By Alexander Carpenter
In late January the Spectrum Blog hosted a contest in celebration for our 1000th comment (we're over 1700 so another contest is comin' up). Several people wrote in about what they'd change about Adventism. You can read their responses here.
One essay, by JeriAnne Berry, expressed frustration at the church's treatment of sexual abuse. I asked her raise our awareness in constructive ways by writing further on the subject. She approaches the issue from the angle of truth which -- in light of the recent discussions about truth, evolution, and biblical literalism -- adds a layer that we might consider.
Jared Wright and David Larson both astutely pointed out that while truth sets us free from error, it doesn't automatically save us eternally. Yup, I believe that's faith's department. Therefore where does truth matter? JeriAnne's concern -- in the context of her experience -- reveals that truth also means believing in more than the bible and perhaps finding the truth in those we've hurt. _______________________
By JeriAnne Berry
Dirty laundry is something with which we all are familiar. Every organization -- and every person -- has some. For some time now I have struggled with the double standard apparent in the Adventist church in relation to sexual abuse by its leaders and members and the help offered or not offered to the victims.
When I attempted to air some very hurtful things that had happened to me this double standard became too much for me to fight and I removed myself from the church so that I could continue to grow spiritually. What I want to write about here deals with that.
The SDA church has truth. Truth comes in many different forms. Some truths are lovely and easy to accept, some are not so lovely and some are just plain unacceptable even though they are still truth! These unacceptable truths might be called the church’s dirty laundry. The truth of child sexual abuse is in that basket.
I know that no one likes this subject. Congregations shrink from its discussion. And those who have been most affected, the victims, find that the consequences of their attempts to bring the issues into light and hopefully into justice result in blame and denial. Light and Justice is an expectation that just seems to be impossible in the Adventist church at this point. Some victims have even been told that though their report of abuse was believed, if the church helped them they would have to help all the other victims of that perpetrator and that would not be acceptable. It is this attitude that causes all sorts of problems for victims and makes it difficult for them to remain loyal to the church.
In preparing for this article I did some research into what is being done. The formation of the Sexual Ethics Committee in 1992 was certainly a good step in the right direction, but as I looked at the web site that lists its policies and procedures I found that they have not yet defined clearly what it is they are dealing with. Defining Child Sexual Abuse as “the Sexual Abuse or exploitation of a Child by any person” is NOT a workable definition. It is too broad. I believe this illustrates the reluctance of the responsible church leaders and some local congregations to really look at what sexual abuse consists of in clear specific terms. This can mask an unwillingness to accept abuse as a relevant issue in their midst.
And yet I and many others exist who can tell in specific terms exactly how it was and how it has blackened whole lives and relationships with both God and the Church. It doesn’t matter what Truths the church may have a firm grasp on, if they are unable to deal with this Truth and implement effective ways to deal with it than nothing else is important. I am sure Satan would have it that way!
There are those within the SDA church who care deeply about this issue and have put their concern into action. The following links are to some of these groups.
These groups are doing a wonderful thing to help those who have already been abused and to raise the cry that change is needed. But until Adventist leaders and some congregations put in place the needed changes to protect their children and to insure that there is a process in place to give impartial assistance to those who have complaints of abuse, the abuses will continue. Justice will NOT be done. And victims will continue to feel that all the doctrines they have been taught are now compromised by their bigger and more powerful spiritual truth; God’s name has been associated with the abuse that has destroyed their heart! It is this illogic that causes victims to lose faith in the God their church professes to serve.
It is common in any organization where there is a hierarchy of power that, when allegations of wrongdoing are made, those in the highest powers will:
3. Blame the accuser.
Often victims of abuse in the Adventist church have met this same tactic if not in a formal way then by the individuals who want to protect those in power. Adventist victims often report finding these same tactics when they finally gather the courage to report what has happened. A truth-loving church should want to know the honest account of any of their hurting members as they seek to lead them to healing.
There are ways to develop this kind of response in the church. Ken Sande, President of Peacemaker Ministries, states:
“Sexual abuse in the church does not have to end in broken lives, agonizing lawsuits, and divided congregations. When people follow God's ways and words, these terrible incidents can result in healing, justice, and healthier churches.
When victims of abuse first come forward, I have found that most of them are seeking four reasonable responses.
First: they are looking for understanding, compassion, and emotional support.
Second: they want the church to admit that the abuse occurred and to acknowledge that it was wrong. Third, they want people to take steps to protect others from similar harm. And
Fourth, they expect compensation for the expense of needed counseling.”
Peacemaker Ministries presents a Biblical way to effectively deal with conflicts of all kinds and a way to build a community that has at its core accountability principles and policies. Scripture blesses the work of a peacemaker. Peacemakers are as concerned with justice as they are with conflict resolution and good appearances. A Peacemaker demands accountability as well as forgiveness. A Peacemaker understands that forgiveness is not just a loophole allowing the abuse to continue. For those of us who must deal with the dirtiest of religion’s laundry these principles are crucial to our continuing to be a part of the community of the church.
If God is not big enough to deal with this He isn’t to be trusted at all. Most of us who are surviving sexual abuse know HE IS big enough to save. What is needed now is a demonstration that Adventist leaders and the local churches believe this truth and can act accordingly.