PCA GA – Lynna Sutherland and Donna Westcott – Part 2
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Hello and welcome to the Safe to Hope podcast. My name is Ann Maree and I’m the Executive Director for HelpHer and the host of this podcast. On the Safe to Hope: Hope Renewed in Light of Eternity podcast, we help women tell their story with an eye for God’s redemptive purposes. All suffering is loss, but God leaves nothing unused in His plans. We want to help women see His redemptive thread throughout their circumstances, and then look for opportunities to join with God in His transformational work.

Ann Maree   All right, we are picking up again, with Lynna Sutherland and Donna Westcott and Lynna being the brains behind Advocacy From the Presbyterian Pew, which we talked about earlier in our first episode, such a resource for the church, specifically the PCA and off of our last week’s General Assembly, she has been just a wealth of information, but also Donna, who is a licensed counselor and attended as well. And we have been just gleaning information from their insights from their experience from their expertise, if you will.

Today, we’re just going to start out with a quote from Tim Keller that he made regarding our church, our PCA polity, when he was on the Mars Hill podcast with Mike Cosper.

Anyway, I’m going to play that and then I’m going to ask Lynna and Donna to interact with what he said and what they know, what they experienced when they went to GA. So let me play that.

Tim Keller recording  Where more there’s more accountability in a Presbyterian setting. So I’ll just tell you a quick story which is true.

One presbytery in my denomination heard either rumors or also heard things I’d said online about creation, evolution, Adam and Eve and stuff like that. In our denomination, I do believe in a… there was an actual Adam and Eve specially created by God from whom we descend. There was either online chat or things I said that made this presbytery feel like I don’t think he believes in a real Adam and Eve. I think he’s a thoroughgoing evolutionist, and that wouldn’t fit in with our confessional standards. And so five times they wrote my presbytery and asked them to examine me. And the reason why presbytery has to examine me on this, if they didn’t, then our denomination as a situation in which there’s a standard judicial commission. And my my presbytery could actually say, because Tim Keller’s presbytery has failed to act, we want us to assume original jurisdiction.

Say now this is a very different world in the evangelical world, isn’t it? And so I know that every time they wrote, they say, “Please examine him.” I asked him this question. So the presbytery got me together, that means other elders, presbyteries pastors and, and ruling elders, from all the churches in our region. And they examined me and sent back my answers. And that was it was fine. So they had another question… and five times that happened. And they were me know, they were trying to get at it.

I would say the the fourth or fifth time I was starting to say, “Come on,” but I’m a Presbyterian and this this is… now, you couldn’t do that to Mark Driscoll. You couldn’t do that to Bill Hybels.

Mike Cosper recording No, there’s no there’s no structure for for it. Yeah. 

Tim Keller recording  And there really is accountability. So if I’m if I step out or, or if I’m abusive, and somebody in my church complains, there’s a presbytery. That presbytery could exonerate me, but then anybody, any one person can complain to General Assembly standing judicial commission, and they would look at it and it doesn’t, it’s not perfect, not at all.

Ann Maree  So give me some feedback on what you just heard from Tim Keller’s kind of evaluation, take or whatever on our judicial system and the PCA and and your experience or your knowledge education.

Donna  The thing that strikes me is that he’s expressing a great deal of confidence in our system of government. Because there’s accountability. And that confidence in the system, I think is what trips us up many times. And then when he describes his own story of accountability, of being held accountable, he’s talking about a belief that he has. And a presbytery is questioning him, is he doctrinally sound, and so they can look at things he’s published things he said, and sermons, call him in and ask him questions. And it’s much more factually based. Did he say this? Does he believe this? But when we’re talking about accountability for abuse, this is a totally different matter. This is…abuse is a complex subject. It, I think it does require some expertise. There are patterns that abusers follow both with the person or persons they abuse, but also with the whole congregation, with their colleagues and presbytery so that there’s an entire foundation of deception laid. And so earlier about, you know, it’s great at General Assembly, that all these men can get together and really enjoy each other and have close relationships. That is good. But it does foster a sense of camaraderie, and loyalty, that tends to be triggered when a pastor or elder is accused of something. And so they think that they know the person, and they think this is a great guy, he would never do what he’s accused of doing. And we’re going to rally around him. And it’s questionable whether there’s also a subtext of …this is a threat to our system, this is a threat to our power. We need to protect the system. Even if they don’t have in mind, protecting their own power and leadership, there’s very strong sense of protecting the system. And in almost the system is sacrosanct. And there’s a forgetfulness that when you talk about protecting the church or protecting the courts of the church, the church is people. The church is individuals. And so, our… is that what we’re thinking about and so often when a church when a session or presbytery goes into court mode, when they’re thinking of themselves as a court, that’s very different than thinking of themselves as shepherds.

And so, back to the Tim Keller comments. We do need accountability for doctrine and beliefs in order to be consistent with what we believe Scriptures teach and what our stated doctrines are. That process needs to look quite a bit different when we’re evaluating leaders, in terms of their personal character, in terms of their leadership style, in terms of their interaction with individuals. Those things are harder to pin down but people, for instance, licensed counselors who have experienced, are able to identify patterns that abusers use both in their abuse and in their self protection.

Ann Maree  Yeah, I got the sense when I heard it, and we can talk more about this too with Lynna but um, that he was comparing apples and oranges. You know, he was talking about heretical ideas that he was being challenged on. But yeah, what you’re saying Donna. It’s a whole different ballgame when we’re talking about abuse. And this is an interesting discussion, even as in light of background checks. Exactly what, what kind of accountability are we talking about for abuse versus heresy?

Lynna  Yeah, I think the distinction that mom raised is really essential. Just that it’s really is, as you said, in right, apples and oranges. So for example, if a pastor stated, some heretical doctrine, only twice, privately, to two different people, that probably would not be grounds for dismissal or finding him unfit to be a pastor, maybe some questions would need to be asked, maybe we need to clarify that he’s not going to teach those things publicly.

So you know, when we see things in our Book of Church Order, like requirements of multiple witnesses for things like that, we understand we don’t want a situation to be blown out of proportion, or somebody to be brought up on charges for one comment once at a party or something like that. But when we’re talking about abuse, you know, an ordained minister who secretly sexually molest two little girls, that is grounds for dismissal. And so it’s a completely different situation. Again, as mom said, when you’re talking about teaching improper doctrine, the concern is the impact that this would have on the church, if a pastor is writing books, if he’s speaking at conferences, preaching from the pulpit, this is going to have a harmful effect on the church, and it’s going to miscommunicate to our denomination and to others who are watching what we believe is true. And so there’s a lot of kind of objective written evidence that can be examined for this. But when you’re talking about, you know, for example, a pastor who, who wants to promote heresy, is going to do it somewhat publicly, how can you promote something without being somewhat public about it? A pastor who is tempted to commit sexual assault is going to do it very not publicly, it’s going to be by nature, very secret, it’s only going to be done when no one is around, when there’s when there are no other witnesses. So it’s, it’s a very different scenario. And as you both have already touched on, it really requires another level of wisdom and discernment. To be able to understand the factors. There’s broad lack of understanding about the impact that trauma has on victims. So we’ve seen situations where, you know, somebody’s had a traumatic experience, and they begin to test the waters by telling one or two very small facts to someone, maybe they say, “you know, my husband gets angry when this happens.” And at first glance, you know, a hearer might think, “oh, yeah, that’s normal. That happens in all marriages,” then they begin to share a little bit more, the way that we find out about abuse is not at all linear. Nobody comes forward with their, with their complete story with all details documented, and, you know, written on a timeline A to Z, so that it logically makes sense when we hear abuse stories, like if, you know, something comes out in the news about an abuse story, it’s very easy for us as readers to say, “Oh, my, well, if I heard this, I would believe that person.” But the story didn’t come out the way that it’s finally, you know, summarized and narrated in a new story. That came out in tiny little pieces that are hard to recognize at the outset. And there may be things that appear contradictory or the story appears to have changed or something like that. So again, it takes wisdom, it takes wisdom to understand how to listen to these things. And I think for me, as I was listening to the Tim Keller quote, on the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast, the thing that really struck me is that, you know, this system of accountability works well, if there are people who know how to use the system. So when we’re talking about doctrine, there are plenty of men who are ordained pastors and elders who know how to make use of that system to you know, complain that Tim Keller’s presbytery, that he’s teaching something that they don’t think he should be teaching. When we’re talking about abuse. If the system is going to work, to hold people accountable for abuse, then you have to ask the question. Do victims and survivors know how to use the system? And one thing that I’ve experienced over and over and I will say, you know, Ann Maree, you’re you’re very gracious to, to praise, my ability to explain what happens at General Assembly and PCA. I am hugely aware of the fact that what I understand is a tiny, tiny percentage of the knowledge that’s held by, you know, some of the men who are just way more well versed in our church polity. And I actually had a couple of examples of times where, for example, one time I was explaining to my two daughters who were with me and one of the business meetings, just kind of helping them to understand what was going on. And the man in front of me afterwards turned around and said, “Thank you so much for that that was really helpful.” So, yes, I have some knowledge that might be helpful to others who don’t have as much knowledge. But I, you know, I’m still like in the bottom 25 percentile of understanding the BCO when it comes to, you know, the the collective knowledge of men in the PCA, I have more times than I can count, and I’m sure you as well. And we have had situations where victims have been treated by their session or presbytery in a way that is, is just a clear violation of the Book of Church Order, but they had no way of knowing they did not have the knowledge to know that this was not okay. One specific example, there was a woman who was who was experiencing marital rape. And she was considering her options. Her husband reported her to the session for considering divorce. So she hadn’t divorced, she hadn’t done anything, made any particular actions. And the pastor told her that she could not take communion for six months. So no trial, no witnesses, prosecution or defense. And also, anybody who knows, even just a little bit about our Book of Church Order knows that there is no provision for just suspending someone from the Lord’s supper for a predetermined amount of time. Right? The way that that center ought to be used is, if someone is perpetuating sin and refusing to repent, for the sake of their own soul, and for their own good, we would say, you know, we’re concerned that your life is not matching up with your testimony, and you may actually be doing spiritual harm to yourself by partaking of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ and unworthy manner for your safety, please don’t do this right now. And how long would that would last would depend on their repentance, right? If we say ahead of time, six months, well, what if they repent in two weeks? Or what if we reach the end of six months, and they still haven’t repented? So their suspension from the Lord’s Supper is supposed to be tied to their profession and their repentance. So again, all of this was done completely out of accord with the Book of Church Order. But this woman had no knowledge, you know, of any of this being inappropriate. She did what we’re kind of all trained to do, which is trust the church leaders, they know what they’re doing. They understand how the process works. Just trust the church leaders. And she wound up leaving the PCA. So she’s no longer a member in a PCA church, she doesn’t have any standing to bring any kind of complaint.

It’s likely that what was done was not ever recorded in minutes anywhere. It was just a private meeting that she had with her pastor and his wife. So you know, there’s probably not anything to review in the session minutes are the presbytery minutes, that where accountability could be brought. So again, the idea that, you know, we have this system, we have this accountability available on paper, yes, we do. But it would have to be based on people understanding how it works, and knowing how to make use of it. You and I know have experienced survivors and victims being some of the most well versed women on the Book of Church Order, because their survival depends on it. They start digging in and asking all the questions and reading all the things because they’ve suddenly realized nobody is going to do this for me, I have to figure this out. I have to do this for myself. And I don’t mean that there are not those who are available to help but it, you know, it’s I think it’s one of those situations where it you can be in a church that’s, you know, a happy comfortable place to be or you’re worshiping there, you have friends, and you don’t really feel a need to understand what’s going on in the broader church or how church polity impacts you. It doesn’t really seem to matter until it does. And then it really really does.

So, I think there’s there’s this very real awareness. Not just that we don’t know all the things but there’s so much to know that it would be really hard to to overcome that learning curve. For example, yes, the BCO is a PDF document that anyone can download for free. There are some phrases and words in it that are a little bit archaic may be a little hard to understand, you might, you might need to use a commentary on the Book of Church Order to understand where that language came from, or what it means.

But, but it’s doable, you could do that you could read it and understand it. But that’s just the surface level. Right? So there are layers of things that go into how theBook of Church Order is used, that are very hard for the average person in the pew to understand. So I would say, you know, reading the Book of Church Order, and saying that you now understand Presbyterian polity is like saying, I’ve read the Constitution. So now I understand constitutional law. There are many layers to it, there’s a committee called the Committee for Constitutional Business that advises presbyteries and the General Assembly on the Book of Church Order. And oftentimes when when the when the CCB makes those statements of advice, they are not officially constitutionally binding, but they’re kind of absorbed and adopted into how elders and pastors will interpret the Book of Church Order and precedent that set from like previous cases, and presbyteries and previous cases that went to the Standing Judicial Commission, and votes that have happened in the past and why people argued against them. So there’s just layers and layers of tradition and history and precedent, that are virtually impossible for, you know, your average layperson to just wrap their heads around in a, you know, in a couple of weeks of reading or something like that. Again, I’ve been attending presbytery meetings, watching General Assembly on the live stream for several years now, reading about this, you know, pestering people with lots of questions, and I truly feel like I’m only just scratching the surface of what I would need to understand I do not in any way feel prepared to you know, for example, try to represent someone on trial for for abuse or, or as a victim of abuse, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t dare to step into that role, I would be wholly unprepared for that.

Ann Maree  And you’re bringing up a topic that I wrote down that I did want to talk about. I think just go backwards just a little bit before we do that, though. And some of the things that are obviously confusing when it comes to the the Book of Church Order, versus the ones that are not what you were just discussing, but obviously difficult is there’s a requirement in the Book of Church Order that anybody coming up with a charge for against a pastor have two witnesses, right, which is a biblical statement, that there should be two witnesses for any charge against a pastor and I forgot the the actual verse. But um, the question I hear from survivors, victims is, what sexual assault has witnesses… two witnesses, not even one, even if we look at the statistics, and I don’t have them in front of me of how many rape kits there are, versus how many convictions there are. So it’s an it’s an unattainable requirement by our BCO. That doesn’t even exist in society. And actually, and this would be another discussion I would love to have with people who are more in the know than I am, of course, and that is when we talk about the woman who cries out in Deuteronomy, that she’s been raped. The perpetrator is stoned. We don’t you know, we’re not talking about a trial and investigation even on her word, no other witnesses. He’s stoned. And so yeah, it’s those kinds of things that just don’t make sense to my mind. But of course, I am not versed, like you’re saying, and I find it so funny. I think I know more than my husband does about the BCO, or at least there was, there was a season where I did, and I too, would not want to feel like a represent… or serve as a representative because I don’t have all the information that I would need. But that gentleman that was in front of you that heard you and your daughters, and I know I saw somebody online saying to oh, gosh, this is so helpful. This is just you know, watching what you were documenting for us. So here’s the… this is a good point. Some of the commissioners on the floor voting don’t even know as much as it was. And so that’s a problem. That’s a concern and we would hope that our pastors and elders are keeping up to date, because this this one is so they need to know what you just described as an example that this woman was basically given an ad hoc committee of one, the pastor and a censure. And that’s not even, there’s nothing in the BCO about that. And there’s nothing in the Bible about that… you said this too… that’s punitive. And to ask a person to not take communion is not supposed to be punitive. It’s not supposed to be a punishment, it’s supposed to be a way of reconciling them with the Lord.

And then what you said about precedent, I’ve run into this head on where we thought we knew the BCO standards, and that we could go to the presbytery with those, and we’d be like, you know, very clean, very orderly, we would know exactly what we were saying. And then in comes a precedent. And just for the listener, a precedent could be any other case. And Lynna, please fill me in on that or fill them in on this after I say something, that it’s any other case that already happened that was very similar to a case and set the precedent for how to rule. Can you say that differently? Or would you say that differently?

Lynna  I don’t have any more specific information about that than you do. I think, you know, one thing to keep in mind is that the arguing a case before a presbytery, the people who are judging that case, are not professional judges. They’re not. They are pastors and elders. And so all that it takes for an argument to be persuasive is for it to persuade the court. So if you know there are not rules about… well, you can refer to cases from the SJC, but you can’t refer to cases from other presbyteries. If they refer to a case from another presbytery, and that persuades the court, then that’s persuasive. So and there’s, you know, I’ve said this before, but there’s so much variation from presbytery to presbytery.

So there’s, there are some things that really, you know, are just not uniform across the denomination. There was a fair amount of discussion, when we talked about witness eligibility, about the idea of hearsay. So for example, in a civil court, in general, I understand from the lawyers that were present, that there are lots of exceptions to this. But in general, hearsay is not admissible in court. Part of the reason that’s the case is that the civil government has the power to subpoena someone. So if someone has information that needs to be a part of that trial, the federal government can tell them, you have to show up, or the state government what the civil government can say, you have to come and be a witness at this trial. As the church we don’t have the power of the sword, we don’t have the power to tell somebody, you know, you have to show up. Hey, person who’s the next door neighbor of a church member who saw him yelling at his wife, we can’t require you to come and testify before our church trial. So hearsay is admissible. In general, we have this negative perception of hearsay, it’s kind of like a if it’s an official word for gossip. But hearsay just means testimony that took place somewhere other than inside the trial. So if someone wrote a letter, their statement could be submitted in trial, they’re not there to be a witness, their testimony is hearsay, because they made that testimony somewhere else, or perhaps they told someone who is a witness in the trial. So we heard a lot at General Assembly about how you know hearsay is admissible in our church courts. So we don’t have to, we don’t have to have people there live as witnesses because we can admit their hearsay. I just read this week, an article written by a man who had made a complaint to his presbytery, which was denied because they said the complaint was hearsay.

Ann Maree  All right. Well, I think we’ve gone off a little further into the depth of church polity, church court system, let’s step back out a little bit. You mentioned representation, and that was an issue this year. Can we talk about that a little bit? Give us some background? 

Lynna  Yes. I’m glad you brought me back around to that because I had notes about that, and didn’t, didn’t follow up on it. So there was an overture this year, also that had to do with who can represent an accused person at trial. And this is, this is different than as you mentioned a little while ago, whenever there’s a church trial, the accuser is always the PCA, the church is the accuser. So you don’t have trials where, you know, Joe Smith is the accuser, and John Jones is the accused person, it’s not trials of one person versus another person. Any trial, anything that comes to trial in the PCA, the church, as an institution is the accuser, but there has to be a prosecutor who represents the church in those trials. So this overture has nothing to do with the prosecutor, this doesn’t have anything to do with who can be a prosecutor in a case who can, who can speak on behalf of the church in a trial. This only has to do with the defense who can defend who can speak as a representative in someone’s defense who is accused in a trial.

So, one of the concerns is that sometimes trials can be unbalanced because, for example, perhaps the prosecutor who is a PCA elder is also his day job is he’s a lawyer. So he has a lot of experience with trials and making objections and presenting evidence and building the case. Whereas the accused is just an individual who, who doesn’t have any experience with this, maybe doesn’t even have really much knowledge of the Book of Church Order, and what should be allowed or shouldn’t be allowed. And maybe they’re being represented by someone. But it’s not… again, it could just be another pastor or elder who just doesn’t have a lot of knowledge about court proceedings or the Book of Church Order. And so there can be an unbalance, in the prosecution and defense in this type of a trial. So this overture was to help allow more options for representation for the accused. Currently, if you are accused of something you can be represented before your session by any other member of that church. However, if you are on trial before your presbytery, which could happen if a pastor is on trial, he would be on trial before the presbytery or if someone who was tried by the session appealed, and the case went to presbytery. That person could only be represented by a member of that presbytery. So in other words, it would have to be a pastor, or an elder who was sent as a commissioner to that presbytery. So that limits the representation that someone has available to them. This overture would expand that representation to, in the cases of a trial before presbytery, to anybody who’s a member in good standing in any church in that presbytery. Or a pastor who’s a member of that presbytery. So it just it basically just allows more options for somebody to represent an accused person at trial. So this could be you know, it could be a victim of abuse, who’s being tried for, you know, maybe she left an abusive husband and her church is bringing her up on charges for leaving, or it could be, you know, a pastor who’s been credibly accused of abuse and is on trial for abuse. But in any case, we’re talking about representing the accused, not the prosecution.

Ann Maree  Yeah, that has been something I’ve had to explain frequently to accusers, victims, that that prosecutor is not there for you. And that’s very confusing. They think they have representation. So thank you for clarifying a lot of that even just what you just said now helped me understand I didn’t realize that there was already something in place. It did have a feeling of being a little bit more limited. But on a positive side, it opened it up for women to be able to be representatives in your presbytery.

The  limited part of it is, like and Lynna and I would both say, neither of us feel competent to be representatives. Just keep that out there. But if we were competent, and confident to do that, I’m over here in North Carolina, she’s over there in Virginia, if you’re in Kentucky, you have to go with what you have. And so that’s a little harder. And we had a conversation on on Twitter X, whatever you want to call it the other day that some pastors were really helpful and, you know, thinking through okay, what does that mean? And there are ways to help still, as you know, helpers, Lynna and myself, that kind of works around not being their representative, but being available to them and work. We’re advocates here at Help[H]er anyway. So that’s what we’re doing. We’re not really necessarily representing. But just the note I want to make most clear is that yes, there is a representative now perhaps in your presbytery, should you need one. It can be a man or a woman, we really appreciate that. It’s limited to member, I get why they do that. You want to know that the person that’s representing somebody is in good standing. But that is also a limitation. I’m thinking about some third party investigators, lawyers, etc. That could be helpful. And then the one really important thing that I want to bring up about that is vetting those representatives. The woman who asked the question actually on Twitter. You brought that up? Who’s going to vet those? I mean, if you’re Lynna, if you’re charged with something in your presbytery, how are you going to know that the person you’ve asked to represent you has your best interest at heart or, and this happens, is that person just part of a network in their presbytery, and they’re out to protect each other, more than they are you? And so that’s a question. So it’s just a little representations a little fuzzy. I feel like it could be, I don’t know, fine tune, but it doesn’t seem like that’s possibility. So I’m just throwing that all out there. 

Lynna  Let’s and just to clarify this is, so as I mentioned, in the last episode, the process for approving a change to the Book of Church Order is approved at one General Assembly; approval by two thirds of presbyteries; approve it at the final at the following General Assembly. So with this particular overture about representation, we are in, we kind of finished stage one, which is we got approval at one General Assembly. So this is not currently the provision in the Book of Church Order. So like if you are getting ready to go to trial right now, you don’t have this option for representation. 

Ann Maree Thank you. 

Lynna  Hopefully, by next General Assembly, that change would be made, but it’s not currently on the books. 

Ann Maree  Right. Good news, though, is you still have a helper advocate if you need one to explain all these things to you. Okay, let’s take a turn go backwards, again, to the positive side.

Donna  I was encouraged by all of the men that we got to speak to individually, who not just in their votes, but in personal interaction, as we had with men, who indicated that they understand the issue of abuse, both in terms of the victims, and in terms of its presence in the church. And what we need to do to make the church inhospitable to predators. To oust predators, to prevent predators from being able to prey on people. And then also what we need to do to remedy the abuse that has happened, and how we can support victims and survivors in getting justice and getting healing.

Ann Maree  Yeah, thank you. That was good to hear that you’re meeting the people who have the heart to see those changes and to see those improvements made for the PCA. Thank you.

Donna  And I do wonder if there’s a generational factor, that is going to take some time for the younger generation, to move into more seniority and leadership. But I think the discouraging part for me was hearing in the overtures committee, and on the floor of GA very cogent and powerful speeches in support of background checks, in support of expanding witness eligibility, and hearing very flimsy speeches against those subjects. And yet, they weren’t the speeches in favor of them, were not convincing to the majority of the commissioners on the floor. So I listened to them and think, yes, that’s so convincing. How could you vote against these things? And yet it happened.

Ann Maree  Yeah, it’s surprising when it happens, right? 

Donna  It is surprising you, you’re like, wait a minute, did they hear the same thing I’m hearing? Most often the rationale is something technical and theoretical.

Ann Maree   Tell me Lynna, what did you find encouraging from this year’s general assembly? 

Lynna  Very similar to what mom said it, it was really encouraging to be able to speak to many people in person to hear their thoughts on these issues. You know, you can always elaborate more when you’re speaking privately than when you’re speaking on the floor or in a committee meeting. So it’s just encouraging to hear attitudes that help, as to know, that these men, as mom said, get it. They understand the reasons behind the issues that need to be addressed and why they need to be addressed. So that’s always encouraging to hear. And it is encouraging to hear comments that suggest that even those who would vote against something are at least becoming aware of the issues and becoming aware of the kinds of things that could potentially happen or do need to be addressed. So, you know, there definitely were encouraging things, I was very thankful that the overture about trials without process passed so that those impacted by abuse or another issue in the church would have an opportunity to speak to that confession. And I’m thankful that this amendment on representation has at least passed the first stage. And hopefully we’ll go on to pass presbyteries in next year’s general assembly.

Ann Maree  Yeah, but that’s Thank you. also encouraged by similar things. also encouraged I saw a millennial meeting that happened at your church just happened to be at your church. Yes, up and coming. Like your mom said, a lot of under 40 year old, I went to school with a lot of them. I went to seminary with a lot of them, and just have great respect for some. So I’m encouraged to see that that next generation of the PCA has open minds, open hearts. A lot of them talk to us. That’s encouraging and help us they are a source of information for us too. Yeah. One other thing I talked, I didn’t. I just wanted to bring up but I mentioned earlier that our church, the PCA, this denomination is part of a greater body of churches called NAPRC, North American Presbyterian Reformed Churches and at least a couple of us had our Assemblies or Synods last week, one of them being I mentioned, ARP. And I just want to tell you that this is encouraging to me, it’s a smaller denomination, but they are handling this case, this particular case that I’m going to talk about very, very well, in my opinion, and others have said the same not just myself, other pastors and elders are saying, thank God. And so this is a statement of what happened in the ARP as it relates to abuse and I’ll just read it.

It says, “Last week, the ARP chose to dissolve a historic presbytery that has been in existence since 1800. Key members of this presbytery sought to protect an accused minister from allegations of heinous child abuse using tactics of bullying, manipulation, strong-arming and gaslighting. As a result, the Synode decided in the overwhelming majority majority that the only way forward was to dissolve the presbytery in order to break up the power structures that enabled such abuse and collusion. The move is costly. It’s heartbreaking across the board, yet this remains a win for the victims. The Church of Jesus Christ was made aware of collusion to harbor a predator, and they took action to address the problem, even at great cost. This decision was long overdue, but there remains gratefulness for the decision.” And I’ve already had conversation, at least one with a pastor in our PCA who wants to use this as a jumping off point for more conversation about our systems and our responses to abuse. And so there’s light, a little tiny pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel, seeing that abuse cases could be handled differently in the future, and that they would also be wins for the victims.

So I don’t know if you want to talk to this any further. But are there more things that you see as progress and or setbacks for survivors?

Lynna   Yeah, so I’ll talk to the things that are maybe discouraging, first, so that I can end on a an encouraging note. So you know, I think some of the biggest obstacles for survivors and victims in the PCA, you know, we can pay a lot of attention to these specific issues like background checks and witness eligibility. Those are important for sure. But I think more broadly, our challenges really are some mindsets that are somewhat ingrained in the way that we think as a church and the way that we respond to things. So we tend to be suspicious of things that come from the culture or that happened first in the culture. So responding to abuse. We’ve, you know, it feels like it’s taken quite a while for, especially conservative denominations like ours, to get their wheels turning on this thing. And it’s not just a matter of being a little bit behind the curve, sometimes there’s intended opposition because, you know, it’s a sense that, oh, we’re just running after the culture we’re just following after the #metoo movement. And we’re being pressured by whatever’s happening in society to do the same thing in the churches.

One of my favorite quotes from Jacob Denhollander was that he, “agrees it’s a shame that the church is following after the #metoo movement, we should have led the way we should have been the first to, you know, as those who are strong proponents of original sin and total depravity, we should be the least surprised to see heinous evil, even in those who profess the name of Christ, and we should have been leading the charge, to protect the sheep.” So, you know, there are, there are some attitudes of skepticism about the culture, skepticism about mental health care, about professional therapists and psychologists, attitudes of skepticism about the government. So, you know, talk about background checks being a way that we give power to the government that really belongs to the church, which is, by the way, not at all what a background check is, but those are some of the attitudes, fear of government overreach, fear of the liberal culture, fear of secular psychology, that do really pose an obstacle to real listening and real understanding. Not a small piece of that is a view of women, that can be very damning. You know, the idea that, yes, we are a denomination, that in our standards, or, you know, we ordain only qualified men to office. But that is not the end of the conversation. Even under that polity. There are many, many ways for church officers to take advantage of the resources at their disposal, in the gifted women that are in their congregation. But unfortunately, sometimes the gifting of women is seen as a threat, and something to be held in check, or that, you know, listening too much to women as a danger. Or I saw one comment where the idea of having some churches have something like a Women’s Advisory Board, not ordained not voting members of the session, but godly wise women that the session would confer with, especially on things that would apply directly to the women in the church. And folks reacting strongly against this saying, you know, they’re quasi elders, as if, you know, too much input from women would threaten the church. And so we can take a little input or we can, we can listen a little bit, but not too much. And, you know, and even just false, heretical doctrine, such as eternal subordination of the Son, this belief that, you know, Jesus is eternally subordinate to God, the Father, and using that as a parallel to teach a distinction between the sexes, that is not Scriptural teaching that women are, you know, almost like a different, when people say that, that men and women are different ontologically kind of making the same type of distinction between men and women, that there would be between angels and humans, as if women are a different, entirely different type of creature as opposed to taking directly out of the rib of man, or the side of man.

So yeah, those are, you know, some of those prevailing views that I think, you know, are it’s interesting, because there’s, of course, there’s a distaste of language, like triggering and emotional, but really, I think that’s what we see happening sometimes is some of these issues that are brought up really do trigger fears that people on both sides have, you know, triggering fears of the government or fears of the culture, the liberal agenda, those kinds of things. So, you know, it makes me sad to see those things limiting how much people are willing to listen how much they’re willing to compromise how much they’re willing to, you know, hear directly from survivors about their experience and what would truly be helpful to them. I think the things I find encouraging are, you mentioned the millennial forum that actually took place at our church. I found that largely encouraging. I always laugh a little bit and kind of use air quotes when I talk about the spectrum of the PCA, because it’s about as wide as a paperclip. You know, we’re a very conservative denomination. So even if you talk about like in the context of the PCA, the quote conservatives and the quote, progressives, everybody is all still very conservative. But that having been said, the millennial forum was a discussion between two guys who are somewhat, you know, on opposite sides of different issues and different views. And yet, there was a lot of agreement on things that I felt like were important. For example, they both readily agreed that there are tears of issues, not tiers, like you’re crying, but like layers of issues, there are some things that are of first importance and have to be protected. And we can’t allow for variation in views, specifically matters of the gospel.

But then there are other issues that are second or third or fourth tier issues that we can, you know, live in harmony with each other, while disagreeing on those issues. And even while having some variants of practice in our churches. Both men spoke about ways in which they strive as a pastor or as church leadership to listen and listen to and understand women in their congregation. So they wouldn’t necessarily fall on the same side of votes on issues. But there were encouraging things said about their principles that underlie their decision making. And the importance of, you know, being able to listen well enough to well articulate your opponent’s argument and not misrepresent things like that, that I think were were encouraging to hear. I was really blessed to be there.

Ann Maree  And again, thank you for sharing. Well, thank you for being there. I know this took a lot out of your week and your family last week, and we thank you, we thank your families, for you and Donna, your mom’s families for just providing the way for you to be able to give us this information, share this information with us.

And so, on that note on, what one of the things that Linda just said listening, listening to women, listening to our stories, that’s what this podcast is normally about. And so we’ll get back to that again in the fall. And I’m excited to say that we are interviewing a couple who have reconciled after domestic abuse and just even having said that, they were hard to find. And so that was a win. But we are excited to share that coming up. But between now and then we’ll probably have another podcast with our board member, Julia Fillnow like she and I did at the beginning of this year, which is going to hash out some things counselorees.

Okay, one last question. And that actually came from our Staff because they thought it was important for us to address this before we leave today. And that question is, if a woman if a woman revealed abuse, orI guess it would be better stated, If a woman wanted to reveal abuse, how would we at Help[H]er advise her next steps?

So I’ll answer this one, but then I’m going to have Lynna add anything that she wants to add? I don’t have pat answers for you. I have more questions, actually, that I think would be helpful to ask. And if you want to actually follow my Substack, which is help her dot substack I’ve been talking a lot about the culture of a church and care-giving for a woman and even a woman to woman care-giving ministry. A lot of questions and thoughts you might want to have before you’re before you report your abuse. I actually have like three questions. But one really key thing that you should think about first before asking these questions, even, is that your first call, if you’re being abused, is 911.

It’s not to take it to the church, if your life is in danger, if you’re being physically harmed, or if you think the other forms of abuse you’re enduring, have the possibility that they might escalate to physical harm. 911 is your first call. And only you are the best judge of whether or not that’s the best call to make, if that’s the safest thing to do. But again, if you are in danger in any way, shape, or form physically, emotionally, spiritually, sexually 911 Is your call.

But if you are thinking of telling someone in the church, particularly leadership, I would ask, “Does your church have a system for reporting abuse?” So now if you’re reporting the abuse of a pastor, you’re gonna go to the presbytery, and then you want to ask, “Did you have presbytery have a system for reporting abuse.” If it is your pastor who’s abusive, you might want to also go to the church. But in our NAPRC churches, North American Presbyterian Reformed Churches, presbyteries have the oversight of a pastor. And we talk a lot about reporting in the DASA report. And putting a team in place and what that team looks like and what it’s made up of, and how they’re going to respond to allegations of abuse. And so pointing a church towards the DASA report for information for even how to respond to abuse.

That is a very important component in whether or not you know, making your decision about whether or not you’re going to go to the church and report what’s happening. I’d want to know, “Are women involved in your church reporting system?” Because you are going to need a woman involved. That was my second question. And then my I’m sorry, that my second Yes. And then I’d ask, “What is your church’s track record for handling cases of abuse? Do you know anyone else in your congregation or somebody that maybe left your congregation that you could talk to and ask what their experience was like?” Because all too often we find victims and survivors simply re traumatized in the reporting process. And every single one of them actually have come back and said that that was worse than the actual abuse.

And so we want to, we want you to know, know, know, know, what you’re getting into prior to reporting. And that’s… this is not just for PCA churches, or even NAPRC churches, it’s anywhere that you’re reporting abuse, whether it’s a Christian institution or the church.

And I know my numbers are off here, I’m not paying attention. But anyway, lastly, one of the new questions now that I think you’re going to want to ask, and this might even be need to be asked sooner than later. Since it’s up to the individual churches now and presbyteries, I’d want to ask, “Do my pastors and elders get background checks?”

Again, that’s not a catch all for abuse and danger. But at a minimum, you’re gonna want to know that somebody’s looking into the credibility of your pastors and elders. And so is there anything else to add to that Lynna or anything else on a different topic? 

Lynna  Yeah, this is obviously strongly your area of expertise and not mine.

So I think you did a beautiful job covering that. I think, you know, kind of a parallel question to those things that you’re sharing is just, “What is your purpose in disclosing the abuse?” Because I think there are some, there are many good reasons why you might disclose abuse all the way from, “I need to be physically safe” to, you know, “my church needs to be held accountable for the way that it’s handling this process.” Some of those are more important than others, and some of them are more achievable than others. So I think that’s, it goes right along with what you said, Ann Maree about, like, what is your church’s track record? In this, you know, we know from statistics, that one in four women has experienced some type of abuse. So if you hear that question, what is your church’s track record and your responses, I don’t think my church has ever had a situation of abuse. That means your church has a poor track record, because it means that anyone who’s tried to get help, has been re traumatized and has left the church. 

Ann Maree   That’s a very good point. Thank you.

All right, folks. That’s all for today and all for this series. And we’re thankful that you joined us we hope this was helpful. And again, if it was, please reach out to Lynna and make a donation. Okay.



Safe to Hope is a production of HelpHer. Our Executive Producer is Ann Maree Goudzwaard. Safe to Hope is written and mixed by Ann Maree and edited by Ann Maree and Helen Weigt. Music is Waterfall and is licensed by Pixabay. We hope you enjoyed this episode in the Safe To Hope podcast series. 

Safe To Hope is one of the resources offered through the ministry of Help[H]er, a 501C3 that provides training and resources for those ministering in one-another care, and advocacy for women in crisis in Christian institutions. Your donations make it possible for Help[H]er to serve as they navigate crises. All donations are tax-deductible. If you’d be interested in partnering financially with the ministry, go to help her dot help and click the ‘Give’ link in the menu. If you’d like more information or would like to speak to someone about ministry goals, or advocacy needs, go to help her dot help. That’s helpher.help.


We value and respect conversations with all our guests. Opinions, viewpoints, and convictions may differ so we encourage our listeners to practice discernment. As well. guests do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Help[H]er. It is our hope that this podcast is a platform for hearing and learning rather than causing division or strife.

Please note, abuse situations have common patterns of behavior, responses, and environments. Any familiarity construed by the listener is of their own opinion and interpretation. Our podcast does not accuse individuals or organizations.

The podcast is for informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional care, diagnosis, or treatment.


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