Lessons Learned from Unthinkable Sexual Abuse

July 24, 2013

Jim Newheiser

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Jim Newheiser

Lessons Learned from Unthinkable Sexual Abuse

I recently learned that a missionary whom I have known and trusted for twenty years has, for his entire adult life, been a sexual predator. He was respected, even revered, both by churches in the US and by thousands of people in the field. He used his position of power, influence, and trust to take advantage of women sexually.

My wife and I recently returned from an emergency trip to Asia where we sought to minister to those who have been devastated by this man’s sin, including women who were victims and churches who had looked to this man as an example. While we have read of such situations, we never imagined that we would be in the middle of one. As we have gone through these deep waters we have been reminded of many truths which need to be reinforced.

1. Sexual predators are incredibly deceitful.

I thought I knew this man very well. I worked with him in ministry in the US for several years and spent months with him in the field. Our families were very close. My wife and I helped to raise his adopted son. He was one of the most respected Christian leaders in the country where he was serving. He appeared to be very effective as a preacher, counselor, mentor, and church planter. For many of us who thought we knew him well, there was no reason to suspect that he was involved in sexual sin, much less criminal behavior.

Yet he was living a double life. He, like Amnon in 2 Samuel 13, would manipulate circumstances to get alone with a trusting young woman and then would take advantage of her sexually. While investigating this man’s sins, we learned of many other women who had been taken advantage of by him and by other trusted spiritual leaders and/or family members.

2. Young people need to be taught to “cry out.”

In Deuteronomy 22:23-24, it is assumed that a young virgin who was approached sexually by a man would “cry out” for help and that if she didn’t cry out she would be held responsible for her participation in fornication. Because sexual predators are masters of manipulation, boys and girls need to be prepared at a very young age to know exactly what to do if someone tries to take advantage of them. Many victims are naïve and vulnerable.

Once our predator was exposed as having had a sexual relationship with a young woman (which began when she was still a minor and he was old enough to be her grandfather), many other victims came forward. If this clergyman had been exposed thirty or more years ago when he committed similar crimes, he would not have held such a position of influence and trust by which he could take advantage of other women. More than one woman wept because she thought she was the only victim, but now realized that if she would have “cried out”, others might have been spared.

3. We need to protect and help victims.

After Tamar was raped by Amnon (2 Samuel 13), her father King David was very angry but did nothing (2 Samuel 13:21) and her brother Absalom told her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? But now keep silent, my sister, he is your brother; do not take this matter to heart” (2 Samuel 13:20). Many victims are told to keep silent in order to avoid disrupting the family or the church community.

In the case of this missionary who was a predator, a few people did know about his past and present sins but kept quiet. More than one person wanted to blame the young lady who was the most recent victim. Scripture teaches that we are to reflect God’s particular care for the weak and the oppressed (Proverbs 31:8-9 Psalm 146:7). If those who had been aware of this man’s evil acts of the past had taken action, he would have been stopped literally decades earlier. Instead, they hoped that he had changed and expressed shock that his pattern of evil had continued.

4. Sexual predators need to be publicly exposed.

The Catholic Church was scandalized when the practice was exposed of moving priests who were sexual predators from one parish to the other (where they would then find more victims).  In the same way, many families choose to hide the crimes of a predatory grandfather or an uncle in order to avoid the disruption and shame which would result from their exposure. The same cover-ups have happened in churches and Christian organizations.

We learned that our missionary had been forced to quietly leave more than one place of ministry decades earlier because of sexual sins with young people under his care. He was then able to move on to the next community where he again established the trust by which he was able to isolate and victimize more women. Church leaders who abuse their position of power and influence must be dealt with publicly (1 Timothy 5:19-20) and, where appropriate, their crimes must be reported to the government authorities (Romans 13:1ff). Sadly, we learned that there have been many other spiritual leaders in the country where this missionary worked who have engaged in similar vile behavior with impunity. This present situation appears to be first time that such sin has been dealt with biblically and publicly. We are hopeful that one good thing God will do through this tragedy is that the churches in this nation will learn to protect victims by identifying and removing predators. Spiritual leaders who abuse their power to take advantage of others sexually are permanently disqualified from leadership (1 Timothy 3:1-7) no matter how gifted or effective they may seem to be.

The cover-ups must end.

5. Victims need help to deal with the past biblically.

In his excellent book, Putting Your Past in its Place, Steve Viars speaks of how when we are sinned against we can either respond righteously or unrighteously. While the predator has the far greater sin, the victim may be guilty of responding sinfully to what has happened to her. Some victims fail to cry out. Some victims, after initial resistance, become willing participants in sexual sin. The victim needs to understand that she has, like Bathsheba and Tamar, been sinned against by a person who abused his position of power. She may also need to confess her own sin to God and to others who have been affected by her sin. A young woman who had been victimized by the predator when she was still a minor continued in a sinful relationship with this man for over ten years. God gave her grace to repent of her failure to expose the sins of this well-known Christian leader and of her own sexual sin. She is now receiving godly counsel and appears to be walking with the Lord.

6. We must put our ultimate trust in God, not men. 

Our fallen missionary was excessively respected and revered. When such a man falls, the faith of many who had trusted him can also be shaken. We are warned that if we put our trust in man we will be like the bush that withers in the desert (Jeremiah 17:5-6), but that if we trust in God we shall be like the flourishing tree planted by the river of water (Jeremiah 17:7-8). While many were deeply shaken by the fall of this missionary, the end result has been that those who had perhaps relied upon him too much are now relying upon the Lord. We thank God that the failure of a false messenger has not led to their rejection of God’s message. Furthermore, we see a new generation of leaders stepping up to care for Christ’s church in this nation. We also hope that this will be a generation of leaders who will be very careful to protect the flock and to keep watch on themselves and one another.

Join the Conversation

What additional counsel do you provide to protect children from sexual abuse/assault?

What biblical resources do you recommend for sexual assault prevention? For sexual abuse recovery?

  • bmarnitz

    Very well written, excellent points that need to be put into practice. As to point four, why did you choose not to publicly name the offender? Wouldn’t naming him protect people in the future?

  • Jeff Burns

    In light of point #4, “Sexual Predators Need to be Publicly Exposed”, is there a reason why this “missionary” has not been named in your article? I’m not trying to say you must, I really don’t know. But it feels kind of like when a pastor quotes someone in a negative light or reveals some heterodox teaching in a public figure and says “if I said his name you’d all know who I’m talking about.” Seems to me that’s a pretty good reason to name them, not to leave their error anonymous!

    Thanks for a great article!

    • David L. Gill

      Yeah…I had the exact same question.

    • busdriver4jesus

      My thoughts exactly… 99% of the time discretion is the soul of wisdom, but you can’t talk about this sin and then disregard your own counsel!

      • Daryl Little

        And mine. Is he now dead? If so I understand the reticence to name him.
        But if he’s still living…I agree it can be complicated, but those where he lives and works, at least those who can keep an eye on him, must must must know.

        • Adam K

          I’m not really sure what that would accomplish for an audience who does not know this man. He has been exposed.

  • Frank

    Thanks for this great article. I have the same question as Jeff. What’s the reason this missionary is not named here?

  • chad_decker

    You go on and on about publicly exposing the offender yet you don’t even mention his name ? Seriously?

    • Tabitha

      Yes this author did go on and on and won’t expose this offender, yet he feels very free to blame the victims. I can’t believe Challies linked to this ridiculous article.

  • Lynda Nedrow

    Have to agree with other commenters. Commenting at length about stopping the cover up should begin with naming the offender. the victim’s names should be protected, but the abuser should receive no such protection.

  • nancy

    Okay, so if we need to expose these people, why is this man’s name omitted from this article? i want to know who this is! Having served in Asia for over 20 years now, I feel all should know this man’s name.

  • Jonathan Crappel

    I agree with the others, and you: “The cover-ups must end.”

    Not saying that you’re part of the cover-up, but who is this person? Is he still in ministry? If so, where? So that I can remain far away. Has he been prosecuted?

    It seems a little hollow to be sounding this alarm, and yet not mentioning even the person featured in the article.

  • Stephen N Patty Sark

    Yeah, as everyone else has mentioned, it seems a bit hollow and even bordering on hypocritical to demand that “cover ups must end” and to admit that this guy engaged in this type of behavior over the course of DECADES, and yet still not name him? As a missionary who has lived in Asia (China) since 1993 and parents of four, it doesn’t seem just or righteous.

  • Cory

    I’m guessing the article refers to Warren Scott Kennell: http://www.caringforourchildrenfoundation.org/?p=39134

    • Bill Spence

      The article is about someone working in Asia but the link above is about someone working in Brazil.

  • Dan Lane

    For the victims of abuse, I remind them of the expiation of Christ. That He died not only for the sins we commit but also to cover the guilt and shame we feel by those sins committed against us. We are presented clean before God because of the work of Christ both in his righteousness and death/resurrection.

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  • James Newheiser

    I appreciate the concern that potential victims be protected from this predator. We have publicly exposed him to those who need to know in those in the US who had been involved in his ministry, in the region of the Philippines where he was working, and among others with whom he has had influence.

    It didn’t occur to me as I was writing a post for a blog which is primarily read in North America that including his name was necessary. If someone thinks
    that he/she has a need to know he/she should contact me.

  • Joyce Strong

    A powerful book, Lambs on the Ledge: Seeing and Avoiding Danger in Spiritual Leadership, looks first-hand at this issue and others. As a result of the impact of its content, this book has been translated into four languages to-date, to warn and instruct people in the church and ministry around the world. Go to http://www.joycestrongministries.org to read about it, or to Amazon.com

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  • Tina

    It is not easy to break the silence. It is as with every area concerning the path of what is right it largely depends on the heart and each individual and the individual circumstances. I am referring to how the abuse is handled after the fact. It takes great discernment concerning every issue. BUT the decisions must not involve cover-up, manipulation or control or any aspect of fear. Fear is what gives the enemy the power to hide. And everyone involved who makes decisions based on fear and self-protection hide the truth and give power to this diabolical enemy. As you stated in your first point, this enemy is incredibly deceitful and better at hiding than anyone is capable of uncovering. Truth through faith and love must guide every decision and only God can test and direct our heart on this in such emotional situations.

    If fear is involved in not naming this man then take the matter back to God.

    He will wait out this exposure and he will surface somewhere else. My thoughts are that in order to defeat this evil we must not hold back the exposure. As in the scripture you referred to in Deut. 22 the sin had to be dealt with severely, more severely than we could imagine especially for the victim but the point being to “purge the evil from you” death was the only way. We clearly live under a new law but the law of love fulfills God’s command.

    One of the greatest tools of deception this evil uses is to distort love and take advantage of mercy and grace. This is why it is often give SO SO many chances by loved ones. They are masters at admitting and “repenting” but they should not be given a pass when it comes to trusting them again. They can be forgiven, loved but not restored to the freedoms that would allow them access to continue their abuse. Sexual addictions and preferences are extremely powerful. Jesus even went so far as to say that if we are overtaken by a fleshly appetite to cut that member off of our body, “if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out”.

    I have traveled this path, fought this enemy my whole life and on every side of it. I am sadly very familiar with his ways but thankfully also in how to defeat him.

  • Sam

    I appreciate this article. This very issue is affecting my church community right now. We are very unsure how to proceed. The minister is still in office and is denying all allegations. He is very influential in the church and swaying people’s thoughts. Is there a way to get help with this?

    • colin mattoon

      Sam, I would recommend you contact Bob Kellemen at this email address ( rpm.ministries@gmail.com ) and he can put you in touch with some helpful folks.

    • Bob Kellemen

      Sam, As Colin noted, I would be glad to get resources/people to you. You can connect with me at: resources@biblicalcc.org Bob

  • Dona

    This situation spoken of is both heartbreaking and infuriating! It grieves me to think of the harm he has done to the victims, and to the testimony of the Church. In thinking of ways this sort of thing can be prevented, I offer this: 1) Authentic accountability for every one in a leadership position. I am sickened by those who knew what this man was doing, and who remained silent. The accountability partner has the responsibility to act as a safe guard for the minister/ ministry and speak up at the first sign of trouble. What happened to not wanting to have the “appearance of evil”? . Those who knew are just as culpable. 2) Andy Stanley has a series called “Guardrails”. In one message, he states that he made it a point never to ride alone in a car, or have a meal alone with a woman, etc. I think that is very smart. Maybe this should be the norm for all of ministry. Never should a man be alone with children or women. I think even counseling sessions should include another person. It may seem impractical, but the risk of this situation is not acceptable.

  • Wow, this is very sobering, yet helpful to think and react to these kinds of tragedy biblically

  • Summer

    Why is his name a secret? Doesn’t everyone have a right to know who this person is so as to protect young people?

  • Mark E. Shaw

    I understand why you did not mention his name in this article, Jim. It is a tricky situation but anyone who lives in that area and might be affected by him, can contact you privately about it. If the man is charged with a crime, he’ll be on the sex offender list. Hopefully, the man will come forward about his own sin voluntarily and live transparently, but if he does not, then there are problems if he tries to continue in ministry. His overseers must know and it seems they do already.

    Very sad to hear this type of news. I appreciate your candor and am grateful for the lesson that we truly do not know people as well as we might think.

  • Bob Kellemen

    Here are some resources for responding to sexual abuse/assault:

    Justin and Lindsey Holcomb: Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and
    Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault: http://amzn.to/18BhDtz

    Justin and Lindsey Holcomb: Confronting an Abuser: http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/uploads/46748/holcomb_confronting_an_abuser.pdf

    Justin Holcomb: Resources for Sexual Assault Awareness
    Month: http://theresurgence.com/2013/04/04/resources-for-sexual-assault-awareness-month

    Justin Holcomb: Rape, Sexual Assault, and Consent: http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/2013/01/15/rape-sexual-assault-and-consent/

    Justin Holcomb: Advice for Pastors in Caring for Victims of
    Sexual Abuse: http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/resources/advice-for-pastors-in-caring-for-victims-of-sexual-assault

    Bob Kellemen: A Theologically-Informed Approach to Sexual
    Abuse Counseling: http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/resources/a-theologically-informed-approach-to-sexual-abuse-counseling

    Bob Kellemen: Sexual Abuse: Beauty for Ashes: http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/books/interview/sexual-abuse

    GRACE/Diane Langberg: Sexual Abuse in Christian
    Organizations: http://netgrace.org/wp-content/uploads/Sexual-Abuse-within-Christian-Organizations.pdf

    Ken Sande, “A Better Way to Handle Abuse”: http://www.peacemaker.net/site/c.aqKFLTOBIpH/b.1172255/apps/s/content.asp?ct=1245453

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  • Jerry Wragg

    I’ve had a long-time, very close associate pastor whose secret life of sexual sin and shame was suddenly uncovered. As our shocked and reeling congregation tried to catch their breath after I announced it in the AM services, I taught a set of vital biblical principles we would all have to strive to implement if we were going to grow through the ordeal. At the tail end of sermon, I alerted them to the following five temptations that would surely rush upon them in the wake of such a moral catastrophe:

    (1) Sinful anger and vengeance – “I’ve been betrayed…” – Well, betrayal
    hurts! Close betrayal makes us feel the personal violation of its deceit. And it’s right to feel indignant about the evil of deceit and its destructiveness. We should hate what God despises! But we must never allow hatred of sin to mix with the sin of pride in us, turning us into hypocrites (Rom 12:19). Our precious Savior understands our grief and pain. He felt the greatest betrayal of all from one of His closest friends! And let’s never forget that the betrayal of friends is nothing compared to the betrayal that our sin is to Christ!

    (2) Unchecked suspicion – Satan tries to use this time of grief to
    expose and exploit certain weaknesses in all of us. In the wake of this betrayal of trust, every time we get together for fellowship in some context, we’re tempted to relieve our confusion and discouragement by speculating over “unknowns” and spreading gossip instead of ministering truth to one another. Be careful! When you gossip and slander to find relief from trials, you’re actually blaming God for allowing you to go through them.

    1 Cor 13:6,7 – “Love…rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
    Phil 3:17 – “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the [truth].” – No matter the level of betrayal by someone, proven character is still our aim.
    1 Cor 11:1 – “Be imitators of me, just as I am also of Christ.”

    (3) Using another’s sin
    as a license for your own – 2 Cor 5:10 – “We must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ…”

    (4)Discouragement and disillusionment – Many will pine over the question: “How could this happen?” Remember, sin is a reality! Is it going to happen again? The safeguard is truth in the inner-man! Can I ever trust a spiritual leader? Trust Christ, and watch for the Christ-like character of a leader. We were duped by a hypocrite, but not for ever. You might say, “But he taught us, discipled us, encouraged us and our families! How can we not feel cheapened by the lie?” Do you not think that the disciples were ever
    taught, encouraged, counseled by Judas and his example? He was the best phony of them all! Can I be duped again? By human beings whose hearts we can’t see…YES! But by Jesus Christ…NEVER!

    (5) Fear of Reproach from those outside the church – People who don’t know our church family but who have negative thoughts about our ministry will see this as vindication of negative opinions. Do your best to sympathize
    with their burdens and confusion. Then use the opportunity to let them know that we love truth and hate sin at our Church. Unbelievers who hate the truth will take satisfaction in this breach of trust. Use the opportunity to tell them how holy God is, how serious Christ is about purity in His church, and how the church deals with sin when it is discovered! People who are in our midst, but on the fringes, may use this as an excuse to do what their hearts have been longing to do. Take the opportunity to warn them of the deceitfulness of sin—that it will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay!

  • Emilia Contressa Gomez

    i wud like to say i have been thru this as a very close personal friend of someone who perpetrated this crime on a minor also. i wud have never believed he was guilty unless he personally admitted it. i wud have defended him to the death in fact. Thank God he had the integrity left to admit to it and quickly. i am not defending the perp in the article by my next statements.

    what i dont get is that the victims themselves are being blamed in this article?? for not speaking up? the perp is a person in position of *authority*. thats how he got to do wat he wanted in the first place most likely. my close personal friend was also in a position of authority and that made the sin all the more heinous. and was the reason it probably happened, and over and over. a victim does everything he or she can to SURVIVE; its not responding sinfully, its living thru an ordeal u’ve been made to feel is ur fault possibly–there are other scenarios u mite believe also (the perp will kill ur family if u tell, u will lose ur job or social standing, etc). blaming the victim and inculpating them in the sin for not telling is absurd. i am saddened to read that part of the article. and of course, not mentioning the perps name is incredulous. period.

    • Kathryn Dawes

      To add to this, I’ve read a few articles about abuse in the church from the perspective of the victim. One that sticks out in my mind was when the victim felt very uncomfortable with the behaviour of another missionary, but when she sought help from a higher authority, was dismissed. By the time her rape occurred, she felt she had no one to turn to. She experienced a great deal of shame in herself, at the hand of her abuser and even from the organisation.

      Blaming the victim of assault for not crying out is a quite harsh! Rather, I think there was obviously a culture of protecting this man that shut women down from speaking out. Probably in the same spirit of not taking the matter to heart >:(

  • James Newheiser

    The purpose of my post was to express the lessons we learned. My hope was that others would benefit.
    My purpose in the blog was not to expose this man to an audience which has never heard of him and will never come into contact with him.
    Our church did issue public statements in other forums which widely exposed him to the churches in the Philippines where he had influence and to churches in North America which had known him and/or supported him.

    • Chris A

      Jim –

      Thank you for your comments and response. I don’t think people here really understood what you meant by publicly expose the offender, or maybe you could edit in something about what specific “public” needs to be exposed.

      In terms of this article, letting the entire Internet know who this offender was would not be helpful or beneficial to the person nor would it be helpful to the body of believers/unbelievers who this affected. Instead, the immediate congregation and affected public are the ones who need to be exposed to this person’s sin.This is the most helpful course of action, because you are following the Matthew 18 counsel of people who need to know.

      Thank you for your blog. I think people here are being hyper-critical of your article without first considering what type of public needs to be exposed. Love always hopes!

  • anonymous

    As a survivor of trauma it is sickening and sad that many people trust ‘men’ in the name of ‘GOD’ and who use their power and authority over those who they purposely choose to hurt. I do think this man should be named. I do think this man should be held accountable and perhaps even put in prison. I am sad for his family who perhaps didn’t know or who felt the need to ‘hide’ his secret life of sin. There are always layers upon layers of victims left in the carnage of ‘this’ kind of sin.

  • Curt Arend

    Thank you for a very excellent summary of a very heartbreaking, yet real situation. The persons name is not necessary or needed to capture Pastor Newheiser’s general message about sexual abuse. The sending and supporting churches know the full details, as do the local churches where he has served.
    May the Lord give us ministers much wisdom, insight and boldness to address these situations on our congregations.

  • Katie

    There are a lot of comments here asking why the predator has not been named. I don’t claim to know why the author left it out, but in my opinion, if the person had been named, the focus of the article would have shifted to the individual. The point of the article is not exposing this individual, but exposing the fact that this happens! IN our churches! By people we do not expect! We can’t simply find out who this one person is, then tell ourselves, “Oh, well I don’t know him, so we are safe.” We have to be aware that this happens and it happens often, even in Christian circles.

  • LP

    I hate to pile it on, but as a former sex crimes prosecutor, you could mention his name for the benefit of others as an “alleged” perpetrator, if you are worried about being sued for implicating him in uncharged crimes. This has to become a much bigger issue in the church with much greater consequences to protect the sheep from the shepherds.

  • Paul

    The points of the article are very true, but we could all take warning. His unbridled lust began by tolerating little thoughts, little looks, and then they became full blown sin. There is within all of us the same potential if we do not deal with the “little lust” in our hearts. “Take heed when you think you stand…”

    • Paul

      I want to add to the comment “the same potential”. I do not mean to imply that we all have the potential to be a predator, but the potential to sin and be morally less than we should be.

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  • Julie

    I know this article is 8 months old, but I came across it so I will assume others might also. There are a couple things missing. About the “naming,” if this person is an older, well-traveled missionary, it is highly likely there are other victims in his wake, or the wake of those he associated with that have been unable to come forward. Seeing a name and knowing it is connected by two or three other names to the actual person who abused you could be enough to jolt a victim’s memory. It could also be enough for a parent to say “hey, didn’t you once do a short-term summer mission project with that guy who worked with him?” The opportunity to speak can be gold to a victim.
    Also, you would do well to remove point 5 entirely and re-word some of your other points. What you have to understand is that most victims and survivors are very, very good at blaming themselves. They will shut down very easily. They most need support and someone to hold their stories long before they will ever need assistance with their specific sins in the aftermath. It is true you begin your statement well with the gravity of the perpetrator’s sin, but tread very lightly. Victims feel marked with scarlet letters and often work to hide them even from God. So, they need every chance they can get to begin speaking and never to feel like they did anything wrong. The rest will come. Sexual abuse and violence doesn’t fit neatly into other categories of sin.

  • anonymous

    After my attempted rape by a missionary and the church not doing anything about him and making it my fault. I believe even missionaries need back round checks and need to be held accountable for their actions. After all they are suppose to represent and the church. Failure to ignore these situations in the church turns non Christians away form the church. As Christians we are the church and as Christ loves us we need to show love back by saying, This situation will be looked into and will be handled properly. After all laws where created by God and he put authorities in there place. People only act like this when they do not know who they are in Christ and do not make him a priority in their life. Actions speak louder than words as to where you are on your journey in life.

  • Inriiaynrae

    “In Deuteronomy 22:23-24, it is assumed that a young virgin who was approached sexually by a man would “cry out” for help and that if she didn’t cry out she would be held responsible for her participation in fornication.” … “realized that if she would have “cried out”, others might have been spared.”
    Trying to apply and understand, are we culpable for not fighting back or speaking up? does this apply to all ages, even kids? does culpability also work in failure to speak because of fear and/or shame and the predator goes after other people?