Why Pastors Make Poor Allies

It was 1992. The church I attended was heavily invested in the pro-life cause. Many of its members marched in front of the only abortion clinic in our town, shaming women who entered, and calling for strict change of law to make abortions almost impossible to get. There were prayer meetings in the church to defeat the “powers of darkness” surrounding the abortion industry.

One of the members was involved in a commission to help re-write some of the state’s laws on abortion. Another member had been thrown in jail twice for marching against abortion. We had our “pro-life credentials” well established.

No one knew the reservations I had about the pro-life movement. As a counselor, I knew that dozens of women in our church had abortions in the past. Some of them were the most vehement opponents of abortion. Some of them lived shamed lives, hoping no one ever found out about them.

I had doubts the movement was from God. I had researched the pro-life movement’s political roots, and knew I could not support any of the principal players. I searched in vain for any mention of abortion in the Bible. Even the few verses which spoke about God calling someone from their mother’s womb were found in poetic writings which are hardly substantial fodder for theological positions.

In short, I had my doubts about all the marching going on.

The worst part was the work of the Holy Spirit inside of me. The Spirit of God was convicting me of my hatred and judgment toward women who made the decision to terminate their pregnancies. God would not allow me just to ignore those hateful attitudes. In prayer one day, God directed me to publicly apologize for my attitudes and to make amends. I started to prepare a teaching but God showed me it wasn’t enough.

Continue reading “Why Pastors Make Poor Allies”

Explaining my Exvangelical Status

He was my mentor. He was ordained in a conservative evangelical church. He had been meeting with me for several years as I sought to reconcile what I believed about God and the Bible with the huge discrepancies I saw in the church. It was good to bounce my frustrations off his mind. I think I would have left Evangelicalism for good if he had not helped me cope with the hypocritical practices of the church.

That’s when he dropped a bombshell. He had been attending some evening meetings at a local charismatic group. We both believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still given to people in the Church today. We also believe that there are proper and ridiculous ways those gifts can be practiced.

Here was his bomb. The night before, he claimed he saw gold dust appear on people’s hands during worship. Someone else said God gave them a gold filling during the prayer time which replaced their regular filling. My mentor was full of thanksgiving to God for these miracles. I asked him if he could confirm the gold dust or the gold tooth. Could he say with full assurance that it was really gold and not just some glitter or sweat from dancing in worship?

He was really angry with me for asking that question. He warned me not to criticize what might be the work of the Holy Spirit in case I was blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

At that moment, I decided I was mentally done with the Evangelical movement.

I wish I could give you the entire delineated journey of the previous 28 years up to that point. I have written about some elements of the journey in my books, articles, and blog entries. But with this essay, I want to explain to my friends and readers–and perhaps to those in my denomination looking for a reason to disqualify me–why I am not part of that tribe any more.

And I need to explain the parameters of what I left behind. Continue reading “Explaining my Exvangelical Status”

Matthew 25 Spoken to the Pastors of Today”

sheep-goats

You can read Matthew 25 yourselves.

In the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, the Son of Man, now called the King, accuses the religious leaders of not helping the poor, hospitalized, homeless, hungry, and thirsty. He lets them know when they withhold these things from people, they are really withholding them from Him, their Creator.

We do have other necessary things we are withholding from people today in the Church. Though not all of us do this, enough of us do that it is worth revisiting Matthew 25 to see if it could be re-imagined this way: (Please note: All of these are based on actual court cases from the past two years)

“Depart from me, you who are cursed with trying to get more butts into the seats, and burn with the eternal knowledge that you caused one of my little ones to stumble.

For I was slapped by one of your husbands and you refused to believe he could do such a thing; and then you elected him to the Deacons board.

I was molested in the Sunday school classroom, and you said there was not enough proof.

I was led down a dark road by the youth pastor and forced to have sex, and you covered it up and made it all go away.

I told you that your pastor had an affair with me, and even though the evidence was overwhelming, you said there was nothing you could do.

I was taken advantage of by a narcissistic church leader, and you all ganged up on me and told me if I had dressed more modestly, none of this would have happened.

I was photographed by your children’s pastor and used for child pornography, and only when the fifth victim came forward did you do anything.

I was raped, and even though the law says you must tell the police, you hid behind Matthew 18 and handled it yourself. And he has now raped four women and he is still a member of the church.

And what will you answer?

How Pastor-Abusers Choose their Targets

In her 1998 novel, “Where the Heart Is“, author Billie Letts tells a dark story of two victimized women, Novalee Nation and her friend Lexie Coop. Both of them have suffered hardship and heartache at the hands of the  people closest to them. Novalee has been consistently abandoned by everyone. Lexie has been beat up by the men in her life.

In the climactic scene, Novalee gets a frantic call from Brownie, one of Lexie’s kids. When she arrives, she finds Lexie barely alive with the two older kids huddled in a back bedroom. She had been dating a good-looking man she met at a gas station. One afternoon, she got off work early and went home to be with the kids. She walked in on this man molesting her oldest son and daughter. In protecting them, she was beat into unconsciousness.

Days later, Lexie and Novalee are going over what happened that fateful afternoon. “How did he find me, Novalee?” Lexie gets out between sobs. “How do they always find me? Men like that somehow know that I will just invite them into my life and will let them hurt me and the kids. How do they find me?”

That is the same sort of question every victim of clergy sexual abuse has asked me.

It adds insult to pain when the victim of Clergy Sexual Abuse (CSA) realizes they were not chosen at random. The pastoral-abuser targeted them specifically because of certain characteristics. This thought weighs on the victim’s mind and often leads to anxiety and confusion. In many cases, it produces guilt and shame. “I must have done something wrong to cause this.” “What is wrong with me that he would do that just to me?” It also doesn’t help that other Christians ask the same question: “What did you do to cause this Man of God to commit such a sin?

Those questions are some of the forms of victim-shaming and blaming. It is still victim-shaming when the victim does it to herself. Continue reading “How Pastor-Abusers Choose their Targets”

The Grooming Behavior of Pastoral Predators – Part 1

Shattering the Lens.  The Grooming Behavior of Pastor-Predators

Mike Phillips

with

Julia Dahl M.D.

This may be a difficult post for several reasons.

First, this post asks the reader to reflect on what the term “Pastor” means to them. Commonly, pastors are understood to be spiritual overseers.  If what you believe about all pastors is dependent on the image, faith, or charisma of your own pastor, this post asks the reader lay aside the naive ideal that all pastors are divinely-called shepherds.

There are some narcissistic men who lead a church or ministry and use the flock for their own gratification. Often, this will manifest in sexual relations with church attenders.  This behavior by some destroys many decent images of healthy pastors and other church/ministry leaders. I don’t blame anyone for struggling to confront and accept this conclusion.

Here is the reality we deal with:

Pastors can be roughly grouped in three categories:

  1. Divinely called and faithful servants of God.
  2. Divinely called servants, presently tempted, and struggling with personal sin. They deal with their own weaknesses but do not use others for their gratification.
  3. Intentional usurpers of the pulpit and the congregation for the purposes of their own enjoyment and control.4c50b3e8-24ba-4416-b469-b44e0dbd3af8

This third category of pastor are those who most represent pastoral misconduct. In recent days, with the advent of the #metoo, #churchtoo and #silenceisnotspiritual movements, brave victims share their stories of pastors who practice abuse and mayhem.  It will be impossible to ignore this third category of pastor with the growing body of reports of pastoral misconduct on the news and social media.  To clearly understand the problem of sexual abuse by pastors, I encourage you to read the stories of victims in order to accept that some men seek the pulpit with the intention to serve themselves and not to serve God.

Is this just a few men?  Sadly, no. Continue reading “The Grooming Behavior of Pastoral Predators – Part 1”

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.