Churches protect predators while neglecting victims
By Marian Hubbard Jefferson
Special to the NNPA from the Dallas Examiner
DALLAS (NNPA)-Research has shown that allegations of clergy sexualabuse can have a great impact on victims and their families, affecting themspiritually, socially, economically and psychologically.
And after the abuse, many victims become even more disillusioned at theresponse of the church as some churches place greater emphasis on blindforgiveness and restoration of the perpetrator, rather than the healing andsupport of the victim, as in the cases of Sherman Allen, Terry Hornbuckle andRuben Thankful, ministers convicted of sexual assault against women in theircongregations. Countless victims suffer silently in the pews of black churchesfor years, with feelings of shame, guilt, fear of reprisal and disbelief fromthose meant to guide and protect them. Meanwhile, victims say the Black Churchconsistently fails to lift their voices with a collective moral outcry againstthis devastating act of betrayal.
Wolves in sheep's clothing
In May, Fort Worth pastor Sherman C. Gee Allen of the Shiloh InstitutionalChurch of God in Christ was suspended by the national body of the Church of Godin Christ. Allen originally was indicted on sexual assault charges in 1983,after a 21- year-old woman accused him of drugging, then sodomizing and rapingher with a club.
According to local reports, allegations once again have been made againstAllen. In fact, 35 women are accusing the local pastor of abuse. Among thecomplainants is 33-yearold Davina Kelly, a former member of Shiloh.
Kelly, who is married, first became acquainted with the charismatic Allenafter seeing the changed life of a friend, but soon found that Allen was verydifferent from the character he displayed to the rest of the world.
Kelly said that by their third meeting in 2001 he was asking her to grab herankles and take a paddling and by 2005 her punishments escalated from paddlingto the use of sex and physical threats of violence to both she and her minorchildren in an effort to manipulate and control her.
"I was very scared," Kelly told reporters. "I was even scared in a way that Iwouldn't even stop in the middle of that and really question him. I thought Ideserved it."
Allen has been suspended from all leadership positions and his church hasfiled bankruptcy.
Ruben Thankful Thompson, 52, of Waverly, Fla., was arrested for five countsof incest. The charges stemmed from revelations made by Thompson's 32-year-olddaughter who told police that she had been molested by her father since she wasage 17.
According to Lake Wales police detective Lynette Townsel, Thompson's daughtersaid she kept the secret of the abuse for 15 years because she was fearful,ashamed and did not believe that anyone would take her word over that of herfather.
Thompson, founder and pastor of Real People Church of God In Christ, wascharged with five counts of incest for allegedly fathering his own grandchildrenwith his daughter. Some in the church recounted that there had been rumors forsome time but that many disbelieved and dismissed the allegations.
"You have hurt me beyond belief," said one of Hornbuckle's victims. "My faithhas been shattered. There are no words to describe what I go through every day.You have been my only pastor. You baptized me. You were my spiritual leader. Youwere the person who raped me. You took my virginity from me."
Another of Hornbuckle's victims had this to say, "You should lower your headin shame," she said. "You preyed on people you were supposed to protect. Youtemporarily destroyed my life. You stole what little trust I had in people."
This past September, Hornbuckle was convicted of three counts of rape.Hornbuckle's wife Renee now shepherds what is left of the church ministries,which include a ministry to women and a day care.
According to the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence inSeattle, there are two categories of clergy sexual abusers: predators andwanderers. These abusers tend to have little sense of the damage their behaviorcauses, have little impulse control, are often charismatic and secretive,confusing sex with affection with little idea of just how much power theyactually wield. And yet, the Black Church, despite the severity of this modernday plague on its people remains largely silent with respect to a collective anddefinitive plan toward working to end clergy sexual abuse and sexual assaultamong its members.
This was confirmed in a recent conversation with the Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune,director of Faith Trust Institute. Fortune pointed out that much work has beendone with various denominations toward empowering survivors and strengtheningthe faith response to the all too prevalent problem of clergy sexual abuse.
Faith Trust Institute's National Declaration of Religious and SpiritualLeaders shows that more than 40 national religious leaders have signed a pledgeindicating their acknowledgment of the severity of the problem of sexual abuseand their commitment to eradicate it. But, Fortune acknowledged, little has beenaccomplished across the religious isle when it comes to the response of theblack non-Catholic church toward taking an active role in the eradication ofclergy sexual abuse.
Protestants lag behind in handling of sexual assault allegations
In the past 15 years more than $1 billion has been paid out in court andattorney fees and victim/survivor awards by U.S. Bishops to deal with the clergysexual abuse convictions ( http://biblia.com/christianity/clergy.htm#Cover) andrecently the Sydney Herald reported that lawyers for more than 500 people whosay they were sexually abused by members of the Catholic clergy have settledtheir claims against the Los Angeles Diocese for $760 million.
But, real figures for clergy sexual abuse in the Protestant church have beena bit more difficult to come by and are sketchier because Protestant churches,as opposed to their Catholic counterpart, tend to be less centralized and moreindependent, making reporting of sexual abuse by members of the clergy moredifficult, the Associated Press reported.
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