Thoughts on Abuse, Position, Power – and Restitution

If you’ve followed my blogging at futuristguy here on WordPress, you’ll know I’ve been doing research writing on systems and dynamics of spiritual abuse and recovery for 7 years, tracking various aspects of the Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) situation for a minimum of 3 years, and first blogged something about the SGM system in 2012. Spiritual abuse survivors and others who follow what happened at the SGM association of churches and civil lawsuits from it knew that a related criminal trial was scheduled for this May. The results of the first trial came in Thursday, finding Nathaniel Morales guilty on all counts. A second trial for Mr. Morales begins next week.

I find in the civil suit against SGM and related criminal cases a complex situation with many kinds of victims, perpetrators, and enablers – each category of which could use some specific messages at this time. I felt compelled to do what I could to address key issues as constructively as possible. This post is a compilation of writings posted so far. My hope is that they provide some insight into how the human systems of real people intersect the organizational systems of SGM and Covenant Life Church (CLC) in ways that caused damage – and, potentially, could bring recovery for individuals who’ve survived abuse, restitution by those who were “agents of damage,” rehabilitation of the extended SGM system (if that is even warranted, and where it is even possible) to bring health, transparency, and accountability, and restoration of  a besmirched testimony of the Church before a watching world.

This post is part of the #IStandWithSGMVictims campaign on Twitter, and #IStandWithSGMVictims campaign on Facebook.

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Comment at The Wartburg Watch

Here’s the comment I wrote at The Wartburg Watch on the afternoon of Friday May 16, after learning about the conviction outcome of the first trial of Mr. Morales.

Over the past 35+ years in working with survivors in recovery, I’ve become acquainted with numerous women and men dealing with the long-term effects of wounds inflicted by childhood sexual abuse. So, though this is not my personal story, I have come to have a greater understanding of courage, tenacity, and hope through those who have experienced this evil disruption in their development. I wish the survivors in this situation from CLC all the best and pray that being able finally to share their stories and the rendering of justice will bring some relief.

And terrible as this personal cost was to these young men, it now puts on the legal record facts and admissions given under oath about those in the exact position of authority who allegedly knew/suspected sexual abuse and yet chose to do nothing substantial about either reporting the perpetrator to legal authorities, or to protect other children at risk of violation by removing him from access to them.

Hopefully these people in authority will likewise be fully exposed for their legal, moral, and ethical failures which apparently resulted in more damage to more minors. There is no way to excuse away their responsibility for sins of omission under some “biblical” guise of “taking care of church problems in-house.” First facts have been confirmed: pastoral authority at CLC failed.

And there also seems no legitimate way for those insiders and outsiders who have sought to silence critiques of CLC and SGM and particular authority figures within it to continue that tactic. Haven’t these leaders all enabled extensive damage to seep into the Church through their endorsements of celebrities and rebuttals of detractors? What responsibilities do they now have, given what has happened in the Morales case and what was revealed under oath about potential culpability of their friends/allies? Their own apparent abuses of authority and influence over the past many months since SGM issues started coming to a head seem to have more to do with relational loyalty than with any careful investigation into facts behind the issues. What will they do now if they wish to restore their own reputations?

The Church is watching … and should give even more public push-back if the lack of transparency and accountability continues. There are those of us who do not want the world to think these kinds of leaders represent mature Christlikeness or the Church.

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Tweets on Dynamics in Systems of Abuse

This is the first series of tweets I posted on Friday, May 16, 2014, related to the Twitter campaign for #IStandWithSGMVictims. (On Twitter, I am @futuristguy.) It’s a challenge to get a clear statement into a 119-character tweet (140 minus 21 for the hashtag). But, as I noted in my Wartburg Watch comment, I’d had over 35 years to think about such things, and so had some draft statements formulated quickly and ready to edit to size. My intention was to cover a variety of aspects related to dynamics involved in abuse of power, specifically sexual abuse. (Note: I have removed most hashtag markers to make it easier to read the point lists. However, to have left them in would give them more of the liturgical flavor I intended, with “I Stand With SGM Victims” as the response of the people to the faith assertion of the liturgist.)

  • Whoever empowers abusers by silencing truth-seeking critics then deserves being censured when the truth comes out.
  • Whoever enabled known/suspected abusers by silence & refusal to report deserves being censured when abuse is proven. [Here is my follow-up reply to a comment that suggested legal action would be appropriate: Agreed. KNOWING you should report *known* child sexual abuse but REFUSING to empowers perpetrator to continue his crimes.]
  • So-called leaders who silence the voices of victims & their advocates don’t present Christ or the Gospel to the world.
  • Learn more about clergy responsibility to report in your state: Child Welfare Info Gateway.
  • Whoever said they’d wait for facts to be known should now know *enough* facts to concur that abuse & silence occurred.
  • Regardless of failure in clergy reporting of abuse back then, doesn’t a double-decade delay deserve restitution today?
  • Push-back against silence on abuse SHOULD continue until Church pushes forward w/ true transparency & accountability.
  • No way failure to report abuse can be excused away under “biblical” guise of “taking care of church problems in-house”
  • Church, seminary & ministry training programs need to cover legal responsibility to report known/suspected child abuse
  • Clergy failure to report known/suspected sexual abuse: Your silence inflicts more violence on those already victimized

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Tweets of My “Slate of Eight” Suggestions on Restitution

Twitter reader @mcphat asked me what I thought “restitution” would look like. I tried to put my thoughts into concrete suggestions with this second series of tweets that same day. I had in mind when I drafted the points that they clustered around three categories, though I didn’t mention this in the tweets.

  1. Individuals – Taking personal responsibility – Points #1, 2, 3
  2. Institutions – Developing a safer congregation – Points #4, 5, 6
  3. Injunctions – Dealing with those who refuse responsibility – Points #7, 8

Here are the “Slate of Eight” concrete suggestions for practicing restitution, along with introductory and closing tweets.

  • Overview: Restitution should be holistic, deal w/ past wrongs, & give survivors & their loved ones hope for the future
  • Restitution #1 We publicly admit to moral, ethical, legal responsibility for failure to report, & accept consequences.
  • Restitution #2 We apologize in person to survivors, their families & supporters – if they will let us – THEIR choice.
  • Restitution #3 We use our own resources to help pay survivor’s fees to counselor of their choice for at least 10 years
  • Restitution #4 We ensure the church we lead institutes & follows preventive practices against sexual abusers & abuse.
  • Restitution #5 We require prevention, interception, & intervention training on abuse by all paid & volunteer leaders.
  • Restitution #6 We teach regularly on & demonstrate God’s care for those made victims by the misuse of power by others.
  • Restitution #7 Anyone w/ culpability in enabling abuse, but refuses consequences, is fired & whole church is told why.
  • Restitution #8 Any culpable church, ministry or agency refusing their responsibility should be decried & dismantled.
  • So, I offer that as my “Slate of Eight” concrete suggestions to address enablers of victimization & making restitution
  • Finally: Love covers a multitude of sins; don’t let sins of abuse negate covering survivors w/ God’s love. Restore!

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Guest Post on Restitution at The Nuance

Here’s the link to a guest post on Zach Hoag’s The Nuance blog from Saturday, May 17. It expands on a series of tweets I posted Friday for the #IStandWithSGMVictims campaign, with two paragraphs for each point. The entire post is about the meaning of “restitution” for the individuals taking personal responsibility, developing a safer congregational setting, and dealing with those who refuse their responsibility. Here is what I consider to be some of the most important material in that post, in the section dealing with the context of what happened at the trial, plus the concepts of restitution and revenge.

Restitution versus Revenge

But before I begin [my “Slate of Eight” suggestions], a few thoughts I had yesterday and today about restitution. In the Morales trial, witness Grant Layman (former pastor of CLC) was questioned under oath and stated the following, according to the on-the-scene account of Brent Detwiler:

Grant Layman was sworn in next.  Under oath he told the jury he did not report the crimes told him by Scott and Charlene Bates in 1992 that were committed by Morales against their son, Samuel Bates.  He also stated that within one year, he learned of the sexual abuse of Brian Wolohan and did not report it to the police either.

Under cross examination by the Defense Attorney Drew (which was surprising), he was asked “Did you have a responsibility to report to police” the crimes committed against Samuel Bates and Brian Wolohan.  To this Layman said, “I believe so.”  Drew responded, “Did you report to police?”  Layman answered, “I didn’t do it.”

That was an open, sworn admission that victims and their families had waited 20+ years to hear. It’s documentable and verifiable. I see no way around the fact that damage was done by leadership failure at CLC to obey the law and report known or suspected sexual abuse of minors. There is no excuse for this, and, to repeat one of my earlier tweets, “Regardless of failure in clergy reporting of abuse back then, doesn’t a double-decade delay deserve restitution today?” But what does restitution even mean, especially when we are no longer under the Mosaic Law but are bound to truly love one another in Christ?

I see the essence of restitution as an understanding and public acknowledgement that someone’s actions caused damage, and that they seek to restore conditions to what they were before insofar as humanly possible, or at least to redress the wounds to open new possibilities that were stolen from someone by the damage done. Thus, restitution is a fruit that demonstrates an underlying root of repentance. It isn’t about obediently fulfilling a list of requirements in order to supposedly “prove” you’ve changed. It’s part of a genuine personal change process. And it takes place in sight of others so there’s accountability. That’s needed in part because activity just means motion … it doesn’t mean you’ve done a 180-degree course correction. In fake restitution you could just do some required list and have done a 360-degree pirouette of pride and you’re right back on the same course as an agent of damage – the very same one that led to people being hurt by the agency of your negligence.

In contrast, revenge takes people with already brittle souls and seeks to apply the one cruel stroke that shatters them forever. An eye for an eye, a deadened heart for a deadened heart and all that. But that’s ultimately just more Law – when everybody is dieing to receive grace that calls them to become something more, and gives them a chance to respond. Grace that empowers the opportunity for their spirit to be rescued from who they were and be more transformed into someone more conformed to the character of Christ.

Look, restitution may pinch our pride, but it won’t destroy our soul. It simply applies a bit of heat to get the wax of our character soft enough to receive a new impression that reshapes us more and more into the character of Christ. And He’s supposed to be the aim of our endeavors as disciples, right?

I don’t know whether to have high hopes for repentance or restitution by Grant Layman and any other CLC/SGM leaders whose silence covered the truth and empowered continued criminal activities. I do know that the eyes of many in both the Church and the World are on them. What will they choose as the messages they now want their lives to broadcast against the backdrop of their former immoral silence? I wish them well, not ill, and know that if they avail themselves of real grace and empowerment by the Spirit, what needs to be done can be done. And, sadly but justly, it may well be that some may show by contempt where there should be compassion and conscience that they are permanently disqualified from public ministry.

That noted, I offer these concrete suggestions for their consideration, and by extension, as preventive measures for any church, ministry, project team, or agency. There are some hard, hard words here – but I hope they do not come across as harsh. Grace, mercy, and restoration are meant for all God’s people, and we need the Body of Christ, the Word of God, and the leading of the Holy Spirit to keep us on the Way of Jesus. ~ Brad Sargent

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Tweets on Prayer Points for Those Affected

It was reported on Sunday, May 18, that four pastors from Covenant Life Church, were requesting a leave of absence related to issues about reporting the crimes of Nathaniel Morales. This news, plus the significant responses I received to my tweets about dynamics of abuse and restitution, led me back to the big picture out of concern for *all* the people involved directly and indirectly in the big picture of the CLC/SGM crisis. This is a crucial learning experience for the Church, especially the theologically conservative and evangelical wings of it. I was and am hopeful that redemptive actions will emerge from among God’s people, as well as agents of healing arise to counteract the wounds inflicted by agents of damage. Here’s a series of prayer points I tweeted Sunday, May 18, based on those concerns and hopes, based on my own observations of what is needed for healing within severe situations of abuse.

  • Six current prayers I have in light of the Morales conviction & reported leave of absence of four CLC/SGM pastors … IStandWithSGMVictims
  • 1 IStandWithSGMVictims & pray for Christ’s Kingdom to break through in & for all touched directly & indirectly by this CLC/SGM crisis.
  • 2 IStandWithSGMVictims & pray for God’s “agents of healing” to help whoever is stirred, confused, troubled, or shattered by this situation.
  • 3 IStandWithSGMVictims & pray for deep personal recovery, restoration, & vindication for SGM victims-turned-survivors & their loved ones.
  • 4 IStandWithSGMVictims & pray for a Spirit-stirred conscience in all who enabled abuse to continue by sins of silence & false protection.
  • 5 IStandWithSGMVictims & pray for all repentant “agents of damage” to engage in long-term, transparent, accountable restitution processes.
  • 6 IStandWithSGMVictims & ask the Lord to heal our wounds, restore hopeful futures, & instill in us His grace, truth, mercy & justice. Amen.
  • May this be so, in order to demonstrate Christ’s Kingdom on earth as we become His “people of peace” wherever planted. #IStandWithSGMVictims

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Links and Quotes for “IStandWithSGMVictims”

Twitter: #IStandWithSGMVictims.

Facebook: #IStandWithSGMVictims.

@futuristguy’s Thoughts on What Church Restitution Should Look Like – a “storify” series of screenshots of the original tweets in the series on abuse and restitution, compiled by Julie Anne Smith (@DefendTheSheep).

“He who allows oppression shares the crime.” ~ Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (1466?-1536)

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