Eighteen months after my abuse by my pastor boss was discovered and labeled an inappropriate relationship, Randy and I met with new Sr. Pastor hoping it would lead to an investigation and corrected narrative. I had learned the elders were untrustworthy by this time, so I recorded the meeting. I was refused both an investigation and correcting the narrative that was shared on a Sunday morning from the stage about me.
God continues to move, though. Recent discussions with some former staff prompted me to go back and listen to the recording of that meeting where I shared my story. I’m listening to me tell my story. It’s 2 1/2 hours long. I can only take it in short sessions because of triggers.
I cry as I listen to her. Her soul was crushed by a pastor’s abuse and then again by elders who preach truth but lie to her and to their congregation. Pastors and elders who cheapen grace and use the word “love” to manipulate her to protect themselves.
My heart hurts for all she’s been through, but, damn, she’s articulate and strong. She’s not mincing words. She’s confident in truth. She’s taken her power back. I still have an hour to listen to. Right now, she’s afraid to hope. She had asked God for a miracle thinking He would reveal truth, but instead the elders had sent a 2nd all church email about her blaming her for weak boundaries and accusing her husband of hurting the testimony of God and the church.
I know now that the miracle was God opening her eyes to see the truth about these elders and the effect on that church. Now, she sees truth and speaks truth. Other eyes are opening. While now I just watch instead of hoping, I’m proud of her, of me.
She's learned God is always present. He’s mysterious in His ways, but He’s trustworthy. Miracles happen but they might not look like we expect. She’s going to survive although she thought this might kill her. She’s lived through her greatest fears. She’s found her strength and her voice.
Most of all, her heart is still soft. She loves. Freedom looks good on her!
I haven’t attended a church service in well over a year, maybe two years. It’s just too triggering. This morning I delivered some books to a church where my boss was speaking. I got there about 30 minutes before the service was to start.
As I carried in one of the boxes through the door and again as I was leaving, there was this group of 10 people standing on both sides of the door to “greet” those coming in. They were right on top of the doors, clearly smiling and very eager to serve. They were “on.”
The problem is that for the first time this came across as overtly manipulative. This was their volunteer duty—to be excited and greet people the moment they walk through the doors. It wreaked of Christian manipulation to me and I couldn’t get out fast enough. My heart raced on the verge of a panic attack for about 30 minutes.
I could remember all the staff meetings where we planned the Sunday morning experience for attenders. Now, I see we were manipulating emotions from the moment they walked in until they left. And if membership or visitor numbers dropped, these serving volunteers were basically accused of not doing enough. We never dared to question if it was the preaching or if our church had other issues.
I don’t want a church with official door greeters in my face as I walk in, trying to give an appearance of love and friendliness. I want to just walk in and as people are going about their business, they are very friendly. See the difference? Church should be church, not an experience. We should treat people as people, not consumers.
More time should be spent praying over the message than conjuring up the most impressive sermon illustration. The worship team should reflect the body, not be only the very best and performance based. It’s worship, not a performance. Greeters, performers, pastors using neuro programming language no longer look like church to me. It’s eye opening what you begin to see when you step out of the system. I’m yearning for messages and community like in Acts.
I was having a conversation last night about friends and trust.
Once I called what that pastor did to me abuse, my closest friends in life vanished. They didn’t even have the decency to have have a conversation.
We had done life together for over 15 years. It was spiritual. We prayed together, studied the Bible together, retreated together, worshiped together, and raised our kids together.
They rejected me in such a painful way, at such a painful time. How would I ever trust that someone is my friend again?
I’ve now been in a new Bible study group of women for 3 years. The women are so sweet. They say they love me. They really barely know me. My heart struggles to bond. Will they run if my truth makes them uncomfortable?
What is love? Even in the church, what is love?
Does love deny truth?
Does love abandon victims?
Does love protect abusers?
Does love lie?
Must love always be comfortable?
Does love require hard things?
Does love look ugly and evil right in the face and name it?
Does love pretend everything is perfect and the church can do no wrong?
Does love let wolves stay in pulpits & devour sheep?
It was my pastor that encouraged me to quit listening to that prudish Christian music.
It was my pastor that encouraged me to start drinking bourbon.
It was my pastor that began texting me while I was on a trip.
It was my pastor that said my husband was crazy.
It was my pastor that said friendship could include sexual activity.
It was my pastor that wouldn’t take no for an answer.
It was my pastor that threatened my job if I didn’t “play.”
It was my pastor who texted pictures.
It was my pastor who told me I was worthless and crazy.
It was my pastor who tortured me daily at work.
It was my pastor who blamed me for his sexual abuse.
It was my pastor who threatened to “take me out” if I betrayed him in any way.
It was my pastor who blamed me for discovery.
It was my pastor who never apologized.
It was my elders that knew it was abuse but called it an inappropriate relationship.
It was my elders who called me by name to the church body.
It was my elders that put a NDA in front of me saying it was to protect me when it was to protect them.
It was my elders who lied to their congregation.
It was my elders who refused my request for an investigation.
It was my elders who refuse to tell the truth and correct what they told the church body, my world, about me.
It was my church family of 15 years who turned their backs on me & the truth.
It was my church family that decided silence was more comfortable than truth.
It was my church that couldn’t practice what they preach.
It was my church that couldn’t trust God with the truth.
It was my church who kept a wolf in the pulpit & allowed him to abuse when they should have fired him.
It was my church that let that wolf almost destroy me.
It was my church that chose image and money over truth.
It was my church that basically showed me they think I am worthless.
The sheep aren’t important. The “shepherds” are.
I haven’t lost my faith in Jesus. He rescued me out of that sick place. He’s healing me. I admit I don’t understand his ways because they can be so painful, but I trust Him.
I’ll add this: there are others like me, who were shown hell by pastors who have now considered leaving or left faith in Jesus. I understand why. It’s their choice. We shouldn’t judge victims for the hell a pastor and church put them through. We should love. And by love, I mean listen and support. We should fight like hell to expose wolves, get them out and take care of their victims whether they are in church or not and whether they’re still Christians or not. We should act like Jesus, not Pharisees. No one else walked on step in that victim’s shoes. Love!
Don’t tell victims they have to trust Jesus after abuse when the church, when Christians, won’t trust Jesus with the truth about clergy sexual abuse.
This may be unique to my experience, but I find many want to accuse me of saying I'm a victim of clergy sexual abuse because, as an adult, I don't want to take responsibility for my actions, for my sin. This is not at all true. That pastor made it very clear from the beginning that it was my fault, even though he was the one who began texting. I wasn't even in town. We weren't friends. I hadn't flirted with him at the office.
Once it was discovered, I took complete, 100% responsibility because I had no idea it was clergy sexual abuse. I confessed and apologized to my husband, my family, my Sr Pastor, the Elders, my co-workers, my friends, the church body and the abusive pastor's wife.
I've always been an honest person and the lying was destroying me, so I was glad the truth was out and I could own it, and more importantly, be free from it. I confessed and repented to God and worked to embrace His forgiveness and let go of the shame. My testimony at the time was about how quickly we can fall into sin, how our hearts can deceive us, how Satan works to destroy us, how God works to reconcile us to Himself, and how loving and forgiving He is. I understood that part of my testimony would always include this "failure" and God's grace.
Then I learned from my trauma therapist this wasn't an inappropriate relationship. That I didn't actually consent because I was trauma bonded to and coerced by an abuser. This was emotional and sexual abuse. This has made my story much more complicated. This truth has made it more difficult, not easier. I had to take the time to learn and understand what predators do to trauma bond and coerce their targets into behaving in ways they would otherwise find unacceptable. Then that had to become part of my story. It puts responsibility where it belongs, on the predator, the abuser. But it opens the victim, me, to more scrutiny and criticism because leaders and bystanders are quick to judge, slow to listen and uninterested in learning about clergy sexual abuse and the abuser's tactics.
It would actually be easier to just go back to the testimony of an inappropriate relationship, of falling into sin, and of being forgiven. But: 1. that's not the truth, 2. that doesn't put responsibility where it belongs--on the pastor, 3. that puts responsibility where it doesn't belong--on the victim/target, 4. that lets wolves continue to abuse, 5.that puts more sheep in harms way, 6. that hurts other victims of clergy abuse by allowing them to continue to believe the lie that they are responsible or that they've willfully sinned, 7. that keeps victims from getting the help and support they need to heal.
So, even though it's more difficult, keeps me in uncomfortable conversations, keeps me being judged and criticized, I will keep telling the truth because the truth is important. Victims are important. Doing the right thing is important.
I’ve talked to a number of adult victims of clergy sexual abuse in the last year. Common to all