Tuesday, May 10, 2016

At Last: A Delayed, Disturbing, but Detailed Report on ABWE's Response To Missionary Abuse

Today, I read the executive summary and much of the text of a 280 page report by Professional Investigators International ("Pii") on the abuse of ABWE missionary children and other sexual misconduct by Donn Ketcham. Nearly 20 children and four adults were involved with his sinful activities over his ABWE years, and a pattern of immorality on his part goes back over half a century. The report is summarized in a Christianity Today article and in that article you can follow links to ABWE's video response, statement, and to the entire report.

It is not easy reading. The abuse is awful and should have never occurred. It would not have occurred if the same standards to which other workers were held, both by ABWE and churches and ministries of like faith and practice, had been enforced on this man. But Donn Ketcham was a "star" in our circles. His father was the saintly leader of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (I still have my copy of Murray Murdoch's Portrait of Obedience about him). Donn was a charismatic and connected young man whose presence with the mission gave ABWE "status" within this particular circle of Baptists, and they used him to their advantage. Exceptions were made for his "indiscretions" over and over because he was so good at telling the mission's story and recruiting for and promoting ABWE.

But what is so damning in this report are the atrocious missteps of the mission and its President, Dr. Kempton, in assuming that Ketcham could be "talked to" a few times and be cleared to return to the field. However, the women with whom Ketcham had affairs were terminated from the mission and the 14 year old girl that Ketcham abused and whose accusations finally caused him to be dismissed was made to sign a confession and acknowledge that she was equally responsible.

And just as bad, in my view, is that ABWE's employees continued to fight the investigation all the way into 2015! They didn't complete full internal investigation, even though one was launched and continued for nine years! They didn't cooperate with an agency (G.R.A.C.E.) that they hired to do an investigation, and eventually fired them. Then they didn't cooperate with the new agency (Pii) for 2 years, until they finally fired their attorney and let a liaison "retire." So, while the accusations were first made public through a survivors' blog in 2011, it was not until sometime in 2015 that ABWE actually became a fully-cooperative partner in trying to find the truth. That is after 2 agencies and 2 presidents had assured all of us who are supporting churches and donors that they were doing everything they could to get to the bottom of things.

I am sickened by this. This has been the one agency from our church's past that I have continued to endorse as a potential partner for our church in sending new missionaries. I was stunned when I heard about the abuse, and then dumbfounded when I learned that nothing had been done at the time for the victims. When ABWE's initial responses to the blog were defensive, I was bothered, but then they started sounding cooperative and conciliatory. I wanted to trust them when they made their first acknowledgement of wrong in 2011. I wanted to trust them when they hired G.R.A.C.E. I wanted to trust them when they fired G.R.A.C.E. and hired Pii. At every step they told us that they were being transparent and above board. The report makes it clear that they were not either of those things for most of that time. Pii believes they have gotten to the truth, and there are some ABWE people who come out of the report as advocates for the truth. Al Cockrell, the interim president (for the second time), has done what needed to be done when he could. His video statement is straightforward and blunt. But unless I know what steps are being taken to make sure anyone who helped the coverup continue is gone, and what measures have been taken to punish those who have so hurt the organization and its missionary family, I will not believe that this matter is closed. Trust in the leadership of the organization has been lost. It will have to be earned back.

Dr. Kempton was someone I greatly admired for decades. Dr. Ebersole (the executive most involved in the abuse coverup) was a missionary hero in my mind. Until I knew of this story, Dr. Donn Ketcham was in the list of missionary greats, too. Unfortunately, now the first two will always carry a very mixed legacy and the last will be rightfully seen as worthy only of shame in his service. I'm not aware of any public repentance on his part for the harm he has done to his victims and the cause of Christ. Personally, I think Dr. Kempton's name should be removed from anything associated with ABWE. He cared about reputation, but not about MKs. He let a man who was a serial adulterer be a mission spokesman. He punished the women involved in Ketcham's affairs, but not Ketcham. And even after Ketcham's dismissal, Kempton only spoke in loving terms to this pedophile, never calling him to repent in any of the letters that remain. Many try to say that Kempton was only acting as people did "back then." But I'm aware of plenty of pastors and ministry workers who were removed from their positions for immorality. ABWE had removed quite a few. But not Ketcham. Over and over, he was "forgiven" and set loose. Perhaps previous generations did tend to keep things quiet when they should not have. But they still removed immoral, duplicitous leaders.

Those brave survivors who started their blog over five years ago are to be commended for their endurance, even as they should be supported and prayed for in their pain. The report goes quite a ways toward vindicating their reports. I will await their analysis of the report--and frankly, if they have criticism, I will probably give them the benefit of the doubt.

Addendum: I know that many people work at ABWE that were not in any position to affect this situation, and I do not want anyone to think less of them because of the actions of the people in control of this situation. And I still have the highest love and respect for the ABWE missionary family--many of whom are not just our missionaries but my friends. They have suffered through this with all the rest, waiting for this report. So many I have spoken to have dreaded it and longed for it at the same time. I pray that their work will not be adversely affected in the future because of the failures of their leaders in the past.