Former Sr. Pastor of Victory Church in Henrietta, NY pleads guilty to sexually abusing children

I’m sure by now many of you who live in the area have seen the local news: The founder and former Sr. Pastor of Victory Church in Henrietta NY, Joe Burress Sr., has plead guilty to sexually abusing children. He has been released from police custody on his own recognizance and will face sentencing on September 2nd in Pittsford Town Court.

With that being said, I want to address the still silent survivors of childhood sexual abuse:

I BELIEVE YOU!
I stand with you.
I’m here for you.
Please know you are NOT alone!

Many who still live in NY may not realize that their legal rights were dramatically expanded…

Jennifer Freeman (attorney advocate for victims of childhood sexual abuse) said it best when she penned the following for the Miami Herold:

“In 2019, New York State enacted landmark legislation that makes it possible to seek justice for decades-old child sex-abuse crimes — the Child Victims Act (CVA). For a short time, this new law suspends the statute of limitations for child sex-abuse claims and provides a unique opportunity for survivors of such abuse, which happened in New York, to seek accountability and finality.

But the time to take action is almost up. The CVA provides a one-time, two-year window for survivors to sue for abuse regardless of when the abuse occurred. Survivors have until early August 2021 to seek justice against institutions such as the Catholic Church, New York medical institutions, public and private schools, foster-care providers, athletic organizations, religious groups, summer camps and any other entity, as well as individuals who perpetrated or enabled these heinous crimes.

This law doesn’t just apply to current New York residents, it extends to anyone who was ever abused in New York, no matter how long ago and regardless of where they live now. If you grew up in New York State and suffered abuse at the hands of a clergy member, youth director, doctor, teacher, coach, family member or anyone else, this law applies to you. Over the past year, following New York’s lead, several states have reformed their statutes of limitation.

The wrongdoers, insurance companies, and others have used every tool at their disposal to stop these lawsuits from moving ahead. They’ve tried to discredit and intimidate survivors and the public. They’ve fought statutory reform for years. They’ve covered up evidence — and even declared bankruptcy. Thanks to the CVA, these tactics can no longer hide the truth. This is the opportunity to finally hold these powerful organizations and individuals — who were often aware of the abuse ,but looked the other way — liable and to provide restitution and reparations.

It’s not easy to bring a lawsuit, especially when it involves unearthing something so private and painful, long pushed into dark corners. Many survivors are reluctant to pursue their claims and have long made peace with leaving the past in the past.

I get that. Litigating won’t erase the pain and suffering, allow survivors to confront deceased perpetrators or restore lost time. Yet the CVA opens up a soon-to-disappear path forward to hold abusers or institutions accountable and to shift the responsibility for, and cost of, the abuse from the thin shoulders of a young child onto the backs of abusers and their enablers.

Many survivors have felt empowered now that they can do something about the horrors of their childhood. They’ve inspired others to seek justice. Survivors who don’t want to be identified can file claims anonymously, under a pseudonym.

Survivors have the chance to stand up, take action and change the way child sex abuse is viewed, understood and addressed. Survivors have the chance to identify hidden predators. Survivors have the chance to make sure that children never face these unspeakable dangers again.

Even if the ultimate choice is to do nothing, survivors have a right and a choice to decide whether and how to remedy this injustice. But they must heed the call before it’s too late.”

Marsh Law Firm PLLC
31 Hudson Yards, 11th Floor
New York, New York 10001
(332) 228-2346

Hey Church: It’s time to get off your Balaam’s Ass and do something!

Edit: Apologies to Rachael Denhollander for the miss-spelling of her name in this image quote!

I saw the following tweet first thing this morning and it brought me to tears (read: I was ugly crying ya’ll):

I am so grateful for everything this man and the organization he founded is doing to help those who have experienced sexual abuse within the christian organization!

And, if I’m going to be completely transparent, I am also emotionally exhausted, and becoming increasingly hard-hearted despite the few really good, fruit producing seeds.

For the past nine months, I have been on my knees, open-handed, and begging God to help me undo the brainwashing and navigate the feelings associated with reliving trauma, related to the 30+ years of abuse that I survived at Victory Church, in Henrietta, NY. Thanks to additional victims coming forward, and the media coverage in 2014 and again in 2017 that surrounded these new abuse allegations, the unhealed parts of me continue to bubble up and resurface.

I just can’t anymore. The silence of the pain is deafening.

After meeting with five of these amazing girls last month, and hearing their heartbreaking and all too familiar stories,  it eventually broke me. I jumped in my Jeep and drove Wednesday night. I drove and drove until I finally “came to” and found myself two states away (typical Jonah move, I realize this now in my newfound clarity).

I always do this. I always run when this specific emotional trigger gets lit with the metaphorical fire poker. Ugh!!!

(God forgive me and my itty bitty faith. Thank you for remaining faithful even when I am faithless (2 Timothy 2:13))!

So, I slept in my Jeep with my hundred and forty pound Great Dane, Athena, on a twenty eight degree night, and then drove another twelve (absent minded, tear filled) hours back home on Friday. I can barely remember the journey or what transpired in between. When I eventually returned home, I cried and started fights with my family and cried some more. I finally swallowed my pride, broke down, popped an Ativan (for such the times as these), and eventually passed out until this morning.

How long, O God?

I know You are holy, and good, and just (Psalm 99:8-9, Psalm 136:1, Deuteronomy 32:4).

Your word tells me that You are close to the broken hearted (Psalm 34:18). And, that You collect all my tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8).

You see. You know (Hebrews 4:13).

You promise to never leave nor forsake me (Hebrews 13:5).

You loved me so much You sent Your only begotten son to die in my place (John 3:16, Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Acts 3:19, Romans 10:13).

You give the elect Your gift of unconditional love and eternal grace (Romans 8:28-29).

Lord, I believe these things (help my unbelief (Mark 9:24))!

The church body, and even unbelievers, are slowly becoming sick of hearing all these stories of abuse. Have we become desensitized already? Because of…

story

after story

after story

after story

after story

…of finger pointing, twisting scripture, coverering over, and mishandling situations surrounding allegations of abuse. Don’t let your hearts grow cold. Let them burn with righteous anger. Let that righteous anger be your fuel to act!

Abuse survivors, including myself, are watching and waiting for the church to stand up and do what is right. To do what Jesus would do. Stand up to your institution if abuse has taken place and leadership has failed to properly act!

Do not return to the building.

Do not tithe.

Quit your volunteer position.

Quit your paid staff position.

God is bigger than all of this!! Those still voluntarily involved with Victory Church: Why are you more worried about attending your big programs, maintaining your position, or job? Aren’t you more valuable to God than a sparrow? Doesn’t he provide for even the least of these? The message you send when you stay in an abusive institution parading around as a church is that this abuse taking place and being explained away or covered up is ok!! IT’S NOT OK!!!!!!

Make a stand! Stand boldly (Hebrews 13:6)!!!

Encourage others, in truth and love, to do the same!

Abuse survivors need to know we are not alone. We need to know that these abusive tactics being used to shame and silence us is not how a true church body should behave. In the bible, those who loved like Jesus would immediately stop what they were doing to minister and counsel and tend to the wounds of the hurting and broken. The world needs to see you make a stand and set this example. The world needs to see the false gospels and preachers being pointed out and pushed back. The Gospel mesaage is being added to in order to protect church leaders, the institution, and tithe income. This needs to stop! There are souls at stake here!!!😩

As Rachael Denhollander , former gymnast who confronted her Sexual Abuser, Larry Nasser, in court once asked, “How much is a child worth?

So I will ask you, Victory Church: How much is your daughter or son worth?

We need to be more worried about protecting the most vulnerable in our church body than we are about saving a church reputation. Our sovereign God does not need His holy church or infallible word defended!

Choose you this day whom you will serve (and whom you will defend).

Lord, give us the strength to do what is right and the discernment to know what that is. IJN, amen🙏🏽

 



*NOTE: If church leadership does not immediately report abuse to the police (NOT just any police guy or lawyer contact they’re friends with or who happen to go to the same church), they are not properly acting or responding to abuse allegations. If this is the case, it is imperative a third party be brought in to do a proper investigation of said allegations. You need to demand this type of investigation take place!

One such organization I would HIGHLY recommend is G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment). GRACE was founded by former child abuse prosecutor, Basyle “Boz” Tchividjian. Boz currently works as a law professor, and is an acting member of the board of directors for GRACE. He also happens to be the grandson to Billy Graham.

As per the GRACE website…

The mission of GRACE is to empower the Christian community through education and training to recognize, prevent, and respond to child abuse.

Understanding Protection

Protecting individuals and educating churches and other faith based organizations how to protect the vulnerable.

Understanding Survivors

Helping churches love and serve survivors of abuse who are in their midst.

Understanding Offenders

GRACE’s team includes former prosecutors and top Christian psychologists with a background in dealing with child predators.

Understanding the Church

GRACE has a strong theological background and practical experience in organizational leadership.

With over 60 million child abuse survivors nationwide, we are a country riddled with abuse and the effects of it. Too often, those within the Church have been uninformed about the complexities of child abuse. This has compounded its damaging effects on individuals, families, and faith communities with inappropriate and even negligent responses to signs and disclosures of abuse. Our collective failure as Christians to properly care for the most innocent and vulnerable among us has often been staggering.

As followers of Jesus Christ, the GRACE team seeks to be faithful and obedient to his teaching and the teachings of the whole of Scripture, which we believe put great value in the compassionate care and advocacy for children.

He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

-Mark 9:36-37 (NIV)

We believe that our care of children—our “welcoming” of them among us—is a direct reflection of our love for and obedience to God. Whatever we do for children, is done for him.

We hope to equip others with a vision for authentic responsibility, accountability, and compassion in the care for children and adult survivors of abuse. Though the history of the Church can make this approach seem radical, we believe it is nothing more and nothing less than the fulfillment of Jesus’ teaching.

We believe with proper education and training every church and ministry organization can navigate its responsibility to appropriately care for those who have been impacted by abuse.

GRACE exists to equip and assist faith communities to mirror God’s justice, mercy, and compassion for children and survivors of all ages

  • GRACE assists Christian organizations with educational programs and effective child abuse prevention policies.
  • GRACE assists organizations to deal with with abuse cases and develop appropriate response protocols
  • At a church or organization’s request, GRACE’s team of experts and former prosecutors conduct a thorough and objective investigation of abuse allegations.
  • A wealth of resources can educate and assist churches in being prepared to avoid problems, and to address the offense of child abuse if it occurs.

 
CONNECT WITH GRACE:

WEBSITEhttp://www.netgrace.org
EMAIL[email protected]race.org
TWITTERhttps://twitter.com/netgrace_org
FACEBOOKhttps://www.facebook.com/Godly-Response-to-Abuse-in-the-Christian-Environment-GRACE-102403896480483/
INSTAGRAMhttps://www.instagram.com/netgrace_org/
  



RESOURCES FOR VICTIMS OF ABUSE:

MARY DEMUTH: http://www.marydemuth.com/sexual-abuse-resources/ 

NSAH: The National Sexual Assault Hotline has free, confidential, secure support available. Call 1-800-656-HOPE to speak to someone.

RAINN: https://www.rainn.org/national-resources-sexual-assault-survivors-and-their-loved-ones

How long, O God?

original picture credit unknown

How long, O God?

Have you ever found yourself lamenting in prayer this phrase?

Nearly two decades ago I assumed the online name / alter ego Jael. The Old Testament story of her courage in exposing an evil man spoke to me at a deep, spiritual level. I wanted to be Jael. I wanted to have her strength and bravery. I wanted her story to be my story (Judges 4:1-23, 5:1-31).

But it wasn’t.

I wasn’t brave; I was weak.

Scared.

Silenced.

I struggled back then to understand my worth. It was never said aloud to me, but hidden actions screamed that I was less than, insignificant, an object to be used and abused. I longed to be accepted and protected. I confused being desired with being loved.

All these years later and I am still trying to heal from those wounds. They claw at my mind in the dark as I struggle to retreat into sleep. I wake in the middle of the night, covered in sweat, heart racing, eyes leaking memories of things I’d much rather forget.

How long, O God?

Turning on the TV or browsing social media has been super triggering lately. Story after story of (men and) women coming forward with claims of sexual harassment, rape and abuse. Cries of “me too!” and “church too!” echo off the lips of the sons and daughters of the Holy One. I want so badly to turn it off. Figuratively and quite literally. But, I can’t. And, isn’t this what I prayed for? Didn’t I beg God to bring these atrocities to light? Isn’t this a clear answer to a very recent prayer?

Why then does it seem like He’s so distant. Is there unconfessed sin in my heart, Lord? Bring it to mind if there is so I can confess it! This distance and silence is breaking me. I am crumbling under the weight of a load I was never meant to carry.

Did I do the wrong thing? Was it not your will for me to finally speak out? Did I go about it the wrong way? Have I burdened the leadership of your church and caused them to distance themselves and shun me? Is this guilt and shame I am feeling simply an attack from the enemy?

How long, O God?

I retreat to the quiet places and look for you. I pick up the bible and read, but my heart is only temporarily softened. It’s as if my entire being has turned into a hardened sponge and only drops of water are being absorbed at a time. I spend hours reading, praying, seeking, begging God for relief.

Is that the problem? Is it that I idolize relief and comfort over truly knowing You, Lord? Have I fallen into that trap again? If so, I beg You God, break me of that habit and give me eyes to see You in a way I haven’t before. Humble me, Lord. Break down my pride and subdue me. Do whatever it takes! I still struggle to trust You over my feelings, Lord. Give me the power to persevere, believe, and obey. Help me to make this life more all about You and less not about me!

How long, O God?
Show me Your goodness!

And, thank you for this opportunity for my faith to grow. 


Ode to Jael by Katie Botkin

He thinks that you, a woman
will give him all that he desires:
warm welcome, the work of your body,
a pillow to repose upon and sleep.
So when he speaks, he uses his own language;
the glint of his armor and the dried blood on his sword
will do the translating for him.
He is a commander.
You are a woman as women ought to be,
and your deferential bows will bring your forehead to the floor.

And his, as well:
His head will never leave it
when you show him what a woman can do in the strength of her own power,
and drive the tent stake through his temple
as he sleeps in your perfumed bed. 


Psalm 34:18

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
    and saves the crushed in spirit.

Psalm 51:1-17

Have mercy on me,[a] O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin!

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
    and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right[b] spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
    and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Romans 5:3-5

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Living Life Fulfilled (Book Review & Giveaway)

“One by one, we come to God–young and old, wealthy and homeless. Not one of us is alike, yet we’re the same. We’re all learning to live the life God promised, and longing to be fulfilled.” -Danise Jurado, Fulfilled

We live in a my way, right away kind of world. All you need to do in order to see what I mean is flip on the television. It won’t take long before you are completely inundated with marketing ploys designed to birth thoughts of discontent:

My phone doesn’t have a screen that big, or a network that fast.

If only my spouse behaved more like that.

I wish I had a body like hers!

If only ______ were different in my life, I would be happy. Fulfilled.

But, there’s a problem with this train of thought…

Continue reading Living Life Fulfilled (Book Review & Giveaway)