Paul Abenroth ~ CSA, 2023

The tragedy surrounding Dean Bruer that is now shocking the Christian Conventions church stopped me in my tracks.

In 1995 my first wife and I composed an exit letter which we sent to a few of the Washington workers and to a few of our relatives and closest friends. We asked that the Sunday meeting be removed from our home and with our three teenage children we stepped out into the unknown.

We didn’t act out of bitterness or animosity but out of a yearning for freedom, personal integrity and a need for honesty with our teenagers. In the homeward stretch of a 2,500 mile vacation trip they had begun asking for unequivocal answers about the origin and administration of the church without a name. My desire to clearly answer our kids ultimately took us all out of the whole system.

Two nights ago I stayed up late reading the letters from Doyle Smith and Mark Huddle and the accounts many of you wrote of your struggles with religious authoritarianism. As I read I became surprised by a revulsion stirring in me. Part of it is characterized in Doyle’s statement, “He (Dean) totally abused his authority as an overseer in order to control, manipulate and threaten his victims.”

However, though Dean had officiated at the funerals of my older brother in 1995 and and my Dad in 2014, attributing my revulsion entirely to Dean Bruer didn’t satisfy. Something deeper churned in me. In the 7th paragraph of Doyle’s letter he likens the rape and abuse to Mark 4 and the “worst storm of their life”. He then writes, “We pray the miracle somehow, someway, someday, will be as great as it was in Mark 4 for all.” There it is – magical thinking, “somehow, someway, someday”. The solution to the problem is relegated to the hope of a miracle. That is the other basis of my revulsion.

Through the years I have abandoned confidence in miracles and magic. I’m more attuned to practical realities. I see serious disfunction engendered by the 2×2 homeless, unmarried ministry system which is perpetuated by its rigid claim of divine ordination, the only legitimate ministry in the world.

The workers have food, good clothing, loaned cars, medical care, and guest housing. Though all of this is provided by the friends it is touted as a miracle. Yet in the 126 years since 1897 no miracle has resolved the problem of sexual, religious and authoritarian abuse by some members of the unmarried, itinerant, “divinely ordained” ministry.

During my 10 years in the work on the west coast of Washington I accepted and even promoted the unmarried requirement. Gradually I learned about the many married workers. Recently we also learned about Jack Carroll’s unsuccessful bid to marry a sister worker he loved. I now believe the human welfare of the whole membership would have been better served if not only Jack Carroll had married but also all the workers had followed the marriage practice of the Faith Mission out of which William Irvine emerged.

Finally, I want to apologize for my support of the whole system by my participation in earlier years. I wish I had learned much sooner. I have no illusions that the system will switch to a married ministry. It will not openly state, “We no longer consider ours as the only true ministry or church.” I doubt it could survive such foundational, radical change.

Therefore, I believe abuse will continue, possibly modified somewhat by the bandaids of worker training, apologies, and appeal to miracle.

Nevertheless, there is satisfaction in connecting with you all in this forum. I also tender my apology here for once supporting what I now reject.

Paul Abenroth

Anacortes, WA
March 26, 2023