Reverend Teresa Pecinovsky Tells Her Story of Abuse by a Former Professor at Abilene Christian University

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“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.

  1. The person who is doing the abusing.
  2. 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.


Comments

Reverend Teresa Pecinovsky Tells Her Story of Abuse by a Former Professor at Abilene Christian University — 18 Comments

  1. The attention to detail in this account of witnessing a clergy predator prey on a target is highly clarifying. And then the same – remarkable clarifying detail – regarding his enablers who are keeping him in place while silencing the witnesses.

    The way to remove the predators from using the religious community as their prey-ground is the exact opposite of what these “leaders” did.

    “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people [predators & enablers] loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” – from John 3.19.

    If shove-it-under-the-rug is status quo in the church, there must be boatloads of “leaders” walking around with the secrets of predators that have preyed upon unsuspecting church people. Women tend to confide in the “leaders” – as Dear Abby advised – “See your pastor or rabbi”. But the “leaders” love the darkness under the rug.

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  2. “Abuse is abuse is abuse no matter which church or religious organization is involved.” – Yes, indeed! It also happens a lot in the United Pentecostal Church. See http://blogs.spiritualabuse.org/2018/02/03/the-united-pentecostal-church-and-sexual-abuse/ and subsequent posts for just a few of the many cases. In the past, there have been many theological debates between people in the UPCI and Churches of Christ.

    I am so weary of the cover-ups, failure to report, silencing people, ministers being able to retain or later re-gain a pulpit ministry, etc.

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  3. Lois:
    “Abuse is abuse is abuse no matter which church or religious organization is involved.” – Yes, indeed! It also happens a lot in the United Pentecostal Church. See http://blogs.spiritualabuse.org/2018/02/03/the-united-pentecostal-church-and-sexual-abuse/ and subsequent posts for just a few of the many cases. In the past, there have been many theological debates between people in the UPCI and Churches of Christ.

    I am so weary of the cover-ups, failure to report, silencing people, ministers being able to retain or later re-gain a pulpit ministry, etc.

    This one hits very close to home. I’m a member of the Churches of Christ. (In fact, I posted my story at Wartburg a number of years ago; I was part of an offshoot of Churches of Christ that eventually morphed into the International Churches of Christ.)

    I know people who have attended Abilene and people who have spoken at Abilene.

    Like Lois, I also am weary of the cover-ups, the lies, the victim-blaming, and everything else.

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  4. I’ve definitely gotten one of those ‘i’m so sorry for what I did to you because of the way it affected MEeeeee’ apologies!

    … He told me I was “dangerous” and used language to indicate that he was a victim in the whole situation.

    Classic DARVO.

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  5. *Hush your mouth rule*

    A very disturbing element of this story. God only knows the extent to which religious leaders cover spiritual/physical abuse and protect abusers … which is why “Dr Love is apparently doing just fine”; the “Hush your mouth rule” worked for him, allowing him to advance through the ranks.

    “Whenever there is a power imbalance in the relationship, an affair between consenting adults is not possible.” (TKP) Call it what it is … “abuse” not “affair.”

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  6. Lois: I am so weary of the cover-ups, failure to report, silencing people, ministers being able to retain or later re-gain a pulpit ministry, etc.

    All of this works outside the true Kingdom of God. These are not ministers and ministries of God; they operate as counterfeits. There will be a payday someday for those who masquerade in His name.

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  7. “He told me I was “dangerous””

    Dangerous to ‘my’ reputation … dangerous to ‘my’ career … dangerous to ‘my’ paycheck … dangerous to ‘my’ future.

    I hope victims of abuse everywhere are dangerous to those things.

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  8. The Gospel according to John, Chapter 10 talks about the thieves and robbers who sneak in to harm and kill the sheep. Only Jesus is the Good Shepherd Who knows His sheep well. And sheep need to learn to recognize the voice of Jesus, and follow Him only.

    On Julie Roy’s blog, there is a recent video by Wade Mullen (from the Restore Chicago conference) that is titled “How to Spot Spiritual Abuse?” . It is not very long, but worth listening to. The message will strengthen those who suffered abuse, and help people in general to detect abusers sooner. May the Lord and His Spirit protect all of the sheep!

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  9. Max: There will be a payday someday for those who masquerade in His name.

    Before that, they must be shown to visibly NOT get away with it.
    In the Here and Now, not the Hereafter.
    Otherwise, all we’re doing is sitting quietly with folded hands mouthing pious platitudes.

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  10. 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.)

    This is so true. I’m trying to imagine a situation where it would be normal for a person to have to put you on notice to let them know if they cross a line. And yet this same statement has come up in cases here before, hasn’t it?

    Also, the ‘dream’ – weren’t there a couple other cases covered here where the predator came up with an intimate dream that he felt he needed to relay?

    Another thing is, how often does the abuse that predators in the church commit rely on the victim thinking that they are the only one? They are the only one he would ever say things to. This is a special, one-off situation. Not just sexual abuse, but other kinds of deception and abuse, too. I know that in a former church, many persons were told they were ‘the only one’ the pastor felt he could ‘really’ confide in about his ‘real’ plans. This went on for a long time because we were all good little Christians who would never ‘gossip.’ Once people started opening up and talking, it all fell apart.

    When the person finds that they were not the only one in this situation with the abuser, the whole dynamic changes. But abusers are able to keep them in the dark because of the hush-your-mouth, no ‘gossip’ rule. It’s an ideal setup for abusers, really.

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  11. Max: All of this works outside the true Kingdom of God. These are not ministers and ministries of God; they operate as counterfeits. There will be a payday someday for those who masquerade in His name.

    This is so important, it should be shouted from the mountaintops. People need to give up their false image of all pastors and elders being saintly, and recognize that false shepherds are real and plentiful.

    Indeed, sometimes godly men fall into sin. However, the history of such failures will be far different from the history of predators masquerading as shepherds. Those who groom victims, have patterns of abusive and broken relationships, etc. should not be categorized as restoration projects, but called what they are: predators. And they should be held responsible for repentance, restitution and permanently barred from ministry roles.

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  12. TS00: should not be categorized as restoration projects, but called what they are: predators

    Can a sexual predator truly be restored after prey have fallen victim to him? Can a wolf stop hunting? Can a lion allow quarry to pass unharmed? Does a 1-3 year “restoration” period we are seeing in the American church for fallen pastors (Tullian, Savage, etc.) bring healing to those he wounded? Once a predator is removed from this jungle we call church, we shouldn’t invite the devourer back. Look for men of God to fill the pulpit (hint: you may not find them in the Christian Industrial Complex, but in obscure places where they have been serving the Lord beyond reproach).

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