A Word of Thanks for All Those Who Have the Strength and Courage to Tell the Truth

Vienna Presbyterian Church (USA), one of the largest and most conservative Presbyterian Church (USA) churches in our area, is seeking forgiveness after the horrifying details of a sexual abuse scandal have come to light. In 2005, the church leadership thought that their youth director, Eric DeVries, had been inappropriate with a member of the youth group, and so they forced him to resign and reported the case to Fairfax Child Protective Services.

Then in 2008, incoming Associate Pastor David Jordan-Haas realized that there was more to the story and would not ignore the whispers he heard about the youth director. He began asking questions and the sordid details came out, showing that DeVries was particularly adept in the art of religious seduction. Using the stories of Scripture to ensure teenaged girls that they would some day be together, preying on them during youth group trips, Eric DeVries may have enticed as many as twelve teenaged girls.

As a Presbyterian pastor who also serves in the metropolitan D.C. region, I am part of a Presbytery, a governing body that connects our congregations in our worship, mission, and discipline. I am overwhelmed with sorrow that this has happened. I shudder when I think about the emotional and spiritual damage that has been done to these women.

I know that in the days, weeks, and years to come, members of the Presbytery will be trying to resolve why the initial response to this tragedy was paltry. Was the denominational leadership too quick to move on without fully investigating the incident? Did we work as hard as we should have to listen to the victims and seek justice for them?

Those are the concerns ahead of us, but until we get into those difficult questions, I want to stop and say thank you.

To the women who have been carrying the memories of this abuse, hiding these hand-scrawled notes, and trying to make sense of the church in light of these relationships, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the courage and conviction it took for you to speak.

I don’t know how your faith is in all of this. I know that mine is shaken by the events that have taken place, and I only read about it in the newspaper. I didn’t have to live it. But, please know that this pastor is extraordinarily proud of you for finding your voice. You have spoken out, even when you thought that people would not believe you, when you were afraid that they would blame you, or when you thought they would laugh at you. You had the courage to demand justice and wholeness. And, for you and for all of those who speak on behalf of the abused, I am deeply grateful.


7 thoughts on “A Word of Thanks for All Those Who Have the Strength and Courage to Tell the Truth

  1. Was the denominational leadership too quick to move on without fully investigating the incident?

    Too quick to consider the matter “closed,” no doubt, but I want to affirm that they did, apparently, move to have the abusive youth pastor removed upon learning of the (what at that point apparently seemed to be a single) incident. I’m glad that they apparently didn’t waste time in getting the matter dealt with (if only to that degree). So many churches deny for so long that they fail to do even that.

  2. Mark,

    No one handles these things perfectly, although, the article indicated that they ignored one woman.

    Although I don’t know all of the details, I’m not sure that our Presbytery Response Team adequately worked with the victims as they are supposed to.

  3. Thank you for writing this. Sadly, this sort of response is not limited to the Presbyterian tradition. The same thing happens in the Baptist church (although, sadly, without the same confirmation that pastors of other churches the offender attends will be notified…) and likely all denominational traditions. I hope healing can begin now. And I hope the telling of this story will help other churches show the love of Christ to those who are hurting. May we always be willing to the tough voices.

    Women — I, too, stand with you. Your stories matter. And I am so, SO sorry for what you have experienced.

  4. Glad you wrote this, Carol.

    Coming from (and occasionally working for as a paid employee) a church that’s an Olympic Gold Medalist in ignoring and then covering up abuse situations, I must say my faith is never shaken or challenged by these horrific incidents. My ever-diminishing tolerance for the human institution known as religion…diminishes, but not my faith.

    I trust there will always be those courageous enough to tell the truth until it gets heard and recognized. For me, it’s a Holy Spirit thing. I also suspect that being raised Jewish also has something to do with my perspective on matters of evil.

  5. carol abused women fear anf ace tough daily life questions need answers to believe from one they know there as needed, cares, listens, talks gently our free SPREAD THE WORD TALK WITH THE LORD program inspires daily talks catch abused need help with that first question our free blogs offer tips g. hubbard p.o. box 2232 ponte vedra fl 32004 htp://talkwiththelord.blogspot.com/

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