Valerie Hobbs wrote and important piece in 2017 on abuse in NAPARC churches. She shares several horrific stories of women seeking help from their leaders but are instead met with re-traumatization and abuse. Please take the time to read this and some of her great suggestions for reform. It angered me to read, as I see how things have only gotten worse. Since my own case of “gross spiritual abuse” in the OPC (as one well-known expert called it) is so public, I am hearing from others with very similar stories as Valerie documents. Too many others. It’s ongoing. It’s atrocious. We are way past a few bad apples. I just can’t understand why the good men in the OPC are not taking the reins here, saying, This is enough! No more abusing our most vulnerable! There is NO Christ in this!
Are we powerless to do this in our own denomination? If so, there is a serious problem with our ecclesial government.
Why does the outcry have to come from the bottom and not from the top? Why do the vulnerable have to pay when they speak? Why do we become your enemies for telling you the truth (Gal. 4:16)? This is the truth: it is clearly time for the denomination to hire a professional third-party investigative team, like G.R.A.C.E. Here is a revised letter that I have sent to a number of church officers in the OPC. It is an urgent plea to shepherd the flock by seeking the help we need. (There are some steps being taken to raise more awareness that is apparently needed, but not the very necessary one of hiring professionals. We are chasing our tails here. Reading Valerie’s post really clarified that for me):
First of all, I want to say that I am grateful for each of you. Just a little over a year ago, I did not know any of you. The church officers that I was friends with in the OPC whom I thought would be there for me to do something about the spiritual abuse that I was under either abandoned me or were not well-equipped to spot and confront it properly. Each one of you has stepped in and invested your own time and effort into helping in different ways. You have expressed empathy for me and concern about what is happening in our denomination.
Because much of the harassment, reviling, and plotting against me was public, I have confronted it publicly. However, as you know, the most painful part infiltrated my own church. I have not shared that story. I am thankful that I see fruit in confronting this, but it’s come at a cost to me and my session. My session humbled themselves to seek the help of one of Diane Langberg’s associates to learn more and rebuild. But confronting the harm done has wreaked havoc on our congregation.
I have learned a lot about the “process” of discipline in the OPC, both formal and informal. While put together with care and good intentions, there are some serious problems. I have much to say about this, but do not want that to be the focus of this letter. I have written some about it with the intent that those in the denomination would want to take action for reform in these areas.
Because my case is more public and because I have spoken into some of these issues, other victims of spiritual abuse in the OPC have reached out to me. Some women have now come to me wanting to work together at collating stories from other victims to publish. There are multiple reasons for this. Telling your story is part of the healing process: being heard. But this is bigger than each one of our individual cases. This is a real problem of spiritual abuse in the OPC, the system that perpetuates it, the theology behind it, and the men who can do something about it. This is about the name of Christ and the love for his bride. And we know there are many more victims and will continue to be if nothing is done. We also have our children in mind, who see behind the curtain of the church.
The OPC has a real problem—the bride is being clobbered by the gatekeepers.
Maybe you know that when victims of abuse seek counsel on confronting abuse and when those with the authority to do something do not act justly, they are counseled to the next step of publicly exposing it. Sadly, we have seen over and over with scandals in both the secular world and the church that this step is painfully necessary for action: Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Larry Nassar, Tullian Tchividjian, Bill Hybels, Mark Driscoll, Ravi Zacharias, or collectively The Southern Baptist Convention, Sovereign Grace, The Crowded House, the Anglican church in the UK, and ACTS 29. They all had to be publicly exposed first. At the cost of the victims. Do we really want the OPC added to this list?
This is why I am writing you. I know you care. I know you have already taken on some of the cost yourselves. I know that you also care about the OPC as a denomination. This is a turning point. I am asking you to get ahead of this at a bigger level now. Let’s be different than the others. Before more women come forward with their stories, you can lead the way and join with us. There is a better way. I know you can’t do it alone. I know it is overwhelming. Here is my suggestion/request: it is clearly time to hire a third-party investigative team like G.R.A.C.E. They are trained for this. They aren’t friends with any of the accused. And they do not have invested interested in defending the OPC—they are victim-focused.
Rather than the victims publishing their stories, wouldn’t it be better for the OPC to lead the way, inviting men and women to come forward with this third party collecting and collating them? Wouldn’t it be better to get a report with professional recommendations for reconciliation and moving forward?
Don’t we want healing and care for the hurting? Don’t we want holiness and good character in all our leaders?
I keep quoting Diane Langberg’s powerful statement in her book Redeeming Power :
“Our responses to the vulnerable expose who we are.”
This isn’t the only step needed. Along with this, for the future of the church, we need to examine the theology and the underlying assumptions about men and women, as well as about laypeople and spiritual authority, that is perpetuating abuse and inhibiting the growth of the church. These are topics that I am pursuing in writing but would love to see our leaders addressing. Some of the basic elements of personhood that Diane Langberg outlines: voice, relationship, and power, are stunted, neglected, ignored, or plain taken from women in the church. It is a strength in leadership to work with the marginalized to gain understanding about how a victim is impacted by the decisions and process of the system and how justice is even perceived. The church needs reform in preventing, recognizing, and dealing with abuse. Leaders need to be trained in this.
It starts with valuing the voices of her women.
Will you join me in this? I think the first step is in recognizing the severity of the problem and the need for outside help. Is there any way set up in our denomination to make such a decision and actually hire professionals? We are past the point of individual complaints and charges (although they are still needed). We are past the point of waiting for and relying on committee reports from the inside. Maybe that would be a step in addressing some of the theological issues, but we need outside professional help for some diagnostic matters and care for victims. I know I am asking for something unprecedented. But that is what is needed now. We are way past the scenario of a few bad apples. The system is being used to protect abusers. I am seeing more and more victims ready to move to advocacy now. The OPC doesn’t have two years or even one year to take this through the usual process to GA. That doesn’t care for the past, present, and future victims—many of whom were traumatized by trusting the system and the men in it. The process isn’t even accessible to the most vulnerable.
It’s a matter of what is more important in our denomination—the people or the system?
In his book, Something’s Not Right, Wade Mullen notes that abuse is a community concern. Abusers abuse because they can. There are many in the OPC suffering from trauma from spiritual abuse. Psychiatrist Bessel Van Der Kolk says in his book, The Body Keeps the Score, that “Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health…social support is the most powerful protection against being overwhelmed by stress and trauma.” This isn’t just private expressions of care. “The critical issue is reciprocity: being truly heard and seen by people around us.” We do not have this. Victims are ready to come forward and tell their stories. From where I’m standing, I can tell you that the OPC is not safe for many. Please let that sink in. I am saying that the church is not safe!