Please, Leadership Journal: Take down that post.

I cannot express to your my horror and outrage at the article up on Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal. I was in a youth group like the one described, where a close friend was the victim. The reverberations of that abuse, and the abusive culture of our youth group, are still with me. And I didn’t get raped.

Leadership Journal tried to “clarify” the piece by adding first one, then two notes. The first noted that the writer “took full responsibility” for a “relationship” that hadn’t actually been consensual. However, his piece was written with that point of view, and HE was given the mic, not his victim.  The second said that the editors ran the piece to serve as a cautionary tale for pastors so they could avoid lawsuits.

Yes, we’re worried about sexual abuse because churches might get sued. Not, say, because there are actual victims.

I’ve written two letters to LJ, one earlier today, after the first note was added, and then just now, after they added the clarification. I’d urge anyone who has been in a youth group, who is a victim of spiritual or sexual abuse to take the time to contact Leadership Journal and ask them to take down the post. Contact them at

There are also wonderful responses by other writers I’ll link to before my letters–I think these women (and men) unpack layers to this story that have really been helpful as I’ve tried to move past simple outrage to critique.

because purity culture harbors rape & abuse and What Kind of Leadership Blocks Dissent & Privileges Predators, Christianity Today? (Suzannah Paul)
On How the Church Discusses Abuse: Denying the Endorsement and A further update on #takedownthatpost: passive voice and non-apologies.  (Dianna Anderson)
Because It’s Time to Take Down That Post (Tamara Rice)
Why Did a Journal for Christian Pastors Give a Platform to a Sexual Predator? (Hannah Ettinger & Becca Rose)
It’s not an “extramarital relationship.” It’s rape. (Elizabeth Esther
Leadership Journal, Christianity Today, and #TakeDownThatPost (Samantha Field)


My first letter:

Dear Leadership Journal editors,

A dear friend of mine and I are putting together a forum for other members of our youth group to discuss the spiritual abuse that we all experienced at the hands of our youth pastor. Spiritual abuse, and in her case, sexual abuse: rape. Over the course of two and a half years, our pastor used his position, charm, and talent for manipulation to coax her into an abusive sexual relationship. The effects of this man’s abuse are still acute for her, twenty years later. And the effects on all of us who were in the group–those of us he was also manipulating, grooming for abuse, and molding into a cult of personality–are still ongoing. For me, despite a deep love for Jesus, I can hardly stand to be in a church service most Sundays.
So imagine our surprise and dismay when we came across an article that could have been written by our youth pastor. An article that framed the rape as a consensual, adulterous relationship. An article that skillfully manipulates the reader (like he manipulated all the children under his care) to sympathize with him, and buy into his version of reality.
Please, take down this post. The postscript does not undo the damage caused by giving this man–once again–a position of authority to twist reality. By leaving up this post, you are perpetuating the abuse of his victim, all the kids in the youth group he pastored, and all of us who have experienced this kind of horror firsthand.
This is not a “mistake” or an “affair”. This is rape (for the definition of rape, go here, to the FBI’s website.) 

I recently wrote an article for about why the church needs to speak up about sexual abuse. Your article doesn’t accomplish this goal. Your article gives voice to a perpetrator, not a victim. It is making things worse. There are many articulate sexual abuse victims out there that could actually move this discussion forward. You could speak to Boz Tchividjian about how to protect children from the charm and manipulation of predators.
Please, do not re-victimize abuse victims. Please, do not give a mouthpiece to predators. Please, do not pretend that this man’s story can be categorized–in any way–as Christian leadership. Please, take down this post.
Thank you,
Heather Caliri

The second letter:

Dear Editors,

I noticed that you added another addendum to the article to clarify your intent in publishing the piece “From Youth Minister to Felon.”
Can I be frank? The addendum only makes things worse.
  • Are you really focusing on sexual abuse to avoid liability for churches? Really? You’re not worried at all about the young women and men terrorized by this kind of predator?
  • Is there no attempt to question whether the person you gave a platform to is the one most qualified to speak to this issue?
  • Have you thought about how the many–many!–victims of sexual abuse of churches will feel to know that you have given a mic to someone who might as well be their abuser?
Over and over in his post, the former youth pastor glides over the humanity of his victim. He glides over the horror he created for her, his wife, his kids and the rest of the youth group members. He manipulates people to have sympathy for him.
I don’t really care what his intentions are. Perhaps he believes they are noble. The problem is that he has engaged in this kind of self-justification before: as part of his crime. To you to allow him to tell his story at the expense of his–and other–victims is for Christianity Today and Leadership Journal to participate in his sin. He is in God’s hands, and I pray he is able to repent completely and continue being transformed. That does not mean he should be given a platform to talk about his journey. Now is the time for him, LJ, and CT to begin a silent, humble journey of listening.
Take down the post, please. And issue an apology to the victims that you are helping to re-traumatize. The church must approach this kind of topic with fear and trembling and by listening to the stories, counsel, and leadership of victims, not predators.
Heather Caliri
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  • Heather Celoria

    Thanks for writing this article, Heather.

    I have just shared my thoughts as well on this controversy. I am so relieved that they issued a genuine apology.

    • Heather

      Oh, gosh, me too. I really thought they were digging in their heels permanently. I’m so grateful and (tentatively) encouraged. I pray that the lousy controversy opens up doors to good conversations and systemic change. I pray it leads to gatekeepers and people of influence really _listening_ to victims and the marginalized. We so clearly have a long way to go.
      I really appreciated your analysis and recounting of the controversy. This line stuck with me: “there is still a gender issue at the root of rape culture.” Yes, and I think I hadn’t framed it so clearly in my mind. This subtle shaming of girls–assuming that they are complicit in their abuse–is so pervasive that it’s hard to recognize it as abnormal. May we all be cleansed from this lie.

  • Pingback: Church, steeple, rapist, ghost. #wordmadeart()

  • nessa3

    I stumbled on your sight on utube…looking for topic of spiritual abuse. I left an abusive church a few years ago…Im in counciling, but cant read my bible, or listen to anything around that time period that sounds like them or what I listened to then . I know God isnt the bad person in all of this, but I am distant from anything spiritual …synical and jaded….I want back what I lost….but cant muster any trust.

    • Heather Caliri

      Oh, Nessa, this makes my heart ache. I can really identify with what you’re saying here. It’s hard to find trust for people in charge when authority figures have broken your trust. I pray you can rest, right where you are, and know that THAT itself, is a spiritual discipline. Jesus is there when we hold out empty hands. Honestly, I think it’s the time he shows up most. All blessings to you.