Abusing Grace: When the Church Fails to Call Sexual Assault a Crime
On Tuesday I started my day as I always do, but instead of heading to work as a Trauma Therapist I went to the Virginia Beach Courthouse. I went to attend the sentencing hearing of convicted sex offender Jeff Bondi. A “pillar” of the community. A revered Christian leader. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. I went to stand with the victim. To stand with the possibly countless victims yet to identify themselves. To stand in solidarity with Survivors who tell me their stories daily.
The defense, along with the 3 character witnesses [A convicted Child Sex Offender who met Bondi in jail; A young NBA basketball star who described Bondi as his mentor and “accountability" partner; A prominent lawyer and church elder in the community], continually referred to Bondi’s sex crime as an “indiscretion.” Most called it a “sin.” A problem with “lust.”
No-one called it a crime.
Lets be clear: A felony conviction of Sexual Penetration with an Object is not just an indiscretion, a sin, a lust problem. Its not on par with adultery or even sexual addiction. ITS A CRIME. Its punished identically to rape in Virginia. For its Uniform Crime Reports, the FBI defines rape as “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
Its a VIOLENT sex act. A CRIME.
I wonder if any of the witnesses Tuesday, particularly the lawyer who is a member of the Virginia Bar Association and elder in a prominent church in Norfolk who asked the judge to “temper his judgment with mercy," read the transcript of the trial. Did the 160 Christians who wrote letters to the judge on Bondi’s behalf attesting to “what a good man he is” and “how much he’s suffered” hear the testimony at trial? Its available. I have it if anyone wants it.
I will summarize it for you. This man invited a teenaged girl into his home to babysit his children and while his children slept he held her for 6+ hours against her will and assaulted her ... multiple times. She was barely 100 lbs. He was a fit 32 year old man. He laid the full weight of his body on top of her. He would not let her leave. According to the testimony, he told her that he loved her. That she was “like a daughter” to him. When she asked him if he would do this to his own daughters (he has 3) he responded, “I would hope not.” She remained frozen. Unable to move. This is a common response to trauma. Its a primitive response in the brain to unthinkable fear. Its the same mechanism that kicks in when an animal plays dead in order to survive. Its what happens in the wild when prey is hunted by a predator.
Lets be clear: Its NOT consent.
This was not the first time Bondi sexually assaulted someone. In 1997 Bondi was on a bus as a Young Life leader with a group of teenagers. On that bus he molested a teenaged girl. This incident resulted in a level 1 finding with Virginia Beach Child Protective Services. This is the most severe finding possible with CPS. It indicated that Bondi was a threat and danger to children. Unfortunately, due to a question with jurisdiction the case could not be prosecuted and the assault was never tried in criminal court.
Bondi doesn’t dispute that this assault on the bus occurred. In fact, he wrote her a letter of apology the same night and asked the victim to keep quiet. The judge read part of this letter in court Tuesday. In it he told her she was “like a daughter” to him. (Sound familiar?) He said that “nothing like this had ever happened before and would never happen again.” But that wasn’t true. It had happened before and it happened again.
As the judge handed down the sentence he referenced three sexual assaults by Bondi: an allegation of an assault in 1992, the level 1 finding of sexual abuse of a minor in 1997, and the felony conviction for the 2001 crime. He called him “a serial sexual offender.” He stated he believed he was a danger to society and a flight risk. When the defense attorney was pleading for leniency on account that Bondi has always “taken responsibility” for his “indiscretions” the judge interrupted and asked why, if that was the case, the defendant hadn’t pled guilty.
Bondi’s defense amounted to “I assaulted her but not as bad as she claims. I mean, its possible, I could have. I don’t remember. It was a long time ago.” In other words, “I’m guilty of a misdemeanor at best.”
What’s mind blowing is that a large portion of the Christian community continues their unwavering support of Bondi, despite his admission of guilt to multiple sex crimes. In fact, that same community has continually embraced him. Following his removal from Young Life staff after the CPS finding, Galilee Episcopal Church offered him a job as Youth Minister. He continued to have access to hundreds of youth over the years … at various churches … at his children’s school … on mission trips … at sporting events … and in his home. Bondi has 4 children. 3 of them are girls. As evidenced by the support at trial, they have many friends.
According to RAINN’s website (www.rainn.org), statistics tell us that 1 in 9 teenage girls will experience some form of sexual abuse at the hands of an adult. 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Females ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. Approximately, 7 out of 10 victims know their perpetrator and only 30% of sexual assault cases are reported to authorities. Do the math. Thats a lot of opportunity. 3 victims are already documented as part of the court record.
160 letters of support for Bondi referenced his character as a good man who loves the Lord and positively impacts the community. The judge read them all. However, he astonishingly noted that only 5 of those letters actually mentioned the CRIME at hand. Only 5 even hinted at the reality that there is a victim. The majority overwhelmingly ignored why we were there. In doing so, they victimized the perpetrator. They pled for grace and mercy … but not for the victim. The church abandoned the victim. In doing so, they continue to cover up and excuse sexual assault. They fail to protect other women and children in their own communities … their own children.
Let’s talk about grace. Its a gift the church has continued to pervert.
Grace. An undeserved gift of favor by God, through the pardoning of sin, as a result of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. Romans 5:8 proclaims, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…and we shall be saved by him from the wrath of God.” Grace has to do with salvation. It speaks of the theological concept of Judicial Forgiveness and can only be offered by God. It is also contingent on confession and repentance. It references a vertical relationship between man and God.
Inherent to confession and repentance is acknowledgment of sin. As a result, this includes the acceptance of the consequences of one’s actions. When the sin is a CRIME, confession involves the court system. Consequences involve legal action. The church did not hold Bondi to this standard. In failing to do so, they did not love him well. They offered “grace” that was not theirs to give. Many in the church knew of and covered up this crime for 16 years. Many continue to excuse it.
Still, Bondi pled not guilty. In his final plea to the judge prior to sentencing he apologized to the victim but then reiterated that he did not commit the crime. That doesn’t sound like confession and repentance to me. A list of Bondi’s “good deeds” and volunteerism is irrelevant to the case at hand. Its a distraction. A justification … for a crime … a VIOLENT sexual assault!
The grace of God, beautiful as it is, does not negate the legal system on this earth. God’s grace promises to remove from us only the penalty of sin, which is death (Romans 6:23). Again, its about salvation. God doesn’t promise to rescue us from the consequences of our actions. To remove the rules for society, and with it the consequences, punishment, and discipline for one’s behavior, is an abuse of grace. In fact, its heretical. Grace is not an escape from the discipline and consequences of a crime. But the church has asked to make it one.
Furthermore, grace is only grace when it is offered by the offended party. That is God and Bondi’s victim(s). Not the church. Mark Ballenger (2017) in “Abusing Grace: 4 Common Ways Grace is Abused,” puts it succinctly:
“To hide the crimes of someone, to give sentences that hurt society, or to enable people’s abusive behavior is not an extension of biblical grace. There must be rules in society for the safety of all. To offer “grace” to someone when this will potentially be harmful to others is not wise. God supports rules for society (Romans 13:1-7) and to be gracious does not mean we must put others at risk for the benefit of one. To have a lawless, policy-less, and accountable-less society in the name of grace is a warped view of God’s intentions and abuse of biblical grace.”
When I read Scripture I continually see that God is always on the side of the oppressed. The marginalized. The poor. The weak. He is called a God of Justice (Psalm 50:6). He tells us to seek justice. To defend the oppressed (Isaiah 1:17). Victims of sexual assault are the oppressed … those whom Christ calls the Church to love. To defend. To seek justice. Let’s not forget either, Bondi’s victims are teenagers, who are children.
God unequivocally hates evil. He tells us to loathe it. Romans 12:9 says, “Let love be genuine. Abhorring what is evil, loving what is good.” Genuine love, modeled after Christ, must hate evil. Let’s be clear: Sexual Assault is EVIL. The Church cannot coddle abusers in the name of Christ. To do so is spiritual abuse.
To the pastors, the elders, the church leaders. To the 160. To the character witnesses who heard the victim’s statement, which graphically detailed her abuse by Bondi and its wretched impact, and then sat in her seat and listed off Bondi’s good deeds and his tales of “honesty" about his “infidelity.” To those who covered their ears and turned their backs for YEARS. Who won’t listen to a story other than the one he tells you ….
SHAME ON YOU.
As Judge Padrick stated, "Looking at the way the community has responded,
I cannot help but wonder: does anyone care about sexual assault?"
Ballinger, Mark. (30, June 2017). Abusing Grace: 4 Common Ways Grace is Abused. Retrieved from http://applygodsword.com/abusing-grace/