Doug Phillips, the founder and leader of Vision Forum and a leader in the conservative homeschool movement, admitted to having a lengthy extra-marital affair with another woman. This was a bomb shell in the conservative home school community. Phillips was an extremely influential leader in the “Biblical Patriarchy” movement, a part of conservative evangelical Christianity that believes men should have “dominion” over women.
The Closing of Vision Forum Ministries
The Board of Vision Forum Ministries, on November 11, 2013, released a short one paragraph statement on their website announcing the closing of Vision Forum Ministries. The statement indicates that the sins in Phillips’ affair were more significant than what he had indicated in his resignation statement, where he left the door open for his possible return to the Vision Forum Ministry:
“In light of the serious sins which have resulted in Doug Phillips’s resignation from Vision Forum Ministries, the Board of Directors has determined that it is in the best interests of all involved to discontinue operations. We have stopped receiving donations, and are working through the logistical matters associated with the closing of the ministry. While we believe as strongly as ever in the message of the ministry to the Christian family, we are grieved to find it necessary to make this decision. We believe this to be the best option for the healing of all involved and the only course of action under the circumstances.”
The Atlantic Wire explains the significance of the moral failure of Doug Phillips:
“It is difficult to overstate how fundamentally an extramarital affair damaged Phillips’s reputation in the short term. That’s because Vision Forum’s work centered around the ‘restoration of the Christian household.’ In short, the organization enforced what it would argue is a Biblically-based family structure where the husband serves as the spiritual and practical head of the household. His wife and children, especially any daughters not yet of marrying age, live under his dominion. Phillips’s family, like the well-known Duggars, were also practicing Quiverfull adherents. That movement holds up procreation as the highest calling for (properly married) women, meaning that Quiverfull families grow quite large. Phillips has eight children, and the Duggars have 19 kids. Adherents usually home-school their children, rejecting the notion that anyone but the family and God should have input into a child’s education. Family is central to, and the mission of, Vision Forum’s entire reason for existence.” (https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/11/infidelity-scandal-just-shuttered-major-biblical-patriarchy-organization/355143/)
Doug Phillips’ extra-marital affair is not an isolated incident of a conservative church leader being involved in sexual sins. There is a much bigger picture that we need to see. I am in the process of writing a book titled The Failure of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment — Mistakes We Must Avoid in the Coming Revival. It addresses the rampant hidden sexual abuse problem in these conservative groups. The book takes a look at many sexual abuse court cases, the Biblical reasons why the sexual abuse rate is so high in spite of the conservative focus on modesty, the doctrinal errors of the conservative mindset, and the Biblical solutions. I thought I was finished writing the book a year ago at 100 pages, but God keeps giving me more things to write. It is now almost three times larger.
Doug Phillips’ moral failure highlights the failure of conservatism and its ideology as, one by one, conservative leaders and some of the lay people in their congregations are falling into sexual and moral failure. There is a pattern that has emerged of the sexual failure that happens when conservative groups, such as Vision Forum set up man made rules that are not spelled out that way in scripture, such as rules of modesty, regulated dress, courtship, and unbiblical control by the conservative church leaders, especially over the women. These conservative leaders then hold their people accountable to follow these manmade rules by implying that they are following Christ when they do so. They often have strong discipline for those who do not follow these rules. Often, too, the conservative leaders pick and choose commands from the Old Testament Law and from Christ’s commands in the New Testament and ignore other commands that God has given to us in the New Testament. In the process they make a hybrid set of “Biblical” commands that their people must follow. This sets up the leader—in the case of Vision Forum it is Doug Phillips—as the one who is followed instead of Jesus.
We as Christians are no longer under the Old Testament Law and any of its commands. Jesus made that clear. We are now to follow all of the commands that He has given to us throughout the New Testament. As Jesus commanded us in the second half of the Great Commission: “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:20
The following is part of the bigger picture of the moral failure that is happening in secret among groups with a conservative mindset that add manmade rules to Christ’s commands in the New Testament. “Ye shall know them by their fruits”. (Matthew 7:16)
Bill Gothard and Advanced Training Institute — ATI
In the April 5, 1982 edition of the Los Angeles Times is an article about a law suit against the Gothard ministry. Bill Gothard’s brother, Steve, the institute’s second in command, admitted to having sexual relations with seven institute secretaries over a number of years. He also admitted to becoming involved in sexual perversions with several of the woman. Staff said that Bill Gothard was seen patting and fondling women employees. He later admitted in staff meetings that these were “moral failures” on his part.
It appears that sexual harassment of young ladies is still taking place by Bill Gothard. The following article describes the pattern of sexual harassment, along with three articles that are testimonies of the sexual harassment.
A call to repentance
Exploited Innocence – Sexual Harassment at HQ
Another Witness – Sexual Harassment at HQ
Third Witness – Sexual Harassment at HQ
There are also accounts of sexual abuse among ATI homeschool families:
Sovereign Grace Ministries
A Washington Post article:
Suit accuses Sovereign Grace Ministries of covering up alleged child sexual abuse
By Michelle Boorstein, January 14, 2013
“A Montgomery County Circuit Court lawsuit accuses past and current leaders of a 100-church evangelical denomination of covering up sexual abuse of minors, forcing small children to “forgive” abusers and ostracizing families who wouldn’t hide the alleged crimes.
“The lawsuit filed Friday adds more accusers and more accused to a complaint filed last fall against Sovereign Grace Ministries, a movement founded in the 1970s in Gaithersburg. Among those named now is co-founder Larry Tomczak, who was a key figure in the movement’s early years but split from it bitterly in the 1990s.
“Eight alleged victims are named. Tomczak is the only alleged abuser named. He is accused of forcing a victim over a period of 25 years to strip “against her will” and assaulting her .
“Tomczak became well-known with Sovereign Grace leader C.J. Mahaney years ago for launching what is now a thriving trend of neo-Calvinism. Neo-Calvinism teaches that people are steeped in sin and need strict spiritual oversight.” (Emphasis added)
The rest of what follows are excerpts from my book — The Failure of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment.
Sexual Abuse in Baptist Churches
Many Baptists hold to the carnal manmade doctrine of eternal security for the person once they make a profession for Christ. They believe that once a person becomes a Christian, they cannot lose their salvation and go to hell. This wrong doctrine of man creates a perfect theology for sexual molesters to operate. It takes away their fear of God because they believe that they will not go to hell for sins they commit after they become a Christian, including sexually abusing a child or committing adultery. The feeling of immunity from prosecution by God gives people the wrong impression that they don’t have to obey all of Christ’s commands. The following reports show the consequences and error of the eternal security belief and the carnal nature of Baptist denominations:
“Recent sex scandals among Catholic and evangelical leaders are prompting renewed calls for action against clergy sexual abuse. But with research indicating such abuse is more prevalent among clergy — including Baptists — than other counseling professionals, abuse-victim advocates are asking if enough is being done.
“Comprehensive studies are difficult to find. But a 1993 survey by the Journal of Pastoral Care found that 14 percent of Southern Baptist ministers admitted to engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior. Seventy percent said they knew another minister who had.
“A 2000 Baptist General Convention of Texas report indicated more than 24 percent of ministers said they had counseled at least one person who had sexual contact with a minister. The BGCT report called the level of sexual abuse by clergy “horrific” and noted that “the disturbing aspect of all research is that the rate of incidence for clergy exceeds the client-professional rate for both physicians and psychologists.” (Emphasis added) Associated Baptist Press Dec. 7, 2006
The document “Broken Trust” says: “Clergy sexual misconduct is a serious problem in church life. While ministers live and serve with great integrity, some engage in the irresponsible exploitation of members who are in need of their spiritual guidance. According to one recent national survey of ministers, 35% had engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior. The Baptist General Convention of Texas receives frequent phone calls from churches and from Directors of Missions concerning clergy sexual misconduct. (Ninety-six percent of sexual exploitation by professionals is by a man in power who capitalizes on a woman’s trust…)”
Jesus told us that not everyone that makes a profession for Christ and who believes they are saved will go to heaven. “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:15-23)
Parents need to be diligent in protecting their children regardless of what denomination or church they attend. One Baptist church has a big sign out front that reads: “Friday Night is Date Night, Yes! We’ll baby sit”. Knowing what I know about sexual abuse among Baptists, I would never let that church babysit my children. Everything could be fine, but babysitting children on a Friday evening is a perfect situation for sexual molesters to operate who “love” children. We want our children to have friends and to experience a lot of opportunities. But sexual abuse is not one of those experiences!
Arthur J. Hershberger Case
In the early part of 2011, Art Hershberger, age 58, turned himself in for sexually molesting several young girls in a Beachy Amish Mennonite school where he was principal.
When I heard about Art Hershberger, God impressed upon me that the “Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment” was a failure. Art Hershberger was not just a Christian school principal. He was also the Administrative Secretary for the Biblical Mennonite Alliance conference and was one of the main leaders and founders of the conference. He was responsible for conference correspondence and was a main contact person. Hershberger was also a pastor and was also overseer of five Mennonite churches in Virginia.
Biblical Mennonite Alliance (BMA) was the Mennonite conference that our family had been a part of before God told our family to leave the Mennonite church a number of years ago. BMA was started in 1998 because of the liberal drift of Conservative Mennonite Conference and other Mennonite groups. Their goal was to be the most Biblical Mennonite group, hence their name Biblical Mennonite Alliance. BMA’s motto was “The Bible plus nothing, and the Bible minus nothing”.
The modest, conservative dress of these young girls did not protect them from the sexual advances of this man. The conservative modest dress did not help this man to control himself as we were taught in the Mennonite church that it would. What is significant is that this man did not fall into adultery with an adult; instead it was perversion with young girls. It is not normal for a man to be sexually interested in a young girl.
In Romans 1:28-32 God tells us: “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; 29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.”
Hershberger did not have natural affection, but was sexually attracted to these “modestly” dressed young girls. He knew the judgment of God, but he did it anyway. God had given him over to a reprobate mind to do that which was not convenient.
Sadly, BMA did not follow the Bible in publicly rebuking their conference leader for his sin of sexual abuse. They covered it up and quickly scrubbed their website of Art Hershberger’s name and his leadership within the conference. They put other names in its place. At www.web.archive.org, an archived copy of the BMA website has the conference directory as it appeared on Aug. 1, 2010 with Art Hershberger’s name as Administrative Secretary of BMA. By June 2011, shortly after Hershberger turned himself in, his name could not be found associating him with leadership in the BMA conference. We have received the BMA newsletter ever since we left the Mennonite church. BMA did not publicly rebuke Hershberger in the newsletter for his actions. This type of cover-up is common among Amish and conservative Mennonite churches when sexual abuse cases are made known to the leadership. They are embarrassed by it and try to hide it. They don’t want the news media to get a hold of the story and spread it far and wide.
Covering up sexual abuse is in direct disobedience to what Christ commands in I Timothy 5:19-20 “Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. 20 Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.”
The Failure of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment in Preventing Sexual Abuse
In the next number of chapters we are going to “dig through the wall” like the prophet Ezekiel did and take a peek at some of the abominations that are being committed by piously dressed Amish and conservative Mennonites in secret. Just like Ezekiel had no idea what his people were doing in secret, most people have no idea of the extent of the wickedness that is occurring in secret in some Amish and conservative Mennonite groups. Ezekiel tells us how God revealed to him the abominations that were being committed in secret:
“He said furthermore unto me, Son of man, seest thou what they do? even the great abominations that the house of Israel committeth here, that I should go far off from my sanctuary? but turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations. And he brought me to the door of the court; and when I looked, behold a hole in the wall. Then said he unto me, Son of man, dig now in the wall: and when I had digged in the wall, behold a door. And he said unto me, Go in, and behold the wicked abominations that they do here. So I went in and saw; and behold every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, portrayed upon the wall round about. And there stood before them seventy men of the ancients of the house of Israel, and in the midst of them stood Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan, with every man his censer in his hand; and a thick cloud of incense went up. Then said he unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? for they say, The LORD seeth us not; the LORD hath forsaken the earth. He said also unto me, Turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations that they do.” (Ezekiel 8:6-13)
The prophet Isaiah also tells us: “Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the LORD, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? and who knoweth us?” (Isaiah 29:15) God does see in the dark and He sees what is being done in secret in Amish and conservative Mennonite homes. God has been revealing the wickedness to me. The evidence that I present will be heavily documented so that you can verify it for yourself.
One of the big failures of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment is that in spite of its strong focus on modesty, it does little to prevent the awful sin and crime of sexual abuse of Amish and Mennonite boys and girls, and the dress experiment appears to be a major contributor to it. Sexual abuse is occurring among Amish and conservative Mennonites at a higher rate than what most people have any idea is happening. In some communities and congregations, sexual abuse is rampant. We will be looking at some of the evidence and testimonies of the prevalence of sexual abuse.
The wickedness of sexual abuse being committed by Amish and conservative Mennonites is a serious failure and sin. Sexual abuse among non-Christians is a serious enough sin, but this sexual abuse is committed against children by people within their own church group. Jesus said it would be better for a sexual molester if a millstone was hung around their neck and they were drowned in the depth of the sea! God has serious punishments for those who sexually abuse children who believe in Jesus. Jesus goes on to warn us that those children have angels which are always reporting to God the Father. No secret sexual abuse is unseen by God.
This passage directly applies to sexual abuse of children: “And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 18:5-10)
The Greek word translated “offend” means to “entrap, that is to trip up” (Strong’s Dictionary). That is exactly what a sexual predator does. He entraps a child and sexually abuses him or her.
Jesus emphasizes the seriousness of the sin of sexual abuse by saying that a man who is tempted to sexually molest children, it would be better for him to cut off his hand or foot or pluck out his eye to prevent himself from committing those acts. Jesus said that taking drastic measures to keep one’s self from sexually abusing children would be better than to be cast into hell fire. Woe too, to those Amish and Mennonite church leaders who cover over sexual abuse cases, who wrongly condemn the innocent sexual abuse victims for being the cause of the abuse or for lying about the abuse, and who through their silence enable sexual molesters to sexually abuse other children in the church.
Sexual abuse is a sexual wickedness that is not even approved of by non-Christians in society today. Society has accepted sex before marriage, living together unmarried, same sex relationships, adultery, pornography, etc. In addition, TV, movies, magazines, books, and the internet portray many forms of sexual promiscuity in a positive light. But the sexual abuse of girls and boys is not acceptable even in this sexually promiscuous society.
Not only is sexual abuse not acceptable in society today, it is also illegal and it is a crime. The government’s view of the seriousness of sexual abuse is evidenced by the fact that there is no statute of limitations in many states for the sexual abuse of a minor. Even after many years have passed and a sexual abuser is an old man, the one(s) who have been sexually abused by him can come forward and report his crime. Only crimes that are considered exceptionally heinous by society, such as murder, have no statute of limitations. All other crimes have a time limitation in which they must be reported.
The crime of sexual abuse is so serious in the view of the sexually permissive society today that some states even allow the use of deadly force to stop sexual abuse. In June of 2012, a grand jury in Texas decided not to indict a rancher who had beat a hired man to death when he discovered him raping his five year old daughter behind a shed on the property. District Attorney Heather McMinn said about the case: “Under the law in the state of Texas deadly force is authorized and justified in order to stop an aggravated sexual assault or sexual assault.” (http://abcnews.go.com/US/charges-texas-father-beat-death-daughters-molester/story?id=16612071#.T-R2ERceNLd)
The seriousness of the failure of the Amish and Mennonite dress experiment is highlighted by the fact that these Amish and Mennonites, who profess to be Christians and dress in pious religious garb, are not committing the sexual sins that are accepted and rampant among non-Christians. They are committing criminal sexual acts that are unacceptable to even non-Christians.
The Amish and Mennonite dress experiment has put a significant emphasis on women and girls dressing modestly so that men would not be tempted to lust and sin. The argument for modesty has been used to put strict regulations on women, such as the cape dress, long sleeves, and stipulations on the length of their dresses. They have prided themselves in not dressing immodestly like the world. Using human reasoning, the modest dress regulations should have worked in preventing girls from being sexually abused. But God tells us that doing what appears to be best using human reasoning will result in consequences. “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” (Proverbs 14:12) Later, we will look at Scripture and see why regulation dress and modesty failed. But first, we will look at the problem of sexual abuse among the Amish and conservative Mennonites.
I grew up in a more “liberal” conservative Mennonite church, but not in a Mennonite community. I was not aware of the sexual abuse and sex before marriage that was occurring in some of the more conservative areas. My mother-in-law shocked my wife and me when she revealed to us that she and two of her sisters had been sexually abused by their father when they were girls. I did not think that sexual abuse would happen in the conservative Mennonite church. At the time, I thought that it was an isolated case, but I have found out since that it is not.
My mother-in-law said that during the time that her dad was sexually abusing her and her sisters, he demanded that they dress more and more conservatively. That is the opposite of what one would think a man like him would do. It is a control and manipulation method and it is part of putting the blame on the girls and women. Others looking on would never have guessed what he was doing to his daughters. In fact, my mother-in-law did not realize that her sisters were also being sexually abused until sometime later. She and her one sister were very close, like two peas in a pod, and yet she had no idea that her sister was being sexually abused too.
Her dad, when he was exposed, put the blame on his wife for what he called “her wickedness in their marriage”. Blaming the women and not taking their own responsibility is a common characteristic of Amish and conservative Mennonite men that are involved in lust and sexual abuse. It is also a consequence of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment that actively and subconsciously puts the blame and responsibility on the women to dress so that men do not lust after them. My mother-in-law’s dad never acknowledged to his daughters that he was responsible for what he had done and that he was sorry for what he did. When the pastors of his congregation found out some of what had happened, he made a nebulous confession in church and was restored to full fellowship again.
But the emotional trauma of the sexual abuse has affected those three women for the last 50+ years. The average person looking on would never guess the horror of their past. The church never attempted to help them as girls or even realized the trauma that sexual abuse causes. Churches need to do much more in helping women to become victorious over the trauma of sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse is one of the worst sins and crimes that can be committed against another human being. Sexual sins affect a person more deeply emotionally and psychologically than any other sin. Most victims are affected by the trauma of their sexual abuse for the rest of their lives. Church leaders who trivialize and ignore the long term emotional affects and consequences of sexual abuse are foolish. God tells us in 1 Corinthians 6:18, “Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.” This verse not only applies to those who willfully choose to commit sexual sins, but it also tells us that the consequences of sexual sins also affects very deeply those who had sexual sins forced upon them. God tells us that sexual sins affect the victim much deeper than any other sin or abuse. The Amish and conservative Mennonite churches have a history of “hushing up” the abuse situation and ignoring the victims and the trauma that they carry with them the rest of their lives. Many Amish and Mennonite leaders are ignorant of, or choose to ignore the horrible consequences in the life of the victim who has been sexually abused, and in some cases the leaders actually make the trauma worse for the victim.
For my mother-in-law, her experience has opened a ministry to other women and girls who have been sexually abused. Her experience of being sexually abused enabled her to be able to spot other women who have been abused. She can read their body language and the things that they say. She sometimes asks them if they were sexually abused and they acknowledge that they were. She has told us that sexual abuse is far more widespread than what we ever imagined existed. She has found quite a few Amish and Mennonite women who were sexually abused in their youth, including pastor’s wives.
In my wife’s home church, a church that had stricter rules on distinctive dress than the church that I grew up in, the pastor and his wife had to get married because she got pregnant. Her “modest” dress did not prevent them from committing fornication. I had an uncle and aunt who also had to get married because she got pregnant. Her “modest” Mennonite cape dress and black stockings did not prevent lust and sexual immorality from occurring.
Jesus strongly rebuked the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and for being white washed graves by dressing in their distinctive clothing to appear to be righteous and at the same time covering up secret sin. This same rebuke applies to the Amish and Mennonites who dress to appear to be righteous, but have covered over sexual abuse or sexual immorality that they committed or that others in the church have committed. Jesus said this about the cover up of sin that causes innocent people to be hurt because they have no idea that the wickedness exists and they fall prey to a sexual predator: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them.” (Luke 11:44)
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Matthew 23:25-33)
The Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment, just like the dress of the scribes and Pharisees, creates an ideal environment for sexual predators to operate. It makes it easy for a sexual predator to hide their sin because they outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within they are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
In her book; Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches (Printed by the Mennonite publishing house – Herald Press, Scottdale, PA, 1993 p.73,74), Carolyn Holderread Heggen, whose counseling practice consists mostly of adult survivors of sexual abuse, says this in the section “Conservative Religiosity and Abuse”:
“A disturbing fact continues to surface in sex abuse research. The first best predictor of abuse is alcohol or drug addiction in the father. But the second best predictor is conservative religiosity, accompanied by parental belief in traditional female-male roles. This means that if you want to know which children are most likely to be sexually abused by their father, the second most significant clue is whether or not the parent belongs to a conservative religious group with traditional role beliefs and rigid sexual attitudes (Brown and Bohn, 1989; Finkelhor, 1986; Fortune, 1983; Goldstein, Kant, and Hartman, 1973; Van Leeuwen, 1990)…
“As is true of men raised in any environment which tends to repress sexuality, men in conservative religious homes are often obsessed with sexual thoughts and feelings but rarely share these with others. Because they may consider sexual thoughts dirty and sinful, they become ashamed and afraid of them. The more they try to repress these powerful urges and thoughts, the more powerful they become. Sexual feelings and thoughts may seem to take on a life of their own, which feels out of the control of the legalistic Christian man.
“And so the circle becomes vicious. The more the man thinks about sexual matters, the more shame he feels. The more shame he feels the harder he tries to repress and deny these feelings. The more he tries to repress and deny them, the more energy they have. And then the more shame he feels, and the harder he tries to deny the urges, the more powerful they become, and on and on.”
The last two paragraphs describe conservative men who are trying to live the Christian life in their own strength and not in the power and victory of the Holy Spirit. With their regulation dress, they can walk “the walk” and talk “the talk”, while hiding their sin.
Sexual Abuse Statistics among the Amish and Mennonites
In society as a whole, it is estimated that only a small percentage of sexual abuse cases are ever reported. That is also the case in Amish and conservative Mennonite groups as well.
Because many of these churches tend to handle sex abuse cases themselves and not report them to the police, it is hard to get statistics about how widespread sexual abuse is among these groups. In many cases, everything is kept quiet and swept under the rug, or it is denied that it happened and very few people find out about it. It is very embarrassing to the church leaders to have this type of crime and sin happening in their church.
There are some sexual abuse statistics available among more liberal Mennonites. Mennonite Central Committee in their April 2010 Women’s Report had these statistics:
“According to Church Member Profile 2006, the percentage of Mennonite Church USA members who ‘have experienced any type of sexual abuse or violation’ is 21% for women and 5.6% for men, with most of this abuse occurring while they were a child or teenager. For Brethren in Christ members, the figures are 29% for women and 10% for men. In society at large, the figures range from 17-25% for women and 3-16% for men, depending on the study and how people define sexual abuse or assault.”
These statistics are for the Mennonite Church USA denomination, which today does not have regulation garb, and dresses much like the rest of society. The first thought, from a conservative Mennonite or Amish mind, would be that these statistics show that dressing like the world results in the same statistics of sexual abuse as the world and that it validates their conservative regulation dress. That is until one realizes what some of those homes were like where the sexual abuse occurred. These statistics are for adult men and women, with most of the abuse occurring when they were a child or teenager. This places many of these sexual abuse cases back quite a few years ago when a number of those Mennonites dressed in regulation garb, such as the Lancaster and Franconia Conferences. In addition, one of the characteristics of more liberal Mennonite groups is that they tend to grow by people from more conservative Mennonite and Amish churches joining them. Just because a current Mennonite Church USA member does not dress in conservative regulation garb does not mean that they did not grow up in a conservative home or have conservative relatives. Therefore, a significant number of these cases may have occurred in homes where Amish or conservative Mennonite regulation garb was worn.
It is sad that the rate of sexual abuse among both women and men in the Mennonite Church USA churches is no different from those who are not Christians. However, what is even worse is that it is highly probable that the rate of sexual abuse among some Amish and conservative Mennonites groups is significantly higher than among the rest of society, from the reports in a number of sexual abuse cases we will be looking at.
Another lady shares this about the rate of sexual abuse among the Amish and conservative Mennonites: “While I was at SMBI [Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute], quite a few years ago, I ran into a teacher and his wife who both actually had a degree in counseling and psychology and had worked to integrate it into their conservative faith. They had done a good job of it. One of the issues he and his wife deal with is sexual abuse. He gauged, based on what he had encountered, that within the Amish-Mennonite communities, the prevalence of sexual abuse was as high if not higher than in mainstream culture. Some communities are riddled with incest.”
It is shocking that a significant number of Mennonite men have had homosexual or same sex type of sexual abuse when they were young. The conservative element of the Mennonite church has taken a strong stance against homosexuality, and yet within their own churches and sitting in their pews are boys and men who have committed same sex acts of abuse on other boys and both are sitting in their pews silently bearing their pain and guilt.
The rate of sexual abuse is higher among Amish and conservative Mennonite groups than what most people have any idea exists! What the evidence indicates is that if you were to visit an Amish or conservative Mennonite church service or be somewhere where there are a lot of Amish or conservative Mennonites, up to 25% or more of the people there are carrying the hidden pain of being sexually abused. Also among the group will be those who have secretly committed the sexual abuse. Those perpetrators will be dressed just like everyone else and you cannot tell who they are. But they are persons whom you do not want your child to be alone with, to babysit your child, or for them to take your child to the bathroom during Sunday school while you sit in the adult Sunday school class.
The Misuse of Matthew 18 to Cover Up Sexual Abuse
In some sexual abuse cases, church leaders try to get the victim to follow the instructions in Matthew 18 to first go alone to the one who has sexually abused them rather than reporting it to the police. This might be more likely required when it is someone in church leadership that is the sexual predator. Following Matthew 18 for dealing with sexual abuse is foolish for a number of reasons. One is that it is in private that the sexual abuse happened in the first place. A victim is setting themselves up to be abused or manipulated again by confronting in private. In addition, all that the sexual predator has to do is tell the victim that he did the wrong thing (without repentance or asking forgiveness) and then he can say that he took care of the problem and the victim is just not forgiving him. No one is witness to their private conversation. Another problem is that sexual molesters are deceivers and skilled manipulators. They often have power over their victim. This is especially true of a church leader. They can use the private meeting to intimidate the victim into being silent and then shame them publicly if they bring up the abuse after their meeting. But sexual abuse is more than just a private offence against an individual; it is also a public matter. Other children are likely to fall victim to the predator. Sexual abuse is not a mere personal offence; it is a serious civil crime with no statute of limitations in reporting it in most states.
The GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) website has an excellent article titled “Child Abuse and Matthew 18: The Dangers of Distorting Scripture”. The following are some excerpts:
“GRACE is often encountering professing Christians who quote Matthew 18 as the biblical process by which child sexual abuse must be addressed within the Christian community. As a consequence, this passage is used as a justification for 1) not reporting abuse disclosures to the civil authorities and 2) convincing sexual abuse victims to privately confront their perpetrators. Needless to say, this misinterpretation of Matthew 18 is hugely destructive on a number of fronts. More importantly, this misinterpretation is simply not biblical…
“A fundamental point that must be understood early on in this discussion is that the crime of child sexual abuse is not merely a personal offense, but rather it is an urgent public concern. Child sexual abuse does not even fit into the paradigm of which Jesus was speaking in Matthew 18. Jesus never intended his statements in Matthew 18 to be twisted into the required method for handling murder, rape, torture, kidnapping, or genocide. Child sexual abuse is not a private matter but rather a public and civic one, rightly under the sword of the civil authority. All are endangered by this crime against a little one…
“In this, child sexual abuse is like murder or any other crime. Anyone who would demand that the family of a murder victim must first follow the Matthew 18 process before calling the police could be criminally charged themselves for being an accessory after the fact… What kind of twisted mind would reason that kidnapping or rape ought to be concealed from the civil authorities while a process of church discipline is pursued first?…
“It is imperative that we not misinterpret and misapply Matthew 18:15-20 to the sin of child sexual abuse. ‘Let the disclosing little child come forward privately and accuse me!’ the powerful one protests. That monstrous interpretation has not one leg to stand on before Jesus.” http://netgrace.org/child-abuse-and-matthew-18-the-dangers-of-distorting-scripture/
Sexual abuse needs to be reported to the police
Sexual abuse needs to be reported to the police as soon as it is found out. In many states there is no statute of limitations on when a sexual abuse case can be reported. Therefore, even if the sexual abuse occurred 40 or 50 years ago, it can still be reported. If you have been sexually abused, it is important that you report it to the police so that other innocent children will be protected. Many sexual predators have multiple victims. Just because a sexual molester is now an “old” man does not mean that he will no longer abuse others. It is amazing how many sexual abusers are older men. In the Penn State case, Jerry Sandusky was 68 years old.
In June of 2012 an 80 year old man was convicted of sexually abusing four Amish girls and a boy! The abuse of the one girl started when the sexual predator was 71.
Sexual abuse needs to be reported not only to stop that particular sexual predator from harming someone else, but the sexual abuse needs to be exposed and brought to the light so that others will fear and not engage in such wickedness.
Forgiving someone for sexually abusing you does not mean that they are released from the law and that they are forgiven of their crime as far as the law is concerned. They are still guilty of breaking the law and committing a crime. Forgiving a murderer for killing a family member does not release the murderer from the law and from punishment for their crime. It is important that you forgive your sexual abuser, but it is also important that you report them to the police and not cover it up so that others will be protected not only from that person, but so that other potential perpetrators will see and fear and not commit such horrible acts of wickedness. Your courage to step forward and break the silence will give others courage to also step forward and expose the abuse that happened to them. Sexual abuse is a plague that needs to be stopped!
Profile of a Sexual Molester
You look around at a group of Amish or conservative Mennonites and you realize that 20% – 25% or more of them could have been victimized by a sexual molester. You look at the men. None of them looks like a creep that might molest your daughter. In fact you may know those men. None of them could be a sexual pervert, you think in your mind.
The fact is that a typical sexual molester does not look like a creep. He could be the preacher, a Christian school principal, a Sunday school superintendent, a Sunday school teacher, a missionary. He could be highly educated, or a respected businessman. Over and over, people are shocked when they find out that an Amish or Mennonite man is convicted of sexually abusing children. They think “He is the last person you would imagine”, or “That is a very unusual case”, or “I’ve known him all my life, it is unbelievable.” Their initial reaction might be to take his side and assume that he was the victim of slander, or a “witch hunt”. Unfortunately, as we will see in a number of the Amish and Mennonite sexual abuse cases, a child sexual molester can come from any social status.
In a national survey in 2001, researchers asked 4,000 child molesters in the Abel and Harlow Child Molestation Prevention Study to answer questions about their lives. These abusers were men aged 18 to 95 who had admitted to molesting one or several children. Special attention was given to finding information that could be used to sharply reduce the number of child victims of sexual abuse.
Here are some of their findings:
- 93% defined themselves as being religious.
- 77% were married or formerly married
- 48% had some college or formal education
- Only 10% molested children they did not know. 68% abused children in their own families. The rest abused children in their social circles. Being sexually abused as a boy increases the chance that the abused person will eventually abuse others. 47% of the men had been sexually abused as children.
- Adult molesters who were abused more than 50 times had three times the number of sexual abuse victims as those molesters who had not been abused as a child. http://www.childmolestationprevention.org/pdfs/study.pdf
This survey gives a different perspective on sexual predators then what is commonly believed. Most of those who are sexually abusing boys and girls are respectable and religious. It is a sad statistic for Christians today that only 7% of admitted sexual molesters in the USA say they are not religious. The church has lost its light, and in the area of sexual abuse have become worse than the atheists. There are a number of atheist websites on the internet that document sexual abuse cases in churches and by pastors and youth pastors, showing the hypocrisy of many Christians.
The survey also reveals another common misconception: that a child is safest among family and church friends. In actuality, a child is safer among strangers than among family and friends. Only 10% of the perpetrators sexually abused someone that they did not know. Amish and Mennonite parents tend to let down their guard when they are among church people assuming that their children are safe there. That is a mistake. Their children are actually less safe in the church than in the general public.
Sexual Predators Tend to Blame the Victim
One of the characteristics of many men who are reported for sexually abusing boys or girls is that they do not take responsibility for what they did. Instead they often blame their victims.
“’If they are called on the carpet for abusing, their typical response is to blame the victim’, said Roger Steffy, a Mennonite minister who coordinates a rehabilitation program for abusers. ‘She provoked me; she pushed my buttons; she knows I hate when she does that. Bottom line, she’s responsible for my behavior. His expectation is that the solution of his behavior is for her to change.’”
Sexual Predators Tend to Deny or Minimize their Sexual Sins and Fake “Religious Conversions”
Sexual predators by the very nature of their sin are con artists and are living a lie — often for many years. They have lived a life of deception and often try to continue to deceive others after they are exposed. In her book Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches, p 145, Carolyn Holderread Heggen says this:
“Most lay people in a congregation are not prepared for the extent nor tenacity of denial in sex offenders. Consequently, they may easily be convinced that an offender is telling the truth when in fact he is denying the extent of his sin and his responsibility for the pain he has caused another. Being swayed by an offender’s eloquent denial may keep him from facing the darkness of his heart and make it less likely he will experience repentance, redemption, and restoration.
“Congregations likewise need to be aware that “religious conversions” are common among convicted offenders. They often show extreme remorse when caught and convicted. After their “conversions” they are inclined to insist they don’t need treatment now but will instead pray more, read the Bible more, and be more active in church activities. They promise to rely more on God. They may manipulate church members or the pastor into testifying for them as character witnesses in an attempt to avoid the full legal penalty of their offense.”
Characteristics of Men Who Molest Boys
While it is commonly believed that men who are attracted to adult men molest boys, and men who prefer women as sexual partners molest girls, this is not usually the case. The Abel and Harlow Child Molestation Prevention Study found that in the general population, more than 70% of the men who molest boys rate themselves as heterosexual in their adult sexual preferences. 9% said that they were both heterosexual and homosexual. Only 8% said they were exclusively homosexual. Only 7% had no sexual interest in adults. http://www.childmolestationprevention.org/pdfs/study.pdf
What this means is that just because an Amish or Mennonite man is married, it is not an indicator that he would not molest boys. Instead, the above statistics indicate that those Amish or Mennonite perpetrators who sexually abuse boys would publicly appear to be “normal” in their sexual orientation. Most people would probably never guess what they were doing in secret to boys. It is much more likely for a boy to be molested by a married man than by a homosexual man.
Predators Wear No Scarlet Letters
A Lancaster Online article (Lancaster, Pa) about sexual abuse among Amish and Mennonites by Linda Espenshade and Larry Alexander:
“’They are usually charming. They are very good. They have good behavior. They’re very entertaining, and they are well liked,’ said Pauline Zimmerman, a marriage and family therapist who was also a Mennonite victim of abuse.
“’The truth is that, once they have everybody in place, that’s when the abuse happens. So you cannot know specifically whether or not someone is an abuser until you have heard from someone giving the complaints,’ she said…
God tells us the same thing, that sexual predators will appear to be someone different than who they really are: “These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage. But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; how that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit.” (Jude 1:16-19)
Doug Phillips’s extra-marital affair and the failure of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment are just part of the bigger picture that illustrates mistakes that we must avoid in the coming revival. Religious conservatism as we know it today is a failure. Conservatism is not the answer. The conservative response to moral failures is to redouble the efforts of the failed conservative ideology and to add more controls, more accountability, and more protections, such as requiring a buddy system for adults. Conservative manmade rules, regulations, accountability, and controls will not work.
Instead we need lay aside all the rules and doctrines of man and follow all of Christ’s commands with all our heart. The answer is to follow Christ and to keep the commands that He has given us throughout the New Testament. We are to follow Christ, to speak the same thing, to be of one mind, and to be one Church, one body. As soon as we take our eyes off of Christ and follow the teachings of a man, we create division. We are no longer following Christ alone, but are following man.
You can see a list of all of Christ’s commands — over 500 commands — here at Biblical Research Reports.