The following is an excerpt from a work-in-progress called The Town I Live In. Because of the sensitive nature of this post, all names that are not a matter of legal pubic record have been kept anonymous, with the exception of my own name.
Church sex scandals are awkward for everyone involved: the victim, the offender, the church community, the community at large. While the scandals of the Catholic church have been widely publicized, and the church's response often criticized (trying to sweep it under the rug), the protestant church seems to have had fewer (or at least fewer publicized) scandals. I suppose this has something to do with the fact that protestant clergy are allowed to marry, and therefore they are not expected to completely ignore their sexual urges. Also, the protestant church has a less bureaucratic structure than the catholic church, so methods of dealing with scandals probably vary with each denomination (and there are literally hundreds of denominations).
But the church I grew up in, the First Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton, had at least three sex scandals that I was aware of. Because my dad was on staff, I knew the people involved. As a child growing up, these things were hard for me to understand. I suppose, like most people, I have tried not to think about them too much.
But I just finished reading a book called Speaker for the Dead, a science fiction novel actually, that inspired me to think about and write about the scandals at my church. In the novel, when someone dies, a person called a "Speaker for the Dead" is called to "Speak" their death. The function of the Speaker is not to tell a eulogy, but to speak the truth about the person's life in front of the whole community. This event usually causes great pain, but is often the first step toward great healing, for the family of the dead, and for the whole community.
The Speaking is not, primarily, for the dead person, but for those who remain alive in the wake of great tragedy and pain. The author writes, "There was always pain after a Speaking, because a Speaker for the Dead did nothing to soften the truth…he was a destroyer, but what he destroyed was illusion, and the illusion had to die."
When I was 14 years old, in 8th grade, I learned that my church youth leader, Mike Blinkhorn, had sexually abused some boys in the youth group. You may read the LA Times article HERE. I was not one of them, but I knew one of them, and I knew Mike. He had been like a mentor to me. At first, I would not believe the charges. But as more came to light, I could not deny that it was true. This event greatly disturbed me on a few levels. First, students at my junior high found out about the scandal, and some of them made fun of me, suggesting that I had been abused, despite my protestations. Once, I remember, in algebra class, I broke down weeping, and was sent to the school counsellor.
This was also disturbing for me because my dad was the communications director for the church at the time, so he was the guy who had to speak to the local news outlets about the scandal. My dad was in the incredibly delicate position of being a spokesman for the church, while at the same time caring for his grieving son (me). To his credit, he did not try to sweep the scandal under the rug. He was as up-front about it as he could be.
In the 1970s and 1980s, an "elder" (leader) at EV Free named Jim Truxton sexually abused several Sunday school girls. You may read the LA Times article HERE. Some of molestations took place in the Truxton home. Truxton and his wife were expelled from the church and a public written statement was given which stated: "The purpose of this response is not to hurt Mr. Truxton; it is to heal the victims."
In the early 2000s, the music pastor at EV Free, Ed Cobb, a man who was married with two children, was caught soliciting sex at Hillcrest Park from an undercover male police officer. This incident disturbed me, not so much because Ed was cheating on his wife, but because it meant that Ed was probably gay, and that opens up a whole other can of worms. Protestant Evangelicals, generally speaking, believe homosexuality to be a sin. It would be impossible for Ed to be open with the church about his sexuality and maintain his position, so he had to go to Hillcrest, and live a lie. This, to me, is the most complex of the scandals because it is a pretty clear demonstration of the effects of the church's position on homosexuality.
I am fairly certain that there have been more scandals that I don't know about, but those are the ones I know about because I was there, and I knew the people involved quite well. It is tremendously painful for me to think about, but this stuff happened. It hurt a lot of people. And I think there is a kind of healing that is possible by "Speaking" these painful things and letting them out into the light.