UPDATE: As of tonight, 9:20 PST, Leadership Journal’s Marshall Shelley and Christianity Today Int’l.’s Harold B. Smith posted a full apology for the post (note the new subtitle) and REMOVED it. You can read their apology at the former link. It’s a really, really kind one, and I’m grateful they saw the light and grateful for every person who cried out that they needed to. You can read more about it here where Dianna Anderson, the first blogger on the scene earlier this week, sums it all up.
TW: Discussion of child abuse
Dear Leadership Journal and Christianity Today,
I’ve written to you privately already, like so many others. I’ve spoken out on Twitter about this, like so many others. And now it’s time to join others in blogging about it too. (Please see Dianna Anderson, Suzannah Paul, and Elizabeth Esther, among others.*)
You let a convicted statutory rapist tell his “side” of things in a pages-long post where the victim’s youth was relegated to a side note and the word “abuse” is never mentioned. You let him discuss it as if it were a mutual, consensual affair, as if you have forgotten the influence that a 30-something youth pastor would have over a vulnerable teenage girl. Maybe you don’t know. Maybe you don’t understand how these things work. If you don’t … if you’re really that naive, I beg you to start studying cases like this. Follow the life of a teenage girl in a scenario like this as she journeys into adulthood.
“But he says it was ‘mutual,’ ” is probably your argument. And, sure, she might have thought it was “mutual” at the time too. Do you understand that’s what happens when a man with power and control sets his eyes on someone vulnerable who is NOT his for the taking?
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.
Spare me the Lolita speech, men of Leadership Journal, because I have seen up close what this scenario does to a teenage girl.
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?
He has taken something from her, and that’s why this is a crime, and I’m not just talking about virginity. If you don’t understand this, I beg you to start listening to the people who do. I beg you to set your egos and need to defend aside and start listening to the people who do.
Did you ask her family for permission to let this predator tell it this way? Did you ask his wife (former wife?) for permission to let him tell it this way? Did you consider getting perspective on him and his sermonizing of his sin from ANYONE who is a victim here?
Did you even think about the message you are sending other youth pastors who you are supposedly “trying to warn” here? What you have actually done is you have let a predator tell any other potential predators that their attraction to students is just something they should tell someone about. You’ve made it an “accountability” issue and you even tagged it accordingly. As if it’s an attraction to an adult of the opposite sex or some minor temptation that doesn’t have the potential to destroy a young and vulnerable heart, as if someone in that position–considering committing a sex crime–doesn’t have a ticking time bomb strapped to their chest ready to take out another human being at any moment.
Any supposed warnings to other pastors out there about a scenario like this should have simply read:
“If you find yourself attracted to one of your students, get out of youth ministry ASAP and get yourself into counseling, because you are contemplating doing something against the law. You are entertaining the idea of ruining another person’s life. You are toying with the notion of doing something that makes you a sex offender. YOU ARE CONTEMPLATING A SEXUAL CRIME. Wake up and get yourself out of ministry and get yourself some help before it’s too late.”
THAT’S a warning. And if this man were truly repentant AND UNDERSTOOD THE GRAVITY OF WHAT HE’S DONE, that’s what he would have said.
We don’t need even one more sex offender preying on our kids under the guise of doing great ministry, and we certainly don’t need even one more evangelical ministry that doesn’t get it. Leadership Journal, you really should have known better, and the fact that you didn’t speaks volumes about you. It speaks volumes about why this is a problem in our churches. It speaks volumes about all the advocacy work still left to do in regard to sexual abuse. Why men like this get a pass, why men like this will get nothing more than a slap on the wrists if no one has the courage to call the cops. You’re already letting him preach a sermon–that’s exactly what it was–and he hasn’t even finished serving his time.
Please, please, for the love all things, TAKE DOWN THAT POST.
If you agree, please join me in Tweeting #TakeDownThatPost, write to Leadership Journal at LJEditor@ChristianityToday.com or share one of the many articles circulating about this right now.
*If you must see the post for yourself, I get that. Please do so by using this link, provided by reader Joseph: http://www.donotlink.com/k46. It allows you to read the post without becoming another click for them to count.
UPDATE as of Friday, June 13, 2014:
Editors at Leadership Journal have added a new letter at the beginning of the article that basically tries to address the controversy but falls very short. This note highlights the problem of law suits in churches (no, really) and briefly mentions caring for victims of abuse before going on to make it known that they have altered the criminal’s wording. Yes, they have now put words into his mouth. For example when he used to say “we” regarding the girl, it now says “I.” This is not nearly good enough, friends. They needed him to sound more sorry, so they put words into his mouth. The whole essay was fundamentally problematic and offensive. It needs to come down.