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The Story behind the Abuse Overture

The letter to the attorney begins, “I am Wesley Heersink's brother, Stan... It is with frustration and disappointment that I am writing this letter to you now. The letters we have written to the church leadership go unanswered...”

As soon as I read that sentence, I thought: “Leadership has to respond to an overture. Write an overture.”

“Leadership has to respond to an overture. Write an overture.”

It was October 1, 2017, and I was sitting at my desk after the evening worship service. I had a stack of documents that Stan Heersink had emailed me the day before, along with the transcript of his brother Wesley's internal CRC judicial code hearing on March 7, 2006.

Perhaps you’ve heard parts of Wesley’s story before. He was abused by a cadet counsellor at his CRC church in the 70s and spent many years seeking justice.

Wesley's situation was not the first that had come across my radar. In hindsight, I can see how my journey started over a decade before, in 2006. God had to prepare me first.

As I reflect on this journey, I can see how God was preparing me to run into significant resistance, like nothing I had never experienced before. He strengthened the foundation of my faith, my relationship with Him, through prayer and through an increased understanding of the Holy Spirit and His gifts.

God was preparing me to run into significant resistance.

A key scripture passage that strengthened me was Ephesians 1:18: “Keep asking for a Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that we may know Him more.”

I did not realize it back then, but my understanding of prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit had been weak. I started to realize how God speaks to us through Divine timing, Divine appointments, Divine “coincidences”, and even our own thoughts. Always in alignment with His scriptural principles. This was a significant journey on its own.

In 2009-2010, another significant shift happened that I can only attribute to the Holy Spirit. I started taking an interest in the denomination, our positions, and our polity. I had some concerns and was curious where the CRC stood, particularly regarding the gifts of the Spirit. I had ZERO interest in the governance of the CRC before. Through the Network, I realized I could watch Synod online! So in 2011, I was glued to the Synod livestream. Synod stalkers and Synod junkies... I could relate! This was so outside the norm of anyone I knew in my community. Little did I know what God was preparing me for back in 2011 as I watched Synod via livestream for the first time.

I started taking an interest in the denomination, our positions, and our polity.

In 2012, several ungodly situations of abuse came to my attention. I was appalled, not only at the incidents themselves, but also at the response or lack thereof by the Church. I had been oblivious to what was going on.

As I shared stats on the porn problem, I was stunned at the minimizing, dismissive, and diverting responses I received from leadership. I wondered why I had never heard about this problem before. Why were we not talking about this horrible epidemic? How had I missed this?

I was grieved by what I learned over the next 5 years. I walked alongside people who had been hurt by CRC leaders. This was not the CRC that I thought we were. I was appalled at what I was learning: that we were far too often protecting the institution and the leaders at the expense of those harmed. But it isn't just the CRC; it’s systemic.

This was not the CRC that I thought we were.

I researched and interviewed dozens of abuse survivors and people who were struggling with porn. The prevalence of this abuse of power was confirmed over and over again as I studied, pondered, and prayed. The patterns matched the experiences of friends and the stories that had been shared with me personally. It was so wrong!

But few leaders in the CRC were open to honestly talking about porn or abuse of power. They seemed to be taboo topics. When I did have discussions with various leaders about these concerns, the leader often tried to convince me it was not as serious as I knew it was. When leadership has been honest, they have acknowledged that these are significant systemic problems. (Read Chuck DeGroat’s analysis of these systemic problems here.) 

Back to 2017. I was stuck. Many leaders were tired of hearing me beat this drum. In April of that year, I had made a comment on CRC Voices on a discussion regarding the “Billy Graham rule” after Bill O’Reilly was fired: “I could be wrong, but I think we are on the verge of an avalanche of this type of unholy behavior and cover up being exposed in various spheres....”

That summer I felt prompted to connect with Stan Heersink and read the documents that he shared with me.

“I do not want to do this if You are not building this house.”

That takes us back to October 1, 2017, the evening when I started thinking about the possibility of an overture. I prayed, “God, if this is Your idea, I want to know it is You, not me. I ask for confirmations Lord, that this is You, because I know the resistance this will encounter, and I do not want to do this if You are not building this house.”

God answered me, over and over again. I have never had anything confirmed this frequently or this powerfully. I have no doubt that this is the Lord, exposing and revealing how His people have been harmed by leaders who lord power over others to protect the institution and leaders at the expense of His flock, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

I have a long list of confirmations from the Spirit, including the original articles unveiling Harvey Weinstein’s sins on October 5, #metoo exploding on October 15 and the #churchtoo movement taking off in November. It became clear to me that the overture was one part of a far greater movement that is exposing systemic abuse of power in an unprecedented way. 

Thankfully, the result was much-needed discussion in the CRC regarding abuse of power.

Thankfully, the result at the council, classis, and Synod levels was much-needed discussion in the CRC regarding abuse of power, with delegates on the floor of Synod speaking powerfully to encourage Synod to take this opportunity to do more. My hope and prayer is that the favorable response will grow and be much more than just words. I believe that is already happening to some extent.

Abuses of power are a topic that many would rather not talk or think about. But they have been covered up and silenced for far too long. And for the 1 in 3 victims out there, it is encouraging to hear that this is finally being brought into the open.

Abuses of power are a topic that many would rather not talk or think about.

Church, it is time to talk openly and honestly about these abuses to help bring healing, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to the many wounded souls that have been hurt by the Church. Repentance is a key part of this process, to apologize to people such as Wesley's family and others that have experienced an unbiblical response from leadership when they reported what happened to them.

The CRC's Safe Church Ministry is gathering stories of abuse and sharing them anonymously to help break the silence around abuse. You can read the stories or participate here

[Photo by Dev on Unsplash]

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