He had been my friend, I discovered to my dismay. We had first met at seminary where we were both students. He had been a classmate of Jeanne’s in academy and they were friends who enjoyed a good banter back and forth through their time in secondary school. Now the woman who had gingerly starting attending my church in South Carolina was telling me that she was having trouble coming back to church and difficulty in trusting a pastor. And although she didn’t know the effect it was having on me, she was saying that it was all because of my friend, who I hadn’t seen now in several years.

The woman and her husband had started slipping in to my 500 member church infrequently and then slipping out, choosing not to get close to anyone or connect with any members. After a few months this couple quietly sat down to talk with Jeanne and me and gingerly let us know what had made them so skittish about church.

In turns out that her former pastor in Colorado had starting noticing her and then becoming emotionally close to her, or at least encouraging her to become emotionally close to him. One thing led to another, and she accepted his interest and then his advances. As she told us of her story, and her shame at receiving and responding to his attention, and the damage it had done eventually to the marriage she and her husband were attempting to repair, she also revealed what a nearly unrepairable effect this was having on her spiritual experience and her connection with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, since this was her church and the pastor of her church that had used his position as spiritual leader, to move into her life for his own emotional conquest and sexual adventure. In fact, after getting free from this emotionally and spiritually abusive relationship, she found out that several other female parishioners in the same region had been involved with this same pastor. He even looked across his congregation from the center of the worship service and decided who to attempt to hit own, successfully with several. Now, she was having difficulty deciding that church was a safe place, a healthy spiritual place, with leaders that could be trusted, with pastors that would not take advantage of their position for their own purposes. In South Carolina, she was beginning the process, after many years, of trying to re-establish her own ability to trust God, trust a pastor, and trust a Church.

Now, I was discovering, to my dismay, it was my friend from many years earlier, who had inflicted the emotional and spiritual damage on this woman. At the time she came to our church, her former pastor was no longer serving as a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, and was no longer married to his attractive, intelligent and devoted wife of many years.

Just about every pastor I know is trustworthy and acts with integrity. But you and I may find someone who has had some prior experience, somewhere, that they are too ashamed to talk about. Some experience that leaves them questioning if they can trust God. Some experience that has led them to give up on Church. Some experience that scars them in a way that no one else can understand. Some experience that those listening might assume it was their own fault for what happened, and that if the victim was just strong enough spiritually, emotionally, intelligently, they would have been able to miss what was coming or to resist it.

There may be someone you know that has been a victim of clergy abuse. Not that you need to suspect every pastor. Likely, there is no pastor you know who who abuses their position to prey on others. But you may meet a victim sometime, who is brave enough to tentatively open up to you.

What can you do at those times? Tell them that they must have misunderstood the whole situation? Tell them that no pastor would ever do that to anyone, after all, they are a spiritual leader? Tell them that no pastor can ever be trusted? Just shrug it off and tell them to move on? Just listen and pat their hand?

One of the most healing and practical things you can do is listen, take them seriously and then put them in touch with the Seventh-day Adventist lay-ministry and ASI member, The Hope of Survivors (THOS). THOS serves victims of clergy abuse from all denominations. They understand. They provide tangible services of comfort and healing. They have spent years counseling and supporting the emotional and spiritual recovery of hundreds of individuals in the US and multiple countries.

August is Clergy Abuse Awareness Month. More than being aware of clergy abuse, as tragic and harmful as that is, I would encourage you to be aware of a tremendous resource that God has raised up in the Adventist family, to be used of God to aid in recovery and restoration. The Hope of Survivors.

There are some great resources for pastors in assisting victims and in learning more about this issue, along with resources for victims and for those supportive of victims.

THOS pix


7 responses to this post.

  1. I commend Elder Hartwell on his willingness to write about such a controversial and taboo subject, especially since it comes so close to him by way of his friend being the abuser. I am thankful for Ray and other church leaders who stand firm on principle and are not easily swayed from the right path by close friendships, peer pressure, employment considerations, etc. The church – and the world – need more Godly men in leadership who are willing to take a stand, support victims, and eradicate the evil of clergy sexual abuse from our congregations. Thank you, Ray!


  2. Thank you so much for this thoughtful, insightful, and compassionate piece on CSA. I am someone who was victimized by my pastor. The Hope of Survivors was instrumental in helping me make sense of what happened and in helping me get my life back. I thank the Lord for this wonderful organization. When my husband and I felt strong enough to begin visiting another church in a different denomination, we were very much like the couple you reference here: We attended the new church but kept to ourselves and weren’t sure whom to trust. After nearly a year of faithful attendance, we sat down with our new pastor to tell him our story and to relay the horrific spiritual damage that incurred at our former church. He was sympathetic and compassionate, and he assured us that we were in a very safe place. Six months later, he was forced to resign for having abused a woman in the congregation for the past two years. So all the while I sat crying in his office, telling my story of abuse, he was abusing someone. Lightning sometimes strikes twice, indeed.


  3. Posted by Barbara Bolton on August 16, 2013 at 1:41 am

    Thanks for a timely and very sobering message. I will share this!


  4. I am blessed to have found a church with a pastor very much like Ray Hartwell. My new pastor knew and respected my abuser — but even so, he took the time to hear my tale. More important, he believed me. Over time, his patience and integrity helped me feel safe in church again.
    It is rare for a religious leader to set personal loyalty aside. Pastor Hartwell, thank you for responding to your wounded congregant and her husband with such Christlike integrity and compassion.


  5. […] Seventh-day Adventist pastor Ray Hartwell faced an even harder situation. Not only was his new congregant’s abuser a friend of long-standing, but the congregant herself was a total stranger. How tempted Pastor Hartwell must have been to stand by his friend! Thank God, he stood up for justice and compassion instead. You can read Ray Hartwell’s moving account here. […]


  6. You are a very brave man to stand up for what’s right when things get hard. You should be commended.


  7. Posted by Ray Hartwell on August 22, 2013 at 4:15 am

    Ray, I read your blog post today, but couldn’t comment on out because I was using my Kindle. I loved it. Thank you for giving voice to all those who have suffered this kind of abuse and also for pointing them toward genuine help and a hopeful future.
    — Sandra Brewer via Facebook.


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