the Hope of Survivors

#SDAChurchToo—We Are Not Immune and It Is Time to Come Clean—Samantha Nelson

The world does not hold the corner market on sexual abuse, although news headlines of late would make it appear so. The fact is, the Church has a very real—and prevalent—problem with sexual abuse; by its members and by its leaders. Hence the new label #ChurchToo. I'm taking it a step farther and starting a new label, #SDAChurchToo. Why? Because for years I have heard the response, "this is a Catholic problem, you should be talking to them," or "this doesn't happen in the Seventh-day Adventist Church!" Oh, my friends, yes, it certainly does! It happens in every denomination and faith community, including our own.

Truthfully, I had never heard of clergy sexual abuse (a term meaning abuse by someone in the role of spiritual authority, whether in a paid position, such as a pastor or teacher, or in a lay/volunteer position, such as an elder, deacon, etc.) until after my pastor sexually abused me and then God led me and my husband on a journey of healing, followed by advocating for others who had gone through similar experiences. Yet, even though I had never heard the term before that (it is often mislabeled as an "affair"), I had encountered clergy sexual abuse in various ways. My guess is that you have too, whether you recognized it as such at the time or not.

There was the well known and beloved popular pastor (now deceased) who was giving me Bible studies in preparation for baptism when he was accused of "kissing" a student at the college. He denied the claims. He started his own ministry and, believing that he had been falsely accused, we followed him. Years later, we learned the truth—there were multiple victims of his sexual abuse and it went far beyond kissing.

There was the pastor-turned-counselor who decided he wanted a different woman after decades of being married to the mother of his children. He sought counsel, asking what his "blind spot" was, yet he didn't listen to counsel. He followed his own lustful inclinations, divorced his wife and married someone over whom he had spiritual authority, as well as being her boss.

After Steve and I began our ministry of The Hope of Survivors to victims of clergy sexual abuse in 2002, there seemed to be no end to the stories and, quite frankly, there is nothing that surprises or shocks us anymore.

There's the popular professor and author (at least among some conservative Adventist circles) who was accused of rape, multiple times with multiple young women, who is still heralded by a large group as a "man of God" and whose many books are still being marketed and sold, even as he continues to speak to large audiences, most notably young people.

There's the independent ministry leader who gathered a large following, not to mention tremendous financial support, who was exposed for his sexual abuse of his young, female employee and the fact that his books were written largely by staff members. Though a judgment in court is documented, many refuse to believe he's guilty and he still asserts himself into leadership positions wherever and whenever possible.

There's the evangelist who traveled for decades, molesting countless children, and remained unexposed until he was in his eighties, and even then there was no discipline. No one wanted to destroy his "good reputation."

There's the pastor who counsels a husband whose marriage is dissolving because of his pornography addiction by telling him that it is a natural thing for men to do and his wife is overreacting. This leads me to wonder about the possibility of the pastor's involvement in pornography! Especially since statistics reveal that 57% of pastors and 64% of youth pastors have, or are currently, struggling with porn. It is shocking!

Another statistic of pastors involved in porn, infidelity and abuse by Patrick Means, author of, Men's Secret Wars, reveals that 63% of pastors surveyed confirm that they are struggling with sexual addiction or sexual compulsion including, but not limited to, the use of pornography, compulsive masturbation, or other secret sexual activity.

There are schools, churches, independent ministries, counseling centers, and TV/radio media ministries within our midst who have known sexual abusers in their employment. Who continue to support and promote them. These are just a few examples (I could list hundreds of others!) of cases within our Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Sometimes it is a matter of supporting those who have the same theology/ideology as we do, in spite of their guilt. It is divisive to discipline a spiritual leader. (In fact, I was recently "unfriended" on Facebook because someone did not like me posting the sexual abuse allegations against their political hero Roy Moore.) Many people want to support the abuser and blame the victim. That is not God's perspective though!

Why do we support abusers? Do we believe it is more important to please man, rather than God? Why do we still glorify known abusers in our midst? Why do we still give them a platform to speak, to promote and sell their books, etc.?

If J.C. Penney will pull Russell Simmons' clothing line from their store racks and shelves due to sexual abuse allegations, why is it that the Church doesn't pull the speaking appointments, books, DVDs and other products of known sexual predators in its midst? It seems the secular world is more willing to take disciplinary actions and allow abusers to face the natural consequences of their actions than the Church is. This should not be!

One problem in these scenarios is that these men are abusers, some of them actually serial predators. But that's not the only problem. Another—and some might even say a bigger—problem is that these men have been protected by those who had the power and authority to stop them. I've heard and witnessed several stories of church leadership ignoring complaints against pastors, relocating offending pastors, defending them and enabling them. That is collusion. That makes the church leaders partakers of the sin as well. How can I say that? Let's look at a biblical example found in the story of Eli and his sons.

"Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation."—1 Samuel 2:22 KJV

Eli's sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were guilty of sexually abusing the women in the church (to put it in modern-day terms). Eli knew what they were doing and he did not like it. However, he failed to discipline his sons (i.e., remove them from ministry). This was a fatal mistake for Eli as you can read about for yourself in the rest of the chapter. Not only did his sons wind up dead, but Eli did too.

Let us not be like Eli or other leaders who turn a blind eye and allow pastors and others in spiritual authority to abuse their power, betray their sacred and fiduciary trust, and do nothing.

If we, as Christians and as Seventh-day Adventists, truly believe that Jesus is returning soon and that we are accountable for repenting of our sins of commission, as well as omission, then let us now follow the prescription found in 2 Chronicles 7:14, "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

God's mercy is still available. If you are a pastor or spiritual leader in the Church (paid or volunteer) and you are guilty of sexual immorality, pornography use, abuse, etc., it is time to come clean. Forget about your standing in the church and focus on your standing with the Lord. Repent now before probation closes and it is too late. Don't bring the curse of God on the Church by your sins and refusal to repent.

Here is a very sobering thought, "But if ye will not do so, behold, ye have sinned against the Lord: and be sure your sin will find you out."—Numbers 32:23 KJV

Like all the people being exposed in the media now, God will ultimately expose your evil actions as well. It's best to confess of your own free will, in my opinion, anyway.

Now take into consideration the following text and things are really serious for us as a Church!

"For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?"—1 Peter 4:17 KJV

It's time we stopped playing church and started being responsible and accountable to one another and to God. He sees all and knows all. You may fool people, but you can't fool God.

Do the right thing! Stop enabling, covering up, colluding and abusing. If you don't, you will share in the guilt like Eli did for failing to correct and discipline his sons. "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove (expose) them."—Ephesians 5:11 KJV

If you are abusing, step down. Don't deceive yourself by thinking you're doing so much good that your sexual immorality is ok with God and others.

If you are covering for, protecting, promoting or knowingly relocating an abuser, STOP! This only adds to your personal guilt and responsibility and makes the Church liable when allegations are made or charges are pressed.

You, as a spiritual leader, are to be like Christ and, therefore, you are to be an example (1 Timothy 4:12) to others. Let's all choose to be a good example!

While I wrote this for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, it applies equally to all churches, hence #YourChurchToo.

For more counsel on dealing with sexual sin in the church, please read:
1 Corinthians 5:1-7
1 Corinthians 5:9-13

The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart...Psalms 34:18