“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me. ” ― Fred Rogers link
Today I am going to be discussing the sinful handling of a pedophile by Holly Furtick's father. Why? The newspaper article is one of the best reports of a church which defended a pedophile that I have ever read-especially for that time frame. It takes the perspective of the young man who was sexually molested.
Secondly, I took a course in college that has stuck with me for years. It was called the Psychology of History. We studied the upbringings of Hitler, Stalin and Disraeli. I was shocked to learn of the parental weirdness that Hitler had to deal with growing up. For years, I have contemplated how my upbringing, as well as others affect us for the future.
Anticipating some pushback that I am bringing up Holly Furtick's father, I have decided to share with you two incidents from my upbringing that have affected my willingness to go after child sex abusers.
When I was in third grade, I was walking home late from school with my friend. We had stayed after to help our teacher clean up a room. We always took a short cut through the back alley of the school. One day, a man in his 20s stepped out and wanted to show us something. As he proceeded to do so, I knew he was showing us a part of his anatomy that should be private. He came after us and asked us to touch him. We went screaming down the alley. I bumped into my younger brother (1st grade) and around 5 of his neighborhood friends on bikes and told them what was happening. They went after the guy, screaming and threatening to run him down with their bikes. He ran away as fast as he could.
I ran home and told my mother. She called the principal and told him the story. Here is where it gets a bit strange. She told me not to describe, in detail, exactly what I saw. When I asked why, she said that it isn't *nice* to talk about such things. When I met with the principal, I told him what I saw in *nice* terms. He got the picture and the police began to patrol the area. My brother and his friends also did the same thing against my mother's wishes. They found him one more time,chased him down a street and went and got the police. I still do not know what happened but I never saw him again.
Growing up, I was friends with a girl in my class. She was allowed to come and stay at my house but I was never allowed to go to her house. My parents said her father was *not right in his head.* Years later, I would learn that he molested two of his daughters. As I grew older, I asked my parents why they did not report it. My mother, once again, said polite people do not talk about things like that. However, my father, in later years, says he wished he had done something about it. It was one of his many regrets. To this day, my elderly mother refuses to discuss it with me.
The possible effects on me
I saw a pedophile who was scared to death of a bunch of first grade boys on bikes. They were able to find him and help him get arrested. Was it wise? Of course not. But it happened and that probably gave me courage that I could fight against a predator. Also, my discouragement with my parents' lack of intervention in the life of a friend gave me a purpose. I would never remain silent in the face of predatory behavior.
Why is Norm Vigue a hero in the eyes of Steven Furtick?
This, perhaps, is the most troubling question in the saga of Elevation Church. In many stories that we have covered, the pedophile is often the center of attention. He is defended by the church, he is supported in his criminal trials by the church and he is welcomed back with open arms by the church simply because he has said he is sorry.
As I was driving today, I thought about other members of Elevation Church. They have not molested any children, they do not participate in viewing internet child sex abuse, they have not murdered anyone and they haven't embezzled any funds from their companies. Yet, they are not hugged on stage and they are not considered heroes. They are not given a table after the church service so that they can sign autographs. Why is that?
Even worse, where are the words of concern for the children who were abused, trafficked, and thrown away for someone's sexual gratification? Why are they not the heroes at Elevation Church? Why is the man who helped to fund their abuse the hero? Why is it not enough to say he has repented? How did the church get to this point?
Our past can help explain today.
Thanks to a helpful tweet, I was directed to an article at Stop Baptist Predators. Christa Brown has been a long time warrior on exposing the number of Baptist church leaders who are sexual abusers. She was way ahead of all of us current watchbloggers. She has been threatened due to her work but she has carried on. Stop for one minute and thank God for her ministry.
Christa posted an article from The Miami Herald written in 1994 by Joanne Cavanaugh called Left By the Wayside. I was completely taken by the emphasis of Cavanaugh in this story about a pedophile in a church. She did something that I have rarely seen, especially 20 years ago. This informative post began and ended with the perspective of an abused boy. This abused boy was forgotten by a church when they chose to support a pedophile. Please read the entire post but be fore warned-it is graphic.
A youth pastor was found guilty and a church was found negligent by the courts.
His abuser was sentenced to 15 years at the DeSoto Correctional Institution in Arcadia for what he did to Artis and nearly a dozen other teenage boys. In February, the church that had hired Geren and encouraged children to trust him, was ordered to pay Artis $4.2 million in damages. The jury ruled that the church was negligent for failing to search for red flags in the youth minister's background.
Dan Artis, an abused boy, said he was forgotten by the church and the predator was supported.
But nearly as damaging, Artis claims, was that even after the abuse was exposed and admitted, the church made more of an effort to forgive and support the abuser than to heal the abused.
The Senior Pastor of Wayside Baptist Church was Holly Furtick's father, Murrill Boitnott.
Boitnott had recommended that the church hire Keith Geren whom he had known for 9 years. He was allegedly devastated when a father in his church called him and reported that his son had been molested by Geren. When he asked Geren if is was true, Geren admitted that he had molested 17 boys as the youth minister.
At first, Boitnott responded correctly.
He stripped Geren of his youth ministry duties, removing him from any responsibility for the children. In accordance with state law, he reported the abuse to an HRS abuse hot line. He found Geren a psychologist. And he alerted a small group of deacons that the youth minister had abused some boys in the youth group.
He also contacted the fathers of the abused boys and recommended they get counseling.
But, then he backed off. The popularity of Geren was the chief factor!
But he could not bring himself to recommend his young friend be fired. And he did not bar him from church property, or order Geren to have no further contact with church youth.
The youth minister was so popular, Boitnott later testified, he was concerned that if he acted more forcefully, some would think he had gotten rid of Geren because he felt threatened by the young man's popularity.
The abuse factor was downplayed by Geren.
Geren would go on to confess the molestations to each family. The families were asked to keep this confidential. Within days, the church was informed and Geren read a prepared statement to the congregation which did not admit to abuse.
For many years I have been struggling with this sin and it is awful," Geren read from a prepared statement. "Young people, I am sorry I have hurt you. I haven't been living what I have been preaching, and God has removed me as your spiritual leader . . . Your sins will always find you out."
But Geren didn't admit to abusing children. The sin he admitted to was "compulsive sexual behavior."
Satan got the blame more than Geren. (*The devil made me do it *approach.)
Still others blamed Satan for a national epidemic of child abuse. The pastor responded: "Satan is having a heyday and he wants our children." He gently advised parents: "Observe and tenderly talk with your children to discern whether they have been harmed by Keith."
Love the sinner became the rule of the day for the church.
The church went into overdrive to support Geren. Even Geren became uncomfortable with the show of support, saying the children were the victims, not him.
Church members rushed to embrace him, to forgive him, to tell him they still loved him and were praying for him. In time, church members, led by Boitnott, would charter a bus and visit Geren in the Dade County Jail for a prayer rally. The pastor urged members to write supportive letters to their fallen friend.
The victim felt forgotten and was made to feel that he was the evil one.
Although Dan Artis attempted to forgive Geren, he began to feel forgotten.
After Geren resigned and made the vague reference to compulsive behavior, Artis sat in a pew quietly crying as church members crowded into the center aisle and lined up to embrace his abuser. Artis watched this effusive display of compassion and felt confused. He began to suspect that he hadn't really forgiven Keith at all.
"It made me feel like I was the evil one because I couldn't do what they were doing and forgive Keith," Artis said.
And in the following weeks, as he watched Geren sit boldly in church and giggle and chatter easily with friends before a service, as if nothing bad had happened, his confusion turned to hurt.
"Here I was, the victim, and they are loving him," Artis remembers. "Keith is a good guy, they'd say. They were helping him, and letting me rot away. I was sitting on the outside looking in, saying, 'Hey, I'm still out here feeling awkward, feeling different, feeling hurt and wounded.' "
The seriousness of the abuse was downplayed to the parents.
Boitnott and Geren did not tell Dan's father the details of the extent of his molestation. The father assumed it was merely some fondling.
When Wayside's senior pastor first told Artis Sr. that Geren had molested his son, he did not reveal all the nasty details. Even when Geren had met with the boy's father, no specifics were discussed. Boitnott later told lawyers that he believed the whole truth would be too overwhelming for the boy's father all at once. He thought it better that Artis Sr. learn of the worst in stages.
The father became hysterical when he finally learned the truth.
"My dad was so outraged and so upset and so betrayed and so disgusted, he honestly went running through the house screaming and crying and didn't know what to do," a sobbing Artis told attorneys.
"He wasn't like a mad man," Artis said later. "He was crying deeply, his body shaking, his face real red. That is probably one of the saddest moments in my life, and one of the nicest moments, too.
"It is the one time in my life my dad looked like a broken man," Artis said. "But my dad also proved to me his love, and faith and belief in me."
Private information was allegedly released to the church by the Christian counseling service that was used by some of the boys.
Artis and another youth who was abused say the pastor's words now sound hollow. They testified they tried going to the Christian counselors, but stopped when they began to hear some of the most private details of their conversations with the counselors being repeated by church members.
The counselors, from Christian Counseling Ministry in Miami, later denied discussing their sessions with anyone from the church. But they said they understood their former clients' sense of abandonment.
Forgive the abuser became the meme.
One attorney said the main mistake was to try to rectify the situation quickly in order to forgive the abuser.
Artis' counselor, Robin Reisert, later told attorneys, "I think the mistake (made by the church), which is not unusual . . . was to try to fix the situation as soon as possible so that people may be able to begin working on forgiving (the abuser). Which to someone that's the victim, that could seem like a betrayal."
Geren, unbelievably, was allowed to continue to attend the church.
The police said Geren should never have been allowed on church property again.
Others outside the church found fault with how things were handled. A Metro-Dade child exploitation investigator and an assistant Dade state attorney later expressed disbelief that Geren was not immediately barred from church property.
The Metro police officer who investigated the case, then- detective Sheila Davis, told church attorneys during a deposition: "If a person knows that someone has committed this type of crime, and he allows this person to continue to have contact, and be placed in a position where he could commit the crime again . . . " she trailed off. "He should have forbidden Keith from being on the grounds."
Boitnott believed in forgiveness which meant showering Geren with attention.
Boitnott appeared to say that any retribution against Geren would be against his faith.
Boitnott later said he regretted some of his decisions, including that one. "I should have fired him," he said. But in his court testimony, his regret seems tempered with a conviction that any retribution against Geren would have been contrary to his Christian ethic: "I should have taken the heat and called Keith ugly names and joined the We Hate Keith club. It was a difficult time. Forgiveness is a large part of Christian life."
Boitnott arranged for church outings to the jail to support Geren.
Prior to Geren's sentencing, Boitnott arranged a church outing to the jail
Six months later, Boitnott set up a bus trip for church members to go to the jail to show support for Geren before his sentencing. "They prayed for him and put hands on him to ask for the healing power of God,
Dan had enough and decided to sue the church.
Dan Artis finally had enough and he decided to sue the church.
'This is B.S.,' " Artis said. "I said, look, I've had enough. I don't care if it's right or wrong. I want someone to pay for this. I want people to know what they did was not right."
Artis filed suit in early 1991, charging that Wayside was negligent in hiring and supervising Geren, and asking $2 million in compensation.
Boitnott did not check out Geren before he hired him.
Boitnott admitted that he had not checked out Geren.
"In honesty, I would probably say that the personnel check was not done on Keith because he was a personal friend of mine," Boitnott told the Wayside congregation on May 17, 1989, after disclosing Geren's abuse. "I had every reason to believe that he was a fine, upstanding young Christian man, and if the mistake was made, it was mine."
The church allegedly approved of sleepovers that Geren had at his house.
The church was aware that Geren had sleepovers at his house.
Church leaders knew about some of the sleepovers, but Boitnott, who even had breakfast with Geren and one of the boys after one such sleepover, said he did not know the teens slept in Geren's bed.
"I thought they were having Bible studies, or something like that," Fred Touchton, the deacon who now lives in Central Florida, told attorneys. "I guess I am just naive. I didn't really think that sort of thing went on."
Boitnott claimed, on the stand, that Dan Artis was the aggressor and brought this on himself! (This makes me sick!)
Boitnott claimed, during the trial that Dan Artis was the aggressor! The church lawyer also did the same!
In fact, Jenks believed it was more than poor judgment. He suggested Artis let the abuse go on again and again over a period of years because he liked it. At trial, Jenks sought to introduce a statement made by Geren in 1989, during his confession: According to Boitnott and another church member, Geren said Artis became the aggressor, calling him to arrange "appointments" to meet for sex.
But Dade Circuit Court Judge Arthur Rothenberg did not allow jurors to consider that testimony because Geren had already pleaded guilty to sexual battery on Artis, therefore agreeing Artis had been — as the law puts it — unable to give consent.
In cases of sexual abuse of minors, consent is irrelevant, says Ron Weil, Artis' attorney. "There is an inequality of power. The molester is older, bigger, stronger, smarter and able to manipulate young victims.
But if it was legally irrelevant, the allegation that he consented was hardly irrelevant to Artis. During the trial, the church's attorney did his best to get Artis to agree that he may have encouraged Geren's advances.
The key mistake-teaching children to accept authority at all costs.
Dan's family said they taught him to respect authority at all costs.
Artis' mother, Edwina, would later say that the family had taught Dan to respect authority — at all costs.
"We told our children if you are in school and a teacher says something, and you know absolutely, positively, beyond any doubt that the teacher is wrong, you don't open your mouth," she said. "That's stronger for a church or spiritual leader."
Church members allegedly made fun of victim during his trial.
Church members attended the trial-some even snickered during Dan Artis' testimony.
During his and Artis' testimony, a few church members in the courtroom whispered and snickered in disbelief.
At one point, after Artis wept on the witness stand, a few of the church members started to pick apart his story. They debated how much Geren weighed versus Artis.
One member, who was taking shorthand notes on a pink steno pad, said: "I feel for him."
Another church member shot back: "I don't. I think he's lying like hay."
Following their pastor's urging not to speak to the press, most Wayside members who attended the trial would not consent to interviews. But they could not conceal their anger at the lawsuit.
"To have to drag such fine people through something like this? Our pastor doesn't deserve it," said Wayside member Bob Corell.
Geren has been forgiven by Boitnott's church. Dan Artis has been hurt.
Neither, some said, did their former youth minister. Church members still visit Geren, driving the four hours to Arcadia on prison visiting days. Many more write letters and think of him in their prayers.
"I love Keith Geren," said the mother of one of the abused boys. "I am a Christian, I have forgiven Keith, and so has my son."
The people of Wayside had found it in their hearts to forgive a child abuser — after all, he had repented. But some could not forgive Artis.
Dan has walked away from the church but says he still believes in God. He questions a lot of things these day. One thing that he doesn't seem to understand is that he is the hero of this story. His church is to blame for this. Have they ever repented? Have they ever apologized to them? Boitnott is still in ministry so it seems like he would be capable of doing so.
Elevation Church and Norm Vigue: Who are the real heroes?
Can you imagine being the victim of such abuse and then, one Sunday, being told that Norm Vigue is a hero? Imagine being told that he was going to get a table to sign autographs after the service? Imagine not hearing one word of concern for those who have been abused, trafficked, and thrown away in order to give some grown man who favors young children a night of selfish pleasure? As you look around your church, do you wonder if the church understands that the average man does not get his jollies by watching kids have sex? Do you wonder if they understand that this predilection does not just go away? That it might be something he fights every day for the rest of his life?
Then you ask the question, of all the people who attend Elevation Church, why is Norm Vigue the choice for "hero of Elevation?" Does this have something to do with kids who watched a pastor who said that a young teen really was to blame for his molestation by a youth pastor?
It is time for all of us to grow up and be responsible for caring for the abused children of this world. Those who fight for the young are the true heroes of all churches everywhere-not some guy who might have stopped viewing internet child sex abuse.
PS: Why does Geoff Schulz, a full time employee, say on Twitter he doesn't know which campus Norm Vigue attends? Also, he claims that he was only told that Norm had committed some crime?