Pulling Back the Veil on Abuse in the Church

(Spectrumbot) #1

Lourdes Morales-Gudmundsson, president of the Association of Adventist Women, talks about the Association's upcoming conference on domestic violence and sexual abuse in the context of the Adventist church and other faith commuities.

Question: The Association of Adventist Women is sponsoring a conference called “Unveiling: Women, Faith and Sexual Abuse,” to be held in Riverside, California at the end of October. Why did you feel there was a need to host a conference on this topic?

Answer: The news media is carrying reports every day about new cases of sexual abuse by clergy. Our own church through ADRA and the General Conference Women’s Ministries launched the EndItNow campaign in 2010 to collect one million signatures to send to the United Nations expressing our church’s support of actions that will put an end to violence of any kind perpetrated against women and girls worldwide. As the oldest, continuously active Adventist women’s organization, we could hardly keep silent about this issue.

The title of the first lecture of the conference is “Addressing the Reality of Domestic Violence in the Adventist Church.” What can you tell us about Dr. Victoria Jackson, who will be delivering that talk?

Dr. Victoria Jackson holds a doctorate in Social Work and teaches at Loma Linda University. She will be sharing some surprising statistics about sexual abuse in our church, nationally and worldwide.

Is there a problem with domestic violence in the Adventist church? Are we as a church not addressing it?

Currently, the church is addressing this issue with statements, online workshops, and summits, but it’s still not clear whether or not there are viable programs and procedures that hold offenders accountable in meaningful ways.

People are becoming increasingly aware of sexual abuse and domestic violence as more women are coming out against pastors and other church leaders who have used their positions of authority to prey on vulnerable women. Our church’s way of dealing with pastors accused of sexual misconduct has been to move them to other churches where principally unsuspecting girls and women fall under their nefarious influence.

Is there evidence to support this?

The information I have is anecdotal, from stories shared with me personally by victims or friends of victims, YouTube and video stories. The stories are predictable: the offender preyed on her because she was emotionally vulnerable (i.e., seeking a father figure to protect her), she “gave in,” he continued abusing until someone outside the relationship or the victim herself called the perpetrator out. People in a position to help the victim either did not believe her or chose to cover for the offender in order to protect the institution's good name. One such story is Samantha Nelson's (see the Spectrum interview with Nelson here). She is now co-founder with her husband of The Hope of Survivors.

The conference is not all about Adventists — you have invited speakers from Islamic and Jewish faiths, as well as other Christians. Why did you decide to make this an interfaith conference?

We felt that we would be benefited from hearing about the experiences of women of other faith communities with this problem and learn about the ways they have used the legal means and spiritual resources of their faith to address it. Too often Adventists are insular and only talk to one another. There is much we can learn from our sisters and brothers of other faiths, particularly about a problem that affects all of us. Finding solutions to a shared problem seemed the logical way to go. A sizeable grant from Versacare for this conference has confirmed that we made the right decision.

What are some of the other speakers and topics you are excited about?

There are so many! In the first place, we are excited that Mayor Rusty Bailey, mayor of the City of Riverside will kick off our conference. He is very pleased that an interfaith conference such as this will be held in his city.

Personally, I’m most excited about the presentations by Attorney Najeeba Syeed, a women’s rights activist within the Muslim community and Rabbi Rochelle Robins who heads the American Academy of Jewish Studies. Esther Miller’s presentation on her work with victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy will be interesting to compare with our own and other faith communities.

How did you choose whom to invite?

Two of our current officers, Isabel León and Priscilla Walters, had contacts at Loma Linda University, so we started there with a group of outstanding women: Carla Gober, Barbara Hernández, Patti Herring, Victoria Jackson, and Lisa Sovory.

I was able to find the speakers from the Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish faiths.

We invited Samantha and Steve Nelson from The Hope of Survivors and they have sent us Elgin and Gail Jenkins to talk about the worldwide impact of their work with victims of clergy sexual abuse inside and outside the Adventist church.

Other speakers, such as Mable Dunbar and Heather-Dawn Small were well known to us for their work with women’s issues, and Dr. Neil Nedley came to our attention for his recent research on the brain and human sexuality.

Who will the attendees of the conference be?

We are hoping that the audience will be made up people who already work with victims of sexual abuse or domestic violence in some way, i.e. clergy and other professionals who work in churches and universities with members and students who have been victimized. And we want to hear from victims themselves.

What do you hope will be the outcome of the conference?

We hope victims of sexual abuse will attend to share their stories and receive affirmation and support. We also hope to network with organizations that address this problem and collaborate with them in ways that are meaningful for victims as well as perpetrators. Holding the latter accountable for their actions is part of what we see as our role in awareness-raising and educating.

Has the Association of Adventist Women ever held a conference on this topic before?

Yes, I recently learned that AAW has sponsored one or two workshops and has featured speakers on the topic of sexual abuse. Although AAW has always welcomed women of other faiths to their conferences and workshops, this will be, to my knowledge, the first intentionally interfaith event sponsored by AAW.

You have served as president of the Association of Adventist Women for a while now. How long have you sat in this chair? What do you feel are your biggest accomplishments during your time at the helm? What do you most enjoy about piloting the Association?

It has been one of the greatest challenges of my career as a professional woman to head this great organization since 2013. When I took up this task, the organization had been functioning under the able leadership of many capable women, but was in need of finding relevancy above and beyond the issue of women’s ordination.

The issue of relevancy has been our greatest challenge and, with this upcoming conference, we expect it to be one of our biggest achievements. We feel that our only hope of attracting young Adventist women to our organization is through our work with contemporary social justice issues. At the moment, sexual abuse and domestic violence offer opportunities for AAW to educate and train women and men to work with victims of these crimes.

Given recent votes taken at the 2018 Annual Council, we will inevitably continue to work with and support Adventist women in pastoral ministry.

What other events is the Association planning?

From 2013-2016 we have sponsored conferences on the campuses of Andrews University, Oakwood University, Southern Adventist University, and La Sierra University. In 2015 we ran a booth at the General Conference World Session in San Antonio, Texas and handed out hundreds of ampersand pins and informative pamphlets on the ordination issue, including a booklet by Ty Gibson, in which he supports the practice of ordination regardless of gender. We also organized a reception for women’s ministries directors from around the world. Our guest speaker was Pastor Hao Bin Wu who, at that time, was pastoring a 7000-member Adventist church in Beiguan, China as an ordained pastor.

As for future events, we are planning next year’s conference, possibly on the topic of human trafficking, and a workshop on feminine language and imagery of God when working with abused women and girls.

Do you feel the relevancy of the Association has increased in the era of #MeToo?

The #MeToo and @UsToo, and all the other movements that attempt to address sexual abuse and the power issues that surround it have opened a door of opportunity for a religious group of women such as AAW to educate our church on the sad reality of the presence of this type of abuse in our midst and provide resources that will break the stranglehold of silence that further victimizes the injured party while emboldening the perpetrator. There are enough biblical calls for justice to the powerless that should motivate us to continue down this path.

What do you do when you are not doing the business of the Association of Adventist Women?

I am now formally retired after nearly 50 years of teaching Spanish language and literature. I’m getting my second wind with AAW even as I continue to work on books and articles in my field of interest, Latin American literature of the 20th century.

My interest in biblical and social justice themes in the works of writers such as Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende, among others, is reflected in my enthusiasm for encouraging AAW to use its influence and resources to help women dealing with sexual or domestic violence, human trafficking, separation of families at the border, and other social justice realities facing women and children.

Register for the October 26 and 27 conference at www.associationofadventistwomen.org, by calling 951-837-1450, or emailing women4ministry@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy of Lourdes Morales-Gudmundsson.

Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9122

(EdZirkwitz) #2

The topic of abuse in the Adventist Church is one that is not properly dealt with from the perspective of prevention, awareness that there is a huge problem, dealing with the perpetrators and helping the victims. Pastors, church administrators, teachers are often the perpetrators and are major obstacles to any real solution to the above components. Investigations are not done independantly or objectively. This results in denials and condoning of improper behaviours. The problem in the Adventist church is as real and problematic as in any other denomination.

(Carlo Schroeder) #3

First and foremost, these acts are criminal, and should be treated in that way. As you mentioned, the scope and depth of the serious of these acts are not really understood by members, which only give the perpetrator more power over his/her victims. Because in the country I live, there are no female pastors, the main culprit are pastors, and administrator’s. We must get to the level of the teenager and educate them against the dangers of these people.

(Dan Springer) #4

it needs to be well before the ‘teen years’, friend! abuse can start even in the kindergarten age, sadly.

(Carlo Schroeder) #5

True, brother. Can’t wait for the teenage years.

(Kim Green) #6

So wish that I could attend…sounds like it will be a fantastic event!

The SDA church has just as much abuse as any other denomination. Children need to be educated on what are appropriate boundaries from an early age. The church needs to have more education on sexual abuse and accountability. So much more needs to be still done.

(Cfowler) #7

Perhaps much more than some. Weren’t we just discussing here about the instances of sexual abuse being higher in the churches that are more isolated or set apart like LDS and JW’s?

(Kim Green) #8

Yes, we were discussing this issue. It is probably higher because of the “chilling” effect of a Fundamentalist church. The abused are less likely to want to report or even denounce the abuser because of the cultural taboo about protecting the church, etc.

(Carlo Schroeder) #9

I have observed two incidents of sexual abuse, and nothing has happened to either men. What is it with parents who don’t help their daughters, and how can a wife’s still live with men like this.

(Cfowler) #10

I know of a couple of cases like this as well. I can’t imagine living with a child molester. One of the cases involves a woman who is a mental health care professional who stayed with the abuser. The other the wife of a pastor. The mind reels…

(Steve Mga) #11

I realize this is a discussion about THE FEMALE HUMAN PERSONS.
HOWEVER, Male Human Persons have ALSO been part of ABUSE by
persons representing the church.
All the way from Cradle Roll age group through Teens for BOTH Males and Females.

I believe this topic has reared its head on Spectrum before since I have been aware of
Spectrum Magazine. Persons have mentioned that The Church has allowed persons
involved in this activity to become employed in another Conference without mentioning
the Problem to the prospective New Employers. Where the activity was continued.

Training Programs need to be in place where we teach CHILDREN about the correct
ways one may receive “touching” by Adults or other persons in Authority. And let them
KNOW that it is OK to report any Questionable “touching” activities.

The Episcopalian “Safeguarding God’s Children” is an excellent 3 hour training program
for ALL persons who are involved with children and teens.
It is also a good one to show to the children and teens.

(George Tichy) #12

Cases of sexual abuse cannot be handled by the church or by the “loving brethren.” They need to be reported immediately to the right authorities (police), to make sure that abusers like that are taking out of the public eye in order to prevent them from making further victims. There must be 0% tolerance for cases of sexual abuse. The damage to women is way too serious for there to be any tolerance.

(Steve Mga) #13

Carlo –
YES!! In the United States, anyway, Sexual Abuse is to be reported to the POLICE.
For MINORS one has a MAXIMUM of 48 hours. If one waits OVER the 48 Hr period
there can be serious consequences for the one reporting the incident.
In the Episcopal Church one reports these to the local Pastor, and this person reports
it to the Diocese Bishop [Conference President]. The matter is NOT taken lightly.

(Kim Green) #14

Not that this happens in all cases…but many times the women who stay with abusing spouses stay because of loss of social and spiritual community “identity”. I volunteered in an agency that served abused women and children. I saw one of the abused women by accident on the campus of the local community college where she was taking classes. She was still wracked with guilt and told me, “The bible tells us to stay together as a family.” I told here that God did not tell her husband to abuse her and the kids, etc. It is very hard for some of them to leave no matter what.


(Cfowler) #15

I know that’s true, Cassie. I can’t wrap my noggin around it, but, I know people make decisions all the time that are hard to understand. I don’t want to be harsh and judgemental of their situation, because I’ve not walked a mile in their moccasins.

(Kim Green) #16

It is part of the “abuse” cycle and false religious views…they have to be “de-programmed” from all of it. Takes willingness, time, and patience.

(Steve Mga) #17

CFowler –
I answered your List. Steve


They should be proud of their ability to fly under the radar. It worked for the Catholics, until it didn’t.


”Obviously the Church will fight us very hard.”

(Carrol Grady`) #20

So happy to hear about this progress, even if it is still only the first or second step forward! I really wish I lived where I could attend!

(George Tichy) #21

Plan to move to SoCal. You won’t repent! :slight_smile: