16 October 2020 |
Not long ago we published a letter from a lay person who was offended when asked by the conference office to cooperate in a background check to spot sexual abusers in their congregation. This isn’t, I was informed, an uncommon attitude. Is it necessary? people ask. Don’t we know the people in our congregation? Anyway, Adventists don’t do such things!
Sometimes my readers say it better than I can. I recently got this letter from a pastor’s wife, who agreed to let me share it with you.
Dear Aunt Sevvy,
I am thankful that you will keep this anonymous, but I really feel I should write. I am 75 years old and I know all too well the harm that can be done by a sexual predator in a church.
My husband was pastoring a small church in middle America in the 1970s. We didn’t know there was a church elder and some of his family members who were sexual predators. They would invite our children—a girl, 6, and a boy, 10—to their home to play with their children and animals. They even offered to take care of our children overnight while we attended workers’ meetings. This same family was in charge of the Sabbath School for the children.
After we left the district, our son started showing signs of having been abused. When we asked a person who worked at the conference office if we could receive help financially for our son’s counseling we were told that it would look bad for us, and maybe get us pushed out of the ministry. I wasn’t working, so we had only one income and we had to stop his counseling sessions.
The next summer while we worked at the junior camp, as all the young pastors rotated summer camp work, our 11-year-old son was assigned to a cabin. Late one night our son came crying to our camper and told us that his counselor had abused him. When we spoke with the camp director/conference youth director the next morning, his response was, “Your son will have to move in with you in the camper. He will not be a part of the camp activities.” It was not a problem for us, but our son wondered why he was being punished. The counselor who perpetrated the abuse wasn’t let go, and remained a counselor for the rest of the camp season. (When this man graduated from college, he became a men’s dean. About two years later he was let go from denominational work for abusing a dorm resident.)
The unfortunate outcome of this: our own son became an abuser. He was caught and sentenced to 20 years. He served 6 years in prison—as he should—and then spent the remaining 14 years on probation. He has never been able to hold a job—nobody wants to hire an ex-con, and most of all a pedophile. He was a dishwasher in a nice restaurant before COVID-19 struck but hasn’t been called back to work. He has been homeless at times, but we cannot help him because he lives in another state and until recently was not allowed to travel outside the state without special permission.
It affected our daughter in a different way. She trusts no one. She has home-schooled her children in order to keep them safe. She became a social worker, in order to help those children who might be abused as she was.
Perhaps you can share this with those questioning the relevance of background checks. We want to believe the church is safe. It may not be.
Thank you for listening.
(Name withheld by request), a minister’s spouse for 42 years.
You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published—always without real names. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and her opinions are not necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.