Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Sexual Abuse In the Church of God Summer Educational Programs

I have received permission to post the following story from a woman who shared about her experience at SEP where she was molested along with two other girls.  Kermit Nelson, Dennis VanDeVenter and Mr. Burnett attempted to cover the molestations up.

This brought her story forward when she learned of the Jehovah's Witnesses child abuse case that is portrayed above.  Nightline has a program on tonight about abuse in the Jehovah's Witnesses cult. The parallels in the JW story are exactly like what has happened over and over in the Church of God and CONTINUES to this day in the Philadelphia Church of God, the Restored Church of God, Living Church of God, United Church of God, COGWA and other groups!

Sharing a Nightline Special on sexual abuse coverup from Jehovah Witness leadership. She won a landmark court case! How familiar is this video?

This hits close to home, as I was 13 at SEP, first time away from home so far and so long, and me and two other girls were molested and I was almost raped by an 18 year old guy in our brother dorm. He got no real punishment, but me and the two other girls had to tell our stories, emotionally falling apart but with no support or guidance, in front of Dr. Kermit Nelson (director of SEP), Mr. Dennis VanDeVanter (who baptized my parents and was our minister for a while, but by this time had been transferred to the upper ranks in Pasadena), and Mr. Burnett (our dorm minister and the women's BB coach at Pasadena AC). Our phone and mail privileges were revoked as they didn't want the word of this "to get out and spread through the congregations, then parents will be reluctant to send their children to SEP which could save them spiritually." (as SEP was fun at times, but it was indoctrination-based) 

When they said we couldn't call/write our parents anymore or anything else, it felt like *we* were the ones getting punished because we came forward, they said, "If this gets out, it will spread like wild fire through the congregations worldwide. Do you really want the eternal lives of who knows how many young people on your head?" Guilt squashed our need to contact anyone or seek emotional healing. They even made me dance with him at the end of camp to show there were "no hard feelings" - and he managed to do even more damage during and after that dance. 

 No cops were called. No parents. 

My parents got worried when my every-other-day phone calls stopped abruptly. 

They called the camp. Dr. Nelson and Mr. VanDeVanter both lied to them initially and said they didn't know of anything going on, and that we were just probably caught up with the fun of camp.

Finally, my parents got the truth out of them when they demanded to speak to me. My parents were furious, but still didn't occur to them to call the cops, and at this point there had not only been the molestation, but neglect and coverup by the church. 

I was told that this matter went all the way up to Mr. Tkatch from Dr. Nelson when they were deciding how to handle this. 

I relate with so much of this girl says in the Nightline story. Hopefully this will open the door for more lawsuits won against cults and their slimy legal/PR tactics. And hopefully people will see that the JW's and Mormons and other cults aren't just "nice people that believe things a little different" but their secrecy and closed door policies when it comes to these issues. 


Anonymous said...

fact is we human beings in our natural state are as animalistic as dogs or bonobos or any other flesh and blood, and history has shown that given the right circumstances we will act out this primeval behavior even if it hurts others.

(e.g. i dare say there is porn on most peoples computers; i once had a girlfriend who was a penecostal, and a male church member was visiting from another state and wanted to stay with her temporarily; i bet her i could find porn on his computer, and sure enough it was there...),

this is why the Spirit of God is so important because it can prevent they who have it from acting out on hurtful urges, as it were...

Byker Bob said...

Wow. So many aspects, so many issues!

When parents send their children to camp, especially a their church's camp, there is the presumption that the kids would would be protected from the sorts of bad or "worldly" things the church preaches against. There is also a trust element that if something bad happened to one or more of the kids, there would not be a cover-up, the incident would be handled in a transparent and forthcoming manner.

With kids, unfortunately, they are going to do what they are going to do. It is not possible to supervise them 100% of the time. If they want to catch a smoke, they will find a way. Some will also find a way to listen to forbidden forms of contemporary music, get high, or take sexual activities as far as they can get away with. Attending church is not going to stop any of that, especially if your church happens to be one that most kids already think is weird, or harsh, and rebel against. All authorities can do is observe, detect, and administer some sort of appropriate punishment.

In WCG, some parents did send their problem kids to SEP, expecting the church to be able to reach these kids in ways that their own parentling skills were miserably failing. These kids were mixed right in with the docile, naturally obedient types, who held the church and their parents in high regard. Whose influence would you guess rubbed off on whom?

The absolute worst examples of predatory behavior I've ever been aware of at SEP were found on some of the survivor sites containing first person testimony from some women who had attended SEP as teenagers and lost their virginity to the sons of some of the high ranking ministers, who had intimidated and coerced these girls using their fathers' ranks and authority.

It has been a cliche for stalwart Armstrongites to dismiss this sort of behavior, pointing to the Catholics, or whatever church group happens to be in the news because of the predators amongst them, often priests or ministers. All that that accomplishes is to prove that Armstrongism is not the special, set apart group that we were led to believe. If there is no protection for an innocent 13 year old girl, how is there supposed to be protection in a future place of safety?


Redfox712 said...

I remember several years ago (2009-10) I came upon a ex-COG website that specifically accused two ministers of being sexual abuser. They were even mentioned by name. It mentioned they had shifted between COG groups.

It did not detail what the abuse in question was, or whether these accounts had been brought to the attention of the authorities.

I wish I could recall what this website was and know if it is still online. I suspect it is probably offline now. If I knew I would mention it.

I mention this in the hope that others will recall what this website was. I can not have been the only one to have read it.

Redfox712 said...

Byker Bob,

What a horrifying story you described. That is just so loathsome. For the sons of Armstrongism's elite to exploit people in such a way. That is just terrible.

Anonymous said...

"Do you really want the eternal lives of who knows how many young people on your head?"

Translation: "Do you really want it to be all your fault that the church might lose who knows how many millions in revenue?"

Anonymous said...

I marvel at the number of comments that are NOT showing up on this blog posting. With many of the other postings on this blog all kinds of comments are being recorded, yet on this one people are remaining silent.


Are people in denial that anything ever happened and these people are lairs?

There has been widespread sexual abuse in the chruch that ministers in every single splinter group have deliberately covered up so as not to bring embarrassment to the church.

I am on several exCOG Facebook pages and the stories that people share on what has happened to them are appalling. In ever instance the ministry covered it up.

I hope someone gets empowered some day to sue the church and open up to the world how sick the church was and is at its very core.

Anonymous said...

This is disgusting. What's worse, there are all sorts of cover ups going on to protect the guilty. The Cult of Herbert Armstrong Mafia cannot be trusted and particularly they cannot be trusted with our children.

It would be helpful if The Journal undertook to expose these and other sorts of outrageous unethical and immoral lapses, but it doesn't seem likely to because it doesn't fit in with the philosophy of those in the Church of God Big Sandy who are the center of the publication. It could do a lot of good, but it won't.

There is a serious question on the table, and it is not trivial: are the atheist summer camps actually superior in this regard? Are there few incidences? Or any incidences at all?

It would be interesting to compare results. If I were a betting man, I'd bet that the Atheist youth camps would fare much better for obvious reasons.

Anonymous said...

Disgusting is all I can think about this. I know a teenage boy that was molested by one of LCG's mucky mucks many years ago. The church covered that one up too.

Anonymous said...

Confession is good for the soul.

That should make prison so much better.

Anonymous said...

So where are all the naysayers that are always on here claiming everything is not true? Why aren't they discounting this woman's story?

I guess they can't because they know of other abused people in the church. Instead they choose to cover up for the abusers.

Anonymous said...

This woman's story, who was an innocent young girl then at SEP, is heartbreaking, more so by the coverup and lack of accountability. Lest anyone write this off as a regrettable climate of coverup in the interests of keeping the church's good image that is in the past that would not reoccur today, think of the ongoing denial and coverup which continues today--in all present HWA-extolling COG groups without known exception--concerning HWA's molestation of his daughter. The daughter was clearly the source of the story but the story was not circulated by her wish but leaked by other family members where it entered the public domain including in press reports and, I believe, alluded even in legal testimony. Neither the daughter, nor any other of the Armstrong extended family, nor HWA himself, publicly denied the story, which would certainly have been unambiguously done if the story had been a fabrication. I myself recall being at Big Sandy and hearing GTA speak in a sermon in early 1974 (c. Jan or Feb 1974) before an audience of c. 1000. GTA said in that sermon something that made no sense to me at the time: he was talking about all the problems the church had faced over the years and said that his father, HWA, had even been accused by church people of adultery back in HWA's Oregon days. What was puzzling about that statement of GTA--in 1974--was that there is absolutely nothing in HWA's Autobiography, nor in any other story or account prior to that sermon of GTA, which alluded to any adultery charge toward HWA in HWA's early days in Oregon. GTA gave no specifics (nor did he say the charge was true; in context the implication understood by those in the audience was that it was a false charge, though GTA did not directly say that either). Only when the later story came out re HWA's molestation of his daughter did I recall the 1972 GTA sermon reference in a new light--I realized that must been what GTA was referring to. (In HWA's Autobiography it is possible there may be a version of the same story when HWA says there was some serious church meeting in his Oregon days involving charges against HWA that his wife, Loma, was a bad housekeeper, and HWA tells how he was furious and in a red-hot rage speaking in that meeting offered to "take it outside" and basically punch out anyone who would cast further aspersions on his wife's housekeeping, defending his wife's honor. Why a church elders' meeting over HWA's suitability as a minister would make the central issue a wife's housekeeping is a bit odd, but that was HWA's account.)
The story of HWA's molestation of his daughter starting when she was only an early teenager is horrifying. It is not legitimately a private matter given ongoing adulation of HWA as a religious leader who is not held accountable by the COG church bodies for this. The argument among some COGs that the truth of HWA's message must be distinguished from failings as a human being would be marginally more convincing if that was accompanied by actual open acknowledgement and condemnation of HWA's horrifying, predatory behavior toward a defenseless child. By not acknowledging the credible reports of such behavior in HWA and condemning that behavior in their revered apostle, today's COGs repeat the climate of coverup which this woman experienced long ago at SEP--and contribute to similar abuses continuing to be covered up by these same COGs if and when they recur today. The coverup mentality is not something in the past. If one wonders how coverups of the nature of this woman's experience at SEP can happen or in the Catholic church scandals, this is how it happens. gld

Unknown said...

It is interesting that that the Tkachs, both Jr. and Sr. never used accusation against HWAs morals either.

They kept the arguments virtually all doctrinal and painted HWA as a sincere but misguided man about religion.

I wonder what were the reasons that they did not go for the jugular in regards to HWAs moral imperfections, as it would have been valuable for them in their cause I would think.

My only guess was that they had their own moral failings and within the Armstongist ministry, even when there is war, they won't go all the way and drop those kind of ultimate weapon atomic bombs, but rather play out limited Vietnam style confrontations.

Even Ted ultimately covered for his old man, when obviously it would have been great bank for him to do otherwise when he started his own church.

It is almost like a sort of mafia code, where you don't go after the family. I wonder why so few in the ministry do not come out openly and decry the lifestyle and abuses of HWA, even above and beyond the case with the daughter. The extravagant lifestyle, the power abuses, the double standards etc. The co-dependence and silence about this all is strange and hard to understand.

Anonymous said...

Well, the story could well be true. Sadly, all orgs tend to close ranks and defend their own reputations rather than deal with internal scum. For the "church of god" to do this is at least doubly evil.

Ed said...

This is the general "way" of organized religion. Anything that threatens the organization is to be silenced or swept under the rug. Even something as disgusting as this. This is true of many religions not just armstrongism. The question is "why be apart of any organized religion?".

Charlie Brown said...

Connie, I don't think Joe T would have exposed HWA because the majority today still don't believe he could have done such a horrific act. I think he was also looking at the balance sheet. He took what he thought was a safer route, but in the end got the same result. You also have this "cover your brothers sin " at all cost mentality. That is mainly for the "brethren" though. It's all about the money, jobs, power, and position for upper management. They will cover anything to keep their lights on and the fleet car in the driveway.

Anonymous said...

I marvel at the number of comments that are NOT showing up on this blog posting. With many of the other postings on this blog all kinds of comments are being recorded, yet on this one people are remaining silent.


I for one don't like discussing it. My father was a minister, and my mother sexually abused her kids. Not all of us, just us unlucky few. (this is besides the beatings that were also sexualized)

But even my father was disturbed, I don't want to discuss it, but I did ask him about HWA's insest accusations at around the age of 10. (yes, I knew way too much crap, way too early) And my father's answer was that 1. King David sinned, and 2. we don't know if HWA repented or not.


Needless to say, I get sick to my stomach when these kinds of stories come up, and I just want to read something else.

Anonymous said...

The "I don't want to talk about it" routine is what allows pedophiles in the church and outside it to continue abusing children.

People are embarrassed or don't want to stir things up and that is what gives these creeps permission to continue on abusing kids.

Unfortunately even when some people do speak up in the church the ministry or chruch leaders cover up for them, move them to other areas or blame the abused from causing it to happen.

I had a family member that groom a teenage girl up the street from him. His wife turned him in and the family stood by her side. I will never see this person again and he will probably die in prison.

I don't care if it is a blood relative or not. If a parent, sibling, relative, friend, church member/leader or a neighbor does it, they need to be locked up and in jail!

Anonymous said...

The "I don't want to talk about it" routine is what allows pedophiles in the church and outside it to continue abusing children.

First of I want to say fuck you, unless you've been through, you have no idea. I get this kinda shit from almost everyone. So no wonder people don't want to talk about this crap.

Second, it would change not a damn thing, because it was outside the "church", my mother stopped attending services when I was little, she hated HWA and that is how I knew all the dirty shit those people did, was from her.

So don't you dare blame me for not speaking up, I stopped attending just at my teens. And was glad to get away from the psychos, but I suffered more at home than I ever did at Church.

Just fuck you, it's not a kids responsibility to fix someone's fucked up organization.

Also, if I said anything now, who would give a crap? Who would do anything different? WCG is gone... (thank God in heaven) and none of the current groups would listen to a thing anyone would say about stuff from those days.

I wasn't diddled at camp, no perves at church services, so what can I complain to them about? A fucked up dad for a minister? Like they would care... wow.

You are all delusional on this board if you think you can change any of these people.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 3:49. What a meaningless foul mouthed rant, Who wants to read that trash, try saying what you have to say in English.

Byker Bob said...

3:49, you are right, you can't change them. I found that the best thing for me personally was to walk away from it, and them, to do what I could to repair the damage, and not to re-expose myself to the people or influences that could reinfect me. I found a hypnotherapist that I could relate to, ended up needing a lot fewer sessions than I thought I would, read widely to become more philosophically grounded, and eventually became fairly functional once again.

It's like this. They robbed us of our youth. If our memories still allow them to have the power over us, we allow them to rob us of our present and our future. There are many people who are natural advocates, and most of them can do a more effective job confronting evil predators than those who have been damaged by them. Nowhere is it written that all victims are required to confront their tormentors, or to make advocacy a life's cause.


Byker Bob said...

5:21, mellow out. This may be the only place where there's enough of an atmosphere of openness and trust for him or her to vent. Armstrongism caused that anger, and every one of us has had to deal with it to one extent or another. Everyone deserves an opportunity for healing, and sometimes things appear to be quite ugly before they can get better!


Anonymous said...

BB, I just want to say thankyou. Your comments actually made my day.

As for anon 5:21, you sit in the seat of an abused kid for 1 friggin minute, and you will never say anything like that every again.

Byker Bob said...

My pleasure, Anonymous. I can assure you, things will get better. Eventually the nightmares stop, we realize that as adults we have control over most of the things that used to hurt us, and sometime in the future, it may even be possible to do as my hypnotherapist used to say, "Let go of it all, and just (figuratively) blow it all away." She'd always have me take a deep breath before doing this!

if we can get anger to = zero, "they" no longer have any power over us, and they can't jack us around!

Have a great weekend!

Retired Prof said...

BB, commendable comments. I was thinking along the lines of your 6:37 comment myself, but had no time to write because my wife needed help with bookkeeping chores and errands, so that I was away from the computer for several hours--fortunately, I now think.

Your comment was better than I could have composed, and had the added benefit of potentially greater credibility, since you have returned to religious faith after being deeply scarred by Armstrongism. My own scars were little more than superficial.

As an unbeliever, I hesitate to give personal advice in circumstances like this where it might be interpreted as proselytizing for atheism. I am comfortable in my own unbelief and gladly express it in a general way but try to avoid giving anybody the hard sell about it.

So let me simply express the fervent hope that Anon 3:49 can come to terms with his/her past and achieve equanimity when contemplating the future.

Byker Bob said...

Thanks, R.P.!

I enjoy your insights, as well!