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A previous article, “Christian Communities and ‘Recovered Memories’ of Abuse” (CSR 41.4 [2012]: 381-400) by Robert J. Priest and Esther E. Cordill, examines the problem of individuals wrongfully found to have committed abuse against minors in a mission context. However, James Evinger and Rich Darr argue the article erroneously describes the methodology of one denomination’s inquiry cited to support their argument, impugning the inquiry’s credibility. Additionally, the singular focus on recovered memories as a form of evidence diverts attention from matters deserving consideration for determining the truth of abuse. They offer a critique and propose a more effective way to achieve just responses when abuse in missionary communities is alleged. Mr. Evinger is a minister of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and Mr. Darr is lead pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Park Ridge, Illinois.

A previous article in this journal, “Christian Communities and ‘Recovered Memories’ of Abuse” by Robert J. Priest and Esther E. Cordill,1 does a significant service for missionary communities by calling attention to the particular problem of individuals who were wrongfully found by a mission-sending agency to have committed acts of abuse against minors in a mission context. As the authors report anecdotally, the deleterious outcomes were extremely disturbing. However, the article is constructed with a serious flaw. It erroneously describes the methodology of one denomination’s inquiry cited to support the authors’ argument. The inaccuracy has the effect of impugning the credibility of that inquiry. In addition, the article’s singular focus on recovered memories as a form of evidence diverts attention from other matters that deserve wider consideration for determining the truth of abuse. In the spirit of the authors’ call for critical engagement of the issues,2 we offer a critique and propose a more effective way to reach the goal of achieving just responses when abuse in missionary communities is alleged.

We discuss situations of past abuse in which: (1) the alleged abuse of minors in a mission context occurred in a period when the accused offender was previously subject to an employer/employee (paid or volunteer) relationship; and (2) the response of the mission entity to allegations was to create an independent, fact-finding inquiry. This is narrower than the range of situations discussed by Priest and Cordill, one of which involved existing employer/employee relationships and an internal, employer-conducted response.


To support their opposition to utilization of the psychological construct of recovered memories, Priest and Cordill cite two denomination-sponsored inquiries into allegations of abuse on the mission field.3 The first was the Independent Commission of Inquiry, conducted 1996-1997, which was established by the Christian & Missionary Alliance regarding its Mamou Alliance Academy, 1920s-1971, at Mamou, Guinea Republic, West Africa (hereafter Mamou inquiry).4 The second was the Independent Committee of Inquiry, conducted 2001-2002, which was established by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) regarding its mission, 1945-1978, in the former Democratic Republic of the Congo (hereafter Congo inquiry).5 For the sake of disclosure regarding our point of view, we identify our respective participation in those inquiries.

The first author was an appointed member of the committee that conducted the Congo inquiry, of the successor inquiry sponsored by the Presbyterian Church, and of an inquiry sponsored by The General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church. The second author, an MK (“missionary kid”), was raised in Mali Republic, West Africa, where his parents served the Gospel Missionary Union. From 1960 to 1967, he attended Mamou Alliance Academy, sponsored by the Christian & Missionary Alliance (C&MA), at Mamou, Guinea, West Africa. While in boarding school at Mamou, he and many other children suffered abuse at the hands of C&MA-appointed missionaries. In the 1990s, he co-led the Mamou Steering Committee; the group’s advocacy resulted in the C&MA establishing an independent inquiry into abuses at Mamou Academy. He also helped found Missionary Kids Safety Net, a nonprofit advocacy group with international membership that assists abused MKs who seek justice from mission agencies and personnel who have harmed missionary children.

While acknowledging personal interests as former inquiry participants, we emphasize that we write for the purpose of honoring a responsibility to the well-being of the body of Jesus Christ. Each represents himself, and does not speak for any other in his respective inquiry.

An Initial Problem

We employ the term recovered memories throughout because it was the term used in the title of the Priest and Cordill article. Confounding the problem of the authors never defining their term, the article uses variants, without differentiation or clarification, in ways that appear to be synonymous with their use of recovered memories. Variants from the text and footnotes include: “retrieved memories,” “false memories,” “repressed memories,” “false memory syndrome,” “repressed and recovered memories,” and “memories recovered through therapy.”6 Because a precise meaning of the term recovered memories is necessary in both clinical and forensic settings, and is important in both secular and ecclesiastical contexts, lack of a definition presents an initial problem if the authors’ concern is to be addressed fully. However, the authors’ lack of definition does not impede our purpose. Like them, we are concerned about the need for rigorous methodology regarding allegations of abuse in mission communities.

Misrepresenting the Facts

First, we set the context for a rejoinder. Priest and Cordill target the uncritically examined reliance on a therapeutic method, labeled recovered memories, within evangelical Christian communities, and the concurrent lack of systematic, evidence-based scholarship by evangelicals regarding this clinical practice. To demonstrate the hazards, they present an extended, pseudonymous case study of a mission-sending agency’s investigation, and conclude the investigation was mishandled. The result, they report, was that “people’s lives were horribly damaged by false charges” of the sexual abuse of minors who were MKs.7 The underpinning of the accusations was recovered memories. To trace the influence of this secular therapeutic method on religious communities, the authors give two examples. The first is a review of works by Christian practitioners who endorse using recovered memories in counseling. The second cites the insertion of accusations based on that foundation into another unnamed mission-sending agency investigation and a denomination-based inquiry – the Congo inquiry.

We turn to the original text cited by Priest and Cordill. Their article accurately quotes the Mamou inquiry Final Report statement that members “gave no weight to memories that had not continually existed since the incident in question, e.g. memories recovered in therapy or otherwise.”8 However, the article commits an important factual error when it declares that the Congo inquiry “defended the validity of repressed and recovered memories.”9 This is an assertion without foundation. An objective reading of the Final Report of the Congo inquiry will establish six ways in which the article misrepresents the inquiry’s treatment of recovered memories, in particular, and the inquiry’s methodology, in general.

The first error occurs by the article misrepresenting the way the inquiry addressed the topic of recovered memories of childhood abuse. Because the article cites a single page (95) in the Final Report without identifying the specific text, we assume the authors targeted one sentence: “The overwhelming majority of the victims who testified before the [Congo inquiry] have continuous memories of their abuse.”10 This is the apparent platform from which Priest and Cordill make a seriously erroneous leap to imply that, by formally receiving a witness’s testimony based on a discontinuous memory, the Congo inquiry panel was therefore affirming the reliability or accuracy of that testimony, and defending recovered memories. Such a leap overlooks the reality that another witness to the same events whose memory was continuous may not remember details with accuracy. Continuous memory is no more a guarantee of complete accuracy than discontinuous memory is a guarantee of complete inaccuracy. If a witness presents hearsay and speculation about events under review, the act of an inquiry team receiving that testimony does not equal endorsement, acceptance, or confirmation of hearsay or speculation. When an inquiry carefully applies a structured, well-founded, and rigorous methodology, the act of receiving a witness’s testimony based on memory, whether continuous or discontinuous, is not an endorsement per se of the accuracy of that memory or its facticity. For the Congo inquiry to acknowledge that a very small percentage of total witnesses identified as victims did not have continuous memory of events does not constitute a defense of recovered memories. Priest and Cordill leave the false impression that recovered memories played a prominent or influential role in the inquiry’s fact-finding process. That lacks foundation and is incorrect.

The second way the inquiry is misrepresented is by the article ignoring the immediate context of the material on page 95. The Final Report does not discuss, let alone defend, the phenomenon of recovered memories. The cited page is part of a subchapter responding educationally to general concerns about the validity or accuracy of memories of adults who report that they were abused sexually as children. Excerpts from inquiry witness statements are included, and clinical literature is cited from sources including academic, peer-reviewed journals and a U.S.A. government publication.11 That clinicians held conflicting views about claims of false memories is referenced in a footnote, citing a peer-reviewed, clinical journal article. The subchapter is descriptive. There is no defense of recovered memories.

The third way the article misrepresented the inquiry is by ignoring the larger context for page 95. To suggest that the Final Report defends recovered memories on this page is to suggest this was part of the inquiry methodology. The page cited by Priest and Cordill is taken from a subchapter, D. Are the memories valid? It is one of seven sections of a chapter, VII. What issues need to be addressed? The subchapter is not a description of inquiry methodology. Rather, it is part of a chapter that is an educational response to a variety of issues raised by members of the missionary community who were part of the inquiry, and also a response to common questions “related to the nature of sexual abuse and characteristics of abusers.”12 The educational chapter was included to go beyond a narrower model of inquiry reports that focus on findings. The cited page and, implicitly the subchapter, do not address the inquiry team’s process for determining whether abuse had been committed.

The fourth way the inquiry is misrepresented is by the article ignoring the Final Report’s description of the inquiry team’s methods. Page 95 is not part of subchapter D. The ICI’s process and methodology.13 Topics in that subchapter include outreach and witnesses, documentary research, and archival sources and records. The methodology section neither discusses nor defends the phenomenon of recovered memories. Regarding the fact-finding process, the subchapter states that allegations were weighed against a set of multiple factors, including

the credibility and reliability of the witness or document, any corroboration of the alleged event, circumstantial information related to the allegations, and the context in which the event occurred … In examining allegations of sexual abuse, [the inquiry team] followed a process guided by research and information arising from social services investigations of abuse.14

The inquiry as a substantive, sound, and fair process relied on multiple factors to establish the facts.15

Another way the inquiry’s methodology is misrepresented is by the article’s failure to recognize the Final Report’s regard for the nuanced realities of witnesses with non-continuous memory. Overlooked is the first paragraph on page 95 that summarizes a prospective research study of 129 women who as children were brought to a “hospital emergency room for treatment and collection of forensic evidence” after having been sexually assaulted, as documented in medical records.16 When the women were interviewed seventeen years later, 38% did not recall having been sexually violated. Women who were younger and had known their abuser, such as a friend of the family, family member, or peer, were more likely not to recall.

The point is that the Congo inquiry recognized that a witness’s lack of continuous memory did not inherently mean that abuse did not occur. It is not uncommon in an inquiry for an adult MK who had been a direct witness to, or had direct knowledge of, the victimization of another MK to present substantive testimony to the inquiry team before the team was aware of the event(s). In the subsequent interview with the reported victim, if the inquiry team discovers that the person lacks continuous memory of the event(s), that lack in itself does not mean that the inquiry team was wrong to receive the person’s testimony. Consider also the reality that in a case of physical abuse, the consequence of trauma to a child’s head could result in cognitive injury serious enough to impede or impair the victim’s recall. By accepting witness testimony not based on continuous memory, the Congo inquiry was not defending recovered memories.

The final way the inquiry is misrepresented is found in the article’s anecdotal case report. Priest and Cordill repeat the factual inaccuracy regarding the inquiry and recovered memories in a way that reinforces the error. They cite a pseudonymous former MK who posted a report about the abuse of MKs on a listserv “and summarized the [Congo inquiry] report’s defense of the validity of repressed and recovered memories.”17 Without the name of the MK, address of the listserv, or text of the post, we cannot verify what the article states. It is regrettable if an individual misinterpreted or misrepresented the Congo inquiry Final Report in a way that promotes a position it does not support. However, a careful and accurate description of the report by Priest and Cordill could have challenged the individual’s misuse and corrected the distortion. In retrospect, more artful language in the Congo report regarding memory might have prevented one MK from misrepresenting the topic of recovered memories. However, mere refined wording would not have resolved this charged issue for select evangelical circles.

Significance of Misrepresenting the Facts

Priest and Cordill’s stark declaration that the Congo inquiry “defended the validity of repressed and recovered memories” is not without implications. If the inquiry is labeled as having relied on an often-discredited basis for determining the validity of witness testimony, the credibility of the entire inquiry might be called into question retroactively. It is important to note that this was a fact-finding inquiry, and not an ecclesiastical disciplinary proceeding governed by the sponsor’s existing polity or judicial system. Because the sponsor’s charge, or charter, did not establish types of acceptable/unacceptable evidence, a standard of proof for determining whether abuse had been committed, or the means by which the inquiry was to be conducted, it was left to the inquiry team to supply those elements. It was necessary for the team to assume a large responsibility to ensure that the inquiry was not only conducted thoroughly and fairly, but also could be perceived as thorough and fair. In the end, the credibility of the inquiry outcomes correlated to the degree to which the sponsoring entity and the affected missionary community accepted and trusted the inquiry’s findings and recommendations. That acceptance and trust correlated to the degree to which people accepted and trusted the credibility of the work and conduct of the inquiry. Priest and Cordill undermine that core credibility.

The potentially adverse implications of Priest and Cordill extend further. If the Congo inquiry’s trustworthiness is subject to doubt, serious questions might be raised about succeeding inquiries that were modeled on and/or utilized those involved with it.18 The charge, or charter, for the Congo inquiry served as the model for two subsequent denomination-sponsored inquiries. The first was that of the Independent Abuse Review Panel (IARP), conducted 2004-2010, which was established by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) regarding its world mission effort.19 The second was the Independent Panel for the Review of Child Abuse in Mission Settings, conducted 2005-2008, which was established by The General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM), The United Methodist Church, regarding its world mission effort with an emphasis on the former Democratic Republic of the Congo.20 If there are doubts about the trustworthiness of the Congo inquiry model, questions might be raised about individuals instrumental to that inquiry who participated in a succeeding one, possibly raising concerns about the validity of later efforts.21

Relying on Priest and Cordill, we fear the religious community may unwittingly draw three wrongfully based conclusions: (1) that individuals who were sexually and/or physically abused as children while under the care of a specific religious community and come forward in adulthood to report – as did the adult MKs in the Congo inquiry – should be regarded as unreliable and untrustworthy witnesses; (2) that erroneous allegations cannot be recognized as factually wrong by a competent and scrupulous third party, such as a carefully assembled and sufficiently supported interdisciplinary inquiry team; and (3) that credible investigating and research techniques applied by qualified and skilled inquiry team members are insufficient to reach credible, evidence-based findings that will withstand public scrutiny.

The Priest and Cordill article has the potential to be used as a weapon that makes it more difficult for a mission-sending body, whether a denomination or agency, to commit to sponsor a thorough inquiry. We fear the article may be wielded so as to make it more difficult for witnesses, particularly those who were abused as MKs, to come forward to the sponsoring entity. We fear the article may be used to justify a mission entity’s reluctance to pursue an inquiry. Failure to pursue blocks the truth from being known, prevents offenders from being held accountable, and hinders the healing of direct and indirect victims. Failure to pursue denies the mission entity a God-given opportunity to learn from sins of the past, make preventive changes that will safeguard vulnerable persons, and take constructive steps to restore the integrity of its mission.

Measureable Outcomes: “…by their fruits…”

If the Congo inquiry methods were tainted by “choos[ing] to trust memories recovered through therapy,”22 would not the outcomes of the inquiry also be flawed? One would expect to see manifestations of the same types of serious problems as described in Priest and Cordill’s case study. One would expect to see a correlation, if not a causal effect, between widely discredited methods and troubling outcomes. Using a biblical guideline from the Sermon on the Mount, “you will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16, 20), we apply an original series of seven measurable outcomes, all of which are independently verifiable, to assess the Congo inquiry.

Finding Overturned

The first outcome measure is: An inquiry finding that abuse had been committed was later overturned. For every Congo inquiry case in which an individual was determined to have committed abuse, no findings were overturned after release of the Final Report.23

Methods Challenged or Discredited

The second measure is: Post-inquiry, the team’s methods were challenged or discredited as having relied on recovered memories for a finding of abuse. Following the Congo inquiry, there were no formal or public complaints that recovered memories were the basis for a finding that abuse had been committed. The sponsoring entity has never reported the submission of such a complaint. Priest and Cordill are the first to assert that the methodology was tainted.24

Response of Those Affected

The fourth measure is: Response of people and entities affected by the inquiry. The Congo inquiry Final Report contained thirty recommendations. In response: (1) the denomination acted favorably on all but one recommendation, which was not feasible under its system of governance, and a subpart of another recommendation, due to legal concerns; (2) one recommendation was acted upon favorably by the denomination’s executive branch, but rejected by its legislative branch; (3) the denomination took additional steps that went beyond the inquiry’s recommendations.25

In addition, a denomination work group, which included an MK survivor of child sexual abuse who participated in the inquiry, formulated and introduced a set of eleven proposals to the Church’s legislative process that would revise the Church’s constitution in light of lessons learned from the inquiry. Nearly all the measures were adopted, becoming part of Church law.26 The set of proposals to change the Church’s constitution was supported publicly by twelve women, self-identified as “the Survivors Group,” whose signed letter of endorsement was written to the legislative body.27 In addition, a group of adult MK survivors from the Congo mission voluntarily created a pin that was distributed to the legislation body in support of the recommendations. The pin featured photographs of MKs at the age when they were abused.

A signed letter endorsing the recommendations was also written to the legislative body by two ministers who had held significant administrative roles in the Church’s Congo mission. They wrote as fathers of daughters who were sexually violated on the mission field, and as administrators who, “[had] we known forty years ago what we know now… we would certainly have acted differently and decisively.”28 Five individuals – a former adult missionary who was the mother of two MK survivors of child sexual abuse on the mission field, and four adult MKs sexually abused as minors on the mission field – volunteered to be featured in a professionally produced video created as a means of outreach for the successor Presbyterian inquiry.29 A 5,000-member congregation, which was implicated as the context for some of the primary offender’s acts of sexual abuse in the U.S.A., invited victims to participate in a special service of prayer for wholeness and healing.30

The Presbyterian mission in the former Congo functioned in partnership with other religious entities. For example, the Methodist-Presbyterian Hostel (MPH) was a residence in Kinshasa for older MKs attending The American School at Kinshasa. MPH was “administered by adults from both the Methodist and Presbyterian mission community.”31 Because the Congo inquiry found “acts against Methodist children by a Presbyterian and acts committed by Methodist personnel against Presbyterian children,” it recommended that the Presbyterians request The United Methodist Church to convene its own inquiry.32 In 2004, upon GBGM’s invitation, Marian McClure, Ph.D., director of Worldwide Ministries Division of the Presbyterian Church, shared the Presbyterian “experience with investigating abuse and urged the Methodists to take up their own investigation… After hearing her message, the Methodist board voted unanimously to establish their own investigative committee.”33 GBGM’s announcement stated: “The mission agency thanked the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ‘for creating a model that has proven to be very effective and for sharing their process and experience with us.’”34

Third-party Assessment

The fifth measure is: Assessment of qualified, independent third parties. Commenting on the Presbyterian Church’s response to the Congo inquiry, Marci A. Hamilton, a law professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University, New York, New York, who has published extensively on sexual boundary violations in religious communities, called it “the gold standard” of churches.35

In their article exploring civil liability of religious organizations for acts of sexual misconduct by clergy, faculty members from Auburn University at Montgomery, Alabama, and Judson College, Marion, Alabama, wrote: “Some denominations have made great strides in dealing with the issue of sexual abuse, whether the victim is a child or an adult. Other churches need to look to these model institutions…”36 The endnote for this statement cites the Presbyterian Church as one of two entities named.

Dee Ann Miller, former missionary, author, and advocate for survivors of abuse in Christian communities, posted on her Web site a lengthy personal account of events that led to the formation of the Congo inquiry, the inquiry, and the Church’s response to the Final Report. She regards the entire series of events as an exceptionally positive story.37

Sponsor’s Assessment

The sixth measure is: Assessment of people in leadership positions within the sponsoring entity. After receiving the Final Report, the chairperson of the entity that sponsored the Congo inquiry wrote:

[We] received their report with heavy hearts, but [are] proud of their work in pursuit of the truth. The [inquiry team] has done a wonderful job in presenting the dynamics of life in a mission community, clarifying areas of ambiguity about the abusive experience, and reflecting on the experience in a way that provides wisdom and insight. Their work prompts us to examine our policies, practices, and support systems for missionary work. It urges us to implement practices of abuse prevention, so that we can promote healing, justice and renewal within the church. We are very grateful for their work.38

In 2011, at a forum on mission accountability sponsored by the Overseas Mission Study Center, B. Hunter Farrell, Ph.D., Director of World Mission, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), presented a paper in which he described the Church’s response to the inquiry conducted by the IARP and its Final Report.39 Noting the role of its antecedent, the Congo inquiry, Farrell stated that the IARP “has been publicly acclaimed as a model of organizational integrity.”40


The final outcome measure is: Influence of the inquiry on succeeding iterations. The Mamou inquiry, the original effort that set the contemporary baseline for denomination inquiries into abuse in mission settings, was followed by the Congo inquiry. By comparing the Mamou inquiry report to those of the two inquiries that followed the Congo inquiry, the Presbyterian and Methodist, we can measure the influence of the Congo inquiry. Comparison shows that it set (a) the precedent for public accountability by its Final Report being the first inquiry report to be available on the sponsor’s Web site, a standard followed by successor inquiries;41 (b) a new standard for the delineation of methodology and decision-making processes, a standard extended by successor inquiries;42 (c) a new standard for the comprehensive scope of topics addressed in the final report, a standard extended by successor inquiries.43

Conclusion Regarding Outcomes

If Priest and Cordill are correct to discredit the methodology of the Congo inquiry, and thereby impugn the integrity of its work and Final Report, it is hard for us to imagine the subsequent absence of negative outcomes and the presence of positive outcomes. Beginning with the C&MA Mamou inquiry, there has been a clear trajectory: publicly reported, denomination-sponsored inquiries have utilized responsible methodologies that resulted in beneficial outcomes without the harmful consequences that Priest and Cordill rightfully abhor. The facts also point to the Congo inquiry as performing a constructive role in the clear progression of inquiries becoming more accountable, transparent, and educational. Integrity begot integrity.

A New Agenda

The one-dimensional focus of Priest and Cordill on recovered memories as a form of evidence diverts attention from a larger, essential task: to identify steps a mission entity can take to increase the probability that an inquiry into past abuse on the mission field will achieve credible and just results. To accomplish this task, we propose a strategic agenda composed of original material.44 To our knowledge, there is no published, peer-reviewed literature in religious communities that addresses these practical, procedural, and conceptual topics regarding independent inquiries in mission settings. We identify steps best taken before an inquiry is convened.45 There is no rank order to the items. While some cohere directly to others, they are best understood as an interdependent set, the sum of which is a robust framework to support determination of the truth.


For the sake of the truth and credibility, ensure that the inquiry team has unrestricted access to all relevant documentary material from the mission’s personnel and archival sources. Examples of material include: business records of people in official mission roles, both on the mission field and in the home office; business records of work groups, committees, and boards; tables of organization and administrative structures; job descriptions and performance appraisals; personnel files of missionaries; files related to the children of missionaries; intra-missionary family correspondence; school records of MKs; medical records of missionaries and MKs; mission field publications, like newsletters, annual reports, and yearbooks.

Access and Outreach

For the sake of effective outreach, ensure the inquiry team has access to relevant lists of people who were involved in the mission(s) during the period under review. Ideally, these lists would include: (a) names and service (date, role, place) and furloughs (date, place) of missionaries on the mission field and administrators in the home office, and contact information; (b) names and dates of births of minors (children and adolescents) whose families served on the mission field, and contact information; (c) names of children who attended schools (whether a boarding or non-boarding school) on the mission field, their enrollment (attendance dates, grade, place), and contact information; and (d) names and service (date, role, place) and furloughs (date, place) of teachers of MKs on the mission field, and contact information.

Professional and Expert Services

For the sake of truth and the integrity of the process, ensure that the inquiry team has the ability to secure the services of qualified and experienced professionals and experts. Examples of service providers that might be required include: a licensed clinician who performs an independent assessment of evidence; a lawyer independent from the sponsoring entity who consults with the inquiry team on matters with legal implications; a licensed investigative agency that is able to trace individuals internationally, conduct detailed criminal record searches, or access civil court and professional licensing board records; a licensed clinician experienced with trauma who provides confidential, on-site support for a witness; a medical professional who offers an expert opinion regarding a specific topic or question.


For the sake of promoting the efficacy and productivity of the inquiry, ensure that an infrastructure is firmly in place. Components of an infrastructure include, but are not limited to: committing to the inquiry’s independence; a budget sufficient to task and complexity; a realistic time frame in which to complete the work; securing the full and timely cooperation of entity staff; indemnification of inquiry team members; requiring the team to comply with legal obligations if it discovers abuse subject to mandatory reporting statutes; requiring that discoveries of abuse not related to the scope will be referred to the most appropriate entity; to address the dimension of corporate responsibility, specifying that actions and inactions of mission personnel are part of the scope; to function as a liaison between the entity, inquiry team, and members of the mission community, assigning a competent staff member from the entity who can establish rapport with the multiple constituencies and has the ability to avoid entangling role conflicts. If the inquiry team is to be supplied with a staff person, assign the team as the party to select and supervise the person, who must not be an employee of the sponsor.

Comprehensive Report

For the sake of truth and healing, ensure that the inquiry team’s final report is comprehensive. At minimum, this would include: findings of fact; a descriptive component that allows the sponsor and the mission community to understand how abuse occurred; recommendations that focus on both short-term responses to promote the healing of those affected, and also longer-term, prevention-oriented changes in practice and policy; a methodological section describing procedures and methods, including protocols and witness agreement forms; a bibliography that lists sources of information and references. Given that the inquiry’s context is a religious community, a comprehensive final report is best conceived as a living document that will serve the community beyond the inquiry. A narrow model that emphasizes commissions of abuse becomes an offender-centered document, ignoring the needs and concerns of many inquiry participants. A comprehensive report recognizes that multiple, intergenerational constituencies in a variety of roles will read, quote, and learn from it.

Recruiting and Selecting Members

For the sake of inquiry credibility and efficacy, identify rigorous standards and procedures by which the mission entity recruits and selects members of the inquiry team. Demographic factors typically play a significant role in the composition of fact-finding teams. A frequent factor is choosing people in certain disciplinary roles: for example, a therapist with experience with trauma cases, a lawyer with litigation experience, or a child social worker. The professional role is considered a marker for people with particular skills. Licensure and/or certification are considered a marker for more highly qualified or skilled professionals. Examples include: a licensed, certified child social worker compared to one who is not; a licensed therapist compared to a counselor who is not; a nurse with advanced certification, like a pediatric specialist, compared to a nurse without certification. In a denomination inquiry, a person in a clergy role has been viewed as a way to bring insight into the culture and polity of the sponsor.

Other demographics are invoked to establish trust and rapport with witnesses. Gender typically affects composition: the majority of people found to have been victims of child sexual abuse in mission settings have been female, and the majority of offenders have been male. Attention to ecclesiastical role – whether the person is a member of the laity, holds a ministerial office, or is a former missionary – is a demographic relevant to trust and rapport. Intentionally selecting people outside the membership of the sponsoring entity is a demographic used to prevent the fact or appearance of a cover-up.

Demographics have been known to override experience in the selection of members. One inquiry team consisted of but a single member with any experience investigating ecclesiastical or secular cases of sexual abuse. However, experience alone is not enough. We have firsthand knowledge that some members were not fully vetted by the sponsor. For example, a person who had served on a prior fact-finding team was chosen for another on the basis of experience. A careful reference check regarding that service would have revealed complaints about the quality of the person’s performance. The same complaints resurfaced in the next inquiry.

Despite the importance of demographics, there is no substitute for: (a) skilled people with (b) solid investigative experience (c) with matters of abuse (d) who have demonstrated the ability to perform at a high professional level (e) in a workgroup environment (f) while displaying courage, maturity, wisdom, perseverance, and faith. We acknowledge the difficulty of satisfying multiple criteria when choosing inquiry members. This is all the more reason to ensure a careful selection process.

Performance-Based Review

For the sake of accountability, determine a performance-based means to review the work of a member of the inquiry team whose performance is unsatisfactory. Serving on an inquiry team is often demanding and challenging, professionally, personally, and spiritually. Working with accusations of the abuse of minors, particularly in a religious context, is inherently stressful. However, stressors also can arise from within the inquiry team. We have firsthand knowledge of instances when the behavior of an inquiry member created enough internal conflict to raise concerns that the individual’s dismissal was necessary for the work to progress. It is incumbent that the sponsor be prepared to respond to this problem if it occurs. The members’ contract is the place to address this item.

Role of Survivors and Supporters

For the sake of efficacy and credibility, before an inquiry is initiated formally, decide whether and how MK survivors and supporters can be involved in establishing the inquiry. When there are active groups of MKs and supporters who are advocating on behalf of an inquiry, it is wise to create a dialogue regarding the design of the inquiry. Topics of common interest will include elements of the charge or charter, identifying potential members of the inquiry team, and identifying ways to encourage the participation of MKs and former missionaries in the inquiry.

Counseling Support

For the sake of healing and justice, ensure that there is a means to provide counseling support for persons who were victimized. Expect the inquiry to be a catalyst that prompts some MKs to come forward, identify themselves as victims, and either seek, or be open to the recommendation, to enter counseling for clinical problems related to the abuse. Others will come forward, identify themselves as victims, and report that they have previously received therapy for the effects of their abuse. It is essential that the mission entity be prepared to offer these individuals financial support for new counseling and/or retroactive reimbursement for prior counseling. It is essential to develop a policy in advance that clearly addresses eligibility, any restrictions, and procedure. Administration of counseling support is never the responsibility of the inquiry team.

Ownership, Retention, and Access

For the sake of truth and healing, ensure that there is a clear policy and procedure regarding ownership and retention of, and access to, the files of the inquiry team, the evidence it compiles, and materials submitted by witnesses. It is imperative that this item is in place before any witness is interviewed. Anything less will be problematic. Ownership, retention, and access directly correspond to how witness confidentiality is preserved, and therefore directly influences the inquiry team’s interactions with all witnesses, and the post-inquiry responsibilities of the mission entity.

Offenders and Naming

For the sake of truth and justice, decide if the final report will: (a) name all persons found to have committed abuse, (b) exclude the names of all offenders, or (c) include the names of some offenders, but not others, based on specific criteria. (This decision also applies to persons found to have committed abuse who were minors at the time of commission). The four denomination-sponsored inquiries discussed above exercised either option (b) or (c). There are a variety of well-informed, firmly grounded rationales that can be mustered to support each of the three options. Making this decision before the outset is critical to the interactions between the inquiry team and witnesses, particularly those who have been accused of abuse.

Process for Revision

For the sake of the inquiry’s credibility and efficacy, ensure that there is a formal, procedural means in the sponsor’s charge or charter by which it is possible for the inquiry team to request revisions. This item recognizes the possibility that the sponsor’s assignment at the outset may not conform to unforeseen realities that are discovered after the inquiry begins. We offer illustrations from experience to support this item. The first illustration is negative and demonstrates the problem of a lack of a procedural means. In the inquiry sponsored by GBGM, the inquiry team was challenged by the fact that the Charge excluded two categories of people from the scope of the inquiry: GBGM-affiliated MKs who were abused in the mission field by non-GBGM-affiliated individuals, and children indigenous to the host mission country who were abused in the mission field by GBGM-affiliated mission personnel.46 Without a means in the Charge to attain revision, the inquiry team faced a difficult decision: comply with the restrictive terms and exclude two sets of persons whose abuse could be established, or contravene the Charge. The team chose to include both sets of persons, and provided a rationale applicable to each set. While GBGM accepted the decision and rationales upon receipt of the Final Report, the lack of procedure for revision made the situation more burdensome than was necessary.

The second illustration is positive and demonstrates the value of a procedural means of revision. In the inquiry conducted by the IARP for the Presbyterian Church, the sponsor’s Charter provided means by which the Panel could recommend changes.47 Events in the course of the inquiry led the panel to make requests four times in seven years, which resulted in changes that included giving the panel discretion regarding the naming of those found to have committed abuse, restricting the panel from pursuing a case in which both the alleged offender and victim were deceased, and extending the length of the inquiry.48

Report Availability

For the sake of accountability and truth, commit to make the inquiry’s final report available to the public promptly after it is received. The moral rationale – accountability and truth – for this item is compelling in itself. From a practical perspective, the sponsoring mission entity will have a difficult time preventing the unwanted dissemination of a final report, given the ability of so many to communicate digitally.

Need-to-Know Report

For the sake of confidentiality and truth, if a confidential Need-to-Know report is produced by the inquiry team, specify who will be eligible to receive it and how access will be decided. Depending on the course of the inquiry, details regarding eligibility, distribution, and access may need to be refined closer to the time of a Need-to-Know report’s creation.


We have seen allegations of abuse in the missionary context divide childhood MK friends and turn family members against each other. We have seen prominent church leaders use religious and secular media to smear the motivation of MKs who came forward to report sexual abuse to mission representatives. We are outraged when an innocent person is wrongfully determined to have committed abuse, and we are outraged when a person who committed abuse is not held accountable. Nevertheless, we are hopeful. We have seen the fruits of the Spirit when fact-finding inquiry teams with qualified and skilled members adopted a reasonable and credible methodology, and applied it carefully and responsibly. We have witnessed multiple constituencies in mission communities benefitting in tangible ways.

By identifying an agenda within the capacity of a mission entity to complete, we point a strategic way forward that substantially increases the likelihood of determining the truth of abuse in mission communities. This is an affirmation that truth is the servant of justice and healing, and that a credible methodology executed within a robust framework is the servant of truth.

Cite this article
James Evinger and Rich Darr, “Determining the Truth of Abuse in Mission Communities: A Rejoinder and New Agenda”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 43:4 , 365-383


  1. Robert J. Priest, and Esther E. Cordill, “Christian Communities and ‘Recovered Memories’ of Abuse,” Christian Scholar’s Review 41.4 (2012): 381-400.
  2. Ibid., 400, final paragraph.
  3. Ibid., 386, footnotes 27 and 28.
  4. Geoffrey B. Stearns, Pamela G. Dunn, Marcus R. Earle, Lois J. Edmund, and Chilton Knudsen, Final Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry to the Board of Managers of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (November 15, 1997),
  5. While Priest and Cordill use the word Commission to refer to the formal title of the Presbyterian inquiry and its final report, the precise word in the title is Committee: Howard Beardsley, Lois Edmund, James Evinger, Nancy Poling, and Geoffrey Stearns (with Carolyn Whitfield), Final Report of the Independent Committee of Inquiry, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (September, 2002),
  6. Priest and Cordill, 382-386 passim. The negative valence of the term is clear: see 398, first paragraph, and the pejorative use of confabulations.
  7. Ibid., 398. The authors’ relationship to their sources is not identified.
  8. The original reference is Stearns et al., D. FINDINGS, 2. Contextual Considerations, a. Charging Criteria and Working Definitions of Abuse Utilized by the ICI, unpaginated. To be precise, the Mamou inquiry report used “e.g.” and not “i.e.” as quoted, Priest and Cordill, 386.
  9. Priest and Cordill, 386.
  10. Beardsley et al., 95, fourth paragraph, first sentence.
  11. Priest and Cordill, 386, state: “Since much of the Christian literature on child sexual abuse is supportive of recovered memory ideas, it should not be surprising that many who investigate abuse allegations do choose to trust memories recovered through therapy.” The subchapter in question does not cite any “Christian literature.” Priest and Cordill cite three evangelical therapists/authors – Dan Allender, Diane Langberg, and Leanne Payne – as authority figures for the use of recovered memory in the evangelical community. The bibliography in the Congo Final Report, 127-132, does not cite any of these individuals or any of their publications.
  12. Beardsley et al., 61, first paragraph.
  13. Ibid., 9-16. See also 167, Appendix E: Diagram of the Fact-Finding Process.
  14. Ibid., et al., 15, first and second paragraphs.
  15. Credible, multifactorial methodology leads to credible results, whether the determination is that abuse was committed or that it was not. See the case reported at Beardsley et al., 60, first and fourth paragraphs: “Though scrupulously pursuing evidence through interviews and documents, we were unable to find sufficient substantiation of the allegations. … insufficient evidence was found to provide us the certainty that is necessary in establishing an assertive finding of sexual abuse.”
  16. Linda Meyer Williams, “Recall of Childhood Trauma: A Prospective Study of Women’s Memories of Child Sexual Abuse,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 62 (1994): 1167-1176.
  17. Priest and Cordill, 390.
  18. Lest one think we overreact to a concern about methodological integrity, we note that the practices and professionalism of certain recent inquiries are being questioned publicly: Bobby Ross, Jr., “No GRACE in Sexual Abuse Investigation of Missionary Kids,” Christianity Today, March 13, 2013,
  19. James Evinger, Carolyn Whitfield, and Judith Wiley, Final Report of the Independent Abuse Review Panel Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), October 2010,
  20. Marshall L. (Jack) Meadors, Jr., Edith M. Fresh, James S. Evinger, and L. B. Bracey, Final Report of The Independent Panel for the Review of Child Abuse in Mission Settings (December 12, 2008). GBGM posted the report in 2009 on its Web site. On 04/23/13, a new link was posted:
  21. Following the Congo inquiry, three of its members and its staff person served terms as members of the Presbyterian Church’s IARP. One Congo inquiry member served as a member of GBGM’s Independent Panel for the Review of Child Abuse in Mission Settings.
  22. Priest and Cordill, 386.
  23. Similarly, we know of no findings that were overturned following the Mamou, GBGM, or IARP inquiries.
  24. We know of no complaints that recovered memories were the basis for a finding of guilt by the Mamou, GBGM, or IARP inquiries. Following release of the IARP Final Report in 2010, one individual, named as an offender, used Church media to assert innocence and criticize the Panel. He never raised the issue of recovered memories. The findings against him stood. In 2011, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arrested him on charges related to child pornography. According to federal court records, he pleaded guilty to distributing child pornography, and was sentenced to 12+ years in federal prison. At the sentence hearing, the U.S. Attorney’s office entered the entire, lengthy IARP Final Report into the court record.
  25. Evinger et al., 391-410, APPENDIX B: PC(USA)’s Response to the Recommendations in the Independent Committee of Inquiry’s (ICI) Final Report.
  26. Ibid., 404-407.
  27. Unpublished letter (May 17, 2004), Re: Item 04-48, Assembly Committee on Church Polity. Distributed at the 216th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, Richmond, Virginia, it supported the recommendations “that will strengthen the church’s policies and procedures for dealing with sexual abuse cases.”
  28. Unpublished letter (June 12, 2004), Re: Comments on Item 04-08. It was distributed at the 216th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church.
  29. Witnesses to Truth, Witnesses to Healing: Investigating Child Abuse in Missionary Settings, produced by Independent Abuse Review Panel, directed by James S. Evinger and Carolyn Whitfield, and edited by Paul Forget (2006; Louisville: Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), DVD/VHS.
  30. John Filiatreau, “Dallas church voices support for abuse victims,” PCUSA NEWS, (December 4, 2002),
  31. Beardsley et al. iii. See also 28-30.
  32. Ibid., 109, recommendation #2 and its rationale.
  33. Evinger et al. 396, final paragraph.
  34. Linda Bloom, “United Methodist Panel to Review Reports of Child Abuse Situations,” United Methodist News Service News Archives (November 2, 2004),
  35. Marci A. Hamilton, Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 72. See endnotes 13 and 14.
  36. Christine W. Lewis and Sara B. Kiser, “When Shepherds Ravage the Sheep: The Liability of Religious Organizations for Sexual Misconduct by Clergy,” Journal of Individual Employment Rights 12.1 (2005/2006): 59.
  37. Dee Ann Miller, “An Exceptional Story From Presbyterians (PCUSA)” (2005),
  38. Barbara Renton, “Statement to the General Assembly Council” (September 28, 2002), paragraph 5,
  39. B. Hunter Farrell, “Broken Trust: Sexual Abuse in the Mission Community: A Case Study in Mission Accountability,” in Accountability in Missions: Korean and Western Case Studies, J. J. Bonk, ed. (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011), 214.
  40. Ibid.
  41. Since 2009, GBGM has displayed the Final Report, Meadors, Jr. et al., on its Web site. Since 2010, the Presbyterian Church has displayed continuously the Final Report of the IARP:
  42. Meadors, Jr. et al., 19-50, Methodology, and Evinger et al., 48-74, and accompanying protocols, 469-524, appendices J, K, and L. See especially, 480-511, APPENDIX K: Finding of Fact Protocol.
  43. Meadors, Jr. et al., 37-50, I. Special Problems.
  44. One reason to propose an agenda beyond Priest and Cordill’s is that in the cases of denomination-sponsored initiatives since 2002, the problem of recovered memory-based testimony has not been an issue. See Meadors, Jr. et al., 33, footnote 35: “None of the witnesses who participated in the [United Methodist] inquiry presented testimony based on recovered memory.” See Evinger et al., 496: “The [Presbyterian] Panel was confronted with no instances of recovered memory.” For a recent perspective on recovered memories by an academic researcher in criminal justice who has studied sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, see Karen Terry, Sexual Offenses and Offenders: Theory, Practice and Policy, 2nd ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2013), 39-41. Citing references from the 1980s–early 1990s, she notes that some claims of childhood sexual abuse were based on recall of memories retrieved during therapeutic sessions: “The validity of repressed memories eventually surfaced as a critical issue, because many of those who were accused denied the allegations, claiming that ideas of abuse were being inadvertently planted by therapists during through various memory-retrieval techniques.” She concludes: “Few cases of repressed memories are brought up in the courts today, and none result in convictions without corroborating evidence.”
  45. From experience, we know that if these are not decided in advance, they become systemic stressors that divert attention and energy during the inquiry, and distract from the purpose.
  46. Meadors, Jr. et al., 39-44, ii. Scope – Question 2: Those Reported to Having Been Abused.
  47. Evinger et al., 388, VIII. STAFF and BUDGET, IX. ANNUAL REPORT, and DURATION.
  48. Ibid., 435-439, Changes to the Panel’s Charter.

James Evinger

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
James Evinger is a minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Rochester, NY, as well as a consultant for the FaithTrust Institute.

Rich Darr

First United Methodist Church of Park Ridge
Rev. Rich Darr is lead pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Park Ridge, Illinois.