The dormitory I lived in during my theological training was named after him.
One of the graduate programs had an academic discipline named after him.
His accomplishments were occasionally touted as the example for how an evangelist should comport themselves in traveling ministries.
He was thought of as one of our denomination’s most effective preachers to teens. At the very least, people believed he could lead any teen to Christ.
And at my last count, he had molested, raped, or assaulted over 30 teenagers during his years as a traveling evangelist.
How is that possible?
It started when a woman in her 40s began counseling with me for depression. I am not at liberty to discuss any other elements of her care, but she hinted to me that a church leader had done sexual things to her when she was a young teenager. I asked her if she had ever told anyone, and she admitted she had told several of the church’s elders, two of the leading women, her youth pastor, a policeman who went to the church, and her mother.
Only one of them believed her–a woman in the church whose daughter had a similar story to tell. I began our discussion about this assault by telling her I believed her story. I want all my clients to know I believe them. Unless they give me good reason to doubt any element of the story, it is proper to express to a victim they are believed. I understand this both from my training as a counselor and from my experience.
My mother said the same thing to me when I was 8 years old. My mother comforted me when I finally revealed our babysitter had molested me 3 times.
After working with this woman for several sessions, I asked her if she would be willing to reveal the identity of her assailant. He had raped her after a youth evangelistic rally when he had brought her to the trailer he was using while in that town. He had lured her there on the pretense of wanting to “pray with her over her many sins.”
After raping her, he blamed her for being seductive and told her that no one would believe the story if she claimed he had been the aggressor. He also hinted she was filled with a demon of lust and that is what overpowered him. He was a skilled manipulator, a practiced Groomer and Controller. He knew what he was doing. When I first heard her story, I had no idea how skilled this man was.
She finally revealed his name and I recognized it instantly. His name was plastered all over the campus of the theological school I had attended. Gordon Skitch was famous in both Canada and the United States for his youth rallies. By the time this woman revealed his crimes to me, he had been dead for about 15 years and as such was on his way to being memorialized for his work.
Our work together to bring healing and restoration to her life was relatively successful and she was so glad someone had both believed her and helped her to work through the pain and heartache. Because of this, she felt emboldened to tell a few friends who had been in the same youth group what God had done for her. Because she had no more shame for what had happened, she was quite liberal in telling people who had done this to her.
That’s when the phone calls to my office started.
In the next year, over a dozen women called me to set up appointments to come and see me. All of them had similar stories. Evangelist Gordon Skitch had molested, raped, or exposed himself to them. As the horror of their disclosures hit me, I was floored. How could so much of this have happened under the watch of pastors, church leaders, superintendents and others who should have been protecting the youth of these churches?
In almost 40 years of being both a pastor and a counselor I have observed several things about how churches deal with sex offenders. First, they don’t want to hear about it. They refuse to believe all accusations because in reality it ruins their idyllic view of what the church should be. This is strange, because we don’t do this as often with schools, political circles, businesses, or community organizations. We will reluctantly accept that a high school teacher sleeps with one of their students. It doesn’t imply the school is a bad school because one teacher is evil.
But for some reason, church members can’t accept that a pastor might have assaulted or molested one of the young people in the church. In their minds, to accept such a thing means the church is somehow not the bastion of righteousness.
Second, churches have been taught that Grace and Mercy implies we should be magnanimous to the abuser and shame the victim. Though we have not been explicitly taught this, our actions have given everyone this impression. We give farewell dinners to the molester and pray for him. The victim has to sit and watch this knowing that the board’s advice to her is “now don’t go telling the world about this.”
Third, churches often refuse to get the courts and police involved. They reason they can take care of this themselves. I’m here to tell you through this story that we can’t. We are not objective enough to see this for what it is: A Breach of Fiduciary Responsibility.
When a person in a position of absolute authority uses that authority to sexually use a person, they have broken the law. This isn’t the same as the pastor who has a one-night stand with a parishioner, or the elder who has an affair with the church’s bookkeeper. To use one’s authority to both take a sexual favor and cover it up is the height of grooming and controlling behavior. I’ll explain more about that in a later article.
Because of these brave women coming forward, I was able to contact our District Superintendent and he enabled me to contact pastors in churches where Skitch had preached over the years in our district. We then asked if there were women who would be willing to disclose his activities with them. At the final count, 32 women came forward in that part of the country to tell the same general story: he had assaulted them and then threatened them if they ever came forward.
He is one of the most heinous examples of this sort of pastoral crime. But he is not the only one I know of. Even this past month, the criminal activity of one of our country’s best known preaching pastors, Andy Savage of Highpoint Church in Memphis, TN has been brought to light. Link here.
Read this account and accept that it follows a similar pattern to other cases of fiduciary misconduct.
In the weeks to come, I am going to give some guidelines to churches regarding how they should be dealing with these situations. Our denomination completely failed our youth by allowing Gordon Skitch to keep going with his reign of terror. People knew what was happening and refused to believe the victims. Or, if they believed them, they did nothing to stop it…which is even worse.
Even after I did the investigation, the District Superintendent who came after the one who authorized me to do it, decided to shut it down. “The man is dead” he told me. “No good can come from digging up his past”.
“Yes there is” I countered. “Women everywhere need to be told they will be believed and nothing like this will ever happen to them, their daughters or their granddaughters again.” He didn’t accept what I had to say. There were never any more disclosures about Gordon Skitch.
I use his name in this article to open up the possibility there are more women around the country who might want to know they are not the only victim.
This is why I am tough on this crime. The church of Jesus Christ needs to lead the way in exposing these crimes and making sure that the abusers are brought to justice. Grace does not exclude consequences for criminal activity.
I am dedicated to rooting this out wherever I see it: And to make sure churches do not minimize, victim-shame, gaslight, or rationalize this behavior. It is always wrong.