The Concerns that Exist with Redwood Falls Evangelical Free Abuse Reporting Policy

Redwood Falls Evangelical Free is a small EFCA church in Southwestern Minnesota. On their website they published their abuse reporting documents. In their follow up the church makes a decision about reporting abuse to police or the appropriate government agency. The Wondering Eagle believes this is a good environment for child sex abuse cover up to occur in. Today’s post deals not only with the difficult topic of child sex abuse but also domestic abuse and elderly abuse. Today’s post asks the question does the EFCA struggle with child sex abuse?  

“Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime.

Herbert Ward

“To those who abuse: the sin is yours, the crime is yours, and the shame is yours. To those who protect the perpetrators: blaming the victims only masks the evil within, making you as guilty as those who abuse. Stand up for the innocent or go down with the rest.

Flora Jessop 

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!

Matthew 18:6-7 NIV

The sun setting over the plains of Kansas.  

Redwood Falls Chamber of Commerce Video 

There is a lot of ground to cover in today’s post. This one is a heavy post but its something that I believe needs to be written about. We are going to look at the dark topic of sexual abuse, and also explore domestic violence and elderly abuse. But before we continue let’s look at the history of Redwood Falls and an EFCA church that has been operating for nearly 18 years now. 

 

History of Redwood Falls 

Redwood Falls, Minnesota is a small town in the southwestern part of the state. In the last census in 2019 the population is slightly over 5,000. The area has a lot of history especially in regard to the Dakota Indian tribe. According to my research disagreement between the traders and the Dakotas eventually led to conflict. When the money didn’t arrive from the Bureau of Indian Affairs some younger Dakota took up arms, and the conflict lasted from August to December of 1862. If you want to read a history of the Great Sioux Uprising in 1862, you can do so here. From World War II to modern times this community has been a quiet destination.  The park in Redwood Falls, Alexander Ramsay is known as the Little Yellowstone of Minnesota. In 1995 the cities of North Redwood and Redwood Falls merged and became one. 

It was shortly after this merger that the history of Redwood Falls Evangelical Free begins. In the 1999 and 2000 time-frame a group of 11 individuals contacted the North Central District of the EFCA. A discussion led to the North Central District leading “Core Group” training for the eleven individuals. The project moved forward under the direction of Bob Niewendorp. In the spring of 2001 this group looked for its first pastor who became Tom and Sue Latterell and a church was born. The first worship service of Redwood Falls Evangelical Free was held on December 1, 2001 in the Reade Gray Elementary School Cafeteria. In 2004 they moved into a building in downtown Redwood Falls. The next pastor of Redwood Falls is Brian Swedburg became the new pastor on August 1, 2015. A few months later on December 31, 2015 Redwood Falls had an opportunity to purchase the building was formerly a hardware store. The purchase of the local hardware store was covered in the Redwood Falls Gazette. In August of 2017 they moved to their current location which again was written up in the local press. However, in the summer of 2018 Brian Swedburg decided to leave Redwood Falls Evangelical Free. The local newspaper wrote about his leaving. In an interview Brian claimed that reconciliation in the faith community needs to occur. Now to be honest I do not know if that means within Redwood Falls Evangelical Free, or in the greater church. I am grateful that the former EFCA pastor of Redwood Falls can acknowledge the issue of spiritual abuse or concerns. Today I want to venture into the difficult and disturbing area of child sex abuse or other kinds of abuse and ask the question. Can Redwood Falls Evangelical Free respond to a difficult topic in the right way? Before we move forward let’s look at some statistics of child sex abuse as well as domestic abuse and elderly abuse. 

 

Statistics on Child Sex Abuse 

Let’s look at some statistics of child sex abuse to help understand the enormity of what I believe to be a modern epidemic. This information comes from the organization From Darkness to Light. 

  1. 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday. 
  2. Nearly 70% of all reported sexual assaults occur on children aged 17 and under. 
  3. 90% of children who are abused know their abuser. 
  4. About 60% of children who are sexually abused are done so by someone that the family trusts. 
  5. Not everyone who sexually abuses a child is a pedophile. 
  6. 70% of child sexual offenders have between one and 9 victims, while 20% have 10 to 40 victims. 
  7. As many as 40% of children who are sexually abused are abused by older  or more powerful children. 
  8. Child sexual abuse often takes place in specific, often surprising circumstances. 
  9. 81% of child sexual abuse incidents for all ages occur in one-perpetrator/onechild circumstances.
  10. One in seven incidents of sexual assault perpetrated by juveniles occurs on school days in the after-school hours between 3 and 7 p.m., with a peak from 3 to 4 p.m
  11. As many as 40% of children who are sexually abused are abused by older, or more powerful children.

If you want to read more information another organization that is good in this area is Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN.) Since the EFCA church we are looking at today is in Minnesota, here is what is stated about mandatory reporting and clergy. 

 

Statistics on Domestic and Elderly Abuse 

We looked at child sex abuse, now let’s examine domestic abuse as well. The following information comes from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). 

  1. On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.
  2. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of [some form of] physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.
  3. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  4. 1 in 7 women and 1 in 18 men have been stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime to the point in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.
  5. On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.
  6. The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%.
  7. Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.
  8. Women between the ages of 18-24 are most commonly abused by an intimate partner.
  9. 19% of domestic violence involves a weapon.
  10. Domestic victimization is correlated with a higher rate of depression and suicidal behavior.
  11. Only 34% of people who are injured by intimate partners receive medical care for their injuries.

Another major issue is that of elderly abuse. Elderly abuse includes physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation, neglect and abandonment. Those who engage in elderly abuse vary and include children, other family members, spouses, as well as staff at nursing homes, assisted living, and other facilities. It is estimated that 1 in 10 Americans aged 60 and greater have been abused. It should also be noted that only 1 in 14 cases are reported to the authorities. In almost 60% of the abuse or neglect incidents the abuser is a family member, such as an adult child. So what are the warning signs of elderly abuse? According to the National Coalition of Aging the following is listed as elderly abuse

  1. Physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment with bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions or burns. 
  2. Emotional abuse such as the unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, changes in alertness, or depression. There can be strained or tense relationships and frequent arguments between the caregiver and older adult. 
  3. Financial abuse when there is a sudden change in financial situation. An elderly person’s money is being stolen or used for other purposes than intended. 
  4. Neglect includes bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene or unusual weight loss. 
  5. Verbal or emotional abuse such as belittling, threatening another person, or misuse of power. 

 

Deep Concerns with the Reporting Policy at Redwood Falls 

When I worked through the EFCA’s North Central District I studied all the churches in detail. You can read that in, “Analyzing the Growth of Reformed Theology/Neo-Calvinism in the Evangelical Free Church of America: North Central District.”  When I came across Redwood Falls Evangelical Free I was bothered by the abuse reporting form. There are two forms on the website. The first one is the initial report, and then the second one is the follow up. You can see the two forms below.

Suspected-abuse-report-form

Suspected-abuse-follow-up-report-form

Now study those two forms from Redwood Falls Evangelical Free. One is for documenting and reports of sexual abuse. But pay close attention to the follow up report and these two sentences.The above information will serve as a guide and will be necessary if a formal report is filed with the police or appropriate government agency. All information received is to be kept strictly confidential.

So here is how I am interpreting this policy at Redwood Falls Evangelical Free. If there is an incident of sexual abuse or any abuse it is reported it to the church leadership. The church does an “investigation” and then they make a decision if a formal report should be filed with police or appropriate government agency. Then this information is kept strictly confidential. That is how I interpret this policy. Let me ask some questions about this code. What would happen if a male teenager in the youth group allegedly sexually abused another male? Would that be kept confidential and other people not notified of the situation? What happens if you have a family member who is sexually abused their step child and they are involved in ministry, is that information kept confidential? This could led to people who are sexually abusing people being free to walk around in the congregation and keeping that from the church.   So as I look at it from my opinion this is a great environment for a predator. Its a great environment for a cover-up of child sex abuse or other forms of abuse. This allows the church to control the narrative and protect their image instead of doing the right thing. This reminds me of what churches inside Sovereign Grace Ministries were accused of doing. Before I continue what should be done is that people should go to the police and let the police investigate and handle the situation. Law enforcement is better trained to handle these kinds of situations.  

 

How C.J. Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Ministries Covered Up Child Sex Abuse 

Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) used to be a theological empire. It had churches in 26 states and over 21 countries at its peak. It was headquartered out of Gaithersburg, Maryland. Wayne Grudem believed that SGM is the model that churches should follow. But there was a dark secret inside SGM, the organization was dealing with child sex abuse. The stories that came out of places like Covenant Life Church or Sovereign Grace Fairfax or elsewhere were dark and disturbing. These are but some examples, in one case a parent was sexually abusing their 10 year old daughter and the pastor allegedly told the wife that she needed to have more sex with her husband. In other cases people were pressured not to go to the police. To speak about it outside of what was known between the families and pastor was considered “gossip.” If you want to read some of the stories you can do so in, “What Matt Larson, Anthem Thousand Oaks, Anthem Ventura, and Anthem Camarillo can Learn from Taylor, Noel and Sovereign Grace Fairfax/SGM “Family of Churches”” And then there is also this article in the Washingtonian here in Washington, D.C. called, “The Sex-Abuse Scandal That Devastated a Suburban Megachurch.”  What happened inside SGM is that people were required to report things to the pastor. The church leadership tried to deal with it on the inside. They told families not to discuss it with law enforcement or others. To speak about it with others in the church or outside the church was considered “gossip.” And it was a serious issue. The network of churches became focused on their external image. 

 

Does the EFCA Struggle with Child Sex Abuse? 

This is a difficult topic and one that I believe is right beneath the surface of the EFCA. Why do I say that? I look at the statistics and I see how this issue is playing out in society. I reflect on what happened at Penn State with Jerry Sandusky. I think of what has happened in the Boy Scouts of America. There is also the issue of sex abuse in the USA swimming program which got a lot of attention. Then there is the Larry Nasser sex abuse scandal in Michigan State and also the ongoing revelations of the sex abuse scandal at Ohio State University. All that I went through touched on differing segments of society, from university, sports, to influential organizations for youth. But when you look at religion you also deal with this issue as well. You have the child sex abuse scandal inside the Roman Catholic faith, This was exposed by the Boston Globe in 2001 and became an issue that is still playing out. Just in the last few days the news has been dominated by the resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Inside the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) the issue of child sex abuse is also a major problem. Spend an hour at this blog that deal with the topic and you will barely scratch the surface of the issue inside the SBC. Next week I am writing about the cover up of sexual abuse at the SBC’s International Missions Board. 

So here is the deal. You look at this issue and it pops up in all other environments or churches or denominations. In the back of my mind I have one question that weighs on me. What about the EFCA? Has the EFCA struggled with this issue in its history and has it been forthcoming and honest? If the SBC and the Roman Catholic faith are dealing with it, what about other aspects of Christianity? The EFCA is not organized like the Catholic Church. After all the EFCA practices congregationalism but sex abuse will happen in any environment. I would think in an evangelical network that prides itself on being autonomous, that it would attract predators and people who can prey on teenagers, young children or more. There are between 1,300 to 1,500 EFCA churches in the United States. What are the odds of this being an issue inside a number of those churches? This is a question I am asking publicly. 

 

 

Why this Post is Being Written 

This is a hard post to write. I honestly struggled to put it together. But its my hope that if this issue has to be written about that it can be done so that the EFCA can be made stronger. But in order to deal with this issue it needs to be revealed first of all. At some point the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements will be pounding on the door of the EFCA. When it does I hope that the EFCA can respond with grace and love. And if there are problems in history that it will be admit, get it all out there and that they will put in strong safe guards to protect people. As for Redwood Falls Evangelical Free this blog does not wish malice. I wrote this post to bring about discussion. If we can discuss this issue and do the right thing then I think that would be good. I would much rather see this EFCA church do the right thing now. In 2019 I don’t want to get an email from a former member of the congregation who details sex abuse problems and how it impacted their family. Let’s deal with this issue now so that won’t be a problem That is the motivation behind today’s post at The Wondering Eagle. That’s it Redwood Falls please take care of yourself. 

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