Simon Says: “You Can Prevent Clergy Sexual Abuse!”

Simon's Feast

They call me Simon the Pharisee. “Simon” means “hearing.” In accordance with my name, I heard the call of Jesus and became a disciple after He healed me of leprosy. Candidly, the physical disease symbolized the deeper spiritual disease from which Jesus also delivered me. I was guilty of clergy sexual abuse, a practice that fed on my Phariseeism like crustaceans feed on sewage.

August 1 was Clergy Sexual Abuse Awareness and Prevention Day. I thought it would be appropriate to honor that day by telling my story. Now a recovered offender, I can pinpoint how elements of my religious experience led to the double life I lived. Here they are:

Pride– We Pharisees warded off the encroachments of Greek culture, which threatened to rob the Jews of their identity. Because of this, the people thought of us as heroes, holier and better than the common man; in fact, the name “Pharisee” means “separated.” Consequently, we became very puffed up in our own conceits. Human praise affects the brain similarly to an opiate, so when the praise died down we went in search of another fix: another contrived rule to impose, another righteous ritual to perform, another innocent woman to deflower.

Legalism– We instilled in ourselves and our followers the belief that we could save ourselves through compliance with the law. Since no one can obey in their own strength, we then lowered God’s standard to fit human limitations. This is how legalism teamed up with disobedience and produced a scenario where we strained at gnats and swallowed camels. And molested women. And then tried to have them stoned.

Hypocrisy– High standards minus grace equals hypocrisy. Graceless religious leaders, pressured to be “good,” can only manufacture an appearance of holiness and conceal their true, unconverted selves. Such double-living forces carnality into hiding, where it can flourish like anaerobic bacteria. We Pharisees helped each other hide, too. When one would get caught perpetrating, we’d hush up the matter and shuttle him off to another district.

My best-known victim was my niece Mary Magdalene. Just a child when I met her, she bloomed into a stunning beauty before my eyes. She called it an “affair,” and indeed it felt that way to her. But I know now it was abuse, in spite of her spellbound consent. Specifically, my abuse of Mary qualified as incestuous, religious, power rape, because I was a relative, a clergyman, and an authority figure. It disgusts me to admit it, but I must.

At my house party—the feast to celebrate my healing from leprosy—I still didn’t “get it.” I thought evil of Mary as she poured out her soul in gratitude. Jesus saw the spite on my face and told me a parable that revealed His knowledge of my guilt. Two debtors. One ten times more guilty. Both forgiven. Which one should love him the more? I read Him perfectly: “Stop lording it over her. You’re the one who led her into sin! You should be ten times more grateful, because you’re ten times more guilty.” He knows! I panicked, breaking into a sweat. How could He know and yet spare me? Could it be that He was Isaiah’s prophetic sin-bearer after all?

The weeks after my feast found me paralyzed, as one struck by lightening. Remorse crippled my energies and sickened me to earthly things. At last I turned fully to Jesus for forgiveness and cleansing. I realized I had no reason to live except to testify of God’s mercy.

In the place of pride, Jesus gave me contrition. Through the parable, Jesus confronted my sin discretely. The goodness of God in not publicly rebuking me, even when I wanted a public rebuke for my victim, led me to repentance.

In the place of legalism, He gave me the gospel. The message of Christ’s righteousness supplanted my own self-righteousness, and ultimately led to obedience to all the commandments of God, including the command to be sexually pure. Jesus forgave my sin and cleansed me from all unrighteousness. Then He showed me how to walk without falling. I noticed that Jesus never lusted simply because He loved so much. Each woman to Him was a soul for whom He would die in agony. He cherished them far too much to ever objectify them.

In the place of hypocrisy, He gave me honesty. I learned to put off pretension, admitting my weakness and humanity. I learned to confess my faults to trusted accountability partners and then seek the Lord with them for complete restoration.

If a Simon comes into your life, help him out by doing what he wants least. Tell the truth. It’s not “tattle-tailing” to reveal that a clergyman has taken advantage of a member of the flock. Do as Mary did and tell Jesus what happened; then share it with trusted counselors and friends. Do all you can to stop the abuse; thus you’ll be sparing future victims. Lying to protect another is still lying. Be tactfully, discreetly honest. You may lose all your friends for a time; the Pharisees may hate you. But you’ll have the infinitely more valuable blessing of a clear conscience. Remember that Jesus said, “Leave her alone.” That same Jesus will defend you. And perhaps your honesty will set a precedent that a Pharisee like I can follow. Remember, Jesus died for us too. And His grace can heal even the spiritual leprosy of clergy sexual abuse. As one writer noted about me: “The proud Pharisee became a lowly, self-sacrificing disciple.”

You can prevent clergy sexual abuse! For more information, go to thehopeofsurvivors.com.

21 thoughts on “Simon Says: “You Can Prevent Clergy Sexual Abuse!”

  1. Cindy

    Jen, there is nothing like the gift of fresh, spiritual air;
    who can place a value on breathing and life?

    Thank-you, for opening the windows to the Sunlight of God’s truth
    and inviting the fresh, spiritual air in to clean the church house!!!

    Thanks, for tuning your heart in to the whisper of the Holy Spirit…

    Keep Listening and Singing, it is a beautiful tune!

  2. Lyndah

    Wow. I can’t imagine a world in which the men, and most of the women, don’t condemn and stone (or try to stone/want to stone) the woman a man uses, while excusing the man for being human and weak and falling into sin. Our society places the responsibility squarely on the woman, looking at her as evil, conniving, manipulative, exploitative, and the man is seen as weak and succumbing to temptation. This belief permeates our church, as well. Even when a man ACCUSES a woman of “making” him “fall into sin, those around buy it hook, line, and sinker. His word will be taken over her word every time. I’m with you on this, and I, too, will keep speaking out, but imagining a man from any era, even Bible times, taking the responsibility for his own actions and removing the blame from where he’d been trying to heap it on the woman while not caring if he destroyed her in the process…imagining this scenario as real brings tears to my eyes. Difficult to imagine…

  3. Kregg Boisvert

    I would certainly add that one should certainly directly confront the offender with the evidence, in lovebut with a voice recorder in pocket in the event that he proves to be recalcetrant.

  4. Jennifer Jill Schwirzer Post author

    Lyndah that world you describe is the kingdom of heaven. In that kingdom is perfect justice and mercy. The church should vindicate the weak and hold the strong accountable. I’m doing what I can to bring about such a condition of things in the church that perpetration is dealt with honestly and victims are comforted and encouraged.

  5. Jennifer Jill Schwirzer Post author

    Cindy, I was thinking of calling the book a different name, but it’s coming . . . give me a second to recover from the last one.

  6. Jennifer Jill Schwirzer Post author

    Kregg, I agree with the caveat that at times confrontation is impossible when the disparity of power is extreme, as in child/adult, etc. Did you ever notice that the first section of Matthew 18 is about offending little ones? It’s as if Jesus prefaces the instruction about confrontation with an acknowledgement of the vulnerability of victims. Then He says, When your BROTHER sins, go speak to him. Brother implies horizontality, equality of power and status. Just food for thought. But in concert with what you’re saying, when a victim grows up and realizes they aren’t powerless they can gain much from a face to face confrontation–done with love, forgiveness and a tape recorder.

  7. Bob Maxwell

    Smokey the Bear says, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” Of course you will agree that only God can prevent anything, but I do agree that vigilance is key. That, and a mind open to any person needing a non-judgmental, listening ear.

    Tragically, this is a rare find in churches seeking to screen out all imperfection. Might it be that some of the the thorns in our own flesh, the wretched imperfections in our own lives were permitted by God to help us grow those kinds of ears?

  8. Melanie

    I lived this as a young woman 19years old. when it came out I was the one everyone shunned. He remained in his posistion as head elder and sabbath school teacher for a few more years until a new pastor came and delt with it. I saught exceptance and support and found it in those that taught me how to drink and swear, but they protected me. they accepted me, they met him at the door and told him “she doens’t want to see you anymore go away.” they shieled me and helped fight the spell he had on me.I was so a shamed I was running from God! But He Held onto me. He drew me with Love and forgiveness over time. I was able to forgive this man and his wife (who could have protected me) and as he lay dying of cancer he asked my forgiveness and wanted to be baptized again but could not walk. They had an anionting service for him. which I could not attend because the pastor at the time would not allow it. He was just as damaging and ignorant about how to deal with these things as most people in leadership are. We need to teach leaders how to deal with difficult situations and not make things worse. Thank you for what you wrote it has blessed me deeply.

  9. Jennifer

    Melainie, thanks for your honest and tender-hearted testimony. Sometimes God uses unlikely heros to protect us. You’ve risen above the bitterness so many fall prey too. God is good and I’m proud of how you’ve thrived.

  10. Olga

    I would really like to add to the dialogue on abuse in the clergy but I’m afraid you might think my solution too radical. Eliminate clergy all together. The Church existed without clergy for the first three hundred years of its existance. This is a documented fact. Clergy was installed by Constantine, you remember the same guy who changed Sabbath to Sunday. This might be a flippant comment if there were not sooooo much documentation to back it up. I have done conferences with people who were in the institutional church of many different denominations who are dealing with the problem of clergy abuse of children and of constituents. They have come up with all sorts of solutions but nothing seems to work. I have counseled spouses of clergy who have told horror stories of the unnatural life style that at best causes marital problems and at worst causes egregeous abuse. No one was meant to have the power and the pedestal status that ministers have . The Head of the church is Christ. The rest of us are all the royal priesthood. There are many who are realizing this and moving out of the institutional church into the freedom of organic church without clergy. The system of clergy is unbiblical and toxic despite many sincere pastors that are trying their best to fight against the tide. They get sucked into the system and corrupted in so many way. Their spouses are wronged and their children stigmatized. Why are PKs so infamous? Its the system. I got my information from my own study and from my own experience with Seminary, pastoral counseling, interviews with experts who have worked with sex offenders, counselors and paster offenders in prison and who screen clergy for potential offenders, and working with experts in this area but if you want a really good scripturally and historically sound assessment of the problem I would read, “Pagan Christianity” and “Reimagining Church” by Frank Viola. You can get them on Amazon. Even Ellen White predicts a time when the organized church will fall and the real church will move back into homes with no head but Christ. I believe the time is now and it is high time.
    Blessings,
    Olga

  11. Neville

    That’s real good stuf right there. Thanks alot. Its really interesting how Jesus delt with Simon. I know that I would not have delt with him that way.

  12. Amanda

    It’s so easy for those who rise into positions of leadership to become ensnared by pride, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy. Let us pray for our leaders that God will grant them an extra measure of grace and strength and humility that they may avoid the snares that bring reproach on our faith, present a stumbling block to others, and bring bitterness and heartache to their victims.

  13. Jennifer

    Amanda, Thanks so much! All so true. The fuller the cup, the harder it is to hold it without spilling.

  14. Jennifer

    I believe this is a problem. I think Satan is intent on destroying the family unit, especially clergy. Damaging their reputations can give many an excuse to avoid Christianity due to hypocrisy. I was really interested in verifying that Simon was sexually indiscreet, so I checked all your Bible verses. I still don’t see a definite Bible proof. I believe that he was Mary’s uncle, but beyond that I’m missing something. Can you help? Very interesting.

  15. Jennifer

    Jennifer, so true. The enemy loves to besmirch God’s reputation through the sins of clergy. How important that we admit that “all flesh is grass.” The proof that Simon was Mary’s perp is in Luke 7. Simon is thinking evil of Mary as she anoints Jesus. In the parable, Jesus says in so many words, “There are two debtors. One is ten times more in debt. Both are forgiven. Which should love the more?” If you notice Simon’s tone changes and he says, “I suppose the one who was forgiven more.” I believe at this point he realizes that Jesus knows he’s Mary’s perpetrator–ten times more guilty than she. Yet Mary is ten times more grateful. I believe this rebuke, done so discretely and tactfully, began the process of Simon’s repentance. No, the proof isn’t irrefutable, but I believe it’s there.

  16. Debbie Cox

    This is good except for the way the word “separated” was made to sound ALWAYS leading to conceit. God does set us apart.
    Thank you for addressing the sad issue. Sad times. We must realize our own weakness and not even begin to enter into temptation in our minds. And to insist on following what God tells us to do and not do in our male/female interactions whether it is in our heart to follow or not. We are weak human beings!

  17. Jennifer

    Debbie, yes, there’s a good separate. Good point. I think we have to be very careful that it’s a separateness that keeps trying to include people, though.

  18. Margaret

    I thought it was interesting that you brought up that she thought it was an affair but it was actually abuse. But where is the line drawn between an affair and abuse? How can you know which it is? Even if the man is an authority figure exploiting his position of power, if the woman enjoys and encourages it doesn’t she bear almost as much blame as he? Is it a matter of how old the woman is or whether she knows better, or what?

  19. Jennifer

    Margaret, great question. As I understand it, when there exists a power imbalance, the greater responsibility rests upon the one with greater power. I’ve counseled many victims of child sexual abuse and many actually enjoyed (partly) and cooperated with the abuse. Yet it was still abuse because of the ignorance and vulnerability of the child. There are some cases where a woman seduces a man in clerical office, but in most cases in my experience the man takes advantage of the woman’s vulnerability and her inclination to submit to the a man in a position of responsibility. I’m not saying there are no Potiphar’s wives out there–they exist. And any adult bears some responsibility for sexual immorality unless it’s rape. Even Mary Magdalene sinned, it’s just that Simon was ten times more guilty, as Jesus pointed out in the parable.

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