Sexual Abuse in the Church - Warn, Report, Resist

by Mary E. Stephens
Dec. 2018

Luke 22:25-26 And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.

On Sunday, Dec. 9 (2018) the Star-Telegram of Ft. Worth, Texas published a long overdue article on the cover-up of sexual abuse in Independent Fundamental Baptist churches. 

I say overdue because I've heard rumors and undocumented reports of such goings on for years, and things have repeatedly been swept under the rug, ignored, or denied. A few notable cases have been dragged out to the light of day and been prosecuted, such as Bob Gray (of Jacksonville, Florida) and Jack Schaap (son-in-law of Jack Hyles) There have been others as well.

In July this year, Pastor Stacey Shiflett of Calvary Baptist Church in Dundalk, Maryland called out a former pastor of that church after reportedly doing a considerable amount of research and investigation with the leaders of his church into an allegation of sexual abuse against the said former pastor. This former pastor happened to be Cameron Giovanneli who was then president of Golden State Baptist College in Santa Clara, California, a Bible college noted among IFB churches. The college is part of the campus and ministry of one of the few well known IFB mega churches, North Valley Baptist Church which is the kingdom of Pastor Jack Trieber (that wasn't a mistake, it is his kingdom, not Christ's). Sadly, although Giovanneli resigned from his position at Golden State, he was warmly received in a church in Florida and is now working with youth again. The monstrosity of this defies all sound reasoning - Christian or secular. [Also see Brother Shiflett's update statement here.]

The reporters at the Star-Telegram did an extensive research and exposed the massive cover-up and how it is accomplished within various IFB churches. The threats, the shuffling of men from one church to another, the vile abusers' ability to continue on in ministries simply because they belong to "the club," the pastors' fear of having their reputation "ruined" by exposing the guilty to their just punishment - it is all very enlightening, but sadly not surprising.

The abuse of power within many of these churches has become notorious over the past twenty years. My husband and I have both experienced it first hand before we were married. Most of the people in my own family have had experiences with it and one brother even experienced a more extreme and volatile situation when he was living in Michigan for a short time. The manipulation of people who are taught to submit unthinkingly and without question to "pastoral authority" is the main basis of this cover-up and ongoing abuse. Also contributing to this abuse is that many of these pastors and church leaders do not have truly biblical accountability over them. They are "popelettes" as one old time preacher would call them - men who usurp the authority of God and His word for themselves.

Note: Not all Independent Fundamental Baptist are like this. They do not all qualify to be called a cult. However, it is too common, and even the best intentioned men sometimes slide into the threatening way of thinking and preaching because of the control it gives them over people. My own dad was a pastor and there were times when things happened in the churches that were very difficult to deal with. I can see why the temptation to lord it over the flock of God springs up, but it is wrong for pastors to act upon that and seize the power for themselves. It is wrong to preach fear in order to force people to do as the pastor wishes. These methods naturally tend towards abuse of power, which in turn opens the door to sexual abuses.

1 Peter 5:2-3 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.

Please take the time to read this article regardless of what type of church group you fellowship with. These evil deeds are not limited to any specific group, as should be well known by this point in time. It is a widespread problem, and largely this is because people in these churches and their leadership are not responding correctly when things happen. Also, church people are too often not alert and on guard against such abuses.

 

Spirit of Fear - by Neil Nakahodo, Shelly Yang, and Sarah Smith. The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The Star-Telegram only allows you to view so many pages per month before charging you to continue reading, so be sure to read this whole article before clicking off onto side links. The fee is modest, and understandable, but I know some readers will not want to pay it.

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Hopefully now you have read the above article and understand the enormity of how these sins are covered up, denied, and hidden. Hopefully you saw how the people in different situations were abused and those around them did not stand up for righteousness and justice because they were intimidated, threatened, disbelieving, and/or unsure what to do. Hopefully you see that everyone needs to take more responsibility and be more resistant to the abuses of power and the abusers of children. Concern about this is the basis for what follows.

What can you do?

Warn

1. Warn your own kids. Give them the tools they need to recognize abusers. Teach them that respect for their elders and those in authority only goes so far. When those people do certain things, they have forfeited their right to respect and should be exposed. No other adult should ask them to keep secrets between just them and that adult.

2. Warn other people with children.

Times to give warnings:

  • When you see someone behaving oddly but you are outside the situation yourself you need to warn the parents or people involved. Warn the young person if you have to, assuming it isn't a small child.
  • When people are overly friendly with other people's children - this could be strangers or people known to them who are acting in a way that goes beyond what is appropriate. Twice in my life I have seen young men fondling small girls in a way that made me very uncomfortable. One was a young man in the church who was supposedly "zealous to serve the Lord." The other was a teenage brother of the small girl. In both instances the young men in question were showing a marked interest in some older young lady in the group at the same time they were pawing the little ones. Very creepy.
  • When people want to be involved in children's ministries but refuse a background check and simply expect to be trusted without question. It doesn't matter the reason they give. In this day and age any responsible Christian should want to provide the level of trust provided by a background check. It is not foolproof since there is so much unreported abuse, but I have read of at least one case where the church simply didn't do any due diligence in this regard and the information was there for anyone who asked. (By the way, anyone who has committed molestation and/or sexual abuse and is truly repentant will not want to be involved in any ministry where they may again be tempted to the same sin. Just sayin'...)
  • When people are too eager to provide childcare - they offer to babysit others' children unsolicited, they repeatedly remind parents that they are willing to watch their kids at any time, they step in with a controlling manner and offer their services when a question of childcare comes up and the parents are in a situation where they don't have much time to make a decision.
  • When people are coming from other churches who are not well known and are expecting full trust in helping with children's ministries. Does the sending church or college do background checks? Or perhaps the young people or adults are coming from a church that is known to have moral problems or sloppy standards.
  • When you or your friend are uncomfortable with the situation for any reason. One lady I knew had a situation where her daughters were repetedly invited to spend the night in the home of another family in the church. She and her husband did not know these people's home life well, but she was very uncomfortable with the father of the family. She told her husband she didn't want her daughters going there and her husband wisely listened to her "woman's instinct." It later came out that the father in the other home was molesting his daughters.

One lady on a Facebook page calls paying attention to these signals "prey-dar" - as in radar for detecting predators. We are warned in the N.T. about people who will prey on the Lord's church. Some of them are described in predatory language, and no wonder since they are of their father the devil.

Acts 20:29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

1 Peter 5:8-9a Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith...

One reason that there are so many pedophiles in the church is because Christians are generally so trusting and, truth to tell, gullible. Yes, we are to be charitable, but being charitable to abusers and criminals at the expense of the little lambs of the flock is not what God had in mind, I guarantee you. We need to be alert, sober, vigilant against these wicked men (and women - there are some), and those who help them hide from justice.

Report

If you know of a situation that looks odd or suspicious you should report it to the pastor and/or leadership in the church. I know from experience how easy it is to overlook something that looks "off" because the person doing it is such a nice and likable man, only to look back later with more knowledge and realize that the situation warranted a word of warning to someone in authority in the church. (No it wasn't due to an abuse situation that I am aware of, but it was poor behavior. Because I know a lot more now and am more aware of the potential involved I know I should have said something after the second incident.)

We have been lectured, warned, rebuked, and admonished about gossip for so long that it is intimidating to cross that boundary and actually speak up. I know. The church (not just IFB) has made it hard to do the right thing in these cases with its strong and uncompromising definitions of "gossip." But, when someone is behaving in a suspicious or even obviously ungodly manner in these issues, it is necessary to speak up.

Psalm 140:11-12 Let not an evil speaker be established in the earth: evil shall hunt the violent man to overthrow him. I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and the right of the poor.

Proverbs 24:11-12 If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?

There is a reason why they used to refer to rape in the past as "a fate worse than death." But, we're warned in scripture to deliver those who are in peril of their lives. How much more those who are being spiritually and sexually abused by those who should be watching for their souls (Hebrews 13:17)? How much more the children who are being offended by these monsters?

Luke 17:1-2 Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. (By the way, the two verses following this about forgiving a brother who trespasses against you and asks forgiveness are not about the children!)

When someone has committed a crime, they should be reported to the police or whatever local authorities deal with such things.

I know that people have been told all kinds of reasons for why they should never do this - that these are "church affairs" and should be dealt with by the leaders of the church, that the testimony of the Lord will be marred, that the abuser is "repentant" and therefore must be forgiven (regardless of evidence to the contrary), that it will ruin this or that person's "ministry," etc.

There are two reasons I believe in reporting to the police. One is that in far too many instances the church leaders have proven themselves incapable of dealing with the situations justly and biblically. (See 1 Corinthians 5). More importantly, though, is the simple fact that we are not exempt from being justly punished for crimes just because we are members of "Bible Baptist Church," or any other church on the face of this earth. Look at the scriptures.

Romans 13:1-5 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

1 Peter 4:13-15 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters.

Basically it comes down to this: If someone breaks the laws of the land and those laws are not in conflict with scripture in any way, then that person should be punished by the powers that be. As Christians, the reproach we bear should be for the name of Christ and God's glory, not because of our own evildoing. In such instances that suffering is just and deserved and not commendable. The only exception to this is if the offended party is a mature rational adult and they choose not to press charges on their own behalf.

If someone is a mature adult and something is done against them personally, or they have some horrible experience like this from their childhood, we should not compel them to report the offence if they do not wish to make it public. That is now their choice and we cannot make it for them. Some people seem to think that it is their responsibility to tell their story regardless of their wishes and may even try to guilt them into coming forward. This only compounds the injury and is, in a sense, adding to the offence. However, if we know their story to be true and their offender is at large and in a position to do more evil then it may be time to consider warning someone (see above).

Now, I know that some people drag out the passage in 1 Corinthians 6 about "going to law," or suing a brother, and try to beat down those who want these things reported. In the first place, I don't see a clear mention of a criminal act in breaking the laws of the land in the passage. I don't personally think this passage is referencing criminal behavior of the sort we're talking about. Many of the cases being addressed in the newspaper article were situations of child molesting, not fornication, adultery, or rape of an adult. In such cases it is not so much a situation of Christian against Christian, as a criminal act against a minor, which is prosecutable by the state in the U.S. as far as I know. But we also might well question if these evildoers are even saved. Some of them seem to "get away with it" for years and years with no apparent chastening and their evil deeds never really catching up with them. Based on 2 Peter 2 and Hebrews 12:5-17 it would appear that many of them are likely not saved. Thus reporting these things to the powers that be is not as "unbiblical" as some would pretend.

Finally, if you are in a church that has some hierarchy or presbytery form of governance, you should also report to them if a pastor refuses to deal with a crime of this sort in your midst, or is guilty of it himself.

Resist

 Acts 5:27-29 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.

Sometimes it is necessary to resist those in authority because their response is contrary to scripture, as was discussed above. When?

  • When the pastor tries to intimidate you to be quiet and sweeps the situation under the rug, moves the offender without reporting it to the police, etc. When he says he will "take care of it" and he doesn't follow through.
  • When the church wimps out on the situation and follows the leaders or pastor in a cover-up.
  • When the church refuses to do background checks it is time to leave.
  • When you are shouldered out the door or your membership is threatened,  don't cave in on your stand for truth and justice!

You will likely have to resist some level of fear, because these situations are not easy to deal with and the outcome is unpredictable. So, resist:

  • The urge to look the other way and pretend it didn't happen.
  • The temptation to "not get involved" when you know something that is important or possibly important.
  • The easy out of self-insulation by not observing what is really going on around you.
  • The pressure to protect offenders from justice to "save the testimony of the church." The church's testimony was shot the moment they decided they were more important than the righteousness of God. It is only a matter of time before it comes out and then it will be far, far worse than if they had dealt with it head on when it first came up!

Another thing that you may need to resist in a so-called "Christian attorney" wanting to "mediate" between the offended and the offender and insisting on a non-disclosure agreement to the effect that if the offender refuses to participate and take proper responsibility that the offended party may not make the offence public or press charges in a court of law. This has happened. I was told of a case where an alleged pedophile in a prominent homeschooling ministry went unexposed, unrepentant, and unpunished because the people who were bringing the accusation signed one of these agreements. When the offender refused mediation and responsibility for his alleged crimes the "good, godly Christian attorney" told them they were not allowed to expose the predator after the fact because of the agreement they had signed. What their actual legal rights may or may not have been I do not know, but I do know they should never have signed that document, especially if the cut off time for the statute of limitations was not in effect in their state.

In Conclusion

Wake up! Stop hiding your eyes or pretending it is someone else's responsibility. We all need to be attentive and vigilant. No, it isn't a witch hunt, but it is necessary to be aware of what is going on in order to protect the weak and injured among us and in order to deliver victims from the power of their tormentors.

1 Corinthians 15:33-34 Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.

Ephesians 5:3-17 But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.

Speaking the truth in love sometimes requires saying things that will hurt someone in order to protect victims and/or the innocent party. Jesus publically exposed the abuses of religious leaders in His day and rebuked them for their evil deeds. He was not afraid of being called a "gossip" or a liar. He was not afraid of offending someone who deserved to be offended because of their wickedness to others. We shouldn't be either.

If we want the children to be safe in our churches we are going to have to DO OUR PART. We will have to stop expecting the pastor and leadership to do it all. Some men don't have the guts, others are just as wicked as the offenders, some are protecting the evil doers and thus condemning themselves, and the honest ones need the support of those around them so that they don't have to stand alone against the ungodliness that is being defended and covered up in churches.

Make a stand! Turn on your "prey-dar" and start paying attention to what is going on around you. Inform yourself of the methods and behaviors of these types of people. Be counted with those who protect the children, and others, from these ungodly abuses!

Romans 13:12-14 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.

Graphics and photos by Mary E. Stephens.
Original vintage graphic: source unknown.
2018; CA