At least he wasn’t gay

In a shocking development, a Kitsap County pastor has been accused of sexually abusing children … of the opposite sex.

Hey, there’s a ray of sunshine in everything, I guess. Er … okay, no, there isn’t.

Dan Savage comments on the news:

As is usually the case when daily papers report on the sexual abuse of children by religious leaders, you could read the PI’s entire front-page report and conclude that this is first known instance of the priestly/pastorly sexual abuse of children in all of recorded human history.

At what point do we start to regard this kind of reporting—this kind of sniveling, deferential, credulous reporting—as complicity in the crimes of men like “religious figures” like Pastor Robb?

It seems a fair point. From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Church leaders in South Kitsap County are a genial group. Despite theological differences, they meet monthly for lunch, hobnobbing about charity events or ways to improve their ministry. Over the years, they occasionally extended invitations to Pastor Robbin Leeroy Harper, asking him to join their circle. But the mild-looking church leader rebuffed every overture.

Pastor Robb, as he is known to adherents, led a congregation of 60, who met several times a week on the quiet, rural road where Harper had founded The Church. There, in a gated compound, he preached a non-denominational — though strict — interpretation of the Bible and kept largely to himself ….

…. “When you’re up to no good, you tend to hide,” said Jamie Greening, pastor at First Baptist Church in Port Orchard. “Even the most theologically separatist types remain involved in their communities. But this group was pretty much completely behind doors. The word that I would use is fringe, very fringe.”

Indeed it would be more pleasant for Pastor Greening to believe that such behavior is “fringe, very fringe”, but the accusations against Pastor Robb remind us of a pattern that arises, one described by Mr. Savage:

Well, it seems obvious to anyone paying attention that a statistically significant number of men like “Pastor Robb”—men who claim to speak for God, men that claim to be His representatives here on earth, men that portray God as obsessed with sex and control—turn out to be power-crazed sexual abusers that control, manipulate, and sexually abuse their “flocks.”

But that’s not the only pattern Savage notes. In his stinging indictment of the Post-Intelligencer, Savage notes:

There’s a pattern here. And people are clearly taking a risk when they sign up with a conservative church or put themselves under the thumb of some “iron-fisted” pastor …. But the same mainstream media outlets that can’t resist drawing our attention to known risks for relatively rare cancers get all tongue tied when a certain kind of religious leaders presents a known risk. Dangerous people shouldn’t get a pass just because they wave a bibles over their damn heads ….

…. The sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults is not a shocking aberration or an unexpected violation of a “faith community” lead by a Pastor Robb or a Pope Benedict. It is known risk, a known side effect of a kind of controlling, authoritarian religious garbage ….

…. Papers can’t print that, of course, lest they be accused of being “hostile to religion.” But by avoiding the obvious follow-ups and obvious conclusions—which are only hostile to a certain brand of religion, not all religions generally—the media is effectively friendly to child rape.

The need for open discussion grows more and more obvious. One wonders how much more it will take. Because it is not just the newspapers, but the congregations themselves:

The revelations have decimated Harper’s congregation — they haven’t met since — and several members said they were particularly shattered to realize how long the alleged assaults had continued, undetected.

“I was involved in what you might call an inner circle for some years,” said Rick Thurston, a member since the mid-1990s. “That’s one of the things that’s bothered me the most — how could I not see this? Maybe I just trusted the man.”

According to the P-I, Harper’s congregation was drawn “from other churches they found disappointingly watered down, even hypocritical”. For many of them, Harper’s unflinching, unbending standards “seemed pure”. As Danel Swan, whose niece raised the first accusations, put it, “You want to believe that good things come from church and only good people go to church”.

And that is exactly what makes these people ideal targets for predators. People will give anything to belong. Even their children.

If we keep pretending shock every time this happens, we will keep thinking these are rare occasions that will always sneak up and surprise us. But whether considering the disgraceful collapse of conservative religious values represented in this string of fallen Republicans and preachers, or considering a pastor who lives on Social Security while driving a Jaguar or Hummer, it seems that pretending such tragedies are rare and random only exposes our communities to further exploitation by these most dangerous and destructive charlatans. After all, the accused man’s wife told the Post-Intelligencer, “There were things I felt uncomfortable about. But I can’t even fathom some of these charges.” And despite the Jaguar, despite the Hummer, Ms. Harper also said, “I seriously believe that my children and myself are also victims in this who need healing.”

I do not doubt that, ma’am. Take a number.