Browsing Tag

child sexual abuse


PCC starts backtracking

pcc sign

The day my guest post “God is Done with You” came out, I was contacted by a lot of people trying to find out more about what I’d described. One of them was a radio show host, who managed to accomplish what I could not: to get PCC to go on record. Their reaction was about what I’d expected– “categorical denials” and accusing those of us who have come forward of “victimizing and harassing” the college.

Their first statement came out last Wednesday–on March 12. Yesterday, March 18, President Shoemaker read off a statement during chapel. I have an audio clip of his announcement, which Dale Fincher uploaded. I encourage you to read both the official statement and Dale’s response– I think Dale addressed some significant problems with how PCC has handled everything so far.

I’m not going to go over every line of the statement, but I would like to point some things out.

Through the years, the Lord has protected PCC’s students, faculty, and staff; reports of harassment in any form have been quite rare. However, in today’s world there are increasing incidences of sexual violence, assault, harassment, and abuse. I imagine that in a student body as large as this, some of you have had to deal with these terrible issues.

Shoemaker is far from alone in this line of thinking. It seems typical, at least in my experience, for American evangelical culture to turn a blind eye to the harsh reality of abuse today. That attitude probably isn’t that far off from American culture in general– I think we’d all prefer to believe that abuse is rare, so many of us decide to believe that it is. Shoemaker is choosing that option here when he says “some of you” when the horribly reality is that it probably is many of you. Using the most reliable statistics we have, up to 37% of PCC’s student body has probably experienced some form of sexual abuse.

When he says that PCC has been “protected” because “reports of harassment . . . have been quite rare,” he is dismissing  the basic premise of my article– that reports of “harassment” are rare because students are terrified of reporting. From the research I’ve been doing with the Escambia County records department, I don’t think “rare” is a good word to use, either, but I’ll know more for sure when I have all the records from the past 12 years in my hands.

Also, in this speech and in the Pathway, the word that they’ve chosen to describe sexual violence is “harassment.” That happened in David’s story– when he was interrogated by the Assistant Dean of Men, he was asked if he’d been “harassed.” What had happened to David is legally defined as aggravated rape, and the Dean asked if he’d been “harassed.”

That is a problem, because PCC has chosen to use soft, minimizing language. I know that words like rape can be intimidating, but as long as we describe the brutal horrors of rape as “harassment”— and treating sexual harassment as inconsequential by putting the idea inside parentheses– they are handicapping victims. They are saying you’re getting upset over nothing. It’s just harassment.

Reports of sexual abuse can be made without fear of recrimination; and no student is punished for being the victim of wrongdoing.

No, instead they’re punished for being fornicators and liars.

It is the responsibility of any student who believes that he has been the subject of legitimate harassment (not frivolous or groundless allegations) to report the incident immediately to a representative of the Student Life Office who will follow the College’s due process in the investigation of the alleged harassment.

That is one of the quotes from the Pathway that Shoemaker used. I think this passage is especially important, because it highlights the unhealthy attitude that PCC has. If a student has been “legitimately harassed,” it is the responsibility of the student to report it immediately.

There are multiple problems with this policy (“legitimate rape,” anyone?), but the primary problem with this is that it has enabled victim blaming. That might seem like a stretch, so bear with me.

What this policy has done, in practice, has made it possible for victims to be at least partly blamed for what happened to them. It has to be “legitimate” (with zero explanation as to what constitutes “legitimate”), and the report has to be made immediately. I’ve talked to a lot of people about their experiences, and one of the common patterns has been the administration asking them “why did you not come forward sooner?” and then using their delay as evidence that the victim was not really a victim. A true victim would have reported it immediately. Since they didn’t report it immediately, they must have “wanted” it.

The college employs four counselors credentialed by graduate degrees in counseling, and a fifth credentialed by over 40 years of counseling experience. These trained counselors are equipped to provide biblical guidance and confidentially assist students with a variety of concerns include sexual abuse.

I’ve talked about “nouthetic” or “biblical” counseling before, and I believe that PCC is on the extreme end of the spectrum as far as their views on “biblical counseling.” While I was a student there, the only textbook required for the class Educational Psychology was Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology, and everything I learned about the “pseudoscience of psychology” while a student there was that it is evil, corrupt, humanistic, and anti-God. Given that this was their attitude (at least, in 2009, but I don’t think much has changed), I find it extremely unlikely that their counselors are “equipped” to “assist students” with any form of abuse, much less sexual abuse.

Anyway, while this statement is “better” than the one they released on March 12, it still is illustrative of larger problems at PCC. They act on the belief that abuse is rare– when it is not. They have policies in place that reflect some of the dominant myths about rape. They minimize the suffering of abuse victims by calling it “harassment.”

In short, I stand by my original statement: that PCC is not a safe place for victims.


according to my church, I'm committing adultery


Today’s guest post is from Kay.

I’m a young woman and a devoted Christian. I have been faithfully married to the same man for over six years. We have a child. We are very much in love.

So imagine my shock when I discovered, last Sunday, that I’m in the throes of adultery.

Like many pastors around the country, my pastor chose the month of February to preach a sermon series on marriage. It started out really well. The first message was on the roles outlined by Ephesians 5—usually a sticky topic, but one he handled brilliantly. The second sermon was flat-out gold, describing the different kinds of communication in marriage. I went home ready to put the principles I learned into practice.

Then came “Affair-Proofing Your Marriage.”

My pastor began by reading a definition of adultery:

“Adultery defined…is taking the most sacred expressions of intimacy in marriage and giving them to someone other than your spouse.”

Now, let me be clear, this is not a Webster’s definition. Nearly all dictionaries, ancient and modern, define adultery as “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not his or her spouse.” I suppose if we consider sex to be the most sacred expression of intimacy in marriage, then the first definition makes sense. But then he continued:

“You can have an affair without having sex. You can have an affair on an emotional level. Affairs happen in our feelings and thoughts long before they become physical.”

He then went on to describe how one can know whether they are engaged in an emotional affair:

  • Meetings and conversations with the other person are kept secret.
  • You say and do things with the other person that you wouldn’t say or do in front of your spouse.
  • You arrange private talk time with them.
  • You share things with them that you wouldn’t share with your spouse.

I was able to check three of the four boxes. Why? Because I’m currently seeing a therapist.

I am a victim of childhood sex abuse. I was molested by my father at a young age. I thought I had prayed through the worst of it, but something occurred recently to reopen my wounds. A few months ago, my ability to continue coping with the pain failed and I very nearly experienced a full mental breakdown. I entered therapy on the verge of suicide. Through the tender care of my therapist (and the support of my husband and friends), I’m gradually recovering my life. But at a price.

See, I’m experiencing a phenomenon in therapy common to most victims of childhood abuse, called ‘Erotic Transference.’ It basically refers to an attraction—often romantic or sexual—that develops towards one’s therapist. Many times, these feelings are unwelcome, painful and humiliating, and are completely unrelated to the therapist’s age, physical attractiveness, or even gender. The feelings often have little to do with what’s happening in the present; instead, they are indicative of unmet needs in the past. The best way of dealing with the transference is, of course, to talk it out in therapy and use the feelings as a way to connect to and resolve past issues.

Yet, according to my pastor’s sermon, by having these feelings, I’m being disloyal to my spouse. Aside from God, my spouse should be the only one hearing my deepest thoughts and meeting my emotional needs. The way I should be dealing with these feelings is to a) confess the feelings to my husband, b) cut off all contact with my therapist, and c) maybe find a new therapist.

The problem is, finding a new therapist won’t solve the problem of my ’emotional adultery,’ even if the therapist were female. Such is the nature of therapy and the nature of my wound. The transference will just come up again. And again. Until it is fully dealt with. So if I follow my pastor’s teaching to its logical conclusion, I shouldn’t go to therapy at all. And I most certainly shouldn’t discuss these feelings with my therapist, even if it can aid in my healing. That’s, supposedly, wildly inappropriate.

According to my church, only two people are approved for meeting my emotional needs: God and my spouse. Whatever one can’t meet, the other will. Funny how not a single scripture was quoted to back this up.

The problem with doctrine like this is that it allows no room for genuinely hurting people to get help. I had walked into service that morning finally at peace after wrestling all week with emotions of terrifying intensity, only to be made to feel ashamed of it all. I could just imagine how many other people might have been sitting there that morning, in the same situation, listening to those words and making a decision that might negatively impact their health and vitality for years to come. I know the Bible calls us to high standards of love and holiness in marriage. I’ll be the first to defend that. But this is the danger when the Evangelical Church decides to redefine words for its own benefit.

Pastors: Stop. Think. There is a wasteland of hurting hearts all around you, and real consequences to what you choose to teach.


church statistics and abuse


[trigger warning for child sexual abuse, rape, domestic violence]

I’m not entirely sure when it happened, but from the reading I’ve been doing, sometime in the last 30 or so years there’s been a subtle shift in how churches talk about growth. What my reading tells me is that this is at least somewhat connected to the rise of the “mega church,” with it becoming impossible for pastoral staffs to simply look around their churches and understand who their congregation is.

There’s a certain appeal to evaluating church growth by the numbers, especially when church sizes seem to be ballooning. Applying business models that are intended to bring growth can be extremely useful for a variety of organizations, and churches are, really, just organizations. Organizations that are almost totally defined by “growth,” for better or for worse. Even in Acts, as my partner pointed out yesterday, the apostles tossed around a lot of numbers. Peter, especially, has one famous speech about Pentecost and how many were saved.

In the churches I’ve been in that have talked numbers– “X many people were saved! X many people were baptized! X many people have joined our church in the last year!”– the focus has almost always been hope. Numbers are real, concrete indications that we’re headed in the right direction, that what we’re doing is making a difference. Numbers are people.

But, in the last year, my perspective has changed quite a bit. I used to hear those numbers shouted from pulpits all over the country and exult right along with the preacher. And, in some ways, I still do. But, when I hear about how many people regularly come to church, and how many children are in Sunday school, and how many babies are dedicated, a completely different set of numbers starts spinning around my head, and it makes my heart ache.

My heart has been especially broken this week, since Bob Jones University decided to terminate the investigation they’d hired GRACE to do. I wasn’t a student of BJU, but I did grow up in that world and I know many people who were– and I know how important the GRACE investigation was to them, how much hope it had given them that maybe, just maybe, BJU could turn over a new leaf.

But, just like the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, and just like Sovereign Grace Ministries, and IBLP, and just like countless other churches and ministries all over the globe, BJU has decided to do what far too many other Christians have done: turn a blind eye to the abuses happening under their watch– abuses they are allowing to happen through their silence, abuses they are complicit in.

I know how hard it is to face the bleak reality that there are so many people willing to hurt others. That abuse in so many forms is commonplace. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to be a pastor and stand in front of your congregation and know that there are abusers and victims in your church. That you could be shaking the hand of a pedophile or rapist after church. That you could be eating dinner in the home of a batterer. That you can’t know. Not for sure.

But, this is a reality that does need to be faced. We need to look it dead, square in the eye and let it change us. We need to keep in front of us, always, that people are hurting and desperate and don’t know a way out. That most victims don’t even know they’re being abused, that abusers cloak themselves in forgiveness and grace and redemption, that some abusive husbands will use “I am the head of this home and you are my wife, so you must submit to me” as a weapon.

So, because this needs to be something that we know, something that changes how we talk, changes the advice we give, changes the way we love the people in our churches– I’ve broken down an average church size by the most reliable statistics we have.

Most churches in the United States have an average church attendance of around 500 adults, 125 children. Most congregations are dominated by married adults, so in this “average church,” there are 200 married couples, 275 women and 225 men, 64 girls and 61 boys. This means that in this church:

That’s a possible 256 people– 40% of this “average” congregation— who have been violently wounded by some kind of horrific abuse. This isn’t something we can afford to ignore. This is something that should utterly break us and radically transform everything we do as a church body. We can’t be dismissive of hurt. We can’t ignore that there’s darkness and pain and suffering. We can’t preach messages filled to the brim with ideas that can be turned into weapons by abusers. We can’t afford the blithe, non-committal “if you’re being abused, you need to get out,” and then move past that as if it doesn’t happen here. We have to stop burying our heads in the sand with our “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle!” and our “faith like a mustard seed!”

We have to be the ones who love the hurting and the broken, who acknowledge their pain.


why believing matters: child sexual abuse and rape


[trigger warning for rape, rape apologia]

This has been a brutally hard week for me in more than a few ways. It’s gotten to the point where it’s not just emotional and mental pain, but physical. Yesterday’s post, on being hopeful, was one of the weakest posts I’ve ever published because as much as I actually do believe in everything I said, writing it yesterday was . . . difficult. I was hoping that if I put those thoughts into words that they would be a little easier to believe.

I had a personal encounter last Thursday that . . . I honestly don’t know how to describe it. Troubling, I guess. One of the things that came up was a comment he had made in an earlier conversation– that the statistics on rape (1 in 5 women are forcibly raped) are “nonsense” and “bullshit,” and he made this additional comment on Thursday:  “I could understand if you were mad at me if I was denying the Holocaust or something, but I’m not doing that.” What he said was true, in one way. The Holocaust is an event in history unlike any other, and the memory of every person slaughtered– Jew, gay, Christian, political prisoners, the disabled– deserves the honor and respect of not trivializing what happened to them.

But, in another sense, his position that the American rape statistics are “bullshit” is a denial of horrific and ongoing tragedy.

The problem is, he’s not alone. His perspective– that rape is rare, that most accusations are lies, and that rape victims are at least partly responsible for what happens to them– is the one American culture believes. If any week could have driven that point home with a sledgehammer, it was this one, after Dylan Farrow published her letter on Saturday.

Reading her letter broke my heart. What tore it open and left it shattered was the response that came next– Weide’s Daily Beast article (I used, the countless comparisons on twitter to lacrosse teams, all the claims that Dylan’s mother is a lying whore, so Dylan’s probably lying, too. All the comments on facebook stating that they want “objectivity” and “they’re not going to take sides,” the endless stream of posts on how to “separate art from the artist.”

I want to crawl into the deepest, darkest, most obscure hole on the planet where nobody could ever find me and say any of those things to me, ever again.


When my abuser and rapist broke our engagement two months before the wedding, the reason he gave me was that I “wasn’t submissive enough.” It took me little over a month to figure out what he was referring to, especially since I’d spent almost three years bending over backwards for him in every possible way. When I realized why I was “not submissive,” I got angry. Furious, actually. It was because, a month before he dumped me, he tried to call me a goddamn fucking bitch and I told him that no, he didn’t get to talk to me like that and he could call me later when he’d calmed down. It was because, when he expected me to service him sexually, I told him no. It was because, after three years, something deep inside of me said no, I am not his bitch.

After he broke our engagement, all of our “mutual” friends instantly pulled away from me. Women who used to shout my name across campus and hug me for no reason refused to look me in the eye or return my hellos. People started declining my invitations to lunch and dinner, and I began eating alone. When I did my best to reconnect with friends my abuser had separated me from, our “mutual” friends told them that “she is such a bitch, you have no reason to be her friend any more, she’s nothing but a waste of your time.” Most of my ‘friends’ made it clear that they would never, ever, speak to me again.

The only person who would pay attention to me, except for three people, was my abuser. He would follow me all over campus, into the cafeteria, into classrooms, at sporting events, in church– and it was always the same. Why won’t you talk to me? I just want to talk to you! And he would keep this up until I would snap. After ignoring him for a solid twenty minutes, he would call me a bitch and something inside would break and I would spin around and scream at him until the cafeteria manager asked me to leave. After pestering me for an hour, continuously, at a soccer game, I finally understood what it meant to see red – and one look from my band director told me everything I needed to know. I left.

I spent countless hours that semester in soundproof practice rooms sobbing, and I didn’t find out until a few months ago why all of that happened. Why everyone withdrew. Why he did his dead-level best into provoking me.

He’d convinced everyone that anything I could possibly say would be a lie. That I was actually crazy, and not worth believing. He successfully did what all abusers and rapists do: he manipulated any of the people who mattered into disbelief. And when I sought counseling for the first time, the only thing anybody said was “well, what did you do that you need to seek forgiveness for?”


When I first started dating him, I knew that his previous relationship had ended badly, that she was hurtful and manipulative, that she frequently lied. When her best friend tried to reach out to me and tell me how dangerous John* was, I refused to believe anything they said. It was just another manipulation.

When he called me in the middle of the night, two years into our relationship, obviously drunk and sobbing, to confess something he’d done, I refused to even hear what he was actually telling me. It was her fault. It wasn’t rape. She’d provoked him. Just like I had. What could either one of us expect? I forgave him for “cheating” on me, and tried to forget her.

When he broke up with me and two months later was going out with another girl, I thought about warning her of what he was like, but everything inside of me screamed no! there’s no point, she won’t believe you anyway. When she contacted me a year later and told me what he’d done, I desperately wished I could have gone back and done something, anything, to protect her from him.


Now, my rapist is a youth pastor. He’s “just fucking fine.”

Now, I am going through the excruciating, traumatic process of figuring out what I can do– with the bone-deep knowledge that anything I do will make no difference, that the most I can even hope for is that when he does rape someone again, that people will know that this is a pattern, that he’s a rapist and an abuser, that maybe, just maybe, that his next victim will be believed.