The abuse case in De Deur in Zwolle does not stand alone. Anyone who hears and reads the dozens of experience stories cannot ignore it: the closed culture in the overarching Christian Fellowship Ministries (CFM) encourages abuse and silences women who dare to speak up.
At the end of June this year, the Texan Mandy started the private Facebook account #BraveToo, for women who had to deal with violating behavior within the Christian Fellowship Ministries. She herself was touched and suffered grooming (whereby the perpetrator gains the trust of someone with the aim of sexually abusing that person).
This article was translated and published with permission of the author, read the original article here.
Behind closed doors
After an announcement on Leaving the Potter’s House Facebook account, the first stories trickled in on #BraveToo. Such as that of Jennifer (not her real name), with whom the Reformatorisch Dagblad has personal, written contact.
Growing up in a broken family, the Canadian is “extremely vulnerable” when she ends up damaged in a Potter’s House congregation. She has previously been drugged and raped. In the church she meets a boy with whom she secretly becomes friends – against the church rules. She adores him. However, the relationship ends in rape.
Jennifer muster all her courage, approach the pastor and tell him what happened. The pastor replies that she is lying and that she is demon possessed. According to him, she is even so far gone that pastoral help is no longer useful.
The girl should not have seduced the boy, he says. It would even cause the Church to suffer financially and to have little growth. The pastor takes the boy’s side and tells him that he is lucky that the matter has been handled in the church, and not before the secular judge, “because women are in the majority there.”
The accusation of demonic possession is often and frequently found in the worldwide church community, especially where women dare to speak up about what happened to them. They are also told to remain silent and accept the abuse in order to find healing and recovery.
“Potter’s House does nothing but cover up issues that could cause problems in the Church,” writes community-based sexually abused Lisa from Australia. “There are men who just get on with their lives, thinking they didn’t do anything wrong because they got away with what they did. While the victim is suffering and trying to convince herself that it is all her fault.”
Amy from the US also fell prey to abuse. As a young girl, she is sexually assaulted for three years by a man in an executive position at Potter’s House. “I was terrified to talk about it and when I tried they would always laugh and joke about it. They, the assistant pastors etc. ”
When Amy’s parents leave the church, they confront Pastor Jeff Rens, son-in-law of the recently deceased Church leader Wayman Mitchell, about what happened, after which he vehemently accuses Amy of destroying the congregation. Later she hears from friends that Rens has called her (literally) “the whore” from the pulpit. According to Amy, the perpetrator continued to abuse girls, but those victims keep their mouths shut.
As early as the 1980s, television programs were broadcast in Arizona, USA, in which people report that they have been brainwashed and abused in Potter’s House and The Door. A number of these programs (such as the five-part series “Behind the Door” from 1988) can be seen on the YouTube channel “Mitchellism.”
Debbie Christensen tells in the second episode how she fell victim to a rape by a senior church member in The Door in El Paso, Texas. When she tells her pastor about it, he puts the blame on her and forces her to keep quiet.
“It was my fault. If I told anyone about it, I would be kicked out of church. So I kept my mouth shut. They said you go to hell if you leave the church.”
In the same episode, Pastor Wayman Mitchell labels Christensen’s allegations as lies. “If her story is correct, she should press charges. The fact that she doesn’t do this leads many of us to believe her story isn’t true. ” The case of Debbie Christensen, who later changed her name to Deborah Malone, never comes to court. She committed suicide in 2002. Decades have passed, but the way the Church smothers stories like Debbie’s doesn’t seem to have changed in all those years. Many pastors – not counting the good ones – shove problems under the rug because they are afraid of losing their ministry. A calm flock assures the shepherd of his position and the congregation of income.
What promotes sexual abuse is the fact that members – men, but especially women – share with the pastor their choices, wishes, problems and sins, even if they play a role in marriage. The American Hannah received marriage counseling from her pastor together with her ex-husband. The pastor asked her to tell in detail what she did when she was intimate with her husband. “They also demanded that I have sex with him (her ex-husband, EHvS), otherwise her husband would inform the pastor.”
Meanwhile, her husband was watching pornography, which was not mentioned in the conversations with the pastor.
It is not unusual in De Deur that pastors ask for explicit details. This also happens in the Netherlands. Women widely share intimate affairs with their pastors. Menstrual problems, a secret kiss in the bicycle shed at school, unwanted childlessness, everything is on the table. It strengthens the leader’s position of power. His arm reaches into the bedroom.
A Dutch ex-member who attended church in a congregation in the south of the country often saw ladies sitting with the pastor after the church service to discuss things.
“Why didn’t they sit there with their husbands? Of course, if your husband hits you or if he drinks a lot, you should be able to share it privately, but that kind of thing was not always the case. No, they talked about their erotic dreams, for example. “A sin,” said the pastor, “and what do you dream about?” “It just went very far.”
Another form of abuse stems from arranged marriages. It happens worldwide that church leaders connect young people in their twenties, not brutally forced, but subtly. “This is the will of God for you.”
The aim of this is to guarantee the closedness of the community. Marriage partners from outside the Church are a threat to the community.
Alyssa’s wedding has also been arranged. She faces serious domestic violence, even during pregnancy and after the birth of her children. Several times she ends up in hospital with blue eyes and bruises. In addition, her husband sexually abuses her. For a long time she blamed Satan for the violence (“After all, it is demons who try to destroy the holy marriage”) and she tries to do what the CFM tells her: obey her husband, tithe and go to the church seven days a week. go to church. Then everything will be fine.
“When you are in Potter’s House, you believe that absolute truth is there,” she writes. “That you are in God’s hands, that He has placed you there and that you must therefore bloom where you are planted. It’s hard to break free. I lost my support network. ”
The Church is sacrificing the mental health, psychological well-being, and even the physical integrity of vulnerable Church members on the altar of power.
“I did not believe in pastor sexual abuse of women during all the years I was a member,” writes Alejandro Flores of Amarillo, Texas, on Facebook. “But now that I’m gone, I see it. Man, what was I wrong. The Christian Fellowship Ministries are run by power-hungry men willing to abuse for power. ”
The editors tried to bring the various stories about abuse in the Christian Fellowship Ministries and in particular the Zwolle abuse case to the attention of Greg Mitchell, pastor of the mother congregation in Prescott (Arizona) and son of the recently deceased church leader Wayman Mitchell.
However, the administrator of The Potter’s House in Prescott, who answered the phone, indicated that Greg Mitchell does not want to comment on the current situation or make time for an interview.
Two emails went unanswered.
All the women featured in this article are active on the Escaping The Potter’s House Facebook account or the #BraveToo private account. Escaping The Potter’s House now has more than a thousand members. New posts are added every week. #BraveToo was born this summer. On this women speak out about abuse in the Christian Fellowship Ministries. There was personal, written contact with some of them. Mandy only wants to appear in the newspaper with her first name, the other women use aliases. The real names are known to the editors.
One interviewee in this story is Dutch. For years he was involved in a De Deur congregation in the south of the country.