Anglican Watch

Restoring ‘fallen pastors’ means calling them abusive clergy and requiring restitution for the victims

The following post is republished by permission from our friend Dee Parson’s blog, The Wartburg Watch.

While the piece focuses on evangelical churches, the underlying point is a good one: when will the Episcopal Church quit killing itself with cheap grace?

“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church. We are fighting today for costly grace.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Pete Wilson was restored to ministry, and the ARC for fallen pastors is completed.

To write this post, I looked back on the myriad of articles about those who joined the conga line of fallen pastors who go back into the pulpit as if nothing had changed. The most recent example was Update: Pete Wilson’s Former Wife Accuses of Him of Pursuing Multiple Affairs During Their Marriage Yet He Is Still Preaching and Life Coaching. His wife accused Pete of having multiple affairs during this marriage. As he left his previous church, ostensibly due to burnout, he took with him Jordyn Wilson (her maiden name), with whom he had a close relationship and subsequently married.

I’m afraid I have to disagree with Brandi Wilson on one point. If Pete’s intimate relationships were with members of his congregation, then he may have been guilty of clergy abuse. Certainly, Jordyn, who worked for him, would fit the wrong end of the power dynamic. She is very young, and Pete looks a little long in the tooth. They are now married with one child, the sister of his older boys from his previous marriage. Pete got a strange gig that I outlined in the last post. He flies into Northridge Church in Michigan from his home in Nashville to be the “teaching pastor.” I called the church to ask about this decision. Given the circumstances, Northridge Church did not respond. So Pete gets to play preacher and pretend all is well. But can he dance off into the sunset, no questions asked?

Recently, Chris Hodges finally built his lodge of rest for fallen pastors. I’ve heard he denies that is his facility’s intent, but we have the quotes. Methinks Hodges got lots of questions from his tithers. This is a place for those who have fallen to be refreshed and restored. I would not be surprised if those restored were placed in ARC churches.

Can someone be restored without making restitution?

Although I am focusing on pastors, this question can be applied to all of us. We all know the kid who breaks a window playing baseball. We know those who were compelled to apologize and fix the window, and we know the kids who ran away or whose parents refused to fix the window. Susan Shaw, writing for Baptist News Global, posted Restoration without restitution is complicity.

I’m sure pastors with “issues” need support and counseling. I can’t help but ask, however, what it means to prioritize the well-being and restoration of these men to ministry over the well-being and healing of their victims. I can’t say I’m surprised. Evangelicals seem to show a lot of compassion for pastors who commit sexual abuse. Too bad they don’t show the same concern for victims.

Once again, I’m reminded of what Barabara Dorris, formerly of SNAP, told me before I started this blog. Always keep the victims in front of you as you write. After all these years of writing, I can attest to the truth of the following comments by Shaw.

it’s not unheard of for congregants and other pastors to defend predators by claiming children seduced them. So-called “consensual” affairs between pastors and congregants are usually judged as moral indiscretions rather than the abuse of power they really are.

“An abusive pastor isn’t a good man who made a mistake. He’s a predator.”

A pastor always has power over a congregant. It’s not an equal relationship, anymore than that of a therapist and client or teacher and student

…he narrative of a center for pastoral restoration is one of a good man who made a bad decision and who simply needs biblical guidance to ensure repentance and commitment not to do it again. Churches tell this story with euphemisms like “indiscretion” and “inappropriate relationship”

Churches who ignore the victim of the pastors are complicit in the abuse.

we make the case that, when the church ignores voices of survivors, it is complicit in abuse. When the church silences survivors or covers up abuse or allows predatory pastors to move from congregation to congregation, the church is an enabler of sexual abuse. And when the church uses the Bible to subjugate women, place sexual responsibility on women and gloss over men’s abuse of women and children, the church damages the very image of the God it supposedly represents.

Cheap grace is practiced by clueless churches that quickly restore these fallen pastors.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote much on the topic of cheap grace.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

…Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

Susan Shaw said:

In terms of clergy abuse, “cheap grace” means a pastor need only pray to God for forgiveness and promise not to be “indiscreet” or engage in “inappropriate relationships” again, and, just like that, he’s ready to return to ministry — if he’s been removed from a position at all.

Often, then, churches pressure victims to forgive perpetrators and move on, as if nothing ever happened. Yet great harm has been done, and mere words of apology to God — rarely the victim — do not begin to address the damage.

One way to avoid cheap grace is to demand restitution on the offender’s part.

Read what Susan Shaw says about this and remember pastors like Pete Wilson, Johnny Hunt, and others who slipped away and are “living their best life now.” What would happen if each church asked the pastor to explain how their victims are doing? Do they need the following? How about if that question was asked of congregations which have encouraged cheap grace via rapid restoration?

That may mean paying therapy bills for victims as long as they need counseling to work through what has happened to them. It may mean paying medical bills, making up for lost wages in time off because of trauma, helping with addiction, housing or education. Whatever the abuse has cost the victim should be paid by the abuser and the religious institutions that enabled him.

The church (and possibly denomination) itself needs to go through this process of transformative justice as well to discover how it enabled an abusive pastor and what steps it needs to take to ensure the safety of congregants from perpetrators and to transform itself into a congregation that proactively works for justice for survivors.

The church must recognize clergy “affairs” as abuse and insist on restitution for the victim.

While calling pastors to accountability is admirable, it’s ultimately ineffective and harmful if that calling only involves pastors themselves and does not demand restitution for victims or if it approaches abuse as a spiritual failing rather than a destructive pattern of gender-based violence that requires more intervention than prayer and Scripture reading.

If all the church does to address abuse by clergy is to work to restore pastors without requiring restitution, the church is complicit in the abuse. Abuse is a serious offense with lifelong consequences for victims and, until the church recognizes abuse for what it is, it will continue to enable abusers, cover up their abuses and increase harm and trauma for victims.

Pastoral restoration shouldn’t be the goal. Only an approach that centers justice for victims and transformation for all can begin to address the destructiveness of abuse and offer healing and hope to all.

A few years ago, I thought the church was well on the way to recognizing clergy abuse. As I have watched the intransigence of SBC executive committee leaders such as Joe Knott, I am concerned that our work has only just begun—more on Joe Knott soon.

North Carolina lawyer Joe Knott said the SBC should focus on fighting sin rather than addressing issues like abuse.


  1. Just another way, there’s no hate like Christian love. It always makes me laugh when these “leaders” have to ask why people are not showing up to their cult anymore. Thousands and thousands of cases have been confirmed across all denominations. Just once, I would like these cult leaders to listen to the damage they’ve caused to their own children. It’s not a few bad apples, the whole farm is toxic, nasty, and protects the worst of mankind. Oh, and they prey on the uneducated who somehow believe these conmen have any connection what-so-ever to the creator of the universe. Honestly, what must it be like to lie to children for a living? Better go ask a priest.

    1. Love it. Preach it, brother!

      Meamwhile, don’t you love how folks at St. Paul’s Dayton attack when they think McClain is being attacked, but they fall silent when we bring up the allegations of adultery?

      Folks, don’t be pigs.

      Be loyal to your spouse, whoever that is. If that doesn’t work for you, have the integrity to file for a divorce and be man enough to play fair. And don’t send your flying monkeys out to pester us about how you’re a “doting father,” even as you’re filing motions in court to cut your support to your wife and kids. Or trash your wife to your parish and us.

      And especially if you have kids, be enough of an adult to not sleep around prior to your divorce. How difficult is that?

      Keep it classy, Holy Spirit Power! And if you can’t manage that, don’t be an asshole.

      1. wouldn’t want to offend the most established church in America! We might stir the last couple of hundred thousand Episcopalians.

      2. In my limited experience, people who are actually loving, honest, kind don’t have to constantly remind everyone how loving they are. Then again, I’m just an atheist who grew up in this church. If anyone can convince you there is no god, it’s got to be the episcopal church.

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