More on excuses made for child molesters

A few days ago I put up a post looking at the excuses some conservative Christian commenters on this post used to defend accused child molester Tom White. I summarized the excuses listed as follows:

  • Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.
  • Judge not lest you be judged.
  • We are all capable of anything.
  • We must pray for our “fallen brother.”

Since writing that post I’ve thought of a few more – both thanks to my commenters and thanks to further introspection on my part.

  • He/she must have been asking for it.

Danyel shared a story on Recovering Grace about the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of one of her brothers while she was a child. Here is an excerpt that picks up when she finally, at age 11, told her oldest brother about what was going on:

The next day my oldest brother and his wife came over, and I got up the courage to tell them what was happening. Although I’d never had any long conversations with my parents, the few times my mom and I had discussed it she made comments like, “You must have liked it or encouraged it,” or “It couldn’t have happened more then that one time because you two were never alone,” so I knew they wouldn’t listen to me. Walking outside to tell my oldest brother felt like the longest walk of my life–like I was walking to my death. Would he believe me or brush me off too? I told them both the truth and that I wanted them to tell mom and dad because it had to stop. My brother looked very serious and didn’t say anything other than it would be taken care of. …

The next day I waited for my parents to say something about it, but they didn’t. About a week later, my mom and I were driving, and I finally asked if anything had been said to them. She didn’t say anything for what seemed like an eternity, then told me, yes, but that she didn’t see how it could have been going on for all this time if I was just now saying something. If it had really been happening, then I must have enjoyed it or encouraged it. She then told me that my birth mother had made up something like this for attention. I was speechless and felt so betrayed!

This one is sadly more common that you might think. The idea that an abused child somehow “asked for it” or “enjoyed it” is sometimes coupled in religious circles with the idea that the child may be especially predisposed to demonic influence. Regardless, blaming a child for his or her own abuse is an excellent way to get the abuser off the hook. And it’s utterly despicable.

  • We must forgive and forget.

Rebekah also shared her story on Recovering Grace. This time the abuse came from her father. This clip picks up when Rebekah, as an adult, finally reported the sexual abuse she had suffered for years:

He was furious when, years later, I finally told my story to the authorities. I didn’t want the cops to get involved at that time. I didn’t even want my family to get involved. You see, I was still buying into the idea that it was all my own fault. That I had somehow “asked” to be abused. It took me years following the initial contact with authorities to even begin to recognize the wrong done to me and that I wasn’t responsible. Yet my father accused me of trying to send him to jail and trying to destroy him. He played the reputation card and said he’d been forgiven and that now it was my issue of unforgiveness. He said that I was trying to force the rest of my siblings to grow up without their father.

Here is the repetition of the idea that she had somehow “asked” to be abused, along with her father’s insistence that he was forgiven and so the past must be forgotten. “Forgive and forget” is a constant theme among many Christians, and allows even the worst wrongdoer to get off the hook for what he or she did in the past. Because, after all, you can’t bring up what happened in the past because “God has forgiven it.”

I was taught that when God forgives a sin he casts it away, beyond some abyss, so that it is gone forever. God does not consider it anymore, and we should not either. In fact, if you keep bringing up or going back to that forgiven sin, you’re the one acting in error.

  • This should be handled privately.

There is only one passage in the New Testament that deals with what is now known as “church discipline,” although that passage is in the gospels before there even was a “church.” Here it is:

Matthew 18: 15-17

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Notice that it nowhere says to report it to the authorities. Instead, you just deal with the matter internally. Take, for example, the case of Tina Anderson. Raped by a leader in her church when she was a young teen, Tina became pregnant. When the pastor was notified, he personally dealt with Tina’s rapist and then allowed him to continue serving as a leader in the church, and in the youth ministry, after he repented of “a sexual transgression” before the congregation. Tina meanwhile was privately sent to a family in a sister congregation out of church to carry her pregnancy to term and then give the child up for adoption. Throughout this whole process, the authorities were never notified.

Even among Christians who do see the need to notify the authorities, there is often an insistence on following the internal process first. I have heard of this being invoked in the case of spousal abuse, for example. Your husband beats you? First confront him with his wrongdoing, then go the the pastor or another religious authority, and then to the church. Only if all else fails should you go to the civil authorities. That kind of thing.

This is, to my understanding at least, what happened with the Catholic Church. It’s not that Catholic authorities didn’t know some priests were sexually abusing children. It’s just that when they knew they moved the priest to another parish or another area of work rather than reporting them to the authorities for the sexual molestation of children. For the church, it was a matter to be dealt with internally, not a matter for the civil authorities.


And so, here is the newly expanded list of excuses:

  • Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.
  • Judge not lest you be judged.
  • We are all capable of anything.
  • We must pray for our “fallen brother.”
  • She must have been asking for it.
  • We must forgive and forget.
  • This should be handled privately.

I want to finish by offering two excellent inputs from readers. First, Kagekiri pointed to this Bible passage:

I Corinthians 5:

1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?

4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”

How had I missed that? And really, that passage just illustrates that reader Jemand is spot on with this point:

And the thing is?  It’s NOT required by the religion!  The things Jesus taught, do NOT mean that believers must revere wolves in sheep’s clothing, say!  So many verses one could pick showing the focus and concern for children, those exist too…  The *choice* to pick certain verses as opposed to others?  And focus on an interpretation which further victimizes the powerless, further marginalized the silenced, and contributes to the power of the ones already in authority?  The CHOICE to err on the side that creates more abused little girls vs. err on the side of inadvertent damage to the reputations of powerful men?

Those are *choices,* not givens from the text of the Bible, and honestly?  I take them as direct evidence for what kind of person these [people who make these excuses] are.

Finally, a list of excuses offered by a reader. Some of the responses fit into the categories above, but some don’t and she listed them so beautifully I just had to share:

Common Excusing and Accusing Statements Said to a Person Who Exposes Sin in the Life of a Respected Christian Leader or Authority Figure (male or female) – By Robin Tulley:

“What right do you have to make such an accusation against someone who has done such great things for the Lord? You’re going to destroy everything he spent his life building.”

“I’ve known so-and-so for years and and can speak to her character and I know she would never do [..accusation..].”

“It’s all in the past – why are you bringing it up now?”

“Let it go – why destroy the reputation of someone just because of something they may have done years ago.”

“Maybe he did do this – but have you forgiven him? You’re sinning by carrying unforgiveness in your heart.”

“That is just your opinion and/or perspective.”

“God said, “Touch not my anointed.” It isn’t any of your business – If ‘so-and-so’ has sin in his life, it is between him and God.”

“I asked ‘so-and-so’ about your claims and she said that you —— [have an ax to grind] [have personal issues] [are emotionally unstable] [are a known liar] [misinterpreted the situation] [have hidden sin in your own life]”

“God said that we aren’t to judge others. Go remove the log from your own eye before you look for a splinter in the eye of ‘so-and-so.’”

“We’re all sinners.  Jesus said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Are you saying you are without sin? ”

“It’s up to God to judge – you’re putting yourself in the place of God.”

“Let by-gones be by-gones and keep the past in the past.”

“We’ve all made mistakes.  I’m sure there are things in your own life you wouldn’t want to have made public or have held against you.”

“She says you’re the one who actually did [..accusation..] – and now you’re just trying to shift the blame.”

“This is just a case of ‘he said/she said’ – there isn’t any proof of what you’re claiming.”

“You’re the only person who has made this claim.  If ‘so-and-so’ had really done these things there would be other people coming forward.”

Red Town, Blue Town
On Orgies, Bisexuality, James Dobson, and Evangelicals
On Indiana
The Cold, Unforgiving World of Geoffrey Botkin
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Mattie Chatham

    The thing that always surprises me the most about these sorts of discussions and excuses is the assumption that these victims should “stuff” their pain and try to suppress their trauma as a way of “forgiving.”

    That’s when I want to throw Faulkner in their faces: “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” The past defines who you are today (otherwise we wouldn’t be discussing these things on the interwebs at all!) and we have to deal with it. If someone has been hurt, that is their reality and forgiveness cannot work on escapist principles.

  • Ibis3

    Turning the other cheek only benefits the person doing the beating. Forgiveness of injustice only lets it continue unabated. Two more evils at the doorstep of Christianity.

    • machintelligence

      It was never specified what was to come after the turning of the other cheek. My personal theory is that if he hits you again, you are justified in beating the snot out of him!

    • kagekiri

      I’ve heard Christians defend lethal self-defense because all the slapping and stealing in that verse were non-life threatening (slapping was supposed to be insulting, not very physically damaging). So if the guy’s got a knife and stabbed you, no need to turn the other kidney…eesh.

      Of course, Jesus doesn’t let Peter kill any soldiers in the Garden, and all the martyrs in the Bible seem to go peacefully…so yeah. Maybe they *do* advocate no self-defense, but only if people know you’re dying for your religion.

      Another justification I’ve heard for fighting back instead of turning the other cheek is saying men have a responsibility from God to protect their families, and thus even if you turn the cheek to some crazy murderer, you shouldn’t because God entrusted your family’s lives to you and you have to defend them.

  • Ann

    It’s especially galling when the forgiveness club is used to keep people in danger. In the case where people are abused by family members, there can be all the forgiveness in the world while still recognizing that someone is a threat around children. To invert the whole “stumbling block” idea, if you know someone has such a destructive weakness, keep them away from potential victims.

    My sister dated a man from our church briefly befor realizing he was controlling and unstable. He reacted very badly when she broke it off and he only backed down when we presented him and his roommate the evidence we were prepared to bring to the police for a restraining order. After several months she got a letter explaining that he’d asked god for forgiveness, god always forgives if you ask, that if god had forgiven him than she must forgive him, and the way to show this forgiveness was to take him back. If she didn’t take him back, she must truly be a horrible unforgiving woman who put herself over god, and thus not a real Christian.

    Forgivesness is a wonderful gift, not something to be demanded or even expected, but to be hoped for and asked for with sincerity. To use it to re-victimize people who are already hurt is pathological. We can forgive and still *learn* from the experience.

    • Penn

      I’ve just got to say – that was beautifully said.

  • Jason Dick

    To me, forgiveness must be earned. Once you have heard somebody, you have earned the right for others to expect you to do the same thing in the future. If you want forgiveness, you should demonstrate that you have done whatever is required to adjust your behavior, and convince others that you genuinely will not do whatever it was again. Given that situation, I think that we should very much practice “forgive and forget”. But certainly not until.

    Simply giving out forgiveness freely to any who ask it, with no conditions on whether or not the behavior is repeated, invites people to continue to hurt others, while at the same time giving them a way to feel better about it. That is just plain wrong.

  • Amethyst

    I read a quote recently that said forgiveness sometimes means letting go of the person who hurt you along with the pain they caused. I thought that was a really good way to put it, and it seems applicable here.

  • kagekiri

    Oof, didn’t realize the rest of my comment in that thread there was so…angry sounding. And kinda aimed at Christians, but in response to someone else who was angry about the injustice. My bad.

    But yeah, that Corinthians verse is pretty at odds with Jesus’ teaching, with the idea of dining with prostitutes and tax collectors, not casting the first stone, and even thoughts are sins. Which makes me un-surprised that pastors don’t really preach it, as it seems to “unfairly” punish outward lifestyle sins more than thought-sins, and goes against the whole “Jesus accepts all of you as you are” thing they’re trying to emphasize.

    Also, considering how many Christians masturbate and think it’s sinful (because they’re all doing it while thinking of sex with a man/woman who’s not their spouse), which seems to be all of them, they’d pretty much have to expel and exile everyone to be Biblical. Heck, I remember that a pastor in my church made the “95% of men masturbate, and the other 5% are lying” joke in my church, and I was utterly horrified at the time considering how hard they campaigned against masturbation and porn for us young men, yet the congregation LAUGHED. Ugh, the hypocrisy burns to this day.

  • Riza

    I don’t believe in forgiveness. Forgiveness is synonymous with stupidity.

    • http://jw-thoughts.blogspot JW

      hmm, Forgiveness is synonymous with stupidity? Explain this one? Something has happened to you in which your heart and has been damaged? I could share with you how forgiveness has set me free but in that would you consider me stupid for doing such a thing?


  • Ben

    Well, there goes my ability to suppress incandescent rage. The worst part about this however, is that the denial of sex abuse that goes on affects multiple generations. Many pedophiles are themselves the victims of molestation. In the case of older-child on younger-child abuse, depending on the age discrepancy, the younger child will grow up thinking it is normal and do it to another kid. Only later is the trauma processed and in some cases it can lead to fully fledged pedophilia. If treated, the prognosis is good, and the kid is unlikely to offend (or re-offend if you catch the things they do at a young age and get them help [not prison]). If denied by the adults around them, the abused becomes the abuser.

  • Libby

    What an awesome subject. My story is this: For years, my father, a leader, and much respected man in our church had been molesting me. It wasn’t till it had stopped, and I was in the church Bible School that I began to deal with it. My pastor at the time told me he had suspected it for awhile, based on my actions and general emotional messiness. He wasn’t surprised when I told him. He wasn’t surprised, but he did nothing at all to remove dad from office, or even talk to him.

    Granted, I don’t know exactly what I wanted to happen, but not the nothing that did. To be fair, I had no proof to offer, and like I said, it was years over. But this wasn’t a court where you need proof! And I guess that dad needed a pastor as much as, if not more than I did, but any rights I had, or respect I deserved…. Well, apparently I had none. A church member got mad at me (I never did find out how she found out) for slandering a Man of God. (He prayed in the KJV language, for some that was enough, I guess). There was some sense of this was in the past, and hey! he prays good thing going on. I think no one wanted to upset the apple cart.

    The church’s general offices were on campus of the Bible school, and while there, I got to know the church’s president. Later, while I was in the PISSED OFF!!!!!! stage of my healing, I wrote him a letter about the abuse, and the fact that dad was still holding office, leading the church. I wanted to know how that was the loving, christian, Jesus-approved thing to do. He wrote back berating me for not taking my pain to the mission field (seriously). I could’ve chosen to get as far from the church as physically possible, while still remaining in it. Instead, I was bringing this up, and leaving a black mark on the church. And by the way, I obviously hadn’t forgiven him, or I’d not be angry.

    So apparently, my abuse was an embarrassment to the church. Or was I the embarrassment? And I needed to forgive, forget, and seek my father’s and the church’s forgiveness for dragging them through the dirt.

  • http://jw-thoughts.blogspot JW

    There are always 2 camps in every movement it seems. The very fundamental and the liberal or more moderate side. When I read about this story I was very shocked!! A guy who spent years in a Cuban prison for evangelism in Cuba suddenly kills himself over sexual misconduct which is a very serious thing. I was very interested to see what the online christian communities response would be to this. Libby, you said some true things about their response but that is only one side of the issue. I have seen response directed to and for the girl as well.

    I posted a link that I came across last night about a guy who wrote an open letter to the girl. Her dad happened across it and met this man in person. These are the kinds of stories the public won’t hear about because taking a step in order to help someone heal is just not pop culture. Watching the crucifixion take place is where it is nowadays it seems.

    Anyway, I thought this story was unique and was proactive in addressing this terrible situation and I wanted to share it here since the story was brought up. See what you think.