Parkersburg woman gets PorchSwing Ministries off the ground

Photo by Jeff Baughan Christine Fox Parker stands on the front porch of her Parkersburg home. She describes the front porch as “her haven” and as the inspiration for the PorchSwing Ministries.

PARKERSBURG — Christine Fox Parker is a therapist who has an office away from the office; it’s her front porch.

“I love my front porch,” she said. “It’s a haven for me. I can be alone there but never lonely. I read and I write.

“I have this open-porch policy,” Parker said. “People always have an open invite to visit.”

Countless front-porch discussions, and many not so front-porch discussions, over countless cups of coffee led Parker to the realization numerous people who had been spiritually, physically, emotionally and sexually abused by church leaders needed safe spaces like her front porch.

The vision for PorchSwing Ministries was born. She acted; PorchSwing swung into motion. She launched the nonprofit with two primary purposes in mind.

Photo by Jeff Baughan Christine Fox Parker looks out a window as she talks about the story behind the formation of her PorchSwing Ministries.

First, to minister to the individuals who have been abused in any way by church leaders or church members as well as ministering to the victims’ families and advocates who often are deeply wounded, too.

Second, to come alongside churches, church leaders, and Christian institutions to educate in areas of abuse prevention and survivor care.

Parker created a website, porchswingministries.org, where survivors have a forum to talk amongst themselves.

It’s on-line and was launched in mid-September.

“There are readers and members from as far away as Canada and Ireland and Australia,” she said.

“I saw a need for a safe space for survivors. Survivors of church abuse leave in droves,” Parker said. “They do not leave God, but they are leaving the church, because it is the church and church people who abused them.”

Parker said the members-only forum “is for survivors only to talk. There is not a requirement for a person to be a Christian,” she said. “Just a survivor of church abuse. Survivors of abuse are good at caring for one another. Giving them a space to talk and share without fear of judgment or instruction from others who have not experienced what they have truly is salve for their wounds.”

The forum is moderated to maintain its focus of healing and forward movement.

“Of course, difficult things are discussed, but we do not go down roads of hate or bashing of people, churches, church leaders,” Parker said. “PorchSwing is not about that.”

Parker said PorchSwing Ministries has greatly expanded since going on-line. It continues to grow, she said.

In addition to the forum, visitors to porchswingministries.org will find Parker’s blog and information about all the services and trainings PorchSwing Ministries provides in its mission to prevent abuse and assist churches in becoming safer for survivors.

“The goal is helping and healing; healing individuals, healing churches and healing conversation. I don’t want to put churches on defense,” she said.

“I want meaningful change. This is a growth oriented ministry,” Parker said. “We move through pain and anger into what heals us.

“When churches create safe spaces for victims to do that, victims do not need to leave to find healing,” she said. “Most church leaders make the mistakes that wound and drive abuse victims away not out of malice, but simply because they do not know the things they inadvertently do that wound the victim in the aftermath of abuse.”

Through PorchSwing Ministries, Parker helps churches and institutions learn how to make their spaces safer. She said she has been invited to partner with Ohio Valley University to assess and ensure the culture and climate of the institution.

Parker said gender discrimination and sexual harassment are rampant on many Christian university campuses across the nation and across all denominations. She is having conversations with other universities about partnering with them as well.

PorchSwing Ministries ministers to survivors of all forms of abuse at the hands of church leaders and church members including spiritual abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, psychological and emotional abuse, abusive church leaders, and more.

Parker said abuse “is very widespread and in every denomination. Churches are starting to realize they need help recognizing and keeping the predator away from their targets.”

“Spiritual abuse happens,” Parker said. “When there is hyper-focus on things people do or don’t do that will get them sent to hell. It teaches people God is working to send them to hell instead of bringing them into God’s Kingdom and into loving relationships.

“Yes, God disciplines us, but not generally for punishment, rather shaping us into more holy people,” she said. “Punishment is reserved for those who engage in truly evil and wicked behaviors.

“Ironically, those are the wolves in sheep’s clothing churches often rush to forgive leaving the sheep they devoured bleeding in the aftermath. Predators can abuse in front of adults for a very specific purpose,” she said.

“Doing so gives them power over the victim. It silences the victim further by showing them if they can abuse them with people watching, what’s the point of speaking out. No one will believe you. They were right there and saw nothing.

“Predators count on our arrogant belief that we know exactly what we see at all times,” she said. “And they’re very patient. They will groom communities and individuals for years.”

To understand the mind of the victim, you must understand the mind of the abuser, Parker said.

“Initially, an abuse victim may feel uncomfortable but believe everything is okay, because “he’s the pastor, so it must be okay,” she said.

“When a victim does say something, church leaders often handle everything in-house and become experts on abuse all of a sudden,” Parker said. “They have to stop listening to the abusers only. They need to speak the victims as well.

“Victims tend to get told. They are not asked how they feel, what they need” she said. “They are instructed. Silence and disbelief are the two most common responses victims hear in the immediate aftermath of disclosure of abuse. Immediately on the heals of those two are demands that they forgive their abuser.

“What ministers, lay leaders, elders, and other church members don’t know is that predators are like chameleons,” Parker said. “They groom the victim, the church community, and the community at large.

“As chameleons they make themselves look like you and me. ‘Well, you and me would never ever abuse another person,’ she said. “Add to that, abusers generally have families, friends, and co-workers in the church who love and trust them. How can they believe this person could possibly do this thing?

“Outside experts should be consulted, brought in whenever there is an allegation of abuse,” she said. “Trying to handle it in-house is a mistake. It’s our job to report; it’s not our job to determine whether someone is telling the truth or not.

“The best care for victims and the accused is to report the accusations the proper authorities and to consult with experts about how best to move forward through the difficult days and weeks and months of investigations, outcomes, and healing,” she said.

In the realm of physical violence, Parker talks more intensely as it relates to the church.

“Physical violence or verbal violence in marriage…for decades I have worked with women told by their pastors they must stay in abusive marriages due to biblical commands,” she said.

“This is destructive and poor biblical interpretation. Non-consential sexual violence involves an inability to consent due to age or power,” she said. “The power differential between a church leader and a member of the congregation is the same as it would be between a teacher and a student.

“There is a good reason professors cannot have sex with a student and call it an affair–the power differential makes it abusive,” she said. “Same with a work supervisor and the subordinate.

“When a leader of a Christian institution engages in a sexual relationship with a congregation member it is often called an affair, but it is not an affair. It is abuse.,” she said. “The power differential, the spiritual leadership position of the church leader, puts the congregant in a space where the ability to consent does not exist. Where ability to consent does not exist, abuse does by definition.”

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PorchSwing Ministry seeks to serve those hurt by abuses and abusers as well as educating church leaders who want the same.

Parker is a therapist at The Counseling & Wellness Center in Parkersburg. She has a 2002 Master of Arts in Counseling from Harding School of Theology and a 2013 Master of Arts in Christian Ministry from Harding School of Theology.

PorchSwing Ministries is ministry, it is not counseling or therapy. “I will walk to the edge of their hell with them and look in but it’s not my hell to enter,” Parker said.

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