Unknowing Victims

Are you a victim? It’s very hard for people to admit to having been the victim of a crime. For some, it is because it’s an embarrassing admission that they were duped. For others, it is because they don’t even know that they are victims.

Gary Allman Ten-minute read.   Resources
Double Trouble – January 19, 2007. Copyright © 2007 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

We often see victims in the world, and sometimes it’s obvious to us that they are, in fact, victims. These victims of spousal abuse, victims of addiction, or victims of circumstances sometimes seem oblivious to the fact that they are being victimized. We wonder why they can’t or haven’t seen it, or why they deliberately choose to be in denial about being a victim. If we have any self-awareness we might wonder if we, too, are oblivious victims.

We live in an immoral world. As Christians we are called to live a moral life and to love one another. We should even love those who would do us harm, which can be a challenge. But as Christians, we should also be championing the causes of those who have become victims.

I’m never going to grow tired of saying it (and I know I say it a lot). It’s yet another example of our fifth baptismal covenant.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

But what about the victims who are closer to home? What about you? Are you a victim? No?

Don’t be quite so sure. I’m not going to talk about ‘obvious’ issues such as addiction, which we don’t talk about nearly enough. No, instead I’m going to talk about an old-fashioned crime in a modern guise.

Here’s what happened to me.

Without realizing it I’ve innocently become embroiled in organized crime.

There, I’ve said it. It sounds sort of exciting as we are tempted to think of the scenarios that play out in the movies. At the same time, when put like that, it also sounds rather mundane.

There is no scurrilous money laundering, even though I live in the Ozarks. I’m not being blackmailed, nor have I or my family (thus far) been threatened. In fact, I’m one of the lucky ones. The criminals haven’t taken anything of real value from me, and more importantly, I’ve discovered their nefarious activities. I know what they are doing, and for the past several years I’ve been doing what I can do to make their crimes more difficult.

The bad news is that most of the victims in my position don’t, and possibly never will, know that they are victims. Which is why I ask, are you sure you’re not a victim? You may not know it.

My story only represents one side of the equation. There are victims on the other side who, if they don’t suspect the criminals’ intentions in time, will lose both financially and emotionally. It’s a modern take on a crime that’s as old as the hills. According to the FTC, this crime has cost Americans some $143M in the last year. In my opinion that’s a huge underestimation.

What are these crimes? They’re commonly known as Romance Scams or Catfishing.

In my case what’s being stolen are photographs of me. The pictures are used to create fake profiles used in online social media, games, and dating accounts. The purpose of these accounts, which use my photos, is to defraud people. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot that people like me can do to stop these criminals from getting ahold of your online pictures, except perhaps by never appearing on the Internet in the first place.

Michael Lucious – one of stranger monikers the scammers have adopted.

They use my photographs (and the photos of many, many others) to make their fake accounts look real. They claim to be divorced or widowed and are looking for friendship and love. What they are really looking for is a way to separate vulnerable and lonely people from their money. They tend to target older divorced or widowed women, but they are just as likely to use pictures of women to target vulnerable men.

My wife says my pictures are being used because I have a friendly and trustworthy face (who am I to argue?). Also, there are lots of pictures of me doing all sorts of fun things, very useful for the made-up scenarios they weave into their schemes. There I am on planes, in airports, on sailboats, with injuries, out in the woods, and even with my step-daughter. They love to include her pictures because the idea of a widowed man raising a young daughter alone makes them seem far more endearing.

A sample of pictures of Gary Allman used in fake social media accounts. Image credit: Gary Allman

By the way, the irony of this situation isn’t lost on my wife and I, given that we met online, and that at one point her bank account was frozen because her bank thought I was a scammer.

When I first discovered that my pictures were being used, I thought it was a joke. I quickly realized that it wasn’t and I took action to close down all the faux accounts I could find.

And that’s when things got a little bit hairy.

When the fake account suddenly disappeared, the lovelorn victims searched Facebook for their missing beaus and found the real me. In the process, they also discovered the heartbreaking, and ire-raising news that the love of their life was not widowed, but was happily married and living in Missouri. I was not an oil rig worker, or commodities trader living in New York, Geneva, or somewhere in Texas. In short, they thought it was me deceiving them, having a “fling” on the side.

“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned”


The Mourning Bride by William Congreve

They took to sending abusive messages to my wife and I.

Thankfully, the zero engagement rule seems to work equally well with jilted lovers as it does with Internet Trolls. Foreseeing a long future of such abuse, I created a webpage detailing the scams and my innocent involvement. Now when I find and report a fake account, I post a link to my page and a picture of the fake account publicly on social media. It’s my hope that the grieving lovers will see the pictures of all the different accounts I’ve closed and realize they’ve been taken in by a scam.

To be clear, we are not talking about one or two fake accounts, I’ve closed over a hundred, and I am still closing them to this day. It’s like playing whack-a-mole. And that’s just the ones I’ve found, there will be hundreds more out there. (And of course, I’m not the only one. There are thousands of people in my shoes whether they know it or not).

The messages I get now are no longer abusive. They are the stories of people who are victims of these schemes. Some have, fortunately realized something was up, and didn’t part with any money. But many discovered their error too late.

There was one lady who lost all the insurance money she received after her husband died. Another lost over $160,000. I received a message from the granddaughter of one victim who lost everything, and it was presumed as a consequence she took her life.

It is with a sad and broken heart that I am writing to you. I have been writing to “Gary Brooks” since May 2014 and have sent him over $160,000 of my retirement and credit card money…

… I have finally accepted the fact that I am indeed being scammed. I have had such high hopes of a future with this other guy and really sucked in all the affection and promises he sent me…

… I was wondering what you would suggest me to do next …

This is a serious crime, with serious consequences, and very little chance of redress for the victims.

The scammer’s techniques are to quickly move the victims from public conversations to private chat, texting, and phone calls. That reduces the chance that the victim will see any evidence of the scam being outed, It also leaves the scammers free to be grooming more victims simultaneously. The scammers weave convincing and sympathy-inducing stories for their victims, often involving accidents, or temporarily delayed business funding to lure their victims into sending money.

Another disturbing aspect is that these criminals often claim to be religious to make their stories sound more trustworthy.

From a family member

The lies and deceit can seem obvious to casual observers. Unfortunately the victims are often desperately invested in their relationship with the scammer, and will not believe anyone who tries to make them realize they are being duped.

Some of the messages I get are heartbreaking

…you don’t know me but I just wanted to get some kind of clarity.

… had been talking to someone she ‘met’ on the game words … and they used your picture… they ended up getting money … My whole family tried warning her but she refused to listen to us because this person told her everything she wanted to hear… this person was supposed to be returning back to the states from an overseas oil rig but conveniently never showed up…

…was found dead in her home with no clear indication of how. All we know is her newly refilled pain pills were gone … We all believe this person lead her on for so long that eventually it just took a toll on her emotionally … I guess I was really just needing your advice. I really want justice for what this person has taken away from my family.

The scammers don’t only use social media. They use dating websites, games sites, and by a stroke of luck I even found one on the Fitbit site!

One scammer created a complete website (now taken down) posing as a cinematographer.

Once their foul schemes have been discovered the scams don’t necessarily stop. They may pretend to be victims themselves and contact their victims (since they know who they are), and create some complex (but costly) plot to get revenge. The scammers have even been known to send people to physically go and meet the victims.

So…

let’s be careful out there.

Sergeant Phil Esterhaus, Hill Street Blues

What Can We Do?

We can raise awareness. Romance Scams are often treated lightheartedly. For the victims of the scams, their hopes of love and happiness are dashed, and their financial security may be compromised. There’s nothing amusing about either scenario. Spreading the word will warn people that these crimes are taking place, and hopefully reduce the number of victims.

Raising awareness that pictures are being stolen for this purpose should encourage people to check if their pictures are being stolen, and report any fake accounts.

This won’t stop the crimes. There have always been con men and fraudsters. However, widespread awareness of internet catfish scams will make it harder for these criminals to operate. And that can only be good.

Are Your Pictures Being Used?

Facebook search for people with the name "Gary Allman".
This is the result of one of my early Facebook searches for “Gary Allman”

The scammers tend to target people with a good supply of pictures. One of their most popular sources of pictures are people serving in the military. An overseas deployment can explain why they can’t meet their victim in person.

How would you know if someone is using photographs of you in romance scams?

For me, the first ones were easy. They were foolish enough to use my real name and have publicly visible pictures of me. So just do a search in Facebook for your name. If any account with a picture of you shows up and it’s not yours, you’ve found a scammer of one sort or another.

If you can learn the aliases they are using, then trawling through a social media search on that name can unearth a load of these fake profiles. I’ve lost count of the number of ‘Gary Brooks’ I’ve closed down.

How you take down false accounts depends on the organization. In my experience, Facebook and Instagram have been very good at taking down reported accounts. But their record in making it easy to identify them or stop them from being created is appalling. Google is next to useless. Even with copies of my driver’s license, they refuse to remove them.

Are You a Romance Scam Victim?

If you are single and dating partners online, reverse image searches of the profile pictures and any other images your date shares works well for identifying suspect people. This is why I’ve made sure that the pictures of me are easily found with a simple search.

Be on the alert for anything that doesn’t look or feel right. Is the person’s writing style consistent? Does their command of English match their supposed nationality? Are the pictures really taken where and when they claim to be? Do the things in the background of the photo match the story you’re being told? Does the person avoid answering questions about inconsistencies? Does the apparent age of the person in the pictures keep changing? Be careful. There are tens of thousands of scam accounts on Facebook. I wouldn’t be surprised if over 30% of Facebook accounts were scammers of one sort or another.

Needless to say, never send money or give financial information to someone you’ve not met in person and don’t really know, regardless of how convincing they may be.

There are several groups to help you identify potential scammers (links below).

Even harder than dealing with a scammer yourself is convincing someone you know that they may be in danger of becoming a victim. They usually refuse to listen, even when they may have their own suspicions.

In the worst case, if you’ve become a victim of a scammer, you can report the crime to the FBI online (ironic isn’t it?).

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I Think I’ve Been Scammed Resources

Reverse Image Searches: support.google.com/websearch/answer/1325808

Romance Scam Forum: www.romancescam.com/forum/index.php (this one is particularly good)

Nigerian Dating Scams: www.watchforscams.com/nigerian-dating-scams.html

Social Catfish: Scams: socialcatfish.com/category/scams/

FBI Cyber Crime Page: www.fbi.gov/investigate/cyber

Facebook ‘Scam Haters’ page: www.facebook.com/thefightbackstartshere/

About Romance Scams

Gizmodo Article (I agreed to take part in this piece): Pray for the Souls of the People Sucked Into This Dating Site Hell.

BBC article: Scam baiter: Why I risk death threats to expose online cons.

Washington Post Romance Scam Article (May 2018): When a stranger takes your face: Facebook’s failed crackdown on fake accounts.

Washington Post Romance Scam Article (Feb. 2019): Romance scams cost Americans $143 million last year, FTC says.

FBI (February 2018): FBI Cautions Public to be Wary of Online Romance Scams.

Federal Trade Commission (Feb. 2019): Romance scams rank number one on total reported losses.

Reporting a Scammer

FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center: www.ic3.gov/default.aspx

Federal Trade Commission:
https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/Information#crnt&panel1-3

Preparing for the Inevitable

Do you know how to handle your family’s financial transactions?

The Rev. Jerry Kolb Five-minute read.   Resources

In a conference call with the Church Pension Fund, we became aware of a situation that has prompted us to provide some education. It has to do with the death of a partner and financial transactions.

If you have been allowing your partner to do all the banking, paying bills and general financial transactions (especially online), we would like to encourage you to immediately begin sharing those responsibilities. In the instance we became aware of, the husband was doing all the financial transactions. When he died, even though they had joint accounts, the surviving spouse was unable to do any financial transactions because she did not have the passwords, login information, account numbers or access codes to access the required accounts.

Please begin to share financial responsibilities with your partner. Record your passwords and account numbers in a secure location which is familiar to both of you. Consider using an online password and account manager to make this process easier. Help your spouse pay bills ‘online’ (if that is your financial method) so they know how to do it. Also, make sure that both you and your partner’s names are on your accounts.

This kind of information is still important if you pay your bills by a paper check. It is also important if you are a single person handling your affairs. Someone will need this information. Make sure they know how to find it.

One suggestion is to alternate doing the monthly financial transactions. If there is a question, someone is there to provide the answer.

When there is a death of a spouse, the bank and the utility companies will be of little help to you without this kind of information.

Also remember, this issue isn’t just limited to financial transactions. Couples often split the workload. What responsibilities does your partner undertake that you would not know how to deal with if they were to die or become incapacitated?

Facebook Memorialization Page

With the proliferation of online accounts and social media, it’s a good idea to consider putting together an ‘online will’, setting out what should be done with your online accounts when you die. Facebook, for example allows you to elect a ‘Legacy Contact’ to oversee and memorialize your account.

Be proactive!

Fr. Jerry Kolb is Chaplin for Retired Clergy in The Diocese of West Missouri.

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General Convention 101



The Episcopal Diocese of Texas has produced a handy pictorial guide to General Convention. Click here or follow the link provided (below) to see an online version of the guide, which you can download and print if you wish.

Human Trafficking as It Relates to Slavery

Most Americans turn a blind eye towards slavery believing it only existed in the past. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Mike McDonnell Ten-minute read.   Resources

We live in a world rife with cynicism, racism, hatred, bigotry, and the most despicable of all these sins is the enslavement of another person to accommodate man’s greed, lust and insatiable desire to control another’s life. In the First Letter to Timothy, we find Paul’s words:

18 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. 9 This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, 10 fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching 11 that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
I Timothy 1:8-11

Mike McDonnell presents details of the breadth of the human trafficking problem. Image credit: Gary Allman
Most Americans turn a blind eye towards slavery believing it only existed in the past, possibly during the Civil War or maybe in biblical times, remembering Moses freeing the Hebrews from Egypt. I have read commentators who believed that slavery was a means used by the ancient world to care for widows, the poor and less fortunate; producing a welfare system through servitude. It was possible that some wealthy individuals took responsibility for those requiring help and these same people may have been emboldened by the fact that Jesus never spoke of physical slavery, but of the slavery that made us prisoners to sin. As you read Paul’s words above, you may wonder how people could believe that slavery was right in any way, shape or form. I am a pragmatic person, and I think Jesus was the ultimate pragmatist. He came to give eternal freedom and not to release those who were in temporary human bondage. However, because our Lord did not make any profound or lasting statements about slavery does not make it right.

Slavery has dominated the history of the United States and the history of The Episcopal Church for far too many years. In most cases, our nation and our church were complicit in the continuance of slavery. In today’s modern world we find women bonded into prostitution, children trafficked for sex and labor, and men forced to work for slave wages across the globe, and yes, even in our own backyard, here in the US.

I want to share a few important dates, with brief descriptions, so that you may understand and appreciate the bravery of those few who have brought us to where we are in our struggle against human trafficking:

  • The 1780s saw the first organized anti-slavery society established in Britain. 1.
  • In 1807, the slave trade was abolished by the British Parliament. 1.
  • In 1839, the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society was created, giving for the first time impetus to America’s abolitionist movement. 1.
  • In 1856, at the Episcopal General Convention, The Episcopal Church had “nothing to do with party politics, with sectional disputes, with earthly distinctions with the wealth, the splendor and the ambition of the world.” 2.
  • In 1865, the Protestant Episcopal Freedman’s Commission addressed the changes that had taken place in the south after the Civil War.2.
  • In 1877, the first Negro delegates were elected to the General Convention in West Texas and Florida. 2.
  • In 1883, the abolishment of slavery was itself abolished by the British Parliament. 1.
  • In the 1904 and 1907 General Conventions, a Suffragan Plan was established with restrictions. A suffragan could sit with the House of Bishops but could not vote. 2.
  • In 1921, the African Orthodox Church was formed by black Episcopal Priest, George Alexander, resulting from prejudices within The Episcopal Church. 2.
  • In 1948, the segregation of the armed forces and civil services ended. 2.
  • In 1948, Article 4 the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” 3.
  • In 1954, after the Supreme Court ruling in the Brown vs. Board of Education, the Episcopal Church began to dismantle its institutional segregation policies. 2.
  • In the 1958 General Convention, a resolution was adopted that officially condemned racial prejudice and segregation in the South. 2.
  • In 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA 2000) was passed into law. It is considered to be the essential anti-trafficking law ever approved. 4.
  • On October 4, 2008, the Episcopal Church apologized for its role in slavery.
  • In March 2018, the Congress passed the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act. This bill holds accountable websites, such as Backpage, when they knowingly facilitate sex traffickers. 5.

In many places in our world, people subscribe to the enslavement of others. In the United States, the home of the “free,” we are exposed daily to the notion that some people are not as valuable as others. This narrative is usually based on race, ethnicity, and sex with the desire to enrich oneself through the subjugation and control of others. The International Labour Organization estimated in 2016 that there were 40.3 million people in forced labor of which 2 million are in the Americas. In the United States, because of the secretive nature of labor trafficking, it is difficult to provide an accurate number of victims; however, it is estimated to be in the tens of thousands.

Sex trafficking is an appalling crime. In the United States, it is estimated that 300,000 youths annually are at risk to sex traffickers, with one in six being trafficked. The average age of a girl trafficked is 13 and will be asked to perform various sex acts up to 20 times daily. In a recent conversation with a trafficked victim, she contended that she was expected to produce $2,000 to $3,000 daily from being prostituted. If not, she was severely beaten or starved, or her life threatened. This woman subjugated her body to daily sexual abuse to generate income for her pimp’s financial gain, while she was degraded by the johns who paid for sex, and a society that sees her as nothing more than a prostitute who could leave her enslavement if she so chose.

We men have turned a blind eye towards our accountability in the treatment of women in our society, but even worse, we have enabled abusers, pimps, johns, and pornographers to capture our souls, our nation, and to damage forever the girls and women that have long suffered as sex objects. We do this through our conversations, glances, the purchase of sex and pornography, and by not teaching our male youth that women are to be respected. I suggest to men that they consider what it is like to be chained and tortured and forced to have sex against their will. What it would be like not to have a choice as to who you are with and to feel your body violated, not once, but multiple times daily, every single day of your existence. Imagine your mother, wife, daughter or sister suffering the constant repetition of this horror. The reasons why some girls are targeted by traffickers while others are not, varies. These trafficked girls and women may very well be the same women we purport to love and care for, but we do little to change their sexual environment. Therefore, where they live, their economic situation, race, or ethnicity does not protect them from sexual abuse and predators.

I believe there are very few women who have not suffered from unwanted sexual advances. Many women have been physically and sexually abused. Maybe you know someone, family or friend, who has experienced this kind of violence. It is likely that we are aware of females who have been abused or even suffering harm today. Just possibly, we may have been the abuser. The questions we men must resolve to find the answer to is why do we harm women, why do we seek sexual gratification illicitly, and why do we purchase and watch pornography?

Human trafficking in today’s world is called “Modern Day Slavery.” Slavery from the ancient times to the American Civil War to present day slavery has one thing in common, the exploitation of many for the financial gain of the few.

In the four-plus years that I have been involved in the “Stop Human Trafficking” movement, I find myself writing and rewriting the same words and asking myself, “How can I break through the generations of men with the learned behavior of discounting and abusing women?” I find myself becoming angry every time I look at the statistics about the number of women and children trafficked globally and in the US. I find that statistics do not stir the hearts of men, no matter how shocking they are, if we are not motivated to alter the way that we view and treat women. I understand that perfectly. I am as guilty as the next man in the way I regarded women. Years ago, my favorite response came from the question “When you see a woman what do you notice first?” I replied, “It depends on which way they are walking.” It sounded cute and funny then and to me was an innocent statement of fact. Unfortunately, it was a statement that went straight to the heart of sexual objectification of women. As I became involved in the anti-sex trafficking movement, I spent some time reflecting on my “go to” comment, and what I saw about myself was disconcerting. I realized how revealing my actions and views were in promoting the abuse of women to those around me, especially my children and friends. It was impossible for me to proclaim any degree of holiness when I believed that the degradation of women was acceptable.

Learned behavior is problematic to change, but not impossible. It takes desire, perseverance, support, and occasionally professional help to alter unhealthy behavior. Recently there was an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch religion page titled: “Look to Jesus to learn how to treat women.” Anita Anton quoted a comment from Barbara Leonhard, Oldenburg Franciscan,

“Jesus refused to treat women as inferior. Given the decidedly negative cultural view of women in Jesus’ time, the Gospel writers each testify to Jesus’ treating women with respect, frequently responding in ways that reject cultural norms. He recognizes their dignity, their desires, and their gifts.”

I appreciated her comments because if we treat women with “respect,” showing them the dignity they deserve and allowing them to use their God-given gifts fully, the sexual objectification of women will begin to cease. Finally, after all these thousands of years, women will be equal in the eyes of man. We can at least adhere to the path that the holiest man of all time, Jesus of Nazareth, has shown us to follow. So, let us begin.

This is a revised version of an article originally published in the Brotherhood of St. Andrew’s magazine: St. Andrew’s Cross.

Mike McDonnell is co-founder of the Lake of the Ozarks Stop Human Trafficking Coalition, VP Human Trafficking Ministries with the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, and a member of St. George Episcopal Church, Camdenton.

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References

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What Are You Doing This Year?

Join us for this year’s Book Study Challenge.

The Rev. Dr. Canon Steven R. Rottgers One-minute read.   Resources

During my 32+ years as a parish priest, I’ve watched many a New Year’s Resolution falter and fail within days and weeks of its initial formation. I’ve since adopted a KISS attitude by keeping intended hopes, plans and goals for a New Year to a healthy list of 1-3 items.

I’ve seen the same format playout with Congregations and their hopes, plans and goals for a New Year and Vestry leadership become overwhelmed with well-intended lists of 12-15 points. Ignoring the basic Pareto (80/20) Rule, many frustrations and dashed expectations replace the initial hopes, dreams, plans, and goals.

For this year, 2018, I’m encouraging all clergy, vestries, book clubs, laity, and leadership of all sorts to consider a simple yet transformative path. It’s in the form of a Book Study Challenge. There is no hard “Start” date and no hard “Finish Line” for this plan, yet it does depend upon a thread of commitment on an individual or congregational level to just “Do It!”

Here’s The Plan

  • Gather a group of your choosing such as a Sunday Forum, Book Club, Friendship Circle etc. that will commit to a regular time frame to read and gather to discuss the appointed reading material. (Weekly, bi-weekly or monthly.)
  • Commit to agreed assigned segments/chapters to be read for each period.
  • The Scriptural Reading List is to be from the New Testament Book of Acts (The Good Book Club has a Lent/Easter program reading the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts that would be an option for use)
  • The Co-Reading Text for the Epiphany-Lent Segment of the year is: Beating the Boundaries — the Church God is Calling Us to Be by The Rev. John Spicer, Rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Kansas City.
  • The co-reading text for the Easter-Pentecost Segment of the year is Cultivating An Evangelistic Church by The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers and Ms. Carrie Boren Headington.

The discussion/study outline is simple for all to participate and be heard

  • What point, thought or idea interests me from the assigned reading of Acts and/or the Co-Reading material?
  • Why does that point resonate with you and perhaps is touching a Passion or Interest?
  • Is there a possible crossover from being just reading material too seriously needing to be studied/explored further and perhaps initiating a plan to make it a reality in your life or the life of your congregation?

An Invitation

Finally, we invite you to come with your group and share your insights, applications or ideas at the Summer Church Summit, Calvary Episcopal Church in Sedalia on Saturday, August 25th, 2018.

Canon Steve is Canon to the Ordinary with The Diocese of West Missouri.


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Loving as Christ Loved the Church: An Apologia for Gay Marriage

Fr. David argues that the Good News of Christ Jesus — Good News for all people, gay and straight — makes no distinction between them when it comes to monogamous lifelong committed relationships.

The Very Rev. David Kendrick Eight-minute read.   Resources

Lanora and Gates kneel at the Altar rail at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Springfield.
Image: Facebook

On Saturday, January 20th, I celebrated and blessed my first same-sex marriage, which was also the first at St. John’s. If you had told me I would have done this 10 years ago when I was first ordained I would have had a hard time believing you. If you had told me 20 years ago that as a layperson I would even have attended a same-sex wedding, I would not have believed you. And yet I have done just that.

The vast majority of my parishioners are either supportive or at least accepting of this. But a few have questioned whether, to paraphrase Richard Niebuhr, I’m putting Culture above Christ by linking the Church to a social movement for gay rights rather than standing for the truth. This article is an adaptation of a longer pastoral letter in which I tried to explain why that is not the case. But justifying this to my local parish alone is not enough. I promised at my ordination to proclaim by word and deed the Gospel (from the Old English God-Spell—Good News) of Jesus Christ. And so, I here proclaim that the Good News of Christ Jesus—Good News for all people, gay and straight—makes no distinction between them when it comes to monogamous lifelong committed relationships.

Twenty years ago, it seemed to me that Holy Scripture commanded two righteous ways of sexual expression. One was a lifelong marriage between a man and woman. The other was more a sublimation of that sexuality, namely lifelong celibacy in anticipation of that day when there will be no need for exclusive relationships because, standing in God’s glory, we shall all love each other equally. That was how I read Jesus’ teaching on marriage and celibacy in Matthew 19:1-12.

I deceived myself and others by my supposed compassion for those whom I took at their word that their attraction to the same gender was as much an instinct as mine to the opposite gender. By no means was their attraction a sin, I insisted, just their acting on it.

But the more I studied Jesus’ teaching, in Education for Ministry before Seminary, in Seminary, and after Seminary, the deeper and deeper understanding I was given of Jesus’ teaching on human sexuality. And the more and more convicted I became over the chains I was willing to place on my gay brothers and sisters. Jesus was being asked about marriage at a time when it was only between men and women, but his words should not be fixed to the cultural presumptions of that audience, time and place.

Having just heard Jesus say that they can’t divorce their wives at will, his male disciples then ask if they should be like Jesus,

1910His disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” Matthew 19:10

In other words, must we be celibate like you Jesus? To this Jesus answers,

1911“Not everybody can accept this teaching, but only those who have received the ability to accept it.” Matthew 19:11a

Quite obviously, no human being can possibly give such a gift to another human being or impose it. Only God can give the ability to accept lifelong celibacy, and only “those who can accept it should accept it,” (Matthew 19:12) Jesus concludes.

While he may have been speaking to straight males, I concluded that Jesus’ teaching should be applied equally to those whose desire for union with the same gender is as much an instinct as the instinctive desire of heterosexual persons. I was also convicted of my cruelty in presuming to impose an obligation of lifelong celibacy on a certain group of people when I would never have considered imposing that burden on myself or those like me. If anyone, heterosexual or homosexual, discerns the gift and call of celibacy from God, who am I to judge? But who am I also to judge those who have not discerned from God the ability within themselves to abandon the worldly hope of an exclusive loving relationship?

Lanora and Gates are Married, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Springfield.
Image: Facebook

And so, I came to believe that Jesus would no more impose lifelong celibacy on homosexual persons than he did on heterosexual males. And I came to this belief not by ignoring the words of the Gospel, but by reading more deeply, the Word made flesh (John 1:14) speaking through the human authors of Holy Scripture.

But marriage? One might pastorally accept and even bless a monogamous gay relationship. But marriage as the outward and visible sign of God’s grace and Christ’s personal presence? Gay marriage a sacrament? What would I say to a gay couple asking not just for a blessing (which I and most priests are rather profligate about giving) but for the public celebration of their commitment as sacramental, a sign and vehicle of God’s grace and Christ’s presence?

More than once since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in July of 2015, homosexual couples have asked to be married at my parish church. Each time I explained the longstanding rule in my parish that at least one of them must be an active member of the parish. Thus, as with any other couple, a gay couple would need to visit us, get to know us, kneel before the Bishop and be either confirmed or received before I could consider their request. Gates Wagner and Lanora Samaniego fitted that description perfectly.

In May of 2016, the St. John’s Evangelism Committee proposed that we participate as a sponsor of the Greater Ozarks Gay Pride Festival, and the Vestry voted to do. So, on Saturday, June 18th, just one week after the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, we went to our gay brothers and sisters rather than wait for them to risk coming to us on any given Sunday not knowing how they would be received. And it was there that I met Lanora and Gates.

Soon after we met at Pridefest, Gates and Lanora made their first visit. Coming from the Roman Catholic tradition, they took to our Anglo-Catholic parish like fish to water. They were received into The Episcopal Church by Bishop Field that November. They are both active in the Outreach Ministry Group, and the Evangelism Committee. And their Friday yoga class has helped parishioners and others in pain. In short, Lanora and Gates fully committed themselves to this parish before asking me to officiate at their marriage.

I agreed to do the same premarital counseling with them as I do with other couples. Once they had completed that counseling and I was convinced of their mature commitment to each other, I found myself with Saint Philip the Deacon on that wilderness road with the Ethiopian Eunuch who asked in so many words — What is to keep me from the Sacrament of Baptism? (Acts 8:26-40). Simply because he had been picked as a newborn to serve the Ethiopian Queen, and his testicles crushed with a stone, this Eunuch could be drawn to the One and only God of Israel, and even go to Jerusalem as a religious pilgrim. But as a disfigured eunuch (and not of his own choice) he could never be a Jew by the Law of Moses. As that eunuch asked Philip, so I heard Gates and Lanora asking me — What is to keep us from the Sacrament of Marriage?

What exactly makes marriage a sacrament of God’s infinite grace? “[Marriage] signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church,” the Priest says in the opening declaration of the Marriage ceremony. Underpinning this teaching are the words of Saint Paul to the Ephesians:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Ephesians 5:25, 32.

In the patriarchal society of Paul’s time, it makes sense that these words were directed to husbands, whom prevailing culture said should assert authority over their wives (an idea Paul paid lip service to while emphasizing much more the husband’s obligation to sacrifice himself for his wife if necessary). Understanding more fully the equality of male and female, the Church today calls both people in a marriage to love each other as Christ loved the Church and died for that Church. That is what makes a marriage Christian, not the gender or orientation of the two persons involved.

Seeing that Christ-like love in Lanora and Gates for each other, and their commitment to that part of Christ’s Body the Church called Episcopal, I was able to look at Paul’s words to the Ephesians about the “mystery” (in Latin, sacramentum) of marriage more deeply than the culture in which they were written, the same way I had looked at Jesus’ words in Matthew. And I could see no reason why something that no person chooses determined whether their love for each other was sacramental. And so today, they are Lanora and Gates Samaniego.

None of this has been about surrendering to the Culture. It has been about hearing the Word of God who is with God and is God speaking eternal truth through the human words of Holy Scripture across the millennia. It has also been about God the Holy Spirit opening our minds to a new interpretation of those human words.

1612“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. John 16:12-13

I believe that same-sex marriage is one of those things that has come. And I cannot say no to those whose monogamous love is no different based simply on their gender. To God’s grace and truth through Jesus Christ I offer my mind, and my heart, and those in my care whose love for God is at least equal to mine.

The Very Rev. David Kendrick is Southern Dean and Rector at St. John’s, Springfield.


Deepen Your Experience of God by Worshiping With Other Faiths

Carolyn Thompson is deepening her relationship with God by participating in other faith’s worship services.

Carolyn B Thompson 10 minute read.   Resources


Eucharist following the ordination to the Priesthood of Fr. Chas Marks, at St. Mary's, Kansas City. 9-8-2017.
The Episcopal Church – Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. (Eucharist following the ordination to the Priesthood of Fr. Chas Marks, at St. Mary’s, Kansas City. 9-8-2017. Image credit: Gary Zumwalt

I love, love, love the experience of worshipping in an Episcopal service – the smells, the bells, the vestments, the music, the Book of Common Prayer, the layout of the worship space, the church’s beliefs, the history.

I’m also one of the first to say how easy it is to not be present in worship in a liturgical tradition such as the one I love. But, I always meant “those people”, those people who just recite the words while not living as Jesus would; those people who literally have no idea what words they’re saying while they’re thinking about coffee hour, the ball game, how much they don’t like the priest, the new vestments, the candles; those people who don’t work hourly at their relationship with God.

And I realized I was one of “those people” — Someone who is so hooked on the Episcopal worship experience that any other worship experience makes it difficult to feel like I’d been to church, or worse that I hadn’t even connected with my Father.

I don’t know about you but I am often at odds with God over His timing vs mine

As a woman of immediate fix-it action, the moment I realized this, I wanted to get started on the fix. And thankfully God provided (I don’t know about you but I am often at odds with God over His timing vs mine.) I knew that what I needed was to participate in many more worship experiences than the few I’d been able to thus far (and weddings and funerals don’t count because the focus is on the special ceremony with all its emotions, not on the worshiping and building of a relationship with God.) But how? It’s hard to get away from the responsibilities at our own parish. Being an acolyte and member of the choir were my responsibilities at the time. Our church was soon to be losing its priest to retirement, and we had no idea when we might be able to find the right person for us or even find a relief priest who could celebrate the Eucharist with us from time-to-time. The unknown frequency of the Eucharist meant no choir or need for acolytes. So I jumped right into my journey the Sunday after our priest retired. Did I plan what places of worship I’d go to? Did I set a more specific objective than worship and build a relationship with God no matter where I was? Being the immediate fix-it action me, no!

As I attended places of worship the details of my method and an objective began to evolve. Naturally, people at the places I visit are curious about what I’m doing, and I had to have answers for their questions: are you visiting? Are you looking for a church home? Are you coming back next week? You should sing in our choir, want to come to our spaghetti dinner? Want to be in charge of our youth program? Want to be on our governing body? I’m just kidding about the last two, but I have visited some small communities and I know that “we need more people here” feeling. By week four I had honed my method and objective. For the next year, I will go to a different place of worship within a one-and-a-half hour drive from home each week, so that I can feel and see God no matter where I am.

The Episcopal Church: Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preaching at Hammons Field, Springfield. Sunday May 7, 2017.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preaching at Hammons Field, Springfield. Sunday May 7, 2017. Image credit: Gary Allman

“Love God, love your neighbor, love yourself”

Having said this, I learned that my journey would keep evolving. In fact “evolving” was a hallmark of this journey for me. Seven months in I went to the Awakening event in Springfield and heard Presiding Bishop Michael Curry tell us that our job was to “Love God, love your neighbor, love yourself” … I realized he was talking about my journey — what can I learn about God, and what can I do to strengthen my relationship with Him? With other people? And with myself?

Picking a weekly Place of Worship

For the first eight months by Friday, it had just occurred to me where I was going. I called to get the times of services and the other things people normally do (education, meal, donations, etc…), any special dress requirements or actions I should be prepared for? And I confirmed the address (I recommend that you don’t trust websites, and plenty of places don’t have websites). In order to get to all the faith traditions I don’t want to miss, I now have a list and choose one each week based on the distance and time of worship. I liked the first method best.

Getting Something Out of Each Experience

  • I trust that I’ll get something out of each worship experience.
  • I participate fully in whatever that faith tradition does at their worship – sing, pray, Sunday School/education, share a meal, donate money, canned goods, etc…
  • I take lots of notes about what I see, what I feel and what I learned.

People ask “which is your favorite place of worship” and I honestly say “I loved them all”

When I read all my notes from the past 10 months here’s where every experience intersected. I’ll call them the Outcomes of My Experiences. But these are not just my experiences, the people at the places I visit each week are also learning; as are people out in the community, as they talk about what I’m doing.

The Outcomes of My Experiences

I am:

  1. experiencing intense faith traditions which makes me think for days — as opposed to hours after my service;
  2. talking to people because I‘m always the new person — at my service I worship and go off to my next event;
  3. seeing a different emphasis per congregation and clergy leader — this is the only one on this list that I had expected;
  4. hearing preaching on the same scripture by different people — this has allowed me to understand some for the first time;
  5. opening others to my journey equals opening them to their own journey — always a part of God’s purpose for me;
  6. experiencing different music — my main form of worship has always been music and this has intensified that;
  7. learn something no matter who is preaching — I used to have a hard time getting used to a new preaching style;
  8. blessed with a Lent that I’d never have lived without this journey — and I’ve shared my amazing reflections with others;
  9. clear that I love the Episcopal Church — the ancient way of ordering time around the life of Christ, the Book of Common Prayer, because I’m praying the same thing as Anglicans around the world, and the variety of worship experiences.

Even though I spent the first eight months with no game-plan of where to go, it occurred to me that there were other places of worship I would like to experience and I made a list to be sure I got to them in my one-year timeframe. Here are the ones I didn’t want to miss:

  • 7th Day Adventist
  • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
  • Jehovah’s Witness
  • Buddhist Temple
  • Muslim Mosque
  • Jewish Temple
  • Reformed Church in America
  • Christian Science
  • Assembly of God

Places of Worship Attended So Far

Worship Tradition Number of visits
Pentecostal 1
New Testament 1
Roman Catholic 1
Disciples of Christ 5 (same church, asked back to sing)
Lutheran 1
Methodist 5 (same church, asked back to sing)
Non-denominational 2
Presbyterian 1
Baptist 2
My church 6 (asked to acolyte)
Other Episcopal churches 8 (all different except 1 twice)
Worship CDs in my car 2 (driving long distance all Sunday)

People ask “which is your favorite place of worship” and I honestly say “I loved them all”. When analyzing how that could be, I saw it clearly in my list of outcomes. I get something from every place I go to, and I think about that place and what I learned there for days afterward. And further, I expect to gain something from every place I go, and so, I love every one of them.

I know I won’t stop at one year, as that’s only two months away, and though I can see a huge change in my ability to feel and see God in whatever faith tradition I’m worshiping in, there are:

  1. more intensely different faith traditions than mine that I have yet to experience, and …
  2. I love the benefits of this worship style (see the first six outcomes above).

I’m not sure I’d get them if I went to one church every week and I’m not ready to give them up yet. I’m trying to listen and discern the journey God has for me. I know that some of my “I don’t want to miss” visits will challenge and help me to grow even closer to my objective of feeling and seeing God no matter where I am.

What Happened to Me Can Happen to You

Yes, you can follow my lead and go to a different place of worship each week. If that’s not for you, for whatever reason, you can take a new look at worshiping closer to home. What would happen to your relationship with God, with your neighbor, and with yourself if you tried to attain some of my outcomes each week? You can do it in the comfort of your own church, at your favorite time of day, with the people you know, with the clergy you’re used to listening to, in the comfort of your own pew. Don’t tell me you don’t sit in the same pew every Sunday because I know most of us do!

“God didn’t make us to have small lives”, Erin M Straza says in her new book, Comfort Detox. What would happen if you allowed yourself to experience the fullness of worship that God has planned for you? Not a small life.

Carolyn B Thompson is a cradle Episcopalian with a unquenchable thirst for more relationship with her beloved Father.

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Facts, Figures, and Men’s Role in Human Trafficking

What’s the truth behind human trafficking, and how men specifically can work on eradicating it. A paper presented at the Human Trafficking Workshop for Men held at St. John’s Springfield, on September 17, 2017.

Mike McDonnell 20 minute read.   Resources

 

Editor’s Note. I’d like to warn readers that Mike’s paper makes hard reading. It doesn’t pull any punches, and it confronts, head on, a topic most people would rather not discuss. Human, and specifically male sexuality. The sad truth is that if we choose to be offended and pretend that this problem doesn’t exist, there cannot be an informed discussion. Without discussion there will be no change.

 

Mike McDonnell presents details of the breadth of the human trafficking problem.
Mike McDonnell presents details of the breadth of the human trafficking problem.
Image credit: Gary Allman

Many years ago I was intently listening to a Lenten Service sermon when the priest counseled his listeners with a statement that I remember to this day. “We will be judged not so much by what we do, but what we don’t do,” I remember it because it was true and it resounded with my soul. Since that day many years ago I have heard the same words spoken again and again. To be honest, I had probably heard those words spoken prior to that day, but I wasn’t spiritually mature enough to respond. My mind was filled with “Mike talk.” It is a problem that I share with many people that do not hear or, in some cases, who hear but ignore or do not recognize the voice of God when encountered.

Fr. Brian McVey, Church of the Advent, Nashville, is interviewed by the by the Springfield media during the Human Trafficking workshop. Image credit: Gary Allman

Therefore, I humbly extend an invitation to each of you to thoughtfully consider, if only for a moment, the possibility that you have ignored the Father’s calling to act not once, but countless times? I have certainly been guilty of disregarding His call, and I am sure that some of you may not have responded when called. Now my challenge to you this day as you listen to Father McVey speak and I tell you about what I know is that you consider the possibility that what you are hearing is God whispering to you to act against this most horrific crime against humanity, the enslavement of another human being.

In 2012 President Obama made an important statement concerning human trafficking:

“It ought to concern every person because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name—modern slavery.” 1

What I decided to do with the president’s message is to substitute “man” or male in the appropriate places in the text. The statement immediately becomes gender-specific as it should well be for every man who has a strong desire for equality and justice. Consequently, the statement now reads: It ought to concern every man because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every male-owned business because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every man in every nation because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name—modern slavery.

Labor Trafficking: the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.2

Sex Trafficking: the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion. Or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.3

Human trafficking encompasses every corner of the world. According to the International Justice Mission, there are more than 36 million people enslaved around the world in a variety of operations.4 Trafficking involves many facets including the trafficking of people for their organs, girls, and boys for sexual exploitation and commercial sexual exploitation in tourism5 including the purchase of children for $7,000 to $14,000 each to be specifically used by ISIS as suicide bombers6. UNICEF has also identified a high level of exploitation occurring in areas, such as prostitution, massage parlors, pornography, forced marriage, sweat-shop work, begging, armed services, and migrant farming. Eighty percent of labor trafficking stems from illegal immigrants that have come to the United States with a promise of employment and a better life including undocumented and documented immigrants, oppressed, marginalized populations that are targeted because of their vulnerability7.
According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, the businesses and services most commonly exploited by traffickers are:

  • Advertising (Online and Print)
  • Airlines, bus, rail and taxi companies
  • Financial institutions, money transfer services, and informal cash transfers services
  • Labor brokers, recruitment agencies, or independent recruiters
  • Hospitality industry including hotels and motels
  • Landlords
  • Travel and visa/passport services

Some of the above are used to find victims on advertising sites, such as Craig’s List and Backpage (55% of internet child pornography comes from the United States), and trolling transportation terminals for victims. The fact is that traffickers are everywhere and will utilize legitimate business entities where they are able, to take advantage of immigrants, runaways, and individuals under duress to further their criminal pursuits. It is incumbent that these businesses acknowledge the existence of trafficking in their respective industries and take advantage of their unique standing to identify and report trafficking incidents. If they do, they will deny trafficker’s opportunities to work via legitimate organizations to advance their criminal enterprise.

Industries that benefit directly from the use of labor trafficking victims are agriculture, the services industry, and commercial industries. UNICEF has identified the 128 “worst” offenders and identified the goods that are most likely to be produced by child labor or forced labor, such as gold, sugar cane, coal, cotton, rice, tobacco, cocoa, diamonds, garments, coffee, bricks, and carpets.

A significant step beyond government legislative efforts to halt labor trafficking is to purchase “Fair Trade Certified Products.” Buying Fair Trade means that the laborer’s compensation is fair; they receive healthcare and have the collective bargaining power to negotiate safe work environments. Eliminating and or reducing the profit margin of the organizations supporting labor trafficking will adversely impact the criminal’s financial bottom line reducing their motivation to enslave individuals for monetary gain.

In the United States, we can become more cognizant of businesses that most often are the greatest source of using trafficked victims as a source of labor as identified by DOJ, FBI, National Human Trafficking Resource Center, etc.: small businesses, such as roofing companies, asphalt companies, nail and hair salons, hotels and motels, restaurants, agriculture, labor brokers, employers of domestic servants, mall kiosks, travelling sales crews or illegal businesses, such as drugs, arms trade or panhandling, etc. Many times legal businesses will use contracted workers and are unaware that they are using trafficking victims as a source of labor. Consequently, businesses, no matter their size, need to be aware of the legitimacy of laborers they used through sub-contractors by requesting employers to provide the worker’s credentials, such as passports, visas, green cards, I9’s, and vetting the providing contractor, if necessary.

Indicators that might indicate an individual is being trafficked: Do workers have identification? Is there a preponderance of non-English speaking workers with one individual speaking for the entire group? And is their movement closely monitored, such as being unable to leave the work area even to use the bathroom without an escort? To aid in identifying victims, I am providing some information cards that fit into a billfold, and brochures that you may take with you showing trafficking indicators and a hotline number for reporting suspicious activities.

I continue my paper by concentrating on sex trafficking, pornography, domestic abuse and the shocking and destructive effect that these actions perpetuate on our society. Specifically, the horrific impact they have on the lives of women which demand our attention. However, because the balance of my presentation is fixed on sex trafficking and women, I do not want anyone to believe for a moment that labor trafficking or the sexual abuse of boys and men is acceptable because it is not. Three percent of males are trafficked for sex8, and 1 out 10 boys will be victimized before adulthood9. In a 2008 study performed in New York “boys comprised about 50% of sexually exploited children.”10 However, girls and women are the bulk of sexual exploitation, therefore, deserving of my focus this day.

Why do men abuse sex and how do our actions affect our view of women? Why are men willing to risk reputations, families, and careers to engage in self-indulgent sex? My conversation with you squarely focuses on “us” and the consequences of our unconstrained actions, buying sex, the use of pornography for personal gratification and its impact on our souls, society, and the women and families we assert to love. And finally, can anything be done to change the present circumstances?

Sex trafficking may be the most hideous crime ever to confront humanity affecting some 4½ million females worldwide. The revenues from human trafficking are estimated to be $150 billion with $99 billion derived from commercial sexual exploitation, $32 billion from construction and manufacturing, $9 billion from agriculture including forestry and fishing, and $8 billion saved annually by employers of private home domestic workers under the conditions of forced labor.11

FBI statistics show that sex trafficking is the fastest-growing business of organized crime. Every year in the US approximately 300,000 American youths are at risk becoming victims of sex trafficking.12 Within 48 hours one in three runaways is solicited by sex traffickers, with one in eight likely to be a victim. Amazingly, the average age of girl preyed on by pimps is 12 years old.13 In the article “Life on the Street: New Wave of Prostitution with More Violence Is Overwhelming Los Angeles Authorities,” Miles Corwin reports that a madam told a room filled with 30 other madams and call girls that more and more of her male customers were asking her to procure 12 or 13-year-old girls. Give that request some thought. These young girls will be raped, “broken in” to perform various forms of sexual acts, suffer physical abuse and tortured as they groom them for the sex business. They will be compelled to have sex with several men daily to earn their pimps as much as $5,000 to $30,000 plus a week.14

The truth is that these numbers can be overwhelming, seriously depressing and very scary; especially, for those of you with young children. If you were to Google “sex trafficking” you find government and private organizations, such as, the FBI, DOJ, Polaris, National Human Trafficking Resource Center, Administration of Children and Family Services, UNICEF, etc. with statistical analysis that would fill several typewritten pages with unimaginable facts validating the immense impact of sex trafficking on our society. It is a sad commentary on men. We are by far the biggest perpetrators of this social catastrophe, well over 90%. We are the traffickers, the pimps and the johns that ultimately are the suppliers, marketers, and customers that tolerate the peddling of our children, wives, and girlfriends for control, money, drugs, and personal sexual gratification. These shocking and disturbing issues must be at the forefront of our social agendas to stop sex trafficking, especially, if we want to make a positive change in the lives of girls and women everywhere. If we men think that we are not impacted by trafficking because we do not pay for a prostitute or sell our own children for drugs or sex we better wake up, and quickly. The private conversations we have concerning women and the sexual comments we make are overheard by young men and our youth and are accepted as reality. We need to transform ourselves and the world. So, let us begin!

In my three years learning about human trafficking and specifically sex trafficking over the last several months, I have thought a lot about how to categorize the various key components of the trafficking business. If I were to put together a process chart, I would place them in the following order:

  1. Vulture
  2. Trafficker
  3. Pimp
  4. John

The vulture (or recruiter) is searching for his prey until he finds his quarry, in this case, females, especially young girls and young women. According to the International Organization for Migration, 52% of sex trafficked victims are recruited by men, 42% are women, and 6% are both men and women. He or she may find them at shopping malls, bus stations, walking down the street or in your neighbor’s home. Potential victims are everywhere. He wants the girl that has suffered abuse or may have run away from home to escape, or has low self-esteem or maybe came from a dysfunctional family. He will present himself as a savior, someone who will love, care and protect them, providing them with a sense of security. After he gains their confidence, he will take on the role of sex trafficker or sell them to a trafficker.

The sex trafficker will begin the grooming process by raping or having the girl raped several times by different men, forcing her to perform various expected sex acts. This may take days or weeks, but the girl will be primed to perform as asked or she will be beaten, starved, humiliated and even killed. They will strongly imply that if she does not do what she is told she will be blackmailed with pictures and or videos showing her performing various sex acts. The images will be sent to her family, church, and friends. If she still refuses, they will threaten to kill her family or target an additional family member for prostitution, usually a younger sister or even a brother.

The pimp is the marketer and the seller of sex services. He will take the product to market, expecting high return with little risk for his investment. He will advertise the girls on the internet, take them to sporting events, nightclubs, truck stops, exotic dance clubs and have the girls walk the streets, potentially earning himself over a million dollars annually. The girl’s salary is $0, with their freedoms restricted; they will be under constant surveillance and expected to provide unrestricted sexual favors multiple times. At the end of their sex career, they will suffer from Post Traumatic Stress, potentially endure multiple pregnancies and abortions, sexual diseases, beaten numerous times and even slain. They will more than likely die from a drug overdose, suicide, malnutrition or be killed at a young age because they would no longer comply with the pimp or john or maybe they are no longer attractive and a moneymaker.

The john is you and me. We could be a doctor, lawyer, minister, factory worker, engineer, sanitation worker, office clerk …

We, my friends, are the reason that young girls are taken from their homes, that families are broken and that women have to suffer a lifetime of humiliation.

The john is you and me. We could be a doctor, lawyer, minister, factory worker, engineer, sanitation worker, office clerk; in other words; it could be any of us. There is a good likelihood that we are married with children or even grandchildren and look at pornography on a regular basis. We, my friends, are the reason that young girls are taken from their homes, that families are broken and that women have to suffer a lifetime of humiliation. We are the purchasers of illicit sex.

As men of God, we need to become accountable for our actions and the actions of all men. This evil will continue to exist for as long as man walks this earth if we continue to ignore our responsibility to women. As men, we need to be proactive, take the initiative and begin change.

To accomplish this transformation, we need to initiate the process of scrutinizing our relationships with the girls and women in our lives. More importantly, we must consider what we can do to move the generational thought process of boys and young men beyond seeing women as a sexual object to appreciate better the female role as a worthy partner in our lives. This process needs to start with us and be transferred down to every generation of males in our realm of influence.

Slavery has been around for thousands of years. Men and women have been forced into bondage because of war, poverty and their sex. Certainly, women and children had little say about their circumstances being forced into situations where they performed labor and or provided sexual favors to their captors. I have often thought about the Samaritan woman at the well from the Gospel of John.

416Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” John 4:16-18

Women were and are still used as a property in many parts of the world to satisfy and serve the needs of men. In considering this passage, I wondered why this woman was married five times? Was she divorced each time or did her spouses die or was she trafficked in the patriarchal order of that period? There are many reasons a male over 2,000 years ago could have contrived to rid himself of an unwanted female. Maybe she was too fat, too old, too skinny, bad sex or maybe she could not produce a male heir. Whatever the reason she was being passed from man to man for their personal use, financial benefit, and pleasure, much as women are today.

Jesus knew her heart. Consequently, he is speaking to her with compassion and understanding. By his words he acknowledges her as a person as with every woman encountered, he took the time to explain to her who he was and his purpose.

413Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14

425The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”John 4:25-26

We may rationalize in our minds that she was disreputable, but my instincts tell me that she had not been living a life of her choosing. Her questions were straightforward and her responses to Jesus genuine. She is by all indications a woman of little means, few friends and trapped in a system that provided no freedom and little promise for a better life. In short, she was trafficked. I doubt if anyone considered her plight as an individual being trafficked for labor and or sexual favors; after all, she was a woman and more than likely considered nothing more than disposable property. However, Jesus words filled her with hope and excitement.

It is evident from the various documentaries, news reports, and women marching in the streets, occupying important political offices and executive positions in large corporations indicate that some things have and are changing. However, the question remains, has it changed significantly enough to make a real difference in their lives? Looking at the situation from a female’s perspective, not much. Men in high political positions hurl insults at women; executives still pressure women for sexual favors (Fox News is a recent example), and 1 in 5 women on college campuses are raped annually.15

Have you ever compared nude art and pornography, and wondered to yourself, what’s the big deal, is it not the same? Ravi Zacharias, Christian Apologists, notes that while both utilize nude figures, one stimulates the immoral instincts in man while the other strives to highlight the beauty of man, and thus “the glory of God.”16

If ever in history there has been a crime against the will and mind of man it is pornography. The depiction of women being subjugated by men for their personal sexual gratification has been portrayed in stories and movies for years. The image of beautiful, seductive women meeting our sensual desires is a dream that men have had throughout the ages. Of course, even more tantalizing is women seeking out men for passionate sex with no strings attached.

I have had conversations with men who say that they use pornography to enhance their sexual relationships. Possibly, that may be true in the short-term, but the long-term consequences go well beyond the initial pleasure. The impact on women and young girls is a tragedy of life-changing proportions. The resultant effect is that the lives of young girls and women are sometimes damaged beyond repair. Men will eventually find that sexual arousal is only available through the more graphic depiction of sexual activities up to torture and potentially, murder. Typical sexual encounters with his spouse or girlfriend will depend on these visual displays to aid in finding sexual arousal and gratification.

Now, before continuing on the deceit that is found in pornography and destructiveness, it brings to the individual, and his family, I will address the victims of sexual violence, and be assured that pornography is not victimless.

Sex is a godly and a good act when performed with a woman that you love. However, if you have watched or purchased porn, please be aware that 1 in 5 images is of a child. It is estimated that many come from homes where they have already suffered severe abuse with porn becoming an extension of that exploitation. These kids are homeless, runaways and to be honest just “throwaway kids.”17 The children are used for diversifying the sex trafficker’s revenue sources and represent’s a $3 billion dollar industry. I guess you could say that the kids are in the minor leagues of the sex racket for porn and prostitution. They start the girls out watching porn to desensitize them as to the sex acts they will be asked to perform many times daily.

Why do men turn to porn? What is it in porn that men cannot find in a normal relationship. Is it more tantalizing, more satisfying? Men turn to porn for a variety of reasons:

  • Partner is not satisfying
  • Partner is not sexually available
  • Partner is sexually unattractive
  • All men do it, why not me?

Pornography addiction is not something that occurs overnight. It is a “process addiction” that may have been unintentionally initiated by looking at soft porn but begins to take on life as a want leading to an apparent need. Once the user associates the porn as a need rather than want, your brain discharges dopamine “releasing the same chemical involved when a drug is ingested.”18 “Dopamine fixes your attention on that desirable object” (porn), “giving you your power of concentration.”19

Wives of porn addicts suffer trauma, blaming themselves for their husband’s addiction. Think about the indelible impression and profound hurt that your wife may feel walking into a room finding you masturbating while viewing pornography or possibly even worse, sneaking glances at pictures of naked women during sexual intercourse. I had an encounter with a very beautiful woman who was distraught and bewildered because she found that her husband was looking at a Playboy centerfold during coitus. The entire episode ended badly for her husband. My guess is that they are no longer married unless he has sought help for his addiction, and my friends it is an addiction.

Women ask themselves why their husbands prefer images or videos to them. Are they not attractive enough or is sex with them boring? The truth is that as the addiction takes hold of your life, even a beautiful woman will seem physically repulsive. Pornography produces an alternative reality in the mind of a porn addict potentially damaging any chance of having a normal relationship without seeking professional help.

The enormous problem with an addiction to porn is that the door is opening to a greater darkness in the mind and heart. Addicts will no longer find the same satisfaction that they had initially derived from viewing sex media; consequently, they will seek extreme sources of hedonism to satisfy their need for sexual excitement in order to fill the emptiness that they have in their personal lives. Their ability to have a normal sexual relationship will disintegrate, and will eventually cost them their job, marriage, family relationships and potentially lead to more unrestrained behavior including extreme forms of sexual perversions, such as sexual torture and murder. Pornography has also been linked to rape, sexual abuse, and users of sex trafficking victims, and sex workers.

I mentioned earlier that johns come from every walk of life composing a heterogeneous population. Consequently, it is difficult to pin down a particular profile and reason for using prostitutes for personal gratification. Men who have been interviewed concerning why they use prostitutes provide an interesting insight into the rationale behind their actions. Some comments range from just being lonely to pure uncontrollable lust. In a 2010 ABC report on “Why Men Buy Sex.” one man commented that it was “No big deal”; it was just like buying a beer. Some other comments:

  • “Prostitution is like masturbating without having to use your hand.”
  • “I feel sorry for these girls, but this is what I want.”
  • “Look, men pay for women because he can have whatever and whoever he wants. Lots of men go to prostitutes so they can do things to them that real women would not put up with.”
  • “We’re living in the age of instant coffee, instant food. This is instant sex.”
  • “Prostitution is a last resort to unfulfilled sexual desires. Rape would be less safe, or if you’re forced to hurt someone, or if you’re so frustrated you masturbate all day.”

It is evident from their comments that these men see women as vessels for their personal sexual enjoyment, not as an equal.

Professor Neil Malmuth, UCLA, researched men who buy sex-determining that prostitution is a form of sexual abuse. Professor Malmuth makes two key points about the similarities between men who buy sex and men who are at risk for sexual aggression:

  1. ‘Both groups tend to prefer impersonal sex, a fear of rejection by women, a history of having committed sexually aggressive acts and a hostile masculine self-identification.’
  2. ‘Men who buy sex, on average, have less empathy for women in prostitution and view them as intrinsically different from other women.’20

The wide-ranging problems with men and sexual abuse are complicated, to say the least, but I hope that you see the connection with sex trafficking, pornography, and prostitution as a continuous circle each inter-connected and feeding the other. The complexities that are derived from the male’s mental attitude towards women are far more complicated than we will discuss. However, the connections are real, and the challenge for every man taking part in this discussion is how do we transform our thinking, and deal with our own problems, and how do we disseminate this knowledge to our children and grandchildren?

So, what is this awareness that as men we should impart to our male children? I am warning you that the answer is simple, but a thorny problem because men feel it is something that a person needs to earn. It is the same thing that you and I crave every day of our lives, respect. Respect for ourselves is hoped for, but how do we disseminate that same regard we seek to our mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, and as a matter of point, all women? Respect is really problematic only because of long-held attitudes of women being submissive to men making them susceptible to abuse and attacks that are so ingrained in our society globally that if we don’t change, women will always be victims of male abuse.

The only way, I believe, to alter this cycle of abuse is to instruct our boys and young men regarding respect, consent, and non-violence in relationships. If we start teaching the male children in our lives at this very moment, we have an opportunity to ensure that women will be considered equals and treated with dignity. We must pray that a female baby born this very day will grow up in a world that honors her sex, respects her as a human being and loves her for who she is, a child of God.

If addicted, what can you do?

What can you do if you have a problem with sexual addiction? First, give yourself a pat on the back, because you have just crossed the first barrier to recovery by taking responsibility for your actions. The good news is that your success is obtainable now that you have accepted the challenge of altering your life’s direction. So, what do you do next? Seek professional help for your spiritual and emotional well-being! You can begin the spiritual recovery process with a priest or minister by seeking prayer, counseling, and absolution. However, to succeed in a permanent transformation, you will need sustained support from your pastor, family and the guidance of professional psychologist or psychiatrist experienced in sex therapy. Remember, it is a beginning, and with the right assistance, you will begin to see the light of hope at the end of a very dark tunnel leading to reclaiming your life.

If the information that I offered today has disturbed you or stirred your heart or possibly made you angry enough that you want to take action I have provided you with a few action items that you can begin undertaking as soon as you leave today:

  • Buy Fair Trade Products, transfairusa.org
  • Teach the males in your sphere of influence respect for women
  • Inform yourself about human trafficking through research and by attending workshops
  • Support anti-trafficking legislation by meeting and or writing your federal and state legislators
  • Volunteer your time with anti-trafficking organizations
  • Learn to recognize the human trafficking indicators

Conclusion:

President Harry Truman once said, that “great men’s first victories in life were over themselves and their carnal urges. Self-discipline with all of them came first“.21 We do not have to go too far back in history to find the truth in Truman’s words. Sex is powerful, seductive, rewarding and destructive at times. I know that there was a time in my life and the lives of many of my male friends where sex seemed to be on our minds 24×7, almost completely controlling all our actions. As men, we need to open our minds and hearts to what we can do to stop Human Trafficking. Albert Einstein was quoted as saying:

“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

I think it is imperative that we don’t ignore evil or God speaking to us by doing nothing.

As I said earlier, “Let us begin.”

Mike McDonnell is co-founder of the Lake of the Ozarks Stop Human Trafficking coalition, and member of St. George Episcopal Church, Camdenton.

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References:

  1. Human Trafficking by the Numbers. Retrieved from http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/human-trafficking-numbers
  2. Retrieved from, www.co.washington.mn.us/2422; Trafficked Victims Protection Act, TVPA 2000
  3. Retrieved from, www.co.washington.mn.us/2422; Trafficked Victims Protection Act, TVPA 2000
  4. International Justice Mission, 2016
  5. Department of Homeland Security, Definition of Human Trafficking, www.dhs.gov/ble-campaign/definition-human-trafficking
  6. Random Facts, 55 Little Known Facts About Human Trafficking, facts.randomhistory.com/human-trafficking-facts.html
  7. Utah trafficking in Persons Task Force, Captain Fernando Rivero
  8. National Institute of Justice and Disease Control & Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey, 1998
  9. Child Maltreatment Report, 2012
  10. Catholic Citizen, Men and Boys Sex Trafficking Overlooked, May 11, 2016
  11. Human Rights First, 01/07/17
  12. Christian Science Monitor, October 2016
  13. National Report on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking
  14. Urban Institute, May 11, 2014
  15. www.trafficking.org
  16. National Sexual Violence Resource Center, Statistics About Sexual Violence
  17. Ella Hutchinson, Licensed Professional Counselor
  18. Ravi Zacharias, Theo-Sophical Ruminations, Art vs. Pornography: What’s the Difference, May27, 2009
  19. Kevin Majeres, MD, www.purityispossible.com
  20. Professor Neil Malmuth, UCLA, MAILONLINE, Sept. 15, 2015
  21. Samuel W. Rushay Jr., Prologue Magazine, Spring 2009, Harry Truman and his History Lessons

Bishop Kemper School Offers Resources and Prepares Deacons for Ministry

The Bishop Kemper School for Ministry (BKSM) offers a two-year program of study for future deacons. This coursework covers scripture, ethics, history, preaching and a wide array of practical ministry topics. Students typically take 10 classes a year for two years, from August-May. Prospective and new students are also encouraged to attend New Student Orientation in July. Detailed information is available on BKSM’s Certificate of Diaconal Studies web page.

On Saturday, June 24, BKSM invites current deacons, prospective deacons and all those in the church who are supportive of diaconal ministry to attend an exciting exploration of the call of deacons today. This one-day workshop, Transforming Church and World: The Ministry of Deacons Today and Tomorrow, features four helpful sessions:

  1. The Deacon’s Job Description;
  2. The Deacon’s Life;
  3. Collegiality with Your Priest; and
  4. The Prophetic Voice of the Deacon.

BKSM will present information about its Certificate in Diaconal Studies as well. The fee for this day-long workshop is $50 per person, which includes meals. The registration deadline is Friday, June 16. You can find the workshop agenda and register on the BKSM website.

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Bishop Kemper School for Ministry and Nazarene Theological Seminary Enter into Articulation Agreement

Bishop Kemper School for Ministry has formally entered an Agreement of Cooperation with Nazarene Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Missouri.

The Rev. Casey Rohleder Five-minute read.   Resources

Effective July 1, 2017, Nazarene Theological Seminary (NTS) will award up to 30 hours of academic course credit to BKSM students and alumni.

This agreement is the first of its kind for BKSM and recognizes the high quality and academic rigor of BKSM courses. It enables its alumni to more easily pursue a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) or other graduate degree program.

The agreement is not limited to those pursuing an M.Div. degree. Any BKSM graduate or student who has taken courses for credit may submit their BKSM transcript for review to determine the exact amount of transfer credit at NTS.

The Very Rev. Dr. Don Compier, BKSM dean, praised this new relationship, saying “NTS offered us a most generous articulation agreement that recognizes the academic excellence of BKSM and provides for acceptance of all of our courses for academic credit at NTS. This partner seminary is a pioneer in pursuing the same affordability and accessibility to quality theological education that BKSM embraces.”

Dr. Josh Sweeden, NTS’s associate professor of church and society and academic dean designate, said, “NTS is delighted to enter an articulation agreement with BKSM and is confident the collaboration will benefit students and mutually strengthen our learning communities. Part of NTS’ mission is to be a resource to the church, and in a time when the church is more commonly defined by difference and division, we are excited for the way this relationship highlights cooperation and our shared commitments to theological and ministerial education.”

Compier agreed, saying “This agreement is a splendid example of true ecumenical spirit and genuine Christian hospitality.”

Compier has long been acquainted with NTS. He attended Nazarene Theological Seminary in the 1980s and has maintained good relationships with faculty and administrators there ever since.

This articulation agreement is not the first relationship between the two schools. NTS generously provides BKSM students and graduates access to their excellent library and the many online resources available to them. Additionally, BKSM counts one member of NTS’s faculty, Dr. Andy Johnson, among its instructors.

The Rev. Casey Rohleder is a Communication & Outreach Specialist with Bishop Kemper School for Ministry

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