Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"The F-word"

If you were abused in an evangelical faith group, see this movie. You will see some part of yourself in it.

If you’re someone who wonders why abuse survivors don’t just get over it, see this movie. You may begin to understand.

“All God’s Children” tells the story of missionary kids who were abused at the Mamou boarding school in West Africa. They were isolated there for 9 months each year while their parents did what they believed was God’s work. They were part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, an evangelical denomination based in Colorado Springs.

From the opening sounds of “Onward Christian Soldiers,” the film sings a deeply familiar siren song, but it is a song that cast children onto the rocks of horrific abuse. They were the sacrifice in their parents’ evangelical mission to spread the gospel and save African souls.

Of course, the parents assumed the children were in good hands. The school was run by other missionaries who were doing God’s calling, just as they were.

Like so many others in evangelical churches, these children were taught from their earliest days that the only way was to “trust and obey.” After all, everything that happens is for a reason according to God’s plan.

So there in the Mamou wilderness, they lived under the dark cloud of believing that, if they didn’t “trust and obey,” they might cause others not to be saved.

Years later, as adults, when they tried to seek accountability within the faith community, they encountered the endless stonewalling of religious leaders.

One woman talked of the “re-victimization” inflicted by leaders’ refusal to address the issues and by their evasions and lies. “They impacted me as much as being wounded as a child,” she said.

Another described denominational leaders’ recurring theme: “You’re going to hurt the name of Jesus.” Sound familiar? The Mamou survivors were made to feel that their “little problem” of being abused and molested was “minor” and would take attention away from “shining light on the deep problems of the world.”

They were repeatedly told, “It wasn’t God that did this – you shouldn’t blame God.”

But then they were also told: “God’s going to be impacted if you tell the story -- the world’s not going to be attracted to God.”

“Well, you can’t have it both ways,” said one woman. Either God’s a part of it, or He’s not. And if He’s not, then there’s “no shame for God” in the telling of it.

Finally, there was that whole “forgiveness” thing that got thrown at them. Religious leaders wanted them to immediately offer up forgiveness and put it all in the past.

Forgiveness is “the F-word for the evangelical community,” said one woman.

It’s strong language, but if you’re someone who was abused in an evangelical faith group and who tried to report it, you know exactly what she means.

“It’s not that victims are against forgiveness,” she explained. “Victims are against forgiveness as the solution to the problem. Because then the problem will go on and on and on, and as long as every victim gives forgiveness, the organization doesn’t have to address the issue.”

And to that I say, “Amen.”

Against overwhelming odds, the Mamou survivors persisted in seeking to compel religious leaders to acknowledge the systemic abuse and to ensure that others would not endure what they did.

They didn’t achieve “justice” – far from it -- but their stories stand as testimony to the transformative power of truth-telling.

Ultimately, they brought about a denominational “commission of inquiry” that, in turn, inspired the creation of similar commissions in other Protestant groups.

In effect, the Mamou survivors left the beginning of a small trail through the wilderness.

See the trailer for “All God’s Children.” Find upcoming screenings. Buy the DVD or download.

See director Luci Westphal's review of this review.


gmommy said...

I am looking forward to seeing this as soon as it is available in my area!!

gmommy said...

Of course, I already can't remember the minister's name but the ex minister of Walnut Grove Baptist church in Memphis was convicted but got off with probation....he will be back preaching and abusing in no time.

gmommy said... already knew...sorry. Makes me sick. Probation...and he confessed!

New BBC Open Forum said...

At least Steven Haney still has to face trial for federal child pornography charges. The plea arrangement on these charges was approved by the victims and their families. I see Leslie Ballin was his attorney. Unless Ballin took the case pro bono, Haney must have a big bank account and/or some generous supporters.

Ballin, for those not from around Memphis, successfully defended Mary Winkler.

New BBC Open Forum said...

Gilyard walks again. The woman's paternity suit against him is still pending as is his trial next month on the other charges.

Michelle said...

I'm headed out of country, I've been having a hard time. I won't be talking much but I'll be looking and in my own way, praying. To all of Gilyard's victims, I'm thinking of you, you're in my heart. You guys are so brave. I'm all teary and really emotional, but I want to hug all of you, and thank you for what you're doing. I'm thisclose to the anecdotal and cliche, which bothers me so I'll shush now.

This movie looks very good. I'll see it in a few months when I get back. I'm going to go save it in my queue at netflix.

LuciWest said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LuciWest said...


thank you so much for writing and posting this excellent description of our documentary.

For more information about the film (how it can be purchased or downloaded, where the next screenings are, how to host a screening, watch excerpts, etc.) please visit:

Thank you for your support,
Luci Westphal

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gmommy said...

I'm wondering why the other 3 Arkansas kids who were abused by the music minister went to the church leaders first???? I'm wondering why it was the pastor who gave that info to the police after their music minister was arrested.
Why are parents still going to the pastor and not directly to police when their children are abused????
This makes no sense to me. What am I missing???
The situation I am asking about is the story to the right of the main post.

Christa Brown said...

Gmommy: Here's the way it looks to me based on what's reported in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. After the music minister was arrested, three men told investigators that they too were abused as teens by the same minister. In other words, it wasn't parents of kids, it was the men themselves who are now grown up. According to the article, church leaders provided investigators with the names of the 3 men. Investigators said some of the accusations may be too old to prosecute.

So here's what I wanna know. If church leaders knew about 3 men who said they were abused when they were younger, when exactly did church leaders know about them? There's something about the pieces in the article that just don't seem to fit together quite right.

gmommy said...

That was my question but I didn't get it out. I wish the police and the members would see that information was concealed to protect a child abuser. Inexcusable and a crime.