I keep writing about abusers because once you know one, live with one, survive one…you can see patterns of abusive personalities in society.
This is one of the reasons I took on the Lynn Messer case which you can read about here. I thought I was possibly seeing glaring red flags of Lynn being the victim, not survivor, of domestic abuse.
Understanding abuse is like understanding a football playbook. Abusers have a built in playbook and if you know the signs you understand the lurking danger.
Abusers can be found in different settings: domestic, clergy, spiritual leadership, athletics, educational, family court, or anywhere in society. They follow the same playbook/guidelines regardless of where you witness them.
R. Kelly’s reactions are typical among abusers, regardless of their background.
Play #1: It begins with denial, repeatedly reaffirms denial, and ends with…denial.
R. Kelly was explosive in his denial but denial can look different from abuser to abuser.
Here are some acts of denial I’ve seen:
Angry and hurt…becomes silent.
Angry and violent…hoping fear and wanting to maintain safety will stop the conversation/confrontation, or achieve agreement.
Calm and positive…they believe the victim has problems and they are willing to give said victim time to heal.
Befuddled….turns accusations against them into questions while placing the focus on victim/interviewer.
Reflectful and prayerful…toward the victim who is obviously emotionally unhealthy.
Angry but calm…spins the story.
Hang their head, shake their head, roll their eyes…because some people are just too stupid to understand the lies.
Condescending with a straight face…while explaining why they were justified to do what they did.
Sad and hurt…cries.
These are all forms of denial even though many do it with an air of believability.
Please understand that any emotion mixed with tears IS NOT because the abuser is sorry for what they did. It is from their frustration of their specialness being called into question; their sin or crime being brought into the light of truth. They believe they are above moral code and law and shouldn’t have to answer to anyone. (This is especially true of individuals with narcissistic personality disorder). The tears are not for the victim and not from remorse of doing wrong.
“When we do not understand an abuser’s capacity for deceit we make it is easy for the offender to continue in deception and sadly, often call it ‘grace’. If it lacks truth then it is not grace.” ~Diane Langberg
Here is a detailed list of denial from an abusers’ playbook:
Select, groom, and brainwash your perfect victim.
They (abusers) are the real victim.
The person speaking truth is made to be the liar.
The offender is the good, healthy, benevolent person.
The victim is retaliating for vengeance, money, or notoriety.
Believes the heart of their motive has been misunderstood.
Judgement has fallen on them for conduct that was ‘private’ and should never be made public.
They deny all private abuse or explain why it was necessary or beneficial.
There is one way to do anything and everything and it’s their way. To them this is perfectly normal and logical.
They hold power over the victim they claim is victimizing them.
How do we know if an abuser is rehabilitated? Conviction, repentance and change all have to take place. This is the only way you will know if your abuser is sincere.
Don Hennessey, relationship counselor and former director of the National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency, refers to abusers as psychephiles and lumps them in the same category as pedophiles when it comes to recovery. Statistics agree that abusers stand little to no chance of recovery because they don’t believe they have a problem, and “I’m sorry” isn’t in their vocabulary.
This is my response to the Abuse of Faith series published by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express News. They did an exceptional job investigating and reporting on a job the church should have done. Although bloggers have been investigating and reporting abusers to church leadership for years; while repeatedly ignored or slandered; I’m grateful for someone who had access to a corporate bank account, the time, intellect and leg work of multiple journalists , the determination to go after this and see it through to the end, and a large enough audience to capture the nations attention with one publication.
How do these serial offenders continue on in ministry?
They are master liars.
People don’t want to be inconvenienced with the burden of time it requires to pass on information, go to interviews with law enforcement, or keep track of records.
Not all victims tell of their abuse.
People who have heard the truth continue to be character or professional references for the abuser/criminal.
Their ordaining church refuses to revoke the abusers ordination certificate.
In many cases denominational leadership lies to cover for their own.
Christians are notorious for treating crime as sin. All crime is sin, but not all sin is criminal. Crimes must be reported to law enforcement.
Churches misapply, “When one of you has a dispute with another believer, how dare you file a lawsuit and ask a secular court to decide the matter instead of taking it to other believers!” I Corinthians 6:1 (NLT). This does not apply to domestic abuse and criminal actions.
Churches and colleges are afraid of being sued for slander/liability
When a new church calls an old ministry for employment verification the old ministry doesn’t tell about the allegations or charges; or references aren’t ever checked.
I get how some people find victimization hard to imagine. As time passes the human condition is to forget, minimize, or think we surely are remembering incorrectly.
If I had not journaled my history of abuse and journaled about my ex-husband, Steve’s, criminal issues I think I would believe I had over reacted. Much of this is due to what a fabulous job he did gas-lighting me; lying to me through the years. To this day, if you left me alone in a room with him for an hour I have no doubt that by the time he finished spinning his story of arrest, trial, conviction, and prison time; I would believe he is innocent and was set-up by an angry and vindictive individual or family from his church. Most likely, set-up over something as simple as they didn’t like the style of music he was using, they didn’t like that he had moved the communion table, they were mad that he didn’t take their side during a church business meeting, or they didn’t like his lesson on the plan of salvation.
Here is a response I received from a friend who was a willing accountability partner for my ex-husband when we were still married and I was trying to save my marriage. This man had flown to town to confront my husband about his mental state, sin issues, and need for professional help. He had asked to be kept updated on doctor appointments, progress and prayer needs but the pedophilia information I received from Steve’s psychiatrist proved to be, unbeknownst to me, the last straw. I kept him updated through email. Here is the reply I received via email:
I understand that life has been difficult for you. But please don’t make it more so by continually pleading your case in the court of public opinion. Whenever I hear from you it is a constant stream of bashing Steve. I’ve not said anything before, but now I must. Steve is my friend. I know he is not perfect, but then again neither are you or I. It’s almost as if you’ve been building a case against him ever since the first hint of problems last year. Your husband has always been different. Always. He was when we were in college. He was when you fell in love with him and married him. He is now. He could make us laugh like no one else. His nice guy looks and golden vocal cords along with his love for God and the church made him a joy to be around. All he ever wanted was to succeed for God. That dream appears to be a long shot now. But give him some dignity. Stop confessing his sins for him. You said in the email that you have been able to help some women whose husbands have left them, as if that is your situation. Carolyn…he didn’t leave you.
If you made a mistake marrying Steve, say, “I made a mistake. I left him because I couldn’t take him.” Don’t write husband bashing emails. What good is that doing??? Are people lining ups saying, “Poor Carolyn,” and that’s helping you? If so, then something’s wrong there.
In love (for all three of you), Tim
I’m including this as an example of how offenders slip through the cracks. This friend, Tim Liston, is a pastor at a mega-church in Pearland, Texas. (I considered him a friend, and his wife was one of my dearest friends, but after the above email we never contacted each other again). I was told after my ex-husband was arrested that Tim continued to be a reference on Steve’s resume. Other friends with whom Steve attended Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri, including David Rutherford another mega-church pastor in Fresno, California, were also references listed on Steve’s most recent resumes. I understand that Tim didn’t believe me, but he knew Steve was seeing a psychiatrist for serious mental health problems. Tim should have disclosed this to prospective churches or told them to ask for full medical disclosures before hiring him.
Steve’s ordaining church, mega-church, Johnson Country Christian Church, now known as Legacy Christian Church in Kansas never contacted me and never revoked Steve’s ordination certificate. Founding pastor Ronnie Epps and his wife Darlene were at the trial supporting Steve and were available as character witnesses should the defense need them. They also never attempted to contact me and ask why I left Steve or had his parental rights revoked.
Churches across the nation are failing to protect children.
Another friend from ministry who was also attempting to help Steve to recover his integrity and mental health, and to save our marriage called Ozark Christian College to disclose the psychiatric problems and the marital problems so they would keep Steve off of the listing of available pastors looking for jobs or weekend supply preaching opportunities. Again, Steve fell through the cracks and managed to find more weekend preaching jobs and two full time senior pastor staff positions through Ozark Christian College, both of which led to victimizations of young children.
Civil cases were recently won against Steve and Community Christian Church in Independence, Kansas, for the abuse that happened to 3 year old and 5 year old boys. Steve was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years, under the guidelines of Jessica’s Law. Law suits against Ozark Christian College are pending.
Here is a letter from White Fields Evangelistic organization who invited Steve to travel internationally as an evangelist working in orphanages. I knew Reggie Thomas and his wife Esther when I was in my early to mid-twenties and spent time with them at North American Christian Conventions. I was surprised they never looked into why Steve and I were divorced or why he never saw his own biological child. Here is a letter Reggie wrote to their supporters. I find it interesting that he didn’t disclose the type of charges for which Steve was arrested. He knew…but didn’t share…
In the case of the SBC; It will take years to know if there is sincerity. Their actions will tell; not words alone.
So, in the meantime, I appreciate the writings of men like SBC’s 62nd president J.D. Greear and Dr. Moore president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. I will remain hopeful yet it will take years to know if this is sincere. They are saying right things, but it doesn’t make up for the decades of cover-ups, lies, and inaction.
Will there be an apology to investigative blogger Dee from Wartburg Watch, or to Rachel Denhollander? The SBC assassinated their character when they brought up C.J. Mahaney and asked you to confront him and deal with the Sovereign Grace Ministries abuse cover-ups. It saddens me that it took the national media to force you to deal with all of this. Have you considered how your previous denial and inaction have retraumatized already victimized children and could contribute to them not coming to faith and keep them from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?
I wish you well and I will pray for meaningful success for the SBC, which needs to include an international and inter-denominational sexual abuser and clergy discipline data base; as well as, mandatory training for all church, seminary, and parachurch organizations. I also pray for long-term healing for the survivors, which needs to include apologies and restitution from the church.
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.
1.Please don’t look away in disgust that I wrote this article pointing out some failings of the SBC.
2.I have lost friends and had others mad at me for writing about the SBC. Please don’t allow the article to make you uncomfortable.
3.If you think perhaps the Houston Chronicle overstated its case and made up facts; I assure you that what they reported isn’t even close to accounting for all the cases of abuse within the SBC, or other churches for that matter.
4.I want to be clear; it is not just the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) that has problems with predators. Child predators, teen predators, and adult predators plague every denomination, non-denominational, non-profit, and para-church organization.
5.This article mentions
220 abusers with more than 700 victims. These are the 700 known victims.
Statistically, if you add in abuse by pedophilic offenders who held places of
authority over children you will find a victim rate of over 100 children per
abuser. Most victims never report their abuse. (Stat: according to Osage County, Oklahoma, sex crimes investigator, Montgomery County Sheriff, Kansas, and the Kansas State Attorney Generals’ Office when they interviewed me for the investigations against my former husband).
6.Lest you think that the below mentioned abusers worked at one church, were caught, and then subsequently removed from ministry; that is not the case. More often than not, they leave one church and move around the country. Some of these men are still in positions of leadership within the SBC while some have switched affiliation to stay under the radar. Also, this is no small problem in mainly rural locations by pastors from small churches. This issue spans all ages, geographical locations and sizes of churches.
7.Educating the church about such predators is a passion of mine because my first husband was one of these people. He was affiliated with the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ and is now in prison for the rest of his life.
The best experts on the subject are those who have lived through abuse and those who specialize in counseling the abuse survivors. There are numerous well-known and strong voices in this field; some of whom are published. Why were they not asked? With the world at the tip of their fingers why didn’t the publisher check out the internet for those already in the trenches who know the subject, are passionate about the survivors, and could sit town and turn out such a book within weeks?