Abuse

It was originally my intention to send this letter in to the Standard Bearer. After further reflection, I decided against wasting my time by pursuing that course. It exceeds the word limit and it would never see the light of day. So, I publish it here, as an open letter to the Standard Bearer in response to their special issue on abuse.

Dear Editors,

I write in response to your special issue on abuse (May 1 issue).

Many no doubt found it odd that the Standard Bearer (SB) would stay away from the sin that has especially plagued the PRC, namely the sin of spousal abuse. However, in light of the fact that abuse is abuse (murder is murder, after all), I have a few questions and comments about that issue.

I was struck by the fact that you had Prof. Gritters play such a key role in your special issue on abuse. As is known to many, Prof. Gritters’ name has come up in a recent high profile abuse case in the denomination. Fifteen years ago, Prof. Gritters became aware of a situation involving the most influential and popular minister in the Protestant Reformed Churches, Rev. Ron VanOverloop. Prof. Gritters was in possession of information that deeply incriminated Rev. VanOverloop as being guilty of a gross sin. Prof. Gritters confronted Rev. VanOverloop who, unsurprisingly, denied the charges. Prof. Gritters, according to the record, did not find Rev. VanOverloop’s denial genuine. He found Rev. VanOverloop’s response “off,” unusual, and troubling (to use the wording of the minutes from Classis East).

After being in possession of this damning information that unmistakably pointed to Rev. VanOverloop’s guilt, what was Prof. Gritters response? Did he pursue it?

This is what he did, according to the official classical record.

“Prof. Gritters did nothing more.”

After all that evidence, this is what Prof. Gritters did.

“Nothing more.”

I have three questions for Prof. Gritters: First, do you take full responsibility for every instance of abuse that occurred during the last fifteen years at Grace PRC knowing that if you had done your duty before God—rather than simply protecting an influential minister in your denomination—then not one of those abuse cases in the last fifteen years would have taken place? We know that you are able to pursue charges of sin, even charges of sin that have no evidence to support them. Witness your zeal in chasing all over North America to pursue charges of sin against Revs Langerak, Lanning, and VanderWal, charges which even Classis East had to admit had no merit. (It becomes clear that Prof. Gritters is eager to protect his name and to go to incredible lengths to do so, but when it doesn’t involve protecting his name and reputation, his zeal flags considerably). Second, even if you have not been deposed, as you should have been for faithless desertion of office, why have you not resigned your office in shame over the abuse that occurred because you chose to “do nothing more”? Third, when a man in your denomination did try to do something regarding spousal abuse, what was your response? I have in mind the book on abuse written by an emeritus professor of the PRC. What was your response to the appearance of that book calling for the protection of the abused woman?

It is laughable and a complete farce for Professor Gritters to write, “Many in the PRC and other churches have been sighing quietly. This special issue is a beginning, perhaps only feeble, effort to ‘cry out’ openly.” Abuse victims have been crying out to God for decades in the PRC and those men who should have helped them did nothing. Along this line, perhaps another question is in order for Prof. Gritters: “Have any abused women ever come to you and asked you to be their champion and their advocate? If so, what was your response?”

I wonder what else Professor Gritters knew and about which, did nothing more.

The Standard Bearer may be at a beginning, but the issue is not. Many women and young people have been victimized and abused at the hands of their husbands or church leaders, and the Protestant Reformed Churches have turned their backs on them. Oh sure, after it becomes clear that the civil authorities are involved, then consistories are forced into doing their work. But the blood of these helpless victims cries out to God from the ground, blood spilled while the leaders and rulers of the church did nothing to stop it.

It is also striking that the editors chose two professors in the seminary to write on the topic of abuse.  

For four years the seminary professors had a man under their tutelage who proved to be an abuser. For four years the professors had the closest contact with a man who, only one year after his graduation, was deposed for spousal abuse. At the end of his seminary instruction, the professors sent this man out to the denomination to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. This kind of gross abuse does not suddenly appear out of the blue. A history is attached to such cases, whether that history is recognized for what it is or not.

It was also striking that the editors of the Standard Bearer chose Rev. Key to write the meditation for the special issue on abuse. Rev. Key had this same student under his tutelage as part of the man’s internship program. Rev. Key was aware of this man’s abuse of his wife, and yet he was okay with sending this man out into the churches.

One might even say, Rev. Key did “nothing more.”

Take note of that: it took about one year for this man to be deposed for spousal abuse after he had graduated from the PR seminary and after he had spent time doing an internship under Rev. Key. My question for the editors is this: Why, in a special issue on abuse, was no mention made of this? How can this be seen as anything other than a complete whitewashing of the actual sin and guilt of the denomination in the matter of sexual and spousal abuse? It is no wonder that Rev. Key botched the article he was assigned to write, which article brought objections from readers. Rev. Key does not know the first thing about helping abused and oppressed people. What a sham, then, for him to be asked to write an article for this issue.

Why in a special issue on abuse was no mention made of consistory after consistory of the Protestant Reformed Churches who have done nothing to help and deliver the oppressed, but rather have helped contribute to their murder? (Apart from the ones I am aware of, I wonder how many other churches are guilty of this as well. I wonder how much more horror has simply been buried by PR consistories). No confession of sin in this? No declaration that untold Protestant Reformed consistories have the blood of these murdered women dripping from their hands? Do you know the damage done to these women and their children? Here is what I think: I think the leaders in the PRC do know, but the institution must be protected at all costs, even if that means trampling a few women and children under foot.

To paraphrase one of your own in this regard, the PRC may have swept all of these abuse cases under the rug, but you can be sure of this; one day, Jesus Christ, the champion of the oppressed, will lift that rug up and expose all of it.

I believe you made a mockery of the abuse that has taken place in the Protestant Reformed Churches and your attempt to whitewash it is grievous, monstrous sin.

In the face of all this wickedness, what is the response of the editor? This: “I propose the following four things that I believe the PRCA must learn” (Rev. Josh Engelsma, 5/1/22, SB). Rev. Engelsma is really serious about this, since he put the word “must” in italics.

There is one thing that is noticeably absent in the midst of all of the “learning” that is going on in the PRC—true repentance.

And that is shocking. Men and women in the PRC love to opine about repentance and bury their audience in quotes from theologians about what repentance is and weary their reader with their insistence that in repentance man precedes God and what repentance is and what it is not and you hear much about how repentance works and how much it avails with God so that without it a man cannot be justified. And yet, in spite of all that, the leaders of the denomination just cannot find it within themselves to actually practice it. And that is because they cannot. Repentance is a fruit of faith, after all.   

While the PRC struggles to figure out what it must learn—sorry, must learn—here is the word of God to the Protestant Reformed Churches: “And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:5).

To the members of the denomination that was my mother, and that I love, my word of love to you is this: Flee. Wolves have entered the sheepfold.

In the service of King Jesus,

Dewey Engelsma

15 thoughts on “Abuse

  1. It’s more than repentance. It’s ownership of the situation. It’s asking from an informed 3rd party who understands abuse—can identify the ramifications of what abuse does to the whole person —psychologically, physically, emotionally, spiritually, cognitively.

    It’s submitting itself to the members of the church, asking for forgiveness, and choosing to do better and BE better. It’s choosing also to make processes to handle these types of things with legality in mind, those affected personally by the ripples of trauma that surround abuse, and protecting the general public.

    These kinds of things can’t be fixed with “perfect spirituality”. Sometimes, it’s AA. Or Al inon.

    Crimes are crimes. They have legal consequences. Not for us to be judge/jury in our ignorance. And especially not keeping records for years only to leave the case hanging when it is coming to a legal head. What’s the point of that?!! Not picking sides IS picking a side. And that’s the side of injustice.

    Not hiding. Not stuffing under rugs. Not negativing emotional/psychological impact.

    It’s taking a step back. Referring to established process, and supporting those who are obviously affected, and searching out those who don’t come forward.

    Thank you, Dewey, for attempting to say what so many can’t. Because we know the powers that be don’t have a real way to deal with this other than protecting themselves, and often the abuser too.

  2. Dewey, I appreciate your zeal for a proper response to abuse. Abuse in any capacity is a stench before our God. I agree that men guilty of abuse should be removed from office and reported to the authorities. Abuse is a foul sin weather it be a husband abusing his wife, an authority figure abusing a child, an elder or minister abusing his parishioner, the calling of Christs bride a filthy whore, or the spiritual abuse of gaslighting congregants into believing that they are justified in hating their brothers. You seem to have a wealth of information on closed cases & I wonder if you could also give us a history of all of your protests & appeals championing for the oppressed. Since you have little to no capacity to bring about the changes needed in the PRC & you seem bent on a witch hunt, I suggest starting where you may have an impact.

    1. Hello Jim, there is a stench here but it is emanating from your comment.

      That stench emanates whenever the subject of spousal abuse comes up and someone responds, “Yes, but…” What you are doing is shifting the blame away from the abuser so that the focus is no longer on that abuser and is now on someone or something else. You do that when you add all these other things that you consider foul sins. The subject was spousal abuse and I laid out my case that the leaders in the church are phonies when they say they are interested in protecting the abused. You respond with a “yes, but.” You aren’t a bit serious when you say you appreciate my zeal for a proper response to abuse. If you were, assuming you are Protestant Reformed, you would do something that would resemble zeal in rooting out the wolves in the sheepfold.

      As to the other things you object to, and consider “foul sin,” your quarrel is not with me or the Reformed Protestant Churches, your quarrel is with the word of God (cf. Isaiah 57:3, Ezekiel 16:28, Revelation 17:1,5,16, and Luke 14:26 to name just a few examples).

      You cast in my teeth that I presumably have a wealth of information of “closed cases.” First of all, whatever little information I have, I can assure you, many people in the PRC have as well. Second, and more importantly, even this comment about closed cases reveals your heart and who it is you want to protect. You say closed cases because the consistory or classis has judged and the case is now closed. Or perhaps you mean by closed that it is secret. Case is closed, time to move on. Do you know who the case is not closed for, Jim? The abused woman, that’s who. She will spend the rest of her life struggling, probably alone, feeling broken and cast off by the very ones that Jesus Christ put into their position to protect her. I won’t go further than that because I am not going to pretend that I have any idea of what she actually suffers and what she actually goes through. But she knows. And for her, the case is never closed.

      As to defending myself and what I may or may not have done, I will not do that. I will not justify myself before men.

      This is no witch hunt. I laid out the facts, what you do with them is up to you.

      1. Dewey, Thank you for taking the time to reply to my comment. It is ironic that you accuse me of using the “yeah but” model of debate. I actually thought I coined that term after tiring of it being the only reply I ever get from RPs. There is a significant difference between yeah but & yes, and. What I did was a yes, and. I added the spiritual abuse issue because it is a vital ingredient to creating a church environment where abuse thrives. (Just a side note: The issue of abuse is one close to my heart & it would be advisable for you to not throw out rash accusations about my intentions.) I see progress being made in how the PRC is handling the issues howbeit slowly, which gives me hope for the future. As for the closed cases, I was implying cases dealt with in closed session. As to the next statement, if you are content with standing before the Almighty God & explaining to Him how you were justified in hating the neighbor & calling His church a filthy whore among other things, I will let you try to wash your hands of that one. I would add though, that you went on a public forum & set yourself up as an authority on the issues separating us, calling for the accountability of men before men. It seems a double standard.

        I will reiterate my previous statement that in order to effect change you start where you will have an impact. You should have the same zeal to bring about the needed changes to prevent abuse in the RPC as you do for spewing bile at your mother church. I would challenge you to spend 1/4 of the time you spend digging for rocks to throw at the PRC digging for issues with your own leaders. I will go no further with this statement as it is a public forum.

        In closing, if even 10% of the time that was spent arguing about who has a monopoly on the truth, was spent caring for the weak, the abused, & all others in need, we (all parties included) might start looking a lot more like the Bride of Christ.

      2. Jim, I know now to add “Yes, and” to “Yeah, but” of my list of phrases to be on the lookout for.

        Glad you see progress happening slowly in the PRC. Too bad for the abuse victims who will suffer for the next 20 years while the PRC slowly makes progress, but we should just look at them as collateral damage I suppose.

        As to standing before Almighty God, it’s almost like you didn’t read my response. You do know that Jesus himself taught that there may come a time when we have to hate father and mother (Luke 14:26)? That truth has been taught (properly) by PR theologians as well. You shouldn’t object to it.

        Can you point out to me where an RPC theologian has called the PRC a “filthy whore?”

        As to the rest, I provided Bible verses that use the same language. It sounds like that language offends you. Well, you have company there. Early in Jesus’ ministry he taught the people which brought the response, “This is a hard saying; who can hear it?” (John 6:60). In fact, because of those hard teachings of Jesus, “many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (v.66). So, you aren’t the first to pull back from the hard teachings of the Bible.

        I don’t feel like I am spewing bile. I don’t have bile in my heart to spew. I have no anger, no resentment, and no bitterness. God is my witness.

        Is that how you see it, throwing rocks? 41 years I spend in the PRC, I see what she has become, and for a year or so after I warn the people of the danger, and you characterize that as throwing rocks? I can tell you Jim, if your house was on fire, I would stand outside yelling until I was hoarse to try and warn you (and I might even throw a few rocks if I thought it might get your attention). That should not be described as “throwing rocks.” That should be described as “love.”

        The Bride of Christ preaches the truth of Jesus Christ. That truth bears fruit in the lives of God’s people. One of those fruits is the protection of the oppressed. Which is, and has been, absent in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

  3. There are deeper conversations that should be discussed including the culture of what the PR has become over the last 30 years —-the ingrown church, so focused on itself, yet not really wanting to see itself for the depraved, sinful people they are. Knowing the truth, and claiming it to be the only truth makes the ingrown church cultish, and self absorbed—unwilling to grow in maturity, and sharing the gospel. Church becomes a mind activity regarding doctrine, and an outward show —but yet caring less about their own neighbors.

    So much abuse covered up, and hidden, because of the way it would appear from the outside. (And such much that will remain hidden) .. To appear squeaky clean to the outside, and going to church twice, all the while living a totally secular life, yet scoffing at those “in the world.”

    Much to be reckoned with. Much to be humbled by. And much both (RPC/PRC) denominations should look inwardly at — dealing with their own tendency to spiritually/emotionally/verbally abuse their own people and each other.

  4. Hi Dewey, just one question about Prof Gritters. If you knew he knew 15 years ago, why did you not sound the alarm? Why did the ministers of your denomination not say anything? If you knew and others knew as men in authority, where were those alarms? Why did you not start the sword and shield back then? That sin is as heinious as the sin the sword and shield was started over! Shame on you and your others church leaders for not standing up then!!!! I am not defending Prof Gritters but asking why this has not been brought forward by you til now!

  5. Jim,
    Let us expand upon this so called progress you see being made in how the PRC is handling the abusers and the abused.
    To begin an epiphany was required for the churches to no longer send battered wives back to their abusing husbands. Only a year ago a second announcement was required announcing RVO as an abuser and murderer because the people would not believe it. The shame to both pew and clergy; the offense to all victims everywhere!
    When the abused are able to get past the doubters, the onus then continues on the victims to re-live their abuse in testimony against their abusers.
    At present we require the abused to educate the rest of us, which is just one more way they are revictimized.
    Currently the churches are in the midst of a steady stream of announcements of pedophiles here there and everywhere, a stream which we all know shall continue.

    When more of those who have not been abused spend themselves for the broken (let us never again refer to them as bitter) then let us declare progress.

  6. Dewey, I ask this in the spirit of Christian love: are you posting this because you desire our repentance, or are you standing with the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Raze it, raze it, even to the foundation thereof.

      1. The way your post is written, it appeared that you take delight in the devastation provided some members join you. Your reply confirms this.

        Edom.

  7. While I do believe Dewey’s post here is absolutely correct (having witnessed it myself and through others, namely by Steven Key), Jeff’s post and Lisa’s posts need to be the ones read. Thank you for posting Jeff and Lisa.

    I read the standard bearer issue you posted Dewey and while I do believe some of the Minister’s quoted in it are TRYING to change certain things in PR, they have a long ways to go. Some of them shouldn’t have been quoted at all and it felt like a slap in the face. How is RP different though when you were of the same denomination only a short while ago? What is your take on spousal abuse and how to handle it? Is your denomination willing to do as Lisa correctly suggested above? Minsters and Elders are not even remotely equipped to handle abuse at ANY level. Both denominations need a 3rd party equipped to see the evil within. Maybe that’s not wanted though because they’d see the evil in the ministry?

  8. Dewey, I applaud you and your courage for speaking up for those who are oppressed and abused. As a chaplain I hear many, many stories of abuse and see the devastation upon the human psyche because of it. So, thank you!

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