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Tag: Child Abuse

Is it Sinful for Fundamentalist Baptists to Sue Their Church?

allen domelle
Evangelist Allen Domelle

Thanks to ever-increasing media scrutiny and the willingness of sexually and psychologically abused people to tell their stories, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches can no longer pretend that they don’t have a problem with sexual predators and child abuse. For years, IFB preachers have — with lustful glee — used the Catholic church sex scandals as sermon illustrations, reminding congregants that IFB churches don’t have such problems. We now know that predator IFB preachers, deacons, Sunday school teachers, and bus drivers, over the years, have had their perverse way with countless church children and teenagers. We also know that more than a few IFB pastors talk a great line when it comes to marital fidelity, but behind closed office, bedroom, and motel rooms, these “pillars of moral purity” are fucking their way through the church membership.

IFB churches are predominantly single-pastor run outfits or pastor/deacon run institutions, These pastors are often treated as demigods and given absolute control of their churches. When rumors of sexual misconduct become known, church members are expected to report the rumors to the pastor and/or deacons. It is then up to church leadership to determine what should be done about the rumors. Sadly, far too often church leaders hide these reports from congregants, preferring to quietly make problems go away. I know of two churches where numerous acts of sexual misconduct took place, yet congregants were never given a complete accounting of what happened. Hiding behind insurance company lawyers and following the advice of IFB “cleaners” such as the Attorney David Gibbs and the Christian Law Association, church leaders keep church members in the dark. Always protect the ministry, the church’s name, leaders are told. If congregants are told ALL the facts, why who knows what might come falling out of church closets!

Frustrated victims and their families have turned to law enforcement and the courts in attempts to hold IFB pastors and church leaders accountable for the vile things that have happened on their watch. In some instances, as in the case of the Catholic Church, settling lawsuits have impoverished and bankrupted offending IFB churches. I would think that IFB churches, now knowing that accusations of sexual misconduct or abuse could bankrupt them and lead to criminal prosecutions, would do their utmost to make sure their churches are safe places of worship. And many have done just that. While I still consider their theology to be psychologically harmful, I am grateful that some IFB church have taken steps to make sure church children and teenagers are not being sexually abused and that adult women are not being preyed upon by predator preachers.

Unfortunately, some IFB preachers think that church members suing is the problem. Using the Bible as a bludgeon, these so-called men of God warn congregants that God prohibits lawsuits against churches and fellow congregants. Thou shalt NOT sue churches, pastors, or fellow church members, IFB preachers often say. Allen Domelle is one such preacher,

In a July 18, 2016 post for the Old Paths Journal titled Suing a Church, REALLY?  (link no longer active) Domelle writes:

Every pastor is always cognizant of the fact that one day his church may get sued. In a day when ambulance-chaser attorneys are very willing to represent clients who sue a church, pastors have to make sure they are extra careful with how their ministry is run. Every pastor knows that the Devil is more than willing to use one mishap to encourage someone to sue the church and cause them to face litigation for months, and sometimes years. Satan knows that this litigation will take focus and energy away from what the church is supposed to do; reach the world for Jesus Christ.

What is unexpected is for a church to be sued or threatened litigation by respected Christians. What surprises me is how well-known “Christian” leaders are not afraid to break the glass ceiling and actually file lawsuits against a church, or have their attorney send letters that threaten the church of litigation if they don’t do what the individual wants them to do. Whatever happened to the fear of God? I’m amazed that in recent years some of my pastor friends have had to deal with litigation because of preachers suing their church.

Never in my lifetime would I have imagined churches being sued or threatened with a lawsuit, especially by people who know better. There used to be a time in America when nobody would do anything against a church. Yet, somehow we have come to a low point in Christianity where people have stooped to the spiritual level of the church at Corinth. The church of Corinth was guilty of court litigation against fellow church members because they felt they had been defrauded. The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:6, “Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?” I can only imagine that the Apostle Paul was just as shocked about Christians suing each other as I am.

Let me make this clear; it is just as evil to sue or threaten litigation as it is to attack or change the KJB, play rock music in church, live a sodomite lifestyle, or commit adultery. It is just as wrong for a Christian to sue or threaten litigation against a church or fellow Christian as it is never to run one bus or lead one person to Jesus Christ. Your Christian credentials are out the window if you would even consider suing a church.

….

My friend, suing a church is a direct contradiction of Scriptures. It doesn’t matter what the reason may be, it is always wrong. Just because others have chosen to disobey the Scriptures doesn’t make it right when you have been wronged. Listen, we have all been wronged, but for the sake of Christ, it is better to be defrauded than to go to law and make a mockery of the name of Christ.

While Domelle doesn’t mention abuse or sex-related lawsuits, there can be no doubt they are included in what he considers sinful acts of litigation against IFB churches and pastors. I find it interesting that Domelle calls such claims “mishaps,” acts inspired by Satan meant to sidetrack churches from their singular purpose — winning souls to Jesus Christ. Evidently, Domelle doesn’t value truth, justice, and restitution as much as does protecting —  at all costs — the “good” name of IFB churches and pastors.

While I am indifferent towards IFB preachers suing each other or pastors suing former churches over being fired, when it comes to punishing predatory behaviors, I passionately support victims and their families in their use of law enforcement and the courts to punish offending churches and their leaders. The only way to put an end to rampant abuse is to make it so painful for offenders and their enablers that they will stop treating victims are collateral damage in their war against Satan.

Allen Domelle is best buds with Bob Gray, Sr. Both men are graduates of Hyles-Anderson College, and both sport honorary, pay-for-play doctorates. (Please see IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor .) Both men worship Jack Hyles — an IFB demigod who was once accused of adultery. (Please see The Legacy of Jack Hyles.) Domelle, an evangelist, considers the Longview Baptist Temple to be his home church. Longview was pastored by Gray, Sr. for many years and is now pastored by his son, Bob Gray, II.

Both Domelle and Gray, Sr. know about the plethora of rumors concerning sexual misconduct in IFB churches. Several readers have told me that Domelle’s preacher father was caught up in a sexual scandal of his own years ago. Since this scandal allegedly took place before the invention of the internet, I have been unable to verify this claim. Knowing these things, however, casts Domelle’s post in a different light. Of course he doesn’t like congregants suing IFB churches and pastors. Doing so opens up IFB outhouse vaults for all to see (and smell). If these accusations make it to court, defenders of the one true IFB faith know that discovery and sworn testimony will expose hidden secrets, dredging up past sexual misconduct claims.

Over the years, I have spoken privately with several victims of pastor sexual misconduct and child abuse. Their stories are heartbreaking, especially the parts about IFB adults and church leaders who were supposed to love and care for them and didn’t. Putting church “testimony” and reputation first, these abuse enablers shamed victims into silence, often suggesting that what they experienced is their fault of some sort of perverse test from God. Upon hearing such stories, I encourage victims to do three things:

  1. Tell law enforcement
  2. Consult a competent, non-Evangelical lawyer
  3. Publicize your story

By publicizing their stories, other victims often find the courage to tell their stories. As is often the case, IFB sexual predators and abusers rarely, if ever, stop their behavior.  This is why victims, if they are able to do so, should use the legal system to punish IFB churches and their leaders for their misconduct. If doing so forces churches to close their doors, so be it. As Tony Barretta famously said, Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time.

It’s Summertime: Beware of Evangelical Attempts to Evangelize Your Children

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It is summertime, a time when school children spend their waking hours in leisure pursuits. I have many fond memories of the warm days of summer, three months of freedom from the rigors of the classroom. I spent countless hours at the swimming pool, riding bikes, playing baseball, going to Kings Island/Cedar Point, overnight camping, and aimless hanging out with friends. I suspect children today do many of the things I did half a century ago.

Evangelical churches know that they will have numerous opportunities over the summer months to — through coercive means — win boys, girls, and teenagers to Jesus. Church members are encouraged to scour their neighborhoods in search of children to invite to their church’s Vacation Bible School (VBS), Backyard Bible Club, or Day Camp. Non-Christian parents, unaware of the ulterior motive of Evangelicals, readily allow their children to attend programs that serve no other purpose than to turn children into Christians.

Evangelical churches are quite savvy when it comes to methods used to attract children to what can only be described as indoctrination camps/meetings. Years ago, Vacation Bible School was the main tool used by churches to evangelize neighborhood children. While many churches still use this method, other Evangelical churches use day camps to draw children to their lair. These camps are fun-filled weeks sure to thrill most children. Some of these camps focus on sports. Regardless of the theme or focus, the end game is always the same — evangelizing children and teenagers.

Most of the time at these events will be spent doing fun activities. Fun! Fun! Fun!, says advertising material. What’s never stated is that the fun is a means to an end — making sure every attendee has an opportunity to ask Jesus into their heart/get saved/become a Christian. Some churches even baptize youthful converts at special services at the end of the week.

Sadly, many non-Christian (and Christian) parents are way too trusting. If Evangelical neighbor Susie stops by to invite their children to VBS or day camp, many parents quickly say yes. After all, the events are being held at churches, parents think. What harm could possibly come from allowing my children to go? As those of us who follow closely the machinations and shenanigans of Evangelical churches know, churches are NOT safe havens for children and teenagers. I would never advise parents to send their children to churches unattended. The risk is too great, especially now that we know that sexual predators and child abusers are often fine, upstanding church members, pastors, deacons, youth group leaders, and Sunday school teachers. No parents in their right minds would allow their children to spend time with neighborhood registered sex offenders. Doing so would warrant a visit from child protective services. Yet, these very same parents don’t think twice about letting their children attend church activities that are magnets for predators. (Churches rarely do criminal background checks on summer program workers or the ministry teams that go from church to church holding camps/meetings.)

Evangelical churches should state very clearly their motives when inviting neighborhood children to VBS or day camps.  Imagine what the response would be if advertising material contained the following:

VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL

We are Wonderful Baptist Church
666 Salvation St Defiance, Ohio 43512
419-956-Jesus

Come Join Us
June 13-17
6:00-9:00 P.M.

Lots of Fun and Games
Crafts and Snacks Too

And while your children are with us we plan to use coercive means to evangelize them. We plan to scare the hell out of your children, teaching them  that if they do not repent, they will spend eternity being tortured by God.

Disclaimer:
We plan to use workers who have not been thoroughly vetted. It’s too darn expensive to do a background check on everyone. Besides, we are Christians. Everyone knows Christians would never hurt children.

Something tells me that doing so would drastically reduce VBS/day camp attendance. Maybe not. Surely the fine folks down at First Baptist Church would never, ever do anything to harm children, right? People need to open their eyes and pay attention to the nefarious methods used by Evangelical churches (and some mainline churches) to evangelize and indoctrinate unchurched children. Just remember, it’s never just about  fun, food, and fellowship. The ultimate goal is always to win wicked, sinful children to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

In any other setting such methods would be roundly criticized and condemned. Churches, however, get a free pass because they are considered depositories of morality and ethics. Until people realize that churches do not warrant such trust, children will continue to be targeted for evangelization and indoctrination.

Book Review: Breaking their Will by Janet Heimlich

breaking their will heimlich

Janet Heimlich’s book Breaking Their Will, Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment, is a cogent investigation into religious child abuse. Breaking Their Will covers a broad array of religious sects, and Heimlich does a good job at documenting the child abuse within these sects.

While Heimlich states several times that she is not suggesting that all religions are bad or that all religions lead to religious child abuse, she comes pretty close to proving otherwise. I wonder if she had to say not all religions are bad to avoid being labeled a closed-minded hater of all religions; but regardless of her reason for playing nice with religion, she does a more than adequate job proving that religious child abuse is widespread.

Heimlich writes that religious child maltreatment manifests itself in many ways, such as:

  • Justifying  abusive physical punishment with religious texts or doctrine
  • Having children engage in dangerous religious rituals
  • Taking advantage of religious authority to abuse children and procure their silence
  • Failing to provide children needed medical care, owing to a belief in divine intervention
  • Terrifying children with religious concepts, such as an angry and punitive god, eternal damnation, or possession by the devil or by demons
  • Making children feel guilty and shameful by telling them they are sinful
  • Neglecting children’s safety by allowing them to spend time with religious authorities without scrutinizing the authorities’ backgrounds
  • Failing to acknowledge or report child abuse or neglect in order to protect the image of a religion or a religious group

Breaking Their Will is divided into four parts:

  • The pain of chastisement—religious child physical abuse
  • Harm without hitting—religious child emotional abuse
  • Violating a trust—religious child sexual abuse
  • Sin of denial—religious child medical neglect

Heimlich’s book is well documented and chock-full of real life stories of boys and girls who were abused. In my most recent battle with people within the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement I noticed that the testimonies of people who were abused are routinely dismissed. In most every case the abuse deniers know of people who were not abused while in the same setting as those who were abused, or they know the accused abusers personally, so they dismiss abuse claims as lies or attempts to attack and destroy the IFB movement. I subscribe to the theory that where there is smoke there is fire and the sheer number of people claiming to have been abused makes it highly in unlikely that they are all lying.

At times Breaking Their Will made me uncomfortable. The book reminded me of what I once was. It is hard to admit that my sincere literal interpretation of the Bible led me to preach and teach things that are clearly abusive. I routinely recommended child rearing books by John R. Rice, Jack Hyles, James Dobson, and Richard Fugate. While I cannot undo the past, I can advocate for and demand that religious child abuse be taken seriously.

Heimlich suggests that clergy be required to report child abuse and neglect. Here in Ohio, such a requirement is already law. However, many pastors do not consider beating a child with a rod or a belt to be abuse. The Bible teaches (requires) it and they hold to the philosophy that their parents disciplined them using corporal punishment and look how they turned out. Until there is a federal law making striking a child a crime, physical child abuse in the name of God will continue.

I observed and participated in disciplinary methods that I would today clearly consider abuse. Back then I called it Biblical discipline; Today I call it child abuse. Over the course of 25 years I reported abuse to Family Services three times. All of the reports were made after I observed or heard about abuse (all of the reports came from our bus ministry). In retrospect, I now know that what I called good bible-based, God-honoring discipline was actually religious child abuse.

Heimlich advocates extending or eliminating the statutes of limitations on sexual child abuse. She will get no argument from me. (though I do have some concern about false claims of sexual abuse being used to get back at a parent, pastor, teacher, etc.). I think it is scandalous that the Roman Catholic Church in many states hides behind statutes of limitations, refusing to even acknowledge that abuse “might” have occurred.

Heimlich encourages parents to examine the norms and behaviors of the faith-based communities of which they are a part:

  • Is my faith community theologically exclusive? That is, do religious leaders and other worshippers claim to be the only people who “know” religious truth?
  • Does my community fear or hold in contempt those who are not part of our faith?
  • Do I feel at ease asking questions, voicing complaints, or expressing feelings of religious doubt to those in authority or others?
  • Do I raise my child according to strict guidelines or beliefs held by my faith community?
  • Would I be rebuked or treated closely if I did not follow those norms, including enforcing strict discipline in the home and using physical punishment in ways that make me feel uneasy?
  • Do my faith leaders tell us God wants us to spank our kids?
  • Are children in my place of worship treated respectfully, even when they misbehave, or are they made to feel shamefully?
  • If parents or children need help in managing their lives, does my place of worship offer suggestions for mental health services, or do authorities simply tell them to talk to a member of the clergy, pray harder, or undergo an exorcism?
  • If I were to find out that my child was abused by a member of my faith community, or if I had strong suspicions that such abuse had taken place, would I feel comfortable reporting that abuse to outside authorities, or would I feel obligated to first contact faith leaders and follow their instruction?
  • If I did speak to faith leaders first, would they likely advise me to report the allegations to law enforcement or child protective services, or to keep the problem within the church?
  • How much power does my religious leader hold?
  • Do worshipers believe he or she has some sort of God hotline and thus can tell us how God wants us to live our lives?
  • Does a religious leader try to scare people faith?

For those of raised in IFB churches and Evangelical churches this list pretty well describes most of the churches of which we have been a part. In other words, tens of millions of Americans attend churches that have dangerous abusive tendencies. How can this be? Simple. When a religious text becomes the authority over every aspect of life, and its teachings implicitly obeyed, abuse is sure to follow (and we see the same thing in the Muslim faith and Orthodox Judaism).

Heimlich raises one controversial point towards the end of the book when she deals with female and male circumcision. Most everyone would agree that female circumcision (the cutting of the clitoris) is morally wrong and should be criminally prosecuted. But what about male circumcision? Heimlich makes a compelling case that male circumcision is just as barbaric and immoral as female circumcision. Fortunately, male circumcision is in decline with barely 55% of newborns being circumcised (high of 80% in the 1970s).

I heartily recommend Janet Heimlich’s new book Breaking Their Will. If you want to study the connection between religion and child abuse this should be the first book you read.  Religious child abuse can be stopped IF parents and religious leaders are willing to tackle the subject head-on. Thoughtful parents need to leave the belt in their pants and relegate the rod to the trash bin of archaic, unenlightened tools of discipline. As a parent and a grandfather I have an obligation to encourage and gently instruct my children in matters of child discipline  and the propriety of religion in the lives of their children (my grandchildren). Our children know my wife and I oppose any form of hitting children and they know that we do not support children being indoctrinated in a religious faith before they are mature enough to make a decision on their own.

I hope Breaking Their Will is widely read. May it spur a mass exodus out of churches that promote and teach religious child abuse. May it also make government authorities aware of the extent of abuse that goes on in faith communities.

Who is Janet Heimlich?

A freelance reporter for National Public Radio, Janet Heimlich won nine journalism awards, including the prestigious Katie, given by the Press Club of Dallas; the Houston Press Club’s Radio Journalist of the Year Award; and the Texas Bar Association’s Gavel Award. In addition to her radio work, Ms. Heimlich has written nonfiction articles for such publications as Texas Monthly, the Austin American-Statesman, the Texas Observer, Tribeza, and Edible Austin.

Breaking Their Will is published by Prometheus Books. The book is 326 pages long, with an additional 71 pages of endnotes and bibliography. You can buy the book here.

The Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ) Indoctrinates Children to Obey Church Leaders

religious pedophiles

What follows is a video put out by The Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ), a “Christian religion whose primary purpose is to worship the Almighty God based on His teachings as taught by the Lord Jesus Christ and as recorded in the Bible. The Church of Christ is a church for every one who will heed the call of God and embrace its faith — regardless of his or her nationality, cultural background, social standing, economic status, and educational attainment.” (website)

Video Link

The sect’s executive minister is Eduardo V. Manalo. According to Wikipedia,The Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ) is an ” international Christian denomination that originated in the Philippines.” The sect is now in 102 countries, including the United States, comprising over 5,000 congregations. Wikipedia states that Iglesia ni Cristo is the third largest religious sect in the Philippines, behind only Roman Catholicism and Islam. You can read more about  Iglesia ni Cristo’s extreme religious beliefs here. I say extreme, but not really.  Similar beliefs can be found in numerous American Evangelical churches. In fact, The Iglesia ni Cristo  can be traced back to nineteenth and twentieth century missionary work done by Evangelical missionaries to the Philippines.

If you care about children and how Fundamentalist religion affects them, I am sure you found this video to be quite troubling. These children, at a very early age, are taught to explicitly obey church leaders. A common cult-like practice, also found in sects like the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, indoctrinating children is a crucial component in the continued growth of Fundamentalist sects. The inquisitive minds of children must be destroyed and then reanimated with authoritarian beliefs. A failure to do this often results in church children, when they come of age, leaving the sect. This is why every Fundamentalist sect I know of targets children. Such sects are religious pedophiles, grooming children for a lifetime of submission and abuse.

How Should Churches Handle Allegations of Abuse?

child abuse

How should churches handle allegations of abuse? Let me state right up front that I do not think churches shouldn’t “handle” anything.  This is what gets churches, pastors, and church leaders into trouble to start with. Instead of immediately doing the right thing when someone makes an allegation of abuse, pastors and church members often:

  • Consult with the pastor
  • Consult with the deacons or some other church board
  • Call a denominational leader and ask what they should do
  • Consult with a few church members to chart a course of action
  • Pray about it
  • Seek out counsel from other pastors
  • Wait to see if the “problem” goes away
  • Interrogate the individual or the person making the allegation
  • Investigate the “character” of the person making the allegation

All of these things are the WRONG things to do. Far too often, the church or pastor is more concerned about protecting the church’s testimony in the community than  protecting the person who might have been abused. As a result, it often appears to the community that the church is more interested in its own reputation than ending and prosecuting any abuse that might be going on.

In most states, pastors and church leaders are required by law to report suspected abuse. It is not up to the church or the pastor to decide if the allegation is valid. That’s what the police, prosecutor, and child protective services are for. They will investigate and act accordingly. Even in cases where the abuse took place years before, once a church or a pastor has knowledge of the allegation, both have a moral and ethical responsibility to report it. A failure to do so can, in many states, leave the church or pastor criminally liable (and I wish more prosecutors would charge and prosecute pastors and church leaders for failing to report).

Once an allegation has become common knowledge, it is in the church’s best interest to make a public statement about the allegation. Yes, it is up to the police and the courts to determine guilt, but the church can state exactly what has been done in response to the allegation. They can further state what they will do to make sure that abuse does not happen in the future. It is not enough to just tell the church, the board, or write a generic letter to church members.

child abuse 2

I know of one church that has had several problems with sexual abuse in their bus ministry. The pastor of the church has never fully disclosed to the church the complete details of what happened. Outside of several news stories, the public has no idea about what the church did or didn’t do in response to the abuse. The pastor says to the church members, trust me and he says to the world, it is none of your business.

Churches like this want people to come to their church and they want people to trust them. However, the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic church, the Evangelical church, the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church, and countless unaffiliated churches, are a poignant reminder that no one should, by default, trust a church or a pastor. I, for one, would not let my children or grandchildren out of my sight while attending church. I know too much and I have heard too many stories. If this makes me untrusting, cynical, or jaded, so be it. Better to be this way than naïvely turn people I love over to someone I don’t really know in the hope that they are what they say they are.

Some churches give the illusion that their place of worship is safe. They tell new families: we do criminal background checks on every worker in the church. While this is certainly a good idea, a one-time background check accomplishes what? If the person has never been arrested or convicted of a crime, his or her background check would come back clean. Background checks are little more than a band-aid over a festering sore.

I know of one pastor who refuses to do background checks. His rationale for refusing to do them? After a person is saved, past sins are “under the blood.”  The person, no matter what he or she may have done in the past, is completely forgiven by God (after all, God forgave Paul, the murderer and David, the adulterer/murderer, right?). This kind of naïve thinking is why churches are havens for predators. It is not hard to stand before a congregation and give a wonderful testimony of God’s saving grace, yet be a predator. It is quite easy to learn religious lingo. My family and I could dress up this Sunday, go to church, and every one of us would likely be considered a wonderful Christian. We know the talk, the walk, the songs. We know how to do Evangelical. Yet, in real life we are atheists, agnostics, Catholics, and Buddhists, and most of us are ― shudder to think of it ― Democrats.  Anyone who has spent any time at all in church can easily fake it.

But, Bruce, the Holy Spirit will let the church know they aren’t real Christians. Do you really want to trust the welfare of the church children and teenagers to the Holy Spirit?  Are you really saying that a Christian could NOT be a pedophile, abuser, or predator?

I am often asked about how I handled abuse allegations when I was a pastor. Simple. I reported them each and every time. When I heard of an allegation of abuse, even if it was a second-hand report, I immediately called Children’s Services.  Years ago, we had a couple with a baby living in our church basement (they had been homeless). One day, I came into the basement and the baby was screaming uncontrollably. I went to check on the child and I asked the mother why the child was screaming. She told me she didn’t know. I suggested she should take care of the child. Her reply? When she was done eating she would get around to it.  This, along with several other things I had noticed, was enough for me. I called Children’s Services and they came out the next day to investigate. The couple was told that any further complaints would result in them losing the child. They knew I had reported them and they were furious. Me? I couldn’t have cared less about what they thought. It was the baby who mattered.

We operated a bus ministry for many years. There were several instances where abuse was suspected and I reported it. In one case, an older woman was throwing booze and sex parties for church teens. When I found out about it I told their parents and reported the woman. It was a no-brainer, even if every boy in the church thought the parties were wonderful.

Years ago ― well everything is years ago now ― I helped my father-in-law start a church. One day, the infant of one of our church families died suddenly. It was ruled as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Weeks after the death, the grieving father came to my father-in-law and confessed that he had shaken the baby to death. My father-in-law came to me and asked what he should do since the man told him this in confidence. I told him he had to report it to the police. He did, and the man went to prison.

When I was counseling people, I made it clear that if they were going to confess to abuse or a felony, I was obligated to report it. I have never believed that what is said in confidence must always remain so. When a young man confessed to me that he had murdered his girlfriend, I encouraged him to turn himself in, and then I let the police know what he had told me. I later gave a sworn affidavit in the case, Fortunately, the man pleaded guilty and I did not have to testify.

Granted, these are exceptional circumstances. The people I pastored knew that they could trust me with their secrets. As long as their secrets didn’t involve abuse or a felony, the secrets were safe with me. People often have a need to unburden themselves of past actions and “sins,” and they do so by talking to a pastor or a priest or a good friend. When people write me and tell me their stories I always let them know that their correspondence with me will be kept confidential. However, if they confess to murdering their spouse or molesting a child, I would report it immediately,

This does not make me a saint. However, when it comes to dealing with abuse and helping those who have been abused, I am always on the side of the abused. My mother was sexually abused as a child by her father, raped by a brother-in-law, and sexually molested by a Christian psychiatrist (and they all got away with it). I have a dear family member who was sexually abused by her IFB father. (her abuser has been in prison for over 20 years). Add to this the horror stories I heard while counseling church members and the emails I now receive from people who have been abused. I hope you will forgive me if I am passionate about this issue.

As far as I am concerned, it is quite simple for churches or pastors when it comes to how to handle allegations of abuse. REPORT IT IMMEDIATELY. Then take the necessary steps to make sure that abuse does not happen in the future. It is tragic that some churches are magnets for sexual predators. In these churches, lt seems that every few years a church member, pastor, deacon, youth pastor, bus worker, or a Sunday School teacher is being accused of abuse.  Perhaps churches such as these should be forced to have the equivalent of what we have here in Ohio for drunk drivers. Some judges require people convicted of DUI to get yellow license plates. Perhaps repeat offender churches need some sort of yellow license plate that warns the public that the church has been a haven for abusers or predators.

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Bruce Gerencser