“I sometimes think that shame, mere awkward, senseless shame, does as much towards preventing good acts and straightforward happiness as any of our vices can do.”― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
Before I begin….
- Abuse is abuse is abuse no matter which church or religious organization is involved. This post is not supposed to be a debate on theological issues. I would appreciate that disagreement in this area be kept to a minimum while we look at some excellent observations regarding abuse.
- According to ACU’s Department of Biblical Studies, Dr Jack Reese retired a few years ago.
- I left a message for Dr Mark Love and offered to post a statement if he wishes to make one.
- TKP is employed as a hospice chaplain.
Have you heard about Our Stories Untold? I hadn’t until I was contacted by Reverend Pecinovsky, letting me know that her story was about to be posted on that website.
What is Our Storie Untold and how does it relate to Into Account?
Here is a link to their About page.
We are a network of people who have suffered sexualized violence, people who love people who have suffered sexualized violence, and people who are just plain fed up with the harm that sexualized violence does in our communities and around the world. We are people who are concerned, specifically, about the spiritual dimensions of sexualized violence and the presence of sexualized violence in communities of faith. Many of us have a connection to the Mennonite church in North America (MC USA and MC Canada), whether we are participating members, former members, or are connected in some other way. Those with no Mennonite connection whatsoever are also welcome in this space and in the work we do together.
Our Stories Untold is all of the people who connect here.
Our Stories Untold is also a project of Into Account. Into Account is an organization that strives to provide the most up-to-date resources to survivors seeking healing and/or accountability. We specialize in strategies for holding institutions, perpetrators, and enablers accountable for violence, harm, and cover-ups. Our Stories Untold is one of the resources we offer to that end.
What are their goals?
- We offer a public platform (this website) through which survivors of sexualized violence are welcomed to speak.
- We do our best to cultivate this space to be one in which people who have suffered sexualized violence can be heard and received with support and respect.
- We welcome accounts that focus on any part of a survivor’s experience of living life as a person who has experienced sexual harm,
- We offer support to survivors and their loved ones through the writing process.
- In all of our work, we are committed to addressing sexualized violence through an intersectional lens that considers the ways that race, culture, class, age, ability, gender, sexuality and more impact our understanding of sexualized violence and what needs to be done to stop it.
Are you interested in telling your story?
Send us a message. We will believe you. We will be glad to hear from you. And, we will write back within a week to welcome you and introduce you to our process for moving forward.
Reverend Teresa Pecinovsky’s story of abuse
(For purposed of brevity, I shall refer to Theresa as TKP which she says are her initials and nickname.)
She first told her story on Rachel Held Evans blog in 2014. However, I want to focus on the story as it appears on the Our Stories Untold page. I found myself impressed with the person who interviewed TKP, Stephanie Krehbiel, PhD, Executive Director, and Co-Founder of Our Stories Untold. Here is a link to her bio.
Not only is she a good interviewer but her insights into TKP’ story are most helpful in understanding the complexity of abuse in the Christian environment. Here are some her thoughts that preceded her interview for Clergy Abuse Is Not Just a Mistake.
Dr Krehbiel discusses a familiar pattern that is often seen in such stories. Of course, the pattern may vary but I bet TWW readers will spot the similarity to many stories that have been told at TWW.
A clergy member:
- targets a young adult, someone for whom he is a religious authority or mentor
- offers confidential support, comfort, spiritual guidance
- takes advantage of whatever circumstances are making their life difficult (Think Jules’ story of parents going through a divorce and her need to confide in her. pastor.)
- confides in them. Perhaps he talks about his marital struggles, his crises of faith, etc.
- lets them know that they’re one of the only people he can talk to.
This is an uncanny description of the grooming process that takes place in many of the stories we read about in the news or on blogs written by abuse advocates.
Dr Krehbiel points. out that there are two parties of abusers that are often seen in stories like this.
- The person who is doing the abusing.
- The institution that then rebuses by minimizing or even covering up the abuse that occurred.
Sadly both types of abuse are present in this story.
This story started at Abilene Christian University.
Founded in 1906, we’re a private, non-profit university affiliated with Churches of Christ and committed to transformative, energized learning. Supported by a faculty of Christian scholars, we prepare undergraduate and graduate students for service and leadership throughout the world.
What are the Churches of Christ?
Here are a couple of articles to get you on your way if you are not familiar with this denomination. Churches of Christ – 10 Things to Know about their History and Beliefs and Churches of Christ.
Here is a synopsis of the events surrounding the TKP’s abuse.
Please read the entire article to get a fuller picture. TKP was a student at Abilene Christian University when she met Dr Mark Love who is still a professor at Rochester University which is affiliated with the Churches of Christ. Dr Love is also a minister in the Churches of Christ. Keep an eye on the progression of the grooming in her account and evaluate how it fits in with the Dr Krehbiel’s observations.
- Mark was an assistant professor of ministry and director of ministry events at Abilene Christian University (ACU) when I was an undergraduate student in the College of Biblical Studies from 2001-2005. During my time as a student I would have described Mark as a mentor and supportive professor in the small department.
- After graduation, TKP took a position as an ESL teacher in Japan and did so through the church of Christ.
- She began getting emails from Mark Love. They came from his personal account, not his university email account.
- She was rather lonely and did not initially mind when Love began to email her up to 36 times a day. She felt it gave her a connection to home. Plus, she trusted him to help her learn to minister to others.
- He also told her that he and his wife were having marital problems and that he was struggling with an aspect of the faith.
- “In the midst of our regular e-mail/text message exchange I asked him if he’d send me a Pepperdine sweatshirt. He replied, “I’d rather see you without one on.” I wrote back, “You asked me to tell you if you ever crossed a line and you did.” He was apologetic. (Dee notes that asking TKP to tell him if he crosses the line is also a red flag since why would a kindly professor ever cross the line in this fashion? He was planning on crossing the line, IMO.)
- Finally, he makes a move. “One day he wrote me that he had had a dream about me the previous night, but he said he wasn’t sure if he should tell me about it. I wrote back that it was up to him to decide. He sent me a very sexually explicit e-mail in reply. I was shocked, disgusted, and ashamed. When I didn’t respond he wrote back, “Do you hate me?” I responded that he knew I didn’t hate him, but he needed to get help for himself and his wife, and I told him to not e-mail me ever again.”
She confided in two faculty members and the Dean of Biblical Studies.
TKP felt “shame and experienced depression; even contemplating suicide.” She even began to worry about Love’s well being. Here is her insightful observation.
Later I came to understand how common this kind of reaction–to worry about the perpetrator– is with clergy abuse survivors.
The professors told TKP that the fault rested solely with Love but she found this hard to believe. She then sought out the Dean of the College of Biblical Studies, Jack Reese. Reese would eventually resign from his position in 2012 but would stay on with ACU. Today I called ACU and learned that Dr Reese retired a few years ago.
Jack Reese, who served as dean of the College of Biblical Studies for 15 years, will step down at the end of the current school year and will eventually return to a faculty position after a year working on a special project.
When TKP told Reese her story:
He assigned Mark to see a psychologist on campus and a Biblical studies faculty member as a spiritual director. Jack also had a different faculty member agree to be my spiritual director, and through her added a therapist.
Suddenly, he instituted his version of the *Hush your mouth rule.*
At first it sounded good. But things really did not go well from here. TKP makes a great observation. In the beginning, she thought this was to protect her. Now, she knows differently.
Jack also took responsibility for demanding a list of names of all the people I had told about Mark. He went to each of them, either in person or by phone, and made it clear they were not to speak a word of this to anyone.
Look at the next two steps taken by Dr Reese.
- He sent me a book entitled Forgive and Forget.
- He even decided that Mark’s wife would not be told what was happening, arguing that she was too fragile to hear such news.
He followed up with TKP a few months later and claimed the following.
Several months later Jack called me and informed me that Mark and his wife were moving to Minnesota so Mark could pursue his PhD. He assured me that this had nothing to do with me. Months after that he called me to tell me that Mark and his wife were divorcing. Again, he assured me that it had nothing to do with me because Mark’s wife never knew about what had happened.
Dr Love is apparently doing just fine which causes me to worry about the students at Rochester University.
He found a faculty position in the Theology and Ministry department at Rochester College (now University) and worked his way up to being the Graduate Program Director in Missional Leadership, a position he holds to this day.
TKP met with Love who claimed that this was all a mistake and it was TKP’s fault because he was the real victim in this situation. It’s the same old response by people who should know their Bible.
In 2013 I confronted Mark in person, in a conversation I can only describe as traumatic. While he admitted wrongdoing and even acknowledged what he had done was abusive,
… He told me I was “dangerous” and used language to indicate that he was a victim in the whole situation. Mark told me that he had to live with shame for what he had done, as if I was responsible for that, for going to Jack in the first place. I told him he shouldn’t be in ministry after what he’d done. I very clearly remember him telling me, “So, you’re saying that people who make mistakes shouldn’t be in ministry?”
I love her ending to her story.
In the 13 years since this has happened I have heard so many stories of clergy abuse that I have lost count. In many cases the survivors lived with shame for years, because they believed the lies that victims were responsible for abuser’s behavior. Like them, I did not have the language to identify what had happened as clergy sexual abuse until years after the abuse happened. I hope my coming forward shines a light on clergy abuse for other survivors. A minister has inherent power over church members; a professor has power over a student, even a former student. Too often, sexual activity between a pastor and a parishioner is wrongly labeled as an “affair.” Whenever there is a power imbalance in the relationship, an affair between consenting adults is not possible.
Well done, TKP! I’m sorry for the pain your suffered. But, I love your lessons learned. I predict you will go on to help many, many victims.