Why I Am Hard-Nosed on Sexual Crimes in Churches

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.

8 thoughts on “Why I Am Hard-Nosed on Sexual Crimes in Churches

  1. Great article Mike. As you did some counseling with me before you left Montana it helped me to overcome much anger and hurt. Being 4 and being molested by the pastor in the Lutheran church I was in left me with deep woubds and a target for being molested again at 15 by a well known scout teachet. I spent years running from pastors because the trust was gone. My out look on God has taken many years of beibg able to trust and believe his love all because of one man in authority who used his position to abuse myself and probable others. Forgiving helped but its still a journey. Terry!

    1. Thank you for sharing part of your story Terry. I know God has given you a lot of healing and restoration, and I know He will keep helping you.

  2. Wow! Keep spreeading the word! These crines ruin the face of Christianity and fuel the fire of non believers never seeking salvation due to such horrendous stories. I am suddenly grateful I was not saved til age 30…. wht an absolute shame. Disgusted.

    1. Not as difficult as it might seem. I have taught on this subject using that story many times. It is therapeutic to tell it and to help others by telling it.

  3. Thank You LORD! Finally, we are hearing leaders in the Church speak up about the abuse of power/authority going on… the resistance and retaliation from church leadership has been unbelievable! the leadership (pastors mainly) has been protecting their toxic responses for far too long (protecting their image/legacy? and it seems the younger ones being mentored are being encouraged by the older generation of pastors to discredit and silence voices that are speaking out)… and even since the #metoo and #churchtoo… mostly silence so far from the Church (I think hoping it would go away fairly quickly)… Thank you for speaking out about this… it’s a HUGE issue and it has been rarely acknowledged… bless your heart!

    1. There is much “circling the wagons” by church leaders on this issue of clergy abuse. Once the flood gates are opened, expect a flood of women (and some men) who will be making disclosures. I am hoping there are enough of us to help churches come clean and not cover up any longer. I’m thrilled there are Christians such as yourself dedicated to the long haul to get this solved on God’s behalf.

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