Dear _____, _____, and _____, (field workers)
cc _____ (overseer)
This letter has been written after months of reflection, prayer, and consideration.
For context, I am 41 years old, and have professed for 24 years. My wife and I have had an open home for 13 years, and have enjoyed hosting a wonderful Wednesday evening Bible study for the past 9 years. We both grew up in professing homes, and have greatly valued and appreciated all the privileges that have been ours through participating in this fellowship.
Over the past ten months, an astounding number of sexual perpetrators (700+) have been identified within our fellowship. Every region where it exists has been affected. With each perpetrator having a conservative estimate of 10 victims (some have over 100), this puts us walking amongst at least 7,000 victims. The true number is likely 5-10x higher. Perpetrators with credible allegations in our area alone have contributed at least 20 victims to that statistic. It should be abundantly clear to all that our fellowship has a decades long history of appalling and exceptionally damaging abuse. This abuse has been enabled, covered up, and allowed to perpetuate for years. Being unwilling to admit this hard truth does not alter it in any way.
The abuse has touched most within the fellowship. For myself, I professed in a convention meeting led by a prolific abuser, and was baptized by another abuser (who also prayed at our wedding). As these men’s actions became known, I was reminded by others that I professed to give my life to God, not these men. Indeed, I did. God’s salvation held out in grace through the blood of Jesus is not of men to judge, grant, or withhold. The first worker to hold my newborn daughter was Dean Bruer. At the time, I took a picture of the moment and proudly shared it with others; the image will be forever seared into my memory. Although I was around many different abusers my entire life (unbeknownst to me), I was never personally abused. My experience growing up in this fellowship was largely positive. Sadly, this has not been everyone’s experience.
After living with my wife who is a victim and talking to many other victims of abuse, it has become very clear that victims have suffered enough. All victims of sexual abuse carry their horrific burdens to the grave. The ONLY acceptable burden we should place upon a victim is to ask that they have the courage to tell someone about their abuse. Assuming the allegations are credible (statistically most are), our mission should be to give them our unwavering and wholehearted support. Our fellowship and ministry instead place additional burdens on victims (and not perpetrators) by not believing their story, asking or requiring them to be in fellowship with perpetrators, making them identify to be placed in “safe” meetings, bullying them to confront their abusers, or by outright ignoring their pleas or lying about them – leaving them to fade into the background. Victims are maligned as bitter, emotional, and dishonest.
This is a tremendous disservice, as many victims are struggling to simply get through the day. When they are abandoned and cannot continue in meetings, many disregard them as having “lost out”. Simply asking a victim to attend therapy to just “get over it” so they can be in fellowship should not be our first line of defense. This line of thinking indicates a belief that victims are the problem. Therapy is wonderful and helpful, but shouldn’t we first take the extra effort to provide victims a safe environment to worship?
For the past ten months, ourselves and many, many others (not just a “few concerned couples”) have sought to help educate, follow scripture in holding perpetrators accountable, offer professional help, and talk reasonably and peaceably. Instead of necessary change, we have been told in no uncertain terms that there will be none. We have been told “this is a problem with man, not a problem with the ministry”, and “the ministry does not need big changes”. While we have a great love and respect for the ministers and fellowship members who are seeking to help in this crisis, it is quite clear that many would rather turn away and ignore this crisis so that things can return to “normal”. We can do better than this, we MUST do better than this.
One verse that has gone over and over in my head over these past months is 1 John 4:18 – “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment.” We have not cast out fear, but rather have decided to live with and accept it. What does our fellowship and ministry fear? From what we have observed, it fears allegations becoming public; it fears holding those in places of authority or privilege accountable; it fears losing place; it fears the internet; and it fears open dialogue and examination of fellowship history, finances, and doctrine. ALL these fears are indicators of an abusive structure or organization. If light were to shine on these things, what would it reveal? Restoration is not possible without light. If true light cannot penetrate our fellowship and ministry, how can the pleas of the sheep?
After ten months of effort, we still do not have a transparent and reasonable path forward to ensure the safety and care of victims, children, and vulnerable populations. Because of this, we cannot remain a part of this fellowship. To allow time for reallocation of our Bible study, we are willing to provide an open home for our meeting through the end of January. At that time, we will continue to go forward in the full assurance of faith and hope that the promises of Jesus provide. We are thankful that all who call upon Him in honesty and sincerity are heard. We are not leaving with hearts laden with bitterness, but rather are thankful for the joy and hope that God provides in abundance. We are thankful that the blood of Jesus covers the sin of any who honestly approach the throne of grace and seek to be made in His image through repentance.
Shaun & Emily Durkee
January 16, 2024