In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act. George Orwell link
A former church which obfuscated the facts surrounding a heinous child sex abuse situation.
I still remember like it was yesterday. Our church was notified by police that it had a predator in its midst. This predator, Doug Goodrich, is serving 13 years in prison. The pastors met with parents of kids who were in the age group of preference for Goodrich in order to discuss the actions of the church in the matter. Three things jumped out at me.
1. They claimed they had no prior knowledge of any untoward behavior by Goodrich.
2. They asked us not to discuss anything or gossip about the victims because they had all requested their privacy.
3. The church would be getting in-depth counseling for the affected boys.
I believed them for a short period of time until a victim's mother told me the real story. This would be a defining moment for the Deebs. It was God's way of lighting a fire under the two of us, a fire that continues to burn hotter every day. For us, child sex abuse is the hill to die on. The evangelical church, as Boz Tchividjian said, is even worse than the Catholic church when it comes to this issue.
Many of us believe that my former church lied to us. They had received reports the previous year of unusual behavior by the pedophile which they decided was just 'locker room behavior'. Also, way too many of us did not *gossip* about the boys, which helped cover up the apparent lack of concern on the part of the church.
They did not offer the kids counseling. They had a couple of elders run around and meet with the teens. One teen, Adam, told us that one elder asked him: "Didn't you know what you were doing was wrong?" and "Why did you keep this a secret from your parents?" Besides showing a dangerous lack of understanding of child sex abuse, the elder did not proceed to offer any sort of counseling, etc.
Another elder – well known to SEBTS – reportedly told a family (after meeting with their victimized son for all of 45 minutes) that he was doing just fine. He wasn't. Some of these victims have gone on to experience serious difficulties in their lives. A number of teens, who knew how the church responded, have gone on to leave the faith, including all of the children of one elder. Some of these kids, now young adults, follow this blog and are grateful for the advocacy of the Deebs and the support of the readers. Thank you all for caring about the victims.
The Deebs proceed to gossip.
We confronted the church regarding their lack of transparency. We told the truth as we knew it, which contradicted the reports of the pastors and elders. We stood firm when they had an internal investigation and *proved* that they were not guilty and that the rest of us were gossips and guilty of not handling things *appropriately.*
Why did we gossip?
We were concerned for the welfare of the children in that church. We realized that the church leaders were willing to say anything in order to make this all go away. We did not do this for our own well being. In fact, it caused nearly 8 months of misery for all of us involved. We had to leave our church and the large Sunday school class we taught. Many other people left the church as well. However, Adam was grateful that a number of people believed him instead of the pastors. This is one young man who is now doing very well in his life, and we are so glad that we stood up to the leadership.
When accusations of gossip become gag orders.
3 years ago, we wrote a post When accusations of gossip become gag orders. Here is a excerpt.
When is it not gossip?
It is really quite simple. It is not gossip when you, as a church member, have a question or concern and need an answer. If one is a member of a church, (s)he has the right, and even the obligation, to question the use of tithes and the lifestyles of the pastors and church leaders. They have a moral duty to raise concerns about the safety and care of children as well as any doctrine that is being taught. They should question changes in church bylaws and constitutions. They have a right to know about the theological stances of the pastors and leaders They should expect that pastors and church leaders will answer both thoroughly and truthfully.
Church leaders and pastors need to pull on their big boy pants and be willing to discuss the concerns of any member, even if it is awkward. They should be willing to take critique and role model how big boys in Christ handle criticism and concerns. Otherwise, they will come off looking like wussy Pharisees.
Here are some examples of problems which should be discussed and do not constitute gossip. In each of these circumstances, the people involved have been accused of gossip and slander.Some details have been changed.
- Recently we received communication from a woman who expressed concern about the handling of money matters in her church. It appears that the lead pastor (YRR megachurch) had moved to a very large home. During this time, he has been involved in massive fund raising in the church. The budget was presented to the congregation with little time to look it over prior to the vote. There was a significant amount of money that was being held in an account to "bless the pastors." When she raised her had and asked a question about this, she was told that they needed the money to hold onto the great pastors they already had. They refused to answer more questions. This person had given a great deal of money to the church and was now questioning the use of that money.The elders refuse to answer any further inquiries on the matter.
- There is a large church in which a pedophile badly harmed a group of boys. He is serving a lengthy sentence for his crimes. A mother of one of the boys let some church members know that they had reported an incident a year previous to the church. Their report was not only ignored but the psychological well-being of her son was called into question. The church had elected not to report the incident and did not have to because of lax reporting laws in that state.
- A pastor, along with his buddies, run up a $60 million debt. The pastor is living in a $2 million home. He is asking people to sacrifice to pay of the debt and he is still living in his mansion.
- The Sovereign Grace Survivors site has documented years of alleged reports of child sex abuse and harsh discipline. Lawsuits have been filed. Yet many of the YRR crowd defend the ministry.
- A husband and wife spent many years telling people how to live a biblical, Christian marriage. They gave classes and were brought in on tough situations. They often made people feel bad because they would hold up their marriage as an example on how to do marriage. They got a divorce. Some folks who were the recipients of their "wisdom" have discussed it with one another, trying to figure what went wrong.
- A pastor who decided to change the entire Sunday school program to better prepare kids for "the world" was highly critical of parents who enjoyed the old system. He was adamant, saying this program would prevent children from leaving the faith when they went to college. Two of his kids have left the faith after years of the "perfect" SS program.
Gossips are often accused of being just troublemakers. Ask why they would want to be troublemakers.
So, in circumstances like child sex abuse or voyeurism, is it truly gossip or is it an inconvenient truth that brings embarrassment to church leaders who are covering things up? This sort of gossip is a selfless act which is performed in order to bring up issues that are difficult. It is often inconvenient for the truth teller to do so.
When the Deebs and others stood up for the boys who were harmed, it caused us personal difficulties. I found it frustrating when people I knew wouldn't believe us. The pastors were angry, sending a missive to the church about us being troublemakers. I ended up losing friends (well, I guess they weren't real friends) over this situation since they couldn't believe that pastors would lie.
Is it truly gossip/slander or an inconvenient truth that needs to come out?
The words *gossip* and *slander* are often used interchangeably ins churches. This demonstrates that the church leadership is not particularly smart. One of my favorite posts at TWW is Slander or an Inconvenient Truth? Here are some points from the post.
1. Slander is a spoken statement. If it is written or broadcast in the media it is libel. (Most pastors don't get this right.)
2. Defamation is the act of making a statement about another which is known to be untrue and is done to harm the other person's reputation. Think of this as a *big, fat lie.*
3. In the post, I looked at what the Bible had to say about the word slander. It matches the US legal definition of defamation which is the knowing act of making an untrue statement against another person in order to cause harm to that person's reputation.
4. The expression of a legitimate concern, based on a number of reports, is not slander but a form of Christian love. It is meant to protect the church from serious error; to help those who are being hurt by the church; to prevent harm to others in the church; and to exhort those in leadership to follow the example of Jesus.
5. Pastors who use the accusation of slander may be attempting to squelch very serious concerns within the church or he may be trying to hide something. In fact I would contend that, in many situations, when a pastor cries "slander," he is really saying "I don't want to hear that. It means I have to deal with it and I don't want to. It will screw up all sorts of things."
An actual example of pastoral misunderstanding from our post.
This advice, if followed, could have serious consequences.
February 18, 2013 at 4:07 pm
“If someone is clearly sinning, they are to be approached in private.” Is this the case with pedophilia? Should we let the churches handle this “privately”?
Frank Viola says:
February 18, 2013 at 8:29 pm
I didn’t write the article, but I think I can give an answer nonetheless. Jesus teaching in Matt. 18 doesn’t prioritize one sin above another or make exceptions. I was once part of a church where a pedophile was discovered to be among us. We went to him in private first. Eventually he was put out of the church, following Matt. 18, because he refused to accept correction. What he was doing was inappropriate, but it hadn’t gotten to the crime stage.
The NT doesn’t make an exception or an excuse for the sin of gossip, as Zens points out. Zens is appealing to the NT. If one doesn’t believe the NT, then that’s another story. The article is written to those who do. btw/ the instruction about the 2 or 3 isn’t that they have to be witnesses to the sin, but they are witnesses to the discipline process and correction. In addition, pedophilia is a crime. So going to the authorities for a crime … like murder, physical abuse, etc. . . . isn’t gossip if it’s happening.
Here are the problems with this response. Viola claims the man was a pedophile. They went to him privately and at some later point, threw him out of the church because he did not "receive correction". Viola said it was "inappropriate" but it did not reach a "crime" stage. So, the man was a pedophile, but his sin was not a crime? And this is still considered "gossip"? It appears that Viola is saying that we must "Matthew 18" the situation before reporting it. The discussion progresses as Viola is pushed on the pedophile issue since his answer is not clear.
February 16, 2013 at 10:51 am
So what would you do if someone tells you they fear a child is being molested and has given their reasons for thinking so but they have no proof? How would you handle that? Would that be considered “gossip”?
Frank Viola says:
February 17, 2013 at 10:47 am
Someone’s “fear” or “suspicion” doesn’t make it so. If there’s a legitimate concern with clear evidence, an investigation should be done. The person should be approached directly. If it’s clear that it’s happening and will continue to happen, the authorities should be contacted for this is a serious crime. Again, just as yourself, how would I want to be treated if it were me being accused. That question answers most of these questions.
Viola's advice here contradicts the advice of many experts. In fact, it mirrors a situation with which I am acquainted. A teen boy reported a sexually charged incident at a church retreat. The church "investigated" it and pronounced the teen "nuts". The pedophile continued to have full access to a group of boys for another year and horribly abused them. He is serving 13 years in jail, thanks to the police who caught him.The Matthew 18 brigade at the church had an epic fail, and there were many who were hurt by their inability to make an adequate assessment.
Frankly, this is why churches get into trouble. He (Viola and pastors) get to determine what constitutes "legitimate evidence.". He gets to do the investigation. He gets to determine if it is "clear" that the abuse is occurring. This is dangerous. I am sure he thinks he is being "biblical", but he is mistaken.
If you believe that sex abuse is occurring, call Child Protective Services immediately. You are immune from any prosecution by reporting a legitimate concern. Many states will allow you to report this anonymously. This is not slander, it is the right thing to do. Let the experts decide what is going on. And, if your church accuses you of slander, get out of there, pronto! That is a dangerous church.
Anonymous threatened with church discipline by Fellowship Memphis
I am sorry for repeating things from some older posts, but I thought it might help newer readers who have joined the discussion from Memphis. Anonymous approached the leaders of Fellowship Memphis about the following issues. Anonymous was concerned that the church attendees and members had not been notified.
Anonymous was told he was not to gossip about these matters and was threatened with church discipline.
1. Anonymous was telling the truth as he knew it.
2. He was doing so to protect those attended the church
3. He was not doing this in order to purposely bring harm to another's reputation.
Therefore, the leadership of Fellowship Memphis behaved in an unbiblical manner and should offer an apology to Anonymous (I bet they know who it is) and to the entire church congregation.
Anonymous is also blown off by Pastor Sandy Willson of Second Presbyterian Church which started Downtown Church and became the site of Rick Trotter's second arrest.
Once again, Anonymous behaves in a righteous manner, expresses concern about the hiring of Rick Trotter by Downtown Church. He knows that there is a real possibility that Trotter would reoffend. In my opinion, that is because Anonymous really cares about the safety of the people in the church, unlike these pastors.
1. Anonymous writes to Willson
Date: Tue, Nov 8, 2011 at 1:00 PM
Subject: known sexual predator on your staff–need to discuss
To: Sandy Willson <email@example.com>
I have heard great things about you, your integrity, and your heart, so it is high expectations that I regretfully contact you with some sobering news.
I have solid knowledge that Second Pres has hired a man for the downtown church plant who was fired from his last church job (last year) for being a sexual predator. He was caught videotaping women and children in compromising positions in the bathrooms at the church offices and at his home; whether he used the videos for "merely" his own perverse sexual satisfaction or posted them online is unknown. The church fired him, but proceeded to attempt to cover up the sin (I know, because I was brought into the matter in a counseling capacity, and when I warned folks whose daughters were babysitting at his house of the danger, I was threatened with expulsion from the church).
Frankly, I presume that you take your responsibility as overseer of the flock seriously and wish to protect the female employees at the church and in the church body at large in the same way you'd protect your grandkids from those who would prey upon them. We have a special responsibility to make sure the folks in official church positions are worthy, lest the millstone be on our own necks.
I look forward to meeting with you to assist in resolving an unsavory matter in a way that will bring eventual reconciliation to the predator and provide morally-required protection of our trusting brothers and sisters in Christ.
Please feel free to call or email me at your earliest convenience. I look forward to hearing from you.
2. Wilson responds to Anonymous
From: Sandy Willson and Marcia Smith <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Tue, Nov 8, 2011 at 1:35 PM
Subject: RE: known sexual predator on your staff–need to discuss
To: Name of Anonymous
(Name of Anonymous) thank you for your email. You are obviously raising very important issues. Let me advise you how to handle this concern. I think the right thing to do is to contact the senior minister at Downtown Church, Rev. Richard Rieves (email@example.com, 901-451-2201). He would be responsible for all matters on their staff. If you and he would like my help in any way, please let me know.
Fellowship Memphis, Downtown Church and Second Presbyterian are unsafe churches if these allegations are true and I believe that they are.
If these allegations prove to be true, then I have little to no confidence in the leadership of these churches. How any pastor or church leaders in this day and age could not understand the serious nature of a voyeur paraphiliac, including the probable reoffense on the part of the voyeur, is beyond belief. All they have to do is Google *paraphilia* and *voyeur* and read for about 15 minutes. My guess is that none of these guys gave a hoot about the problem or are dangerously naive.
Until these churches apologize and get some training by some real experts, I suggest that people consider finding another church to attend. Never, ever forget that your pastor is a sinner just like everyone else.
If church leaders accuse you of slander, then they must prove that you are deliberately lying in order to harm someone. If they cannot, and you are not, then they are the ones who are guilty of defaming you.
Stay tuned next week as we look at the links of these churches to certain well-known groups. Also, Fellowship Memphis appears to have a some fascinating ideas on gender. Have you heard about the one about the pastor who handed out dish towels on Mother's Day?