Hot, muggy summers in Illinois, country drives through corn fields, and the scent of early morning woods take me back to time spent at church camp when I was a kid. The first week, staying away from home for 6 whole days, was a bit traumatic but year after year I returned, eventually becoming a girl’s counselor for both camp sessions and retreats.
I loved the whole adventure and had nearly forgotten the only negative experience I can remember….. until last week when I read this series of articles over on Wartburg Watch, some of which involve a child sexual abuse scandal and cover-up at an FIC that is part of a group of FIC’s with oversight by homeschooling veteran Gregg Harris. As horrifying as these stories are, they aren’t the worst ones we have heard coming out of conservative ministries as well as churches. Credenda Agenda’s Doug Wilson, for example, admitted that he didn’t promptly alert parents in his church of a pedophile, instead he helped the young man court and marry a member of his congregation. And author Jeri Massi maintains an impressive list of fundamentalist perpetrators on her blog. If you still doubt these stories, check out the month long series of testimonies involving Bill Gothard that former ATI students have published. It boggles the mind.
So, here is my story:
I was about 19, heading back to college in the fall, and responsible for a cabin of 8 to 10 junior high age girls. Most of the other counselors were older men and women, nearly all in full time ministry, some of them married, but there was one younger guy, Jim, who was in his late twenties. I decided from the start to keep my distance and something inside me said to closely watch him around my girls as well; I cannot explain why other than to say that the Holy Spirit was telling me so. (I had had no prior experience with sexual predators other than the really creepy feeling I would get around one of my girlfriend’s dads. I always maneuvered to the side hug with that guy, if you know what I mean.)
One afternoon during free time, the girls had all gone off to do various things…swimming, boating, crafts, and choir. I was in my cabin by myself when I had this sense that I needed to look for one of the girls. Susan was taller than most of the others, looked a bit older than her 13 years, but not much, and was shy and beautiful. Walking out the door, I began to feel a sense of panic and found myself running directly to the boy’s cabin where Jim was the counselor.
The rough log building was situated in the most remote part of the campground, down a trail and into the woods. As I hurried, I began to pray that I would arrive in time but I wasn’t really sure in time for what. Quietly approaching the cabin, I heard Jim talking in luring tones to someone; I stormed through the screen door. In the bed, though fully clothed but under covers, I found Jim and Susan, he making every effort to undress her. I was livid, my blood pressure rising, making me dizzy. I told Susan to get out of the bed and head out the door. I yelled at Jim, partially terrified for my own life, and I followed the scared young girl who was now weeping. Together we ran straight to the camp director’s office.
What happened after that is anyone’s guess. I told the whole story to the camp director and his wife while Susan listened and sobbed. She stayed at camp for the rest of the week but we never saw or heard from Jim again.
It wasn’t until I thought of this as a much older woman and it occurred to me that probably nothing whatsoever had been done to involve the law in the situation. I had never been contacted to testify, and a couple years later when I ran into the camp director, a pastor, while in college, it was as though nothing whatsoever had happened.
The pedophile was from this man’s church and I now understand the politics and dynamics involved. I do not agree with them, in fact I find them reprehensible, but I understand them. People don’t want to get involved and some Christians think the problems can be solved without involving authorities. Though I do not know what the law required back in the early 1970’s, I know that, today, any suspected abuse, whether it is sexual or physical, must be reported by any teacher or youth worker who is suspicious. To do otherwise makes one guilty of a crime. Jim would have been looking at about 8 years in prison for sexual assault if that happened this week at camp.
So what prompted me to write about this today? Well, I am just wondering what behavior toward a child on the part of an adult would constitute you getting involved. I mean, obviously I thought I needed to intervene on behalf of that young girl whose parents had entrusted me with her care for that week. And I certainly have been willing to speak out against child abuse that is passed off as discipline. In fact, I have even addressed emotional and spiritual abuse on this blog, the latter being the worst of all types of abuse, I believe. But at what point do you think something ought to be said or done about abuse?
I ask this because I was challenged that my article Exchanging a Stone for Bread was inappropriate because I mentioned ministries and people by name, telling me it can also harm homeschooling families and result in a curtailing of our freedoms. I am watching similar comments popping up on the HEF blog in discussing Dulce’s article. When is it appropriate to speak out? At what point would you say something to other homeschoolers? What if, for example, a small child told you the reason she was wearing tights to church in hot weather was because she had marks on her legs from the rod? What if you saw a church elder squeeze the inner thigh of his toddler to make him sit still in church?
I want to know what you think.