The other day the Leadership Journal at Christianity today published a piece entitled “My Easy Trip From Youth Minister to Felon” which has quickly shot up in the rankings on my list of “most offensive things I’ve ever read”. The piece is written by a former youth minister who is now in prison because of an
extramarital relationship he had with one of the members of his youth group.
Well, the anonymous author of the piece called it an “extramarital relationship”, but let’s be real: people don’t end up writing anonymous letters from prison because they had an “extramarital relationship”. People write anonymous letters from prison because they’ve been found guilty of RAPE.
This piece, penned by this anonymous rapist and propped up by the folks at Christianity today, should have more accurately been entitled: “Musings From A Church Rapist On Why My Life Now Sucks”, because that’s all it was.
Excuses for rape, such as: “I wasn’t feeling appreciated at home”. “Since I felt I was not being rewarded at home, I deserved to be rewarded elsewhere”.
Not just excuses, but horrible excuses at that.
Strike the “Musings From A Church Rapist On Why My Life Now Sucks” as an alternate title, perhaps it would better be called “Excuses of a Child Rapist”. No mention of a child who was raped by a male in power, or the full wake of destruction other than talking about why his life sucks. It was all about him. This is classic of someone who has yet to realize the gravity of their behavior– there’s a long list of excuses, and a hyper focus on self, instead of a quiet horror over what your behavior has done.
The anonymous author continued to demonstrate a horrific lack of understanding about the seriousness of preying on children by continually describing the crime that landed him in prison as a mutual “friendship” that simply crossed the line:
“The “friendship” continued to develop. Talking and texting turned flirtatious. Flirting led to a physical relationship. It was all very slow and gradual, but it was constantly escalating. We were both riddled with guilt and tried to end things, but the allure of sin was strong. We had given the devil far more than a foothold and had quenched the Holy Spirit’s prodding so many times, there was little-to-no willpower left.”
Clearly, however long he’s sat in prison hasn’t been long enough to realize the gravity of his behavior. Even Christianity today, clearly didn’t get it. Just look at how they’ve classified the piece:
No, this wasn’t adultery and this wasn’t a “mistake”.
People don’t go to prison for the mistake of adultery, they go to prison for the crime of rape.
I am appalled that Christianity Today first ran this piece, and secondly have yet to take it down after many in the Christian community have asked them to. Classy that a Christian magazine who first bullied World Vision into the front pages, costing thousands of kids their needed sponsorships, is now giving a rapist a platform to whine about how bad life sucks after going to prison for rape. There’s no excuse.
Now, had Christianity Today wanted to do a piece on finally taking abuse in the church seriously, I would have applauded the effort. However, as Elizabeth Esther astutely noted:
“…a predator loses the right to tell his side of the story right about the time he decides to PREY on a CHILD… TRUE confession and amends-making should be done PRIVATELY with the victims. TRUE repentance isn’t about page views via JUICY HEADLINES.”
On the issue of true repentance, Suzannah Paul mentioned what I had thought as well– repentance ought include a demonstration that one actually understands how seriously they have harmed others:
This is not leadership. This is rape culture, abuse apology, and re-victimization under the guise of education and grace. It’s not even a bad redemption narrative, as the youth pastor, publication, and many of its commenters fail to demonstrate a most basic understanding of the fact that what transpired was the rape of a minor, not an adulterous affair. Repentance requires actually accounting for–not glossing over–the actual harm one commits.
Libby Anne also brought up something that was quite concerning– a note at the bottom of the piece states that the author “helps lead the Christian community at the facility where he is serving his sentence”, which she correctly raises concerns about a rapist serving in Christian leadership.
Do you understand that even small children who are abused often believe it’s “mutual” and believe that they share the guilt and that they “wanted it”? They believe this, because their predator skillfully convinced them that it was true. And surely you GET that it’s never the fault of a small child, right? (Please tell me you do.) So what you seem to be missing here, what’s important here is that you understand that a teenage girl, whether 13 or 17 may have the body of a woman, but she is NOT a woman, and she is NO match for a much older man, her spiritual leader, who has made her his prey… Do you understand that as this girl grows into adulthood she will very likely be more and more horrified by what an adult spiritual leader in her life led her into? Do you understand that it’s statutory rape for a reason? Do you get that he is in jail FOR A REASON? Do you even understand what a horror it is that you let her abuser go on and on and on for pages and pages talking like this was an adult consensual affair, when she was obviously young enough that it LANDED HIM IN JAIL? Do you have any inkling of what he’s done to her and her life and her self-esteem and her sexuality and her emotional health and her spiritual health and everything about her not just for right now but most likely for years to come?”
Clearly, we’re still not getting it.
Sexual abuse in the church is a serious issue, and one that for far too long, has been swept under the rug and quickly dismissed. Abusers have too often been quickly restored only to prey again, victims have been marginalized, and criminal behavior has been justified.
Now, with the Leadership Journal, we’re seeing it again– and we should be appalled. As if the original publication of the story didn’t demonstrate this, the complete lack of repentance and refusal to remove the story from the journal ought be further evidence of how badly we still don’t get it.
Please join me in making some noise and demand that this story be removed. Samantha Field provided the best plan of action (and also makes an excellent point on how power dynamics remove the possibility of true consent):
“Please e-mail the editors of the Leadership Journal and ask them to remove the post ( LJEditor@christianitytoday.com). Ask them to replace it with an article from the victim of a youth pastor, and then another from someone like Boz Tchividjian that offers church leadership an actual education in child sexual assault, clergy abuse, statutory rape, and how it is impossible for a pastor gain consent from a parishioner because of the power he or she has… If you subscribe to the Leadership Journal, please cancel your subscription and tell them why. “
I am disgusted with the lack of repentance and understanding of not only the rapist himself, but also Christianity Today, and the Leadership Journal.
It’s time to #TakeDownThatPost. Please join me, and the others I’ve linked to above, in demanding that we no longer give attention and a platform to abusive leaders who prey on our children.
Update: Thanks to your efforts, Christianity Today as removed the post! Thank you to everyone. Here is their official statement:
“We should not have published this post, and we deeply regret the decision to do so.
The post, told from the perspective of a sex offender, withheld from readers until the very end a crucial piece of information: that the sexual misconduct being described involved a minor under the youth pastor’s care. Among other failings, this post used language that implied consent and mutuality when in fact there can be no quesiton that in situations of such disproportionate power there is no such thing as consent or mutuality.
The post, intended to dissuade future perpetrators, dwelt at length on the losses this criminal sin caused the author, while displaying little or no empathic engagement with the far greater losses caused to the victim of the crime and the wider community around the author. The post adopted a tone that was not appropriate given its failure to document complete repentance and restoration.
There is no way to remove the piece altogether from the Internet, and we do not want to make it seem that we are trying to make it disappear. That is not journalistically honest. The fact that we published it; its deficiencies; and the way its deficiencies illuminate our own lack of insight and foresight, is a matter of record at The Internet Archive (https://web.archive.org/web/20140613190102/http://christianitytoday.com/le/2014/june-online-only/my-easy-trip-from-youth-minister-to-felon.html).
Any advertising revenues derived from hits to this post will be donated to Christian organizations that work with survivors of sexual abuse. We will be working to regain our readers’ trust and to give greater voice to victims of abuse.
We apologize unreservedly for the hurt we clearly have caused.
Marshall Shelley, editor, Leadership Journal
Harold B. Smith, president and CEO, Christianity Today International”