Sexually abusing children in the name of God

Rachel Denhollander became an unwilling victim of sexual abuse at age 7 at the hands of a college student attached to the ministry of Westwood Baptist Church in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Often, the young man encouraged the girl to sit on his lap.  He bought her gifts, including clothing.  His actions caught the attention of Sandy Burdick, the licensed counselor who led the church’s sexual-abuse support group and he warned Denhollander’s parents, who turned to their closet friends, their Bible-study support group, for help.

“You’re overreacting” was the response, reported The Washington Post.  One set of parents said their kids could no longer play with young Denhollander because they did not want to be accused.  What they didn’t know was that the college student had already committed a sexual act with their daughter — masturbating whiled she sat on his lap.

Her parents didn’t find out until after the student left the church.  Her mother never told anyone about it.

“We have already tried once and weren’t believed,” Camille Moxon said.  “What’s the point.”

The point was that the church did nothing to protect the child.

Denhollander felt the church made it clear that it did not believe victims. She carried that denial into a program as a young gymnastics performer sexually assaulted by the program’s Doctor, Larry Nasser.

Once again, she wasn’t believed when she finally came forward.  It took too many years for Nasser to be charged, convicted and sent to prison for the rest of his life without any chance for parole.

The record of sexual harassment, attempts to conceal abuse cases and more such crimes against women both of age and underage is found among all religions, including the evangelicals.

Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, retired early last month after reports surfaced that he had told a rape victim to forgive her assailant rather than call the police.

In Illinois, megachurch pastor Bill Hybels took early retirement after women told of his lewd comments, unwanted kisses and invitations to hotel rooms.

Tennessee evangelical pastor Any Savage took years to finally confess to pressuring a 17-year-old girl to perform oral sex on him as he drove her home from a youth event.

The girl reported his act to senior pastors (Savage was a “youth minister” at the time) but the church did not discipline him or report his illegal act to authorities.

In Floyd County, a pastor in Indian Valley awaits trial on charges he raped a 14-year-old child in the church parsonage.  Legendary county pastor Bob Childress, “The Man Who Moved a Mountain,” also had a nasty habit of putting moves on the wives of parishioners.  His son, also a pastor, resigned from the pulpit of Buffalo Mountain Presbyterian Church after telling his shocked flock that he, too had committed adultery.

The Virginia Sexual Offender database contains 25 residents of Floyd County, including a grandfather who sexually abused his granddaughter when she was under 10 years old, a former Farm Credit executive who trafficked in child pornography and others.

Additional ones live outside the county and are registered in Montgomery, Carroll and other counties, including a former girl’s basketball coach convicted of aggravated sexual battery and investigated for more than a dozen sexual assaults on girls ranging from 14 to 19.

Few of us can proclaim innocence of what are considered sins of the flesh.  I frolicked sexually with other women while married to my first wife.  As an active single man in the 1970s, I had consensual sex with a number of women.

My grandaddy used to offer this salute with a glass of moonshine in his hand: “Here’s to hell!  May the stay there be as much fun as the way there.”

But the loose morals of a hard-drinking newspaperman who celebrates 24 years of sobriety in four days are a far cry from the self-righteous proclamations of self-appointed men (and women) of God.

During my 12 years as a reporter for The Telegraph of Alton, Illinois from 1969 to 1981, I came across a parish Catholic priest making out with a woman in the front seat of his sports car more than once.  An architect married a former nun and said they met and fell in love when she was still a practicing “sister.”

In Washington, the “unspoken rule” for elected officials and political operatives on the road was “wheels up, wedding rings off” when the plane took off.  While I did not engage in that practice, let’s those who were hooking up did so with partners of legal age.

Those days seem long ago, and they should be.  Amy and I have a happy, monogamous life as partners, lovers and married mates.

Richard Sipe, a Benedictine monk-priest for 18 years, is now a sociologist who left the church and authored six books about Catholicism and sexual abuse in the church.  He was a source for the Pulitzer Prize winning series about widespread sexual abuse in the church by the Spotlight team of the Boston Globe.

Sipe, who is married to a former num, blames the problem in the church on the celibacy requirement for priests.  He says celibacy is widely ignored by priests at all levels of the Catholic church.

The expanding “evangelical” movement among religious fundamentalists criticized the sexual abuse situation in the Catholic church while ignoring the same failings in their own ranks.

“Issues of sexual abuse and exploitation and gender discrimination are not just for one political party or type of theology,” says Kelly Rosati, vice president for child advocacy at Focus on the Family, a conservative evangelical organization. “People are not exempted by their culture. Churches are not exempt. This is an issue that we have to grapple with.”

Liberty University law professor Box Tchividjian, grandson of the late Billy Graham, admits evangelicals are “worse than Catholics” when it comes to ignoring sexual abuse by pastors.

“Protestants can be very arrogant when points to Catholics,” he adds.

Christa Brown tells of molestation by a Southern Baptist youth minister in her book, This Little Light: Beyond a Baptist Preacher Predator and his Gang.

“I say ‘thank you’ to Boz Tchividjian for continuing to publicly speak out about the extent of clergy abuse and cover-ups among evangelicals,” she told  ““For those of us—and we are many—who were abused by the sexual predation of evangelical ministers and re-abused by the bullying of other evangelical leaders who wanted the abuse kept quiet, Tchividjian’s words of truth are a balm for the heart.”

Too often, it seems, hypocritical pastors too often force youngsters down to their knees for something far more primal than prayer.

(Updated to provide more additional information on the the problem.)

© 2004-2021 Blue Ridge Muse

© 2021 Blue Ridge Muse