Because MK Safety Is More Than a Boarding School Issue

(PLEASE SEE UPDATE REGARDING RNS’ ABWE COVERAGE BELOW)

This Christianity Today article [CLICK HERE] has been out for several weeks now. It’s a good start in addressing mission field abuse (but should come with a trigger warning for its graphic opening paragraph).

I say “good start” because CT has been notoriously soft on these mission boards in the past, particularly ABWE and their firing of GRACE one year ago.

This new CT article does expose several key stories of abuse, but it also carries the hallmarks of most evangelical journalism, which is that the mission boards are allowed to weigh in (of course—I’d never suggest otherwise), but their answers that ring hollow are not questioned and instead allowed to hang there as the last word on the subject. What I mean is, specifically, when a representative of the CMA (Christian and Missionary Alliance) says “well we’ve apologized” and “if there was more I thought we could be doing, we’d be doing it,” the correct next sentence is to point out how they’ve failed to live up to those apologies.

And when the mission boards’ self-created, self-insulated, self-regulated “safety structure” (namely CSPN, Child Safety Protection Network) is touted as helpful to victims, that summation should probably be backed up by actual endorsements from victims themselves and not just a random claim by the CSPN board chairman Becky Leverington that their efforts have been “appreciated” by victims.

Another problem of the article is its focus on boarding school abuse. While I agree wholeheartedly that boarding schools are problematic, the more I talk to other MKs and missionaries from other mission boards through the incredible network for survivors that MK Safety Net (an MK-led, MK-created child safety advocacy group) has created, the more I see a common thread running through almost every account of abuse on the mission field.

It is not in fact boarding schools that is the biggest common denominator—though of course they often factor in—but rather the greatest common denominators are more often …

  • authoritarian religious environments
  • toxic leadership structures that are closed to outside accountability
  • extreme reputation management as standard operating procedure as opposed to transparency
  • abiding and cultivating untouchable “favorites” or “beloveds” among the missionaries (hint: often the most charismatic and charming person in the room is the one most likely to be the pedophile)
  • an inbreeding of leadership such that exposing Pedophile A is deemed inappropriate, because other members of Pedophile A’s family are on staff with that mission board (or another closely related one) and the protection of their feelings is deemed more important than the physical protection of other children who may have contact with Pedophile A

Truly, almost every single one of those five commonalities runs through the stories of MK abuse I have heard for the last three years from ABWE to New Tribes, to CMA, to SIM and so forth, and I wish that the CT journalist had tackled those issues instead of the easiest scapegoat for missions to shift the blame toward: boarding schools. Yes, they are a problem, but could there be an easier out for these mission boards than to just blame-shift the problem onto the boarding school and shut it down? In doing so, they become free from their personal responsibility for the mission culture that created, cultivated and then curated the sickness (which was, namely: the protection of abusers). Please understand, the abuse is only part of the problem. It’s what these mission boards have done about the abuse and abusers that must also be addressed.

Please, let’s do rid ourselves of boarding schools in missions work. But let’s not forget the problems of leadership and religious cultures within these mission boards that allowed the abuses to flourish in the first place.

_____________________________________

NOTE: It’s also not lost on me that ABWE is not even mentioned in the article by CT. Maybe because boarding schools weren’t part of our problem. However, ignoring ABWE has recently been a common theme in evangelical journalism. Religious News Services (RNS) has referenced ABWE in passing in two separate articles recently without actually naming them. They have become simply “an independent Baptist mission board” as if their identity is irrelevant (Article 1 / Article 2).

Truly, these evangelical “news outlets” do not know what they are contributing to by not naming such boards. Every time the boards are not named, their PR teams breathe huge sighs of relief and the victims weep that their pain isn’t worthy of mention. There is no reason in either RNS article not to name ABWE. Instead, RNS has chosen to be an active participant in ABWE’s reputation protection.

If you believe that RNS should be naming ABWE in relevant articles as opposed to referring to it as a nameless “independent Baptist mission board” then please drop a quick line to Kevin Eckstrom, the general editor of RNS. [EMAIL ADDRESS REMOVED AT REQUEST OF KEVIN ECKSTROM.]

________________

This morning I received the following note from Kevin Eckstrom and I imagine all of you who wrote received it as well:

Ladies and gentlemen:

I’m writing to respond to the deluge of emails I’ve received from you in the past 24 hours about RNS coverage of Bob Jones and, indirectly, the ABWE. We always appreciate hearing from readers, even and especially when they think we’ve missed the mark.

A couple of points:

– I have asked my staff to insert the ABWE name into the articles you referenced. That has been done.

– I can assure you that there is absolutely zero attempt on our part to protect or expose anyone, ABWE or otherwise. We are not, as some of you have alleged, trying to “protect their reputation” or “giving them the gift of anonymity” or “saying that the victims do not deserve or need justice.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

– In fact, there was zero discussion on our staff about naming or not naming ABWE in our stories. Perhaps that was an oversight, but it was not an intentional one. In journalism —  where space, deadline and staffing pressure loom large — some decisions are made for no particular reason. Both of these stories were written on tight deadlines with minimal staff, and the focus of the stories was meant to stay on Bob Jones; the ABWE was mentioned only in passing, and nothing more.

– You should know we take your concerns seriously, and have responded appropriately. You should also know that RNS is the only mainstream media out with a paid writer (Boz Tchividjian) who is dedicated to writing about abuse in religious settings. So we take this matter seriously and respectfully.

I believe we have addressed your concerns to the best of our ability, and now I would ask you to remove my personal email address from your website–on the Internet, that’s like listing your personal cell phone number for people to call at any hour  of the night, and makes my inbox vulnerable to spam.

Thank you,

Kevin Eckstrom
Editor-in-Chief
Religion News Service
529 14th Street NW, Suite 1009
Washington, DC  20045

__________________________________________

A BIG THANK YOU TO THOSE OF YOU WHO HELPED RIGHT THIS. 

Yes, he’s right. It was mentioned only in passing. But it was mentioned, so it’s worth naming. Also, he is not addressing the fact that I wrote to him privately on two separate occasions immediately after the first article ran asking him to address it and my emails were ignored. My concerns were NOT “taken seriously.” And so I’m grateful for the myriad of voices who echoed mine in saying that it wasn’t right to mention ABWE–no matter how “in passing” it was–without naming them. THANK YOU, FRIENDS!

11 thoughts on “Because MK Safety Is More Than a Boarding School Issue

  1. All I can say is that this is horrific behavior. This is criminal behavior, and needs to be brought to the attention of appropriate authorities beyond the purview of the school.

    • The biggest problem with these cases, Susan, is that they happened on foreign soil. Thankfully the PROTECT Act of 2003 now offers American children on foreign soil protection in cases of abuse by other American citizens. However, the PROTECT Act was not retroactive. Those of us American children who were abused on foreign soil by other Americans prior to 2003 have no legal recourse against them, particularly if the country did not have protections against children. Even if the country did, getting these pedophiles extradited to these small developing nations where most abuses occurred is next to a pipe dream. Statutes of limitations have expired in most cases. The real problem is not the wolves–although of course they did their damage that cannot be undone. The wolves (the abusers) are going to abuse. The problem we now face as surviving victims is the mission boards here in America who consider it their duty to protect their missionaries and not missionary children. Most of the missionary men (and even a few women) accused of molesting MKs in all of our stories have faced little to no consequences for their action–even consequences that the mission boards could lay down. Some are still missionaries, some are still ordained, some were fired but their churches were never told why, some went on to work in ministry elsewhere. If mission boards would commit to both firing AND publicly identifying those with credible allegations of abuse against them, we could really get somewhere. But most mission boards will stop shy of protecting other children.

      It is extremely, extremely difficult to prosecute any of these cases or get the help of proper authorities. No one wants (or believes they have) proper jurisdiction and even civil litigation is often dependent on things like statutes of limitations. So we’re all in a bind. Unfortunately most of these mission boards have it within their power to bring a small measure of justice to each situation and most refuse.

      • I had no idea. I’m so sorry. What would happen if, say, hypothetically, a facebook page appeared naming names and posting photos of the missionaries involved an the organizations who support them? Would it be shut down? Just sayin’.

      • Most of the MKs in this situation have had to go that route. Fanda Eagles (New Tribes) did it. Many others too. This is the site for the one I was associated with: http://bangladeshmksspeak.wordpress.com/

        It was started by a victim and then many other victims (including myself) joined in to moderate almost exactly 3 years ago.

        While it was effective in getting the medical license of our abuser taken away (in Michigan) and letting his supporting churches know why he’d really been let go 20 years ago (it even got the story on his local news), it has not helped us get truth from ABWE, the mission board in our situation. They hired then fired GRACE and are now working with a private investigative firm they can control. We do not expect much from their current “investigation.”

        Naming pedophiles comes with great cost for victims. Angry people in denial shoot the messenger. It’s why our desire is that mission boards will do this act themselves. It’s a sad, sad state of things when victims must expose themselves in order to expose their abusers, but it seems to be the way of things. No one will believe an anonymous accuser. So the victims have to expose themselves and take the hit. It’s a hard, hard thing and I’ve seen enough injustice to last a lifetime.

      • I will add you to my prayer list, Tamara, and anyone else you’d like. It is so sad to me the evils that men (and women) do while purporting to serve a God they obviously know so little about, and as a result push people away from the One who desires to love us all.

        I will dm you on Twitter with my email should anyone you know desire special prayer, my friend.

  2. Wow the abuse that these children are facing are disgusting abuses of power by people who should be called to account. Thank you Tamara for exposing me to this issue that has been swept under the rug for so long.

    • Thanks for reading. It’s shocking. And the CT stories were just a sampling. Missions are in dire need of reform in this regard. Many, many boards. I pray we see it in our lifetime.

  3. Thank you,Tamara, for another excellent post. I agree with (and relate to) everything you have written. These fundamentalist mission organizations and schools are following such similar strategies of self-protection that I think they must be consulting with each other behind closed doors. This is deplorable.

    • I actually do think that ABWE dropped its separation theology long enough to join forces with NTM in these matters. I really do. The enemy of my enemy is my friend … Or some such good old boys nonsense.

  4. Thank you Tamara for exposing the reasons for abuse in the mission environment. This problem needs to be addressed not only to keep children save but also to respect the everyday missionary not in leadership. Those in leadership control with an iron hand often ignoring the needs of those not in leadership. If one disagrees with the leadership they are out of God’s will.

    • You are so right, Shary. They control with an iron hand. I keep hearing from ABWE missionaries all sharing the same story: we disagreed with something, and it cost us. Toxic.

Comments are closed.