Wesley Heersink isn’t well-known in Christian Reformed Church circles, but his fight for justice may leave a legacy. Heersink made his struggle as a sexual abuse survivor the church’s struggle, and many observers agree he made a considerable impact on the CRC.
On July 7, at the age of 49, Heersink died at home in Michigan of a heart attack. His family claims that his struggle for justice is what really killed him—but they are glad his struggle is over.
“What [his]case brought to light is that there are cases of abuse that happened many years ago . . . for which resolution procedures are not in place—if one assumes that resolution is possible,” said Rev. Peter Borgdorff, the CRC’s newly retired executive director.
Heersink was in many ways a broken man. He attributed his health problems, job losses, and broken relationships to sexual abuse by his Cadet counselor at Alamosa (Colo.) CRC when he was a young teen (see Banner, May 2006, p. 16). Yet this man who had felt cursed by God wrote these words shortly before his death: “God chose me to understand his grace to a very great magnitude.”
The alleged perpetrator of Heersink’s abuse, now deceased, had admitted to his actions and resigned from his position. Heersink fought persistently to receive compensation and an apology.
According to Stanley Heersink, Wesley’s brother, Wesley and his family felt frustrated and silenced in spite of many communications with church leaders and some financial contributions by Alamosa CRC and Classis Rocky Mountain.
Stanley Heersink said, “The whole process was so . . . inept and so abusive. The victim has to fight . . . to be heard. . . . I don’t think he ever got an apology from the church saying in any way, shape, or form that they were accountable or responsible.”
Heersink’s case was heard by an abuse-response panel, appealed to Classis Rocky Mountain, appealed to the CRC’s Judicial Code Committee, and then addressed by Synod 2006.
Robert Jonker, chair of the Judicial Code Committee, told Synod 2006 that his committee wasn’t the appropriate mechanism for dealing with the issues arising from the case. But he pointed out, “We have a hurt and broken individual whose relationship to the church has been breached. This is a difficult issue that deserves the attention of the denomination.”
And so, just weeks before Heersink’s death, Synod 2006 assigned the denomination’s Board of Trustees to “appoint a task force to consider . . . how the denomination ought to be responding, financially or otherwise, to the very real consequences of abuse.”
If that task force comes up with some answers, then Heersink’s struggle could leave a legacy for abuse victims long after his death.
—Roxanne Van Farowe and Gayla R. Postma