Monday, May 31, 2010

Let Down by Church Men

I haven't been writing much. Computer problems at home (keyboard issues) and less time in the office (more court) means I'm behind in posting. I've also been up to my eyeballs in church issues.

About a year ago, a few church members began asking me if Mitch (not real name) was "approved," meaning background checked, met the minimum length of membership and all the other requirements. I'm head of the group that oversees approving volunteers at church. Mitch was approved, but the number of inquiries peaked my curiosity. Then my friend told me what had been going on.

Mitch is a 60-something year old man, with two almost-grown sons and a wife. He takes no interest in his family. Rather, he attaches himself to a family with young (pre-teen) girls. He invites them to his farm where they can fish in his pond. He be-friends them on facebook. He plays online games with them. He likes to ride roller coasters with them. He is fun to be around -- until he is always around. Calling, texting, emailing up to 8x a day. "where are you?" "when will you be home?" "How do I know that is where you really are - send me a picture." When the calls aren't returned or the girls want to be with their friends, he cries, calls himself an "old pitiful man" or says he ought to go "jump in his pond."

I called the pastor who confronted him. My friend cut off all contact between he and her daughter. The pastor said not to worry - he had talked to Mitch. It was fine. There was just a misunderstanding. I didn't buy it. And Mitch didn't stop...he just moved on to a new family and a new girl.

That was almost 1 year ago. This past week the newest family called me. Mitch had become so clingy the girl told her parents that he was "creepy" and she "didn't want to be around him." After a few days went by with no contact, Mitch lost it. He wrote a letter and gave it to this girl's friend to give to her. The friend's father opened it.

The letter was over the top. "I am just an old man. You probably don't like me because of my balding head and I'm overweight." On and on. He talks about wanting a hug from her more than anything. He includes a DVD with pictures of this girl and tells her to listen to the words closely. The song is Uncle Kracker's "Smile." It is a song a boyfriend would send a girlfriend.

Three fathers of pre-teen girls, one of them the girl that the letter was written to, and the pastor were present with Mitch when the letter was found and read. None of them killed Mitch. They didn't even lay a hand on him or threaten to kill him. Instead they called a meeting. Later that night, I got a call from the mother about assisting with a restraining order or other legal action.

Now let me clarify that no one involved thinks Mitch has inappropriately touched any child....yet. I think he will. However, he has definitely crossed boundaries. He acts like a ten-year old himself.

The pastor was ready to blow things off again. We were told not to discuss the matter at all, so as not to scare people away. He thought the involved fathers should take Mitch out to lunch and talk to him. I said "not good enough." I set up some rules - Mitch can come to church, attend an adult Sunday school of his choice and worship with his family in service, by sitting with them. He was not to attend children's activities, was to resign as teacher and would not be allowed to chaperone children's camps this summer. I called the children's committee together. And we acted.

The pastor is mad that things were not kept silent. Nevermind that he has a degree in counseling and should know predators thrive on silence. He is more concerned about people leaving the church. The family of the young girl is upset because they "like Mitch" and now "Mitch is sad" and "threatening to leave the church." They understand needing rules at church but why shouldn't they take their daughters over to Mitch's house to fish. They don't understand that Mitch can never be around young girls until he has years of mental health help and firm boundaries in place. Another father is mad that Mitch can't play ball with the guys anymore because kids are present. Forget about the fact that Mitch doesn't play - just hangs on the bench with the kids.

I'm really disappointed by the men of my church involved in this. And by the mother who had the gall to write "We love you Mitch" on his facebook page after her daughter just told her she finds Mitch "creepy." I can't believe Mitch is still standing after fathers read that letter when he was just arms-reach away. I'm pissed the pastor is more concerned about his reputation than the children.

So if you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that tact is not my strong-point..........and making people mad is something I do well without many worries.......

I recruited my husband and 2 other couples and we took charge. We contacted each family with pre-teen girls and informed them of the rules Mitch was to follow and why it was important for them to help in keeping boundaries consistent. We discussed the consequences of not following the rules. Two of us ladies met with Mitch's wife. The one that Mitch says is a real witch and wants nothing to do with him. But in real life, the woman who is hurt beyond belief that her husband prefers young girls over she and their boys. We encouraged her to help Mitch get therapy. We put the rules for Mitch in writing. We encouraged the fathers who were insistent on helping Mitch to invite him to adult-only activities like the men's Bible study.

The result - the pastor is pissed. The one family is "sad" that we "ran Mitch off." But the kids are safe. Mitch was not at church on Sunday, but facebook pictures show he and his whole family spent the day together, which is a first.

I'm really disappointed by these particular men and fathers. But pleased that at least a few stepped up and took charge. Including my husband who really wanted to kill Mitch. And the one other guy whose hands twitch with anger when he sees Mitch.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad you did what you did. And I'm especially glad that your husband and the two other couples stood firm with you -- how hard it is to stand firm alone.

I hope Mitch gets the help he needs. I hope the pastor and the families and other folks understand the issues at stake, and encourage and love Mitch in helpful ways instead of enabling ways.

Cassandra said...

I think its amazing that you stood up to those who may not have agreed with what you were doing. It bothers me that people... especially a pastor would want to keep that 'silent'... we are and need to continue to push to be past the age of silence about issues such as this.. *hugs*

From Tracie said...

He thought the fathers should take him out to lunch and talk to him?....more like take him out to a deserted highway and *TALK* to him!

It is obvious to me from your description of the situation and the creepy letter that even tough he hasn't crossed the big line of actually touching anyone yet....he is definitely on his way!

Nothing makes me more angry than when the church covers up for someone like this because their reputation is more important than the kids.

Thank you for taking a stand and doing something about this!!

16 blessings'mom said...

What kind of pastor would tolerate this sort of behaviour? A true God-fearing man does not seek to please men nor care if people would leave the assembly because of the truth about something! Good for you, that you stuck to your guns!!

lawyerchik said...

WOW!! Good for you, Enola!! [Parade is being thrown here in your honor!!] That was awesome!!

Seriously - I am not being facetious - you guys did exactly what you should have done! Although, I would have seconded killing "Mitch."

That pastor needs his head ... um, examined. (I was going to say pulled out of his a$$ - and actually, that, too!). That is exactly how predators cover their tracks: they dissemble and hide behind "poor me" crap.

Good for you, too, that you listened to your radar - do you realize how wonderful it is that you were wise enough to inquire, and then strong enough to do what you were able to do? [Crying right now because that's God at work!!]

Anonymous said...

The one in whom I am MOST annoyed with is the Pastor!! There is so much in the Bible about this sort of thing. And isn't this Pastor aware that the Bible says that he (as a church leader) will be judged twice as hard as "the sheep"?!

The other thing that absolutely stuns me are the number of EUNUCHS there are in your church!! "Mitch" is awefully glad that I don't know where or who he is. Seriously. And for that matter so is that Pastor. It is things like this that stains all people who claim to be a follower of the Savior.

You have actually stopped short too. Matthew 18 is the perfect course to be taken in this instance. Not only for Mitch and the Pastor but for all of those who refuse to call a goat a goat!

Don't they know about the story in the Bible about the king who allowed his sons to seduce women in the church? Guess what happened to all of them?

Man this ticks me off!!!!!!!!!!

Can you imagine what Jesus would do if this were happening in His Temple back in Biblical days? I bet it would make the money changers look like a picnic.

Enola said...

Mssc - I think that Jesus would try, as we have tried, to find a solution where the children are protected (and I believe they are), Mitch can worship and hopefully come to a true relationship with Christ, his family can continue to worship without fear of judgment. I really don't appreciate being told I have stopped short because without breaking the law, there is nothing else I can do (and just to be clear if I thought there was immediate danger I would break the law if necessary).

Anonymous said...

I'm proud of you! I'm with Lawyerchik- that's all i'm going to say.

Anonymous said...

one more thing- we had a mitch in the last church we attended as well. he would only hug the younger women (he was single w/ emotional issues) I also talked w/ the pastor and laid the law down when he started hugging my daughter. never regretted it for a second

Anonymous said...

You did the right thing. Keep standing your ground. Keep pissing people might save a few of those girls from ending up with a bad history.

You did good.

Beautifuldreamer said...

So many times it seems that church leaders don't have the backbone to stand up to the evil in their own congregations, and so many lives are ruined because of their lack of conviction and courage.

Good for you and your hubby for not joining those who would rather sweep such things under the rug!

Anonymous said...

Enola - My point was that no one is holding the church leaders accountable.

Church leaders not wanting to offend people, wanting to keep things quiet or not wanting too chasing people away is the same as wanting to keep their pay day going good.

It's all about the mammon.

That sickens me.

Labyrinth said...

Good for you! You absolutely did the right thing.

I would like to say something about my own experience if it's okay.

In the church I used to belong to, there was an older "Mitch" who used to sing in the choir and was perfectly friendly to everyone. The problem was that he had the bad habit of cornering women, moving in close to them, and trying to engage them in conversation. It was clear that they were all uncomfortable with this behavior. But they didn't do anything.

One day after church when we as choir members were taking off our robes and hanging them up, "Mitch" came up behind me and rubbed my bottom with his hand. It wasn't just an inadvertent touch. It was rubbing.

I was very early into my therapy process at that point and didn't know what to do. As a matter of fact, I totally forgot about it from that moment on, until the following week's choir practice. When "Mitch" walked in I started having a really bad anxiety attack. Then I remembered what had happened on the previous Sunday morning.

I talked with my therapist about it, but was at that time so ashamed of my own abuse history that I didn't want to tell anyone. But the thing that got me past that was my therapist saying, "What if he does that to someone else because you never told anyone?"

So I went to the pastor and told him. He passed me on to the choir director who was extremely understanding, and told "Mitch" that he couldn't come back to choir for awhile. He also said he'd go to the board of elders to tell them that men had to be appointed to watch "Mitch" to make sure he didn't corner women anymore.

Long story short, the board of elders decided that they didn't want to put restrictions on "Mitch" because his spiritual well being was the most important thing. Not the women he was making so uncomfortable or touching.

A fried of mine told me that he'd tried to get her to look at Playboy magazines with him.

I tried to watch what was happening, and if I saw "Mitch" cornering a woman, immediately went to her defense and told her I needed her help with something just to get her away.

Ultimately though, I left the church (when the choir director left for another church) because I was getting tired of being the guardian and tired of the way the men refused to protect the women.

Sorry for the length...just wanted to let you know that I totally get where you're coming from and support you all the way.

April_optimist said...

Whoa! I am so impressed and so glad you took the steps you did. They seem entirely appropriate to me. As for the pastor and others who tried to blow this off as unimportant....I'm appalled.

I also stopped by to say good-bye. I've posted about it on my blog and you've been a part of my online life so I wanted to take leave here as well. Know that you will be in my heart and prayers.

Rising Rainbow said...

I haven't been posting much either. Caught in a legal mess and trying to be my own lawyer have me preoccuppied but I'm sure glad I stopped by to read this post.

You did good, girl!!!! Totally flipping awesome despite all the attempts to shut you down. You stood up to authority and protected those girls. Way to go!!!

I hope you are proud of yourself. I sure know I'm proud of you!!!!

Eava said...

I’ve been silently following this blog for almost a year. Until this moment I have never felt compelled to post. I am blown away by the lack of seriousness this situation has received by some members of your church. Our job is to protect the children even if it’s at the cost of another person “church standings”. The fact that it took more than one families concern for anything to be done about this situation is unacceptable. A pastor who can’t protect his flock, and is mad when his flock goes against his wishes to protect a child isn’t much of a pastor if you ask me. I’d be looking for a new church.

Marj aka Thriver said...

Kudos, Hooray, Good for you, Enola and champions of vulnerable young girls! I'm so proud of you. I'm disappointed in the pastor and other members, too. But, you have accomplished a lot. You may never know just how much you have helped.

Hey, I just realized today that this week is the 4-yr. anniversary of THE BLOG CARNIVAL AGAINST CHILD ABUSE. I know you're not online much, but if you tell me a date of a post to submit for you, I'll get it in for you. Love to have you join us for the anniversary edition Friday at my blog. (Don't worry if you're late.) Thanks!

purple cupcakes said...

thank god good people in church do good things because church is agreat place to hide especially behind pastors,

well done you and all yours

yogurt said...

The pastor is a fool. You are so right to do what you did. All of it. But especially the refusal to keep silent. Child predators thrive in silence and secrecy.

I would further advise that Mitch be required to attend therapy with a psychologist or therapist certified in sex offender therapy or advise his wife to seek same. She can get support to understand the extend of her husband's issues. She's married to a seriously disturbed and potentially / probably dangerous man. He's already hurt his victims in an emotional way, damaging their trust in men. Chances are he will skulk away to a new church where he can find unsuspecting victims.