I have been involved in dealing with a number of cases involving sexual predation and exploitation by church leaders – in all kinds of churches (including “organic” or “simple” churches which naively think they are immune from this kind of abuse).
My wife and I have also done pastoral counseling, over the years, with literally hundreds of sex abuse survivors – as well as many abusers who seek help after truly confessing and openly repenting.
One thing I see over and over – especially by predatory church leaders – is the same kind of initial “grooming” behavior. It is amazing how sexually exploitive men in “ministry” all seem to use the same methods.
This is a first hand account by one survivor, “Samantha N“, and it is worth reading:
“I started noticing more and more things [personal attention, private messages, etc.] and, finally, I asked the pastor (via email) if he emailed all the church members this way or just me. I was not prepared for his reply ‘just you,’ he said.”
This is classic grooming behavior by a man in leadership who has learned how to use his charm and “care” to prey on others: He’ll show special attention and concern, combined with private text messages, chats on Facebook, emails and the like.
Be on guard. When you learn of this kind of focused attention and persistent personal communication – especially by a married church leader (whether itinerant or part of your church) toward a woman in your church – don’t stand idle. It is wrong and it is him testing to see if there is an emotional vulnerability that he can exploit to feed his own narcissism.
I have seen this many, many times. It is classic predatory behavior by an exploitive leader seeking new victims.
It happens in all kinds of churches – institutional, organic, simple, “ekklesia”, whatever. I’m dealing with a case now involving a national “organic” church leader with a history of exactly this type of grooming – especially, in his case, towards younger women.
Don’t be naive and think you or your church is exempt…
If you are the recipient of such behavior, don’t fall prey to it. Go to others whom you trust, while also seeking help and support from those who also have gone through this and understand it. A good resource is The Hope of Survivors.
Locally, here in northern Virginia, our fellowships have developed a ministry called Nathan’s Voice to help victims.
If you learn of such behavior, don’t be naive just because it involves someone who is charming, gifted and personable (in fact, sexual predators in leadership are almost always the most charming, gifted and personable people you will ever know – which is how they get away with it).
Most of all, don’t hesitate to confront and expose such predators (of course, while protecting the victims and their identity).
You may be saving those who otherwise would be their next victims.
Never forget, silence is deadly – they thrive on it.