Local Church Faces Civil Lawsuit After Youth Pastor Convicted

The Camarillo Church of Christ, in Camarillo, CA, has been sued by sex abuse victims of a former youth minister. Follow the link to see the video news story.

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Former Church Worker John Puga Sentenced in Sex Abuse Case

Former church basketball coach John Puga was sentenced to serve a year in the DuPage County Jail work-release program, four years of sex offender probation, register as a sex offender, and provide a sample of his DNA for a state criminal database after pleading guilty to a felony charge of aggravated criminal sexual abuse.

Interestingly, Puga’s case demonstrates something I have said for years. When the leadership of a church establishes sex abuse as an “acceptable” secret, especially if the support leadership helps cover this secret, that church will become a haven for offenders. Even if one offender is exposed, others will still be drawn to that church and it will be a “cesspool” of offenders. That’s just a theory of mine, but I’ve seen it happen quite a few times.

In this church, Puga was the fourth church leader convicted of sex-related crimes in the past few years. Each case was unconnected, though two of the men had the same underage victim.

Former Hephzibah House Students Continue to Raise Abuse Awareness

Former Hephzibah House students continued to raise awareness of their allegations of abuse at the home for troubled teens in Winona Lake, IN, on Friday, Oct. 17. Using the medium of the internet, about 80 former students have reconnected and shared their stories. Many are attempting to speak out and stop the school from continuing practices former students feel are both physically and mentally abusive.

To aid in that goal, a task force of former students and concerned citizens has been formed. Presently, institutions such as Hephzibah House are not under any type of governmental regulation and have no accountability for their actions. They are virtually free to do as they wish as long as they can spin a convincing tale to parents and church supporters. Those who are ignorant of the mechanics and mind-games of abuse are unable to see through the machinations of master manipulators who have been doing this for decades, and the publicity spin sounds perfect if you don’t know better. However, once you have seen the inside of the system, you can see the buzz words for what they are and it is very obvious.

For example, there is one incident in this story which should make every reader of the article a believer. I will quote the article directly.

It’s a story Gabriella Fleury says she knows all too well. She says the treatment she endured made her feel violated.

“A man came in, he was never introduced us. We weren’t put in a gown and given a proper exam. We were in dresses. Our dresses were forced up and we had to undergo a physical, invasive vaginal exam right there at the facility,” she recalled.

This is a school full of teenaged girls. This is not a medical facility. There are no doctors or nurses present. In the incident mentioned, there is no medical exam taking place in the context. This is just a moment when a man walks into a room (where, obviously a girl and another staff member are present during some sort of interview), and the girl is forced to have a vaginal exam, apparently without adequate explanation. This is at the very least a physically abusive incident because it takes place outside any medical context, and I would say that for a teenager who is a virgin it is a sexually abusive one! There is no context under which this incident is acceptable, period. It is absolutely abusive.

Perhaps you want to think it is an isolated incident; ill-advised. And maybe the director of the school would say that they have thought better of such a practice and would never do such a thing now. Here is a greater truth. The attitude and heart that would allow such treatment of the girls is a heart of disrespect. It is a heart that thinks of these girls as worthless things that need to be beaten into shape because they are disgusting trash.

If you read more about how these girls were treated, this is, in fact, the attitude with which they were treated across the board. The setting of the entire institution was one of dehumanization and humiliation, extreme and frequent punishment, with reward for complete and absolute compliance, and sacrifice of all personality and humanity. If you can still find the founder’s writings about parenting and his attitude toward the formation of children’s character (once people began to find it online he removed it; I wish I had copied it when I first found and read it) you will find that is his attitude toward children in general. This is not a man I would trust to raise a dog, much less have the molding of my troubled teenager. In fact, he might be arrested for treating a dog the way he treats children. The ASPCA would certainly be picketing at his doorstep.

In case readers cannot tell, on this issue I am by no means unbiased. I know without a single doubt this institution is abusive. I wish these former students all success and hope they never give up as long as there is a single girl in residence at Hephzibah House.

Patty Wetterling: Make Abuse Your Business!

Patty Wetterling was the guest speaker at the second annual Taking Steps Against Domestic Violence walk to support a violence-free community in Alexandria, MN, which concluded at Calvary Lutheran Church.

According to the linked article, Wetterling believes that domestic abuse – whether to children, women or men – should be everyone’s business. People should stand up and say no, she said. They should make it their business.

“Nobody deserves to get beaten,” she stated.

Wetterling shared a story of when she was a teacher and how one of her students talked about her family and how she “hated” them. Wetterling talked with a colleague who said the girl had a tendency to lie and make up stories and that Wetterling probably shouldn’t believe what she was saying.

The next week, the girl came to school with a black eye.

Wetterling said she took the girl and together, they walked over to the other staff person and Wetterling said, “I believe what she is saying.”

Another story she shared was when she took a human relations class and a woman talked about how she had been abused and how, at the time, couldn’t leave the relationship.

As she was telling another classmate the story, Wetterling said, “I couldn’t fathom what she was saying. Why she couldn’t leave.”

The classmate turned to Wetterling and said, “I’ll tell you why I stay.”

Wetterling told the group that once again, she was shocked, and just like with her student, questioned why she couldn’t see what was happening around her.

“How could I not see this?” she said of what was happening with her classmate.

Instead of people not being engaged in other people’s lives, Wetterling believes that people need to connect on a deeper level.

People need to rally around all the children in their lives, all the women in their lives and all the men in their lives.

“We need to be vigilant against these types of crime,” she said. “People need to believe in the fact that they are human and don’t deserve to be treated like that.”

Video games, television shows, commercials, movies and the like send wrong messages to children.

Wetterling talked about one video game in particular – Grand Theft Auto – where it’s OK to kill people and to treat women with disrespect.

Unfortunately, she said, video games have a big impact on children, which is why they shouldn’t be subjected to such crude behavior.

At the end of her speech, Wetterling talked about what citizens in communities around the world can do to help combat the issue of domestic abuse and general crime, especially to children.

First off, from a very young age, women and men alike should be told, “You deserve better. Nobody has a right to hurt you. It’s not OK and you need to find help if it happens.”

Community members need to make “it” – violence and abuse – their problem.

People need to become engaged and start paying attention to children more.

People need to become part of the solution, not be a part of the problem.

They should stop using offensive language against women and simply stop degrading women.

Citizens should stand up, not stand by and watch.

And lastly, Wetterling said, “If you are a victim of violence, hold onto your dreams. Don’t give up. Keep up your hopes and dreams and together, we can make a difference – if not in our lives, in the lives of others.”

A huge kudos to Patty Wetterling from me for standing up and speaking out!!! This is what we need – people who will make it their business even when they haven’t had to live the nightmare personally first.

Breaking the Silence – Domestic Violence Handbook from a Spiritual Perspective

Breaking the Silence: The Church Responds to Domestic Violence by Anne O. Weatherholt is a handbook about domestic violence from a spiritual perspective. Here clergy, church leaders, parish nurses, volunteers, and others will learn to recognize the signs of domestic abuse and learn ways that church communities can offer help to those who are caught in abusive relationships.

Anne Weatherholt is an Episcopal priest who has served on the boards of Heartly House Shelter in Frederick, Maryland, and Citizens Assisting to Shelter the Abused (CASA) in Hagerstown, Maryland, and has done staff training on the spiritual side of recovery from domestic violence. She serves on the Family Violence Council of Washington County, Maryland. A chaplain for Maryland State Police, she writes a weekly column for Hagerstown Herald Mail. She has published many articles on the topic of domestic abuse.

Diana Stores – One Woman Making A Difference Against Domestic Violence

I saw this article, courtesy of the Star Tribune, today, and thought it was so appropriate during Domestic Violence Awareness month. For anyone who thinks that one person can’t make a difference, here’s proof to the contrary. Particularly to churches who think their hands are tied, the words I’d like to say aren’t fit to print. I’ve copied just the beginning of the article below. Please take the time to read the entire piece.

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By Jean Hopfensperger

Diane Stores endured a violent relationship with her former husband for more than 20 years, unsure where to turn. A conservative Christian woman, she found that her church didn’t know how to help her and the community services for battered women didn’t feel right.

“Several times I’d leave, but I had nowhere to go so I went back home,” said Stores, of Forest Lake, who said she wanted services that offered not just physical safety, but food for her soul.

That yearning prompted Stores to create the Dwelling Place when she recovered from her abuse. The St. Paul domestic violence shelter holds a unique niche in Minnesota. It is the only faith-based shelter in the state, a place where daily devotions and Bible study are the foundation of recovery, said shelter staff and the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women.

This month the Dwelling Place marked its 10th anniversary, with a record of housing more than 1,000 battered women from across Minnesota and the nation. It also offers counseling and referrals to another 1,600 women a year.

Conservative Christian women, in particular, face spiritual obstacles as they grapple with leaving their husbands. Because they don’t want “to put asunder” God’s plan for marriage, said Diane Anderson, the executive director of the organization.

“They [the women] believe God hates divorce, and they believe if they do divorce or leave, they will commit a sin,” Anderson said. “They think they need to stay in the marriage, make it work. I’ve even heard women say, ‘Even if I get murdered, I need to stay in the marriage.’ ”

Understanding that logic, staff members counsel the woman that the sacred covenant of marriage of the Bible is not the same violent relationship they were enduring at home.

“They don’t see that God hates abuse,” Anderson said, “or that the marriage covenant is broken by that treatment…”

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Pastor Laron D. Williams Charged/Cleared of Aggravated Incest

Update: According to the Natchitoches Times, Oct. 29, 2008, and Free Press, Nov. 1, 2008, Pastor Laron Williams was cleared and charges against him were dropped.

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Pastor Laron D. Williams of Monroe, LA, has been arrested on allegations of aggravated incest. Williams is a pastor at Mount Moriah Baptist Church in Jonesboro.