Clergy Sexual Misconduct More Prevalent Than Understood

Baylor University has concluded a study which is to be published soon, on the prevalence of clergy sexual misconduct. Below is a press release on the findings of the study.

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Baylor University Conducts Largest National Study of Clergy Sexual Misconduct with Adults

Misconduct with Adults More Common Than Previously Thought; Occurs Across Many Religions, Denominations

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(Baylor University press release)

Baylor University’s School of Social Work today announced that findings from the nationwide study of the prevalence of Clergy Sexual Misconduct (CSM) with Adults have been accepted for publication later this year in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. The findings come from questions included in the 2008 General Social Survey (GSS), a widely-used and highly-respected survey of a random sample of more than 3,500 American adults conducted by the National Opinion Research Center. Respondents were asked if, since turning 18, they had ever been the object of a sexual advance from a religious leader. The responses were used to establish a statistically reliable baseline for discussions about CSM with adults.

The findings suggest that the prevalence of Clergy Sexual Misconduct with Adults is higher than many people realize and that it occurs across denominations and religions.

“Because many people are familiar with some of the high-profile cases of sexual misconduct, most people assume that it is just a matter of a few charismatic leaders preying on vulnerable followers,” said Dr. Diana Garland, Dean of the School of Social Work at Baylor University and lead researcher in the study. “What this research tells us, however, is that clergy sexual misconduct with adults is a widespread problem in congregations of all sizes and occurs across denominations. Now that we have a better understanding of the problem, we can start looking at prevention strategies.”

The study found that 3.1 percent of adult women who attend religious services at least once a month have been the victims of clergy sexual misconduct since turning 18. To explain another way, in the average U.S. congregation of 400 adult members, seven women, on average, have been victimized at some point in their adult lives.

“This is the largest scientific study into clergy sexual misconduct with adults. We hope these findings will prompt congregations to consider adopting policies and procedures designed to protect their members from leaders who abuse their power,” said Garland. “Many people – including the victims themselves – often label incidences of clergy sexual misconduct with adults as ‘affairs’. In reality, they are an abuse of spiritual power by the religious leader.”

This study is part of a comprehensive effort by Baylor University to identify the prevalence of clergy sexual misconduct with adults and the details commonly associated with its occurrence across religions. Using this data as a foundation, the Baylor team has been working to outline possible initiatives designed to identify and prevent CSM, and draft model legislation to make CSM illegal in the same way that relationships with patients and clients are illegal for other “helping professionals” including doctors, lawyers and mental health practitioners. At present only two states – Texas and Minnesota – have legal statutes in place to guard against CSM.

“The religious community should be a place where people, especially those in crisis, find comfort and support,” said Dr. Randel Everett, the Executive Director and CEO of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. “When a religious leader abuses the power or trust vested in them through sexual misconduct, it results in multiple sufferers. First the victim herself, then her whole family system, and eventually the congregation and the community.”

Garland also studied clergy sexual misconduct with adults from first-hand accounts. She interviewed more than 80 women and men including victims of CSM, family members or spouses of victims, religious leaders who have committed CSM, and helping professionals who have provided care for offenders and survivors. With this information, Garland and her team have begun to identify characteristics of the social context of congregations in which misconduct occurs, as well as the behavioral identifiers of offenders and the situations of those they victimize.

Based on this qualitative research, Garland and Christen Argueta, a Master of Social Work alumna from Baylor’s School of Social Work, developed a second paper, “How Clergy Sexual Misconduct Happens: A Qualitative Study of First-Hand Accounts.” This article has been accepted for publication in the journal Social Work & Christianity later this year.

“I am extremely thankful for Dr. Garland’s work in identifying clergy sexual misconduct with adults as a common problem and putting a real name and real numbers behind this issue,” said Carolyn Waterstradt, a clergy sexual misconduct survivor who took part in the qualitative research. “When it was happening to me, I felt confused and isolated. Now I know that many others have struggled with this, and that there is hope for putting systems in place to help prevent it from happening. She has given me, and others like me, a voice.”

Research Background

Research was conducted using the 2008 General Social Survey (GSS) to collect data from a nationally representative sample of 3,559 non-institutionalized English- or Spanish-speaking adults. It is conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.
The GSS is conducted through in-person interviews, but questions targeting clergy sexual misconduct with adults were self-administered to alleviate respondents’ possible pain and embarrassment associated with reporting such an experience. The goals of the questions were to identify the prevalence of CSM and also to learn about the contexts in which clergy sexual advances occurred.

The clergy sexual misconduct with adults study has been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication by the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, a quarterly journal published on behalf of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. It is scheduled to appear later this year.

Funding for this research project was provided by the Ford Foundation, the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the JES Edwards Foundation of Fort Worth, Texas.
For more information on the full research project, visit the study web site, which includes a project overview, case studies of clergy sexual misconduct survivors, and other information.

About the Baylor University School of Social Work

The Baylor University School of Social Work is emerging nationally as a leader in social work education that merges Baylor’s distinctive Christian heritage with professional skills and knowledge. Its mission and concepts incorporate a Christian worldview with professional standards. The school impacts the social work profession through undergraduate and graduate education of its students, original research by its faculty, publication in top-rated peer journals, leadership roles in national social work organizations, collaborative efforts with denominational entities and social justice initiatives. The mission of the school is to prepare students in a Christian context for worldwide service and leadership.

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Pastors Scott Webb and David Webb Sued in Sex Abuse Case

Sr. pastor Scott Webb, and his son, former youth minister David Webb, have been sued by the girl David Webb pleaded guilty of sexually abusing, and by her father. David Webb was sentenced in July to serve five years in prison.

According to the linked article, “the lawsuit alleges sexual assault, battery, harassment and seduction of an underage woman against David Webb, and accuses his employer, Word of Life Christian Center, of negligent hiring, training, supervision, retention and entrustment.”

This situation is another example of why churches must begin to self-regulate. This will become more and more common and end up putting individual churches and even entire denominations out of existence — the natural consequences of failure to stand for righteousness in the first place.

Alleged Hephzibah House Abuse Survivors “Must Be Silenced”?

Additional note 7/8/09 — just to be completely clear, I personally know the pastor who made this statement, but I am not the author of the letter I received. Because the writer of the letter specifically asked not to be identified, I cannot identify the pastor either. But, what matters even more is that this pastor’s sentiments are not unique. So his identity is virtually irrelevant. In fact, the pastor’s words were an extension of the actions, general verbiage, and attitude of Ron Williams, who has been invited to speak and generate financial support at that church multiple times.

[This was sent to me and the writer wishes to remain anonymous. The writer is not one of the alleged victims of abuse at Hephzibah House but is knowledgeable about the situation.]

They Must Be Silenced…
“The women must be silenced in one way or another.”

In a Sunday evening church service a discourse about the alleged victims of Hepzibah House troubled me greatly. There was no room given for the possibility that the victims were telling the truth. It was obvious that in the mind of the speaker Hepzibah House had been acquitted.

I grew more uneasy, then righteously angry, with every word spoken. When the discourse ended with the words, “the women must be silenced one way or the other” my heart wrenched for every victim of abuse who have broken their silence, taken a stand for justice and the protection of other children.

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[Commentary by Danni]

This writer quotes a pastor’s words, “the women must be silenced one way or the other.” What kind of attitude is this? It is appalling!

First of all, the alleged victims are being assumed to be liars (another direct quote) without any research into the situation at all. The leadership of this church has assumptively taken the side of the leadership of Hephzibah House, which the church supports financially. While this same church says they have a “safe” policy regarding abuse allegations against church leadership, they are demonstrating that this policy would only be followed if they personally have not taken a “side” on the issue based on their own personal likes and dislikes. Since they have a personal relationship with the leadership of Hephzibah House, they will not consider that the allegations made just might be true.

This happens all the time in churches and is part of the reason the church is not a safe place for victims. The church leadership is almost always automatically believed and the alleged victims both disbelieved and condemned. Every situation is the “exception to the rule” because “we know these people and they would never do that.” But that’s what people always think — always! Abusers in church leadership didn’t get to that position by being stupid and obvious! They can play the game flawlessly.

Another horrifying thing about this is that a pastor would say these words from the pulpit — “the women must be silenced one way or the other.” I have no idea what that man meant by “or the other” but the words are an implied threat, even if he would never actually do anything tangible against one of the women involved. By making the threat, he has uttered a curse against these women.

And words are powerful. Death and life are in the power of the tongue — and out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. That is a powerful indictment against a pastor who would express this attitude.

Further, by making these statements (and not just in one church service; the theme has been revisited multiple times from the pulpit) this pastor is clearly communicating to any and every victim of abuse in his church that they will be automatically judged and condemned unless their abuser is a blatant unbeliever. This pastor has made a public statement that anyone wounded by a “Christian” is not welcome here; they will be beaten and trampled by the leadership in this body.

Using Abuse in the Church to Change Abusers?

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

Listen to this brief video clip, by Mark Driscoll, pastor of mega-church Mars Hill, Seattle — then read my commentary.

People are flocking to hear Driscoll by the thousands, and his video clips are all over You Tube. However, this clip reveals a glimpse of the extremely dangerous and flat-out anti-Christ things he is teaching in the name of “preaching the truth.”

First, shaming an abuser is utterly ineffective. Throwing gas on a flame is counterproductive. It may be liquid but it’s not going to put out the fire. An abuser is generally operating from a shame-based modality anyway. You’ll get nowhere constructive by using Satan’s tools to try to accomplish righteousness.

But I think it is even worse that while speaking against abuse Driscoll is being abusive. Screaming at anyone — and in this case very obviously screaming with contempt — is abusive; the end. I don’t care if that person is someone you don’t respect (abuser heart attitude number one – disrespect) there is no person on this earth who wasn’t created in the image of God and whom Jesus did not sacrifice His life for out of LOVE – not rage.

The Word says the anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God. So this whole thing here is NOT GOD’S WILL because it cannot accomplish His righteousness.

Then he dares to literally say that it is the HOLY SPIRIT who is doing the yelling. Look out Ananias and Saphira – is that sulphur I smell? Blaspheming the Holy Spirit is one of only two behaviors (that I can think of off the top) that God says will bring death under the New Covenant. This is not a small thing. THIS BEHAVIOR BY DRISCOLL IS EXTREMELY SERIOUS.

It is impossible for the Holy Spirit to act in such a way. The Word says that Jesus paid the penalty for ALL sin – past, present and future. It says that God’s wrath is not even being revealed against sinners in this time under the New Covenant — it is being held until the judgment — because Jesus already paid the penalty for this sin, too; even the sin of those who do not acknowledge Him. They will be judged at the end of time for rejecting Christ – not for the sin He paid for.

So how could the Holy Spirit possibly be screaming at anyone?

What Driscoll is advocating is SELF righteousness – since He’s sure not advocating the righteousness of Christ, since the anger of man cannot accomplish the righteousness of God. That would mean that Driscoll is advocating self idolatry!!!! That is diametrically opposite to the truth of the Word. It is literally anti-Christ.

When Driscoll says, “You change now, little boy! You shut up! Maybe one day you can lead a woman…” he is himself being abusive (since we know that cannot be coming from God) in the name of stopping abuse.

He is also advocating works to please God. Once you get it right, some day maybe you’ll be able to lead a woman. Huh? The only way any of us will ever be able to be righteous is by coming to understand we ARE righteous in Christ. It’s already done for us.

And we can choose to be the servant of Christ or the servant of Satan – by learning how to walk and live in Christ, under the control of the Holy Spirit — resulting in the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives; or not. It will never happen by “doing” all these “right” things to hopefully, some day, measure up to Driscoll’s yard stick.

An abuser is an abuser because s/he is choosing to be the servant of Satan and demonstrating the deeds of the flesh. And what Driscoll is saying will only fuel that problem because he’s not pointing to the right answer, he’s reinforcing the problem.

I wish there were a way to make people see how dangerous this is.

Even more horrific is that here we have yet another example of someone proporting to speak for God and speaking Satan’s lies in Jesus’ name. The Word says that faith comes by hearing, hearing comes by the Word of God – and how can they hear without a preacher.

But the preacher is speaking Satan’s lies. Faith does come by hearing. And if what we are hearing is lies, that is what we will believe! Far worse, when what we are hearing is lies which say they are the Word of God, God’s people are being effectively, not only destroyed by lack of knowledge (the TRUTH), but they are being simultaneously innoculated against the truth because they think they are hearing it! It isn’t merely that we are believing Satan’s lies — we are believing those lies came out of God’s mouth, so how then can we ever get to the healing truth Jesus died to provide?

The Church Holocaust Through One Person’s Eyes

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

Do you think I exaggerate about the seriousness of abuse in the church? Is it of holocaust proportions?

Read the first-hand story of a 16-year old girl who loved God and wanted nothing more than to please and serve Him. She was innocent, clean, and pure – until her youth pastor noticed her…

Warning: this post is triggering! If you have experienced abuse, you will need to be prepared for triggers.

(Christa begins this part of her story from her adult perspective as her childhood memories plague her, the way it does for many abuse victims…)

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…I went for a run, hoping it would get the pain…out of my system… Then from out of nowhere, I felt his breath on the back of my neck and heard his voice in my ear. “Don’t worry, you’ll still be a virgin.”

I hurled into the tall grass and wiped the last trail of vomit on my shirt. I stayed bent over, hands on my knees, trying desperately to breathe. My chest was clenched shut. I began to shake.

Memory fragments filled my head. They were all fragments that I had glimpsed before…this time, I decided to try to line them up – “one, two, three” – the way the music minister had done…

One: I’m at the church parsonage in the same bedroom where my two sisters and I slept when my mom stayed at the hospital after my dad’s back surgery.

Two: I go in the kitchen with Dunagan, and he takes a couple beers from the refrigerator. “But it’s against our religion,” I say. He just laughs. He says that’s another one of those rules for lesser, weaker believers, and not for people like us.

Three: He puts the can in my hand and insists I drink. I don’t want to, but he keeps pushing the can up to my mouth. Finally, I take a sip. It tastes awful. He keeps drinking from his can, and then starts on another…

Five: I’m naked on my stomach on the bed. He is on top of me. I am saying “no” and squirming. I hear my own crying. His voice is in my left ear, shushing me. “Don’t worry. You’ll still be a virgin.”

Six: I hear his laugh…

At this point, I smell his breath, as real as if he is with me on the running trail. I stop and vomit into the bushes again…

I keep hearing him. It’s an endless loop in my head. His voice is there with me on the trail. His laugh goes on and on…

Nine: As we’re going into the garage, his voice softens and he tells me how special I am. “God loves you, Christa.”

Ten: It hurts to walk.

Now I’m doubled over on the trail yet again…

(From earlier in the book)

“We’re already married in God’s eyes,” he proclaimed. “It’s pre-ordained.”

“But you’re already married to Patsy.”

“Christa, God has predetermined that we are to be together. It’s already written in His plan, and He will make a way for it to happen. Your task is to live by faith and to stop fighting it. His ways aren’t our ways, and it’s not for us to try to understand.”

He told me about how men in the Bible often had more than one wife and even had concubines. I knew this was true, but I still didn’t understand.

“I’ve prayed long and hard about this, Christa. God wants you to be a helpmeet for me. He wouldn’t make me feel this way if He didn’t intend for you to be with me.”

Then he said the three words I could never argue against.

“It’s God’s will…”

“We know that all thing work together for good to them that love God and who are called according to His purpose…”

“Christa, you should know this by now. You’re called of God, and this is your predetermined purpose. You need to start trusting that God will take care of it and will make all things work together. You have to live by faith. You have to trust that it’s all part of His plan…”

God was testing me, he said, and God wanted to see whether I would continue to insist on my own way, or whether I would be willing to trust in Him and “live by faith…”

I tried to be a good helpmate, but somehow, I was never good enough…

(Later…)

After the beer-drinking episode, Eddie went back to telling me about how I was harboring Satan… He said I had seduced him and that I was a terrible temptress.

One day he called me into his office and made me kneel. I cried and cried there on my knees while he stood over me. He prayed long and loud, beseeching God to cast Satan from me and to cleanse my soul.

I went home and did my own praying… I prayed without ceasing. I begged God to keep me safe from Satan. I begged for forgiveness.

I didn’t know how I had let Satan inside me. I didn’t mean to.

When did it happen? How did it happen? I didn’t understand.

I prayed and prayed and prayed, but it didn’t do any good. I was utterly and completely alone and empty. No longer was there any Spirit beside me or within me.

Before all this, God had been my constant companion, a presence as real as any physical being. But now, God had turned away from me.

Everything went dark inside me. The darkness was like another living creature. It breathed with me and through me. It was always there – every hour, every minute, and every second. I didn’t have a clue how to make the darkness leave me…

I was terrified…

(Later…)

“God loves you.” Lots of people seem to want to tell me that, and I hate it when they do. It’s a visceral response. Those words ring in my ears like a vile curse. I’d rather hear someone say “Go to hell” than “God loves you.”

Perhaps God does indeed love me, but I will never sense it in the sound of those words. For me, those words feel like words of hate.

People seem to also want to tell me that God will heal me if only I will put my faith in Him. I try to be polite… but to me, those are also hurtful words. Faith is what got me into this. Faith is where the path turned terribly wrong.

For most people of faith, their faith is a source of solace… But for me, faith is neurologically networked with a nightmare. Sexual trauma and faith are inextricably seared together in my brain.

This is what it means to be subjected to the force of faith unleashed by a clergy predator. It is not only physically, psychologically, and emotionally devastating, but it is also spiritual annihilating. It is soul-murder. It is why many experts talk about the unique nature of clergy abuse trauma and the devastation of its impact.

When faith has been used as a weapon, it becomes almost impossible to use it as a resource for healing…

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These excerpts are from This Little Light, by Christa Brown and powerfully reveals just how insidious and devastating this problem is in the church. I’ll be excerpting and commenting on more from her book in subsequent posts.

The Invisible Holocaust in Our Church

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

I just finished reading a book which is as profound as it is powerful. I honestly have no good words.

This book is so important to the church as an organization and to every individual who claims to be a Christian, a simple review is not adequate. EVERY believer, and I do mean EVERY believer, needs to read this book.

If you discovered there was a secret holocaust happening in our country, and no one appeared to want to admit it was going on, what would you do? You know what? I think just about everyone in the US finds the German holocaust appalling. We think that if that happened in our country, we would all stand up against it. It would be too horrific to contemplate tolerating or turning a blind eye. We think we would be the heroes to stand against the colossal outrage.

But we look on the history of the Holocaust through the eyes of after-sight. The fact of the matter is we would choose to turn a blind eye, give up our neighbors and friends to the Gestapo, and sign up to volunteer for the German army.

No? You think not? I’ll bet everyone who reads this will think there is no way they would participate in such behavior.

BUT THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH IS DOING JUST THAT. And, no, I am not exaggerating.

I am not intending to minimize the realities of the Holocaust of World War II. But, for all that, it lasted for a limited period of time. There was an end of the atrocities. The world rose up against tyranny and murder and sacrificed to stop it. And we all know that those who lives were personally touched by the Holocaust have lived with permanent scars that live on to this very day. We both acknowledge and continue in horror at the realities of what happened 70 years ago.

But there is a holocaust happening in the Christian church – and we are turning a blind eye. Yes, there IS a holocaust going on in churches all around this country, and around the world. Don’t believe me?

I don’t think the numbers equal the German holocaust yet, but at the rate it’s going they will get there because it is raging almost unchecked. And it certainly qualifies by definition:

Holocaust:

  • a great or complete devastation or destruction, esp. by fire.
  • a sacrifice completely consumed by fire; burnt offering.
  • (usually initial capital letter ) the systematic mass slaughter of European Jews in Nazi concentration camps during World War II (usually prec. by the).
  • any mass slaughter or reckless destruction of life.

Yes, there IS a “great or complete devastation or destruction” and “mass slaughter or reckless destruction of life” – and it is happening in church, a lot of people – especially church leaders – know about it, and people are either turning a blind eye or actively participating in the destruction.

If you think I’m exaggerating, and I’m sure you do, then you should try to prove me wrong. Do you dare? This Little Light, by Christa Brown tells the story. If you can read this book and not be deeply affected, I cannot imagine how.

I will be reviewing excerpts from this book over time so you can get a taste of just what I mean.

Is There a Silver Lining to the Abuse-Aware Church Trend?

So, as I have been thinking about this issue of the new trend among churches and Christian ministries to be “aware” of abuse, it has occurred to me that there may well be a good side to this situation. Right now, as I mentioned in my last post, what is happening is actually more hurtful than ignorance.

However, it could well be that this is a first step that will lead to further steps — moving subsequently into a better direction. I have to remember that these are people and organizations which, until very recently, were not even acknowledging domestic abuse as a real issue in the church and in Christian marriages. Now, with the increasing outcry of those of us who have experienced it, they are seeing there is a problem.

The first, and simplest response, is to say, “Oh yes, there’s a problem. We understand and care. But our theology hasn’t changed so we’ll see how we can wrap this up with a nice bow on top and stuff it into our existing theology with a minimum of effort.” Even though, for now, that’s disasterous, it is a step. It is motion instead of inertia.

It is my hope that, as the outcry continues and the error of this “new” philosophy is exposed, they will look deeper and make further changes. This really does take time. Nobody goes from 0 to 100 in one instant. When a quick and easy bandaid doesn’t staunch the gushing wound that is Christian domestic abuse, those who genuinely do care and are seeking God will look deeper to find out why the bandaid isn’t working.

The next step may be only another small one. But a series of small steps will get the job done eventually. And, that’s what we need. I have to remember that, even though I was in it with the problem very present in my own face, it took me 13 years to “get there” – after seven years of complete blindness and incomprehension. Why do I think it will be easier for those who don’t have a living and present reminder in their living room every day?