Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sex Abuse at an Evangelical Church

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.

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26 comments:

  1. This is really brave, Jesse. Thanks for writing it.

    Which book is it with the "Speaker" in it?

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  2. It's called "Speaker for the Dead" by Orson Scott Card.

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  3. *Er, think this means I finally, finally have to actually read Ender's Game...

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  4. That's a really good one too. I'm about to read Xenocide, the last one.

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  5. It's heartbreaking to hear of these things happening - especially in a place where people think they are safe. It's good to get them out in the open so people can find healing.

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  6. Jesse: Why post something hurtful and damaging to someone's reputation when you don't know the full stories behind them all? If someone has caused hurt, there are more helpful ways to deal with it than publicly broadcasting accusations and assumptions for all to see. I am all for honesty and dealing with personal pains caused by others, but you must be careful with your words and check your motives for publishing this kind of stuff.

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  7. I don't think anything I posted here is untrue. These stories are a part of the church's story. I am unafraid to speak the truth. It is painful, but keeping these things private and unspoken is more hurtful. That was my motive.

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  8. Funny how history reaches through the years to touch us in the present. I knew one of the men you mentioned. Twenty years ago, memories resurfaced of events that occurred twenty years before. I did not tell anyone except my husband, finding it hard to believe this respected friend of my parents would have done this. My parents lost contact with the perpetrator, and today my mom happened to google the name - and then called me in shock. She would be more shocked I she knew I was one of the girls molested. I have found much healing in Gods love - but I suppose a final piece has fallen into place today. Keeping things private and unspoken is hurtful. These are shameful things to talk about - for everyone! But the voice of shame and despair that victims carry must be louder than the socially preferable silence of the guilty. It is a year after you wrote this blog - but I wanted to say thank you for being unafraid to speak the truth!

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  9. Since you know EFCF so well, I was hoping to ask you what the churches teaching is in regards to the transgender. Would someone who is transgender be advised to reverse a sex change?

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  10. Hey Jesse, I went to LV w/ u, grew up off R. Hills, near that dam church. Good piece of writing, thanks for the 411.. Its too bad these things go on in the church of all frigging places, jesus christ. It's a crazy world. All the best.

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  11. Jesse
    I've read this blog at least 10 times in the past few days and still don't understand how it helps anyone. I know EV Free well having become a member back in the late 1970's; volunteered in the High School department into the mid 1980's; and have many close friends still there. While I no longer live in the area, I count EV Free as my home church.

    I think what bothers me with your post is the lack of balance. Those things you write about are true and did happen. However, you were only able to come up with 3, while extremely major, incidents in the 57 year history of a very large church. You get several thousand people together over a long period of time and statistics say things will happen that may not be positive.

    In contrast, I have a job that has required me to meet with churches all over Northern California. I can't begin to list the dozens and dozens of people tha I have met who once attended EV Free but are now located in Northern California. The impact they are having in their churches and communities is tremondous. Thast small group of folks who started EV Free in 1955 had no idea how far their ministry would spread.

    God has and continues bless EV Free not only in the Fullerton area but around the world. An impact that few other churches come even close to having.
    God Bless

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  12. Hey Jesse! I am catholic and i am right here to invite you to know Catholic Church, this is the Church of Jesus Christ and He longs for you and for all your family. We have opened doors for you Jesse. If you want to talk to me or to learn about the church, please contact me I'd love to have a conversation: marianaludeoliveira@hotmail.com

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    1. MORE TRUTH... All humans are sinners and desperately in need of Jesus' grace, forgiveness and salvation
      BUT you have to admit there have been thousands more scandals in the Catholic Church because unfortunately sex deprived Priests are often alone with innocent children.

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    2. thank you for coming forward, and as far as the catholic church is concerned, I would never ever trust a priest and I grew up catholic. Never ever ever will I trust the catholic church or it's priests. The way the archdiocese and all the other head elders have covered up and have moved child molesting priests from church to church is a CRIME and you should all be punished. And you will when you all meet our God. You can't hide behind your robes and blaspheme words. SHAME ON YOU CATHOLIC CHURCH for creating generations of drug addicts, alcoholics and more child molesters. Your a disgrace to God!

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  13. something you did not write that you might not know is that the Pastor, then Dr. Charles Swindoll and the church staff were complimented by police investigators as being open, honest, and forthright in dealing with this matter. I don't know why you skipped that part; maybe you did not read it in the newspapers. The spiritual leadership of your church did not sweep it under the rug, hide it, deny it happened nor did they circle the wagons around the perpetrator. You should be grateful for that.

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  14. THE UNFORTUNATE TRUTH... Through history there have been countless sexual sins at every church within every religion.
    ABSOLUTE TRUTH... All humans are sinners and desperately in need of Jesus' grace, love, forgiveness and salvation.

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  15. What would Jesus say regarding this blog. It only gives anti-christians fuel for their fire . . . . . bringing people to salvation not damnation is the Christians job!
    Every church has problems, we are to shine the light on good, not evil, God will take care of the rotten apples. Not your job to pick 'em!

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  16. Jesse, you say "And I think there is a kind of healing that is possible by 'Speaking' these painful things and letting them out into the light."

    How exactly is your post supposed to bring healing to anyone? In "Speaker for the Dead" truth is spoken about someone who is dead. Your post is about a living entity -- the church -- and about people who are alive and can be hurt by this post. I don't think it helps the victims by posting reminders of something that was incredibly painful for them. Your reference to the book seems like your way of justifying your posting of scandalous material.

    Just because something is true does not mean it's worthy of being dug up years after the fact. Just because you CAN do/write something does not mean you SHOULD. [Don't know if you are a Christian, but if you are, please know that this is backed up by scripture. (1 Cor. 10:23-24)]

    I'm not sure what you are trying to accomplish with this post. What good were you thinking would come of it? Be honest, because the "healing" of the victims that your say is your goal won't happen when someone as uninvolved and uninformed as you are publically posts such a thing. Please be more wise and responsible in your writing.

    Please know that I'm not affiliated with you, your town, or your church. I came upon this post while searching for "Speaker for the Dead." Yes, it's a book worth reading!

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  17. Did the retelling of these tragic stories make you feel better? From personal experience, I would say no. Therefore, my suggestion to you comes from my grandmother. Whenever I would have an issue that angered me, my grandmother had a saying that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up every time I heard them, 'Just give it to the Lord. He will resolve it!' I will pray that you learn the wisdom of those words. Trust me, God has an amazing way of providing a real solution for all involved.

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    1. Hi Molly, good advice. I needed to hear it today. Thanks to you and for your Grandmother

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    2. Hi Molly, good advice. I needed to hear it today. Thanks to you and for your Grandmother

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  18. This man is a monster. Thank you for writing this.

    I knew him from his visits to our South American Missionary post in Peru where he visited often.
    He and my Dad (also a pilot) were friends.

    Never feel guilty for the harm that others do against you.
    This story needs to be kept alive to remind everyone that vigilance is the only deterrent.

    ****Note***
    To address some of the critical comments above...

    Exposing t will help identify and stop current and future molestation's.
    Expressing her story IS cathartic because it helps undo the destructive conditioning that the molester projects to impose a sense of guilt and blame for what they did to the child.
    It's easy, and incredibly insensitive, to be an arm chair critic.
    This very blog is part of the healing process, but, like most Christians, y'all would rather criticize than exercise compassion & understanding. For shame!

    I for one am proud of you Jesse. It takes a great deal of emotional strength to overcome the "Guilt Inducement" Training/brainwashing that is employed to
    guarantee the child's silence.

    Love & blessings to you Jesse.
    a friend

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  19. Am very familiar with Fullerton EV Free and some of the staff working back then. As well as the scandals.

    One dear friend, who had been a family friend since my parents high school days, was on staff when Jim Truxton was caught, and subsequently charged a decade later.

    That I know of... the only church to date that has ever done the right thing in publicly outing them.

    It's a devastating story that affects everyone.

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  20. Beautifully written. Restrained and balanced. Above all . . . informative. Compassion to both the victims and to the perpertrators.

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