Andrea McHenry the Director of FREE writes about the situation at Community Evangelical Free Church. Andrea writes this post not only as a director of an organization combating human trafficking, but also as a concerned resident. This is a local perspective on Steve Estes practicing church discipline on an alleged sexual assault victim.
“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetuate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
Martin Luther King
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.
John 1:5 NLT
We are fast approaching the second anniversary of Steve Estes practicing church discipline on an alleged sexual assault victim. Steve’s son Brock Estes allegedly sexually assaulted his wife while intoxicated and pointed a loaded gun on her. Hurit knows she could be dead. If you want to read the entire story you can do so in the following two posts. “Steve Estes and Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania: A Painful Story of Domestic Abuse, Inappropriate Church Discipline, and Failed EFCA Polity” and “Hurit’s Public Excommunication While Alleged Criminal Activity by Brock Estes is Withheld from the Congregation: Appeals for Help Fall on Deaf Ears to Steve Musser of the Eastern District and National Evangelical Free Church of America.” I have to tell you when I first heard this story in December of 2015 I was stunned. I was also sick to my stomach that such an act would happen in the 21st Century of the United States and that many people would allow this brazen act of injustice to stand. The truth of the matter is that it cannot stand. This situation is not going away and is indeed growing with time. Likewise this situation has major ramifications for the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA). If the EFCA allows Steve Estes to practice church discipline on an alleged sexual assault victim, then what took place in a small town in Pennsylvania will reverberate across this evangelical network of churches. It will have implications for Steve Highfill’s EFCA West – the largest district in the EFCA. It will also impact Glen Schrieber of EFCA SE which is in the southeastern United States. If the EFCA cannot solve this problem then it will reveal that this denomination has systemic and systematic flaws, and no accountability.
Another major concern that needs to be challenged is that many evangelical Christians practice the sin of omission. What do I mean? Often times something will happen in their community and many Christians or other churches refuse to look into, or have those difficult conversations with those individuals or organizations that are creating a problem. As a result they often let the situation stand and drag out. Steve Estes’s behavior has not only harmed his church but its harming the community. It is also affecting people in the community who are not even members of Community Evangelical Free Church. I would propose that its not only a sin, but ethically wrong for many Christians in the area to overlook or refuse to get involved in this situation in their back yard. Being silent in this situation only enables the problem and encourages the behavior.
Within the towns of Elverson and Morgantown, Pennsylvania Steve Estes behavior has affected many people far beyond the walls of Community Evangelical Free Church. This has affected neighbors, businesses, acquaintances, and more. This situation is splitting apart the community. Today’s post comes from Andrea McHenry who leads Freedom, and Restoration for Everyone Enslaved (FREE) in Morgantown. FREE deals with sexual exploitation, abuse and human trafficking. Andrea is both the Director of FREE and the wife of a pastor in the area. Andrea has seen this situation affect people she knows. She writes this post not just as the director of FREE but also as a local resident of the community watching this tragedy continue to play out. I would like to thank Andrea for her courage in writing this post. The next time I come up there you are getting a hug! As always I love you guys!
I am the Director of a non-profit organization that fights human trafficking, which is modern-day slavery. We raise awareness about human trafficking, advocate for the enslaved and shine Light in the darkness. We long to see human trafficking, particularly sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, eradicated not only from our community, but from our world. The Lord put human trafficking on my heart many years ago, and while it can feel like a heavy burden to carry many times, it is what I know He has called me to do. God has wired me to be a social justice enthusiast. He has created me to be a unique mix of mercy and justice. He has given me a heart for the oppressed, the least of these, and the one’s society has looked down on and tossed aside. These are the people I feel most comfortable with; the one’s that know they are broken and humbly come before God crying out for healing and restoration. The honest one’s. They have an understanding we all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. (Romans 3:23) These are the people I love. These are the people I speak up for. The voiceless. I use my voice for them. They are the people I am called to love and serve. Because of past abuse in my own life and because the majority of sex trafficking victims are women and girls, I am also an advocate to women. I always have been and I always will be.
That’s why when I heard about what happened at a local church in Elverson I was completely in shock. Surely what I was hearing could not be true. Could it be? Would something like this really be allowed, let alone allowed in the Body of Christ? I must admit, when I first heard about it, while I was shocked and concerned, I tried to put it aside. It was almost too much for me to bear, and I did not know what to do with the information I was hearing. But then more and more details from this injustice started to be brought into the Light. That initial shock quickly turned to anger. Not only was I angry, but I had a deep grief in my heart for Hurit. I do not know Hurit personally, but she is my sister in Christ which means she is my family. My first thoughts were how is she? How is she making sense out of such a blatant offense against her? As a recipient of alleged physical abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse, what must it feel like to not be believed by the rest of her “family” in Christ? What must it feel like to be disregarded, ignored, silenced and literally thrown out? What must that feel like coming from the Church, the Bride of Christ? (Ephesians 5:25-27) I would read the blogs that were being written shedding light on this alleged atrocity that happened to Hurit, and there were parts I had to skim over, because it was literally too much for me. There were many times I found myself pacing the floors of my house, not knowing how I would channel this anger I felt from what happened.
Lord, help me to channel this anger I feel from what has happened to my sister.
See, I am not a member of this church. Never have been. So I cannot speak from the position of being a member of this church. But I can speak as someone on the outside looking in. I can speak as a follower of Christ. I can speak, again, as an advocate to women. I can speak, again, as someone that daily fights sexual exploitation of our women and girls. I can speak as someone who has once been in a physically abusive relationship. Domestic Abuse, Emotional Abuse and Sexual Violence 101, believe her when she says she is being abused and violated. Period. Believe her! Men, believe her. Ladies, believe her. Brothers, believe her. Sisters, believe her. Church, believe her.
According to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, domestic violence can happen to anyone, but “Women are the overwhelmingly majority of adult victims. Domestic violence is a major cause of injury to women.” The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence goes on to say, “Substance abuse, genetics, stress, illness or problems in the relationship, do not cause domestic violence, but are often used as excuses and can lead to increasingly violent behavior. Without intervention, the violence can become more destructive and sometimes deadly over time. PCADV collects media reports about domestic violence-related fatalities that occur in the Commonwealth. In 2011, there were 166 fatalities in 124 incidents: 118 victims killed and 48 killers.” The PCADV says that behaviors that can make up domestic violence are “physical violence, verbal abuse, sexual, emotional and psychological pressure, stalking and financial control.” The PCADV says these can be a part of domestic violence in a relationship, “Breaking objects, insults and name-calling, yelling, recklessly endangering or scaring the victim and forced sex.”
According to the Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence, “Guns increase the probability of death in incidents of domestic violence. Firearms were used to kill more than two-thirds of spouse and ex-spouse homicide victims between 1990 and 2005. Domestic violence assaults involving a firearm are 12 times more likely to result in death than those involving other weapons or bodily force. Abused women are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser if the abuser owns a firearm.”
What can we learn from reading these sobering statistics? What is the moral of this story?
Do not ask her to stay. Do not expect her to stay. YOU support her and ensure her safety. YOU!
Human trafficking. Who would dispute that it is evil? No one. Most people will not dispute the fact human trafficking is an insidious crime against humanity. Most people will admit there are victims involved in human trafficking. What is a victim by the way? According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of a victim is a person who has been “attacked, injured, robbed or killed by someone else.” A victim is “a person who is cheated or fooled by someone else.” A victim is “someone or something that is harmed by an unpleasant event.”
A woman or girl forced into the sex trafficking industry is a victim. But a woman in the abusive hands of her husband and under the control of an abuser is also a victim. Why? Why do we not see this many times? Why do we do this in our society? Why do we do this in our churches? Why do we not see victims as victims? Why do we want to hide it? Why do we want to act like it’s not happening? Why do we take Scripture out of context? Why do we expect her to stay?
Why do you take Scripture out of context? Why do you expect her to stay?
If the Lord gives me an opportunity to ever sit with the pastor and leaders of this church there is a lot I would want to ask, and there is a lot I would want to say. What would I ask them if I had a chance? Why was Hurit the one charged with the offense, when she was actually the victim? I would also ask the one’s who took an active part in excommunicating her, whether you were the one’s that actually “prayed” that she be handed over to Satan, or you were part of the one’s that stood by idly watching and doing nothing to stop it, doing nothing to speak out on her behalf…what would you do if this was YOUR daughter?? Because she is someone’s daughter. And even more importantly, she is a daughter of the One True King. And He sees what’s been done to her. And while He is a God of love, He is a righteous God. He is a God of justice. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne. (Psalm 89:14)
Why are victims in our churches not seen as victims many times? Why are they told to stay and “submit” to their husbands? Why are they told to try harder, be a better wife, have more sex, cook more meals? Why is their ability to be a good Godly wife in question? Why is abuse swept under the proverbial rug time and time again in our churches?
Why was she not seen as the victim?
Why was this swept under the rug?
What angered and grieved my heart in this situation with Hurit was that many of her brothers in Christ did not stand up for her. What angered and grieved my heart a million times more….many of her sisters in Christ did not stand up for her. The one’s who did have been shunned. To the one’s who stood up for her, to the one’s who said no more, “You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.” (Rosa Parks)
Men, you must start speaking up. You must start using your voice. You must start saying NO MORE!
SISTERS…..USE YOUR VOICES!! SISTERS….SAY NO MORE!!
Church, WAKE UP!! “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible – and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said, Wake up sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:8-14)
The Lord has recently given me a dream. In this dream I was invited into a local couples home. Upon entering their house she told me they were remodeling their home. The moment I walked through their front door I saw an emergency room. I saw doctors with masks on and gurney’s. It was a sterile environment and the lights were bright. As I looked forward I could see the rest of the house. A doctor came and pulled a curtain around blocking off what I could see in the rest of their house. So all I could see and all I was standing in was this emergency room. But as I looked to my right, I saw a row of chairs, the swivel chairs you sit in at a hair salon. I saw a row of these chairs and mirrors in front of each chair. Again, just like a hair salon. I thought it was so odd seeing a salon in an emergency room, and in my dream I even questioned, “Why is there a salon set up in an emergency room?” I woke up. There was an immediate knowing from God and He said people want to look like they have it all together, like they are well-kept and perfect, but they are sick on the inside. They need emergency care, but they are still wanting to put on a certain facade on the outside.
You see, God knows the condition of our hearts, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23) Everything flows from the condition of our hearts, whether it’s a healthy heart or a sick heart.
Gossip? No! Truth.
Jesus is Truth. His ways are Truth. His life was Truth. He sets us free. (John 8:32)
We must always choose Him and His ways. We must always allow the Holy Spirit to teach us, to guide us, to speak to us, and to lead us to truth. We must be listening, because He will always answer.
Are you listening?
When He answers, we must be willing to repent.
Repentance means to turn from sin. According to dictionary.com repentance is “deep sorrow, compunction, or contrition for a past sin, wrongdoing, or the like. It is regret for any past action.”
How grateful I am for Jesus and that I am always able to repent. I am always able to lay my sins at His feet. He is always there. He never rejects me. But again, it is a condition of the heart. I have free will. I can choose to lay at His feet and say, “Have mercy on me, a sinner,” or I can stay in my sin, indignant and unwilling to change. I have free will. I can seek the truth, or not. I can ask questions, or not. I can seek answers, or not. I can apologize, or not. I can ask forgiveness for what I have done to hurt someone, or not. I can repent, or not.
You have free will. You can seek the truth, or not. You can ask questions, or not. You can seek answers, or not. You can apologize, or not. You can ask forgiveness for what you have done to hurt someone, or not. You can repent, or not.
You stay supposedly so you can help facilitate change? You do not agree with what has happened, but you stay? Vote with your feet! Actions speak louder than words.
I am praying. I am praying for repentance in our churches. I am praying for freedom. I am praying for truth. I am praying for healing in the lives that have been adversely affected by this injustice. I am praying for the marriages that have been adversely affected by this injustice. I am praying for the families that have been adversely affected by this injustice.
I am praying for healing in this community.
I am praying for restoration. I am praying for redemption. I am praying for unity in the Body. I am praying for the sleepers to wake up. I am praying for light to shine in the darkness. God is good! His love is never-ending. He loves us so much. So blessed to be a part of His Kingdom. So blessed He is always there waiting for us to turn to Him. So blessed to be His servant. So blessed to be His hands and feet. So blessed He gave me a voice to use. So blessed Jesus has shown me what true love looks like. (Romans 5:8) So blessed to serve the One who is Faithful and True. To God be the Glory forever and ever, Amen.