As a pastor and a counsellor, I have received and continue to receive over the last 18 years, a constant stream of victims of abuse of all kinds, from Independent Baptist Churches, Baptist Churches, Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, Independent Pentecostal, Seventh-day Adventist, Anglican, Roman Catholic, Wesleyan, Missionary Alliance, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormon, United and churches that say they are not afilliated with any denomination, Those churches who have separated themselves from the main body of the denomination and have put the word “Independent” in front of the title, as have the Independent Baptist and Independent Pentecostal, have usually done so over recent years because of their refusal to accept the ordination of women pastors in their midst. The Seventh-day Adventist church is still in this position although, certain individual SDA churches do fully ordain women to pastoral ministry. This is important to talk about because the excessive amount of abuse situations that are swept under the carpet and that inflict secondary victimisation on those who apply to the church for help, is predominant in those denominations who do not agree with women’s ordination.
Patriarchy is directly related to whether the voices of women and children are properly ‘heard’ and responded to in a Godly way. Abused men also have more trouble having their voices ‘heard’ in these particular churches too, because of the disbelief, and shame-blaming that tends to go on.
Sadly, the same cry continues, as it has over the past 19 years since I entered the field of pastoral ministry, that all church leaders need to be equipped with strong theologica knowledge and application around ministering to abused and oppressed people. This is still not happening in the seminaries in a way that gives pastors competance and confidence once they get into the field. Those who are competent and facilitate healing for those who apply to them for help, are able to do so because they have systematically equipped themselves with the knowledge and skills to do so. Tragically, we still have churches who preach AGAINST acquiring this knowledge, stating it as unnecessary, or not suitable material for a church setting, or even that all is required is the Holy Spirit. But as I have said before, I believe very strongly that the Holy Spirit is telling all church leaders to ‘Get trained.’
One example of false theological application that is a direct cause of secondary victimisation and shame blames the victim, is the teaching of immediate forgiveness and reconciliation as the answer to resolving a disclosure of abuse of any kind, and to avoid contacting official resources such as the police and child protection and women’s shelters and any other specialist helping agencies. For example, I responded to an invitation to attend an Independent Pentecostal Church where I discovered a convicted pedophile, publically known in the community, who the church said ‘had been forgiven’ and was now handing out the hymn books and shaking the hands of everyone, including children, who entered the church building.
One on one Supervision, even to the bathroom and exclusion from any direct contact with minors or any kind of leadership is the recommended consequence for convicted pedophiles if he or she is still allowed to attend corporate settings. By ‘forgiving’ this man and allowing him this kind of intrusive contact with the congregations is rendering the church an unsafe place with regard to the temptation to re-offend, and an unsafe place for those who have been abused by others or him, who have to come into physical contact with him every time they attend church. It is not about whether the man has promised not to re-offend, it is about the comfort level of those who have experienced traumatisation in their live. Only then can the church be a place of refuge for all.
Another example of failure in the church setting being a place of refuge, was my experience in a Seventh-day Adventist church. I expressed my concern as a mother with two children still at home, that a convicted pedophile was not supervised in the corporate church setting. I was not initially ‘heard’ and continued to express my concern, but was told that he had been forgiven and the pastor’s wife told me to “get off his back!” Needless to say I had no choice but to cease attending this church for the safety of my children. My anguish and care and concern was interpreted as a ‘personal vendetta’ against the perpetrator. Feeling driven to obtain counselling and pastoral qualifications myself to make a difference, once my children had grown and flown, I approached this denomination for utilisation on graduation. Sadly, I was made aware that the situation with the convicted pedophile was still the same. The congregation was approached however, about the situation, (not by me – I was not allowed) but the congregation refused to implement supervision so this stays the same to this day. Then, as time went on, I approached the next pastor about the situation, but was told to cease the “personal vendetta” against this man and to ‘forgive’ him. I was also told that if I couldn’t ‘forgive’ him then I could not be a born again Christian and I really needed to reconsider my sense of calling as a pastor.
Now I do workshops on request, for church leaders, church members and for hurting people who are trying to make sense of what has happened to them, on The Doctrine of Forgiveness and the applied theological outlook to have with regard to the dynamics of different kinds of abuses. A large part of this workshop is debunking the false teaching of FORGIVE, FORGET AND RECONCILE. This is not found anywhere in the bible and is the cause of so much secondary victimisation in the churches.
FORGIVENESS is necessarily separate from RECONCILIATION and CONSEQUENCES often demand an avoidance of further temptation of the crime for the rest of a person’s life this side of Heaven. While evil is still Prince of this World, humans have to do everything in their power to avoid re-offending, and church leaders are obligated to make this take place.
This is a good article given below, and it is for the good of those who have suffered at the hands of abusers and to help prevent abusers from abusing again, at least in the same setting. It is imperative that church leaderships and memberships understand what is required to minister to heal and to prevent reoccurance. May God Bless us as we all do our part.