A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Jessica Fore (Abuse Survivor) Charged by her PCA Church with Contempt – She is Telling the World

Our friend Jessica Fore has been formally charged by her church elders (Presbyterian Church in America) with contempt for refusing to comply with their orders that she, essentially, just be quiet about her cries for justice. The following is Jessica’s own story which she released today on her blog jessicafore and also shared here on her facebook page.

I might get excommunicated for this.

I am a survivor of domestic violence, and I just got formally indicted by the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) for not cooperating with various instructions about speaking out regarding my experience of injustice surrounding abuse in the church.  Indictment is the first step in a disciplinary process that can lead to excommunication, and it’s meant to be employed only when someone is committing heinous sin.  My crime?  Holding this sign, among other things:

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Below is the indictment issued by Faith Presbyterian Church in Watkinsville, Georgia (with non-officers’ names redacted.)  My response follows.

jessica-fore-indictment-redacted

indictment-screenshot

September 22, 2016

To Whom It May Concern:

This is in response to Faith Presbyterian Church’s formal indictment of me for “contempt toward the Church and its leaders,” dated September 12, 2016.  First, I will summarize the events leading up to the indictment to the best of my recollection:  I was hired as Faith’s worship leader in the fall of 2008.  I was married to an abusive spouse at the time.  My husband’s abuse escalated and became known in a dramatic way with copious evidence over the course of several months in 2009.  Audio recordings, photographic evidence, police reports, psychological evaluations, and eyewitness testimony by various elders and church members corroborated his abuse, lying, and criminal activity.  Nevertheless, the church predicated me keeping my job on reconciling and cohabiting with him, and ultimately fired me for remaining separated.  I was already in a vulnerable financial situation and was plunged into poverty for the next three years.  Had it not been for the help of friends and family, I would have become homeless.

After I recovered, I confronted the Session about what it had done.  In 2013, after much arm twisting, the Session issued a public apology for its lack of “shepherding care” when I experienced a “series of extremely painful events.”  Abuse was not mentioned.  The Session never expressed repentance for firing me, never set the record straight with the congregation that I was a victim of domestic violence, and never pursued any kind of restitution.  I have seen no substantive change in the Session’s attitude toward abuse in the church.  I have not seen the Session deploy any new churchwide policies or leadership training that would improve the church’s response to abuse victims in the future.  On the contrary, as I have continued coping with the fallout from all of this, the Session has taken new adverse actions against me.  In 2014, the Session affirmed my closest friends shunning me in response to me trying to resolve a related grievance with them.  In 2015, the Session brought a Licensed Professional Counselor, a church member, into a Session meeting to advise on my mental state and what was best for me in absentia, without my knowledge or consent, based on the testimony of the opposing parties in the grievance.  In 2015, the Session launched a formal disciplinary investigation into the grievance that consisted of having one called Session meeting with the opposing parties and then issuing written conclusions and directives at me.  In 2016, the Session attempted to limit my fellowship in the church without due process by instructing me not to attend a Gospel Community Group which I had previously attended faithfully for several years.

After many patient attempts to address these issues privately, I sent an open letter to the whole church via email in July 2015 and a follow up letter in May 2016, and I escalated a formal complaint which is currently pending before the Georgia Foothills Presbytery.  I attended my Gospel Community Group and said that I would keep attending in defiance of the Session’s attempt to restrict me without due process.  In the last few months, I have kept a sign propped at my feet during worship which reads “Justice, not Abuse.”  The sign is my personal expression of lament in worship, and a visual reminder to everyone that these things are happening and the Session still hasn’t repented.  So now the Session has decided to formally indict me, the first step in a process that can lead to excommunication, not in response to me committing any immoral act, but simply for not “submitting” to the elders.  Elders told me not to send my letter, not to attend my small group, and not to hold my sign; I did it anyway.  The Session issued the indictment on my birthday and appointed the attorney/elder who mediated my divorce to prosecute the charges.

Here is my response:  when I joined the church, I agreed to submit to its government and discipline as constrained by the Word of God and the PCA Book of Church Order.  The Session is in violation of both as delineated below and in my formal complaint before the Presbytery.  The Book of Church Order affirms individuals’ inalienable rights of private judgment on all matters which are not explicitly in violation of God’s law, and prohibits church leaders from making any additional laws to bind the conscience, as discussed in the following BCO Preliminary Principles:

  1.  God alone is Lord of the conscience and has left it free from any doctrines or commandments of men (a) which are in any respect contrary to the Word of God, or (b) which, in regard to matters of faith and worship, are not governed by the Word of God. Therefore, the rights of private judgment in all matters that respect religion are universal and inalienable.
  1.  All church power, whether exercised by the body in general, or by representation, is only ministerial and declarative since the Holy Scriptures are the only rule of faith and practice. No church judicatory may make laws to bind the conscience.

In other words, the authority of elders is limited.  Elders don’t get to issue edicts to adults and punish noncompliance just because they’re elders.  If an elder instructs me to do something that is contrary to God’s word or unaddressed in God’s word but violates my conscience, neither God nor the BCO require me to submit to that.  The burden of proof is on the Session to show that a specific action (sending an open letter, saying I would attend a Gospel Community Group, or bringing my “Justice, not Abuse” sign to worship services) is a violation of the law of God according to Scripture in order to present it as an offense for church discipline (BCO 29-1.)  None of these actions violate God’s law; they’re just inconvenient for the Session.  My conscience requires me to bring issues of injustice surrounding abuse in the church into the open and to insist they be meaningfully addressed.  I believe God has called me to do this.  I will not allow what I’ve experienced to be shoved aside and buried in bureaucracy so that church leaders can maintain power and control.

The purpose of church discipline is to address gross unrepentant sin or immorality that endangers someone’s soul.  It’s not to exert control over conscionable behavior that you don’t like, put a woman in her place for challenging you, silence someone who is speaking up about injustice, or engage in whistleblower retribution when you are being held accountable for wrongdoing.  If what I’ve said about the Session in my open letters weren’t true, the church could indict me for lying.  If I were engaged in immorality, the church could indict me for that.  But since you know perfectly well that I’m telling the truth, and am a genuine Christian acting in good conscience, the strongest thing you’ve come up with to indict me for is not “submitting” to your control.  Spinning my noncompliance as a mortal sin against Jesus Christ is a petty, frivolous power play, and this whole situation is the most shameful failure of leadership I’ve ever personally witnessed in fifteen years of vocational ministry.

Jesus Christ is my Lord, and I will obey Him.  I am a sinner and far from perfect, but my conscience is clear before God on the essential points of this matter.  There are two ways the Session can get my sign out of the Sanctuary.  The first is a sea change pertaining to abuse in the church, with abject, unequivocal public repentance for the issues I’ve raised, accompanied by churchwide abuse and domestic violence training for all leaders.  This is how the Session should have responded to this whole situation long ago.  The second is a spurious excommunication with our whole community and the wider body of Christ watching, followed by appeals all the way up to PCA General Assembly.  I’m fine either way.  If you put me on trial, it will be the proudest moment of my life thus far, in the company of my heroes, and in the company of Christ.

Sincerely,

Jessica Fore, The Accused

35 Comments

  1. H

    Good for you! Will continue to follow this story. May God use you to bring an awareness of abuse to the whole universal church and bring many proud leaders to repentance for the ways they’ve failed to help the helpless and the ways they’ve in fact persecuted the innocent.

  2. Priceless!!

  3. Jesus' Beloved

    I and I am certain all of Heaven, as well as Jesus Himself, applaud you Jessica, for standing up to these Pharisees and best of all, showing other women in your same position that they are not alone alone. You have brought attention to the fact that when Christ’s body does not move to protect them or support them, it’s truly an abomination, and this publicity will lead to eventual change. I am so proud of you for not backing down to these bullies and for speaking the truth. It takes tremendous strength and a solid knowledge that you have great worth in your Savior’s eyes to take a stand like this. God hates what this church’s leadership has done. I feel sorry for each one of them when they see Jesus face to face someday.

  4. Debbie

    Thank you Ms. Fore! What happened to you is unconscionable but is sadly, all too common. Please know that you are speaking for us all and I, for one, am very grateful.

  5. MarkQ

    Jessica, praying for you to remain strong. I’ve walked away from situations that could have escalated in that way. Completely agree with you that your submission to your session is within the bounds of their authority, and it is good that the PCA specifically spells that out. My former denomination doesn’t really limit that authority, so the presbytery typically just rubber stamps whatever the session does. I’ve seen a number of people get squashed by their local session and then subsequently get re-squashed by their presbytery. Hopefully sane minds will prevail.

    • Hi Mark Q, is this what you meant to say?
      “Completely agree with you that your submission to your session is within the bounds of their authority, and it is good that the PCA specifically spells that out.”

      I’m somewhat confused by that sentence. We can amend it if you want us to.

      • MarkQ

        “within the bounds of their authority” means the authority that the PCA has given the elders, which includes not binding the conscience and the right of members to private interpretation of matters. So, by the church’s book of order, she IS submitting to the session.

  6. In Christ Alone

    Well done! May God continue to bless you and keep you, along with calling attention to your righteous cause. You have done well, and you are not alone. Those in leadership at your church will have to answer to the Lord one day for what they did in the guise of His Name. Our Lord publicly decried what the leaders of His temple did, and you are following in His footsteps. I can think of no better place to be.

  7. Jessica, I honour you, I applaud you and I stand with you.

    We (Jeff and I) have known you for some time now, as you’ve been telling us about this saga. We totally believe you. We know that the things you’ve said here are merely a summary of what these leaders have said and done to you and how they have mistreated you, belittled you, brushed you off, tried to blame you for the situation, etc., etc.

    You have scrupulously followed the path of justice at every step. You’ve sought and listened to the wisdom of many counselors. It’s been harrowing. You’ve been amazingly patient and tenacious. I take my hat off to you. You have sober-mindedly weighed up the potential outcomes of going public and you are prepared to accept them whatever they may be. To me, you are a modern day Esther.

    May your example be one which inspires and empowers other victims to speak out… if and when they feel it is right to do so.

    The torch of justice is blazing, shedding light into the darkness 🙂

    Bless you Jessica and ((hugs))
    from your sister in Christ.

  8. Update:
    When we first published this post we said that Jessica had just released the information on her facebook page. Actually, she posted it at her blog and then shared the post on her FB page.

    Click here to read the post on her blog.

    Click here to find it on her FB page.

  9. If you are on Twitter, you might like go to my tweet on this post and then re-tweet it.

  10. Praying for you, Jessica. What a horrible ordeal! I pray God shows His power and stands up for His daughter! I also pray, that like Jesus did, He sets the Pharisees speechless. We are in a sad state in our churches. I hate this for you, sweet friend!

  11. healinginhim

    Jessica, Thank you for documenting your circumstances and sharing it.

  12. Song of Joy

    Jessica, I’m in awe of your courage and standing with you.

  13. 3blossommom

    My grandparents were instrumental in starting the PCA church where I grew up. They did so because the United Presbyterians were falling away from the central tenants of Scripture, not so that men could lord their authority over women in such a way. I spent my high school years in the same church and married my abuser in the sanctuary there. My grandfather was on the Session until his health became too weak. I am hoping those who are members in the denomination will speak up and not leave this woman alone.

    • Abby

      That is my prayer for you, also, Jessica. I’ll pray that others in your church community will stand with you. I truly believe that is what needs to happen to stop all of this oppression of abuse victims.

      Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.—Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  14. Suzanne

    You are so courageous! I have prayed that God will continue to give you strength and victory.

  15. Reblogged this on Speakingtruthinlove's Blog.

  16. Healing

    Bravo Jessica!! I’m so sorry for your ordeal but proud and happy for the voice of truth and conscience in you that would not be oppressed again. It’s clearly a power play and a very unhealthy place spiritually. You’re being treated like a naughty child and not protected and affirmed as a co-heir of Christ. The Holy Spirit has given you a wisdom and I believe He is glorified by your stand for truth. THANK YOU!

  17. James

    Thank you for exposing another dark story in the “church”. So sad! Praying this lady finds a group of true believers to love and shepherd her.
    This nightmare sounds like what Steve Estes did to his abused daughter-in-law in the EFCA. Wolves need exposed to protect the sheep.

    • Yeah James … there are so many stories of abuse being condoned or enabled by churches. It’s not possible for us to keep abreast of all the cases. Thank heavens there are quite a few websites exposing the abuses and standing with the victims.

  18. Stephen Walsh

    That church needs to have its lampstand removed.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Maybe it already has been.

  19. raswhiting

    A rebuke for that church from From Mark 10: 42 Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the ones who are considered the rulers by the Gentiles show off their authority over them and their high-ranking officials order them around. 43 But that’s not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. 44 Whoever wants to be first among you will be the slave of all, 45 for the Human One didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people.” Common English Bible.

  20. Cassandra Wright

    Twice I have had a pastor “pull rank” on me over inconsequential issues.Twice I felt that I could no longer trust that pastor, and left the church. I will never put myself under any church’s authority again.

  21. Dan Ledwith

    Thank for bringing Jessica’s story to my attention. https://danledwith.com/2016/09/23/what-happens-when-you-divorce-grace-and-truth/

    • You’re welcome Dan! Nice to have you here 🙂

  22. keeningforthedawn

    Jessica Fore — to coin a phrase, “You go, girl!”
    I am not personally acquainted with you, but I AM SO PROUD OF YOU! Keep standing strong; so many of us are here to support you in your cry for justice.

  23. nowamfoundatlast

    domestic abuse is wrong. protecting abusers is wrong. jessica fore is a hero.

  24. Alone

    Thank you, Jessica. Please please do not stop til has been resolved. Praying for the outcome God’s will ordains. We are praying for you.

  25. standsfortruth

    Thank you for sharing this story Jessica.
    It is so much like what many of us have experienced.

    You are like a modern day Esther with the conviction and courage you have shown.
    May God continue to give you the needed strength courage protection and wisdom to prevail against this deceptive spirit within the church.

  26. I was thinking about that sign and how it upset people (I’ve also read a few things that have come up in my FB newsfeed about this recently, and the upset comments people have made about it).

    And then the story of Judah’s daughter-in-law, Tamar, came to mind. Do you remember what she had to do, to get Judah to do the right thing? Interesting parallel. It’s in Genesis 38.

    • Great parallel, Fogislifting!

      Isn’t Scripture marvellous? It keeps giving us help all the time, and confirming truth when we need such confirmation.

    • And can you imagine an elder at Faith Presbyterian Church Watkinsville GA, saying to Jessica: “She is more righteous than I” (Gen. 38:26) ?

      But that’s exactly what they should be saying. She is more righteous than they are because she is calling for justice not abuse, and is not willing to sweep injustice under the rug.

  27. For Too Long

    While I did not stay and fight, but rather shook the dust from my feet, I can relate to this story as I was let go from my job and eventually ex-communicated at a PCA church for not “reconciling” with my abuser. This kind of stuff should not be happening and it is a blight on the Church. I will keep Jessica in my prayers.

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