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Thursday, 12 May 2016

My encounter with Donn Ketcham

I say, what a week. About a thousand people have accessed this blog in the past two days following the publication of a Christianity Today article on Donn Ketcham. For only the second time, albinism is the second most popular topic here. So it's only appropriate that I write a little further on the topic, including an account of my own encounter with the good doctor.

But first, an examination of the recently released  ABWE and Donn Ketcham Investigations Final Report. My comments will be interspersed, in italics.

Analysis indicates that there existed, and in some cases exist today, typically unspoken beliefs and attitudes within ABWE that were revealed through the investigation by way of documents and interviews – beliefs and attitudes that contributed to missionary family and ABWE administrative lack of awareness, lack of responsiveness, and poor decision-making regarding policy violations and abuse behaviors and events. The root causes of significant impact include:

1. There existed a prevailing attitude toward authority in evangelical circles, primarily that there was a "spirituality" standard that required unquestioning compliance with authority. This attitude prevented the development of a healthy system of checks and balances and openness to corrective actions. Critical thinking skills were suspended.

This is a prevalent problem in evangelical circles that have been influenced by Bill Gothard or the Patriarchy movement. But, on the mission field, it goes back way further than that--it probably originated in a military mindset.

2. There existed a focus on ministry as being the top priority. Individual needs and voices tended to be dismissed in the service of the "greater good", i.e. ministry and the spread of the Gospel.


There is also a warped sense of priorities: the work must go on, even if the worker is tainted by sin. Yet, nationals are held to a higher standard, and can be summarily dismissed if under suspicion of moral failure.

3. There existed a prevailing attitude about the status of women in the work place. Especially in the historical time period under investigation women were considered "support" personnel. As such, their opinions and observations carried less weight and were easier to dismiss and ignore. Because women were considered of lesser value, it was easier to "send them home" and/or remove them from the mission, i.e. Donn Ketcham’s lovers over the decades.

 This is a good point; it is almost always MEN who are kept on in spite of moral failure; single women are much more expendable.

4. There existed a prevailing attitude toward children relative to the ministry and to adults. Ministry activities were more important than child needs. Children were not to interfere with or block the "ministry". In fact, children were "sacrificed" so that the ministry would not be "discredited." This, in part, led to blaming a child for what was, in truth, the responsibility of an adult. This also led to children not speaking up about what was happening to them. The children saw much that the adults missed.

5. There existed a prevailing belief that missionaries are "more spiritual" than the average Christian, and because of their "sacrifices" are "entitled." This creates a vulnerability to and blindness about wrongful (and even criminal) behaviors, i.e. a tolerance of Donn Ketcham using inappropriate sexual joking and bragging about his sexual exploits with National women.


Missionaries are thought of as more spiritual, due to their biblical training and being in "Full-time Christian Service." There is also the Baptist focus on right theology over right living.

6. There existed a class system of value and importance on the field. A doctor was considered more important than others, which led to a sense of subservience and obedience on the part of the victims and observers who might have otherwise spoken out regarding Donn Ketcham’s abusive behaviors. This class system impacted the Donn Ketcham family as well.

7. There existed an idealization of Donn Ketcham, a doctor, whose charisma garnered many dollars for ABWE and blinded many people to his true character, i.e."How could such a wonderful man who did so much for the Ministry be that bad? was an oft reported sentiment." For example:

a. He became a demigod in the mission. Donn Ketcham contributed to his persona by presenting himself as a strong spiritual leader, preaching, speaking, and leading Bible studies. He often instructed and condemned others on the very sins he was and had been committing for decades.

b. A result of the idealization is that other decision-makers set aside their own opinions and capacities and deferred to Donn Ketcham, including ABWE administrators who were in positions of authority over Donn Ketcham.

8. There existed a customization of ABWE Principles and Practices and consequences for violation of those Principles and Practices for Donn Ketcham while the organization strictly enforced the Principles and Practices and violation consequences for other mission personnel. For example:

a. Donn Ketcham’s paramours were removed from the field in spite of their pleas to return, while Donn Ketcham was allowed to return.

b. One missionary family was sent home and required to attend 2 years of counseling followed by a period of observation for issues related to parenting a high-needs child. Donn Ketcham, on the other hand, was sent to Chittagong (a discipline that was not strictly enforced) and required to complete a recommended possible 30 sessions of counseling, of which he
only completed 17, for outright violation of ABWE’s code of behavior. Of note, the missionary family’s requirements for counseling were at Donn Ketcham’s insistence.

c. Counselors selected in the Donn Ketcham matter failed due to inadequate training and experience, a lack of professional certification and licensure, conflict of interest, accepting assignments outside of scope of expertise, and ethics violations as to working with the perpetrator and his victim/survivor.

9. There existed a conflict between administering ABWE as a faith-based entity (grace, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, etc.) versus a corporate/business entity (with protective policies and procedures in place, governance checks and balances, etc.). For example:

a. This confusion allowed compassion and forgiveness to block appropriate legal and administrative actions. Equally, it allowed organizational concerns (i.e. financial, the need for doctors) to repeatedly block appropriate responses to victim/survivors.

b. This confusion resulted in ABWE not reporting to authorities Donn Ketcham’s pedophilia as it became known to the organization over decades.

c. This confusion and lack of following corporate principles and practices in place, resulted in multiple affairs and the sexual and emotional abuse of both adult women and children.

d. This confusion allowed "forgiveness" (a faith-based concept) to be used in the service of corporate avoidance of tough issues, i.e. Donn Ketcham’s preferential treatment, a child being blamed for the sexual abuse perpetrated by Donn Ketcham in order to protect Donn Ketcham’s wife, Donn Ketcham continuing in a leadership role even while home for discipline, and a misleading confession avoiding the truth of child sexual abuse being presented with no supervision by ABWE.

e. This confusion contributed to ABWE’s failure to seek out or use appropriate professional and legal counsel for Donn Ketcham when the organization was aware of and had worked with such professionals in matters affecting other ABWE missionaries.

10. There existed a difficulty with logistics in that time period which resulted in a lack of timely communication between Bangladesh and the U.S. headquarters and vice versa.

a. This isolation tends to make people cling tighter to what is familiar, hence the development of "we’re all family" (aunts and uncles). Such a family sense makes it more difficult for people to have perspective, to ask for
information, to critique inappropriate actions, and to see reality, i.e. many still refer to the 13-14 year old missionary kid (MK) victim/survivor as a "consenting (implied) adult".

b. Such an isolated community also creates a "tribal knowledge" where facts are assumed, truth is unintentionally distorted (i.e. time frames, ages) – all of which lead to difficulty "connecting the dots" when abuse happens.

11. There existed a culture of naiveté, due in large part to the underlying mistaken belief that "abuse doesn’t happen in Christian circles."

a. This created an environment in which behavior that would activate a censorship response in most circles was dismissed or ignored.

b. Children’s fears (and in some cases terror) of physical exams with Donn Ketcham was ignored.

c. This attitude also prevented acquisition and dissemination of information about abuse, abuse behaviors, grooming behaviors, and symptoms displayed by abused victims. With no one educated about abuse, or aware that it is a possibility in ANY environment, the mission compound became a fertile field for a manipulator and abuser.

d. Naiveté also made it easy for Donn Ketcham to find, prey on, and intimidate victims and potential witnesses.


A final comment: I wonder if one reason why ABWE leadership was so willing to overlook Donn's sin was that they were blinded by their own guilt in the same areas. An example of this which has come to light is that of  R. C. Sproul Jr.

Okay, now for my encounter with Dr. Ketcham.

It is interesting now to think back to October 1987 and realize that at the time Donn Ketcham spoke in a missions conference I attended, he was already under counseling from ABWE for the very sort of behaviour for which he was not long  afterward expelled. Yet, there he was preaching as an official representative of ABWE. And I must say, he was a very good preacher--I still remember that his subject was Gideon. There was nothing in his persona as a preacher to indicate the darkness that was even then consuming his soul. Nor, I expect, was any big announcement made from that same pulpit 2 years later announcing the fall of that famous preacher. No, such smug announcements were always reserved for the guy from the other theological camp.

UPDATE MAY 2017: As of this February, Donn Ketcham has finally been brought to trial for sexual molestation. According to the charges, he did continue his deviant behaviour after returning to his Michigan practice, and a now-adult former pediatric patient has come forward with criminal allegations of abuse in 1999--just shy of the statute of limitations.




1 comment:

  1. Having been raised in a leading GARBC church, having known Dr. Donn, having been friends w/ Tom as boys in the late '60, with Kempton, Ebersole, and ABWE as standards of the faith - this revelation of corruption is unfathomable, absolutely horrific. Your comments and observations in this article are spot on. Thank you.

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