Abusive Church Leaders (Part 1) – My Personal Angst

Much to my dismay, God keeps bringing people to my door who have been abused by a pastor or other trusted church leader.

Over the last year, I’ve taken on three cases against abusive pastors. Two involve significant embezzlement and fraud by pastors in different churches. A third involves extensive sexual abuse and misconduct by around half a dozen men on the pastoral and ministerial staff at Christ Chapel Assembly of God in Woodbridge, Virginia.

Although I’ve never sought such cases, more keep queuing up and demanding my attention.

My Personal Angst

This isn’t what I planned for my law practice. Even though I do lots of other kinds of legal work, these are the kind of cases I personally hate to handle. That’s because I am not an attorney who can just go through the motions. I only take on new clients if I personally care about their plight and believe I can help. Because I care, pastoral abuse cases can be personally crushing.

As an attorney helping women who’ve been sexual exploited by a trusted pastor, there’s no way I can remain clinically and dispassionately detached and still be effective. To help them, I have to be their strength. I have to take on and bear the weight of the sins and the hurts they’ve suffered, while letting them know that someone with authority finally cares enough to listen to them, believe in them, and stand firm on their behalf against the evil they’ve suffered.

For them to tell me what happened means that they must open up the hurt, shame and sense of violation they are carrying, and it is often more than they can bear alone. To help them, they must trust me with their stories. That trust only arises as I am sincere and transparent in my empathy, and resolute and caring in my strength. Time and again, I’ve seen how healing it is for them to find someone who will finally listen and help them find the voice and dignity their own churches stole from them.

For me, however, the evil and the abuse they suffered – at the hands of unrepentant but respected pastors – is almost too much to bear.

It is crushing. Almost daily as I work on such cases, I break down weeping after hearing from a new victim, or learning of yet another man who is preying on women in his church.

Some of those abusive men, it turns out, had been my friends. And so I mourn – for the women and also for the carnage caused by men I too respected, trusted and called friends.

There is a price to pay to help these women. Yet my wife and I strongly felt that the Lord wanted me to help – even if it means bearing their burden, forgoing personal compensation, if needed, and putting other paying cases on the shelf.

So I agreed to step forward, investigate and act on their behalf. And although it sometimes drives me to my knees in tears, I have felt so privileged to get to know them. In coming forward to bear witness against their abusers, they are never driven by revenge or personal gain. Rather, they simply want to stop the abuse, protect others and find closure.

And in so doing, despite being wounded and shamed, they demonstrate a quiet, humble courage few can match.

Next, I talk about a case I’m now handling, and address the question of How Should We React, in Part 2 of this series.

~ Jim

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If you or someone you know has been a victim of pastoral sexual exploitation, I recommend I’m So Confused, by The Hope of Survivors, as a good starting point to understand and begin to seek healing.

15 responses

    • I’m working with others to create a ministry that will provide comprehensive support for victims of abusive churches and church leaders. It’s called Nathan’s Voice, and I hope to go “live” with our new web site in a week or so. Part of the resources available through Nathan’s Voice will be legal help and advocacy, counseling, peer support and ministry. Our hope is to help give victims their voice and also help them find closure as well as emotional and spiritual healing. I will be continuing to provide legal help through Nathan’s Voice, but in the meantime feel free to contact me at http://fulcrumexpress.com/contact/.

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      • Thanks for all you are trying to do for victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse. I wish I would have had someone to stand for me four years ago when I resigned from a full time position at a church pastored by an abuser. The people that I trusted that were our “covering” treated me like the bad guy and he walked away scott free… only to abuse another staff member last year (which led to an inappropriate relationship between them and the split up of her marriage). I took my case before the major denomination that he was a district elder in (with proof) and they still treated me and the other woman like we were the criminals. Once again… the abuser got off without even a reprimand. It is so hard to find healing when no one cares for the victims.

        God bless you. You will never know the impact you are going to have on so many hurting people.

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  1. Jim,

    I want to thank you for your heart and help to victims of clergy sexual abuse. I am honored to work with these beautiful women, from all over the world, who have been abused and I know first hand the deep devastation. Your help in this area is greatly needed to bring hope and healing and justice to a very overlooked, misunderstood abuse.

    There is a quote by Edmund Burke that reads: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”. I have asked this question many times, “Where are the men of God out there, who care enough to stand up and do something to protect the women and children sitting beside them in the pews of these churches? Sounds like one has just stepped up. Thank you!

    August 1 has been designated as Clergy Sexual Abuse Awareness & Prevention Day TM, Enough is Enough http://www.clergysexualabuseawarenessday.com

    God bless you,
    Wendy Schwitzer

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  2. Dear Jim,
    Thank you for your compassionate care for clergy sexual abuse victims. This is critical and especially needed when it comes to victims who are pursuing legal action. To have an attorney who cares and walks alongside them means more to victims than you will ever know. I appreciate that you’re starting an organization to help victim.s Please be aware of The Hope of Survivors, a nonprofit organization that provides free counsel and support to victims around the world. (http://www.thehopeofsurvivors.com)
    Perhaps we can work together somehow?
    God bless you,
    Samantha

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    • Samantha, I certainly look forward to working with The Hope of Survivors. In fact, at the bottom of my blog I recommend that victims go to your site and I provide a link.

      Nathan’s Voice is going to be a local ministry for victims in our area (Northern Virginia). We have neither the means nor the will to go trans-local! My client in the current case involving a large Assemblies of God church in the area recommended you to me, and I was thrilled to see the great resources you all have assembled. I will continue to encourage others to tap into what The Hope of Survivors is doing.

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  3. That is wonderful, Jim! Thank you for your support. I do look forward to meeting or talking with you sometime about how we can better work together for this cause. As an attorney, do you serve victims from VA only, or from other states as well? Please let me know when you have the Nathan’s Voice website up so we can link to it. Thanks!

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  4. Pingback: Expanding Administrative Presidency . . . . Who’s Monitoring the Usage? « Let'sGetHonestBlog

  5. Jim,
    Let’s not forget the men and women who are destroyed in their communities by unfounded lies and rumors. A solid career can be ruined by a poisonous tongue almost over night. Perhaps Hope of Survivors will spend some resources on this. Pastoral abuse is a two edged sword.

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  6. Pingback: Confronting Abusive Pastors, Part 3: A Mandatory Public Reprimand « Crossroad Junction

  7. Pingback: Confronting Abusive Pastors, Part 4: Civil and Criminal Law « Crossroad Junction

  8. Pingback: Confronting Abusive Pastors, Part 2: How Should We React? « Crossroad Junction

  9. In reading these comments and articles on sexual abuse, there is an interesting way of looking at it.I ask myself, and although on a practical level it’s wrong, I want to go deeply and explore my feelings about it from a spiritual perspective, where is the love of God here? Now, I am going to be simple and blunt to explore my feelings about this. Now, God created us to love one another. What does this mean and how does it make me feel? To me, it means loving from a spiritual perspective. What does that mean? And, how does that understanding effect the way I evaluate my opinions? Love is a many splendored thing. Okay. That means many people have different ways of loving. That makes me angry because some people love in unhealthy, ill ways. But, those who have experienced unhealthy love do not know the difference. Should they be forgiven? From a spiritual perspective? Yes, God is a Just god, but is He not also a loving and forgiving God who looks on the good and the bad? Does not a repentant sinner deserve redemption? And, as far as punishment goes and the salvation of the Just, should we not leave that up to God? Why not? Who gave us the right to judge? Although God is Just Jesus, knowing that the people killing Him were evil, did not judge them. He knew he was right to judge them if he did, but he forgave them. Do we not remember this from Scripture? He was giving us a chance to forgive them, of course and come out the better men, but let’s go a step deeper. Let’s forget about justice for a moment, and the evil it redeems. Although society has become it’s own judge, I want to focus on we as people; who we are and who we are meant to be, from my perspective. Let’s go beyond this, to learn about ourselves and grow from this instead of letting ourselves be caught up in it, because only then can we truly heal.
    On a deep level, we are love. We are meant to feel love; not romantic love, but spiritual love because at our essence we are spiritual, are we not? Now, in feeling love that leads us to knowing ourselves and knowing God, who we are meant to be like. We are feelers. Our hearts are where our souls reside. That is where our essence is. That is our core, the core of who we are, not the core of who we were meant to be. It is to our advantage that we are created this way. It gives us the opportunity to know Truth. Now, in Truth, we need not judge. Why? Because our Souls are greater than Judgement. Judgement is a construct created by God because we were hard-hearted. Adam and Eve were forgiven. Did they go to Hell? Actually, we do not know. But, if they did, it was because they did not accept forgiveness, which God offers to us freely. What this means,and what I am saying, is that Souls only go to Hell if they do not accept the love of God and start to bring love into their lives by becoming the Love that Jesus embodied; and the Love that He offers to us through forgiveness. Now, how are we to be forgiven ourselves if we do not forgive another man?

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