The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Abandons Victims of Abuse and Ignores their Advocates

Yet another institution that purports to be a moral authority has again fallen flat. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, when confronted with an opportunity to provide healing and justice to women who were sexually abused by an ELCA missionary, has chosen to protect its coffers instead of the families they claim to serve. Once again, we are faced with an uncomfortable reality – that our institutions that we have been raised to believe in and care for do not believe in nor care for us.

On Tuesday, August 30, Denise Knights flew to Chicago to confront ELCA leadership after months of conversation evaporated into silence and stonewalling. The daughter of an ELCA missionary, Denise has been seeking justice and reparations for the multiple Malagasy women who were sexually abuse at the hands of her father, Arthur Robert. Denise initially had made some headway and found a man who seemed to be sympathetic in the form of Rafael Malpica, the Executive Director of the Global Mission for the ELCA. Sadly, the story ends in a way all too familiar to survivors of clergy abuse: when Denise turned to discussion from one of verbal apologies to actual, concrete support for the victims, church leaders stopped listening and talking.

In one conversation, Denise recalls Rafael saying that the ELCA has a “moral obligation” to support those who were sexually abused by men ordained, trained, and employed by his church. Apparently, that obligation extends no further than asking Denise to pass along his sympathies. When asked to do something to monetarily support those victims who were traumatized by an ELCA missionary, Rafael and his colleagues have instead chosen to do nothing.

At the ELCA headquarters, Denise delivered a petition by slipping it under the door of the absent Rafael. Bearing the names of hundreds of signatories who are demanding the ELCA do something to support these victims in Madagascar, the delivery of this petition is one more step forward to let ELCA leadership know they cannot run from this issue. So far, it seems like the ELCA is choosing to ignore their “moral obligation” in favor of following the playbook set out by the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and other religious institutions that have placed money ahead of the safety of children and rights of the abused.

Thus far, Denise has been fighting on her own for these victims, and SNAP is proud to stand alongside her. Our network of survivor advocates have experienced abuse and cover-up from any number of institutions and churches, so nothing that the ELCA has done so far is news to us. What may be news to the ELCA, however, is the fact that we are not going away. Already, Denise is rallying more survivor advocates to the cause, and this group is meeting for another strategy session on September 10 (if you are interested in helping us secure justice for these victims, don’t hesitate to contact us!).

We will continue to press for justice for these brave survivors and we will continue to support Denise in her herculean efforts to secure justice for those who were hurt in Madagascar. To those who were hurt by ELCA missionaries, pastors, or any other employee, we stand with you and hope you will add your voice to the chorus demanding justice and healing. Our voices grow louder by the day, and we know that the ELCA can only pretend to not hear them for so long.

CONTACT: Zach Hiner, Executive Director ([email protected], 517-974-9009)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org


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