Pastor Robbin Leeroy Harper Pleads Guilty to Child Rape & Molestation

My thanks to seattlepi.com for this story.

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By CLAUDIA ROWE
P-I REPORTER

A pastor described by police as charismatic and controlling pleaded guilty Wednesday to numerous counts of child rape and molestation involving five young girls in Kitsap County.

Robbin Leeroy Harper, 60, leader of a fringe religious group called The Church, faces more than 26 years in prison, though prosecutors and his own lawyer have agreed to recommend a 23-year term when Harper is sentenced April 9.

“We’re happy with this,” said Brenda, the mother of one victim, who asked that her last name not be published in order to shield her daughter’s identity. “Everybody is relieved. My daughter is happy about it, too.”

The young woman, now 20, called police last fall to report that Harper had been molesting her since she was 12. He told the pre-teen — as well as 7- and 8-year-old victims — that he was showing them pornographic material and teaching them to perform oral sex on him as preparation for marriage, according to court documents.

“I’m not really about revenge,” said Brenda, thinking about her daughter. “He’s going to have to stand before God for what he’s done. It’s just been really hard.”

According to interviews with police and former members of The Church, Harper dictated everything — from where congregants could work to the people they married to the type of cars they drove.

Brenda agreed, saying that she and her husband had left the group, which worshipped in a compound in South Colby guarded by a fence and unidentifiable from the road, because Harper was “controlling our lives.”

However, their daughter and son remained, becoming ever more entwined, to the point at which the pastor and his wife became the teen’s “spiritual mom and dad, and we kind of lost our authority over them,” Brenda said.

At least 10 women and young girls have come forward with sexual abuse accusations since Harper was charged in November.

Deputy Prosecutor Kelly Montgomery was stunned at the hold Harper had over his congregation.

“It is amazing to me how much power someone can wield and use to take advantage of someone else,” she said. “Whether they’re pastors or police officers or priests, it just cautions all of us to be on alert with our kids. It can happen under your nose.”

Harper’s attorney, Thomas Weaver, said his client had never planned to stand trial.

“He had every intention, from the beginning, of taking responsibility for his actions,” Weaver said.

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Sticks & Stones: Why Verbal Abuse Kills, II

Sticks and stones
May break my bones,
But words could even kill me…

Have you noticed that while you are accumulating birthdays the you inside doesn’t get any older? Somewhere in my late 20’s I realized I didn’t feel any different than I had when I was 18 or 22. Now I look in the mirror and think, “Who is that middle-aged woman?” I’m still the same me I was 25 years ago; I just have more experience.

This phenomenon illustrates the reality that who we are is not defined by our physical bodies. Yes, our physical appearance and health can influence who we are, but who we are is not our bodies. Because this is true, there is another reason why verbal abuse is just as powerful, and more certainly deadly, than physical abuse.

Physical wounds heal relatively quickly. Wounds to your personhood – emotions, mind, psyche – often never heal. Time certainly isn’t the healer of these wounds. When you look back at physical wounds received in the past there is no pain, the memory of what it felt like is dimmed by time. In fact, the pain you feel in retrospect is more likely be the emotional/mental pain attached to the incident, not the physical pain.

But psychological pain — pain within the you inside your skin — is just as fresh today as it was 15 years ago. And in retrospect, the pain of a physical assault is no different from the pain of a raging verbal abuse. The pain is due to the assault on your person, as I wrote in part 1.

This is also why the pain of abuse is cumulative. You don’t “get over it” so the next assault is falling on a clean slate. The next assault is falling on wounded, broken places, tearing them down further.

Sticks & Stones: Why Verbal Abuse Kills, I

Sticks and stones
Will break my bones,
But names will never hurt me….

Do you remember chanting that nursery rhyme on the school playground? We were told by the teachers that names couldn’t hurt, so anything a bully said could be ignored. It was a great idea for children (maybe) but it’s a naive idea that doesn’t work in real life. And there are reasons.

It is almost universally accepted that physical abuse is worse than verbal abuse. Stereotypical abuse includes black eyes, broken arms, bruised and broken ribs, split lips, etc. Every emergency room doctor and pediatrician knows what to look for and will call the authorities. It is visible, it is obvious, and it is horrific.

But the same injuries might occur from falling down the stairs or from a car accident. It is not the physical injuries that are really the problem. The danger of escalation to life-threatening injuries is certainly real and not to be discounted. But I’m going to suggest that the physical wounds of abuse are not really the measure of how bad abuse is. In saying this I am not attempting to minimize physical abuse. I am trying to communicate that all forms of abuse are equally devastating and dangerous — and why.

Because we identify people by their external appearance, we are confusing physical injuries with the substance of the abuse. OK, that sounded a little disconnected. Bear with me a minute here.

Remember, who you are is not your body. You are the person who is wearing that body suit during this earthly lifetime. Who you are is independent of your body, though the two are connected.

What makes physical abuse so horrific is the same thing that makes verbal abuse so horrific. What makes either one unbearably bad is the attack on the person — the real person, not the body being worn by the person. Physical abuse generally comes with verbal abuse. The physical abuse communicates assault, hatred, even murder, against the person within the body. The physical abuse is a vehicle for the heart of the abuse – the attack on the person inside the skin.

Abuse is an assault on the person. It can and will kill the person. Physical abuse is just one manifestation of abuse – it is not the worst; it is the most visible and it can certainly kill the fastest. All forms of abuse can and will kill because they are attacking who the victim really is. The heart of all types of abuse is the assault on the person — sometimes through the person’s emotions, sometimes through the person’s self worth, sometimes through the person’s body, sometimes through the person’s spirit — but always against the person.

Sticks and stones
May break my bones,
But words could even kill me…

Paige Patterson On Domestic Violence

The Southern Baptist Outpost has an article with an excerpt from audio recordings and transcripts from a conference in 2000, in which Paige Patterson explains the counsel he gave one battered woman. Here’s the quote the Outpost posted:

I had a woman who was in a church that I served, and she was being subject to some abuse, and I told her, I said, “All right, what I want you to do is, every evening I want you to get down by your bed just as he goes to sleep, get down by the bed, and when you think he’s just about asleep, you just pray and ask God to intervene, not out loud, quietly,” but I said, “You just pray there.” And I said, “Get ready because he may get a little more violent, you know, when he discovers this.” And sure enough, he did. She came to church one morning with both eyes black. And she was angry at me and at God and the world, for that matter. And she said, “I hope you’re happy.” And I said, “Yes ma’am, I am.” And I said, “I’m sorry about that, but I’m very happy.”

And what she didn’t know when we sat down in church that morning was that her husband had come in and was standing at the back, first time he ever came. And when I gave the invitation that morning, he was the first one down to the front. And his heart was broken, he said, “My wife’s praying for me, and I can’t believe what I did to her.” And he said, “Do you think God can forgive somebody like me?” And he’s a great husband today. And it all came about because she sought God on a regular basis. And remember, when nobody else can help, God can.

And in the meantime, you have to do what you can at home to be submissive in every way that you can and to elevate him. Obviously, if he’s doing that kind of thing he’s got some very deep spiritual problems in his life and you have to pray that God brings into the intersection of his life those people and those events that need to come into his life to arrest him and bring him to his knees.

Now, the gross – and offensive – errors in this quote seem obvious to me. But just in case anybody doesn’t see them let me point out some things.

First, there’s an appalling brassy arrogance just in the repetition of this story and the verbage of its telling. It is all about Patterson patting Patterson on the back. Look what he did! Isn’t he so wise and a literal miracle-worker! Applause, applause. This tone is one of the things that in many people, particularly victims of clergy abuse or of clergy who have failed to stand up for them in domestic abuse, generates a nearly visceral reaction of disgust and repugnance. It can become virtually impossible to sit through church services because of this one “little” thing.

Second, this was spoken by a man who is adamantly insisting he has done nothing wrong in his part of the handling of the breaking SBC scandal of clergy sex abuse. This text is being used in examining an entirely separate issue — what he has or has not done to “bring Southwestern Seminary in line with the beliefs of the Southern Baptist Convention, as they relate to women’s roles.” This excerpt clearly shows Patterson’s attitude toward women and his view of their position in subjugation to men. A man who has this general attitude toward women is not going to view clergy sex abuse as a terribly relevant problem. At best it would deserve a slap on the wrist; tsk, tsk. Women (and children, since they are even “less” than women in a hierarchical system) are not as valuable as men, especially clergy who trump the average male on a power/importance scale. God’s work and God’s workmen are more important than “that little thing that happened to you back then.”

In this excerpt Patterson says, “…you have to do what you can at home to be submissive in every way that you can and to elevate him…” He believes submission of the wife is paramount. According to Patterson, woman’s submission is the most important factor in marital success. If only she will submit enough, God will be able to change her husband. That is what he said.

Patterson is also expressing that the abusive husband is still deserving of elevation! The abuser is to be elevated regardless of whether he beats the life out of his wife. Shoot, compared to that, what’s a little clergy sex abuse? Elevate that man!

He sent a domestic violence victim back to her abuser, knowingly putting her in harm’s way. He felt it didn’t matter that she would be abused even worse than before; he expected that to happen. It was completely fine.

But it was all worth it because, since that women subjected herself to an abuser, prayed for him on her knees by the bed, and took another beating, God brought her husband to his knees in a dramatic, miraculous, life-changing conversion! Amen! Or not. Let me break it down.

While I don’t want to accuse Patterson of lying, this story has all the earmarks of one of those pastoral embellishments used to illustrate or emotionally manipulate the audience into “feeling” his point. Everyone wants miracles like that story. Since pastors believe God can and will do things like that, they can get a little generous with their “true” stories.

The fact is, this type of miraculous transformation does not happen. There’s a reason. The problem with an abuser is not just a matter of getting “saved.” There are deep-rooted issues behind and underneath the behavior. While accepting Christ might motivate a man to find out why he is making the choices he is and might open his eyes to see the value of his wife, it’s going to take a lot more than a single spiritual experience to transform an abuser. Not maybe; definitely.

Another problem is that this story demonstrates a commonly taught mistaken belief that God will force an abuser to change his behavior because you prayed about it (see my article God Answers Prayer in Abusive Marriages for more on this subject). If Patterson told this woman to do this, he was operating on erroneous theology and should be held accountable for the physical abuse she received. This is just as wrong as letting clergy sex abusers slide, and comes from the same root attitudes and beliefs. This is one example of why I feel the issues of clergy sex abuse and clergy overlooking domestic violence are fruit of the same tree. And in using this supposed event as a sermon illustration he is perpetuating a dangerous bit of wrong theology on his audience and on anyone they, in turn, encourage to do the same thing. It is not an overstatement to say someone could get killed trying to be obedient to “God” per Patterson, et.al.

In telling this story, Patterson is also perpetuating his horrific acceptance of domestic violence and subjugation of women to his audience, and through them, to how many others? This man is a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention. He is in a position of authority. People look up to him and follow his example. This is one seriously bad example to follow.

Now, I’m going to give Patterson one out. The ideas and theology he verbalized in this excerpt are not an expression of his own that he came up with single-handedly. I have heard this type of teaching from many preachers for many years, in a variety of churches and denominations. He is just one voice of many harmfully negligent voices speaking about the subject of abuse in the pulpit and in pastoral counseling. That doesn’t mean we can judge every preacher as being the same. And certainly, a large subset of preachers are not to be confused with God Himself. Again I will reiterate – God is not the problem. What these preachers are teaching is not even remotely what God and the Word teach. It has to be exposed and highlighted if it is ever going to stop.

Victim or Survivor?

I found the best series of articles about marital abuse and domestic violence I have seen to date.  I asked the author if I could repost them on my site because they are fantasticCheck out this page for links to the articles. Be sure to read them all — they are excellent.

… and Let the Wife See that She Respects Her Husband

OK, that title grated on my nerves when I first saw it on the blog I’m referencing.  I just had to read it though, to see if it was saying what I thought it was.  It wasn’t!  What I found was a very good and lengthy book review, in which the author offers some great insight into Eph. 5:25-33.  If I could figure out a good way to excerpt or bring it over here, I would.  But on this one I’m going to refer you to Emotional Abuse and Faith. I wish I could tattoo this on a bunch of foreheads! You’ll see why when you read it.

The format and grammar can make this piece just a little challenging to read, but it is very worth making the effort!

The Neatnik and The “Relaxed” Housekeeper

This morning on the radio while I was driving to school, there was an interesting issue being discussed on the Christian station.  The show hosts received an e-mail from a woman asking for advice.  I don’t have an accurate quote since I’m operating from memory here, but the woman indicated her husband is a neatnik and she is not.  She feels like she cannot meet his expectations and is a failure. 

I wanted to call in but couldn’t get through – not at all uncommon, of course.  But the more I thought about it the more I realized this situation is a great relationship snapshot with a whole lot more to say than anyone can attempt to express in a one-minute (or less) phone call.

The problem is there are so many things we don’t know with just this information.  There is no answer possible because we don’t know what the problem really is.  One thing we do know – situations like this affect every married couple.  The blending of two people always has these places that don’t blend.  The situation serves to spotlight areas we need to change and grow, for both partners.

For instance, how can we know what “neatnik” means?  Is this husband truly obsessive about cleanness?  Or does he simply prefer things clean and tidy?  Is the wife genuinely a slob – completely unkempt, filthy home; unsanitary conditions; packrat to the point rooms can’t serve their given purpose?  Or does she have a child or a few, a busy life and a messy home as a result?  Do dishes get done once a day or so; bathrooms cleaned when mold is visible but not before then?  Hey, she’s not alone there by any means!  Real life doesn’t look like a magazine cover.  Real life doesn’t work like the 1950’s stereotype either.  There’s a big difference between being messy and being a slob. 

Anyone who is obsessive about cleanness has issues deeper than cleanliness.  Anyone who is obsessive about clutter, collecting more stuff than they have space, and about completely failing to clean also has issues deeper than dirt.

Another thing we don’t know is whether this husband cleans up after himself and this wife is feeling judged when in fact her husband is not upset by her housekeeping.  In this case, the issue is one the wife needs to address because it really doesn’t have anything to do with the husband.  Why does she feel inadequate, within herself?

Or does this husband occasionally vent about the mess, but he’s just letting off steam and doesn’t really expect his wife to reach perfection any time in this life?  This is something they can work on together, understanding their differences and giving each other grace to express themselves respectfully.

Or does this husband nag his wife constantly about the mess, pointing out everything that doesn’t get done to his satisfaction?  Does this husband help out with household chores or is he all mouth?  Does he help with the housework in addition to nagging, using his “help” as a weapon in a manipulative abusive twisted way?  These would indicate a serious lack of respect on the part of the husband, and could even be symptoms of deeper issues of abuse.  He needs to take a close look at Eph. 5:25-33, especially at what it says to the husband.  The focus is on how the husband treats the wife.  It is his responsibility to do what is right first and always, regardless of how his wife keeps the house.  He needs to get this right before anything can change in his marriage.  It’s not about the housework.

Is it possible for this couple to sit down and talk through the issue and reach a mutually-acceptable compromise between two naturally-opposite people?  There were some great suggestions called in to the program.  One woman who has a neatnik husband makes a point to keep one room completely clean for him; that is his refuge.  This works for them.  Another couple sat down together, made a list of all the work around the house with a 1-3 difficulty designation, and on the weekends they divide the work between them.  The point is that these couples have worked out agreements and compromises that not only keep their sanity at home, meet their material needs, demonstrate mutual respect, but also make their relationship stronger.

The little “stuff of life” that happens in our homes is often not as little as we want to think it is.  And these ordinary events have the power to unlock significant change and growth if we can find understanding of what is really happening.