“So much like the moon, we show the world only one and veil our many faces…even from the sun.” ―
The following relates to a story of sexual assault by a PCA pastor, which I plan to post on Friday. As the reader will note, some local PCA churches have little regard, or perhaps they have profound naivete, for the effects of abuse on victims. “Knowing” someone for a long time does not mean that one knows the insides of a person adept at hiding issues such as sexual abuse. As I have pondered the story I plan to write, I decided first to present the PCA’s rejection of specific measures of dealing with sexual abuse as a denomination.
As we all know, pedophiles and abusers go to places that attract their preferred victims. In my former SBC church, that now-convicted molester enjoyed sexually abusing teenage boys and began grooming them when they were 11-12. In the SBC churches, everyone loved this SEBTS seminary student who could spout the theology of the SBC while showing his “love and concern” for these boys. Girls were left out of the mix, and no one seemed to care since this guy was the “real deal.” Many would say they “knew” this seminary student and “knew his parents. He was from the “right” sort of SBC family, except he was a hidden monster. My former church ignored the warning signals, brushing off disgusting behavior as “locker room humor.” The abuse of those young teens is amongst the worst I have heard in my 14 years of blogging.
Unfortunately, the PCA has chosen to believe it is handling things “just fine’ and specific safeguards aren’t necessary for this authoritative hierarchy of men in which no woman is involved. God gave them the gift, and they are proving, once again, that men need the input of intelligent women.
As you read this, remember that a real-life example is coming on Friday, Lord willing.
The PCA, sexual abuse, and women: Like the SBC, they’re not listening.
Christianity Today posted The Presbyterian Church in America Has an Abuse Crisis Too by Emily Belz. It was subtitled, “Women thought the PCA, with its robust system of governance, might provide some accountability. They found that was not the case.”
Many thought that a denomination that has a robust hierarchy would be an example of how to handle complaints of abuse. Sadly, this is not the case. I would imagine TWW readers are not surprised.
The denomination meets for its annual general assembly this week and is marking its 50th anniversary. Over those decades, it has not experienced the reckoning with abuse that has occurred in the Southern Baptist Convention or the Catholic Church.
But, that hierarchy is confusing since it is not “top down.” Some of those local groups are not survivor friendly.
The PCA is not a denomination with top-down governance but rather a collection of local churches that form regional presbyteries that govern those churches under the BCO laws. How well an abuse case is handled depends on the presbytery.
Many presbyteries have put survivors through a procedural grinder that survivors say was worse than the abuse itself. Multiple cases CT reviewed that went through the church court process had thousands of pages of documentation, and sometimes stretched out for years. Laypeople were bewildered trying to file formal charges based on the BCO.
This male-only hierarchy appeared to be slow in reaching a conclusion in which, no surprise, the pastor was exonerated.
The PCA’s church court process stretched on for nearly four years after the women brought their complaints about the pastor. The trial transcript for the hearing in the case ran for 1,966 pages.
The meeting described in the following has now occurred. Why don’t you guess what happened?
Max and Jeffrey, stop laughing…
At its denominational meeting in Memphis this week, PCA elders will consider a significant number of overtures (church legislation) related to abuse. Among them are two different proposals allowing anyone to be a witness in church courts for abuse cases—currently only those who believe in God, heaven, and hell are allowed to be witnesses. Another overture would require criminal background checksfor new ministers and ministers transferring presbyteries or denominations.
Ordained male elders vote at the PCA meeting, while SBC messengers can be men and women.
Unfortunately, survivors are discovering that there is nothing much to help them.
The BCO is a thick document for governing a church, but “it doesn’t have anything in it to help us adjudicate any abuse cases or reports,” said Ann Maree Goudzwaard, who leads a church-based ministry in the PCA called Help[H]er for women in crisis. She has become a point person for women reporting abuse in the denomination, which is not a role she sought out. She receives daily calls from abuse survivors.
The PCA started showing interest a year ago, but few churches have been trained in sex abuse.
Last year, a denominational committee made up mostly of PCA elders as well as outside experts like Goudzwaard and Rachael Denhollander released a 220-page report with recommendations for how churches should handle domestic abuse and sexual assault (known as the DASA report). It was designed to be a resource for the PCA’s local church leaders. In the absence of a denominational reporting mechanism for abuse, victims have contacted the committee, which was not designed for that purpose.
The report, not surprisingly, was “non-binding,” which means local churches can blow it off. And it appears that many did.
Important: A case of sexual abuse being mislabeled “sexual” sin.
This relates to my anticipated post.
Kristen Hann, the former director of women’s ministry at Surfside Presbyterian Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, lost her job last year after objecting to how the church handled an abuse case.
In 2021, Kappie Reynolds, a member at Surfside, reported that an elder groped her under her clothes, exposed himself to her, pulled her pants down, and attempted anal penetration. Reynolds requested that the elder’s name not be used in this story, as the case is still being litigated confidentially through the church court process.
The elders aren’t talking.
Surfside’s church leadership declined to comment on the case, saying “it would be unwise and reckless for us to discuss church discipline, member care, or employment matters in a public forum.”
…The accused elder, a lay leader and not on staff, was quietly stripped of his ordination in the PCA (something the session, a group of governing elders of a church, has the power to do) and asked to attend another church. But church leadership did not communicate the reasons to the congregation.
It’s only a “sexually deviant sin,” not sexual assault, which has legal implications. Wait-is that why they “couch” their theological terminology?
In the fallout of Hann’s firing, the pastor finally held a meeting with the congregation and took questions about the elder who had been stripped of his office, saying he had confessed to “sexually deviant sin,” according to Hann’s husband, Aaron, who took notes on the meeting.
Why is this important? Sin is something that can be forgiven and forgotten. This shows a profound naivete on the part of the leaders at that church. Any man who does something like this to a woman is guilty of sexual assault, which could be a crime and should be reported by the church to the police. To imagine a quick “I’ve repented” and all is well is stupid. Such a man is dangerous and had most likely acted in such a manner in the past and will most likely do so in the future. It seems like Hann agrees.
The leadership never described it as an assault. Peterson, the pastor, told the congregation that Hann and church leadership had an untenable working relationship because of the tensions around the handling of the case of “sexual sin.” They did not commission a third-party investigation, which Hann thought could have turned up more wrongdoing by the elder as well as addressed the pastor’s handling of the case.
So what did the PCA decide? I know you are not holding your collective breaths.
Mark Wingfield, writing for Baptist News Global, posted Conservative Presbyterians reject four proposals to curb sexual abuse.
Let’s start with the inevitable women can’t be pastors as well as…
This differs from the SBC since some churches like JD Greear’s allow women to be deacons. Many other churches do not.
(They affirmed) a proposal to ensure women cannot be given the title “pastor,” “deacon” or “elder” in any PCA church.
They claim that the “peace and purity” of the church are upset:
by churches attributing offices to candidates not qualified for said office.
Given what I’ve been learning about sexual abuse in the PCA, it should seem that “peace and purity” have been violated by men who cover up and downplay sexual abuse in their midst. I will remember this when I write about the supposedly peaceful and pure PCA. Egads! That was a stupid statement.
They “rejected mandatory background checks for clergy as they are ordained or transferred to new posts.”
Why is it so difficult to do a background check before ordination or going to new posts? I know how easy it is. My church does background checks on anyone who signs up to help at events like “Night to Shine.” It’s cheap and easy to accomplish. There is only one reason I can see why not to do such a check. They are afraid of what it will uncover. Most abusers are not in the database of background checks because they have never been caught. So, is the PCA hiding some information from public view? Hmmm, maybe it’s time to do a little background checking of our own…
They rejected “one would have improved communication between PCA leadership on abuse reports.”
So, nothing said, nothing done… They don’t have to speak about it to anyone else outside of their designated circle. Shhhhh
They rejected two proposals that “would have expanded eligibility of witnesses in church court cases.”
Currently, witnesses must “believe in God, heaven and hell.”
I bet the boys love this one. So, if they have a sexual assault case involving a “peaceful and pure” PCA pastor beating on his wife, which was observed by a local heathen, the honest heathen can’t testify to what he observed. So the pastor/abuser, who believes in heaven, hell, and God, gets exonerated because it is falsely assumed that he is telling the truth. The local good ol boy heathen is incapable of telling the truth and bearing witness according to their rules. Yet God causes the sun to shine on everyone; even the local heathens can tell the truth, and the believer in God heaven and hell can lie through his teeth. What are they teaching in those seminaries?
I am not the only one who is infuriated by all of this.
High-profile sex abuse prosecutor Boz Tchividjian tweeted his disgust at the rejections.
“The PCA recently REJECTED four overtures that focused on protecting sexual abuse victims. … Yet more reasons why I am no longer part of the PCA.”
Mark Wingfield observed:
The PCA shares much in common with the modern-day SBC, which has a strong Calvinist faction and also is driven by complementarian theology that sees a “created order” or hierarchy with men at the top.
I would wager to bet that the PCA has many stories of sexual abuse and assault by their supposedly “pure and peaceful” pastors, elders, and deacons. It appears that, for now, the men in charge want to have the flexibility to cover things up. I suggest that some PCA types should begin their own background checks of pastors. I think someone is hiding something.
Stay tuned for another PCA story on Friday.
Reprinted with permission from The Wartburg Watch