Handling of Sexual Misconduct by a Well-known Theologian Raises Questions and Concerns
by AT News Team
Corrected September 5 at 6:30 p.m.
Questions have been raised about the conference president who employed Samuel K. Pipim, the Seventh-day Adventist youth worker and theologian who resigned last year due to sexual misconduct. “What did he know and when did he know it?”
Jay Gallimore, president of the Michigan Conference, released a statement just prior to the Labor Day weekend in which he admitted there have been multiple victims of Pipim’s “predatory” behavior. A leader of The Hope of Survivors, an Adventist support group for victims of clergy sexual abuse, responded to the statement by pointing out that there are at least “three additional credible and compelling allegations” in addition to the two mentioned in Gallimore’s statement, as well as “several other unverifiable reports.” Documented cases go back a dozen years during which Pipim worked with college students as an employee of the conference.
Even after he resigned his ministerial credentials, was fired and agreed to be dropped from church membership, Pipim took a group of young people on a trip to Spain and he hosted social events for young people at his home into early 2012. Michigan Conference administration did not warn young women away from these activities by the “serial predator,” a victim advocate has stated.
As the stories of Pipim’s victims have become known, questions have been raised as to whether his behavior constituted rape. Gallimore acknowledged this concern in his statement, but said “it seemed prudent to leave this definition alone.” It is an “embarrassment” when denominational leaders “cannot decide what is legitimate rape,” the advocate concludes. “Such institutional ignorance disgraces the Adventist Church and offends thinking people.”
Adventist Today has published an interview with a professional counselor authorized to speak for one of the young women that Pipim manipulated into a sexual encounter. A number of other interviews and confirming documentation has been collected, according to the victim support group.
There are tape recordings of Pipim attempting to convince a young woman to forgive him and not provide information to denominational officials, said Martin Weber, board chairman of the victim support group, in a response to Gallimore’s statement. “How many victims [have been] intimidated into suffocated silence? Are they so numerous that not even the predator himself can recall them all?”
The Hope of Survivors is a nonprofit organization made up largely of mental health and clergy professionals, many of them Adventists, although of the 93 clients served by the group in the last year of record, only about one in five identified themselves as Adventists. A total of 20 denominations are listed in the 2011 Annual Report as the context for victims supported by the organization. It provides educational materials for congregations, information and assistance to family and church professionals who encounter cases, and public advocacy on the issue.
“Pipim is a case study in what happens when church officials ‘have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, Peace, when there is no peace’ (Jeremiah 6:14),” Weber stated. “Business as usual cannot continue when a global predator is deceiving God’s people.” Pipim became well known both because he was a primary organizer of Generation of Youth for Christ (GYC), an independent, conservative Adventist youth organization that holds a yearly event around Christmas and New Years attended by thousands, and for the books he has written against women’s ordination to the gospel ministry and critiquing the work of a number of well-known Adventist Bible scholars.
“Leveraging his vast spiritual influence with the global Adventist community,” Weber said, “Pipim has been rebuilding his ‘ministry’ with a robust international speaking schedule. … His Facebook pages and websites provide inspiration and digital fellowship for thousands of under-warned ‘eaglets’ –Pipim’s pet term for his eager young disciples.”
Remnant Publications is an independent, “self-supporting” Adventist publisher based in Michigan. It is marketing Pipim’s latest book which is about forgiveness. Weber points out that the key personnel are members in Gallimore’s conference and asks if Gallimore has “done anything to dissuade them from propagating Pipim’s lies?”
According to his statement, Gallimore has urged Pipim to stop preaching and writing. “We believe it is in the best interest of the church as well as Dr. Pipim for him to stop all … speaking appointments, writing books … or developing a self-supporting ministry,” Gallimore said. He puts this in the context of an August 7 meeting with Pipim.
Some denominational workers are evidently unhappy that the victim support group has made an issue of this case. Although no one will go on the record, there are those who accuse those who have spoken out on behalf of Pipim’s victims of violating the privacy of these young women. Weber’s statement refers to them as “enablers” because they “rush in to shush all inquiry with pious talk about the victims’ right to privacy. But we are not asking for their names or for embarrassing details … We just need to know whether Seventh-day Adventists have a Penn State-style cover-up on our hands.”
Weber makes it clear that his statement was not made by the victims support group as an organization. He also says that it is not part of his role as a staff member for the Mid-America Union Conference. He spoke up at this point because he believes that Gallimore’s statement leaves some important things unsaid.
“A neutral party at a higher level in the denomination needs to get involved at this point,” a retired North American Division officer told Adventist Today. “There are policies that permit the Division to investigate and settle differences that involve denominational employees from two different union conference territories. The Working Policy also directs that cases of suspected abuse must be dealt with, not ignored or swept under the rug. The fact that someone has been fired or disfellowshipped does not close the book on an abuse case.”