Christian church culture is notoriously careless about protecting victims of child abuse, and this week, I was appalled to discover that Christianity Today‘s imprint publication, Leadership Journal, ran a first-person piece where a child sex offender/former pastor narrated his internal thought process as he went from youth pastor to felon.
A few years into my marriage and ministry I began to believe a lie. The realities of parenthood and marriage were sinking in, and I felt unappreciated at home. From my perspective, I was excelling at work and at home — and this perceived lack of appreciation led me to believe I deserved more.
The first big problem (besides the part where he essentially says it was his wife who drove him to this, which is next door to saying he didn’t have a choice in the matter) is that he never really seems to get that what he did to this minor was rape. Instead, he swaddles the entire story in Christianese, using it to distance himself from his actions and make the whole situation sound… normal. As if it were, at worst, an affair. Just look at the very next paragraph:
Meanwhile, there was someone else in my life that appreciated me very much. Seeking approval and appreciation, I gravitated toward that person. She and I were always happy to see each other and looked forward to each other’s company. Before long, we were texting each other and interacting through social media. Nothing scandalous or questionable — a Facebook “like” or comment here, a friendly text there. Things friends do.
Rhetorical choices aside, everyone should take note that we’re unaware how old his “friend” is.
The second big problem is that Christianity Today‘s editorial team apparently isn’t disgusted by this and thought it’d be a good idea to publish the story.
Yesterday morning, my good friend Becca Rose (below) — a victim of abuse at the hands of her pastor father who had to eventually run away from home to protect herself since the church wouldn’t help her — engaged the managing editor of Leadership Journal, Drew Dyck, on Twitter about his decision to run the piece (especially over the tone and language involved). I’ll let her share in her own words what happened.
I woke up today to Twitter outrage, which is not an uncommon thing, since I follow a lot of social justice-oriented people. But as soon as I saw the subject matter, my stomach dropped. Leadership Journal had published a piece written by a convicted sex offender. His name was withheld, but he had multiple pages of space given to him to tell his story from his own perspective.
It was horrifying to read. A convicted rapist and child molester, explaining how he selected and groomed a young girl from the youth group where he pastored. However, he didn’t use that terminology. The entire piece reads as rape apologia, as if it were something that happened to him, as if sin is something one falls into, rather than actively chooses. The subtitle is actually “the spiral into sin that destroyed my life and ministry,” hardly an accurate depiction of how he preyed upon a child. He spends most of the piece talking about their relationship as if it were an actual relationship — not even revealing the fact that this person he describes is a minor until near the end of the essay. There are bizarre rabbit trails into Scripture, including an inaccurate interpretation of the David and Bathsheba story as being about adultery when the power dynamics of that particular Biblical tale really make it more about rape. Yet he somehow frames his debauchery as adultery, rather than as molestation of a young girl.
As I read the piece, I realized that if I hadn’t known what it was about beforehand, I would’ve thought this affair was entirely consensual. His descriptions of it read as though it were. He says things like “She and I were always happy to see each other and looked forward to each other’s company,” as though this teen girl looked forward to and solicited the relationship. “We were both riddled with guilt and tried to end things,” as if she were guilty of being molested by her pastor, as if it were somehow equitable to his guilt as a rapist. “We had given the devil far more than a foothold,” as if she was an active participant in his predation rather than his victim.
He continues on in this same framing of the story. “We knew that our relationship had crossed a line. Sin had a powerful hold on us.” [emphasis added]. He calls it an “extramarital relationship,” saying “She adored me.”
It made me physically sick. She adored me. Isn’t that what every rapist would like to believe? I had a source from Twitter allege that the victim was thirteen when this pastor began grooming her for his use (though I can’t verify that). He selected her, got close to her, and made her adore him. That’s what child predators do. That’s what sexual abusers are all about.
We. Us. As if a child can be a partner in a relationship with a man in his thirties, one who had an authority position over her. You can see the implications written all over the text. If she adored him, if she wanted it, if she felt guilty, too — why can’t it be labeled adultery, rather than rape? You get the sense that he thinks if only he weren’t married, it wouldn’t have been so bad.
Lest you think the attitude lies solely with the convicted child rapist, let’s look at the decisions made by a Christian editorial team.
The tags for the article are labeled “adultery,” “character,” “self-examination,” “mistakes,” and, most tellingly, “sex.” Sex. Last time I checked, when an adult has sexual intercourse with a minor, it’s not sex, it’s rape. In their own tagging system, Leadership Journal didn’t even acknowledge that this was sexual and spiritual abuse. He didn’t call it rape, but then again, neither did they.
One editor posted a link to the piece saying it was a “cautionary tale.” When pressed on Twitter for a comment, Drew Dyck, the managing editor, responded to my question of “What exactly was the editorial process in publishing a rapist’s justifications for being a child molester?” with,
“I don’t answer rhetorical questions.”
What’s the implication of that answer? It’s clearly obvious that he did not view the piece as rape apologia, and his answer accused me of making a statement for outrageous affect, rather than asking a legitimate question.
But I want to know. I want to know how a piece this horrific was published on a website for Christian leaders. In comments to others, Dyck said that they were not aiming to reach victims, but rather their target audience of pastors. Putting aside the flaw in that logic, as though no pastor or Christian leader has ever been a victim of such abuse, one has to wonder why, exactly, this piece was considered valuable to the Christian leader. Raping a child, framed as adultery? A first-hand account written by a rapist that implicitly blames his victim as an active participant? How is this of value to any leader, any pastor, any Christian?
It’s not a rhetorical question. I want to know.
The idea of all sin being equally sinful has so permeated evangelical Christian culture that they can’t see past it to recognize that consent is serious and that power differentials mean that a pastor raping a child isn’t your run-of-the-mill pastor-commits-adultery story.
The idea of total depravity has completely desensitized Christians from recognizing actual depravity. And apparently, Christianity Today felt pastors might want to take notes from a sex offender. I mean, all sin is sin, right?