Content Warning: Child Sexual Abuse/Incest
30 Church Members
“More than 30 people sat on the defendant’s side of the courtroom in a show of support.”
The crime. A fourteen-year-old girl, the adopted daughter of a “beloved pastor,” was sexually assaulted and abused for years.
The evidence. There was DNA at the crime scene and the credible testimony of the victim.
The sentence. Guilty.
The response. Denial. Thirty church members publicly support their former pastor at court.
“I find it impossible for me to believe he’s guilty of this…
His business needs him. His family needs him.
Our church needs him.”
Only a few people came to support the victim.
If you aren’t familiar with the recent story, you can read a news report here. https://www.knoxnews.com/story/news/crime/2019/05/09/former-pastor-nets-12-year-prison-term-rape-adopted-daughter-david-lynn-richards/1143006001/
On one level, we can be thankful that some justice was done. On many other levels, this story is deeply troubling and all too common in how church communities respond when abuse happens in their church.
Overall, there is a failure to understand how abuse works, and what Jesus says about abuse. It is clear that this church didn’t understand that…
Abusers will exploit the Bible, trust, needs, and authority
Abusers live double lives and will disguise themselves in order to prey upon the most vulnerable
Those with the most authority need the most accountability
Denial enables abuse and emboldens abusers
Denial causes further harm and pain to survivors of abuse
If real and lasting change is going to happen, it needs to start with you and me. We need to ask ourselves,
“What makes me different from one of those 30 who supported the abuser?”
Really. What are the things that make you different? We need to wrestle with this question.
Take a moment to think about your pastor. Think about the ways this person was, or is, a significant person in your life; when he officiated your wedding, baptized you, encouraged you with his lessons, and uplifted you with his sermons.
Now, take a moment to think about a moody, or even “rebellious,” teenager that you only vaguely know in your church or community.
Now, when the word gets out and people start to talk and say things like, “I just don’t believe he would do that.” How would you respond? How would most people in your church respond to statements like this? When the trial starts, where would most of the people in your church be sitting?
Where would you be sitting?
Everything we do at GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) is focused on empowering faith communities to recognize, prevent, and respond to abuse. GRACE strives to give individuals and churches the tools and resources they need to address realities that contribute to a culture of abuse, face denial about abuse, and respond appropriately and with confidence when abuse happens.
For more resources that can help you address abuse issues that exist in your faith community visit GRACE and visit our “resources” page list at the top.
Director of Development at GRACE
Zane Hart is a nonprofit development professional and passionate about seeing real and lasting change in the church and the world around the issue of abuse. He is a graduate of James Madison University, Covenant Theological Seminary, and is currently pursuing an MBA online at the University of Lynchburg. For the past nine years, he served as a pastor developing programs, facilitating ministry initiatives, organizing educational trainings, and fostering teamwork. Zane currently lives in the southern United States with his wife and two children. Zane enjoys writing, hiking, and biking with his family.