January 8

Same Old Same Old in the PCA

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The Wartburg Watch posted an article last week featuring a long and detailed account of sexual abuse perpetrated upon Stuart Griffin, beginning when he was 13 years old and continuing for 7 years, at the hands of a youth leader at his church, Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, NC in the 1990s.  His account includes the way the current pastor of that church, Kevin DeYoung, (who was not there at the time of the abuse) explained the situation to the congregation. https://thewartburgwatch.com/2024/01/05/kevin-deyoung-harry-reeder-christ-covenant-church-and-charlotte-christian-school-years-of-denial-and-obfuscation-cause-long-term-pain-for-a-sexual-abuse-victim/  Please read the entire article for enlightenment and for context for what follows.

Reading Griffin's story, my mind immediately connected it to two past events.  They are brought together in this letter I wrote to the Christian Discipleship Ministry of the PCA in November 2022:

I am writing to register my profound alarm at the changes recently announced by CDM indicating that new curriculum to help the church serve women in crisis is being developed in collaboration with Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church of Matthews, NC. I can only assume that their pastor, Dr. Kevin DeYoung, will have significant influence over this project.

I have multiple concerns with Dr. DeYoung’s fitness to guide this project. I will list a few of these as briefly as I can. For simplicity, I will reference this article to demonstrate my concerns: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/toward-a-better-discussion-about-abuse/ The first part of the article lists five points of truth about abuse which he says we should not minimize. However, he goes on to do just that in his second five points. 

1. This is my biggest concern: DeYoung claims he is trying to be balanced. He is putting the problems of false accusations on the same footing as the massive, extensive problems of child, marital and pastoral abuse. More abuse is exposed by the day, and it has been going on for years. And yet DeYoung characterizes the abuse problem as “a fire in the kitchen,” and criticism and distrust of authority as “burning down the house.” Do you see his own calculations of the comparative seriousness of the sides? This perspective does minimize the problem of abuse.

2. Closely related is DeYoung’s concern that pastors deserve the benefit of the doubt. That benefit of the doubt is what has provided pastors coverage for abuse in the first place. Certainly, investigate claims. But looking at the big picture, abuse survivors are the ones who have not received the benefit of the doubt. They have not been believed for far too long.

3. DeYoung complains that often no distinction is made between the abuser and the system in which he operates, nor could it be proved. And yet, there are multiple documented cases of pastors being protected by their sessions and even their presbyteries. This assertion exposes an ignorance of the dynamics of abuse and of social systems.

4. DeYoung claims that abuse has become “an ever-expanding term” which is used to shut down further discussion and deprive the accused of due process. Again, compare the scope of this supposed problem to the long history of abuse survivors struggling to be heard and believed, only to find themselves mired in a long and technical judiciary process which protects their accusers and further traumatizes them. In some cases, they are sued for speaking out. Many do not speak out for fear of what they will have to go through. It is this deferral of justice which drives some abuse survivors to take to social media to plead their causes.

5. Another evidence of DeYoung’s ignorance of the dynamics of abuse is his contention that “the existence of a power disparity…does not automatically eliminate personal agency.” That is exactly what abuse does. Do you understand this? Joseph (to use DeYoung’s example) was not abused. Joseph was capable of making a moral choice. While I do not suggest that an abuse survivor is innocent of any sin, I unequivocally maintain that he or she is in no way responsible for being abused. No sin on the part of a victim causes or enables an abuser to abuse. No practice of righteousness by a victim can prevent an abuser from abusing. This insidious claim is known as “sin leveling” and is one of the manipulative tools used by abusers to protect themselves.

6. And horribly egregious and calloused is DeYoung’s condescending claims that, “We are all capable of misinterpreting the facts—even the facts that form our story, “ and “Sometimes our sense of trauma is misplaced. Sometimes we are less fragile than we think.” The implication is that people who claim to have been abused may be mixed up, self-pitying whiners. Statistics indicate that false accusations are far overshadowed by accurate claims. How minimizing and belittling for victims who try to speak up! On the contrary, an abuse victim is often unaware that what she has experienced is abuse because of the manipulation that abusers employ so skillfully. This kind of language produces self-doubt and hesitancy to seek help.

Even broader than my concerns about DeYoung are the contradictory signals the denomination is giving in general. In June 2023, the Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault report, prepared by a team with outstanding credentials in abuse survivor advocacy and theology, was received to a standing ovation at the PCA General Assembly. Given my analysis of DeYoung’s views, I see his leadership as a reversal of the message of hope and help offered in that report. Why in the world would this project not be headed up by someone with expertise in the matter? Will there be such people involved in curriculum development? I believe the response of the visible church to the abuse of power and the abuse of individuals will be the tipping point in a great reckoning to come. Will our leaders be able to examine themselves, and their brothers, with fear and trembling that they are the Pharisees of our generation?


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