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Friday, November 9, 2007

Shocker: Conservative Christian Pastor Charged With Raping Parishioners

posted by on November 9 at 11:51 AM

A least a dozen women have come forward with claims that the pastor of a Kitsap County church raped them. The alleged rapes took place over many years and began when some of the women were as young as ten. Today the PI has a front page story about Pastor Robbin Harper (“Pastor accused of child rape ruled with an iron hand.”)

As is usually the case when daily papers report on the sexual abuse of children by religious leaders, you could read the PI’s entire front-page report and conclude that this is first known instance of the priestly/pastorly sexual abuse of children in all of recorded human history.

At what point do we start to regard this kind of reporting—this kind of sniveling, deferential, credulous reporting—as complicity in the crimes of men like “religious figures” like Pastor Robb?

From the plague of sexually abusive youth pastors to the child rape franchise that is the Catholic Church, it should be clear to everyone on earth now that this pastor-rapes-kids shit happens all the fucking time. And guess what? You almost never hear about Unitarian pastors raping parishioners or Methodist youth pastors diddling kids. No, it’s always Catholics, Baptists, conservative evangelicals, and “iron-fisted” assholes like Pastor Robb. And what’s up with that? Well, it seems obvious to anyone paying attention that a statistically significant number of men like “Pastor Robb”—men who claim to speak for God, men that claim to be His representatives here on earth, men that portray God as obsessed with sex and control—turn out to be power-crazed sexual abusers that control, manipulate, and sexually abuse their “flocks.”

There’s a pattern here. And people are clearly taking a risk when they sign up with a conservative church or put themselves under the thumb of some “iron-fisted” pastor. (Hey there, Rev. Hutcherson; how you doing, Pastor Driscoll.) But the same mainstream media outlets that can’t resist drawing our attention to known risks for relatively rare cancers get all tongue tied when a certain kind of religious leaders presents a known risk. Dangerous people shouldn’t get a pass just because they wave a bibles over their damn heads.

And wither the media’s love affair with “patterns”? When something bad happens again and again and doesn’t touch on religion, the mainstream media asks, “Why did X happen? Why does X keep happening? How can we get X to stop happening?” That’s what the media is doing right now about all those poisoned toys made in China. “Why did lead turn up in this toy made in China? Why does lead keep turning up in toys made in China? How can we get lead to stop turning up in toys made in China?” Somehow those entirely obvious questions are avoided when the bad actors are “men of the cloth” and not Chinese manufacturers in some province their readers can’t pronounce. And why’s that? Because when it comes to cases like Pastor Robb, asking why this happened, why it keeps happening, and how we can stop it leads to conclusions the PI doesn’t have the guts to print: Abuse, sexual and otherwise, is hard-wired into authoritarian religious communities. It’s in their fucking DNA.

The sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults is not a shocking aberration or an unexpected violation of a “faith community” lead by a Pastor Robb or a Pope Benedict. It is known risk, a known side effect of a kind of controlling, authoritarian religious garbage peddled by Robbs and Benedicts and Discrolls and Hutchersons.

Papers can’t print that, of course, lest they be accused of being “hostile to religion.” But by avoiding the obvious follow-ups and obvious conclusions—which are only hostile to a certain brand of religion, not all religions generally—the media is effectively friendly to child rape.

From the PI:

“You want to believe that good things come from church and only good people go to church,” said Danel Swan, a former member whose 20-year-old niece was the first to make a report to police. Harper had been molesting her since age 12, the young woman said.

Initially, Swan and the girl’s father had been attracted to Harper’s no-frills style of ministry. He lived in a mobile home. He was always on-site. Swan even had him perform her marriage ceremony. But within a few years, she fled.

“It was condemnation, condemnation, condemnation—until you can’t take any more,” Swan said. “You start to think you’re going crazy. It was absolute control. He had a way of making you feel that if there was something going on in your life, you had the devil in you. And he was powerful. You believed him.”

Yep, some people want to believe that “good things come from church and only good people go to church,” like Swann says. But case after case after case—it’s a pattern!— shows that believing this to be so is deeply foolish. It’s dangerous. You know, just like those lead-spiked toys from China. Maybe fewer people would fall for Pastor Robbs if the media did a better job of informing them about the risk presented by Pastor Robbs.

RSS icon Comments

Posted by Levislade | November 9, 2007 11:57 AM

It's also worth noting that everything the evangelicals and Cathaholics accuse gays and lesbians of doing--defiling marriage, raping children, recruiting unsuspecting glassy-eyed acolytes--are the very parts of their business model that they push daily on a global scale.

But the Pope has forgiven all of those demon children for asking for it, so everything's A-OK now.

Posted by Original Andrew | November 9, 2007 12:03 PM

I'll also argue that it's related to the protection they can get from their flocks. A Unitarian minister can't count on his virtually agnostic parishioners protecting him from allegations. A fundie minister can totally count on it. Fundamentalists will inevitably take the side of an abusing pastor over his accusers. Since he's religious, he just has to be a good person and he has to be telling the truth.

Posted by keshmeshi | November 9, 2007 12:03 PM

A-Fucking-men, Savage. Seriously good post.

Posted by Mother | November 9, 2007 12:15 PM

"Their flocks" is the operative phrase. If you own something you feel justified in using it as you see fit, especially if you view yourself as the ram, as opposed to lamb, of God.

Posted by inkweary | November 9, 2007 12:16 PM

The media is unlikely to address any such pattern no matter how obvious it is to millions of ordinary citizens. The mainstream media exist to serve those who own the media. It is the same reason that they gladly help Bush sell war with Iran even though ordinnary citizens know the government is selling that war just like they sold the Iraq war. With lies and deception.

Posted by Heather | November 9, 2007 12:19 PM

I don't disagree with the points you're making Dan, but I do believe the situation is more complicated from the parishioner's standpoint.

Even if the media did a better job of keeping citizens well-informed of all the bad things happening within certain conservative denominations, it doesn't necessarily follow that the members of those denominations will become better-informed as a result.

These types of congregations by their very nature tend to be insular, and mistrustful of any aspersions made against those in authority; after all, they've had it drilled into their heads that "the Liberal media" is anti-religion, and that they will use any opportunity to smear, slander, or otherwise denigrate church leaders. So, when the abuses are eventually reported, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the ire of the followers turns, not against the accused, but against the accusers; it is after all, exactly what they've been told to expect.

In addition, people like Pastor Robb tend to be charismatic and domineering, a combination that naturally appeals to a certain type of individual who is seeking authority, who doesn't feel empowered to control their own seemingly uncontrollable life, and who are seemingly always ready and willing to cede personal responsibility in exchange for the security of having someone who seems to know better tell them what is or isn't good for them.

This type of personality isn't going to be swayed by an endless series of media exposes on the debaucheries of their religious authority figures, simply because it would mean not only acknowledging that their trust has been deeply betrayed, but also that said authority figure has not been acting in the best interests of his (and it does always seem to be men - when was the last time you saw a story about a female pastor abusing members of her church?) congregation.

Many of them simply aren't equipped to handle that level of critical examination, even when the evidence is staring them in the face.

Posted by COMTE | November 9, 2007 12:19 PM

Establishing a causal relationship between strict, authoritarian religious figures and sex abuse is pretty tough. How does the prevalence of this compare with the rest of the population?

These kind of stories are tailor made for the 24-hour news cycle. There isn't a news site that can resist the "Pastor rapes children" headline. 10 years ago, this would would have been a local story. Now, within hours, it's the lead internationally. This creates the perception that this behavior is endemic--which it most likely is not.

That said, if you are unwilling to take responsibility for your own life and turn all decisions over to a svengali of any type, you shouldn't be surprised when bad things happen. Which really sucks if your parents drag you into a world dominated by a prick like Pastor Rob. And as always, the parents had no idea...

Posted by Westside forever | November 9, 2007 12:27 PM

Where the mainstream media fails, a blog must fill the void... Quality Post

Posted by mpls | November 9, 2007 12:31 PM

Thank you, Dan. It's nice to see that SOMEone in media isn't afraid to say it.

Posted by LeslieC | November 9, 2007 12:35 PM

In this context I recommend Sara Robinson's posts about getting out of Fundie churches over on the blog Orcinus. She also has a lot to say about how this is all related to authoritarian personalities (especially as followers), and how manipulative people use this to meet their needs. She does say that finding out about abuse going on has actually lead a lot of people out of the church, because it makes them start to question what they've been taught.

Posted by Tlazolteotl | November 9, 2007 12:35 PM

Apparently the people in the congregation were not wealthy, and this pastor dude didn't have another job. It seems strange they'd be ok with him having a Jaguar and a Hummer as explained in the story in the link.

Posted by MN Gay Dude | November 9, 2007 12:39 PM

Public intern post more than 45 days old? What the fuck?

Posted by Greg | November 9, 2007 12:43 PM

The sad reality is that there will always be something attractive about a radical, strong outspoken man to weak people.
When you say extreme things people WILL listen and you will often find people following you. I'm not so sure this only happens to Power hungry Pastors or in the Christian community. I think it happens in all walks of life.

Driscoll is packing his church out with a message of anger, picking on other ministers and hating women. He's packing it our because he looks secure and like he has all the answers and maybe people do not want to think for themselves.

Dan, You say over the top things and you rile people up but people keep coming back to read what you write. You stirred me up enough to keep reading what you wrote and it made me madder than a hornet. I kind of came around though to understand your side, so good job! The only difference between you and these Pastors is that most of the over top stuff you say is meant to be humorous but some people take it seriously. Every once in awhile you go a little nuts like about Skate Parks and the last supper painting!
Fnarf does the same thing but he's always right except when I disagree with him which surprisingly is not that often except about a few God details that we will never agree on and how big angles are too.

Big mouths get all the attention but I don’t understand why the media can’t or wont say more about it? I’m not sure what you are getting at when you say that?
I guess you mean that guys like Robertson, Rev. Hutcherson, Phelps and the likes get good press? I certainly do not think they draw any good media attention but maybe that is because they are an embarrassment to me! They mix politics and religion and that is the biggest sin of all in my book. They are wrong!

So this Pastor Robb just was a very sick, secure, dictator to some very wounded people and they got abused. Shame on him but also shame on any adult that can’t think enough for herself and then follows a guy like that. Ya, the kids were victims but the adults I just want to pull their hair and ask them why they didn’t run for the hills when they saw this guy leading them wrong! He’s kind of scary looking anyway!

Posted by mj | November 9, 2007 12:55 PM

mj, this line of yours really made me laugh:

"Fnarf ... [is] always right except when I disagree with him"

If only everyone had your confidence.

Posted by lymerae | November 9, 2007 1:02 PM

Great, great post.

Posted by Irena | November 9, 2007 1:07 PM

If you want a good laugh (or cry, maybe), read this response to the story from someone called HolyBibleLover:

Once again, the liberal media can't WAIT to put something on the front page that they HOPE will embarrass the local Christian community. I ask: where is the PROOF of these allegations? Why aren't the women who allege this behavior answering why they waited so long to come forward with this 'story'?

This country and the Christian rock upon which it was established remain under attack from the communist 'news' organizations currently running roughshod over our homes and our lives, and our CHRISTIAN America. Women, come to your senses! We are the helpmates of our husbands, and we must not for ONE MOMENT cause them to falter or fall (IF it even really happened in this case). And when one is accused, it is WE who MUST stand by the backbones of our families, our culture, our VERY FUTURE, and defend these men from the lies and deceit of heretical women in our congregations.

They have a certain defense-----they are following not God, but His adversary. But these accusers can be redeemed of their lies, if they are lying, by admitting the truth. If they are telling the truth, then they must look at themselves in the mirror to find who is really at fault here, and then go to the pastor, the congregation, the community and-----most importantly-----their Savior, and beg for forgiveness for being temptresses against Christian morality!

(Yep, every child deserves a mother like this...)

Posted by Irena | November 9, 2007 1:27 PM

@ 17:

One can only hope (pray?) that that letter was intended as satire.

Posted by Wolf | November 9, 2007 1:39 PM

Let's see - the media don't report that this happens all the time, yet, as you also say, everyone knows this happens all the time. How do they know that? The media. Now lay yourself down to sleep again, Dan.

Posted by bobo | November 9, 2007 1:42 PM

Ahh, Dan, posts like this one are the reason I started reading Slog. Right on.

Posted by Dianna | November 9, 2007 1:43 PM

Did anyone else notice the shocking resemblance that "mild-looking" pastor has to Dennis Rader aka the BTK serial killer? Scary.

Posted by anotheca | November 9, 2007 1:53 PM

@15 -

Shame on him but also shame on any adult that can’t think enough for herself and then follows a guy like that. Ya, the kids were victims but the adults I just want to pull their hair and ask them why they didn’t run for the hills when they saw this guy leading them wrong! He’s kind of scary looking anyway!

I think you need to learn more about brainwashing and the methods of cults. It might be comforting to think you wouldn't fall into the same trap they did, but it's surprising how easy it is to mentally isolate even highly intelligent people and lead them over a cliff.

Posted by tsm | November 9, 2007 1:54 PM

When the congregation hires and fires the pastor, a child-molesting pastor will be fired and never work again. When there is no fear of firing, as when the pastor controls the church, or when the hierarchy shuffles bad pastors around, that's when you're more likely to get a pervert.

Posted by local control | November 9, 2007 2:00 PM

There are one hell of a lot of people - sometimes I think it's the majority - who are uncomfortable with ambiguity, shades of grey, uncertainty. Those people like a world of absolute good and absolute evil, a simplistic, easy-to-categorize world. "You're either with us or against us." It is supremely easy for a charismatic, domineering, authoritarian figure to misuse the need of such people for structure, rules, absolutes for whatever purposes they wish. It might be money, it might be power, it might be sex with children these psychopaths are after - it might even be the ultimate power trip of a Jim Jones to control life and death.

It's part of some people's basic nature to seek an alpha male, a demagogue, a daddy. You're not going to change that - all we can hope for is that we can quickly identify the more sociopathic individuals who take advantage of such credulity and trust to abuse people.

They're never going to have much luck with those of us who are so stubbornly resistant to authority that we'd cut off our own noses to spite our faces rather than be perceived as a follower, though...

Posted by Geni | November 9, 2007 2:08 PM

@22... Yes you're probably right but I still want to pull their hair. It would probably wake them up and make their brain snap into to gear and besides that it would be so fun!

Posted by mj | November 9, 2007 2:16 PM

As always, Dan's post on this subject resonates. People should run for their very lives when they hear the scream of religion, sexual obsession and authoritarian dictates.

Posted by loushka | November 9, 2007 2:19 PM

Sorry to dump it on your post, Dan, but for some mysterious reason comments are closed on the Public Intern post.

So here's how I would have dealt with these dirty clothes everywhere: anything on the floor goes in a pile outside. When that pile is completed, it is soaked in kerosene and lit on fire. THE END.

Posted by Greg | November 9, 2007 2:19 PM

Sorry, it looks like my brain needs to snap "into to" gear... LOL

Posted by mj | November 9, 2007 2:21 PM

This does happen in other Christian denominations but it's less troubling and widespread because 1. The larger, better organized churches swiftly deal with it internally and REPORT IT TO THE POLICE when necessary because they don't want to become as hypocritcal and callous as the Catholic Church (which is one of the things the Reformation was about in the first place) and 2. Protestant ministers are not forbidden to have sex their entire lives; they can find someone to release their sexual energy with (yes, within the bonds of marriage) and not be told they are going straight to hell.

After Luther nailed up the 95 theses, he got to nail his wife (an ex-nun).

Did you ever watch The Frugal Gourmet? That guy's show was taken off the air because he was accused of sexual harassment, but he'd been kicked out of the Methodist Church years earlier due to sexual misconduct. The Methodist Church probably could have dealt with that less covertly, but that did happen in the 70s. Still even decades ago when everything was more hush-hush, unlike the Catholic Church, the Methodist Church did not just shuffle sexual predators around to have easier access to parishioners.

Sorry to start a big us-better-than-them post. But really, people were pointing out the child-raping ways of the Catholics hundreds of years ago (in Candide for example, published in the mid-1700s). It's a tragic cycle whose lessons nobody seems to be learning. You can blame the parents for being stupid for exposing their children to this, but at the same time, they might have been exposed to it themselves when they were young.

It makes me feel sad, disgusted, and powerless.

Posted by the insider | November 9, 2007 3:02 PM

Whenever something like this comes out, the mainstream always tries to draw a larger conclusion from it. Like the Manson thing -- the main stream used Manson to draw conclusions about hippies and drugs and youth culture generally. Of course these mainstream critics were full of shit but the underlying dynamic of Manson's cult contained enough frightening contradictions for most people that the mainstream critics could simply blame the aspects of the counterculture that they found most alienating and be confident that their consumers would seize on that logic in order to avoid having to consider the implications of cult behaviors generally.

We all know on some level that if you get the right kind of leader and the right kind of followers together in a socially, physically or economically isolated milieu, shit like this just happens. The details -- Branch Davidian, Manson Family, Symbionese Liberation Army, whatever -- are pretty much irrelevant to the underlying dynamic.

So basically, attempts to draw conclusions about broader movements based on the abuses of these leader/follower anomalies are intellectually dishonest. Dan -- I'm looking at you when I say that.

Posted by Judah | November 9, 2007 3:15 PM

"how big angles are too"
MJ, you will NEVER get me to agree on anything more than 89 degrees. I'M AGAINST IT.

Posted by Fnarf | November 9, 2007 3:23 PM

I should point out here that Unitarian churches have regulations that have to be followed regarding areas where you have children. Their response to all of the issues with the Catholic church was to try and correct any potential problems before they happened.

I worked in a UU church for a while, and there were all kinds of rules, from people not being alone with kids to having windows in all the rooms so that classes could be seen from the hall. It was a good policy, overall.

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