Pipim Sexual Abuse Victim: The Story from a First-person Observer
by Loren Seibold
A year ago Dr. Samuel Korangteng Pipim admitted to sexual misconduct while traveling in Africa. Dr. Pipim is well known as the author of a number of books against the ordination of women pastors in the Seventh-day Adventist Church and accusing some of the top theologians in the denomination of heresy in their interpretation of Scripture. He was an ordained minister and employed as director of campus ministry by the Michigan Conference. He resigned from denominational employment, turned in his ministerial credentials and ended his membership in the Church.
In subsequent months Dr. Pipim has endeavored to restore his reputation, even writing a book about his infidelity and starting a ministry of recovery. He has now asked to be rebaptized by the local church in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Though Dr. Pipim has received a lot of attention the victim, a young student from Africa, has been largely forgotten. Recently she consented to let her counselor, Jennifer Jill Schwirzer, speak on her behalf. She was interviewed by Adventist Today writer Loren Seibold.
Adventist Today: How did you get involved with Dr. Pipim’s victim?
Jennifer Jill Schwirzer: I’m a professional counselor licensed in the state of Pennsylvania, and I volunteer for a ministry that helps victims of clergy abuse called The Hope of Survivors (THOS). Nandipa (a pseudonym) contacted someone for help, who referred her to THOS, who then referred her to me. I’ve talked with her off and on for most of the past year.
AT: What can you tell us about Nandipa?
JJS: Let me first say this: I’ve been given Nandipa’s permission to share her story, but I do so with great reservation because of the danger of exposing her to blame. She was 20 years old at the time, a new convert, with no Adventist background and little support within the church, attending university. She’d had some experiences in her life that left her deeply vulnerable. Dr. Pipim had been invited there by a church young adults’ organization for a week of prayer. She was one of his contact people and hosts for the visit. She felt, and still feels, very vulnerable to this man of God who she so looked up to.
AT: How did the encounter happen?
JJS: Nandipa asked him for counsel regarding some scars from her life before meeting Jesus. He invited her to his hotel room. To Nandipa, he was an awesome, larger-than-life spiritual figure. Others were going to his room for counsel. It didn’t cross her mind that she should be afraid. So she innocently went into his “counseling office.” After talking awhile, he began to touch her. Nandipa wasn’t sure what the touches meant. She didn’t want to accuse a man of God of impropriety, yet he appeared noticeably aroused. That encounter ended when another counselee came. She left in a state of confusion.
He came to her later telling her to come to his hotel room again, that he wanted to give her a sermon on CD.
AT: Why did she go back?
JJS: I pray people will understand the psychology here. She’s a struggling girl. She’s kicking herself, thinking, “This is because I’m such a bad person. He’s a man of God. Maybe I’m imagining this.” When you’re new to the faith, young, and female, you don’t question someone like Dr. Samuel Pipim. He was a hero, especially in that part of the world. Plus she did take what she felt was a precaution: she rode to his hotel the second time with a Seventh-day Adventist chaplain, thinking that she’d get the sermon and she’d leave with the chaplain, as he was her ride. Instead, Pipim sent the chaplain away, saying he’d send her home in a cab. Essentially, he then violated her while she protested in tears. Before he sent her away he gave her $100 and some of his books.
AT: Would you call it rape?
JJS: Some don’t understand how, short of physical force, one can be a victim of rape. That attitude shows psychological, social, and spiritual naivete. Statistically it’s been shown that women often plead, cry, and try to reason with perpetrators of sexual crime, but they rarely scream and fight, even though their chance of escape increases when they do. There’s a power imbalance. She did what women in her situation typically do: she pled for him to stop. He didn’t.
Forcible rape uses physical strength. Power rape uses social and psychological strength. If Nandipa had had the psychological training and strength, she could have screamed, fought, and run. It was psychological overpowerment, plus her own lack of internal strength and social support, that kept her there.
AT: Dr. Pipim did eventually confess.
JJS: Here’s my understanding of the timing. The abuse occurred January 21 of last year. He didn’t confess until May 23. In between, Nandipa had gone to the Botswana conference brethren. They wanted proof. She taped a phone conversation with him that proved it. They took the matter to the division president, who called Pipim. Pipim then called Nandipa, telling her he would be confessing the matter.
He then called his conference, and confessed his version of the story. On the surface it seemed like an honorable act, but really he gave a very inaccurate confession. He said it was “the sin of a moment,” a “moral fall.” He gave no indication that it was abuse. But really, it had to be. When someone in power has sex with someone powerless, or nearly so, it’s always abuse. Abuse of the office and abuse of the person. That’s not to say there’s never any fault on the part of the victim. In Jesus’ parable to Simon the Pharisee, he presented the guilt ratio of perpetrator to victim of sexual abuse to be ten to one. (Luke 7:40-43)
AT: What was Nandipa’s relationship with Dr. Pipim afterwards?
JJS: She felt confused, bewildered. There’s something called a “betrayal bond,” where the victim shares a secret with the perpetrator. He tried to keep a relationship going in which he presented himself as her father. It was classic perpetrator behavior to try to keep her loyal to him. But she gradually broke free of that and sought help.
The spirit of this girl, her resilience, is quite touching. It took huge courage and faith to report it to the brethren. Fully 84 percent of rape never gets reported, mostly because victims fear bad treatment by authorities. Why shouldn’t they? They’ve already been mistreated by someone powerful. Especially in a religious context, a victim’s worst fear is that the loyalty to the perpetrator will outweigh any loyalty to them. And so often it proves true.
AT: You seem to question the sincerity of Dr. Pipim’s confession.
JJS: I would say it more strongly: From what I can see, his confession is utterly deceptive. First, as I mentioned before, the “moral fall” wasn’t consensual, it was abuse. He hasn’t confessed to abuse. He’s confessed to infidelity. It was much more than infidelity. Second he didn’t confess till he had to. Four months passed between the event and the “confession.” Third, he has continued to pursue influence. A truly repentant person would want to withdraw from public life for a time. But he seems unable to let go of his status. Sexual abuse is abuse of power. Power addiction leads people to the kind of thing Pipim did to Nandipa. It seems that to recover from this unhealthy use of power he’d need to abstain completely from it, at least for a few years. But no. He’s written two books and launched a whole new ministry. Without so much as a month break!
Some believe in restoration of fallen pastors, some don’t. But even the most lenient wouldn’t advise that a fallen pastor go immediately into a new ministry—what foolishness!
Those who have supported him in this premature rebuilding should take a step back and consider this: For infidelity alone, denominational policy says, “He/she must plan to devote his/her life to employment other than that of the gospel ministry, the teaching ministry, or denominational leadership.” (NAD Working Policy L 60 20, Steps in Discipline of Ministers with a Moral Fall)
AT: Someone may ask, why isn’t Nandipa speaking out herself, or at least letting you use her name, when Dr. Pipim is being exposed?
JJS: Because of ignorance of the psychological dynamics of power rape, people often blame the victim. In some circles, the woman is always at fault. Disclosure can be good for the victim, both because in so doing they help future victims, and because sharing one’s story can be healing. But great risks are also associated with disclosure. Specifically, those fond of Pipim are likely to see her as a troublemaker, “bringing down a man of God.”
There are certain traits that make a person more vulnerable to sexual abuse. Jesus spoke of them in Matthew 18, going so far as to suggest that those who lead ”little ones,” meaning vulnerable people—the young, the small, new converts—into sin, should suffer capital punishment! So, far from the victim’s weaknesses exonerating the perpetrator, they make him or her more guilty.
AT: How does Nandipa feel about Dr. Pipim’s actions since the confession, such as his writing a book and starting a new ministry?
JJS: She’s troubled by it, because like so many victims, she’s had to watch the perpetrator apparently prosper while she suffers with the consequences. It’s super hard to watch someone who’s deeply hurt you receive praise and support, while you’re forgotten. But she’s rightly trying to detach herself and go on with her life, and I must say, doing a good job of it. I believe she’ll pull through.
AT: Has the church been too quick to let Dr. Pipim move on in his ministry?
JJS: As I understand it, he was disfellowshipped, de-credentialed and de-ordained. In many cases there is far less appropriate discipline. On the other hand, he was hired shortly after his confession by a lay publishing ministry. He’s continued to do ministry in some situations. And he’s already been declared a candidate for rebaptism.
I think those who have supported him fall into two general categories. Number one, nice people who are touched by someone’s apparent honesty about a sin and who want to bestow grace upon him. Number two, people with a political bent who think that his sin was the result of a demonic attack, which came because he was a champion of certain causes. These believe he should be quickly restored so he can carry on his ministry of reform. I honestly can’t think of better way to open the floodgates to abuse than to lionize someone who committed such an indecent act. Heaven help us!
My role in this situation has been to advocate for the victim. I want people to hear her side of the story. I must do that without overexposing her, which is difficult. I’ve tried to walk that fine line. We’re told to, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:8-9. I don’t really know Sam Pipim, and have no desire to hurt him. My focus is Nandipa. I know I’ll probably be accused by some as being in cahoots with liberals. The truth is, I weigh in on the conservative side of the theological spectrum on most issues. So I am not really his enemy in every respect. I agree with him on some “conservative” issues. But I would like to see truth and justice prevail.