The search for truth implies a duty. One must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true. –Albert Einstein
The sex abuse scandal at Vienna Presbyterian was essentially swept under the rug for a time, and this proved to be extremely detrimental to the congregation. As explained in The Washington Post article “Vienna Presbyterian Church seeks forgiveness, redemption in the wake of abuse scandal”, LINK .
Jordan-Haas, VPC’s newly hired Associate Pastor, saw the VPC congregation through a fresh set of eyes.
As the article states:
“…he (Jordan-Haas) began asking questions and noticed the issue tearing at the fabric of the church. He found that the issue had not been explored, that there appeared to be the potential for numerous victims, and he encountered families and young women who were still hurting or just beginning to deal with their pain.”
Sadly, the above statement could be said of many churches throughout Christendom which choose to ignore victims of sexual abuse at the hands of church staff or worse — blame the victims.
As the article explains, VPC chose to do a number of things to right the wrongs that had been done to Eric DeVries’ victims.
First, they acknowledged their culpability. Paige Fishel, a family therapist who is providing counseling at VPC, explained that the church probably harmed some of its most vulnerable congregants. However, she explained that the church is now listening to the victims, investigating, and apologizing. In the article Fishel explained that the church“was finally willing to take ownership for what happened on their watch, to consider themselves part of the collective offender along with Eric, and they began to work to identify who had been hurt, what their needs were and how to meet those needs.”
The second thing the church did was to establish NewSpring Ministry to reach out and assist abuse victims in their recovery. This outreach was established two years ago. Fishel assists victims through this ministry.
The third action Vienna Presbyterian Church took was to contact The Washington Post. As details of the abuse began to emerge, some concerned elders agreed to cooperate with the Post’s investigation (which lasted two months!).
And fourthly, the Rev. Dr. Peter James openly addressed the church’s cover-up of the scandal in a sermon he called “Religious Hypocrisy” which he delivered the Sunday before the front-page article came out. You can read the transcript of James’ sermon here.
These are some of the highlights of Dr. James’ sermon:
- “Churches who refuse to tell the truth about sexual abuse are a horrible witness to Christ in the world.”
- “We must tell the truth about sexual abuse in our church.”
- “The last six years have given me new appreciation for why the Bible holds love and justice together in creative tension.”
As you can probably imagine, this tragic story is making its way around the blogosphere, and others are chiming in about what happened at Vienna Presbyterian Church and the lessons to be learned. There are varying opinions on what occurred, but I liked what Pastor Geoff had to say on his website: Link.
“On Tuesday I wrote a post about the Washington Post article about the abuse that occurred at the Vienna Presbyterian Church. The story was in many ways about results of this scandal in the lives of the young woman who were victims and how the Church let them down. It was also about how Vienna Presbyterian is seeking to build a community of reconciliation around this failure of Christian Community. I continue to pray that those involved in this situation will all find healing, personally and institutionally. I also continue to admonish everyone to apply the lessons that Vienna has learned in our own lives. It is easy to become a voyeur in a situation like this and say “Thank God it wasn’t me or my church on the front page of the Post.” In a real and spiritual way, we were on the front page right alongside our brothers and sisters in Vienna. The church is bound together by Christ…”
I agree with Pastor Geoff, and I pray that ALL Christians – a leaders and congregants alike – will refuse to turn a blind eye to abuse within the body of Christ, particularly sexual abuse. We all most remember that God is watching and that we will someday give an account. Silence is NOT the answer!
Lydia's Corner: Joshua 7:16-9:2 Luke 16:1-18 Psalm 82:1-8 Proverbs 13:2-3