These two quotes about survivors remind me of Michael, Brooks and Kenny.
From ― Jeanne McElvaney, Healing Insights: Effects of Abuse for Adults Abused as Children link
“You can recognize survivors of abuse by their courage. When silence is so very inviting, they step forward and share their truth so others know they aren't alone.”
"Survivors of abuse show us the strength of their personal spirit every time they smile.”
Highpoint Collierville taken by a reader who said "Highpoint Collierville is surrounded by upscale neighborhoods…the kind with perfectly manicured lawns and white fences (the kind that looks like they belong on a horse farm). " (Thank you for your help.)
*Trigger Warning* Graphic yet necessary details.
Things are rapidly moving along as the truth begins to travel throughout Memphis and elsewhere.
Here are a few things I can tell you at this moment. Keep these guys in your prayers. Some good things are happening due to the courage of these men. Amy and I cannot wait to share them with you.
1. Chris Carwile, the alleged molester, has been placed on leave from his job with the city of Memphis.
This is important. His job involved a reading program at the Memphis Public Library and he might have had access to children. He has been in this job for a number of years. We applaud the Memphis Library for their wise decision.
2. Chris Carwile appears to be removing his pictures and access to his social media.
For example, Chris was involved with the Nerd 901 website for some time. He was one of the four people who ran the blog. His picture and bio were removed sometime in the last two days.
3. On October 30, 2015, Michael sent a letter to Scott to confront him over his handling of their abuse.
Here is the entire letter. This letter is well worth the read. Some of it will seem familiar from Wednesday's post. Do you want to see how child sex abuse victims live with the memory of their trauma? Here is is, spelled out by one brave man.
October 23, 2015
Dr. Scott Payne
The Church at Schilling Farms 1035 Winchester Blvd Collierville, TN 38017
I want to begin this letter with best wishes for you and your family. As you know, I have remained close with Alli over the years, and so I want to be clear that the contents of this letter are not intended to be an affront to you or your family. I do sincerely hope that you, Billie, Amanda, Jason, Alli and your extended family are well.
I need to get something off my chest, and I hope you’ll hear me out. I want to tell you a story. You already know the Cliff’s Notes version of it, but now I want to fill in the details and share with you my observations as a grown man nearly two decades later. I want you to read every word, as uncomfortable as it may be, and, in the end, I want you to help me right a wrong.
When I joined Immanuel Baptist Church the youth group was growing rapidly, with buzz about the contemporary youth outreach programs spreading like wildfire through Germantown, Collierville, and other Memphis suburbs. As you know, Nolan Bobbitt was the youth pastor at the time. During my sophomore year of high school, a college student named Chris Carwile began attending IBC. Nolan eventually hired him as an associate youth pastor — or intern, depending on whom you ask. He headed up drama programs for worship services, among other things.
After my sophomore year, I participated in an exclusive program Nolan devised called “Students Entering an Awesome Life of Service” — S.E.A.L.S., a reference to the highly trained Navy SEALs. Chris was my mentor in S.E.A.L.S.; meaning we would get together to go through “homework assignments,” analyze chapters and books of the Bible, pray, and so forth.
One night, we had a sleepover at Chris’s parents house on Dee Road (where he lived at the time). We discussed Romans Chapter 1, I believe, in the rather dingy living room at the back of his house. His dad drank Milwaukee’s Best beer, and there was lots of it in the fridge. After we finished with Romans we watched TV for a bit.
When it was bedtime Chris explained that I would have to sleep in the bed with him because his mother worried that “oils” from my skin would damage the carpet if I slept on the floor. For some reason he mentioned that she would be up early in the morning to vacuum. (Apparently Mama Carwile really loved her carpet.) Anyway, I thought nothing of it. Why would I?
One of the first things I noticed about the bedroom was that Chris had heavy blankets over his windows. He said it was to keep the light out because he liked to sleep in. I’m not a morning person, either, so I completely understood. We went to bed and I eventually dozed off. I woke up sometime after 2 a.m.., which is not unusual for me. I think I’m a pretty a heavy sleeper, but I often wake up in the middle of the night. Upon waking I quickly realized that Chris had his hand wrapped tightly around my erect penis over my boxers.
I thought there had been some mistake. He was clearly asleep and had accidentally grabbed onto something he shouldn't’t have. I’ve woken up hugging a pillow before. Maybe this was just a coincidence along those lines. It was the most rational explanation my adolescent mind could conjure up in my groggy, confused state. So I tried to pry his hand off. He had short, fat, somewhat rough fingers. I remember that detail for some reason. His hand didn’t budge, so I rolled over thinking that by doing so, it would cause him to release. He did. But in doing so, I pulled his body closer to mine. I can still feel his hot breath on the back of my neck as I laid there trying to pretend everything was OK, that what had just happened was all a big misunderstanding, and that it was safe to go back to sleep.
I eventually passed out again after tossing and turning a bit (for safe measure). It turns out that was a mistake. I woke back up around 4 a.m.. to find Chris’s hands on me again. I froze, pretending to be asleep while I formulated a strategy for getting out of this jam. I had an idea: I would just roll over onto my stomach! You see, I was still convinced that he was asleep and that this was just a bizarre sleep behavior — like sleepwalking or sleep talking, just with hands. It didn’t work. His hands moved, finding their way into my underwear, between my buttocks. I pretended to groggily wake up. Good, that stopped him. After a few minutes of emphatic tossing and turning I got up and went to the bathroom. I wanted to get away so I could gather my thoughts (and pee). Certain I couldn’t escape, I took a gamble that by “waking up” I had fended off further groping, and that there still was a chance it was unintentional. I thought I had done enough.
I was wrong. After returning to the dungeon-like room, I fell back to sleep. Upon waking, I saw that there were flecks of light around the edges of the blankets covering the windows. The sun was rising. It was probably 6 a.m.. His hands were on me again, but this time it was much worse.
He had placed my left hand on his hard penis. In my slumber, Chris managed to pull my boxers down enough to completely access my private parts. He had clearly been masturbating my penis for some time, as I ejaculated within moments of coming to — making a mess all over the covers, my T-shirt, my body. I lay there, frozen in place and time: my eyes sealed shut, my body limp, my mind racing. He got up and went to the restroom. I don’t know if he got up to masturbate, turned on by his conquest, just to clean himself off, or to pee. Who knows, and who cares? He never cleaned me off, I do know that much. Doing so would have woken me up (officially). It would have been a confession to his crime.
A couple years later, I would learn that similar incidents occurred to other young boys in our youth group, ranging from ages 13–17. We found out about each other by happenstance. None of us had told anyone else, including our parents and church leaders like you. What happened next has haunted me almost as much as that dark summer night in East Memphis.
We talked to our parents separately to decide what to do. We, the abused, all decided the same thing: we wanted Chris out of the church, but we didn’t want to press charges and we certainly didn’t want anyone to find out who didn’t need to know.
I never asked the others outright why they made that choice, I only know the one, very specific reason I did. I have known since I was roughly 11 years old that I was “different.” Specifically, that I was attracted to other boys and not girls. I didn’t know there was a name for it at that age, but I ultimately learned the terminology (homosexual, gay, etc.) thanks to a Focus on the Family video series featuring the anti-gay hate group’s founder Dr. James Dobson. Bill Sorrell, the youth pastor at my previous church, Audubon Park Baptist Church, had made us watch the whole series one summer during Wednesday evening services when I was in middle school. In other words, I learned that being gay was wrong because the Christian church had taught me so.
Fast-forward to that night at Chris’s house: I thought I had brought the violation onto myself — that it was God’s punishment for being gay, that He was screaming at me, “Is this really what you want?” I was embarrassed. After learning that homosexuality was a sin at APBC, I prayed innumerable times that God would fix me. I was fearful that if anyone found out what happened with Chris that I would be bullied and harassed — that I would be outed to my family, my friends, and my church. I hated myself.
There were other reasons, too. I was not an outgoing kid. I was terrified of confrontation. I worried that I would have to stand in front of Chris, my parents, church leaders, and answer for my accusations. I didn’t want the attention. I worried about retribution. I couldn’t prove anything. I didn’t have evidence. If I brought my claim forward and failed to incriminate my attacker, my peers and/or the public would ostracize me. No teen wants that. I had already struggled with the events of that night for years, and I didn’t think there was anything we could do except to keep Chris from attending church services and programs. That was relief in and of itself, so that was sufficient for me.
I regret that choice I made. I regret that I was a coward and let my abuser have his way with me — both in his bedroom and in my mind. Odds are he has abused other minors since then. Perhaps some were members of IBC, or perhaps members of other congregations. According to Darkness to Light, serial child molesters may average as many as 400 victims in their lifetime. Consider also that research has found three-out-of-four adolescents who were sexually abused were victimized by someone they knew. I know of at least five teens that were molested by Chris during a single year at IBC. How many others have been violated since then? That question terrifies me. I feel a keen sense of responsibility to any potential victims out there.
I have been called a faggot, among other names, since I can remember. But it’s not those verbal wounds from bullies that stuck with me; it’s the silence of my allies. I suffered from depression and anxiety for years after I was molested. When I was 19 I wrote a “will” giving away my belongings to friends and family. I hadn’t planned to take any action. Nonetheless, in the dozen or so handwritten pages was coded language about how I had ineffectively prayed God would change me, how the sexual abuse had traumatized me, and how I couldn’t go on dealing with the ramifications of both. I moved on, but I quit going to church by the time I was 22 or 23. I ran.
Shortly after I came out of the closet as gay when I was 25, an opportunity arose to move to Nashville. I seized it. I ran again. I hoped to avoid coming out to extended family, old friends, people from Immanuel (then Life Church, now The Church). It was an exciting time, but it didn’t last. The depression and anxiety I had been running from finally caught up to me. That illness led me to rock bottom. The scars on my wrists today are a living testament to the long- term effects trauma can have on a young person, particularly when criminals are protected rather than prosecuted by institutions like the church whose purpose is to shelter the innocent.
You may be wondering why I’m bringing all of this up now. Well, this is actually the most important part of this whole story. I was recently catching up with an old friend who happens to have been one of Chris’s victims. We somehow got on the subject of how we handled the situation, our regrets, and how the paths our lives have taken are linked to those events. He told me that in a meeting with you, you confirmed that Chris had confessed to his sins, if you will.
You explained that Chris discounted some of the victims, saying he molested some of us “more” than to others. But then my friend said something alarming. He told me that you said it was different for me because I wanted it to happen. That, essentially, because of the way I am, I brought it on myself.
I don’t want to believe you said that, but I also know this person to be one of the most honest and upstanding humans I have ever known. You and Nolan, on the other hand, swept the whole ordeal under the rug at the church. So, who am I to believe? I am writing this letter because, though I hadn’t thought about that period of my life in a very long time, hearing those words filled me with rage … and remorse. Not only do I regret not holding Chris accountable for the criminal that he is, but I regret not holding my church — you and Nolan in particular — accountable what happened on your watch to the children under your care.
I want to give you an opportunity to answer to this very serious accusation. You and I have never once had a conversation about what occurred at IBC those many years ago, so I can’t speak to what is or is not in your heart. But I am asking you to share that with me now. Did you ever say to anyone that I wanted to be molested by Chris Carwile? Did you ever say anything that could have been misconstrued as such? What did you say about Chris and his victims? Do you regret not fulfilling your legal and moral duty as a pastoral leader and CEO of one of God’s churches? What say you? I’m listening. Earnestly. I want to know so that I can make the best decision going forward.
I am no longer a coward. I refuse to keep running. Having all of this come roaring back into my psyche has empowered me and given me a sense of purpose. I must help in some way to right the wrong. I must finally stand up for myself as well as the countless, unnamed victims of Chris’s abuse. (For all victims of sexual abuse, really.) Too often the church has been a haven for molestation, rape, and other forms of exploitation. Historically, the church has closed ranks in times like these. It has protected the institution first and foremost before protecting the vulnerable. Though I expressed my regret above, it’s time to move forward and take bold action to ensure that Chris is never allowed near young boys ever again. I want to give you a chance to answer directly to me for the words you supposedly uttered about me and for the way you chose to handle our situation before I decide what additional actions to take. I’m listening.
Sincerely, Michael Hansen
P.S. Chris’s mother did vacuum the entire house some time after the assault reached its climax, for what it’s worth.
4. Kenny Stubblefield (one of the victims) met with Lead Pastor, Chris Conlee of Highpoint, on November 24, 2015.
Kenny had discovered that Highpoint had announced a *merger* with Scott Payne's church on November 22,2015. Kenny wanted to warn him of the issues surrounding Payne's response to their reports of sexual abuse. He wanted to be sure that Highpoint would not allow Scott on the pastoral staff .
Chris allegedly knew about the contents of Michael's letter to Scott at this meeting. Also present at this meeting was Scott Willard, Kenny's old Sunday School teacher who was aware of the abuse. Conlee allegedly told Kenny that Scott would never be a pastor but this was not conveyed to the church until after the *merger* was complete, around December 28, 2015.
Highpoint told Shilling Farms church members that Scott would be an associate pastor in the newly merged organization.,
5. This consolidation with Highpoint had been discussed as being a merger, even written that way in some of the documents.
During their meeting, they talked about the merger. Yesterday, we had a reader from Highpoint deny that this was ever a merger. Funny thing about that. Please note the word *merger.*
6. Kenny relates what he was told in a conversation with Chris Conlee regarding the abuse .
Chris told Kenny that he wanted Kenny to get healing. Kenny, frustrated, said he was dealing with his healing but he wanted Chris to understand that the victims wanted mediation with Scott. This was not to be.
Later, Chris allegedly told Kenny the following, not necessarily in this order:
- Sometimes its better not to tell the truth because the truth can hurt people.
- Your version of the truth may not be the same as Scott's version of the truth.
- Yet both can be the truth.
Chris went on to explain his *theology.* He allegedly said that the book of John is different than the synoptic gospels but all 4 tell the truth from differing perspective.
This is fractured theology. None of the Gospel accounts say one thing like "Jesus healed the leper" and the other "Jesus didn't heal the lepers." At this time, Scott was denying the abuse. So it either happened or it didn't. Both cannot be right. Time to go back to seminary, boys.
Highpoint Church releases a statement and the victims respond.
HIGHPOINT CHURCH OFFICIAL STATEMENT
Recently, social media communications surfaced regarding the relationship of Highpoint Church with The Church at Schilling Farms (formerly Immanuel Baptist Church). The allegations are of a serious nature involving past sexual abuse. These events did not occur at Highpoint Church, nor were any Highpoint leaders or partners involved. The alleged sexual abuse happened over 18 years ago — before Highpoint Church even existed.
Highpoint first explored a merger with The Church at Schilling Farms in October 2014. Highpoint leadership, along with the Elders at The Church at Schilling Farms, agreed to a merger in the Fall of 2015. After these discussions, both Highpoint leadership and the Elders at The Church at Schilling Farms became aware of accusations of past sexual abuse and inappropriate conduct toward minors by a former intern at Immanuel Baptist Church.
Upon learning of that news, we immediately took action in three ways: we attempted to provide pastoral guidance to the individuals involved; we sought wise, legal counsel from our attorney; and we redefined our future relationship with The Church at Schilling Farms. One aspect of redefining this relationship was the decision that the Pastor of The Church at Schilling Farms would not serve on staff at Highpoint Church.
Due to the serious nature of this situation, the leadership at Highpoint Church, in agreement with the leadership at The Church at Schilling Farms, decided to restructure the relationship between the two churches from a merger to a lease agreement for the facility at 1035 E. Winchester Blvd. We confidently moved forward with this lease agreement because of our commitment to minister to the Collierville community knowing true reconciliation and resolution could only occur between the parties involved.
Highpoint Church has always been committed to providing healing to the hurting, and circumstances like these only reinforce our commitment.
Please join us as we pray for all those involved. Thank you.
Short Response from Victims
It leaves a lot to be desired. A whole lot. Not only is it inaccurate in saying that they provided pastoral guidance (we had a phone call with Chris Conlee regarding mediation, and did not get counseling), but it is further evidence of the fact that they did what they could to make sure this story never came to light and harm their institutional power.
By renegotiating the merger with The Church at Schilling Farms and not hiring Scott Payne, all they did was avoid potential liability. That did nothing for us as victims seeking answers and justice. Why didn't they expose what had happened? Why did they lie and say "nothing sinister is going on" … from the pulpit of all places.
I'm reminded of the King quote, "justice delayed is justice denied." All Highpoint has done by their actions since they learned of our abuse is help to delay justice.
Where is the former pastor Scott Payne?
He did not return my phone call but he is apparently under some stress as evidenced by his Facebook.
However, Brooks and others had this to say about Scott's comment.
Jeremy Wright, current pastor of Cherokee Baptist Church, gets it!
As you may remember, Chris Carwile left Immanuel Baptist Church and went on to be a youth worker at Cherokee Baptist Church. That church was allegedly not informed of the reports of sexual abuse. Today, I almost started to cry when I saw that this pastor tagged Amy and me on Twitter. We need more pastors like Jeremy Wright!
Much, much to talk about this weekend and more to come on Monday. Your comments will be read by the victims and your insights and thoughts are welcome.
The following song is dedicated to all those who have survived abused with special thanks to Michael, Brooks, and Kenny who are the overcoming ones in this story. Thank you for allowing Amy and me into your lives. We are privileged to tell your stories.