SGM still doesn’t get it: Greg Somerville’s letter to abuse survivorsPosted: August 16, 2011
Trigger warning: sexual abuse, spiritual abuse.
SGM leaders who want to reach out to the blogs appear to be turning their attentions more specifically towards the allegations of sexual abuse. A few weeks ago Mark Mullery “confessed” to FCC that the pastors had mishandled (to put it lightly) two cases of child sexual abuse in the church. Now Greg Somerville, a family life pastor at CLC, has reached out through the SGM Survivors blog to try to establish communication with the exCLCer and SGMnot, the people to come forward most recently with accounts of abuse and coverup at CLC.
Both Mullery’s “confession” and Greg Somerville’s letter show that, at best, SGM leadership still don’t understand what they did wrong – and at worst, don’t care. Their comments are largely about themselves and their fellow pastors, not the survivors of abuse they claim to be apologizing to. And they’re still approaching these cases as though they are relational conflicts or estrangements, as though all that’s necessary is for the pastors and those they’ve abused to be “reconciled” – or worse, as though they’re cases of inexplicable, even irrational customer dissatisfaction.
Their responses don’t reflect an understanding that they did enormous damage that needs to be fully and publicly acknowledged. That would mean stating clearly what was done wrong, why it was wrong, making a real apology and real restitution as appropriate (legal, monetary), and stating clearly what the pastors’ plans are to make sure this never happens on their watch again (frankly, the thought of any abuse survivors being *ever* under their watch and “care” makes me feel ill, but it’s too much to hope that all of the pastors will voluntarily step down).
Take Somerville’s letter to victims of abuse at CLC: it’s the sort of thing someone writes when they want to sound as though they’re apologizing, but really are trying to extract forgiveness without actually doing the hard work of admitting to or understanding what they did wrong. SGMnot, whose daughter was abused as a child at CLC and one of the people addressed in the letter, makes this point and other criticisms of the pastors’ continued failure to address issues of abuse head on in her response to Somerville here.
To be quite clear, I’m not making any claims about Somerville’s personal feelings or opinions on these cases. He could very well believe the pastors screwed up and understand how they did so. But he’s writing on the behalf of the CLC pastoral team, as their representative. This is about how the pastors have chosen to present themselves as a group to the people they’ve abused, not a criticism of one pastor. They think they’re being conciliatory, but in reality, their approach is extremely self-serving and self-absorbed.
This is clear from the outset of Somerville’s letter:
The details are heartbreaking for me, the pastors of Covenant Life, and the members of our church. I cannot imagine the anguish these events have caused for you and your families.
While he does address the trauma survivors have experienced, he describes it in passive language. This is slippery language that glosses over the fact that actual people caused exCLCer, SGMnot, and their families anguish. Abusers and the pastors who enabled them and further abused victims caused anguish. Not “events.”
I am doubly grieved to know how deeply disappointed you are with the pastoral care you received during that crisis and in the years following.
Wow. Does Somerville really think the problem is that survivors are “disappointed” in the “care” they received? That’s what “grieves” him about this situation?
This is not the language someone uses when they really understand that they’ve been complicit in a horrible wrong against another person. This is language a customer service representative uses when responding to a customer who is dissatisfied with their company’s product. Take away the “grieved” comment and that’s all you have left – “I’m sorry to hear that you were disappointed in the service we provided.” REALLY?
Did he miss the part where pastors tried to force a woman to remain married to a man who abused her children, and told her that the poverty she endured after divorcing this man was “self-induced?” Or the part where pastors testified as character witnesses for abusers and tried to obstruct and subvert the legal process? In what way, exactly, were these actions “care” for victims and their families?
In my 14 years of pastoral ministry at Covenant Life Church, I have so often failed to love and care for God’s people the way I should. If it weren’t for the grace of our Lord Jesus and the forgiveness of the saints, this pastor would not have the faith to keep caring for God’s precious church. Stories like yours cause me to cry out for more of God’s Spirit, more of God’s heart. I do not want to fail his children in their time of deepest need!
Um…way to make this all about you? Seriously, who cares? This isn’t about anyone being an imperfect pastor. This is about pastors consistently deciding that abusers are worth protecting and caring for over victims. What does this have to do with crying out for more of God’s spirit? What does it have to do with Somerville’s or anyone’s faith for caring for “God’s precious church?”
Sorry, I just read this paragraph and all I hear is “me me me me me.” It’s an attempt to sound humble – quite possibly sincere – but what it actually does is center Somerville and make this all about *his* faith to serve others and *his* failings and *his* desire not to fail – not about the people that his fellow pastors hurt and traumatized.
I realize you don’t have much confidence in the pastors of Covenant Life Church right now, and I can understand that. But would you be willing to talk with me about your experience? Though I am sure it would be painful to review the details, I want to make sure our pastoral team learns all we can from your experience so that we can better serve other families in the future. And if nothing else, I hope I could express the grief we feel for the suffering you have endured.
To my mind this is the most unbelievable and egregious part of Somerville’s comments. I’m willing to believe that he and the pastors genuinely think that extending this “offer” is a compassionate and thoughtful response and an attempt to set things right. But if that’s what they believe, that only demonstrates just how little they understand what they’ve done wrong or why people are angry and upset with them.
First off, it is ignorant and entitled for the pastors to respond to people who have made it abundantly clear that they were abused by the pastors by asking them to come in and “review the details” of their case. It’s entitled because you’re asking someone to revisit pain that you’ve inflicted on them. It’s particularly entitled in this case because the pastors mst know perfectly well what they’ve done – SGM keeps METICULOUS records on its members – and they know perfectly well how exCLCer and SGMnot feel about it. On top of all that, exCLCer has been writing letters to the pastors reminding them of the details of her family’s case for the past 20 years. There are numerous comments on the SGM Survivors blog recounting in painful detail how the pastors “cared” for survivors and their families. What is there to “review?” Either they agree that they did was wrong, or they don’t. Period.
And clearly, they don’t. “I hope I could express the grief we feel for the suffering you have endured” – in plain speech, that’s “I’m sorry you suffered,” not “I’m sorry we hurt you.”
Furthermore, who exactly would be served by such a “review?” Its purpose is almost entirely self-centered. What would survivors get out of rehashing the details of their spiritual and emotional abuse with the organization that abused them in the first place? For whom exactly would it be most “painful” to do this? The survivors. It could even trigger renewed feelings of traumatization. What he’s asking for is a huge leap of trust – but who does it benefit?
“I want to make sure our pastoral team learns all we can from your experience so that we can better serve other families in the future” – well, there you have it. Who it really benefits is the pastors. They want survivors of abuse to be the ones to educate *them* on how to handle abuse better. IT IS NOT THEIR JOB TO DO THIS. If they truly want to learn how a church should handle abuse and care for survivors, there are MANY MANY resources online and offline that they can consult, and organizations that specifically address this issue. They don’t need survivors to come in and relive their stories to learn how to do better.
And once again Somerville uses language that sounds more like a customer satisfaction inquirity than an attempt to redress mishandling of child abuse. Oh, you weren’t happy with our product? What can we do to improve it in the future?
To quote a response someone tweeted me about this letter, this is “the definition of privilege: demanding the time, energy, input of survivors to bolster yourself, not them. How dare they?”
They dare because they continue to think this should be all about them, their wants, their church, their reputation. They want reconciliation because that will make them look better – it’s to their benefit to be able to say they patched things up even with sexual abuse victims. No matter that many of their victims have made it plain that they neither want nor need any reconciliation – or any contact at all – with the pastors.
They continue to ignore repeated and clear demands for honesty, openness, and accountability when it comes to sexual and other kinds of abuse, because that doesn’t benefit them. It makes them look bad. So they keep asking for things that survivors of abuse don’t want, and denying the things they do want, because it’s All. About. Them.