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!
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.