to have him fired. But that minister left our church this year.
    Due to the restraining orders in place being manipulated by my exhusband, only one of us can attend church at a time and there is only one service. For the past few years our church leadership has told me they’ve repeatedly said to him that we should alternate which one of us attends because they want to remain neutral. That hurt because, even though that’s what I was seeking (because I don’t want him to leave the church as his attendance is the only hope of anyone breaking through his hardened heart), the view they espoused of “staying neutral” after years of him beating the children and me and the ongoing abuse after we separated, was hurtful. I wanted them to do right by the children and me and say “if you need it to feel safe to attend, we will ask him to leave” but they never did. Worse, because what they said to him about us alternating Sundays was only a suggestion, he rejected that and instead he started going to the church building hours before the service and then calling the police and claiming I was “stalking” him and violating the restraining orders if I went to church, knowing full well that the legal view of our particular restraining orders against each other are that whoever goes somewhere first is the one who can stay and if the other person also goes, they must leave immediately. Doesn’t matter who the abuser and who the victim is, it’s who gets their first. After one week of seeing that he intended to treat church attendance like a bullying game, I stopped trying. I was too deeply hurt that our church wouldn’t even intervene in him misusing the restraining orders that are supposed to protect victims (but just like with my family, is used by perpetrators to inflict more harm) to stop me from attending at all. The church leadership could have intervened and enforced him only being welcome every second weekend or asked him to leave altogether, but instead they stuck to their alleged “neutrality” while he blocked me from attending at all and then lied in family court (and to others) claiming that because he was attending church and that I wasn’t that it somehow proved his false claim that I had been kicked out by the church because they believed he was the victim. Even pointing out to the church leadership his claims and the comments by officials that unless the church refuted my exhusband’s claims, that the claims must be true (because the officials believe that no church leadership would stay silent about someone lying about them), the church leadership said nothing, claiming that no officials would believe my exhusband’s lies without proof.
    It was around this time the church started streaming services due to Covid drastically limiting how many people could attend in person and due to a respiratory condition I couldn’t risk getting Covid so I just stayed home. But now that restrictions have finally lifted and the risk of catching it are small, I approached the church leadership about dealing with this issue.
    Their response has been devastating. They are happy in private to confirm they know categorically he is the abuser and what he continued to do to my children and me is ongoing serious abuse, but rather than even try to “stay neutral” and “not take sides” [which is inadvertently taking the side of the abuser], they have said it would be better for the children and me to find another church. It’s couched in all sorts of niceties like “you need a fresh start away from reminders of his abuse” and “if you keep trying to attend services in person, he’ll keep trying to hurt you with it and/or hurt you in other ways for it” but that doesn’t stop the hurt.
    I tried before starting over in a new church. It was ironically the new church’s kindness towards domestic abuse victims, even having a special program for them that actually made things more painful – the more kindness they showed, the more hurt I felt by the failings of my own church. Each time I went I felt a growing spiritual barrier until I couldn’t go anymore. I know in hindsight that barrier was my hurt towards how my own church handled things. And I honestly felt at the time the only way to overcome that spiritual barrier was to go back to my church and not allow my exhusband to drive me away. Going to a new church wasn’t a fresh start – it didn’t stop my exhusband’s abuse of the children and me, and instead was only a reminder each time I went that he had taken my church family away.
    And yes, I knew if I kept trying to attend our church it’s likely he’d use that as an excuse to seek out hurting me more, but he’s doing that anyway so what difference does it make if I stay or go.
    So I’m not sure if it’s any less painful than a church who openly supports an abuser to instead to have a church leadership that privately acknowledges that your (ex) husband is a very serious abuser who is dangerous and obsessed with hurting you but publicly says they are neutral while acting in ways that make it appear to others that you are the abuser (e.g. saying you are the one who should leave, not rebutting your exhusband’s claims that the leadership says you’re the abuser and that’s why you’re “kicked out”). All I know is my heart aches. I don’t know if I should just give up and leave… actually I do know I should give up and leave because the battle is already lost and even though I believe the church leadership are well meaning and trying to be kind, it hurts… but I don’t know where to from here. They’ve offered to help me find another church and to explain to the new church (privately) the situation, how they aren’t kicking me out but they think that a fresh start for a victim in my situation would be good, but I don’t know if I even want that anymore. I don’t know if I ever want to set foot in another church again and I don’t know how to not let this break my faith. How much more abuse must my children and I go through before someone, anyone, intervenes to protect us even in the slightest from the abuse? Where is God and why doesn’t He stop the abuse? All up including the abuse during the marriage and after the marriage, it has been more than a decade, my youngest child only knows a life of abuse, my older children don’t remember life before the abuse started.
    I know this comment is long, so I wanted to end my comment with, if you could say to my church what a church in this situation should do, what would say to make them see how important it is to openly stand up for victims? That there is no such thing as neutrality and that public silence and saying to victims it’s better that they leave is giving a public impression that the victim is the abuser?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Hurting, what an awful story! I’m so sorry that you have been failed by everyone who should have protected you. And, yes, I can see how the church would actually hurt the most. I hope other pastors and elders who read this article read your comment too. It matters.

      I like what Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor, said about neutrality:

      We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented

      Reply
    • Jo R

      Hurting, oh my goodness, I am so sorry you’re going theough this absolute nightmare. A zillion hugs to you and your kids as you walk through betrayal by everyone who should be supporting you.

      For those men and even women who think this kind of stuff doesn’t really happen in churches filled with “good-willed men,” let me lay a rant on you.

      How the hell is it neutral to treat the perp and the victim the same way??? Where’s the biblical reaping and sowing in such actions, or rather lack of actions, decisive and, yes, judgmental, actions?

      Why can’t those (undoubtedly all male) church “leaders” man up, grab their testicles, and kick that dude’s ass to the curb and implement their OWN restraining order that will make him guilty of criminal trespass if he EVER sets foot on church property again?

      DAMMIT!!!!!

      Reply
  7. Nathan

    > > The doctor had Bible verses cross-stitched all over his rooms,

    This reminds me of something Keith said once. Something about how abuse isn’t okay no matter how many bible verses you throw at it.

    Reply
  8. i'd rather not say....

    about 5 years ago my children were abused—by my oldest son, while in the care of their grandmother (I was in the hospital, my husband was there with me) (long story short, he has autism and other mental health issues, He got it in his head that he wanted to be an only child and thought he could accomplish this by sexually attacking his siblings. He knew it was wrong and I won’t make any excuses for him.)
    My son made terrible choices, and as a result I personally turned him over to the police, took my other children to make statements and pressed charges against him.
    I did everything I could to support the victims, and that included giving up my rights to my oldest before he turned 18.
    The church we went to as well as our extended family kept trying to verbally abuse the VICTIMS for coming forward, and me for turning out my own son because of what he did.
    During the court process my other children wanted to keep going to church, but he was going there with my in laws.
    We asked the pastor and the leadership of the church to please have him attend somewhere else so my other kids could have a safe healing environment—and instead of supporting us they asked us to leave. They told my kids (then 11, 7 and 5) that if they couldn’t “forgive” that they were not welcome in God’s house.

    So we left.

    To this day it’s very difficult to live in this community. Most of our extended family chose to support the abusive person rather than help the victims heal. Even the court system wanted to put him back with them. I wouldn’t ever want to live with MY rapist, so I refused to have him put back in my home.

    I have a very hard time relating to my son that abused my other children. I always put the victims’ feelings ahead of my own and keep distance to protect them. As such I’ve been treated like a leper in my town, and I’m not welcomed in the church we went to for years because I’ve been labeled as “unforgiving”

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, wow. That’s just awful!

      Good for you for doing right by your children, though. By ALL of them. What you did was right for your son, too. You didn’t enable the sin; you made him face the consequences.

      I’m so sorry that your in laws and your church didn’t stand by you. That’s terrible. I’m so sorry you lost your whole community. That’s not fair. I hope that you and your younger ones could get free!

      Reply
    • A2bbethany

      Thanks for being so wonderful and brave for your children. You’re the mom that every abused child wishes they had.

      Reply
  9. Phil

    First – I love the Atlantic – one of my favorite places to read.
    Second – hope your back is feeling better.

    I was reading commentary on Gen 18 recently and I am exploring and further comprehending this statement by the commentator: Did you know that the great tribulation period can not take place as long as the church is in the world?

    This statement has to do with judgement. Christ is our ultimate judge.

    Sheila – the first thing I thought of when I read this sentence was TLHV. So many times I read here about how terrible the church is and we need to do better. It is true – dont think I am not aware. I grew up with the wrong messages in church. However, I still struggle with this because church is where we are supposed to go and have community and get the word and practice being better. And there are good churches and there are good messages! I am a witness to that. Still, So many of the churches that are written about here are really not churches in my opinion. They are merely institutions that use the guise of being a church to justify their existence. The scary part? THEY DONT EVEN FREAKIN KNOW IT.

    I am starting to get it Sheila. I am hoping to explore this commentary sentence more next Sunday when our Pastor returns. Still a struggle for me though that I have about the church.

    Reply
  10. Orange

    The behavior of Dr. Cline and his church was absolutely mind boggling. I encourage everyone to watch the show. Why didn’t the church leadership stand for the victims.

    Reply
  11. Robin

    We are dealing with this locally. Listen to the podcast – The Ugly Truth About the Girl Next Door

    Reply
  12. SC

    As for point #2…
    Just want to caution well intending elders/leaders who may use this list in the future, that many victims want ZERO contact with the perpetrator. Forcing a meeting, “allowing” the perpetrator access to the victim (even to “apologize”), or sending unexpected letters can be extremely triggering/re-traumatizing.

    Please ASK the victim if they feel restitution can be made. Then ask them what that would look like for them. Don’t make assumptions. Advocate for them to have an extra layer of protection.

    Also, churches should be willing to pay for qualified therapists and spiritual directors for all victims.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, excellent point! I’ve just seen so many people supporting pastors who have “sinned” saying, “they’ve repented!” but meanwhile their victims say, “he hasn’t reached out to me!”

      Reply
  13. exwifeofasexaddict

    So simple. So much common sense. So rare for churches to do it.

    Reply
  14. Chris

    Oh thanks a lot Sheila! I just went and watched Our Father on Netflix. Disturbing isn’t even close to describing it.

    Reply
  15. Jane Eyre

    Seems like those who love God so much that forgiveness is just a snap of the fingers would also have an incredible love for God’s sheep, which means restitution, apologies, and looking after their needs, not your own.

    Reply
  16. Nicky

    About point 5 “Do not advocate for leniency unless the victims want it
    Maybe what the victims really need is justice. And if the perpetrator were really repentant and understood what they did, they would be willing to accept the consequences of their actions.”

    I think that the church has erred egregiously in this aspect, and frequently chalking the situation up to “he repented, so forgive him and leave it be.” I’m in the middle of a course on Theology and Intrafamiliar Violence for a master’s in family counseling, and I love what our professor says in that regard — “Give unto Caesar what is Ceasar’s. If the person committed a crime, that is out of our purview now. There can still be repentance and forgiveness, but you can’t sweep it under the carpet.” Dr. Azarel Enriquez. I’m paraphrasing for her, but that was the takeaway. Being confronted with the consequences of their actions is one of the ways that God can help them to “hit rock bottom” and actually get to repentance instead of brushing their actions off.

    I like your 7 points of things the church can do to support the victim. Our prof just assigned us a homework for this week that says, basically, to come up with something similar! I promise not to plagiarize 🙂 But the church REALLY needs to step up to the plate on this.

    Reply
  17. GCB

    Yowch all around. I remember watching an original Law and Order episode that covered a case almost identical to this. I wonder now if the show got the idea for the episode from that story.

    On another note, speaking of Catholics and supporting abuse victims, I have to say in light of this piece that the Word on Fire situation that I’ve talked about on this platform before has only escalated since I first shared about it. A few days after the initial independent report from Chris Damian came out, the ministry listed at least one press statement on their main website that was startlingly angry, accusatory and defensive, claiming that Chris was using the words of a “disgruntled employee” trying to smear their ministry’s good name, good people and good work. They had already cleared the accused and his materials from their website and media/bookstore (and fired him) but never gave an explanation why. They never addressed the details exchanged from the victim’s and employee’s testimonies, which included that the main figurehead of the ministry had publicly outted one of the victims without her consent.

    As a result, several people have ended their subscriptions and support, several other bloggers have contributed guest pieces in support of Chris and the victims and proper communication for organizations, several former employees are starting to speak up about the toxic workplace dynamics that they observed and withstood during their time there, and several of the ministry’s current employees have either resigned or have started contemplating resigning.

    This includes three of its highest-profile employees, two of them being a married couple—Jackie and Bobby Angel, VERY prominent in Catholic circles today—that additionally delivered a surprisingly brutal resignation letter along with their departure. I stopped watching and liking them awhile ago, but believe me when I tell you that of all the times I’ve ever watched their videos or read their pieces, this was unlike anything I have ever seen out of them. I was actually somewhat impressed.
    I’m still suspicious and angry towards the Angels and towards the other ministries they’re tied with because of how they’ve been going for more than a year without ever independently and properly addressing and mourning the Capitol Insurrection and the Christians who were present or supportive of it. That sends a message, especially from a seat of power and influence like theirs to their followers. But thanks to their response to this scandal, now I’m wondering if the Angels never did so because many of those ministries have those same dynamics that made them feel trapped and unable to talk about it, and Word on Fire was the breaking point. It’s not enough to gain my trust back and I don’t know if they ever will, but it could at least be a hopeful sign that they’re finally learning the lessons they need to learn.

    I know I’m sharing this a few days late, but I still wanted to share it because it has to be addressed, especially with how well this post was timed. Thanks for getting this out there and helping to change the culture, Sheila. It’s 2022. We’ve learned enough about abuse to know it when we see it.

    Reply

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