"Right in the prime of my adolescence, I had my sexual innocence ripped from my own fingers when an associate youth pastor preyed on me and a handful of my friends." Brooks Hansen, teen sex abuse victim
Trigger warning: The testimonies and follow up contain graphic descriptors which may prove disturbing to some.
This post is been done in partnership with Amy Smith of Watch Keep. We have a synergistic relationship. As Amy focuses on the actual abuse, TWW will provide an analysis of the allegations of the victims and the responses of the churches and pastors. It is imperative to understand that both Amy and I believe that the victims are telling the truth. I believe that our readers will feel the same way as they study the testimonies of three named victims. However, we have reason to believe that there are more unnamed victims. If they come forward, we will post their stories.
We would ask our readers to take a moment and pray for peace and strength for these brave victims who have waited years to tell their stories. There are reasons that it has taken so long for their narratives to get out into the media. As you will see, they have reported these accounts to former churches and a current church, as well as pastors.
I offer my deepest sympathy for their sexual abuse as young teens while expressing my undying admiration for their courage in telling their stories in order to help others.
The following accounts carry allegations against a youth worker as well as allegations of cover up by pastors. They are allegations. However, our victims have obtained legal counsel and will be giving their reports to local police even though the statute of limitations has passed.
Information that we have learned through phone calls and independent investigation.
It really isn't so hard with the dates provided by the victims. Once again, remember that these are *allegations.*
- The lead pastor at the original church, Immanuel Baptist, at the time of the alleged molestations, was Dr Scott Payne. (aka Thomas)
- The youth worker during the time of the alleged molestation was Christopher Carwile. (aka Carl)
- I have attempted to contact Dr Payne and hope to hear back from him.
- I have spoken with Jim Pritchard, a pastor at HIghPoint, and will discuss our conversation on Friday.
- Chris Carwile allegedly went on to be a youth worker at Cherokee Baptist Church. Was Cherokee warned about Carwile? More on Friday.
- Immanuel Baptist Church morphed into The Church at Shilling Farms which allegedly *merged* with HighPoint Church. (more on this on Friday-see announcement posted at Watch Keep.)
- For those of you who can't wait, the letter sent to Scott Payne is posted at Watch Keep.
- Did you know that Tennessee is a one party consent state when it comes to recording phone calls? Compare Chris Conlee's conversation with the victims with my conversation with Jim Pritchard (coming Friday.)
- TWW invites any of the churches or individuals in this story to make a statement which will be posted verbatim.
Today, TWW will post the victims' stories. These must be heard before we go on and discuss the responses (or lack thereof) on the part of the pastors and churches. On Friday, we hope add to the story and then provide analysis on a number of issues that are raised in these testimonies. There may need to be several posts.
As you read, we would ask you to note things that are troublesome in the alleged responses of the churches and pastors involved. We would love to hear your thoughts.
Please put yourself into the shoes of young teens and try to imagine how you might have responded. These testimonies drove me to tears and also caused me to remember how the victims of a molester at my former church were treated. Churches must change their modus operandi.
(Editor responsible for all highlighting in the following testimonies.)
Story 1: Kenny Stubblefield link
I want you to hear me.
Actually, I NEED you to hear me.
I am writing this letter for a few reasons:
1. I want to finally let the truth about my sexual abuse experience be shared because so many lies have been told;
2. I want to help other 16-year old kids who have been abused gain the strength to come and share their story so that they may experience healing;
3. I want to root out those “wolves” who call themselves pastors but care more about building their empire than they do about shepherding those people the Lord has entrusted to them. (Pastor, I’m doing this for your good and the health of your church. Read Ezekiel 34:1-10 to hear how God feels about shepherds that do not tend to their sheep well)
Author DaShanne Stokes said, “Only by speaking out can we create lasting change.” I have decided to speak out about my experiences for that very reason. I want to create lasting change for those who have been abused.
I grew up in a home where I always knew I was loved. Not just tangibly, but with powerful words of affirmation and loving thoughts. My parents made sure that my two sisters and I grew up in a home that loved Jesus and valued community through the local church. In 1996, we settled in at Immanuel Baptist Church located in Germantown, TN. At Immanuel, I found community. I found friends that, while we did not have everything figured out, loved each other well. They became my favorite people to be around. Immanuel Baptist Church was my safe place. But Thanksgiving weekend of 1998, that safe place was destroyed.
In 1997, our youth pastor hired a young, college-aged man named Carl as the associate youth pastor. Carl immediately began to create a divide among our friends. Psychologists might have a few diagnoses that would help the reader understand his psyche, but I now know that Carl was toxic. In my youthful naivete I did not see him as toxic, I saw him as the gatekeeper to popularity and acceptance. Carl began to invite young boys to spend the night at his house, yet I was never invited. I was devastated by this and struggled with wanting to be a part of this “cool” crowd of kids that were accepted by Carl. Imagine my delight when – on November 27th, 1998 – Carl invited me to spend the night at his house.
Unfortunately, I remember everything about that night. Every single thing.
I remember hanging out with Carl in the lowered den area at the back of his parent’s house, which was close to where his room was located. This expansive living room area had – for that day and time – a massive "big screen" television. This is where the sexual predatory grooming began.
I vividly remember Carl flipping through the television using an illegal satellite hookup where he had access to every channel imaginable. He stopped on a pornographic movie, acting shocked and embarrassed yet kept the explicit movie on long enough to pique my 16-year old hormones. Those images are still burned in my brain today.
I remember that, when it was time to go to bed, I asked Carl if I could sleep on the large, leather couch in the living room. He refused my request stating that his mother did not want anyone sleeping on the couch because a person sweats when they sleep so the couch would be stained. I then asked to sleep on the floor in the living room, and he refused that request as well because his mother liked to vacuum very early in the morning. I was given one option: to sleep with Carl in his water bed.
I remember waking up to feeling Carl’s hand on my genitals. Thinking that Carl’s hand being there was an accident, I removed his hand, rolled over and went back to sleep. I woke up a few more times in the night with Carl’s hand back on my genitals feeling him try to stroke my penis. I panicked and froze in fear not knowing what to do.
I remember laying down in his bed the rest of the night, wide awake and in shock. By the time the sun came up I had convinced myself that I was somehow to blame and that my silence would be a safe place. But my innocence was destroyed.
I stayed silent. How could I ever speak out on my abuse? No one would ever believe the word of a young kid over the “pastor” of a Southern Baptist Church. They were immune to these kind of accusations. I found myself slowly sliding into a toxic mix of rage, anger, and bitterness. I found myself more distrusting of people than before. I armed myself with an invisible shield that would protect me from the chance of ever being hurt again. I have carried this shield with me into my adult years.
It wasn't until a year later, when a random conversation with my best friend outside of his house revealed that he was also abused by Carl, did I finally gain the courage to speak out.
Most would think that speaking out would be the beginning of a beautiful healing process.
I remember calling my youth pastor to tell him that I, along with three of my friends, had been abused by his associate.
My nightmare had just begun.
The Cover Up
In my opinion, the pain of the actual abuse pales in comparison to the pain and hurt caused by the dismissive and even active cover-up by our church leaders. Our youth pastor’s initial reaction was anger towards the abused for bringing this out because of the damage that would happen to his youth ministry. But the real cover-up happened when the pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church, Thomas**, lied and coerced the parents, students, and staff members to keep our abuse under wraps. He was willing to passively and actively aid in our abuse by not bringing Carl to justice or help us get the appropriate counseling we needed.
He told staff members that he would meet with parents of the abused students collectively. He did not.
He told one set of parents, after they forced a meeting with him, their students communicated to him they wished to not press charges. That was not true.
He told the abused that if we wanted to be “faithful” we would do as he said. He consistently told us to not speak on the matter.
In a private meeting with me, he said that the abuse never happened to me, and that because one of the abused was homosexual the abuse was consensual. (All of this “information” came from the words of Carl in a letter that was given to Thomas that he would never show us or let our parents see.)
His cover up did not end there. In 2015, a few of us who were abused by both Carl and the leaders of our church decided to write Thomas a letter in order to gain understanding about why he handled our abuse the way he did. After three weeks of silence, we learned he had received the letter, and reached out to lawyers from the Southern Baptist Convention. The lawyers from the SBC told Thomas to “prepare for war.” During that time, the elders at TCASF actively sought to merge with another local church in our city. Our opportunity for the truth to come out and receive any kind of justice was quickly evaporating.
But Thomas did not stop there. Once again, he lied and coerced members of his church and the elders and pastors of HighPoint Church (the local church that merged with TCASF) to systematically destroy our reputations. This included denying any knowledge of our abuse from the pulpit, deleting any mention of the merger between the two churches from websites associated with the institutions, and allowing the dissemination of lies and absurd conspiracy theories about our motivations.
Once again, in order to protect themselves, the elders of The Church at Schilling Farms and subsequently the elders at HighPoint Church actively covered up our abuse and their response years ago. Clearly, protecting their land deals and merger to create a mega-church in the Shelby County area was top priority and they were/are willing to go to any level (even lying and gas-lighting abuse victims) to protect their investments.
Now you know the truth.
What do we do now?
Earlier in my post, I said my main motivation was to see real change happen:
True change happens when:
1. The penalty for not disclosing abuse by clergy to law enforcement is changed. Right now, in the state of Tennessee, the penalty for non-disclosure is a Class B Misdemeanor and a $50 fine (Comparatively, a seat belt ticket is a $50 fine). That must change. Now.
2. Our churches must fully commit to not turning a blind eye to sexual abuse within their ranks. We must become vigilant about doing proper background checks and in depth training on how to spot the signs of abuse and potential abusers, while also providing staff with a clear plan on how to report behavior and how to respond to it. This must happen. Today.
3. We must be vigilant about not only prosecuting abusers, but getting the proper treatment and help for those that have been abused. We must not allow children who have been physically abused continue spending the rest of their lives being mentally and emotionally abused as well. We’ve been through enough.
I’ll end my story with these words.
- To any young boy or girl who is living in the shadows of sexual abuse: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. You are not at fault. I will help you find your voice so you can tell your story.
- To pastors of churches: If you are willing to root out sexual abuse within your church, I will help you. If you are not, I will expose you.
- To abusers and molesters: your time is coming. You will no longer be able to lurk in anonymity seeking to destroy these young children’s lives anymore.
**Names changed for fear of being sued by those that have abused me
Story 2 Michael Hansen link
Nine years ago this week my father found me in a tub full of bloody bath water, my wrists slashed by a razor blade. The ER doctor said I that while I had cut deep enough and in the right direction, my blood clotted so quickly that it thwarted my suicide attempt. During the subsequent mandatory 24-hour psychiatric evaluation, I blamed my actions on fear of failure and career stagnation. In reality, I was severely depressed. I had been living for years in a perpetual hell of anxiety, self-loathing, and debilitating anxiety. Left to fester for the better part of the a decade, those sinister beasts will get the best of any man. This is the story of what led to that event, and how I became who I am today.
I first knew I was “different” when I was about 11 years old. And by that, I mean that when the other boys were beginning to show interest in girls — like we’re taught is normal — I didn’t. Those feelings never came. I didn’t know what gay was in fifth grade, but that didn’t stop other kids from calling me a faggot through elementary, middle and high school.
I eventually learned what being gay meant from a video series about homosexuality that the youth pastor at Audubon Park Baptist Church made us watch when I was in seventh grade. The videos featured “Doctor” James Dobson, the founder of the rabidly anti-gay hate group Focus on the Family.
For decades, The Southern Baptist Church has systematically brainwashed young people into believing being gay was perhaps the most unforgivable sexual sin — a vile sickness. Church leaders taught us back then that HIV and AIDS were physical manifestations of an abominable disease. Queers had it coming, we were led to believe. The church also taught that homosexuality was curable through the now-debunked practice of “gay conversation therapy,” too.
Because of this toxic atmosphere, I never once considered confessing to anyone that I felt “different.” The mere thought of it made me physically ill.
Despite the otherness I was hiding, I was otherwise a relatively goofy, happy-go-lucky teenager. My family joined Immanuel Baptist Church in Germantown, Tenn., in early 1997 and I became actively involved immediately. (Immanuel later moved to Collierville and changed its name to Life Church at Schilling Farms in the early aughts.) At school, I guess you could say I was a “Jesus Freak.” A goody two-shoes. I didn’t have a ton of friends there because I spent most of my time at church and with church friends.
Not long after we joined, several families from Cherokee Baptist Church began attending Immanuel. A college student, Carl*, came along with those refugees from Cherokee and joined Immanuel. Our youth pastor hired him as an associate youth pastor.
A lover of music, film, and theater, Carl was tasked with managing drama programs for our thriving youth worship services. He also occasionally led Tuesday night Bible studies and helped with an intense, summer-long program for the most dedicated students called “Students Entering an Awesome Life of Service” — S.E.A.L.S. (a la Navy SEALs).
Carl was my mentor in S.E.A.L.S. Everyone in the program was assigned homework each week. We would get together to go through these assignments, which included Bible studies, accountability sessions, and prayer. I stayed in his parents’ East Memphis home one Friday night. We discussed Romans, Chapter 1, from what I recall.
Here’s what else I remember:
- I remember that his dad had a fridge full of Milwaukee’s Best.
- I remember him “accidentally” flipping to soft core porn channels on the TV and feigning surprise and embarrassment.
- I remember him telling me I had to sleep in the bed with him because his mother worried that “oils” from my skin would damage the carpet or the upholstery of the couches.
- I remember him saying his mom would be up early in the morning to vacuum.
- I remember his creepy waterbed.
- I remember heavy blankets over all of the windows in his bedroom. “To keep the sunlight out,” he said.
- I remember his hot breath on the back of my neck when I woke up around 2 a.m.
- I remember the horror I felt when I realized his hand was grasping my private parts.
- I remember the texture of his short, stubby fingers.
- I remember convincing myself that this was all a misunderstanding — convincing myself that this was just a bizarre sleep behavior (like sleepwalking).
- I remember him eventually letting go of my penis after I made not-so-subtle “waking” movements.
- I remember going back to sleep only to wake back up to much more aggressive groping — his hands in my underwear, his fingers between my butt cheeks.
- I remember the moment I realized it wasn’t a misunderstanding at all.
- I remember praying for this nightmare to end, for sunrise to save me — knowing full well that the cloth barricades on the windows had created a makeshift fortress of darkness and despair.
- I remember every detail as if I am still locked in that dungeon.
- I remember the final conclusion of those early morning hours. But I’ll spare you the gory details.
- Some days it is as if I am still lying in that bed, frozen for all time: my eyes sealed shut, my mind racing, my entire being violated. There I am, still trembling in fear and shame on my bedroom floor in the days thereafter. I distinctly recall that my mother made chili, one of my favorite meals, the next day. The persistent, sour nausea in the back of my throat and gut kept me from eating that night … and for days.
The toxic theology of the Southern Baptist Church led me to believe that I brought the assault onto myself — that God was punishing me for being gay. I was completely and utterly ashamed. Before the incident, I had already prayed several times that God would “fix” me. That He would cure me of my homosexual desires. After my assault, those prayers rose to a crescendo of unrelenting, tear-soaked pleas for relief.
Now, you may be wondering if I told anyone I was molested by a church employee. No, I didn’t. Not at first. I was afraid that if anyone found out, I would be outed as a queer to my family, my friends, and my church. You see, anxiety was creeping in and consuming me. Crippling depression took over my psyche, like a virus commandeering an operating system.
Another thing I vividly remember: Sleep was easy. Waking up was the real nightmare. Each moment a tailspin of unyielding angst and paranoia. To be awake was to be paralyzed and desperately afraid.
Eventually I found out that there were other victims — all with nearly identical stories. That’s when we finally told our parents that we’d been molested. We decided that we had to tell our youth pastor and senior pastor, Thomas*. Carl was removed from his leadership position immediately by our youth pastor and asked to leave the church.
Thomas told our youth pastor not to speak about the matter to anyone and that he would handle the situation from there on out. Thomas told us that he demanded that Carl go to counseling, and that he had written a confession letter (meaning everything was supposedly on the record). Thomas said he was going to hold a meeting with all youth parents. He also insisted that the most important thing we could do as Christians was to forgive Carl and to be faithful to the Church.
We took Thomas’s word that he was handling the situation. We were kids, and we looked to him as our spiritual leader for guidance. Therefore, we opted not to press charges based on Thomas’s claims. My overwhelming fear of being out was crippling in the wake of a prospective media firestorm.
Had we only known what was really going on.
On October 17, 2015, I was catching up with an old friend (and fellow victim) while I was back home for the Memphis vs. Ole Miss football game. (Go Tigers!) We started talking about everything that happened then: our regrets, our anger, and how our lives have been inextricably linked to those events.
My friend told me something that made all of those feelings of nausea, fear, and anger come flooding back. Apparently, Thomas told him some time later that it was all different for me — that because I’m gay, I wanted it to happen and liked it. In other words: I had it coming. (Sound familiar?)
In the following months, we victims got together and began to investigate what really went on at Immanuel Baptist Church in the late 90s. What we discovered was shocking. All of those promises Thomas made were lies. Instead of protecting us, he, a CEO, methodically swept the rampant abuse in his church under the rug. He schemed to make sure that everyone kept their mouths shut. He lied to make us believe Carl was being held accountable. He manipulated all of us — the victims, our parents, and even our youth pastor — into believing that by following his pastoral advice we were honoring God.
Statistically speaking, it’s very likely Carl has abused others. Research estimates that serial child molesters may average as many as 400 victims in their lifetime. Four. Hundred. How many others were abused before me? Since? That I have to ask that question terrifies me.
On October 23, 2015, we collectively sent Thomas a detailed, more-than-gracious letter (signed by me) seeking answers. Did he really say that because I’m gay I had it coming? It was an excruciating ordeal to pen that gory five-page note, but it was something we had to finally do.
I finally received a reply from Thomas, postmarked November 20, 2015. From inside sources, we found out that Thomas had allegedly met with Southern Baptist Convention attorneys, who presumably vetted his letter’s language, comically denying any knowledge of my sexual assault. He was claiming legal innocence for his negligence. Failure to report is indeed a crime in Tennessee. In his response, Thomas had the audacity to say, “I hope you are able to find forgiveness in your heart for those who have disappointed you in the past.” The man could teach a PhD seminar on how to gaslight victims of abuse.
That week we learned that before responding to me Thomas had not only shared my letter with Southern Baptist Convention attorneys, but also with church staff, elders (like a board of directors), his family, and various other allies. We also found out that The Church at Schilling Farms had begun negotiating a merger with HighPoint Church, a Memphis megachurch with a Collierville campus. Thomas shared my letter with the leadership of HighPoint Church, as well.
Here’s where things get interesting: On Sunday, November 23 — the very same week I received Thomas’s answer — Andy Savage, teaching pastor at HighPoint Church, made an unexpected merger announcement at the HighPoint Collierville campus.
During this speech, Savage went out of his way to say the following: “Just so you know, because some of you have friends in the community who may go to Schilling Farms, there’s nothing sinister going on at The Church at Schilling Farms. Nothing bad’s taking place. I assure you. Here’s what’s going on: God has orchestrated two great churches to come together and do something better than we could have done on our own.”
Why does this matter? Previously billed as a merger, the deal turned into an outright acquisition. A real estate deal. I suspect that these two churches merged in order to give their institutions, including Thomas, sanctuary from any legal recourse from their victims.
I’ve been reminded seemingly daily over the past year about my trauma. Whether it’s rape culture in general, high profile court cases like Brock Turner, or the repugnant Republican nominee for the White House who literally bragged about sexually assaulting women on tape.
What happens when sexual abuse intersects with years of homophobic dogma, systemic moral bankruptcy, and institutional failure? Me, desperate and despondent, in a tub full of bloody bath water. Sexual abuse is literally a matter of life or death for victims. A sexual violation may not end in murder, but if it leads to alcoholism, drug addiction, debilitating depression and anxiety, or god forbid, suicide — what difference does it make? That’s a distinction without a difference. Let me be absolutely clear: abusers and those who aid and abet them have blood on their hands.
I refuse to be silent or silenced for one more second.
I’m telling this story to give strength to other potential victims to step forward with their experiences. While the statute of limitations expired long ago for me, others may be able to take legal action and receive justice. I want people who have been in my shoes to know that I believe you and I believe in you. You are valued and you are loved. Please know that you are not alone and that none of it is your fault. If you need help speaking out and telling your story, I am here for you. (Comment or message me!)
I want Carl and other abusers to know that their deeds do lifelong damage to innocent people like me and that their actions are unforgivable. You are nothing more than cowards and weaklings trying to assert dominance. We are not afraid of you. We see you. We will name you. We will hold you accountable. One way or another, you will be exposed.
I want Thomas to know that what he did is unacceptable and unequivocally immoral. I want the Church to know that its knee-jerk instinct to protect itself over assault victims is shameful and odious. Please hear me loud and clear: Any faith that prioritizes institutional power over justice is fraudulent. Pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously declared that “silence in the face of evil is itself evil.” He was right. You are evil indeed.
*Name changed because, unfortunately, we live in a society that allows criminals to sue victims for defamation
Story 3: Brooks Hansen link
This is my story of suffering through sexual abuse as a 15 year old and the ensuing cover-up. I’m telling my story because no one else would tell it for me. I’m telling my story so that others in my shoes will seek after the justice they deserve before they hear, “It’s too late,” like I’ve heard so many times. I’m telling my story because I’m tired of being quiet. I’m telling my story because I hope someone will finally listen.
“15 years old? That was 18 years ago,” you say.
“Why just now?” you ask?
There are many reasons. Fear. Uncertainty about the outcome. Blaming myself. Being told that I shouldn’t say anything. Not wanting “to hurt the Church” (probably the worst excuse on this list). Not wanting to fully confront everything that happened. Multiple failed attempts at discussing and resolving these issues with those involved all those years ago.
But let’s be real. Why does any of that matter? Time doesn't change my experience.
Right in the prime of my adolescence, I had my sexual innocence ripped from my own fingers when an associate youth pastor preyed on me and a handful of my friends. Picking us off one-by-one like a cheetah hunting down wounded antelope, our abuser isolated us under the guise of slumber parties, lock-ins, and guys’ nights .
He was deliberate. He repeated his method over and over again without us knowing what the others had been through.
While I probably shouldn’t, I’ll spare you the details. It would be more visceral. It would be more real. But it would also be much harder for me than this already is. Waking up in the middle of the night to a grown man touching your genitals on two separate occasions is traumatizing enough. I’d rather not walk you through the physical and emotional details of those two nights for my own sake.
Those were two of the toughest nights of my life. They were seemingly endless. Seconds felt like minutes. Minutes felt like hours.
18 years ago.
Over 9.6 million minutes ago.
Over 575 million seconds ago.
And while the abuse was limited to only a few minutes spread across two separate nights, there have been days and weeks where those same pauses in time have haunted me.
After finding out that I wasn’t alone – by complete accident – we reported the abuse to each of our parents and then, in turn, to our youth pastor and pastor. All told, we now know of at least four total abuse victims. All four of us with matching stories.
What happened then has haunted the four of us as much as or more than the abuse itself over the past 18 years.
The abuse was covered up. I – along with the other victims – were advised to refrain from discussing the abuse with anyone other than our parents or the church staff involved in the report. We were constantly reminded of the embarrassment and media attention that would come from a “case” like this. We were asked to keep this quiet so as not to “hurt the church.”
Pastors in the state of Tennessee are required by law to report instances of sexual abuse within their church. However, the statute only recommends a mere $50 fine for a failure to report.
Our abuser was never reported to law enforcement officials or to the state of Tennessee in any way whatsoever. Never.
The Church found the largest metaphorical rug to sweep it all from sight in the hopes that it would never been seen again.
We – the victims – however, had other plans. After discussing details of these events that we had never discussed before on October 17, 2015, we were spurred into action. For justice. For closure. For resolution. To speak out for the others that might have been or may still be in our same shoes.
Seeking answers to what seemed like an endless list of questions, we approached the staff from 18 years ago.
The response from our youth pastor at that time was healing. He was broken. He was contrite. He begged for forgiveness for his failure to do more at the time. He healed some of the wounds for which we sought healing. (ed note: This is not the youth worker who was the abuser. This was the youth pastor above him who has now come forward to support the victims, including writing a deposition.)
Our pastor’s response was quite different. We wrote a collective letter to this man. We expressed disappointments. We detailed doubts. We posed questions. He contacted the “corporate offices” of his church. He was provided legal counsel by that same corporate entity after being encouraged “to lawyer up.”
There was no contrition. There was no attempt to resolve any of our unanswered questions.
There was, however, denial of knowledge of the original events, even going as far as denying it from the pulpit.
Like the original events, there are many details that we learned over the past year that have scarred. More deception. More cover-up. More lies. More gas lighting.
I still cling to my faith in a sovereign, gracious, merciful and mighty God that loves me and has captured my heart from depths of depravity that I cannot fully comprehend. I still have a strong desire to be grafted into deep and meaningful relationships with my fellow believers through daily community and discipleship.
- I’m bitter.
- I’m angry.
- I’m hard-hearted.
- I’m cynical.
- I’m distrusting.
I came to terms with the sexual abuse many years ago. I am still wrangling with the response by my pastor, both 18 years ago and over the past year, to that abuse.
I trusted him. I followed him. I listened to him. And even though it’s so hard for me to fathom now, I’d even venture to say I loved him. He was the shepherd over the flock at that church. He was the keeper.
And yet he allowed a wolf to devour me and a handful of my friends while doing nothing to protect us afterwards.
I’ll be okay. I promise. Really.
I don’t need your, “I’m so sorries.”
I need you to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. I need you to shepherd the innocent. I need you to not be one of the church-protecting assholes that has blamed us – the abused – over the past year for dredging this back up. I need you to believe me and others like me. I need you to report sexual abuse like this no matter the cost. No matter how ugly it might get.
I will be a better and more aware parent because of this. My faith has been tested in ways that I could’ve never imagined, refined by the fires of doubt, and I’m now thankful for that. I have a better perspective on social justice issues because of what happened to me.
But I can’t help but think about whether or not our abuser continued his ways after he was quietly dismissed from his duties. I can’t help but worry about kids that he may still be coming in contact with even as I type this.
I wish I had been able to tell my story 18 years ago. Maybe justice would have ruled the day. Maybe we could have prevented other victims.
But as of today, there is no maybe for us. There was no earthly justice for our abuser. There will never be in our situation. There was no apologetic pastor. There are most likely others who fell victim to this same abuser.
From now on, I will speak up for those without the voice to do so on their own.
Don’t tell someone that their story doesn’t matter. Let them tell it and then make sure others hear it. It just may be that by listening to their story, you can help them achieve justice. And a maybe is better than nothing.
This is my story. Maybe now someone will listen.
Other than listening, the following are three tangible items in desperate need of attention for there to be long-term, meaningful change:
1) The penalty for not disclosing abuse by clergy to law enforcement must be changed. Right now, in the state of Tennessee, the penalty for non-disclosure is a Class B Misdemeanor and a $50 fine (Comparatively, a seat belt ticket is a $50 fine). Again, that must change. Now.
2) Our churches must fully commit to not turning a blind eye to sexual abuse within their ranks. Tangible policy. Strict guidelines and business processes. We must become vigilant about doing proper background checks and in depth training on how to spot the signs of abuse and potential abusers, while also providing staff with a clear plan on how to report behavior and how to respond to it. This must happen. Today.
3) We must be vigilant about not only prosecuting abusers, but getting the proper treatment and help for those that have been abused. We must not allow children who have been physically abused continue spending the rest of their lives being mentally and emotionally abused as well. We’ve been through enough.
If you have questions, please feel free to comment below or send them to me via a private message. I am an open book when it comes to this topic. I am not hiding. However, if comments turn into arguing or bashing of ANYONE – including those who have wronged me – I will likely delete the post(s) in question.