Church

An Open Letter to The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) Regarding Abuse

For 21 years I waited. Hopefully, patiently, submissively; I lived under the terror of my dad’s violent, apathetic, and sexual abuse. That was what I believed God wanted. That’s what I was taught good submissive girls did. We were quiet. We didn’t complain. We didn’t gossip. We honored our fathers and mothers, by never talking about their sin. I prayed God would change him. I clung desperately to the hope that he’d learn to love his daughter more than his sin. When I was about 16 years old, I told our pastor* at our OPC church in Kingwood, that my dad had thrown an iron at my head. I told him I thought my dad could have killed me. He did nothing. I told him my dad sometimes wove recklessly in and out of traffic to make me fear for my life. He did nothing.

I’m 35 now, so that was 20 years ago. For 20 years, I have waited. I’ve stayed publicly silent about the OPC’s knowledge of my dad’s abuse, and other abuses in various congregations. I’ve worked against the Hard Complementarian and Biblical Patriarchy theologies that were leveraged to perpetuate and cover up my abuse and the abuse of others, hoping the OPC would change. I have worked behind the scenes, informing those I hoped would listen, encouraging pastors who I thought could be brave. I dearly love my denomination. I have been and remain to be a faithful proponent of Reformed theology. However, while I trust OPC pastors to preach academic sermons, I have learned not to trust them to be faithful shepherds. I have been betrayed again, and again, and again.

The Path of Destruction

But that is not the only time and OPC pastor has betrayed me. During my lifetime, I’ve been a member of multiple OPC and PCA churches. Please note that the following pastors are named to help establish the timeline, not to imply their guilt or that they were necessarily aware of abuse. However, it was these churches that my dad infiltrated, and where he taught classes, made friends, and gained trust:

These are churches I attended after my dad’s abuse was made public:

It was at Riveroaks PCA in Germantown that I met Bill Stovall, who later served prison time for “criminal attempt to commit aggravated sexual battery” against children. It was at Redeemer OPC in Encino that I first encountered Mark Abinante, who taught me to play piano during church, and served prison time for “continuous sexual abuse of a child.” It was pastor Craig Shepphard* and Anton Heuss of Bethel PCA in Frisco who my mom and I begged to help my little sisters, who were still living with abuse, and who I was terrified would be harmed. It was pastors Adam York (OPC) and Dave Muntsinger (PCA) who were the first to learn of my dad’s abuse, but who never involved law enforcement. But it was a different pastor, in authority over me in the OPC Presbytery of the Southwest, who abused me.

Former OPC Pastor, Regional Home Missionary, Gary Davenport

When I was about 15, I had an opportunity to talk privately to OPC Pastor, Gary Davenport. Not only was he a pastor, but he was the Regional Home Missionary of the OPC Presbytery of the Southwest, which includes about 25 churches throughout Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arkansas. Across these four states, Gary Davenport helped plant churches, provided pulpit supply, helped coordinate youth camps, and counseled OPC church leaders. He was someone I was supposed to trust. He was someone I was taught I should submit to and respect.

Unfortunately, before I got around to telling Gary Davenport about my dad’s domestic violence and sexual abuse, he began sexually abusing me in a verbal manner. He made comments about the way my breasts fit underneath my bathing suit. He claimed that the way I walked made men think about sex. He asked me, “What would it take to get you to spread your legs for a man?”

This is sexual abuse. This is perverted filth. Thankfully, because of the abuse I was already facing at home, I was highly experienced at placating sexual predators. I knew exactly what to do. I pulled my tee shirt as low over my shorts as it would go. I told him I wasn’t comfortable with the conversation. And I got up and I walked away.

You can read a full account of my interaction with Gary, here.

Other NAPARC Pastors

Several pastors from OPC, PCA, RCUS, and various other NAPARC churches have interacted with me. Some have been kind. Some have minimized or shrugged their shoulders. Some have informed me that I’ve been called a liar. Some have covered up, enabled, or perpetuated abuse.

I will present their feedback without comment or interpretation. I trust you to be sympathetic, and hear how these words sound to someone desperate for truth, righteousness, and justice, and who has been waiting for the OPC to take a stand against abuse in the church for 20 years:

  • I haven’t written [on the topic of abuse] yet because the subject seems too big, too important.
  • I wish we could take all these guys and get them out of our churches – but in reformed circles we like to keep our heads in the sand – at best.
  • I understand your frustration. However, I also understand the other side of being patient (even painfully so) in doing things in order.
  • We need to be careful about using the word ‘abuse,’ because of the legal implications. We don’t want to give him [the abuser] an opportunity to sue.
  • I got a call from [victim’s name withheld] and she said that when she was a teenager Gary [Davenport] used to make out with her; you know, like kiss her … To my knowledge, Gary has never done anything that could be prosecuted.
  • Many OPC pastors have read your book, and we support you, even if we’re not out talking or writing about it. Keep doing what you’re doing. We’re here. We support you.

New Horizons: The OPC Magazine

In April, 2019, I offered to send the editor of New Horizons a pre-release copy of my book. I got a hasty thank you in reply. After that, I heard nothing, and assumed they weren’t interested, which I didn’t mind.

Then, in November, 2019, I got an email and a phone call. New Horizons asked me to write an auto-biographical piece about how the theology of the OPC had sustained me through 21 years of child abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse. I wasn’t sure whether they understood what they were asking, but I wrote an article to their specifications. In it, I related stories that I’d already shared in my book, with the clarification that these abuses took place in OPC churches. (You can read that article here, but it has been edited and updated to names names).

At that time, I had not named any names. However, upon reading my article, OPC Pastor Danny Olinger rejected my piece, stating:

“In our judgment, it is not prudent at this time to publish the article in its current form. There are allegations, both explicit and implicit, in the submission that we do not have the means to judge. This is not to take away from the possibility of considering an article in a more general form in the future.”

I found this extremely disappointing. I felt that I was not believed. I felt that I was being silenced, yet again. I felt that in the future, even should my abuse be verified by others, they’d only consider a sterilized version of events.

A Special Meeting of The OPC Presbytery of the Southwest

After my book released on August 20, 2019, Sarah Salter, one of the daughters of Gary Davenport, read it. When she came to pages 21-22, she recognized the voice of her dad in the words of the anonymous pastor I described. She reached out to me on Facebook, and we formed a friendship. Over the months, I have been continually in awe of Sarah’s strength, and the beautiful faith God has created and maintained within her. She is one of the strongest people I have ever encountered. Stronger than many a pastor.

You can watch Sarah’s speech here.

On March 1, Sarah decided to share her story of her father’s sexual abuse. Her Baptist church filmed her speech and posted it to Facebook. At that point, several pastors – including OPC pastors Andrew Moody and Glen Clary – put together who we were talking about. They alerted other men in the presbytery, and decided to call a meeting of all 25ish church sessions. They said that me, Sarah, and Hannah (another of Gary’s daughters) would be included in the meeting, which was to take place on April 9, via Zoom.

I was elated. Finally, I hoped that abuse in the OPC would be talked about candidly. Finally, men of the church would stand up for their daughters. Finally, evil would be called evil and – though justice was a remote dream – there would be a call for accountability, righteousness, and the protection of children.

Unfortunately, after much discussion and prayer, it was agreed by multiple pastors* that the meeting should be canceled. While they have expressed interest in “learning how to recognize signs of manipulation and abuse in general … and thinking of ways to shore up that weakness,” I have no reason to believe anything will change. My distrust is not a choice I have made. The well of my trust has simply dried up after two decades of chronic betrayal.

Note: Since this article was published, I have learned that while the meeting was canceled, a future meeting is being planned to take place after COVID-19 shutdowns lift. Please read my more recent piece, here.

But my story, and Sarah’s story, and Hannah’s story, is about so much more than Gary Davenport. This is about me waiting 20 years for the OPC to hold an abuser – any abuser – accountable for evil. This is about the children of God being preyed upon in a denomination that claims to believe in Total Depravity, yet that often won’t report or call out total depravity even it when its stench is right under their noses.

Multiple OPC and PCA pastors knew about my dad’s abuse. They did nothing.

During my 20’s, I warned PCA pastors that my little sisters, who were members of their church, were being abused. They did nothing.

I told several OPC pastors about Gary Davenport’s disturbing words. They did nothing.

I warned OPC pastors that our former church pianist in California, who was convicted of sexually abusing his own child, was teaching music lessons to children. They did nothing.

I wrote articles, appeared on television, spoke at SBC conferences, and did so many radio and podcast interviews I’ve lost count, telling people that abuse is happening in the church, and that I am an OPC member. I wrote and published an entire book cataloging my extensive victimization and painstaking recovery process, naming abuses that made even hardened police officers wince when I reported.

And the OPC did nothing.

And I no longer expect them to.

I want to be proven wrong.*

You are not only men of God, but you are pastors. However, if you want me, as a woman of God, to submit to you, you’re going to have to do something that I can in good conscience submit to.

You preach about Total Depravity, but when I tell you about death threats, violence, sexual predation, and spiritual abuse, you wring your hands like frightened children and hide in your libraries. Do you ignore abuse, because you believe so strongly in Unconditional Election, that you know children who get raped will be saved or unsaved regardless of whether you intervene? Have you slipped into fatalism, or are you simply cowards? I cannot bear to think that you willingly enable abuse. I have to believe you are afraid. I cling to the hope that you are morally lazy.

How did we get here?

The only pastor who has ever stood up for me, was Robert Arendale. When he heard what Gary Davenport had said to me, he was extremely concerned. He did some digging to ensure Gary was no longer in the OPC, and no longer active in ministry. Robert was not aware that Gary had sexually abused or “rough-housed” with his daughters, nor was I at that time. If he had known, I am confident he would have informed law enforcement.

It is because of Robert, and my current pastor, Todd Bordow,* that I am still a member of the OPC. They are the only pastors who have ever encouraged me to speak truth, and speak it boldly. Unlike many others, they have never asked me to be quiet. They have never reminded me to be patient. They have never recommended that I tolerate abuse and pray.

I am not on a crusade to take down Gary Davenport, or even my dad, Mark Grassman. Based on my experience, abusers in reformed churches live long and free lives assaulting children and beating women, and the pastors who know about it do nothing. But if by some miracle someone has the courage to act, and Gary is disgraced or spends time in prison, Soli Deo Gloria.

My goal – my hope, my prayer, my desperate desire – is the same as when I was 15, having lunch with Adam York. I want the OPC to love God more than they fear abusers. I want pastors to build up and protect women and children rather than abandoning them to the perverse desires of their oppressors. I want the OPC to stop teaching women and girls that Godly womanhood and submission means to keep quiet, docile, weak, and tolerant of demeaning treatment.

Your wives deserve better.

Your sons and daughters deserve better.

God demands better.

I am not afraid of abusers. Abusers are afraid of me. This is the way it should be. This is the way it should be in all reformed churches. No one should fear speaking the truth. No one should fear testifying to the Total Depravity of an abuser. Rather, abusers should be terrified to incur the righteous action of the church.

Unfortunately, because of how many* in the church have handled men like my dad, and because of the way they’ve handled pastors like Gary Davenport, abusers in the OPC (yes, they are here and they are active) know no one stand up to them, and their victims (yes, and hopefully, they are reading this) fear no one will protect them. We want a reason to believe you’ll do more than sit on your hands.

You can preach pretty sermons. You can run theological and logical circles around other denominations. You’re academically brilliant and passionate about scriptural minutia which most other churches completely miss. You can speak in the tongues of men and angels, but if you have no love, it is all nonsense. (1 Corinthians 13)

I am sorry that it has come to this. I have tried to warn, to hold accountable in private, to encourage righteousness and honor. I feel that no one listens. No one cares. You fear the abuser more than you fear God. I am patted on the head and told to be patient and pray. But I have been patient. And I have prayed. For 20 years. And now I’m done* waiting for someone to do something, and I have decided to speak out specifically to the dangerous and vulnerabilities in my denomination, because I love it dearly. Publishing this open letter is the only thing I know how to do – the only hope left I have of getting your attention – and motivating you to take this issue seriously.

Please, do something.


*UPDATES TO THIS PIECE: This article has been updated to reflect new information which has developed since publishing it. I have also clarified some language which inadvertently confused some. I have added the name of Dr. Craig Sheppard, PCA/RTS, and would like to clarify that Anton Heuss was a young youth pastor at the time of the events described. While I did beg Anton to minister to and watch over my sisters, Craig Sheppard was the lead pastor at that time, and was ultimately responsible for overseeing the situation. I am grateful for the North Texas Presbytery of the PCA, whose leadership reached out to me within hours of this piece being published, and who called me on the phone today to pray with me and inform me of steps they are taking to protect women and children from abuse. This is my most desperate desire, and I have been given great hope by these men. I am also removing the name of Adam York in several areas, in order to provide a more full account here. The previous account is true, but I felt additional context would be helpful in understanding it better. I do not rescind my piece. I still have great concerns, anxieties, and I wish to see action and change take place. I apologize for words which caused unnecessary confusion. However, I want to simultaneously encourage my brothers and sisters who have been abused – speak out! It doesn’t have to be perfect. I’m not perfect. We do our best, and when we make mistakes, we fix them and we grow. But we do matter. Truth matters. Protecting children matters. We cannot stay silent.

Comments 81

  1. I’m a dordt and RTS grad, did my graduate studies on women and gender in reformed churches, and attended PCA churches for a long time. I’m so sorry you’ve gone through this; none of it was necessary. Explicit patriarchy as God’s eternal blessing does make everything 10x worse.

    Thank you for your tremendous bravery in bringing light to the darkness. I hope other victims of the conservative Presbyterian denoms will be inspired to speak out as well, and that the leaders will live up to their own standards of “manliness” and take public, verifiable, regular, documented measures against other men in positions of power (as well as those who aren’t) who physically and verbally abuse women.

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  2. You know if they all had the “Hollywood bent”, they would have been spending most of their time cajoling with Jeffrey Epstein & Harvey Weinstein. Absolutely no excuse (even moral laziness). I hope “confession” has been good for your soul, Jennifer. And that this well written piece strikes a dagger in the heart (that is if they have one) of those guilty slugs. Carry on your good work. The world needs you!

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  3. Every church needs a woman or man to take a stand for anyone who is being abused, sexually or otherwise. A committee of sorts to handle only this by stepping past the pastor or one they confided in to begin with. js

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  4. Jennifer I am so sorry for all you have endured. I too have endured abuse within the church. I am in the OPC and dearly love my Elders and do not believe they would be so neglectful. I am not a part of that presbytery so I can’t speak to that. Do you have a place where you have all the evidence you have? I know in these instances and situations I can be extremely difficult to have proof.

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  5. Thanks for your courage. Will be sharing your story widely as a PCA member and elder. I am thankful there is a national study committee appointed in the PCA that is seeking to bring accountability to abusers in our midst.

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      Thank you, Kelly. My dearest desire is to equip pastors and elders so that they can save victims and facilitate the recovery of survivors. Thank you for the godliness you are calling others to, and the information you are sharing. It means more to me than I can say.

  6. If there were posters of you, I would hang one in my home. Thank you for this heroic, loving call to the Church. Thanks be to God for His unspeakable love, mercy, and justice, which is so clearly and richly manifested in your life. Abusers *should* fear you, because the God and gospel you profess will not be mocked; may these men and their sessions reep what they have sown, to the glory of God alone.

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      Thank you, Joe, for understanding my love. Sometimes, love is expressed as anger over evil, grief over injuries, panic over danger, and passion for truth and justice. I am confident that God will be glorified through his church, and I sincerely appreciate your encouragement and support. Thank you.

  7. Dear sister,
    I’m so deeply sorry about the terrible things that have happened to you, and the searing pain it caused dear sister. It’s truly, truly wicked and awful. No one hates injustice and abuse more than the Lord himself. He knows and understands because he himself personally stood in the place of abuse victim. You have a high priest that knows your pain intimately. May he grant justice, restoration, comfort, peace, and healing to you. May he grant everyone complicit in your abuse, everyone who stood idly by or participated to fully repent. Thank you so much, dear sister, for the courage to share your experience. May your words help us all to grow in our love and support for abuse survivors. 😢

    1. Pastor Edmondson, Similar abuse is happening in the Michigan OPC. Not your church, but one you know. Please be vigilant.

      1. Dear Ashley,

        I am a ruling elder in the OPC in the Pres. of Michigan and Ontario. Please contact me about this situation. I don’t want to sit by if someone is being hurt.

        David

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      Mika, your words have held me secure in the midst of turmoil. Thank you. I am weeping with your previous congregation that you are leaving, rejoicing with your new congregation that you are called to, praying for you and your family during this time of transition, and grateful on behalf of all Christ’s church for your ministry. Thank you <3 God is good, all the time.

  8. Thank you for your beautiful honesty, and your faithful love, for The Lord, your denomination and these men, to name their sin and call them to call them to repentance. I will be praying with you and for you.

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  9. Dear sister Jennifer,

    It breaks my heart to read your Open Letter. To encourage you that you are not alone in this important battle, you should know that I am an OPC minister in the Presbytery of Connecticut and Southern New York. During my time as the presbytery’s Regional Home Missionary (I am now organizing pastor for the OPC mission work, The Haven – you will appreciate the name, and know “where we’re coming from”) , I did a weekly radio program called A Visit to the Pastor’s Study. Two of the programs dealt specifically with domestic abuse: https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?sermonid=1019192254413923 and https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?sermonid=10519222219821
    I produced the first one in consultation with retired OPC chaplain and pastor, Robert Needham, Are you familiar with his book?
    https://smile.amazon.com/What-When-Abused-Your-Husband-ebook/dp/B07NDNDRV8/ref=sr_1_3?crid=PJSVI3KOX87V&dchild=1&keywords=robert+needham&qid=1586035277&s=books&sprefix=Needham+Robert%2Cstripbooks%2C135&sr=1-3
    It is immensely helpful. The VTPS program on domestic abuse has gotten a lot of circulation, and we gave away a number of copies of the book.
    Also, it is interesting that Danny Olinger asked me to review your book NOT FORSAKEN, which I did. I submitted the review in February, I believe. I am hopeful it will be published in an upcoming New Horizons.
    So, Jennifer, you are not alone. In my 35 years as pastor at OPC Franklin Square (on Long Island) , we had to deal with a number of domestic abuse cases, and always sought to protect the abused and address the issues. I thought that was the norm for pastoral ministry. Bob Needham and you have shown me that I was very naive in that regard.
    My concern now is how this matter can be addressed in local churches and the presbyteries. Perhaps we can interact about that. You nave my contact information., I would welcome the opportunity to speak with you and think together about how we can address this “great scandal of the evangelical church” in a way that will wake people up and offer concrete ways to be of help, especially by pastors, elders, and deacons. Thank you for your painful book that helps us enter into that terrible pain. I appreciated the way you always went back to Christ – the pre-eminently abused One how is able (and does) perfectly sympathize with us in all things, not least, abuse..
    Yours in the service of our gracious King-Savior,
    Pastor Bill Shishko

    1. Hi Pastor Shishko. I am not sure if you are aware of this, but Robert Needham is one of the most unkind, rude, and arrogant pastors in the OPC. Surely you must know about his personality and how many folks have been the unfortunate recipients of his obnoxious, un-Christlike, and completely unrepentant personality.

      1. It’s improper for you to make these statements publicly. Have you spoken with Pastor Needham personally? I was referring to his book on domestic abuse – which has been of unique assistance because of its insight, careful thinking, and wise counsel given by a counselor with much experience in dealing with domestic abuse.

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  10. My dear sister in Christ, I thank you 1,000x. You are the voice of all of us who were raised to respect our church officers, trust our pastors, and cling to a reformed perspective of the Word……and then had all of this used against us, again and again and again, to defend abuse and destroy our spirit.

    I know many of the names you mention, having been an opc member in San Antonio in the mid-1990’s. Gary Davenport spent two nights at my home. He did NOT molest me, but I did indeed cringe when just weeks later he was removed from his position as home missions coordinator b/c he had been having an affair with a woman in Japan. It sickened me, But I was battling my own abusive situation. And I must say Grace Opc came to my aid.

    Rev Jack Peterson (now deceased) was not a perfect man, but he had a pastor’s heart and he took a stand on my behalf. Elders Mike Deboom and deacon Jodi Bassett are my heroes. They met with my husband weekly, and prayed on their knees daily. The late Charlie Dennison, and his brother Dr. WM Dennison stood up for me—-for the Truth—-and gave godly counsel TO ADDRESS THE ABUSE OF MY APOUSE. These men all heard my voice!!!

    And so I stayed in my marriage….and God seemed to be at work. But psychopaths are either broken, or they ramp up the ‘game.’ And 20yrs later, when the skeletons came armed and marching out of the closet I cried for help and the men who came to put out the fire were Rev. Casey Freswick and elder Larry Koetje of Bethany URC. The gave me such help as letting me know I had NO MEMBERSHIP in Christ apart from my husband, so I better shut up, make Sunday dinner for him and let him lead devotions…..’for the kids’ sake.’

    Almost a year later, I found another URC to help me fight for my kids and the Truth. Rev. Jason Tuinstra of Bethel URC even went in the witness stand for me when my husband sued me over the homeschooling of our 5 kids. But in the end Casey Freswick, Larry koetje, and Todd Moelker made things so difficult for all involved that pastor Tuinstra—and he was a pastor to me and my kids—/and asst pastor Steve Postma and I decided I should leave the URC and find stiller waters. And we did….Mika Edmundson is my pastor, at New City opc and elder de Riuscher has been a great encouragement. I worship where I feel safe; and every other week my kids get to join me. And Dr wm Dennison and his wife encourage me weekly…and they have fought many battles for many women like us.

    How sad is it for the church when women like me get more justice in the pagan courts of the land than in the church of Christ Jesus, who laid Himself down.

    Thank you, sister. God’s word does not return empty, and the prophet slapped in the face will stand in the halls of DIVINE JUSTICE! Let the light of Heaven shine.

    1. Dear Doretta,

      Thank you for speaking about the abuse you suffered for years at the hand of your husband. I am thankful that faithful servants of the Lord have come to your aid in your fight for justice.

      One clarification about your comment ought to be made: my understanding, in speaking with someone who had close knowledge of the situation at the time, is that the minister who had the affair with the woman in Japan was an OPC missionary to Japan, not Gary Davenport.

      Blessings,

      Joe Troutman

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  11. Thank you so much for speaking out and sharing your experiences, Jennifer. First and foremost, I believe you. While we’ve lived very different lives, so much of what you’ve written feels incredibly familiar to me as a sexual abuse survivor who grew up in the OPC and spent a great deal of time close to several of the people named.

    I have tried very hard to not think much about the details of my childhood, and have been largely successful, aside from the intrusive thoughts and various longterm sessions with therapists. But I have recently come to a place of healing, and I am incredibly relieved and proud that those stronger than I with better words and bigger platforms can bring light to all of us.

    I can vouch for Sarah being an amazing person, I have known her literally all my life. And I know both her and Hannah to be trustworthy, honorable, and strong. The blunt grief I feel about our collective damage is sharpened by the knowledge that these same leaders instilled in me a cold fear and abiding mistrust that caused me to lash out, to forsake my friends, and to suffer alone.

    If anyone I grew up with is reading this and wants to talk, please reach out.

    1. Hi Takeshi. I’m sorry for your suffering. I didn’t know this. Though I often don’t know how, I still pray for you and all your sibs, and for your father’s salvation. I miss seeing you and your insightful observations of the world on FB. Mrs. P.

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      Takeshi, I am praying for you and am so sorry you’ve endured so much. I shared your reply with Sarah and Hannah. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do for you. Much love <3

  12. Thank you for writing this. I know so many names here that it makes me very, very upset. And I am a woman who has written about abuse too (in my case, of a friend). These things are so hard to fight, but you said it: truth must be told. Justice really does belong to God. If anyone is wronged, it will be ultimately made right in Christ’s triumph. As the bleeding edge of Jesus’ coming kingdom, we get to strive and faithfully pursue having God’s will done on Earth.

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      Thank you Jessica. I’m sorry you know some of the names here. Thank you for your work writing about abuse and supporting your friend. It is such important work, and too few are able. It’s such a complex, disturbing, exhausting, and sad topic. I love this phrase though, “he bleeding edge of Jesus’ coming kingdom.” Blessings to you, sister. Thank you for your kind note.

  13. Wow. I am shocked. First, I applaud You for your bravery and courage to write this letter to the OPC and exposing the pastors who were cowardly and failed to take action. I hope there will be action taken and accountability. I hope other victims of sexual abuse read this and are encouraged and feel seen and heard. It’s outrageous that you had to wait for 20 years. This makes me so angry for many reasons and I really hope to see some change in the OPC leadership.

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  14. Just heart-rending to read. I agree with your assessment, in that they will do absolutely nothing. Someone will defend the perpetrators under the umbrella of “statute of limitations” (as they did for the Grace and Peace OPC where a Federal Vision pastor was kept in place). We, too, have come to not trust OPC ministers, after my wife and I were members for over 25 years, and they destroyed our church plant with a session that doubted the Canon. Your horrible experience tops even that.

    I wouldn’t call these Pastors “men of God”. They are messengers of Satan, given over to their own wicked lust. The devil knows a lot of theology. 1 Corinthians chapter 5 was written to entirely address this very issue. Their actions demonstrate they cannot enter into the kingdom of God, they are taken captive by the devil at his will, and they must be ejected speedily out of their respective churches. Period.

    If there’s anything you believe my ministry can do to assist, let me know.

    1. More clear vision and an urgency to cleanse the church of pure evil, like you urge, is needed.

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      Vince, I’m so sorry to hear how you guys were wronged. I agree with you that the Federal Vision and several other theological movements are either enabling, or being used to justify, abuses, neglect, and failure to involve civil authorities. I sincerely appreciate your generous offer, and will certainly be in touch. Please feel free to reach out any time as well. God bless you and your ministry!

  15. Heartbreaking. And none of this is surprising. What I fear most is that the OPC will just call all of the women liars. That will not be surprising either.

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  16. Jenn, I have experienced the same lack of care. I like you have reached out to many OPC pastor regarding verbal abuse and had hit dead ends in four OPC churches and 7 different OPC pastors, 3 difference elders and for 5 years. Unbelievable, unexceptable, incapable. I gave them ever chance and trust I could but it was never returned. I had no choice but to move on. Therapists are more helpful than pastors are these days. YOU ARE NOT ALONE, you are just braver and stuck to your guns longer than many other women in the denomination who think it’s okay that their husband/authority/”owner” treat them however they desire. I’m proud of you for speaking up. I’m amazed they published this. I still don’t know if I have hope that anything will change. I tried so long and hard and was looked at with distrust and as stupid that I never thought I would ever get to use the government system they created. I tried, I gave up on even thinking of going to the presbytery.

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        Ginni, I’m heartbroken to read your initial post, and hear about what you’ve gone through over and over for so long, but I’m also rejoicing with you that your concerns have been addressed. That is wonderful news! I know though that even with closure, the past is still the past. I’ll pray for your continued healing and comfort <3

  17. This story is similar to mine. A pastor in a Michigan OPC was made aware of my abuse and did nothing. In fact, he blamed me. Thank you for giving others such as myself a voice.

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  18. I’m very sorry for the abuse you endured and realize as a teenager you were stuck in a horrible place with no help. I guess what I don’t understand is why once you were married and safely away from your father you didn’t report him to the civil authorities. By not reporting him to the authorities, you allowed him to abuse your sisters and possibly other children. For 20 years you remained “patient” while waiting for a pastor to fix this problem? At some point, this comes back on you for doing nothing to have your sisters rescued. Maybe you did report him to the civil authorities, but you have not indicated in your letter that you did so. I’m a victim of sexual abuse so I know the paralyzing feelings you get when you have to confront abusers. But I would never wait 20 years for a pastor to do something about an abuser. I would inform my pastor of the abuse and then inform him that my next action would be to inform the police department and ask if he like to go with me to support me. Whether he did or not go with me that’s exactly where I would go in order to save my sisters. I just don’t understand why you didn’t do this.

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      Sarah, this is a very odd and inappropriate assumption on your part. My first memories of abuse are from when I was 2 years old. An adult was aware something had happened, but did nothing. The first time I tried to tell an adult about my abuse, I was only 5, and I was told “Be quiet. We don’t talk about those things. Don’t ever talk about that again.” Since then, I have reported my abuse to 3 pastors (1 OPC, 1 PCA, and 1 independent who was also a lawyer), 1 counselor, and 1 physician. Despite being mandatory reporters, according to Texas Family Code Sec. 261.109, none of these men or women ever involved law enforcement. By neglecting their civil and moral duties, they committed crime and grievous sin.

      In addition, I have filed several police reports, coordinated with law enforcement in multiple jurisdictions, and reported to CPS and even the FBI. However, even had I not done any of that, your assertion that my abuser’s evil is in any way the fault of his victims, or that the crimes committed by clergy are excusable because I also didn’t call 911, are cruel, unfeeling, and impractical. I pray that God softens your heart, and opens your eyes to the evil of abuse and the damage your words could do to abuse victims.

  19. I applaud your bravery. Sadly, this is also what is witnessed growing up in the the Southern California OPC. Inappropriate behavior and turning a blind eye to the abuse of their fellow elders was common.

    1. Can you elaborate? I am a relatively new OPC member in SoCal with young daughters, so this is an important conversation to me. Thank you.

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        Hi Vince and Sara. I have contacts in the SoCal presbytery who may be able to help you, both in regards to reporting abuse (Sara, I am so sorry!), and also in understanding better how we can protect our kids and measures that are being taken. I have heard encouraging things out of SoCal, so, please do not lose hope. I’d be happy to put you in touch with some pastors, if you’re interested. Thank you!

  20. Thank you so much for your courage to tell your story; it is heartbreaking, the the gospel breathes through it. So thank you for not allowing fear of backlash from the church to immobilize you; we all need to hear what you have to say. Thank you, Jennifer, for being an honest truth-teller.

    I have served as an intern, then pastor in three OP churches over a period of 37 years. In each one, leadership dealt with physical, emotional and sexual abuse. As horrendous as your story is, it is certainly more common than any of us want to think. I hope and pray that in your telling your story, people throughout the church will be jolted into realizing that sexual abuse is closer than we think, and that all of us as leaders must have the courage not to add to the victim’s pain and shame by blaming or ignoring her.

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      Thank you, Richard. It is indeed far more common than anyone knows, which is extremely disturbing and depressing, but we cannot allow it to discourage us. I am encouraged to hear of your extensive ministry to victims and survivors. What a gift to the church! May God continue to bless his children through you. Thank you for your service and prayers.

  21. Thank you for this. Your words shine with openness and strength, and they need to be said. Many of us live in outright denial, because we don’t want to face the truth. But our comfort comes comes with a high price tag.

    I was also raised in the OPC, and my father was also abusive. He hid it from the world, and we played along because he taught us that was right. The honor and respect he demanded was secrecy and fear.

    It was a coworker outside of the church who first told me the word “abuse.” It was a teacher in my college who asked me about my depression and anxiety. It was not those within my church who first told me something was not right.

    To their credit, my pastor and elders took me and my mother seriously when we came to them for help. Although they were initially too trusting, and they interpreted a suicidal gesture from him to mean that we should stay in the home longer.

    (To anyone reading this who may need to hear it–suicide should never be a tool for someone else to manipulate you. They may need help, but from a professional, and you are not responsible for their choices)

    I believe that had I been at another church, I might not be a christian today. My pastor was warm, loving, and compassionate, almost the opposite of my father, and because of that I saw Christ in him.

    But my church was not prepared to deal with our situation, and they failed to help at least one other family who was also suffering abuse and neglect.
    They did their best to help us, and for that I am very, very grateful. But they did not look for abuse, and so they did not see it.

    I know that the OPC tends to have a lot of freedom when it comes to the culture of each individual congregation. But this is one aspect where we must, we must make a conscious and deliberate change to our culture overall. We cannot allow ourselves to prop up and enable abuse. We must teach people what love is, and what it is not, and how to reach out if you are in danger.

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      Grace, I’m so sorry to hear what you’ve been through, and sorry to hear how unprepared your church was to handle things. I will pray for your family member who paid dearly for that. Thank you for bringing up the issue of suicide and how it can be weaponized by abusers. On the one hand, I’ve been suicidal before, and I know the devastating pain of being in that place. On the other hand, I’ve also personally witnessed several abusers threaten suicide to keep their victims quiet and afraid, and at one point my dad even faked a suicide attempt in front of his kids by stabbing his arm with broken glass. It is a profoundly evil and sadistic thing to do, but it’s very real, and it does happen. From your post, it sounds like you’re safe now and in a much better place (I hope that is indeed the case!), but I will certainly pray God continues this healing work in your life, and gives you peace and comfort. I’m thankful to God to have you as a sister <3 Please feel welcome to reach out any time.

  22. Dear Jennifer,

    I am so very sorry for what you have experienced and what you have continued to experience. It is a all to common thing for our pathology to masquerade as our theology. As a PCA Teaching Elder, I have seen both good and evil in this matter. I myself have done good and failed to help effectively in situations.

    There are three things I have learned which I wish could be operating principles for every congregation:

    1. Since God has established the magistrate as his minister and since the elders only have spiritual, not magisterial authority, all accusations and suspicions of abuse should be immediately referred to the authorities. The authorities are far better equipped to investigate than the church. After the investigations are complete, THEN the church should also decide how to respond.
    2. Responses should never be formulated with considerations of protecting churches or ministries, but only formulated with the goal of protecting the weak and uncovering truth. Churches will be stronger if truth is upheld, no matter how painful it is.
    3. If ever there is a concern regarding a person in ministry, the person should immediately be removed from active ministry while an investigation is conducted. If the concerns involve possible crimes, the civil authorities should conduct the first part of the investigation. The ecclesiastical investigation should involve persons who are not close to the accused.

    The Church has been slow to understand what systems theory counselors have known for decades, groups of people will collude to protect the group when threatened. This is deadly for the church. We all called to protect the weak and the name of Christ.

    Grace and Peace to you.

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      Travis, this is extremely wise. Thank you. I may cite your comment in a future article. I agree, any time we become more interested in protecting “the church” as a brand, rather than as individual people in need of reflecting and receiving Jesus Christ, things go sideways very quickly.

  23. Jennifer,

    Thank you for sharing this. In my early 20s I was giving my testimony at the Boardwalk Chapel, an OPC mission work, and in that testimony shared the fact that I grew up in a very abusive home. After my testimony was over I was pulled aside by the chapel director, who accused me of lying and told me sharing that was inappropriate. I tried to defend myself by suggesting he contact the elders of my current church (also an OPC church) who had heard my testimony before- but he took that as a threat, and knowing if it came down to me or him he had far more clout so I remained silent.

    Your story gives validity to mine. And vice versa. This stuff DOES happen. And it often is swept under the rug. Thank you for giving me permission to call a spade a spade. It was abuse. It was wrong. And it is part of my testimony.

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      Michelle, I’m am terribly sorry to hear about your suffering and the backwards reaction of the chapel director. I completely understand the decision to remain silent. It’s horrible that such silence is a necessary consideration in some circles, where you know you won’t be believed, and may even be further abused by those who’d bully and falsely accuse. I hope you were able to find another church where you are loved, heard, and supported.

  24. Jennifer and Sarah and Hannah,
    I’m at a loss for words. As someone who grew up in OPC and experienced abuse in it (sexual, physical, emotional and not just from pastors) my heart just breaks. It breaks for what you suffered and that you reached out to people who didn’t help you. I know what that feels like and it’s a horrible feeling.
    I don’t know what to say because as a person that has hurt in a similar way, I know there are no words or ways to make it better. Nothing can make that better or okay because it wasn’t. So since I know nothing else, i would like to say what I wished someone would have said to me: what happened wasn’t okay, what happened wasn’t your fault, what happened is NOT why these men were put in power, and probably most importantly (to me at least) what happened wasn’t your fault.
    So it doesn’t fix things but maybe some things can encourage. So instead I would just like to tell you that this article sparked something in me. I never wanted to admit to me or others that what happened wasn’t okay. You inspired me. I read this and thought “how awful this is” but I read this and also thought “my God how brave this is”.
    What you wrote inspired me to face things I was unwilling to face and open up about things I couldn’t. Thank you. Thank you for being brave because it is not easy to be brave. It is not easy to say these things, especially not after being turned down. Again, I believe you. I believe you and I I appreciate the incredible bravery this took.
    So I’m so sorry for what happened, I’m so sorry you didn’t have a safe place, I’m so thankful you made me strong enough to find one.
    You girls are incredible, your resilience is incredible, your faith is incredible. Thank you and i hope and pray you find peace because you deserve it, no matter what else was hammered into your heads, you deserve peace and joy. ❤

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      Janelle, my hope and prayer for this letter was that God would work through it to alert loving pastors to this danger in our midst, and give a voice to victims and survivors who may be too heartbroken or afraid to come forward. Thank you for being an answer to my prayer. But more than that, thank you for your loving kindness, encouragement, and ministry to me. You are right, we – you included – deserve pace and joy. And the peace and joy which we should find in Christ’s church – while but a vague reflection of our Final Destination, our Heavenly Home – is something worth taking a stand for. Thank you for your words of wisdom, understanding, and your prayers <3

  25. I read this twice. I re-read it after reading your second follow up article. I missed the part where you went to the police and filed a complaint. I’m not trying to be callous, but why do you put that responsibility on the church? I’m not defending anyone’s actions. Your accusations needed to be investigated by lawful authorities. Yes, there is sin within the church. The church is made up of sinners. Anyone who says they are without sin is a liar and the truth is not in them. But the church hierarchy is not the place for a lawful investigation. How much different this would have played out if you had filed charges. The OPC would have taken action, I have little doubt. I know some of these pastors, they are good men. You expected the pastors to do the job of a police detective and a prosecutor? Further, you slander the entire OPC because they didnt act like detectives and prosecutors? Abuse has been illegal for as long as you have been alive, and all that is needed is a single accusation to start an investigation. How exactly is a pastor supposed to sort this legal issue out, is what I wonder. I can absolutely understand why your article was not printed, and, frankly, I support that. You have made some heavy accusations but did not take the right actions to resolve them. Again, I’m not trying to be callous or dismissive, but accusations need investigations – for the benefit of all parties involved.

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      By accusing me of slander, you are accusing me of lying. I am not lying. Furthermore, slander is spoken. In print, it would be libel. But as I said, I’m not lying, and some of the men you are defending are convicted child rapists. Also, nowhere did I say I never reported this to the police. By claiming, “How much different this would have played out if you had filed charges … You have made some heavy accusations but did not take the right actions to resolve them,” you have actually committed libel. By defending mandatory reporters who broke the law by not reporting child abuse, you’re justifying crimes and moral lapses.

      My first memories of abuse are from when I was 2 years old. Starting when I was around 5 years old, I began trying to tell adults. Over the years following, I reported to multiple pastors, 2 counselors, 1 doctor, several friends, and multiple law enforcement agencies, including CPS and the FBI. But even had I never reported, abuse is always 100% the fault of the abuser, not the victim. No one should ever blame a child for not acting as an adult, or a traumatized person for not acting rationally or confidently. False accusations, victim shaming, and blame shifting are all sinful and abusive. For a mandatory reporter to fail to report child abuse is a crime under Texas law.

      1. Slander may have been the wrong word to use, I agree. My thought was more the idea of impugning guilt on all for the actions (or non actions) of a few. And you did not state anywhere where you had gone to law enforcement, and I don’t feel the question was out of bounds. I don’t buy into the mantra of “you must believe the accuser”. No I must believe facts, which require an investigation to uncover truth from falsehood. If you take that for victim blaming I can’t help you with that. Not sorry. I’m not justifying anything. My statements were born from the lack of any mention of the police. I dont and would never defend abusers. It is unfortunate and wrong if you made accusations to lawful authorities and they were not followed up. Yes the relevant OPC elders should have reported the abuse as you reported it to them. This is a subject that actually hits close to home, having had sexual abuse take place in my family when I was younger to my sisters. He was reported and I can say that it was handled as it should have been. Maybe that effects how I look at these situations.

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        If this subject hits close to home, why are you not more sympathetic and weeping with me that nothing was done to help me or my mother and four little sisters? It is wrong. As one pastor put it, it is “and egregious violation of our church polity.” I am glad that your family’s suffering was handled as it should have been, but that does not negate the evil committed against me. Do not shame me for calling evil what it is.

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  26. Questioning your article is shaming you? Somehow not weeping with you and questioning what appears to me to be questionable issues with your article further victimizes you? Sorry I don’t know how to respond to that. Good luck with your future. I hope this passage is of some help:

    “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
    As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
     Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
    For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
     Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Roman’s 8:35-39

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      Yes, Joe. I’d describe calling me a liar and a slanderer and accusing me of allowing my family and I to be abused pretty shaming. Do not lie to me, lie about me, refuse to apologize, and then quote Scripture to me.

  27. Ok, fine, let’s do this then. You said that even the FBI investigated, but nothing was done. CPS investigated and nothing was done. Seems to me that the OPC is on pretty firm ground by not taking action if these legal authorities investigated and nothing came of it. It may have even opened them up to a lawsuit. Apparently asking questions and looking deeper just makes you more of a victim. It isnt my fault that you did not include that information in either of your articles. It seems very relevant to the story. Also, I am not the only one who asked about this, and the other person was the one who “blamed you” for whatever happened to your sisters, not me. Not only did you not respond that that lady, but you projected that onto me. Interesting. You want to be looked at as a victim. The scripture I posted was a sincere attempt to make you see that, as a Christian, we are overcomers. Yeah, I know, I dont just believe your words so I’m guessing the next thing is I’m not a Christian either. Well, as a Christian I have a love of the truth. Your reactions throughout this discourse show me there is more to this than is being brought to light. I started out asking some very simple yet obvious questions. Both your words and attitude have shown me that you simply want to be seen as a victim. Judging from some of the other responses on both this article and the other, it’s obvious you got your wish. Mostly. I dont know what did or didn’t happen to you. But I can judge your reactions and words for what they are.

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      For Anyone Reading: I know Joe from church. We knew each other for … IDK, 6 years? … while he and his beautiful family attended Cornerstone, and we had since interacted over Facebook without incident. However, Joe has now demonstrated in real time the reason why I wrote my Open Letter, and he has validated every concern and fear I outlined in it.

      Thank you, Joe.

  28. Watch out for their use of “Executive Session.” I recently left the OPC over spiritual abuse my family and I were experiencing at the hand of a pastor. I was a ruling elder and the session would use Executive Session as a way of shutting me up. I was a young elder (even now I’m only 39), and was intimidated by the more experienced elders that more closely resembled bully lawyers. I felt alone. I lost confidence in the session and presbytery’s ability to handle it, so we left the church and denomination. Your story, while tragic, is courageous. The more open we are about abuse, going on the offensive, the more the abusers will retreat.

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