Snippets – How should churches handle known predators? Should mental illness be disclosed in congregational meetings? Can we see Stockholm Syndrome?

May 21, 2013 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

Lots of interesting discussion in the comments of the previous post.  Reader and commenter “Nickname” had this to say about the question of how churches ought to handle things when there are known predators in their midst:

Let’s say that when SGM leaders found out, they went to the perp and said, “We know what you did, and you need treatment. We will see that you get the very best treatment available for people who are attracted to children. You need to repent and ask God’s forgiveness, but you need to realize that you have forfeited the privilege of being included in church activities. You will not be allowed to be in places where children are present, for their protection as well as theirs. The child that you molested will never see your face again. You may write a letter of apology, but you will never be present in this child’s life. You must pay all expenses for this victim’s medical and psychiatric treatment, and we’ll begin a fund for that — deposit your first check within two weeks.  We will pray with you and help you with treatment. We believe that in Christ, we are new creations, but we also know that pedophiles are generally not cured. We know that only God can recognize genuine repentance, and we are not qualified to determine if your repentance is real.  If, in your case, you experience a miraculous recovery, you would certainly never wish for a child to be endangered or traumatized by your presence, so you will voluntarily identify yourself as a prior offender, and remove yourself from any activities involving kids. Adam and Eve repented and were forgiven, but they still lost the garden.”

And let’s say that SGM said to the victims and the parents, “This was NOT your fault. Nobody deserves to be abused, (even if we do believe that we’re all sinners who deserve wrath) and we will do everything we can to prevent anything like this from happening again. We’re gonna help you get treatment. We love you, and are so sorry that you have been hurt. You will never have to see that perp again in your life. We’ll pray for you, and ask God to help you figure out how, in time, to forgive this heinous act, but we know that can’t be coerced.  We’re not experts at this, but we’re going to learn how to be. How can we help make this easier for you?”

If they had done all that — they’d still be at fault for not reporting to authorities. But we sure wouldn’t be standing where we’re standing now.

Suppose that when the very first rumors of strange behavior surfaced, or the very first pedophile was arrested within the ‘family of churches’  they had said, “We need to find out more about this problem. We need to call in some experts and have them teach us, and talk to the kids and talk to the parents. Maybe nothing else has happened, but this is something we need to learn about.”  After all, they called in so-called parenting experts to give seminars, and even produced a video series about parenting.  Why not a class on how to form child protection policies, and how to deal with the situation if a  predator breaches the child protection policies?

What if they followed the example of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Virginia, who found out years later that a youth pastor had been a predator, and although they were advised by their insurance company to keep quiet, they apologized and tried to make things right?

And suppose that today, after the lawsuit dismissal, they said something like, ‘We realize that we have been spared a terrible trial due to a technicality, and we are freshly aware of God’s mercy. (Oops — had to throw in a little SGM-ese there.) We will do everything in our power to bring healing, restoration, and restitution to every one of these victims. Although we stated that our preliminary investigation has turned up no evidence, we will ask for help from someone who specializes in child sexual abuse cases, and leave no stone unturned until we are sure that everything in our power will be done to find and make public the truth. We want to become educated about this kind of thing. We’d like to be the pioneers in championing victims and identifying pedophilic tendencies, and start providing treatment for people who are at risk for offending before they ever commit an immoral act. We were wrong. We admit it, we regret it, and we will make sure that nothing like this ever happens again. We will try to ascertain the truth behind every allegation. clear the names of anyone who is actually innocent of charges, and cooperate with the prosecution of anyone who has actually committed these atrocities. We have x amount of dollars in the bank, and will use every dollar if necessary toward the purpose of restoring every dime these families lost due to our wrong behavior. We cannot presume to even ask your forgiveness; all we can do is offer our deepest apologies, repentance, and love for these victims.  Here is the way we will handle any further allegations of abuses from the past or in the future…..’

There’d be a standing ovation, and SGM could deserve some kudos from the RBD’s and the wider Christian world.

I may have missed something — does anyone else have educated info on what they really ought to say and do about this case?

The sad reality, of course, is that several of the churches within Sovereign Grace Ministries did none of these things.  If anything, they seemed to work overtime to conceal predators, cover up for them, and advocate for them, all the while judging the predators’ victims as being in sin for bitterness and a lack of forgiveness.  (See this post for links to survivors’ stories and an analysis of the mindset behind leaders’ weird responses.)

At the same time, though, some SGM churches take quite a different approach to how they handle the perceived sins of those struggling with mental illness.  From various readers, we have learned that this past Sunday, it was announced at one SGM church that a pastor was stepping down specifically because his wife was “mentally ill.”  Perspectives and opinions vary wildly as to the accuracy and truthfulness of the pastors’ statements about this situation, but in my view, the larger question is one of whether or not such a discussion in such a setting is even appropriate in the first place.

And, isn’t it interesting that the protectiveness SGM leaders have been willing to extend to pedophiles does not appear to extend to a pastor’s wife with (perceived) mental issues?

Finally, I received a couple of emails asking me to talk more about something I posted last night as a comment.  It’s my opinion that one of the reasons SGM pastors have behaved in controlling and even spiritually abusive ways toward members in the past is because many of them honestly buy into the idea that taking a hardline stand against certain issues is the way they can best “serve” and lead members.  I’d even go so far as to say I think at least some of these otherwise nice Christian guys who at points have seemed to have tremendously tender hearts for the Lord fall victim to Stockholm Syndrome during their SGM training.  Here’s the comment I posted:

I think the SGM system is set up so that everyone — from members to pastors — is conditioned to lord authority over those beneath them.  Parents are trained to submit themselves to pastors while demanding that their children submit instantly and joyously to them.  And of course, in order to be even considered for a leadership role, a man has to demonstrate total unquestioning submission to the men above him.

From what I’ve heard, the Pastors College curriculum for several years included a very grueling discipleship process, where each pastoral candidate and his wife were assigned a corresponding “discipler” couple who would then proceed to probe the candidate couple’s lives.  One woman whose husband had gone through the PC in the earlier 2000s (I’m thinking like 2002 or 2003) wrote me to describe what this was like.  She compared it to being cut open and having all her insides pulled out and laid out on a table, with everyone free to examine and point out everything that needed fixing.  It honestly sounded utterly awful.

But by the end of the 9 months, the couples who made it through the process had come around to be OK with it and even think it was great.  It occurred to me that it was not unlike how a kidnapping victim can fall prey to Stockholm Syndrome, where he or she ends up empathizing and willfully taking on the belief system of his or her kidnapper.

Is it any wonder that these pastors, who were themselves put through the wringer, would turn around and believe that it was their duty to “disciple” those in their congregations with the same hardline coldness and sin-sniffing with which they themselves had been discipled?

It’s really a classic case of the abused becoming the abusers.

© 2013, Kris. All rights reserved.