I’ve been thinking through all the conversations I’ve had with women who were groomed into what was sexual abuse by their pastor.
1. The grooming lasted for months, even years.
2. Every single woman told me they resisted, said no, called out the behavior in the beginning.
3. The women all had a level of fear of the pastor. Said he had bullying characteristics.
4. The pastor ignored their lack of consent, relentlessly persisted and pushed boundaries until they got compliance. Compliance is NOT consent. It became survival for the victim.
5. We, the women, had something going on that made us emotionally vulnerable. That does not make the abuse our fault. Everyone is vulnerable at some point. Pastors should always point to Christ and to therapy if needed, not seize the opportunity to abuse their power.
6. The abuse wasn’t about sexual activity. That was the trap into emotional and spiritual abuse. Torture for the pastor’s entertainment. The target is nothing but a challenge.
7. The pastor convinced the woman that the sexual activity was her fault. Upon discovery, she typically took the responsibility only to learn later that it was not an affair but it was sexual, emotional and spiritual abuse.
8. In almost every case, it cost the victim everything. All sympathy and support went to the abusive pastor.
9. In every case, the church elders blew it. They protected themselves, the abuser and the church image at the expense of the victim.
10. The congregation, the bystanders, didn’t support the victim out of ignorance, fear, or having been gaslighted by church leaders and didn’t know the truth. Many later learned the truth, but couldn’t handle it. Weren’t willing to do the uncomfortable thing and speak up.
11. These women are strong, brave and articulate. They’ve survived being led through hell by a wolf in shepherd’s clothing. They’re fighting like hell to heal. Many are also still fighting for truth & justice in their churches & denominations.
12. Even though wounded, they’re on the front lines fighting for truth, justice and safety because the church leaders, congregations and Christian influencers are silent about the fact that the vast majority of sexual abusers in the church are the pastors and evangelists.
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