Tag Archive: Sexual Abuse

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Douglas Rivera Sentenced to Six Years in Prison for Sexually Assaulting a Child

pastor douglas rivera

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

In February 2018, Douglas Rivera, pastor of God’s Gypsy Christian Church (website no longer active) in Glendale, California was accused of sexually assaulting a preteen girl.

CBS News reported at the time:

Douglas Rivera, the pastor accused of sexually assaulting a preteen girl at a Covina hotel last week, turned himself in to police Sunday morning and was out on bail by early afternoon, CBS Los Angeles reports. Police have confirmed that Rivera, accompanied by his attorney, turned himself in to Covina Police Department at 11 a.m. local time. He was out on bail by 2 p.m.

Rivera, 40, was accused last week of assaulting a girl visiting from China at the Vanllee Hotel and Suites, located at 1211 E. Garvey Ave. North, Wednesday night.

The pastor of God’s Gypsy Christian Church in Glendale had been on the run since Friday. Later in the day, he posted a video to social media claiming his innocence.

Police said Rivera drove through the parking lot of the Vanllee Hotel late Wednesday, stopping to peer into a room where two girls were staying during a school trip from China.

Rivera allegedly masturbated outside the room, then pretended to be on the phone for about 30 minutes. He then entered the hotel and knocked on the girls’ door. Thinking he was their chaperone, the girls opened the door. Police said Rivera then entered the room and sexually assaulting one of the girls, police said.

After images from the hotel’s security footage were made public, Rivera was identified as a person of interest in the case.

Police raided his Baldwin Hills home Friday, towing a truck similar to the one seen in the security video.

According to a neighbor, Rivera was painting that truck black with a roller and paintbrush Thursday.

Late Friday, Rivera, whose congregation shares a building with Glendale City Church, posted a video to Instagram from inside a vehicle in which he said he “was at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

He went on to say the accusations against him were false, asking people to keep him “in prayer.” He also said he planned to turn himself in to police Wednesday accompanied by his attorney.

In April 2018, Rivera pleaded not guilty to committing a lewd act against an eleven-year-old Chinese girl.  Rivera insisted he was innocent, saying “I did not do nothing wrong. I was at the wrong place at the wrong time.”  An NBC-4 report stated at the time that Rivera exposed himself to two minor girls and inappropriately touched one of them. Video evidence puts Rivera at the scene of the alleged crimes. Rivera’s bail was set at $1.1 million.

Yesterday, Rivera entered a no contest plea to a felony count of committing a lewd act on a child. Rivera was sentenced to six years in prison for his crime.  Rivera was also ordered to register as a sex offender.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Mitchell Conte Accused of Sex Crimes

mitchell conte

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Mitchell Conte, pastor of Oceanlake Christian Church in Lincoln City, Oregon, was charged last week with two counts of third-degree sodomy, two counts of contributing to the sexual delinquency of a minor, second-degree sex abuse, first-degree online sexual corruption of a child and luring a minor.

KATU-2 reports:

The brother of the victim found Instagram messages between the victim and Conte that were sexually explicit, and wasn’t sure what to do. Later, the brother noticed the victim’s window open and no one inside, so he went in to her room through the window and found more exchanges over Instagram between the victim and Conte. The brother confronted the victim in the morning, and the victim said she was with Conte at the beach.

The victim told police she snuck out five times to see Conte, and that they were alone other times when Conte would pick her up from work or she would babysit Conte’s daughters, who were 4 and 6 years old.

When police arrested Conte, he said he knew the victim was around 15 years old.

Conte’s bail was set at $295,000

Two teen boys were instrumental in exposing Conte’s alleged criminal behavior. You can read their interview here.

Black Collar Crime: Southern Baptist Youth Pastor Rodney Harmon Sentenced to 37 Years in Prison

rodney harmon jr

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Rodney Harmon, Jr, the former youth pastor at Bayside Community Church in Pocomoke City, Maryland, was convicted in February 2019 on three counts of sexually abusing a minor. In January 2019, ABC-47 reported:

According to charging documents obtained by 47 ABC Harmon allegedly preyed on at least 7 teenage boys from January of 2018 to July of 2018 through his work as a youth group leader for Bayside Community Church in Pocomoke City.

With at least three victims Harmon promised the teenage boys they could make money for shooting videos of themselves masturbating if they sent them to him. However, none of the victims ever received payment.

One of the victims, only identified as Juvenile 2, seemed to be the most involved with Harmon. According to charging documents Hardmon sodomized him with an adult toy at least once and performed oral sex on the 15-year-old several times at Harmon’s House in the car to and from a mission trip and at a house the 15-year-old was dog sitting at.

A November 2018 news story at Lancaster Online reported:

Rodney O. Harmon Jr., 33, of Stockton, Maryland, was youth director for Bayside Community Church in Pocomoke City, Maryland, when he accompanied a church group to the Colerain Township retreat center, where the alleged abuse happened, the Lancaster County District Attorney said.

The alleged victims, ages 14 and 15, were part of the Maryland church group that attended the retreat between Aug. 1 and 4.

State police filed 12 charged against Harmon, eight of which are felonies, including statutory sexual assault and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. Harmon is awaiting arraignment on the charges.

Harmon is already in prison at the Worcester County Jail awaiting a hearing on charges there for making and distributing pornographic videos, and other sex acts involving four people, including three minors, according to charging documents.

Bayside Community Church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Charging documents posted here.

Friday, Harmon Jr. was sentenced to 75 years in prison, with all but 37 years suspended.

Black Collar Crime: Survivor of Evangelical Pastor John Schouten Tells Her Story

pastor john schouten

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

In October 2018, I wrote a post detailing the resignation of John Schouten, pastor of Vineyard Grace Fellowship (VGF) in Newark (Heath), Ohio His congregation found out that he had a sex crime in his past. While neither Schouten or VGF named the crime, an email sent to congregants stated Schouten did something that was “wrong, evil, and illegal.” The use of the word “illegal” narrows the field to: rape, sex with a minor, sexual assault of a minor, and a handful of other underage sex crimes.  According to the Newark Advocate, since the incident occurred thirty years ago, the statute of limitations has passed and Schouten cannot be prosecuted for his alleged criminal behavior.

In December 2018, the Newark Advocate published a story that reveals exactly what it was Schouten did thirty years ago:

The former pastor of VGF Church stepped down from the church he founded because about 30 years ago he had a relationship with a minor while he was a teacher.

John Schouten admitted to the relationship when confronted by church elders after the church received an email about the relationship during the summer, according to Advocate media partner 10TV.

Two people reached out to The Advocate corroborating the story.

While a teacher with Liberty Christian Academy in Pataskala during in the 1980s, Schouten had a relationship with a female teenage student. The two had a child together, according to 10TV.

….

You can read my original posts here and here.

Previously, Schouten told congregants that he had committed “rebellious and sinful actions” in the past. He never admitted that what he actually did was commit a felony for which he should have went to prison. The “good” pastor waited until the statute of limitations expired before coming clean about his past criminal behavior.

Yesterday, Jodi Priest, the woman Schouten preyed upon, published her story:

I am a survivor of sexual abuse. Calling myself a survivor does not mean I have moved on from all the effects of my trauma. It doesn’t mean that feelings of shame, disgrace and unworthiness never rear their ugly heads. Calling myself a survivor just means that I am still here to fight those feelings. So many tragically choose not to. If you have been abused and are reading this, you are a survivor. So often we are called victims and we were, but we are survivors. You are not to blame in any way. It took me a long time to understand, and more importantly, to believe this. The following is my journey.

….

I was a good student and well-liked by the teachers. The principal, Dave, even asked me to babysit his kids. Toward the end of my 8thgrade year, Dave asked me to leave school with his sick daughter and watch her at his sister’s house across the street until his wife could get off work. Joe and his wife lived so close to the school that I could walk there. And so could a teacher who wanted to “check on us.” Joe came to the house, and while his niece was asleep on the couch, he kissed me for the first time. I was thirteen.

….

Starting the next year, the targeting and grooming began in earnest. He was intentionally leading me down a path, which brought us to the same couch. This time it didn’t stop with a kiss. Fourteen-year-old me had no idea what was happening to my body, or exactly why I had to wash blood from my cheerleading skirt before I left.

Over the next four years the abuse continued. I thought I was in a relationship with Joe. He told me he loved me often. I wanted to believe that we would eventually be together. My entire high school life revolved around this abusive relationship. Even when his wife became pregnant, he somehow was able to convince me that it was me he loved. By my senior year, he was arranging meetings two-three times a week. We would meet in a variety of places. The park, my home, his home, and even at the school. Because of his hold on me, I couldn’t decide what to do about college. Even though part of me knew this “relationship” was wrong and I wanted help, I couldn’t make myself become unavailable to him. Over those four years, in a sub-conscious plea for help, I told some of my friends the truth. When Joe found out that I had told, he threatened to harm me and to get me in trouble with the school if I didn’t say it had been a lie.

Towards the end of my senior year, a classmate informed the principal that she heard a rumor about our “relationship.” Dave called me at home one evening in early May 1988. He said he needed to talk to me and asked me to meet him at the school. My father was not at home, and my mom would not allow me to go alone. When we arrived at the school, he asked my mom to wait in the lobby while he talked to me in his office. He told me he knew about my “relationship” with Joe. He told me I had a choice to make. If I admitted to the sexual relationship, I would get my diploma and Joe would just get fired and not go to jail. If I denied it, and he had to prove it, then I would not get my diploma and Joe would go to jail. At this time, I thought I loved him. I was scared and didn’t know what to do. I was hardly ever in trouble, and now I was being threatened with not graduating and being responsible for Joe going to jail. Of course, I now know this is not something an abused, seventeen-year-old girl should be faced with. The principal was required by law to report this to the authorities regardless of what I chose. I admitted to the relationship. Dave never asked me for any details. He left me alone in his office for a long time. My dad had arrived at the school, and my parents were the ones who came back in to get me. It was decided that I would not return to school. I would be taken to the Heritage USA compound in North Carolina, founded by Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, until after school let out. I had to cancel my prom plans, miss my graduation ceremony, and leave all my friends abruptly. I was not allowed to call anyone to tell them anything. I later found out that no one was told what happened. I just disappeared, no one could get a hold of me. Not only was it before cellphones, but students were also explicitly told not to try to contact me. The teachers were told that Joe had been fired, and if anyone asked any questions they would be fired also. Dave and other leaders chose to break the law by not reporting. Defending family and reputation was more important than protecting me. The abuse was kept a secret from everyone, and the silence spoke volumes. The shame and unworthiness I felt came to the forefront and wouldn’t be leaving any time soon.

….

In November 1988, I made plans to move in with my older brother. The week before I moved, Joe called me and wanted to see me again. Because I still wanted to believe that he loved me, I agreed, and the abusive relationship started again. Five months later I found out I was pregnant. When I told Joe, he asked me 2 questions: “Is it mine?” and “Will you have an abortion?” The answers were yes and no. That was the last time I talked to him until after the baby was born.

Please take the time to read Jodi’s gut-wrenching, heartfelt story. It’s a long read, but worth the time spent reading it.

Why I Write The Black Collar Crime Series

black collar crimeThe Black Collar Crime series is in its third year, having published almost six hundred reports of clergy and church leader criminal misconduct. Using Google Alerts, I receive an immediate notice any time a news story about clerical malfeasance is posted on the internet. It is important that these stories receive wide circulation. Victims need to know that there are people standing with them as they bring to light that which God’s servants have done in secret.

I realize that these reports are often dark and depressing, but the only way to dispel darkness is to turn on the lights. Clergy who prey on congregants — especially children — must be exposed, prosecuted, convicted, and sent to prison. By leveraging this blog’s traffic and publishing these reports, I am serving notice to law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges: we are paying attention, and if you fail to provide justice for victims, we will hold you accountable.

Sadly, many clerics have enormous power over people. How else do we explain that alleged repeat abusers of children and sexual predators such as Lester Roloff, Jack Patterson, and Mack Ford — to name a few — never spent a day in jail for their crimes? Mack Ford, in particular, spent decades physically and psychologically destroying teenagers, yet, thanks to his connections in the community, he was never prosecuted for his crimes.(Please see Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for GirlsTeen Group Homes: Dear IFB Pastor, It’s Time for You to Atone for Your SinWhat Should We Do When Religious Freedom Leads to Child Abuse?)

Sometimes, these seemingly untouchable predators are brought to justice, but not before the public puts pressure on law enforcement and prosecutors, forcing them to act. The sordid story of abuse at Restoration Youth Academy is case in point. Decades of reports about abuse were filed with local law enforcement, yet nothing was done. Yes, they finally acted and the perpetrators are now in prison, but what do we say to the hundreds of children and teenagers who were ritually abused before prosecutors got around to doing their job?

I am sure that this series will bring criticism from Evangelical zealots, reminding me that accused/charged clerics are innocent until proven guilty. While they are correct, all I am doing is sharing that which is widely reported in the news. In the eleven years I’ve been writing about clergy misconduct, I can count on three fingers the number of pastors/priests/religious leaders who were falsely accused. Three, out of hundreds and hundreds of cases. The reason for so few false accusations is that no person in his or her right mind would mendaciously accuse a pastor of sexual misconduct. The social and personal cost is simply too high for someone to falsely accuse a religious leader of criminal conduct.

People often believe that “men of God” would never, ever commit such crimes. One common thread in the crimes committed by Jack Schaap, Bill Wininger, Josh Duggar, David Farren, Naasón Joaquín García, and a cast of thousands, is that family and fellow Christians were absolutely CERTAIN that these men of God could/would never commit the crimes with which they were charged. Even when presented with overwhelming evidence, their supporters, with heads in the sand, refuse to believe that these servants of Jesus did the perverse things they are accused of. (Please see What One IFB Apologist Thinks of People Who Claim They Were AbusedEvangelicals Use ‘We Are All Sinners’ Argument to Justify Sexual Abuse)

Secondary reasons for this series have to do with exposing the lie that Evangelicalism is immune to scandal and criminal behavior. I remember when the Catholic sex scandal came to light. With great glee and satisfaction, Evangelical preachers railed against predator priests and the Catholic Church who covered up their crimes. Now, of course, we know — with the recent Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) and Southern Baptist sex scandals — that Evangelicalism is just as rotten, having its own problem with sexual abuse and subsequent cover-ups. Evangelicals love to take the high moral ground, giving the perception that their shit doesn’t stink. Well, now we know better. Not only does Evangelicalism have a sexual abuse problem, it also has a big problem with pastors who can’t keep their pants zipped up. (Please see Is Clergy Sexual Infidelity Rare?)

I am receiving an increasing number of threats from people defending their religious heroes. Threats of legal action are common, even though all I am doing is republishing stories publicly reported by news agencies. A pastor featured in one of my reports contacted me and said that reporters had it all wrong. As I do with everyone who asserts they are being falsely accused, I told this preacher that he could give his version of the facts, sign his name to it, and I would gladly add it to the post. Usually, this puts an end to any further protestations. Most often, the accused want to bully me into taking down my post. In this preacher’s case, he provided me his version of events and I gladly added it to my post. After adding the information, I decided to investigate this pastor further. I found more information about his past indiscretions and crimes. I dutifully added them to the post. I have not heard anything further from the good pastor.

I am not immune from making mistakes, so if you spot a factual error in one of the stories, please let me know and I will gladly correct it. If you come across a story that you would like me to add to this series, please use the contact form to email me. Please keep in mind that I need links to actual news reports in order to add them to this series.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

What’s the Point of the Black Collar Crime Series? — Nobody’s Perfect

christians arent perfect black collar crime series

A man who lives not far from my home left the above comment on my Facebook page (if you have not yet LIKED the Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser page, I would appreciate you doing so.) Based on a bit of social media stalking, I have determined the commenter is retired and is a King James-Only Baptist. That he is a Baptist gave me a bit of context as I determined how best to respond to his comment. Last year, emergent church guru Brian McLaren said:

I feel that the role of Baptists — not Cooperative Baptist Fellowship but other Baptists — in doing harm to our nation and world is so great. I really feel well-meaning, sincere people who are deeply committed to the term ‘Baptist’ are often at the forefront of being careless about the environment. They are often at the forefront of being hateful towards Muslims. They are often at the forefront of promoting — unconsciously very often — white supremacy and continuing harm being done to racial minorities. We don’t even need to mention the harm being done to LGBTQ persons.

….

I think one of our great challenges in the Christian religion at large is for Christianity to grow up, to be a world religion meaning not just an American religion and certainly not just a southern or rural American religion, but a religion that grapples with all the challenges of our interconnected world.

In my mind, the underlying issue is actually patriarchy. We could talk about white Christian supremacy, but at the core of this is white, Christian, patriarchal supremacy. It’s a way of organizing life around powerful men.

A whole lot of people are wondering, can the Christian religion extract itself from patriarchy, or is belief in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit so inherently patriarchal that Christians actually believe in a patriarchal universe?

….

Watching the success of Donald Trump win over especially white people, and especially white Christians and especially white evangelical and Baptist Christians, in my opinion this is a pivotal moment.

Baptists, those damn Baptists. Their theology fuels the continued support of the pussy-grabbing, adulterous president of the United States, Donald Trump. Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffress — both are Baptists — continue to defend Trump against accusations of rape, sexual assault, and adultery. It was primarily the Baptists who held the line of defense for Independent Fundamentalist (IFB) Baptist pervert Roy Moore. (Keep in mind, many generic Evangelical churches are Baptist in everything but their name.) According to Baptist theology, there’s no sinful act that can kick you out of the family of God once Jesus has saved you and the Father has adopted you into his family. This is why more than a few Evangelicals believe that I am still a Christian. Once saved, always saved; once married to Jesus, no divorce. This is why serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy went to heaven when they died. No matter the sin, if your soul has been washed in the blood of Jesus, you are forever a child of God.

Thus, for the aforementioned commenter, there’s no good reason for publishing the Black Collar Crime Series. Yes, Evangelical pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, worship leaders, and church congregants can and do rape women, sexually assault children, and commit all sorts of sexual crimes, and as long as these saved-by-grace Christians are in the flesh, they can and do sin. But, no matter what they do, God will forgive them. That’s what so w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l about Evangelical soteriology; forgiveness is only a prayer away.

Evangelicals are frequently reminded of 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” No matter what Evangelicals do, the most-awesome-God-ever stands ready and willing to grant forgiveness. Awesome, right? No matter how heinous the crime or behavior, Evangelicals are just a prayer away from a clean slate.

The commenter reminds me that all of us are sinners, and that Christians often continue to sin after they are saved. If this is so, why bother to get saved; why read the Bible, pray, tithe, and attend church on Sundays if the new birth doesn’t turn sinners into new creations (as the Bible says it most certainly does)? Of course, according to the commenter, sinning Evangelicals aren’t really to blame for their sinfulness — Satin is. Those damn satin sheets I just knew that they would lead to the fall of the human race. Humor aside, I’m sure the commenter meant SATAN was to blame for the sexual sins and crimes detailed in the Black Collar Crimes Series. Doesn’t the Bible say of believers, “greater is he (God) that is in us than he (Satan) that is in the world?” Doesn’t the Bible say that Christians are overcomers and have victory in Christ? Doesn’t the Bible say that Evangelicals who sin are of the Devil and Christ does not abide in them? Doesn’t the Bible say that faith without (good) works is dead (and I assume sexually assaulting children and raping women are not good works)?

It seems, then, that the commenter has a problem with the Bible. Perhaps his bankrupt Baptist theology has warped his thinking, leading him to believe that Christians can be perverts and adulterers and still make it to God’s Trump Hotel in the Sky®. I wonder if he has read 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

And such were (past tense) some of you, the Apostle Paul says.

Revelation 21:27 and 22: 14,15 says:

And there shall in no wise enter into it [New Jerusalem] any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.

But, what do I know, right? According to the commenter, Satan has deceived me, bringing me down to the level of Evangelical Christians — his words, not mine. Say it isn’t so! How dare the commenter drag me into the Evangelical gutter. My humanistic morality teaches me that raping women, sexually assaulting church teens, and abusing children are bad/harmful behaviors. I value people and, as such, I would not abuse/assault/harm others. I don’t need salvation, and I sure as hell don’t need forgiveness from a mythical deity. I’m more in the Tony Baretta school of life: Don’t do the crime if you don’t want to do the time. (Too bad Robert Blake didn’t follow his own advice.) To the Evangelical sexual abusers, child molesters, and rapists I say this: if you don’t want to be featured in the Black Collar Crime SeriesDON’T DO THE CRIME! It’s really that simple.

Why, then, is there an ever-widening Evangelical sexual abuse scandal? The short answer is this: Baptist theology; the very theology espoused by the aforementioned commenter. When people believe they are weak, helpless sinners in need of God’s power and forgiveness to make it through the day, what do you expect? Churches are filled with people who believe they can’t help themselves; that the flesh and Satan keep them from doing right. Their lives consist of a constant cycle of sin/forgiveness. You might remember what one Catholic priest said when he was arrested for abusing boys: I asked for forgiveness after every time I abused a boy. Evangelicals do the same when they pray for forgiveness AFTER they have harmed others.

God, I have an idea. How about getting the Holy Spirit — who supposedly lives in every believer, teaching, guiding, and directing them in righteousness and holiness (talk about bad job performance!) — to stop believers from harming others BEFORE they do so! Surely, an all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing, always-present God can act like a pre-crime bureau for Christians, stopping them from committing crimes before they do them. How hard can it be, God?

As for the WHY of the Black Collar Crime series, let me conclude this post with an excerpt from a previous post titled, Why I Write The Black Collar Crime Series :

I realize that these reports are often dark and depressing, but the only way to dispel darkness is to turn on the lights. Clergy who prey on congregants — especially children — must be exposed, prosecuted, convicted, and sent to prison. By leveraging this blog’s traffic and publishing these reports I am serving notice to law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges: we are paying attention, and if you fail to provide justice for victims, we will hold you accountable.

Sadly, many clerics have enormous power over people. How else do we explain that repeat abusers of children and sexual predators such at Lester Roloff, Jack Patterson, and Mack Ford — to name a few — never spent a day in jail for their crimes? Mack Ford, in particular, spent decades physically and psychologically destroying teenagers, yet, thanks to his connections in the community, he was never prosecuted for his crimes.(Please see Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for GirlsTeen Group Homes: Dear IFB Pastor, It’s Time for You to Atone for Your SinWhat Should We Do When Religious Freedom Leads to Child Abuse?)

Sometimes these seemingly untouchable predators are brought to justice, but not before the public puts pressure on law enforcement and prosecutors, forcing them to act. The sordid story of abuse at Restoration Youth Academy is case in point. Decades of reports about abuse were filed with local law enforcement, yet nothing was done. Yes, they finally acted and the perpetrators are now in prison, but what do we say to the hundreds of children and teenagers who were ritually abused before prosecutors got around to doing their job?

I am sure that this series will bring criticism from Evangelical zealots, reminding me that accused/charged clerics are innocent until proven guilty. While they are correct, all I am doing is sharing that which is widely reported in the news. In the nine years I’ve been writing about clergy misconduct, I can count on two fingers the number of pastors/priests/religious leaders who were falsely accused. Two, out of hundreds and hundreds of cases. The reason for so few false accusations is that no person in his or her right mind would mendaciously accuse a pastor of sexual misconduct.

People often believe that “men of God” would never, ever commit such crimes. One common thread in the crimes committed by Jack Schaap, Bill Wininger, Josh Duggar, David Farren, and a cast of thousands, is that family and fellow Christians were absolutely CERTAIN that these men of God could/would never commit the crimes with which they were charged. Even when presented with overwhelming evidence, their supporters, with heads in the sand, refuse to believe that these servants of Jesus did the perverse things they are accused of. (Please see What One IFB Apologist Thinks of People Who Claim They Were AbusedEvangelicals Use ‘We Are All Sinners’ Argument to Justify Sexual Abuse)

Secondary reasons for this series have to do with exposing the lie that Evangelicalism is immune to scandal. I remember when the Catholic sex scandal came to light. With great glee and satisfaction, Evangelical preachers railed against predator priests and the Catholic Church who covered up their crimes. Now, of course, we know that Evangelicalism is just as rotten, having its own problem with sexual abuse and subsequent cover-ups. Evangelicals love to take the high moral ground, giving the perception that their shit doesn’t stink. Well, now we know better. Not only does Evangelicalism have a sexual abuse problem, it also has big problem with pastors who can’t keep their pants zipped up. (Please see Is Clergy Sexual Infidelity Rare?)

To the commenter I say, instead of getting all peachy-preachy about the Black Collar Crime Series, how about focusing your outrage on the sex crimes and cover-ups that are being committed by pastors, deacons, evangelists, missionaries, choir directors, worship leaders, Sunday school teachers, janitors, bus drivers, preschool teachers, school principals, high school teachers, and church board members in scores of Evangelical churches, including Independent Fundamentalist Baptist congregations. Instead of being all worked up over the messenger, how about focusing on the message? Ask yourself, what would Jesus do? Don’t know what Jesus would do? Let me leave you with Jesus’ words in Mark 9:42: “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.”

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

How the Christian Practice of Absolute Forgiveness Harms Others

mennonite-child-molester

The Toledo Blade recently published a story about how some Amish and Mennonite communities expect victims of child abuse, domestic violence, and other crimes to forgive their attackers and forget the crimes ever happened. Practicing absolute forgiveness, these faith communities expect congregants to forgive regardless of what harm is caused and whether perpetrators are truly sorry for their crimes. The Toledo Blade story focuses on a woman who was excommunicated from her conservative Mennonite church because she refused to forgive her husband — a man who repeatedly sexually molested their daughters over the years. Astoundingly, the Sunday after this woman was excommunicated, her church, with arms opened wide, welcomed her husband back into the church.

After local law enforcement became aware of the husband’s criminal sexual behavior, he confessed his “sins” and was sentenced to five years of probation and 15 years on Pennsylvania’s sex offender registry. You would think that the husband would be penitent and understand why his wife no longer wanted her children anywhere near him. Unfortunately, as is often the case with sex crimes that have a religious component, the husband didn’t truly see the depth of harm he caused:

They held a seminar, and they talked about how that is sin, and I did want to be free before God and confess it and get freedom, Shirk, now 50, said in an April interview. I didn’t want something hid that should have been confessed and taken care of.

I did confession in church and made the confession in church and everybody stood and said they forgave me. I thought it was all good, but I found out that doesn’t make everybody happy.

[He laughed.]

After that, I found out a lot of people carry a lot of hatred for that sin and it’s hard for people to forgive.

….

This got way out of hand. For a little bit of touching that I did wrong. I know that it can be a big emotional thing for the girl, and it can affect their life ever after and stuff like that, and I don’t want to belittle what I did.

“There is no forgiveness for one thing. The state has no forgiveness, and therefore the church has no forgiveness, because the state is on their case that they’ll put the preacher in jail if they don’t report it.

I believe what they’re [the state] doing to men is way far worse. I mean, my daughters that I molested, yeah, as far as I know they are living a normal life. But I sure am not.

The husband continues to try to reconnect with his wife, saying:

I wouldn’t expect a woman to live with a man who is drunk and beating on her. I wouldn’t expect that. But when the church has gotten together and said this man [a convicted child molester] needs forgiveness, it would have been in her place to do that.

As you can see from the husband’s comments, he lacks remorse and contrition, and when it comes right down to it, he doesn’t think what he did is so bad. Hey, at least he didn’t beat his wife and the daughters he molested are living “normal” lives, right? The husband even went so far as to question his wife relationship with God, saying, “I just don’t understand how that [not being reconciled] is going to work out on Judgment Day.” The wife joined another conservative Mennonite church, and while she has been encouraged by them to reconcile with her husband, they have not pressed the matter with her. I am sure some readers are thinking, “WHAT THE FUCK! Why doesn’t she divorce her child-molester husband?” Well, the answer is quite simple: conservative Mennonite congregations do not permit divorce, and doing so would be immediate grounds for excommunication.

Generally, forgiving others is a good idea. Forgiveness fosters peace and helps reconcile people who are at odds with one another. However, practicing absolute forgiveness can and does cause harm, and as this story shows, it allows people to escape responsibility for their behavior. Our goal in life should be to live in ways that don’t require forgiveness, and when we do cause harm to someone, to quickly make amends or restitution. It is up to the person harmed, then, to grant forgiveness. Absolute forgiveness wrongly requires absolution regardless of whether the offender makes things right.

I saw this kind of forgiveness expectation practiced numerous times over the fifty years I spent in the Christian church. Private “sins” were expiated simply by the penitent confessing their bad behavior to God. The Bible says in 1 John 1:9If we [Christians] confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. God promises to cleanse Christians from any and all sin if they will but ask him to do so. And if Christian’s ask, God wipes their sin slates clean, giving them the equivalent of a divine do-over. A sweet deal if you can get it, right?

When Christians commit public “sins” — behaviors that cause public shame to Jesus and his church — they are often brought before congregational leaders or fellow church members and expected to publicly confess their sins. Once the sinner has confessed his sins, he is absolved, and as in the case of private sins, his sin slate of wiped clean.

Whether a person is forgiven by Jesus of private or public sins, it matters not. Once forgiven — and exactly how is that determined? — congregants, including family, spouse, and children, are expected to absolutely forgive the person. Failing to do so is seen as bitterness or pride. I know of several instances where husbands abused their wives, confessed their “sins” before the church, and were granted forgiveness. Their wives were expected to forgive them and move on with life, living with men who just weeks before physically and psychologically abused them. In at least two instances that I know of, abusive husbands were welcomed back into their churches, while their wives were excommunicated for having bitter, judgmental spirits.

Even heinous crimes such as sexual abuse and rape are far too often covered over with expectations of absolute forgiveness. A recent story in the Houston Chronicle revealed that there are dozens of Southern Baptist churches who welcomed sex offenders back into their membership after their convictions. These churches KNEW these men were sex offenders, yet with arms open wide, they said, We forgive you, brother. Welcome to our church. I saw this same behavior on several occasions with Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. One man, a church bus worker, was caught sexually abusing a teen boy in the church’s basement. He was forgiven by the church and escaped jail time for his crime. Twenty years later, the man was given access to children again, and as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, he sexually abused another child. This time, the man did time for his crime. While the church forgave him, they would not permit him to continue attending their services. With the blessing of his pastor and church leaders, the man joined a nearby IFB church, and to this day can be found there “faithfully” serving Jesus. Astoundingly, his wife — taught by her pastors that there are no grounds for divorce — is still with him.

Whether to forgive should be up to the person harmed. While forgiving others is generally a good idea, churches that demand forgiveness in all circumstances cause harm to people who cannot or are not ready to do so. The act of forgiveness rests with the person harmed. In the case of spousal abuse, child abuse, and sex crimes, churches which demand that victims absolutely forgive their attackers often revictimize and inflict further pain on women and children (and in some instances, men). Victims must be given the space to process what happened to them on their own terms. And if they, for some reason, cannot or will not absolve abusers of their crimes, churches and pastors should accept their decision.

I grew up in a religious culture where absolute forgiveness was expected, regardless of the seriousness of the bad behavior or crime. One of the freeing moments of my life was realizing that I didn’t have to forgive my grandparents (my mother’s father and stepmother) for what they did to me personally, and to my mother and our family in general. My grandparents were go-to-church-three-times-a-week Fundamentalist Christians. Grandpa was a violent drunk before he got saved. After asking Jesus to forgive him of his sins, Grandpa was transformed into a “wonderful” Christian who still was quite violent. And Grandma was not without her own demons. (Please see Dear Ann) Publicly, they were viewed by others as super-duper Christians who loved Jesus with all their heart, soul, and mind. And maybe they did, but underneath their religious veneer lived people prone to psychological and physical abuse.

blood of jesus

Years before my mother’s tragic suicide (Please see Barbara), she tried to confront her dad over him sexually abusing her as a child. He told my mom that his past had been forgiven by Jesus and his sins were washed away by the blood of Jesus. He intimated to Mom that if Jesus had forgiven him, so should she. Needless to say, Mom was in no mood to forgive her child molester father. Nor did she plan to forgive his wife, a woman who caused untold heartache and pain. Years later, I reached a place where I had enough of my grandparents’ passive-aggressive behavior. I made it known that I was no longer interested in having a relationship with them. And with that, my grandparents were excised from my life and that of my family. Or so I thought anyway.

In 2003, I moved to Clare, Michigan and became the pastor of a small, struggling Southern Baptist church. One Sunday, as I was preaching, I glanced up and looked out the windows at the back of the building. I was shocked to see my grandmother sitting in her car with her new husband. (Grandpa had miserably died several years before of colon cancer.) I had a Christian version of a WTF moment, and sure enough, after the service my grandmother came up to me as if nothing had ever happened and told me she was living near me with her new hubby and asked if my family and I wanted to have dinner with them sometime. At that moment, I was dying inside, wanting to verbally reduce her to the pile of shit she was. Unfortunately, congregants were standing nearby, so I said, “sure.” Always play the part, Bruce. Always play the part. Several church members told me that they used to attend church with my grandmother. She is a wonderful Christian woman, they said. I responded, there are two sides to every story. Later, I would feel guilty over not forgiving her, so I spent time in prayer asking God to forgive me for being angry and bitter towards my grandmother.

Cleansed of my “sin,” I decided to try to forge a new relationship with my grandmother and her new husband. Polly dreaded doing so, remembering how awful my grandparents were towards her and our children. I played the “what would Jesus do” card, and off to my grandmother’s home we went — which was, ironically, a mile or so away from our home. During our dinner discussion, my grandmother decided to share a family secret that had laid buried for over fifty years: that my father was not my biological father. Granted, I had begun to question my paternity, and have since concluded that my “real” father was likely my mother’s cousin, but it was not my grandmother’s place to share this secret over dinner and in the presence of my wife and children. Why she decided to do this, I’ll never know. This was the last time I ever talked to her. Several months later, we moved back to Ohio, and outside of my grandmother trying to contact me on Facebook, I have had no contact with her. I sent her my Dear Ann article. She never responded. Of course not, it is all under the blood, buried in the deepest seas, never to be remembered again.

As an atheist and a humanist, I have learned that it is okay to not forgive some people; that some people, such as my grandparents, don’t deserve forgiveness; that them going to their graves unforgiven is just punishment for their crimes and ill-behavior. When my grandfather died, I felt nothing and shed not a tear. I was faulted for not attending his funeral, but I didn’t care. I knew it would be an act of Fundamentalist masturbation over his rotting corpse. I would hear wonderful tales about the man, the myth, the legend; the soulwinner who daily sought to evangelize the lost; the man who loved Jesus more than the world. We would not be told, as Paul Harvey used to say, “the rest of the story.”

I am fine with people thinking I am unforgiving; that I should make peace with my grandparents. My grandparents are bad people. No matter how many times they attended church, sang hymns, won souls, and gave money to the church, they were still, at least to family, nasty, judgmental, mean, and violent; guilty of behavior that would land them in jail if they did these things today. Life is too short to spend it around such people. If they need forgiveness, let them ask God for it. As their grandson and the son of the dear woman they physically and psychologically brutalized, I have no intention of granting them pardon. My grandfather is dead. Good riddance. Soon, my grandmother will meet her end too. I shall not weep, except, perhaps, for those harmed by their behavior. Too bad there’s not a Hell. If there were, I know two people who deserve first-class accommodations.

Were you taught that you must, in all circumstances, absolutely forgive? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Black Collar Crime: Baptist Pastor Daniel Heath Faces State and Federal Sex Crime Charges

pastor daniel heath

Daniel Heath, the associate pastor of First Baptist Church — affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship — in Wilson, North Carolina, stands accused of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and coercion and enticement of a minor. The Wilson Times reports:

A Wilson pastor and a volunteer youth baseball coach accused of sexual exploitation of a minor now faces a federal charge in connection to the case.

A Texas grand jury indicted 33-year-old Daniel Franklin Heath on one count of coercion and enticement of a minor, according to a unsealed federal indictment obtained by The Wilson Times. That indictment was handed down Wednesday. Heath, a former associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Wilson, was arrested a day earlier on the charge of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor.

According to the Texas federal indictment, Heath used an LG model cellphone to “persuade, induce, entice and coerce,” a minor to “engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of creating a visual depiction of such conduct, knowing that such depiction would transmitted in interstate and foreign commerce.”

Federal authorities say activity occurred from December of 2017 until April 11 of this year, according to the indictment out of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas Sherman Division. Heath could face 10 years to life in prison if convicted on the federal charge.

….

Heath’s arrest warrant in Wilson alleges that he did “encourage” a 16-year-old girl to “engage in sexual activity, perform sexual activities to herself for the purpose of producing material containing a visual representation depicting this activity, the defendant knowing the character and content of the performance and material.”

Church members were also seated inside the courtroom Friday.

Heath is currently being held on a $500,000 secured bond in the Wilson County Detention Center.

….

The Federal Bureau of Investigation contacted the Wilson Police Department in April regarding Heath, who was the subject of an ongoing investigation, officials have said.

On Tuesday, the police department’s FBI Task Force detective assisted FBI agents in executing a search warrant at Heath’s home in Wilson, according to officials. Based upon evidence gathered at the scene, authorities arrested and charged Heath on that same day.

The Real “Crisis” And “Scandal” In the Church

if you tell anyone

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

It is difficult to confront the past: victims are made to relive their pain; victimizers are forced to face the truth. That, of course, is the reason why histories, whether writ large or in one’s own life, are too often unresolved: the victim’s suffering may just be too much to bear, and the victimizer’s guilt causes him or her to lie, evade, or flee.

The unfinished business, if you will, doesn’t go away. It is carried across generations, through history, and among families and cultures. As an example, many of the difficulties faced by African-Americans today are direct consequences of their countries’ inability or unwillingness to deal honestly with slavery and its aftermath, as well as other aspects of their nation’s history.

There comes a day, however, when there is no choice but to deal with the crimes committed by individuals and institutions that had, and sometimes still have, power. Those crimes are like bubbles that could have been submerged only for so long: eventually, they must rise from the depths to the light of day.

Just as those bubbles rise, whether they are in oceans or puddles, abuses must find expression by the individuals who experienced them or the societies in which they occur. Such expression might be in works of art, organizing communities, or simply in telling one’s story and someone else listening to it, without an agenda. Otherwise, those bubbles explode, and the people, their communities and cultures do not survive—or, at least, are tainted.

I am one of the people who could have been blown apart, if you will. Less than two years ago, I named the abuse I experience and my abuser—a priest who, half a century earlier, took advantage of my availability and vulnerability. I have, on a number of occasions, come close to destroying myself: whether consciously, through what people readily identify as “suicide attempts,” or unconsciously, through addictive and reckless behavior.

What seems odd to me now is that some might see recounting my abuse and remembering my abuser as the most difficult thing I’ve done, just as some people thought my “coming out” as a transgender woman was a “big step” for me. Yes, it took a lot of emotional and mental work to be able to take the reins away from the abuser and to stop the emotional blackmail he generated. But I realize now that the difficulty, the pain, of “coming out” as an abuse survivor is temporal, if not momentary. At least I know that, whether or not that pain has an end, it is at least something that I can use to forge new paths in my life and, possibly, help someone else do something similar.

As difficult as confronting that part of my past was, and is, having to live through, and with, the abuse and the shame I felt for so many years was far more difficult and caused much greater damage. Whatever is ruptured by breaking my silence—including that shame and the self-loathing that it too often became—didn’t deserve to survive intact.

Some might accuse me of “projecting,” but it’s hard for me not to think that, in some way, so many cases of sex abuse by clerics and others connected with organized religion is a greater, wider example of what I experienced in my own life. The “scandal” or “crisis” in religious institutions isn’t that the stories of abuse and exploitation are coming to light, by the thousands. The “crisis” has been going on for centuries, and the “scandal” is that its perpetrators kept their victims silent for so long.

In short, the “crisis” or “scandal” in the Roman Catholic Church (and other religious organizations and communities) is nothing more than an institution and its leaders being forced to confront its past—and present—because we, the victims, have had to deal with our pain, for ourselves and those who couldn’t. And those of us who are living could not keep silent any longer, or else we would explode like the Langston Hughes’ “dream deferred.”

The David Hyles Saga

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Over the years, I have written numerous articles about David Hyles, the son of IFB preacher Jack Hyles. David was the youth director at his father’s church, First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, until scandal forced Jack to send his son to a new church, Miller Road Baptist Church in Garland, Texas. David was forced out of Miller Road Baptist due to, once again, sexual scandal. What follows is a recorded interview of Paula Hyles, the former wife of David Hyles.

Video Link

Articles About David Hyles

UPDATED: Serial Adulterer David Hyles Has Been Restored

David Hyles Says My Bad, Jesus

Is All Forgiven for David Hyles?

Serial Adulterer David Hyles Receives a Warm Longview Baptist Temple Welcome

Disgraced IFB Preacher David Hyles Helping Fallen Pastors Get Back on Their Horses

News Stories About IFB Preachers Jack and David Hyles

Articles About Jack Hyles

The Legacy of Jack Hyles

The Mesmerizing Appeal of Jack Hyles

1991 Current Affairs Report: Jack Hyles Stole My Wife

The Scandalous Life of Jack Hyles and Why it Still Matters

Sexual Abuse and the Jack Hyles Rule: If You Didn’t See It, It Didn’t Happen

 

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Anthony Brooks Indicted on Sexual Abuse Charges

pastor anthony brooks

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Anthony Brooks, pastor of Jesus House of Believers Worship Center in Florence, Kentucky, was indicted Friday on five counts of first-degree child sexual abuse.

Brooks’ church bio page states:

Pastor Anthony is the Senior Pastor of JHOB-WC Ministries located in the Cincinnati  OH / Lawrenceburg, IN. area. Pastor Anthony began ministering in the year of 1998 to lost souls in the Jackson,Ms. area.  While ministering in Mississippi, it was the year of 1999 when God gave Pastor Anthony a vision with purpose and passion. That vision is Jesus House Of Believers Ministries inc. (JHOB-WC) for a city and area that he himself had only passed though once.

God used Pastor Anthony behind the scenes to minister the restoring message of God’s love, forgiveness and grace to all man and to lead the lost to salvation though Jesus Christ. Ministering to lost souls remains the passion of Pastor Anthony today.

Shortly after Pastor Anthony began ministering to lost souls in the Jackson Ms. area, God relocated Pastor Anthony to Dallas TX. to serve in the area of inner city outreach, specializing in family & Drug counseling where he still specialize. He is also specializing in intercessory prayer leadership and training, church leadership, pastoral leadership, and church planting.  He also served in many areas of ministry, such as outreach ministry , music ministry and youth ministry just to name a few. The love and passion of ministering to lost souls allowed Pastor Anthony to serve, work and learn from some awesome men of God.  From the year of 1998 to 2014 Pastor Anthony held many leadership positions in ministry while the vision of  JHOB-WC ministry was still his life purpose, passion, and promise. On Feb 9, 2010, God spoke on His promise and vision (for Pastor Anthony to write down the vision) along with a date to birth the ministry of JHOB-WC in the very city where he and his Wife Co- pastor Kimberly Brooks and three kids are ministering this very day…

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Brooks was released on a $5,000 cash bond. That’s right $5,000.  The judge who released Brooks on such a low bail ought to ashamed of himself. Nothing says, “we don’t take sexual abuse seriously,” as letting alleged abusers out of jail without making them post substantial bail. I suspect Brooks got the “preacher’s discount.”  Some members of law enforcement and the judiciary have a hard time believing men of God could do such things. However, as the Black Collar Crime series makes clear, clergymen can and do take sexual advantage of children and adults. They should be afforded the same harsh treatment as the rest of us when accused of serious sexual crimes against children. Brooks is certainly innocent until proven guilty, but prosecutors don’t bring such cases before grand juries without credible evidence that a crime has been committed. And if Brooks did indeed commit these crimes, it is certainly possible that this victim was not his first. And that’s why alleged abusers should be given high enough bail to keep them behind bars until law enforcement can see if there are other victims.

Why I Didn’t Help Him

orthodox jewish boys

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

Sometimes I recall occasions when I didn’t help someone.

There were the times I couldn’t, whether because I didn’t have the resources or simply didn’t know how.

Other times, I simply didn’t; the situation seemed too complicated or I just didn’t want to get involved. Or I was afraid.

That last explanation applies to the way I dealt with something Moishe told me. (Please see the post The News Makes Me Think About Him.)

He was a student in the yeshiva where I taught for a year. For months, he circled around me before he asked whether we could talk. We did, and he complained about the restrictiveness of his community. Finally, in despair, he revealed that a rabbi in his synagogue was sexually abusing him.

I expressed sympathy—or, more precisely, I channeled my anger into words of understanding. I asked whether he told anyone else. He shook his head: “He made me promise not to tell anybody.”

Were my words coming out of his mouth? I felt as if my lips were moving in sync with his. If they were, I don’t know whether he noticed.

He didn’t ask me not to tell. At least, I don’t recall that he did. But there was no way that I would, even if I could. Perhaps he understood that; I understood his fear because it was my fear.

At that time, I had not told anyone about the sexual abuse I’d experienced at the hands of a priest. Even if I had the language for it—which no kid of my age in that place and time had—I couldn’t have described it for anyone.

For the same reasons, Moishe didn’t talk to anyone besides me. Even if I’d had the words, it would have been my word against the priest’s. Moishe had the words in spite of his community’s and school’s effort to keep him from knowing them. Still, it would have been his word against the rabbi of his synagogue—and the rabbis who ran the school and surely would have sided with Moishe’s abuser. And my word, as an outsider, would have no more weight—actually, probably less than—Moishe’s.

That, of course, is another reason why he told me. He knew I wouldn’t tell, because I really couldn’t. Because I was afraid, as he was.