Email Response from Ex-Gay Leader Andy Comiskey Regarding Child Molestation

If you have been following along here and here, this is the exact email Andy Comiskey wrote in repsonse to my email to him:

Dear Andrew,

I am glad to clear up any confusion which has surfaced due to my post.  While I commend your sincerity in seeking my ‘full transparency,’ I think many of your questions can be answered by reviewing what exactly has gone on concerning the violations which occurred.

I’ll begin with the exact email I sent to David Roberts of ex-gay watch.  It provides a brief-overview of what went on:

“In 1997, a man met at separate times with two teenagers in the name of DSM and made sexual overtures to them and committed some acts. The details are unknown to us. He like any predator hid what the had done. We became aware of one of these instances at the end of 1997; the teen and his parents came forward, and the man was promptly fired then jailed. The teenager received help for the spiritual and sexual abuse that had occurred. We knew that another teen had met with this man, also in 1997; when asked, the teen claimed that nothing had happened. 5 years later, as a young man, he claimed that he had been abused by that man in 1997. We believed him, and made a lengthy and weighty restitution for the sins committed against him. Since 1997, under legal counsel, we have established new and strong boundaries for all of our dealings with participants. (We no longer offer help to minors.) As many of our adult participants have been subject to sexual abuse as children, we take very seriously our responsibility to ensure that we do not abuse them further. The weight of these offenses committed in our name, and the amount of time and money we have spent to help repair the damage done, has helped teach us that lesson.”

As we became aware of the sexual abuse, we began a ten-year process of seeking restitution with these two teenagers and their families.  Desert Stream faced several civil lawsuits, and criminal charges were filed against the perpetrator, our ex-staff member.

Our restitution involved taking responsibility and seeking forgiveness for our sins and doing all we could to repair the damage done.  This was all under legal guidance, which placed guidelines as to what we could and could not say publicly about their families and their suffering. 

To prevent further violations, we sought and submitted to legal counsel in crafting better boundaries between lay leaders and those they served. 

Within the legal constraints on what we could say publicly, we took many opportunities to make known the sexual abuse and its implications for us as a ministry.  That included integrating into our week-long national training seminars an entire evening dedicated to teaching what kind of boundaries must be in place to prevent such violations and references to what happened in Desert Stream conferences  in the late nineties and in Exodus conferences in both 2001 and 2008. 

I also spoke of this abuse in 2003 with the publication of Strength and Weakness (see pg. 207) and was featured in a lead article in Desert Stream’s spring newsletter in 2009 (available for download online at http://www.desertstream.org/Group/Group.aspx?ID=1000040183). 

On a final note, Andrew, I would have appreciated some warning before your post.  I understand your anger and I should have been more careful before posting such sensitive information in the light of many reading it that had no way of putting the information in context.  Many of your concerns, however, could have been easily cleared up by direct contact.  As you are intent on defending those wrongfully accused by the church, I am perplexed as to why you would so quickly leap to judgment against me in this issue.  I hope this response puts to rest unjust assumptions.”

Below, you will find my email back to Andy. I will not be commenting further on this situation from here on out – I explain my reasoning why in the email:

Andy,

Thank you so much for responding. It is wonderful to hear the steps DSM has taken to ensure these horrific situations never happen again! My problem still lies in the fact that I am yet to hear the direct public words, “I’m sorry and take fault for this incident”. The Newsletter you linked to talks about the retribution paid every month for 10 years to these boys and their families, but the public apologies are still lacking. I believe, and yes, this could be just me who believes this, but a large part of corporate forgiveness is indeed public apology. I understand your frustration that I did not reach out first, but even after I reached out you still did not answer some of the more uncomfortable questions – specifically about the transparency with your network of churches and the public apology.
 
At the end of the day I am not, nor do I ever want to be some type of investigative journalist. I just commented on a post you made public yourself. I am sorry it has come to this, but I am still disappointed in how you are currently handling this horrific situation.
 
So you know, this is the last I will write/speak about this issue with DSM, unless you request me to post further statements by you. I don’t want to perpetuate any issues or problems, and I hate feeling like I have to dig for information. That’s not me. It’s not my heart. Therefore I’m just going to leave it at what you wrote in your blog post and to me in this email. I think your words and actions have spoken for themselves.
 
Thank you again for responding. If you ever feel so inclined to answer the questions I proposed one-by-one, I would be more than happy to get your detailed truths out as broadly as I can!
 
Much love,
Andrew
*UPDATE* I have very clearly come to the realization that I did not handle this situation in the best way. I should have contacted him first. And for not doing so, I deeply apologize. This was a huge life lesson for me, and I will never, ever do anything like that again. Much love.
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About Andrew Marin

Andrew Marin is President and Founder of The Marin Foundation (www.themarinfoundation.org). He is author of the award winning book Love Is an Orientation (2009), its interactive DVD curriculum (2011), and recently an academic ebook titled Our Last Option: How a New Approach to Civility can Save the Public Square (2013). Andrew is a regular contributor to a variety of media outlets and frequently lectures at universities around the world. Since 2010 Andrew has been asked by the United Nations to advise their various agencies on issues of bridging opposing worldviews, civic engagement, and theological aspects of reconciliation. For twelve years he lived in the LGBT Boystown neighborhood of Chicago, and is currently based St. Andrews, Scotland, where he is teaching and researching at the University of St. Andrews earning his PhD in Constructive Theology with a focus on the Theology of Culture. Andrew's research centers on the cultural, political, and religious dynamics of reconciliation. Andrew is married to Brenda, and you can find him elsewhere on Twitter (@Andrew_Marin), Facebook (AndrewMarin01), and Instagram (@andrewmarin1).

  • http://www.loveisanorientation.com Andrew Marin

    Just thought I’d throw this out there:

    Although the past day and a half has been very difficult for me since writing these posts, the large amounts of emails/Facebooks/Twitters that I have received from people who were sexually molested as a child, thanking me for giving their adult silence a voice, was worth it all. I am really humbled by their willingness to reach out. Thank you all so much!

  • Kristi Kernal

    Andrew, again, thank you for using your voice. Churches and para-church organizations make grave mistakes when they try to keep things “in house”, and keep people from questioning and dialoguing openly and transparently. Your question asking “where is the public apology” is one I’ve been asking in regards to a 6,000 member church here in Beaverton, OR, who’s yet to give any kind of public confession. The reason, straight from the pastor’s mouth to me? Threat of lawsuits. Okay…..I would personally make the choice to do what is right and biblical, and lose every last penny for having done so, if need be. We can blame “greedy” lawyers all we want to, but if a lawsuit is one of the consequences for our sin, so be it. Isn’t that what we preach and what we teach our children….to take full responsibility for their actions, regardless of the consequences and cost? Andrew, again, thanks for taking your precious time to address this whole matter that is bigger than Desert Stream Ministries.

  • Jack Harris

    Andrew,

    I applaud your efforts in addressing this situation. I think an apology is the least that can be done in this situation. Even Pope Benedict XVI apologized today for the abuses in Ireland. If he can do it, then this guy can do it.

    Have a good weekend and safe travels.
    Jack

  • http://www.xanga.com/Ody_dan Daniel M.

    Just read through the 3 blogs and all the comments. I also wanted to thank you for taking the time to process your emotions openly. And well done for pursuing things up to this stage.
    We obviously haven’t met yet, but from reading your blog and book, I have a feeling some of the comments on the first post cut you deep and may be played with your mind a bit. I want to encourage you to keep pursuing love…even for those people your heart hates. Through the mercies of Jesus we can gain perspective and love those who wrong us.
    May the peace of the One who knows all things, rest on you.
    -daniel

  • Kristi Kernal

    Saw this somewhere today, and I prayed it over this situation that burdens your heart, Andrew.

    “Restorative justice seeks to restore the humanity of all those hurt by a crime. The whole community is hurt by a crime and and the whole community plays a role in healing.”

  • Lizzie

    Andrew,

    I appreciate that you seek to make these kind of secret things public. It’s painful but definitely necessary to give a voice to people who have been sexually abused. Secrecy is the enemy and has been a problem especially within the church.

    Personally, I have participated in an off shoot of the Desert Streams ministry called Living Waters, which addresses people with all sort of relational and sexual issues. The stated boundaries are very strict and I was greatly helped by the prayers and teaching of the leaders during the LW program. I think that Andy is doing great work within the church and I hope that he will be able to embrace this constructive criticism and utilize it as he goes forth.

  • http://davidgoodwin.com David

    Just wanted to say “thanks, I think you’ve handled all this really well”

    And everything else I was thinking is summed by what what Kristi Kernal posted a couple of comments back. :)

  • Jao*Klei

    I appreciate your effort and I understand the anger and disappoint that you feel. I’ve read Andy’s letter and your response as well as your list of questions, after processing the whole thing I felt that Andy and DSM did everything they could to reach out and make restitution to the family. Perhaps not the apology that you are seeking, but maybe the apology that the family and affected community needed at that time? I don’t know, it seems to me that you have differences in your language of apology and that’s why you just can’t agree. In his short letter of response I really felt that they sincerely apologize, to some people making restitution is their way of apology and to me it’s more than just saying a public apology (although I did felt from the letter that they also personally apologize to the teens and their family) like those political or famous public figures.

    I was also a victim of molestation and abuse. I lived in anger and fear growing up. So I can relate to how you feel and the reaction that you had, maybe more than you because I experienced it first hand. By God’s grace, He has given me the heart to forgive the person who hurt me and also forgive myself because I went through a time of self-hatred for not being able to stand up for myself and say no when I was a kid. I really sensed your anger in your list of questioning, so I think your comments are done in anger and that’s why you demanded what you think will make things right for you– which is a public apology and etc…. It’s a normal reaction, I think most people are like that, perhaps it’s also just my opinion because I process things more slowly and I’m the type of person who tends to harbor my feelings and only blows when I’m really fed up (but I’m learning not to keep my emotions bottled in so I don’t get to that boiling point). Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not commenting just to criticize your comments some of the things you said I also agree on. Andy’s blog comes out stuffy and insensitive. I don’t think he even considered the fact that there are people who read his blog that have been a victim of the same abuse and he just went on congratulating themselves for going through the ordeal and coming out strong but distancing themselves from the so called abuser-colleague. I understand that they also felt betrayed by this person because he only refers to him as the “man [who] met at separate times with two teenagers in the name of DSM”– the fact that he was fired from the ministry tells me that he is indeed a colleague, but I’m sure that’s the last thing he wants to admit. Maybe the person went in guise and pretended to be a lay minister or perhaps he really is just a “broken” minister but these kind of things are hard for the church to admit. Because in the church and christian ministries, we are all suppose to have everything together, right? We are broken people in a broken world that’s why these things still happen. We just have to take responsibility and accept the consequences and hopefully learn from it– and the church just have to take responsibility on their part even if it’s just one person’s fault. In the end, I don’t think anyone wins (well not the kind of winning we usually associate) but it’s more about learning and finding God’s grace in that situation. So I guess it would be more appropriate if he had just shared it with more humility and gratitude from God. And yes, a clear public apology in that particular blog would have prevented any of this confusion or misunderstanding.

    Andy said that the person was fired and went to jail, so I guess that answers your question whether he was allowed again to serve, I don’t think they hid those things in the ministry, I get the feeling that they did the best they could to get things right. I’m sure Andy went through a lot himself being accused of things because of the situation that happened. You know how the church can be when they find out scandalous stuff, it’s usually “off-with-his-head” response, so maybe extend grace to him too?! There really is something about not being quick to judge and slow to anger that helps us understand things and have a better if not clear perspective.

    I love you bro. This is just my opinion guys, please be gentle to me. :)

  • http://www.loveisanorientation.com Andrew Marin

    Jao – Thank you so much for bodly sharing your story. And through what you’ve experienced in your life, your example of forgiveness is a lesson to all of us! Much love.

  • http://www.xanga.com/Ody_dan Daniel M.

    Jao,

    Great comments and thanks for sharing part of your story.
    We are all broken aren’t we. I hope the church learns to embrace this fact and celebrate it, for it allows us to be aware of our need of a savior.

  • http://antonyle1024.bravejournal.com/entry/79297 Madaline Mckenzie

    Thanks for such a informative post. This for sure will help many of us. Keep up the good work.

  • Blake

    Andy,

    Ive not got too much sympathy for Comiskey under being under DSMs damaging ex gay teachings.

    One could say ultimately that if they had been teaching the TRUTH about homosexuality- that “change” never happens as is documented by leading psychologists etc- then this situation would never have happened.

    Second: the “counsellors” rarely have recognised training or psychological accreditation from what i understand. Leanne Payne has NO training at all…

    Sexual abuse is ALWAYS wrong- but in this instance- Comiskey opened himself up to it by believing a naive and ultimately damaging line about gay people.

    I also think that yearly payments going on forever is UTTERLY ridiculous. I understand the issue- but that man should have been tried as a criminal.

    Third: maybe its time someone exposed the truth about the “training seminars”- SIX MONTHS of “psychological” teaching is crammed into a week.. the lay-leaders have no training in psychologically and EVERY single accredited body in the Us and the Uk denounces ex gay therapy.

    I understand about elevating the conversation but DSM was responsoble for a lot of self hate and depression in my life- as well as spiritual abuse.

    I have little sympathy for them- but tons for the family affected.

  • JB

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