The wicked scheme of child offending church leaders: A house of cards

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Man carrying Bible

Man carrying Bible

In season two of the popular Netflix series, House of Cards, Vice President, Frank Underwood, strategically and almost single-handedly brings down the presidency of Garrett Walker.  The Underwood scheme was deceptively dark and worked well for Frank Underwood; not so well for Garrett Walker.

Sadly, the Underwood scheme is not limited to fictional television programs.   Just last week, I learned about a family who had a similar experience with a church leader who is alleged to have abused their child.  When the Underwood scheme is executed by child abusers who are church leaders, it is far more sinister and destructive than the behavior of a fictional vice-president.   Here is what the Underwood scheme looks like:

Man carrying Bible

Man carrying Bible

Targeting:    Offenders can very intentional about pursuing their victims.  Child offending church leaders will often target a new family that has not yet had the opportunity to develop substantive relationships within the church.   These offenders realize that vulnerable families are more likely to be receptive to attempts to initiate a friendship.  That is all part of the wicked scheme.

Befriending:  Under the guise of developing a new “friendship”, the child offending leader will work quickly to express a desire for the families to “do life” together. The offender will not hesitate to use his wife and children to help facilitate the friendship. Whether it’s an appeal to help “mentor” the target family or simply because the families are in similar “seasons of life”, the offender encourages both families to spend an inordinate amount of time together.  Due to the lack of other friendships within the church and how warmly they have been received by the church leader and his family, target families tend to be very appreciative of this new “friendship”.  That is all part of the wicked scheme.

Isolating:   The target family will initially feel “special” and enjoy being in the envious position of receiving so much attention from the child offending leader and his family.  Isolation is never healthy in any relationship – even if it’s with a “Christian leader” who everyone seems to love and trust.  This isolation is fueled by the offenders’ objectives of limiting the target family’s opportunity to develop other close relationships within the church, and gaining their complete trust. The more time these two families spend together, the less time the target family is able to develop friendships with others within the church.   Over time, this exclusive “friendship” results in the target family becoming more isolated and less connected to the larger church community.  This dynamic propels the target family to become even more dependent and trusting of the offending leader and his family.   The ultimate consequence of isolation is that it minimizes the congregational support this family will receive if and when the abuse is ever discovered.  That is all part of the wicked scheme.

Learning:  Beware of those attempting to isolate your relationship, while seeking to learn of your greatest vulnerabilities.  As the two families spend more time together and the trust deepens, the offending leader will begin to make efforts to learn more about the struggles facing the targeted family.   This is often carried out under the pretense of pastoral care and friendship.  As a result, an already vulnerable family becomes even more vulnerable and exposed as they share about such issues as, marital troubles, financial hardships, parental problems, or any other  personal struggle that confront so many modern families. The line between friend and pastor gets intentionally blurred enabling the offender to gather ammunition for possible future use in discrediting and marginalizing the target family.  It is important to note that the child offending leader seldom reciprocates and discloses similarly struggles with the target family.  Doing so would provide the targeted family with their own ammunition should the abuse be disclosed.   Transparency within isolation fuels a cycle of greater dependency, vulnerability, and eventually even greater isolation and dependency.  That is all part of the wicked scheme.

Abusing:  Intimate “friendship”, isolation, and the exposure of vulnerabilities are the gateways to abuse for many offenders.  Offenders will exploit these very aspects of the relationship to access and abuse the child.  One couple informed me that the offender had strongly encouraged them to share their most intimate of marital struggles and then suggested that they seek counseling.  He then “generously” offered that he and his wife would watch their children whenever they went to counseling.  It was during those times that their child was sexually victimized by this offender.  That is all part of the wicked scheme.

Discrediting:  If abuse suspicions or allegations ever surface, the child offending leader will find subtle ways to expose the struggles shared by the target family as ammunition to destroy their credibility.  This ammunition is especially destructive since the target family has been intentionally cut off from others within the church.  This makes it that much easier for the victimized child and family to be maligned as untrustworthy, while the offending leader and his family are embraced and supported as the “real victims”.  As a result, the target family finds itself utterly isolated and eventually walks away from the church.  That is all part of the wicked scheme.

Beware, child abusing leaders are not the only offenders capable of devising this type of wicked scheme in order to carry out their dark objectives.  However, leaders have the distinct advantage based upon their authority and influence.

Also, as effectively illustrated by Frank Underwood, these types of schemes are not limited to child molesters, but to anyone who wants to control and exploit a relationship for their own distorted purposes.

My point here is not to push families away from developing close relationship with leaders or others in the faith community. It is simply to put us on notice of the deceptive practices of those who work their way into positions of leadership in order to hurt little ones.  It is simply to encourage us to be cautious as we keep those protective antennas up in order to detect a wicked scheme in progress.

Working together, we can learn how to love and support those children and families who have been victimized by this destructive scheme.  Working together, we can learn how to protect children by preventing offenders from finding safe havens inside our churches.  May God help us.

  • opheliart

    Ah, yes, Frank Underwood … what a sly character. This article shares well in a step by step process on how the mind of the false mentor operates. It is just one way he/she can manipulate the vulnerable through sculpting a pretty, trusting face that sets the stage for the breakdown of awareness, eventually leading to abuses.

    Thank you


  • Thank you Boz for sharing this very important information. In my counseling practice I have seen families devestated by exactly this type of predatory behavior. It happens not only in the arena of child abuse, but also spiritual abuse of adults. I really appreciate how you wrote it out in an easy to understand manner.

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  • Gene

    What do you do about a church member that sees a “molester” around every corner? I had such a person in our congregation that told me EVERY male was a molestor and caused great headaches in the church avcusing every man of terrible things…….they eventually left the church because several husband/wife teams had volunteered for nursery duty.

  • Steve Bouett

    Once again, great post! It actually caused me to think about a similar situation I lived through where a young girl made accusations and the youth leader was never really questioned because everyone quickly dismissed it. Then, abruptly, about a year later, he resigns and goes to a new church. The family left the church quickly before that. Is that also a common aspect of these a users, to move frequently to have a fresh start to find new victims?

  • O

    There is not a lot that can be done, I would venture.
    Best course of action would be to have someone of the same gender as the complainant approach the person and try to find out why the person feels this way. It’s a matter of treating the cause, rather than sticking a band aid over the wound and generally it will be caused by trauma in the past.
    In my years of medical practise, I’ve found that such cases are not common and eventually they gravitate into areas of like minded souls where they can feed off each other and absorb each others misplaced sympathies.
    These situations are delicate and are best handled with compassion and firmness. Easier said than done, I am afraid.

  • Dee

    Very accurate description of something my family experienced in our former church. It was a spiritually abusive situation. The phrase “doing life together” was used to encourage people to be involved in the small community groups where they gathered information to be passed on to leadership. The pastor and his wife did have our oldest son and his new wife for multiple cycles in their group even after others in their group moved on. It is not only the pastor who used the small group in unscrupulous ways. We found out that small groups are a tool used by the leadership as a worldly method of controlling and seriously damaging people. ( I was one of those people).
    We are still recovering from the harm done by this manipulative scheming tactic, but trust God as He has been faithful to bring us out of it, and do the work of “restoring our souls”.

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    Americans want to know why the church is dying… The media has not satisfied the question yet! Let’s publish. says it’s because few young adults believe in Satan or that Christianity is the only true religion. Why don’t they believe?

    The primary reason for the exodus is sociological. Most young adults go to school, work, and live with diverse friends now. But the church, as always, insists that their religions are an abomination.

    This long standing precept of the church has struck a cultural nerve with most young adults. With Indians, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and middle easterners all around them, they’re quitting church because this policy is divisive and offensive to their new friends.

    So Americans are searching for, and finding non-discriminatory spirituality outside the church. This micro phenomenon is becoming macro, and could be the undoing of the world’s largest religion.

    Let’s talk about this and other contributing factors.

    Truly, Brad O’Donnell, Richmond, Va. Video:   

  • Chaplain Martin

    Our church adopted a policy in which each children’s class will have an adult male and female leaders. In reading Boz’s article, it would seem best that they not be related.

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