The author of this incredible but true story is an ordained minister and executive director of the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence. In 1984 Marie M. Fortune accepted a call to serve as an advocate and pastor for six women bringing charges of sexual misconduct against their pastor, Dr. Peter Donovan. This book tells the story of that assignment.
Donovan's behavior was extreme, but the dynamics that allowed it to happen are sadly typical. The author claims these events resemble more than 50 other situations she has investigated. In this volume she analyzes why churches fail to deal with evidences of pastoral turpitude. While Is Nothing Sacred? tells the story of Donovan's victimization of the women involved, it makes its greatest contribution in detailing how the church responded to the accusations the women made and how it treated those women. "I offer this story," states Fortune, in the hope that churches will "deal fairly, quickly, and effectively with instances of pastoral misconduct that are brought into the open."
The story is all too familiar. No one informed the church members of the charges against their popular minister. As rumors began to spread, the pastor vehemently denied the charges, and members perceived him as the victim. When faced with incontrovertible evidence, he sought to manipulate the administrative board to his own advantage. Neither the church nor the denomination considered the spiritual and emotional needs of the women involved.
The church took more than three years to deal with the allegations. An attempt to cover up the situation ended in more harm to the church and less justice to the women.
Why does a church cover up evidence of pastoral turpitude? The author suggests: 1. The church is myopic about the problem of clergy abuse and unprepared to deal with it. 2. It is difficult for members to acknowledge the power of the pastoral role, especially in churches with a congregational polity. 3. When a church functions on the family model, a pastor's sexual involvement with a parishioner reeks of incest, and denial and secrecy can be expected. Even when whispered rumors begin to circulate, the family myth remains—"It couldn't hap pen here."
In the chapter "Doing the Ethical Framework" the author analyzes the lessons learned in these situations. People need to act in the face of injustice, and the victims have a right to expect justice from the church.
Telling the truth involves more than a mere rendering of the facts; it means giving voice to reality. When this is done, the secret loses its potency. As part of the bargaining process in the Donovan case, the women lost the right to speak. As a result the secret regained its power and stifled healing.
The chapter "Acknowledging the Violation" makes the point that for the truth to play its purgative role, it must be heard and believed. "The absence of acknowledging the cruelty of injustice serves to justify the maltreatment. Thus we should never underestimate the power of the explicit acknowledgment of violation in the process of healing for victims."
The church must expect its ministers to be accountable. "Accountability be gins with confrontation and expects repentance." Forgiveness toward the perpetrator of the crimes is a necessary part of the healing process.
Churches face their greatest challenge in dealing with gifted pastors and leaders. The closing chapter defines charisma and traces its dangers. Webster gives two definitions of charisma: Charisma is an "extraordinary power" and a gift from God; but it is also a "personal magic of leader ship arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure." The author suggests that this second definition describes a gift from God gone awry and that both kinds attract people. Discerning the difference can be difficult.
The greater the charisma of a preacher, the greater the consequences of a moral fall. The greater the gifts of the public figure, the easier it is for him to fall into the trap of thinking that he can do no wrong. For the church, then, "the gifts of charisma must always be regarded critically. . . . Blind, unthinking, unconditional loyalty to anyone is the cause of tyranny and injustice. It is no less so in the church than in secular society."
In the Adventist Church it is the conference rather than the local church that employs the minister. Generally, then, when pastors "fall into sin" they are dealt with promptly. But is the church prepared to act when questions arise involving the morality of a gifted or popular public figure? That is the challenge this book deals with. It deserves a reading by every administrator who, in cases of possible sexual abuse, seeks to deal fairly with all parties: the accused, the accusers, and the church whose reputation we want to protect.