Abuse Victim Reflects on Her Lifework

About six years ago, it became clear to me that my primary, final life task was to create greater health and transformation within the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the handling of employees who sexually abuse minors.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/12316

Hopefully this subject will get some traction!!!


We have come a long way from the time when a convicted child molester could, upon release from prison, be employed to sell SDA books door to door.

But abuse occurs in several forms: It can be sexual, physical, spiritual and emotional. it occurs among our members as well as in our families.

Personally, I believe the this denomination in general is not using our female clergy in a manner that they could best be used, with occasional exceptions. If a woman requests to speak to a female pastor, that may only occur after consult with the male pastor of her congregation. That is a violation of basic confidentiality issues and a failure to recognize that some women may need to talk to another female without male knowledge.

As I understand it, in one Conference a system has been put in place where a female can be put in contact, at Conference expense, with a licensed clinician, without the Conference knowing the name of the woman. That is a welcome beginning.

In my background as a SDA Federal Chaplain, with a graduate degree in psychology, I have witnessed such misconduct on the part of mission staff with members of the military, a Conference President whom I once worked for, as a member of a congregation on the part of its pastor, and of SDAs who came to the clinic of the University where I was taking graduate work.

As a Federal chaplain, I had women come to me because they felt that I would respect their confidentiality and as I was not on the SDA salary, I would likely be more receptive to working with them.

Speaking form experience, I can say that we have made substantial progress. One of the GC Vice Presidents is a person I once worked with on a case when he was in a local Conference.
He did it well. He arranged for the woman and a companion to be flown to the area of the Conference and put up in a hotel, while the Conference talked with her. But, there is more that we need to do.

NOTE: My statement here is brief. I could say more.


Thanks Chaplain Matthews for weighing in on this! The General Conference VP you speak of is no doubt the same one who for the past five years has told me, “We need your voice.”

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Morbid child abusers cause immense emotional damage.

Unhindered abuse, sexual or otherwise, readily results in a helpless child’s brain improperly developing. The emotional and/or psychological trauma acts as a starting point into a life in which the brain uncontrollably releases potentially damaging levels of inflammation-promoting stress hormones and chemicals, even in non-stressful daily routines.

It can amount to non-physical-impact brain-damage abuse: It has been described as a continuous, discomforting anticipation of ‘the other shoe dropping’ and simultaneously being scared of how badly you will deal with the upsetting event, which usually never transpires.

The lasting emotional/psychological pain from such trauma is very formidable yet invisibly confined to inside one’s head. It is solitarily suffered, unlike an openly visible physical disability or condition, which tends to elicit sympathy/empathy from others. And it can make every day a mental ordeal, unless the turmoil is prescription and/or illicitly medicated.

The health of ALL children needs to be of real importance to us ALL — and not just concern over what other parents’ children might or will cost us as future criminals or costly cases of government care, etcetera — regardless of how well our own developing children are doing.

A physically and mentally sound future should be every child’s fundamental right — along with air, water, food and shelter — especially considering the very troubled world into which they never asked to enter. And mindlessly minding our own business on such matters has too often proven humanly devastating.


Bernadine, If you think that there would be value in sharing some experiences outside of the public, let me know how I can contact you (e-mail or phone, probably) and I will do so.
Gregory Matthews


When I finally had the courage to contact the SDA conference of the state where a lay pastor abused me for all of my teenage years, I was sent a short response encouraging me to continue with counseling.

Not only had I written eleven pages of details, but I also provided supporting documentation, including a letter from my professional counselor confirming that I had shared these details as far back as 2004 in a clinical setting.

The conference swept me under the rug.

As time goes by, I find my anger building, since I am being forced to wait for the statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases to be lifted in that state. My case now sits in a folder with a law firm, waiting for that to happen (hopefully this year).

I was so willing to have the conference meet with me and talk with me. It could have been handled at the organized church level. But no, they were hoping, by pushing me aside, that I would quietly disappear and they would never hear from me again. Why? It seems so unChristlike to make abuse victims go through the court system to get justice.


I do not know how long ago you shared the details with the conference. However, I do know that more Conferences are willing to become involved than were in the past. On the assumption that your sharing was not recent, You might attempt to share again. But, I can understand why you might not want to do that.

If I can come up with a good answer to what you can do, I will come back here and post it.

Respectfully, how can any professional with even an ounce of concern for women’s opinions and sensibilities abide such a policy?

More importantly, how could any man or woman encourage any woman to abide by it? Doesn’t freedom of speech include the right to decide with whom one does and doesn’t want to speak?

Regardless of the SDA stance on WO, shouldn’t this policy, in and of itself, convince every woman that there is no place for her in such a denomination, particularly knowing that so-called Christian men-riding on the back of a woman of questionable mental health and who was almost certainly domineered by her closet male associates-used her “gifts” to benefit themselves both monetarily and egotistically in the course of establishing their repressive cult and culture?

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It was only two years ago—so not that far in the past.

Thank you for responding and I appreciate your original article response and thoughts. It is my honest opinion, though, that those who believe that our conferences and administrative bodies are doing better at this, have never been victims of sexual abuse by a pastor or elder/lay person within the denomination.

Programs like enditnow, etc. are little more than public relations platforms from which the leadership speaks as if they are doing great things on the topic of abuse. When it comes down to the actual work of offering heart-felt restitution for suffering, the first response is to protect the church’s reputation and coffers, not the victim.

It is an uncomfortable position to take one’s church to court. The ‘brethren’ can’t wrap their mind around a loyal believer taking such a step. And unfortunately, that is why so many women have not soldiered on to receive justice. Women, too, feel that they are somehow selfishly sinning if they take this step. It took me years to get this far and to give myself permission to have a voice.

If I was speaking only for myself, this may come across as someone with a chip on her shoulder (although a rightfully earned chip). However, I communicate regularly with two others (from two different eras) who have experienced the same non-response from church leadership.

Like my husband said after I courageously wrote my letter to the conference two years ago and received such a dismissive response, “At the very least, they should have gotten on a plane and arrived at your door with a bouquet of flowers.”


Bruce, in my opinion, this comes about because our male Conference Presidents, often do not fully understand the need, function & Role of female pastors. So, they expect that clergy will not intrude on the territory of another pastor.

I will give you an example: I was working with a woman, who requested to talk to a female pastor. I received permission from her to tell her male pastor that she wanted to talk to a female. But, I made a decision not to tell him why. (Confidentiality and I believed that the woman should decide who she wanted to tell the reason, and I should not do that.) When I told him, his response include the statement that he did not understand why she would want to talk to a female as he had recently prayed with her. I could say more, but I will stop at this point.
My major point is: In my experience, SDA male clergy, to include both congregational pastors and Conference administrators, often have little to no understanding of why women may need to talk to another women.
In addition, many of the women who have come to me have done so due to the fact that my experience as a hospital chaplain has resulted in them thinking that I could keep confidentiality and not share their secrets with others.

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I will give you an example that went bad:

  • Joice (penname) was a member of the U.S. Army.
  • She attended a SDA Evangelistic series and requested further Bible studies.
  • Those studies were given her by the local Head Elder.
  • She was baptized.
  • When she discovered that she was pregnant, she sought help from a pastoral employee, and she identified the Head Elder as the Father, who admitted to the charge.
  • The result was that a letter was sent to the women in the congregation telling them to keep their husbands away form her.
  • She took care of the situation, continued in the Army, left the SDA Church and came to me with her story.
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Are you trying to refute my point or confirm it!?!?

JK. :wink:

Either way, I think I get what you’re saying and do not disagree.

Thanks Frank! I so agree with your statement regarding every child’s birthright. Sadly that birthright is like a piece of paper we throw on the flames :fire: if when the child is wounded, especially sexually, we fail to believe them, and support them, and instead shame and alienate them!

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So tragic! I heard dozens of similar stories from students & clients over the years.

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The damage of all forms of abuse can last for a life-time. Some are able to make some form of recovery. In adult-hood, some may be discovering and dealing with aspects of their abuse that have remained covered for years.


When i was taking my graduate work in psychology at Chapman University a badly wounded woman came to our clinic. The Psychology teaching staff called me in to explain to them why s SDA congregational pastor, who had formal training in counseling, had treated her as he had treated her when she first went to him for help. To this day, I do not have a good response.


It is a shame that so few have responded to this article. Must make you feel even worse. I do not attend church now, partly because I am writing material that the church will deem negative. However, I have lots of contacts in the church. Though what I am saying is not all about sexual abuse of minors, it does include it. In Australia I found out a minister went to prison in Victoria some years ago for sexual assault. Another one was imprisoned last Christmas for having a wife with no children and at the same time another women with four children (sexual assault, so probably #2 was underage in the beginning). Also, there are several cases under litigation in N.N.S.W. or about to go into it concerning ministers and sexual assault. When my husband, Desmond Ford, was fired in 1980s, a number of men prominently active against him had wrong sexual relationships in their past. These incidents were known about but those considered part of the brotherhood were moved elsewhere and often promoted upwards. Unless people write articles like this, most of the laity would have no idea. Thank you.


Ruth, you are NOT ALONE. Sadly over the years of being an educator and a psychologist I have encountered hundreds of similar stories. That is why I have identified this as one of my FINAL LIFE TASKS. Let’s dialogue more directly if you so choose. Texting works best for me. My phone number is (909) 289-5859. Blessings

Greg, I would also welcome texting with you at the same above number. I’m clear that I’m called to be an Activist on this subject planning strategies which WILL create change as well as a forum for love :two_hearts: & support of victims. The Facebook site “Addressing Abuse in Adventism’s “was hacked. However I would welcome assistance in re-establishing it. Also, I’m sad to out of honesty need to agree with Ruthlynette regarding us reggressing… We applaud ourselves on requiring background checks, however if sex abuse is it ready not oreported to the a background check wilshowNO PROBLEMS.”, rendering them almost useless. When Jesus used the parable (or r was it instruction?) of placing pls a millstone neck f one wh offends (especially in the worst way possible … do you see that this was NOT SOMETHING JESUS IGNORED in the interests of good p.r.

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I have sent you a text with my cell phone number and my e-mail address.

Gregory Matthews