Offend, then repeat. (Part 2 of the Houston Chronicle report)
This is an age old story with new victims every day. I’ve seen it, lived it…as in been on the receiving end of it, and now I speak out against it and advocate for victims and survivors of it.
When I separated from my former husband, who was a senior pastor and had recently been fired from a ministry, he continued to supply preach on the weekends. I left him for multiple reasons; refusing help for his mental illness and personality disorder, sexually abusing me, crossing lines with our child, fearing for my life and the life of my child until the last night I spent with him. I knew if I spent one more night it was possible I wouldn’t live to tell about the next morning.
Enter his new ministry. On weekends he supply preached/filled empty pulpits, and one particular weekend it was for a small church in a rural community who didn’t have a pastor. They loved his dynamic preaching so after church the elders took him to lunch and discovered he was a nice guy…funny, personable and full of charisma. They saw earlier in the morning that he had a nice voice and could lead worship, and was a magnet to the young people…so they offered him the position of full time senior pastor…right then and there. He packed his belongings, said good-bye to professional psychological help as a means to reconcile his marriage and family, and never looked back.
Several months later he was run out of town from that ministry for grooming, touching, caressing, and making out with/kissing a five year old; actions that were not crimes, at the time, in the state in which we were living, but are crimes today. He was investigated and there are two reports for two different children filed with the county sheriff, but he was not brought up on charges. Here is where it became tricky for me: Our divorce judge didn’t believe my husband had problems other than a wife whom he saw as lying to the court about her husband. I wasn’t. The judge didn’t want to mandate supervised visitation because he didn’t like me. Yes, this is true. I knew two of the court stenographers who worked my divorce case proceedings; I went to church with them and they verified that the judge didn’t like me. However, the judge would have had to go against the in court testimony of a child psychologist, psychologist, neuro-psychologist, family doctor, and a psychiatrist to rule otherwise. Plus, the grooming and sexual appetite my husband was showing for children wasn’t against the law in that state so I couldn’t use that information in court. In the end, the judge told me in clear words with stipulated consequences that I was not to follow my soon to be ex-husband around the country, telling people what I knew about him or thought about him and ruin his means of employment. My goals were to keep my child safe and stay out of jail so I obeyed the judge’s ruling.
Afterward, but not before, a leader from the church had questions for me about why I had left my husband and why he was only allowed supervised visits with our child. This leader told me that when my then husband was offered the job he told the elders, with whom he ate lunch that first day after church, that he suffered from narcissistic personality disorder, schizophrenia, and had supervised visitation with his preschool age child.
So, here you had a man telling them about the demons he fought, and they totally missed the red flags.
The elder told me that they thought, “Wow, what an honest guy. So upfront with his problems. What a tough life he’s had. We want to help him. Maybe we can help him save his marriage. He’s so talented and his gift needs to be put to good use.”
On that first day they decided they wouldn’t tell the church about his problems. They saw no need to do so. The elder who was leading this became my ex’s closest friend at the church, or so the man thought, until my ex decided to groom and violate this man’s grandchild. He led the decision that ultimately brought harm to his beloved grandchild; whom he allowed to be alone for hours with the pastor. He lived to deeply mourn his choice. When the harm came to his grandchild some of the church members didn’t believe the allegations.
You see, during this time the leaders, the elderly, and other church members grew to adore him as he spent time calling on them in their homes and doing the work of the ministry. He was grooming them…finding out insider information about their families so he could decide whose children were the most vulnerable and the least likely to be believed should an allegation arise. He found prey; a young child whose single parent was busy working to bring in enough money to support herself and her three children. This child suffered from separation anxiety and didn’t have a father figure in their life.
Looking back through my years of being married to him I can now see that he used the same grooming techniques for young children, teens, and adults in every ministry we held.
My point is…oh, the lengths some rural churches will go to for acquiring a warm body to fill the pulpit on Sundays. Large churches and mega churches have done the same to obtain a dynamic speaker or worship leader, or to secure a youth leader who is known for packing the youth group with oodles of kids.
Through the years it grew to the point that when law enforcement would find me, I knew what it was about. I would say, “I’ve known this day would come again. What did he do this time? How old is the child?” The only thing that changed was during the last investigation when the known abuse changed to include boys and girls…preschool age.
The first ever sex crimes investigator to contact me, Eric Quillin with the Osage County Sheriff’s office, me told me they thought this man had over a hundred victims, but they were too young to remember, understand or tell, or they weren’t believed when the did tell.
This sickened me. I knew that he had spent most of his youth and adult life attending or leading at summer youth camps for churches. He slept in dorms with young boys, shared open showers with these boys, used the same restrooms, and spent one-on-one time sharing the gospel with them.
Criminal back ground checks aren’t enough. Most offenders are never caught so their name won’t be found on a registry of any sort. My ex-husband had two reports on him. He admitted to what he had done, but it wasn’t criminal at the time so these reports were not findable on a background check. Maintaining an international data base for ministry allegations, church discipline, divorce with a statement from the spouse if there is evidence to be filed, and a sex offender registry is essential to safe-guarding the church. My former husband had a history of being fired from multiple churches for being angry, controlling and deceitful to leadership, grooming and molesting very young children without charges ever being filed, allegations of unfaithfulness, and again being investigated for grooming and crimes against children; all while attending summer church camps where he slept next to young boys in the dorms and traveled as an international evangelist working in orphanages, yet he still landed another ministry before finally being arrested. A 30 year history and no one ever called before hiring him to ask me why I left him or why I had his parental rights revoked. I kept psychological and psychiatric test results, doctors’ notes on their official letterhead, and prescription receipts for anti-psychotic, psycho-tropic, anti-depressant, and anti-anxiety medications; all for serious and some dark psychiatric disorders; database worthy documents. Most people live a normal life with their mental illnesses; with pedophilia thrown in the mix; it was a recipe for crime. I would like to see a tracking system that keeps track of these types of documents. I would have gladly turned them over to a registry.
I was a team member and speaker for the ‘For Such a Time as This Rally’ outside the SBC national convention for the following reasons: The time has come for women to be respected and honored within the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention—as Scripture teaches. The time has come for a clergy sex offender database for the Southern Baptist Convention. The time has come for mandatory training of all pastors and SBC seminaries on the issues of domestic abuse and sexual assault. The time has come to raise awareness about the sexual abuse cover-ups within the SBC. (I am not a Southern Baptist and I would like to see these issues dealt with in all churches.) We were there to come alongside the church and help protect, respond to, and minister to adult and child abuse survivors in Christ honoring ways.
Allow me to tell you how we were received. We consisted of our team members, a few SBC women, survivors who drove hours to stand in solidarity against abuse, a pastor who had never attended an annual meeting but heard about the rally and decided to attend, and a man who worked with the SBC natural disaster team who happened to be walking by while I was speaking and kindly fixed the generator for us. We had lost power to the mics and recording equipment right as I was preparing to speak. I was relegated to yelling at the top of my voice to be heard outside over the city noise. No one in leadership came near the rally. The attendees who walked by on their lunch break had a variety of reactions. With a smile I asked, “Would you like a resource page to keep on file for ministering to victims of abuse?” A handful said thank you for the free resource page. Many wouldn’t look at me, I saw many thumbs down gestures, some rolled their eyes at me, one person told me there’s no such thing, I was asked why I was trying to create problems, many men and women walked to the other side of the sidewalk or road when I offered them a resource page. One woman threw her arms in the air, jumped back as if I were dirty or trying to hurt her, and stridently made a sound of disgust. Others replied a no thank you, not interested, or I don’t want one.
As some of them walked away, I thought to myself, “I hope they don’t have a child who is ever abused or a daughter who ends up in an abusive, destructive marriage.” In their attempt to act in a way they thought was Christian, many didn’t show Christ-likeness.
The SBC has a long and difficult road ahead of them.
I’m grateful for the statements we’re currently reading coming out of the SBC at this time. Intentions look to be good. Only time will tell.
With my background of domestic abuse I’ve learned never to take an abuser at their word when they have a history of denial, justification, minimization, blame shifting and spiritualization of their behavior. It’s sad to have to type this, but the SBC has acted as a secondary abuser to victims. Like abusers, they need serious, professional, long-term help if they are going to change…and even then, I’ll believe it when I see it, but I’m hopeful.
Churches must take into account that the ministry attracts people with narcissistic personality disorder, and molesters and pedophilic offenders. I was told by law enforcement that they are seeing increasingly higher numbers of these types of offenders who specifically go to school to gain access to prey through the fields of ministry, coaching, and teaching. More alarming, is the fact that law enforcement says they are beginning to see some women entering these professions for the same reason.
I understand creating and keeping a database will not be easy and could invite lawsuits not only on the local church, but also on the SBC. It still must to be done. I have my hopes set on an interdenominational /international data base since many offenders change affiliation to keep from being caught.