UNC, the Vatican and Sovereign Grace Ministries: When PR trumps concern for victims

(CONTENT NOTE: This gets ugly and painful. We’re dealing here with some really awful, evil topics, including sexual abuse, abuse of power, rape, and the ways that powerful, self-righteous people defend all of the above.)

Let’s start in Chapel Hill, home of the University of North Carolina.

A UNC student, Landen Gambill, faces possible expulsion for speaking out about her sexual assault.

Last week, she was called to appear before the school’s “Honor Court” because she’s charged with “disruptive or intimidating behavior that willfully abuses, disparages, or otherwise interferes with another … so as to adversely affect their academic pursuits, opportunities for University employment, participation in University-sponsored extracurricular activities, or opportunities to benefit from other aspects of University Life.”

… Gambill has not once publicly identified her attacker. She has, however, called out the school for their failures in dealing with her case. She’s said that the internal disciplinary process was offensive, inappropriate, and victim-blaming. “They made it seem like my assault was completely my fault.” She’s accused UNC of betraying her trust by not letting her know that her attacker was returning to campus and in fact would be living across the street from her.

At a preliminary hearing, Gambill asked if she could have violated the Honor Code simply by saying she was raped and was told yes.

That’s from Maya at Feministing, who comments:

The message UNC students will take from this – if they haven’t gotten it already – is to think twice about coming forward. Because their school seems to think that – just as being seen as having a rape problem on your campus is considered worse than actually having one – being called a rapist is a more serious injury than being raped.

That seems to be the core of the problem at UNC, just as it seems to have been the core of the problem for decades in the Roman Catholic Church: “Being seen as having a rape problem … is considered worse than actually having one.”

For more than 20 years we’ve witnessed the slowly unraveling horrors of a massive sex-abuse scandal in the Catholic church. We’ve learned of widespread abuse and rape, and of even wider efforts to cover it up. We’ve seen the cruel injustice piled upon injustice of an institution treating crimes against children as, primarily, a PR problem to be addressed primarily with PR solutions. Instead of seeking justice and healing for victims, those victims were silenced, hidden, or attacked all over again in an effort to discredit their testimony. The institution was more focused on protecting its reputation and shielding itself from bad press or legal liability than it was on addressing the problem, weeding out the predators and criminals, and seeking restitution and healing for the victims.

That PR-focused strategy led the institution to shield, defend and enable the predators within it, while compounding the harm those predators had committed and further abusing their victims. Above and before everything else, that’s just simply evil.

But in addition to being abominably immoral, this PR-focused strategy also failed abysmally on its own terms. It turned out to be disastrous public relations — making the institution look even worse because it was even worse. And it turned out to be disastrously expensive in terms of the liability they sought to escape.

If anything good might have come from that ongoing horror show, I had thought it might be at least that other institutions could learn from it. The Catholic church was providing a vivid lesson in what not to do, and I had hoped that such a prominent, infamous example would be something other institutions would have to notice and to remember if they should ever discover abusers and predators within their own ranks.

But no.

As the example of UNC shows, other institutions seem to be taking the Catholic church’s evil and counter-productive PR-strategy as a template. Just like the bishops and cardinals who have done irreparable damage to the church, the leaders of other institutions seem fixated on, as Maya wrote, the idea that “Being seen as having a rape problem … is considered worse than actually having one.”

All of that is a long introduction for this: Go read T.F. Charlton’s essay at Religion Dispatches on “A Church Group, a Lawsuit, and a Culture of Abuse.”

It’s the best one-stop summary I’ve seen of the slowly unfolding scandal involving Sovereign Grace Ministries — a network of 91 conservative, evangelical churches.

SGM is independent, but it’s affiliated and allied with most of the leading figures of the angry, patriarchal, Reformed wing of conservative white evangelicalism — folks like Al Mohler, John Piper and Mark Driscoll, and groups like the Gospel Coalition and the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. So this is not a fringe group, but one that is associated with some of the most vocal and prominent white evangelical church leaders in America.

Before this scandal began unfolding, SGM was considered one of the rock-star success stories of this patriarchal Reformed brand of white Christianity. Charlton does an excellent job summarizing the history of the scandal, and an even better job of showing how it is not an aberration from, but a consequence of, that very same patriarchal form of American evangelicalism.

Several other writers have recently addressed this scandal and the further scandal of Sovereign Grace Ministries’ failure thus far to respond to it with any evident concern for the victims. I want to discuss some of those other posts as well, but before we turn to them, please do go read Charlton’s essay for a clear-eyed introduction and overview.

  • Jenny Islander

    I thought I had seen every disgusting child-beating manual out there, but the flippant tone and cutesy “naughty” photo on the cover of that Tomczak book make me sick!  Oh, tehee, Junior stole cookies, chuckle, let’s use the rod on his bod for God!

    Is anybody out there surprised that the first page of hits for Larry Tomczak includes allegations that he systematically abused someone for 25 years and abetted the cover-up of abuse within a church?  

    Of course the imprint for this manual of horrors is “Power Books.”  Of course.

  • TheBrett

    It’s typical institutional self-preservation, like what we saw with the Sandusky cover-up at Penn State. You get a group of people with the idea that the institution is the highest priority, and must be protected at all costs – anything that damages it must be suppressed and dealt with quietly. The Catholics are just one of the more appalling examples of this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=687121933 Carrie Looney

    One problem, for me, is that the PR blowback for the Catholic church hasn’t seemed to have caused it the kind of distress it _should_ have.  With the mind-boggling amount of abuse and coverup going on, that institution should have _toppled_, not just faced some angry comments from the blogosphere.  I heard a lot of chatter about Ryan’s Catholicism in 2012 informing his morality, but nothing about how he was supporting an institution that provided material aid to child rapists.  The Catholic opposition to the birth control insurance mandate based on upholding their religious principals should have been laughed (painful laughter, but lest we cry….) out of the court of public opinion, not kowtowed to.  The MSM of the Pope’s step-down has been more focused on his pretty red shoes than on the hideous abuses he presided over…

    I get really riled up about this, but rape does that to me.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTIorwtJbhE (NSFW)

  • Carstonio

    While I share your revulsion at what the book is promoting, I admit that I read “rod” metaphorically, since Fred is talking about the sex-abuse scandal.

  • Lori

    As Fred points out, these cover-ups fail as institutional self-preservation almost as badly as they fail morally. This kind of maneuver only protects that institution to the extent and for as long as the cover-up holds, and the cover-up never holds forever. Once it comes out the cover-up makes the original problem so much worse.

    The question is, why can’t people grasp that? I’m aware that some people value institutional prestige more than doing the right thing. I also understand why lying about the problem is so often the first impulse. It’s less clear why people actually go with that instead of learning from others’ mistakes and coming up with a different strategy.

  • AnonymousSam

    The UNC spokeswoman went on to say that the school “is committed to providing policies and procedures that are fair for everyone, especially about an issue that is as difficult and often involves strong opinions on both sides like sexual assault.”

    So, taking this opportunity to ask my friends in North Carolina to reconsider moving…

  • Albanaeon

     People can’t grasp it because we are ridiculously bad at thinking about things like the odds and consequences, and we have a bad habit of identifying with “tribe” over “others,” whatever we’ve done to them.

    There’s a slim hope that if you cover it up, it’ll just go away particularly if it seems like a one off occurrence.  So they try the cover up because it seems like a good bet.  And then once you’ve done it once, its easy to keep doing it because now “that’s what we do about it.” 

    So we get the same play over and over.

  • Kirala

     I might be more a forgettable-passing-internet-acquaintance than friend, but this North Carolinian is staying in hopes of leaving her home state solely in the hands of fools.

    Of course, there are points where I start thinking that’s not the best policy. I have a cousin at UNC; I worry about her safety (especially as she and her friends are busy organizing public support for Landen). Meanwhile, I’m left with my pride in my alma mater shattered. Why?

  • Carstonio

    Sexual assault is “an issue that is difficult and often involves strong opinions on both sides”?!!! It’s official – we’re living in an Onion parody.

  • Kirala

     *staying in hopes of NOT leaving her home state in the hands of fools. Although those who know me might argue that the original phrase works better…

  • AnonymousSam

    To a degree, I agree. We’ve seen this in several groups — radical behavior, failure and the consequences of both drives the moderates away. Those who remain have done whatever mental gymnastics to justify staying. After enough repetition of this, the only people left are the hardcore fanatics with no keeping in reasonable perspective at all, only unquestioning loyalty to the purpose — and now they’re the only ones with a voice.

    In theory, if the moderates never leave, the fanatics never take over.

    It’s a hell of a responsibility, though…

  • LL

    Oh, Fred. Your hope that people who are awful might recognize their awfulness and do something to be less awful is sweet. I gave up that hope pretty long ago (and I have not been horribly abused by anybody, FWIW, so my outlook comes from observation, not necessarily first-hand experience). 

    The truth is, powerful people always protect themselves first. And because “protecting” in this context means not admitting/acknowledging they’ve done anything wrong, that means innocent people (often children) get thrown under the proverbial bus. You can’t remain a leader for long if you admit that you don’t care that some of your employees (or you yourself) abuse children. So – you don’t admit it. Ever.

    And as long as you have enough suckers left to funnel money to you and give you support in the form of political power and free labor, you never have to answer for any of this. 

    It’s the laypeople of every church/religion who allow these things to continue. The Catholic Church as it is today must be working for its adherents, if they continue to support it with their time and money. And the same goes for all the other awful religious institutions that reward abusers and punish victims. If their followers left en masse, they’d have nobody left to lead and they’d die. But their followers continue to support them. 

    The awful institutions continue to behave they way they do because IT WORKS. 

    OMG, Victor is rubbing off on me. Before long, half my comments will be all caps. 

  • Eamon Knight

    The strong opinion of sexual assault victims would be that they should not have been assaulted. And the strong opinion of perpetrators would be what — that they should be able to get away with it?

    Nope, I can’t come up with a rational completion for that, either.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    The odd thing to me is, purely from a PR standpoint, one would think it would be better to be seen as doing something to address a rape problem and prevent future recidivism of the crime than to be seen as trying to downplay and cover it up.  The former demonstrates that you care enough about the institution to prevent individuals dragging its reputation through the muck by the institution condoning reprehensible actions they are taking, the later demonstrates that the institution does condone those reprehensible acts (even if in the doing so you are also acknowledged that society in general considers them reprehensible.)  

    This kind of consideration is… not actually all that hard.  The longer you let an odious lie fester, the worse the fallout is going to be when it finally gets exposed. Even a few token gestures of addressing the issue would be enough to deflect most of the public rage such acts would inspire since you are showing at least caring enough to do something about trying to fix it.  

  • Fusina

     My Mom had this book.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jon.maki Jon Maki

    That would be the start, but you’d still need to start talking to/about “Sinner LL”  to get the full effect.

  • misanthropy_jones

    so there are strong proponents of sexual assault at UNC?

    what a horrid bunch of people…

  • Lori

    Yes, this is clearly the reasoning of decent people. And then there’s what the powerful actually do. All of this strongly suggests that the Venn diagram of  “decent people” and “powerful people” is at best two circles with barely touching edges.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     Doing something about the problem is hard. Denying the existence of the problem is easy.

    And frankly, they’re right to be concerned that “We caught X rapists this year!” will not be attractive to prospective students. Especially if they think they can pull off “We’ve never had a substantiated rape report!” 

    (It’s essentially the same catch-22 that causes the TSA to look as ridiculous as it does: if they reported “We stopped X attempted terror attacks this year,” no one would ever get on an airplane.)

  • Kittehonmylap

    Apparently the strong opinion of sexual assault victims is “I was assaulted.” The strong opinion of the perps is “No, you weren’t.” And the school can’t possibly take sides, can it? Let the kids being bullied on the playground figure it out themselves, they have to learn sometime. It was probably just a misunderstanding, don’t want something small like that getting out & seeming worse than it is. He’s a person too, he has feelings that are just as keen as the girl accusing him of this awful thing. What a bitch. /sarcasm

  • LoneWolf343

    This seems to go hand in hand with another growing scandal against the Catholic Church: Teresa may have been more style than substance: http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2013/03/06/mother_teresas_saintly_image_comes_under_fire_in_new_study.html

  • EllieMurasaki

    That’s only starting to get scandalous now? We’ve known it for ages.

  • flat

    sigh, You know what I hate about these things:  The guilty gets protected, the victims got blamed, the people in the church who weren’t involved with this also becomes victims.
    And God’s name got dishonored because of those people.

    And not the kind of bullshit honor those abusers in the church used, but you know REAL honor.

  • Lori

    That was my first response as well. Then I reconsidered. The original revelations about Mother Teresa and her order were largely dismissed because they came from what amounted to disgruntled ex-employees and of course a presumptively evil atheist who was “obviously” out to get her. The latest assessment comes from legitimate researchers who initially started looking into her work because they were studying altruism and thought her an obvious example.

    Nothing is ever going to make a dent in the beliefs of her hardcore fans and I can’t imagine this will even slow down the Church’s race to canonize her. I would like to believe that it can serve as the beginning of getting people to stop using “Mother Teresa” as a synonym for altruism and sacrificial aid to the less fortunate. She was not a saint and I’m long past tired of hearing non-Catholics talk as if she was.

  • Carstonio

    Yes. Bending over backward to be fair, the spokesperson could have meant the principle of innocent until proven guilty, concerned about wrongful accusations. The only reason to even consider that possibility is the gender of the spokesperson. Feministing is exactly right that the outcome is the same, treating being accused of rape as worse than actually being raped.

  • frazer

    Kudos to UNC for respecting the apparently equally valid opinion that sexual assault is A-OK!

  • Ursula L

    The question is, why can’t people grasp that? I’m aware that some people value institutional prestige more than doing the right thing. I also understand why lying about the problem is so often the first impulse. It’s less clear why people actually go with that instead of learning from others’ mistakes and coming up with a different strategy.

    The thing is, the cover up can’t last forever for the institution.  But often, the authorities, such as university presidents, only hold their office for a few years.  The cover-up only needs to outlast their tenure in order to serve their needs, and push the problem on for their successor to deal with.  

  • AnonaMiss

    At a preliminary hearing, Gambill asked if she could have violated the
    Honor Code simply by saying she was raped and was told yes.

    hglllhxtp

    Yes, I’d heard about this before, but apparently I had forced myself to forget it because it causes brain seizure.

    Thanks for the content note, by the way. I’m not one of the ones who really needed it (obviously, since I read the post), but it was appropriate.

  • AnonaMiss

     I am so sorry.

  • MikeJ

    Teach the controversy!

  • Amy

    One problem, for me, is that the PR blowback for the Catholic church hasn’t seemed to have caused it the kind of distress it _should_ have.  With the mind-boggling amount of abuse and coverup going on, that institution should have _toppled_, not just faced some angry comments from the blogosphere. 
    ………………………

    Agreed.  I also have wondered- why aren’t the catholic people I know more upset?  Why aren’t they demanding change? Refusing to tithe & in other ways support this?I think it’s for the same reason that someone called “Janet” felt the need to add this to the comments on the linked article:
    “I am a member of a SGM church in NC I have to say that I have seen nothing but impeccable love, care and concern from the pastors of this church…I can’t attest to what is being said but only what I have witnessed and have never seen a child or woman abused in this church.”  (Shortened just to keep this shorter.)

    No outrage, not “it sickened me to learn this is happening” just- “As for the ones in the hirearchy they will be dealt with if they prove to be guilty.” and “Pray for SGM and its members.”  (In other words- please do nothing!)
    I see it as proof of how harmful and toxic those belief systems really are.  There’s no end to what you can get someone to tolerate if you tell them from Day One that they’re going to spend eternity in a lake of fire if they don’t do exactly what you want. But I don’t see it as an excuse for failing to seek justice  if your child has been victimized.  Imagine how messed up you have to be, that upon finding out your own child has been raped or molested, you go to the perp’s boss for advice! rather than the police, an attorney, or even a therapist.  But don’t they on some level realize how CRAZY that is? If their daughter was raped by some guy who works at the grocery store, would they ask the store manager for advice on what to do about it?   
    If they have a human conscience (not to mention claiming to have the holy spirit inside them) they have to know. And share a little accountability.

    So much more I want to add, but my comments are always too long as it is!

  • Lori

    I can’t attest to what is being said but only what I have witnessed and
    have never seen a child or woman abused in this church.” 

    I am experiencing a powerful urge to slap the ever loving crap out of this woman. This is such a stupid, stupid, horrible thing to say.

  • SergeantHeretic

    I read Fred’s blog and the article he wanted me to read. I absolutly believe every word of both because they rang true. I KNEW the truth of the rape culture from having been raised in an only slightly less brutal and sickmaking version of it.

    I joined the army when I was seventeen primarily to get away from this kind of environment. When I got away from it, I made contact with a bigger world and I learned how utterly inhumanly bizarre and sick that culture really is.

    I learned that in secular/moderate households the little boys and girls are NOT the de facto property of Daddy. I learned that the way he raised me constituted physical and emotional long term abuse. That abuse marked me and caused me to be abnormal in a clinical sense. The army psychiatrists thought I was borderline crazy. That I had P.T.S.D. from just being a little girl in that house!

    THAT is a culture that I come from. It’s real, it exists and it is turning little boys and girls into basket cases and bordrline nutjobs every day, I know because to this day I AM ONE OF THEM!

    The purity culture is real the rape culture is real the wives and children as de facto property of their husbands and fathers is REAL! The sexual abuse, the emotional and physical abuse, the twisted long term lasting mental and emotional wounds are NOT aberrations, they are what this culture is all about!

  • Carstonio

    why aren’t the catholic people I know more upset?  Why aren’t they demanding change? Refusing to tithe & in other ways support his?

    The ones I know treat the Church with familial or even filial loyalty. Among this group, the older ones have devolved into variations of Tea Party grumps and sourpusses. Some of them recently began boycotting Girl Scout cookies despite having young relatives who belong to troops.

  • SergeantHeretic

    Amy I grew up in this culture. the indoctrination is deep and far affecting. I literally DID NOT KNOW that the way I was brought up was in the slightest way strange. Not until I got away from it and the Army’s headshrinkers told me and showed me how bad off and self blaming I was.

    Amy Please understand that when I made mistakes in Basic traning I was sidelined into treatment because I startied hitting myself and cusring myself.

    No one was there to curse me and hit me and tell me how stupid I was so I started doing it to myself.

    Because I was trained to believe that is what is SUPPOSED to happen when I make mistakes.

    THAT is the culture we’re talking about. I needed weeks of therapy to stop doing that and act normal so I could graduate basic. Even to this day the impuses are still there, I’ve just learned to cover them up and push them aside.

    THAT is why that,…woman responded the way she did. Bercause the first step in the indoctrination proccess is to teach the victim that they’re being “Loved”.

  • Daughter

    I was living in Boston when the Catholic Church pedophile scandal first broke there, and I had the attitude that such things couldn’t happen in my church.

    A Catholic co-worker shared this story that changed my attitude. She was part of a prayer group that met at her gym in the mornings, and was one of the group’s only Catholic members. One morning after the scandal broke, one of the men in the group was praying and said, “Lord, we pray now for the Catholic Church.”

    Oh no,” my co-worker thought, I’m about to get slammed.

    The prayer that followed, however, surprised her. The man prayed, “We know you’re exposing the Catholic Church’s sin right now. But we know that there is sin in all our churches, and we pray that you expose all of it. Bring us all out into the light, and help us all change.”

    I was really moved by this story, realizing that the guy praying was right, and I needed to get off my high horse. And sure enough, my own church ended up having its own scandal exposed the following year – financial rather than sexual, but still.

  • MaryKaye

    My stepfather, a lifelong Catholic, is giving serious and prayerful consideration to leaving the Church, mainly over this issue.   I believe he has stopped tithing and does volunteer work instead, in ways that cannot profit the central administration (e.g. organizing blood drives).

    It is hard to let evil people drive you out of something you believe is fundamentally good; it’s like conceding ownership of a major part of your life to them.  I won’t condemn people who stay and try to make things better.  I don’t feel as kindly toward those who stay and do nothing, and to be a booster or apologist for one’s church when it is clearly in the wrong is a vile act.

  • Hth

     Fuck no.  Durham is my city, and I’m not budging one toe out of it.  You don’t let yourself get bullied out of your home by jackasses any more than you negotiate with terrorists.  You seriously want the take-away message to be that the worse your behavior is, the better your chances of getting the annoying feminists to go away?

    Fuck. no.  This state is stuck with me.

  • Fusina

     I reached that point with the church I currently attend. I am not a member, I do not give money as an offering (I do support an orphan in Haiti through the church, and we go to various fundraisers that are held to support things like the food pantry etc… ) but we quit giving general funds. I have personal reasons why, and don’t see them changing in the near future.

  • SergeantHeretic

    Folks, you have to realize and understand that as bizarre and sick making and frankly monsterous as this phenomenon is, for those of us raised in it it’s normal. the victims who come forward are very often the exception, not the rule.

    To a large extent when I was pulled aside and diagnosed by the specialists of USAMPSYCH I objected i nhe strongest terms. Crazy, me? No waym man I’m not crazy, no sir!

    But I was abnormal. I was dysfunctional. normal people i nthe real world don’t do that. they don’t hit themselves and call themselves names and so on.

    I know that now, but I didn’t know it then and I didn’t want to know.

  • Fusina

     She also has/had copies of several Dobson books, “Strong Willed Child” and at least one other. If anyone wants to know why I hate James Dobson so much, read a copy of the title I mentioned, and see what he says about spanking a child.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Николай-Крутиков/100002311958508 Николай Крутиков

    Hey, secular nationalists often demonstrate the same phenomena that causes Catholics to become apologists for their church, so, dear commenters, lighten up on the whole “religion is evil” thingy, thanks.

  • SergeantHeretic

    No one said “Religion is evil” no one even implied it.

    What are are testifying to is real things real events and real systematic crimes of abuse and mental and emotional and physical maltreatment by a system hard wired to protect the perps and humiliate and further abuse the victims.

    It’s real and it happens every day.

    Don’t blame us, pla, blame the religious and church heirarchies that minimise and trivialise these horrid crimes. blame the religious heierarchies that think the accusation is worse than the crime.

    WE’RE not the ones making religion look bad, sonny Jim that’s all the heirarchies and the perpetrators and enablers of these crtimes.

  • smrnda

     I have also never personally witnessed a murder and I have never personally seen a terrorist attack, though nothing would surprise me if it turned out I was vaguely acquainted with someone who did either. Bad people are great at blending in and looking normal, if not even better than normal. How else do they avoid getting caught?

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    I know that for my $LocalParish, a check made out to $LocalParish goes 100% to them, while cash dropped in the basket has to be split with higher levels. Don’t know if this is true everywhere.

  • AnonymousSam

    Um. Wasn’t Dobson the one who said something to the effect of “if your male child seems effeminate, show him your penis so he’ll understand how manly he’s supposed to be, and if that doesn’t work, beat him soundly until it does”?

  • smrnda

    Authority and power are always used to justify abuse. This is why our government is (ostensibly) answerable to the people and is supposed to have checks and balances.

    The problem with these churches is they are basically autocracies. The opinion of the person on top counts, and nobody else. You don’t develop a sense of compassion by telling people to shut up and do what you say, and people with any level of decency aren’t attracted to arrangements like that; anybody decent welcomes accountability.

    I think these authoritarians are really narcissistic, insecure people who want to build little empires. If a few kids get molested or women are abused, it’s collateral damage to them.

  • AnonymousSam

     Oh FFS, now I remember. FRC Dobson. Right. Mister
    “Homosexuals want to murder Christians and replace Christianity with a
    religion based around pedophilia” Dobson. It was Sean Harris who
    advocated beating up children to make them act like the proper gender.

    Dobson having a parenting guide is a scary thought. Add my condolences to the pile.

  • Lori

    Yup, that was him. He’s also the one who freely admitted to resorting to violence in a power struggle with a small dog, and had such a total lack of self-awareness that he didn’t realize that admission made him look not only monstrous, but totally ineffectual and pathetic.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    But I don’t see it as an excuse for failing to seek justice  if your child has been victimized.  Imagine how messed up you have to be, that upon finding out your own child has been raped or molested, you go to the perp’s boss for advice! 

    But who else would you go to, if not your most trusted council, your spiritual leader & guide to all things worldly and otherworldly? 

    That might sound snarky, but the Berkley Prison experiment showed that when people are removed from their normal environment and placed into an isolated situation, some pretty astonishing cognitive distortions can occur. 

    But don’t they on some level realize how CRAZY that is? 

    “CRAZY” is a matter of context and perspective. If everyone around you behaves in a certain way for years and years and years, that way of behaving becomes your baseline measurement for “normal”. 

    When I was in 3rd grade, my family toured Europe for the summer. When I got back and talked about it at show-and-tell, another kid asked if it was hard for French children to learn two languages. I was confused, but the teacher explained to the class that French children didn’t learn English, only French. My classmate spoke English, everyone he knew spoke English, so he assumed that everyone, everywhere spoke English. That’s the basic human standard for  “normal” versus “CRAZY”: me, you, and everyone we know.

    Abuses like these don’t happen to new members, and they aren’t perpetrated by strangers or distant figures. There is a period of “grooming”, of shifting the boundaries of “normal” that happens before any abuse begins. Is your child asking tough questions? Ask the pastor for advice. Is the child acting up and being defiant? Ask the pastor for advice. Is the child melancholy, often upset, but quiet? Ask the pastor for advice. Are you worried that your child is struggling with sin? Ask the pastor for advice. Gradually, over time, “normal” gets shifted. 

    If they have a human conscience (not to mention claiming to have the holy spirit inside them) they have to know. And share a little accountability.

    No, sorry, but that’s victim-blaming. These families are victims of abuse and of exploited trust. 

    Remember what I said at the start, about “who else would they turn to?” If you have “a little of the holy spirit” inside you, giving you some nagging worry or doubt or fear, who would you turn to? Your priest, your pastor, your parish? Or would you turn to a lawyer, a police officer, a judge? Would you go to a minister with years of history with your family, deeply tied to the community, or go to an impersonal doctor, assigned by the vagaries of your insurance company? 


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