Today, Leadership Journal offered a small mea culpa in the form of some brief language changes and a note at the beginning. I’ve reproduced the note here:
Editorial Note: Since publishing the following piece on Monday, there has been a tremendous backlash from readers. Many voiced concerns that the author mischaracterized the nature of the relationship he had with his student and failed to acknowledge the gravity of his crime. We’ve heard your criticisms and would like to add the following clarifications.
First, the intent of this article was to serve as a cautionary story for church leaders and to prevent future abuse. According to Richard Hammar, a leading expert specializing in legal and tax issues for churchesand clergy, sexual abuse is the number one reason churches end up in court. Cases involving youth leaders abusing students are particularly common and this piece was meant to draw attention to this tragic problem. We simply can’t deny the pervasiveness of this problem or the deep and lasting wounds instances of abuse leave on the lives of victims.
Second, we in no way meant to downplay the severity of the author’s crimes. He is currently serving time in prison and has taken 100 percent of the responsibility for what transpired. Some of the language in the article did appear to portray the “relationship” he had with his student as consensual. We regret any implication of that kind and strongly underscore that an adult cannot have a consensual sexual relationship with a minor. This was not an “affair.” It was statutory rape. To make sure the article does not communicate otherwise, we have changed the language to reflect the true nature of the author’s crimes.
Thank you for reading and voicing your concerns. We are listening and incorporating your feedback. We appreciate your help as we strive to build up the church and equip its leaders.
The Editors of Leadership Journal
The extent of the language changes in the piece are the changes from “we” statements to “I” in places where the youth pastor talking about “falling into sin” and being “unable to quit.” The essential meaning of the sentences is stil there. Indeed, changing sentences such as “I tried to end our involvement many times, but it never lasted. I quit so many times, but the temptation of “one more time” proved too strong.” from a “we” statement to an “I” doesn’t actually improve anything.
Why not? Because it’s now in passive voice. In fact, this phrasing now has the added problematic language of dehumanizing the girl he abused. She was something he “tried to quit,” a “temptation” he couldn’t avoid, the pull of her “proved too strong.” These “I” statements, far from taking responsibility, actually dehumanize and sexualize the girl more.
This article, even with the “improvements” is still an unethical approach to a discussion of rape. The rapist is still being allowed to weave his own redemption narrative, he is still able to talk up all the supposedly great things he did and frame his methodical grooming and abuse of a minor as a “temptation” he “fell into.”
Taking responsibility means recognizing deliberate actions, not simply their consequences. A genuine confession of harm done needs to recognize what actions lead to what consequences, and it’s clear - even with the admission of guilt from the rapist - that he doesn’t fully recognize that what he did was predatory, grooming behavior that was never consensual. Even if she did text back. Even if she did “flirt.” Even if she did see him as a friend.
He never says, “I took advantage of my position of power to prey on a young girl.” His statements on the issue still place him in a passive position - the victim of temptation and the pull of sin that he couldn’t resist. The piece is still framed as a warning to pastors.
I’m repeating myself, but: if you are a pastor who can only be directed away from the temptation to abuse by the threat of personal consequences and jail time, you should not be a pastor.
If the threat of punishment is the only thing keeping you from actively preying on and harming another human being, you need help. You need therapy. You need to be as far away from a position of spiritual leadership as you can get. Period.
If Leadership Journal thinks this is the type of warning pastors need, then things are even more messed up in the evangelical church than I could have guessed. At some point, we have to stop blaming this crap on Satan and take responsibility for predatory, abusive behavior. Grace does not look like giving a rapist a new platform upon which he can weave his tale - especially one who has years of experience grooming and manipulating his victim. Grace looks like setting a boundary to protect victims, separating those who abuse from any potential to abuse, and refusing to take spiritual instruction from a man who can’t even see his own responsibility.
Leadership Journal editors, we are asking you to lead. Do it.