I grew up in a very sheltered, cult minded church. We didn’t associate with the world or have fellowship with any other churches in the area. The purpose of this, we were told, was to “protect” us from the evil in the world. Sadly, most things in the world we were supposed to be protected from happened right within our sheltered environment. We were “Sheltered But Not Protected”.
When I was 13, a close family friend, trusted member of the church, and married mother of 4 began grooming me for her sexual pleasure. When I was a junior in high school, this woman took advantage of me sexually, mentally, and emotionally. She was in her mid-thirties and someone I respected and looked up to. Towards the end of the abuse, she began fantasizing about me killing her husband so we could be married and continue to raise her kids who were only slightly younger than me. When this woman was finally exposed, the abuse was hidden, and we were both equally punished. My church broke the law by not reporting this to the authorities, and thus my abuser was not held accountable by man. In fact, our pastor didn’t have the decency to even contact the church my abuser joined when she and her family left our church to warn them. These sick, twisted events in my life left me dealing with guilt, bitterness, and hatred for twenty years.
Fast forward to 2019… I am currently writing a book called “Sheltered But Not Protected” to spread awareness about abuse as well as share my own personal journey of healing and forgiveness. During this time a friend reached out to me and asked if I knew whether the church my abuser is currently attending knows that a sexual predator is in their midst – a valid question since many churches have little to no accountability systems in place that would prevent an abuser from preying on the innocent. Since I didn’t know the answer, I decided to reach out to the senior pastor of that church.
About a week later, I received a response from a “Pastor” Jason:
Because these e-mails were exchanged privately, I have chosen not to identify the name and specific location of the church. However, below is an open letter I sent to “Pastor” Jason in response to his e-mail.
Thank you for your e-mail. Although much of what you say in your e-mail alarms me, I am going to summarize the top three.
1. You seemed less concerned with the content and more concerned with the tone of my e-mail.
You both begin and end your e-mail with a slight rebuke and an admonition as to how I should have reached out to you. You felt that my e-mail wasn’t worthy of “grabbing headline attention” but should have been more ministry minded. Maybe it’s just me but I would think that potential news of a sexual predator in your church – a wolf in sheep’s clothing – is MORE than enough to grab headline attention.
2. You state in your e-mail “There are many people in my ministry that I counsel with over issues in their lives, and what we discuss is not open to discussion with you are anyone else”. Really, Jason? Anyone else? While I certainly don’t expect you to discuss issues in your church with me, I now have you on record saying that those issues are not open to discussion with ANYONE. I’m curious, are you protecting other molesters, or rapists, murderers, etc. because you think that your relationship with your members is more along the lines of the attorney/client privilege? Heads up – It’s not! In 2002, the Mandatory Reporting Act, which requires certain entities to report suspected child abuse or neglect, was amended in Michigan to include members of the clergy. As it turns out, Jason, certain “issues” better be “open to someone” or else you, Sir, are breaking the law.
3. Your statement “I believe that John 8 clearly demonstrates that we are not to be judging where a person has been in the past, but where they are headed spiritually in the future,” is one of the many reasons cult minded churches like yours are a predator’s playground. You twist passages like John 8 to sound like forgiveness (past) and accountability (future) are mutually exclusive. They’re not! It is possible (and Biblical) to not judge someone for their past while holding them accountable for the future. By the way, as a reminder I’m not talking about a women caught in adultery as John 8 describes and you reference. If I were, I wouldn’t even be having this conversation with you. No, I’m talking about a sexual predator who intentionally befriended my family and me when I was 13, gained our trust and respect to the point that I considered her like a second mother, and then took advantage of me sexually for almost a year when I was a junior in high school. Perhaps passages like Luke 17:2, “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones” or Matthew 18:6, “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” would be more appropriate to quote.
Jason, I hope and pray that my abuser, a member of your church, just had a lapse in judgement 20 years ago and only preyed on me. But after reading your e-mail, I wonder if she has found the perfect church to continue to prey on innocent children. I hope I’m wrong, but your e-mail leads me to think that your church is a breeding ground for all forms of abuse. I would know, I grew up in one for 30 years.
Well said Justin, bold, but well said!
Thank you, Steve! I appreciate that.
The response you got from your abuser’s pastor and the posting from the the friend of the church member recently jailed are both proof that awareness and education of sexual abuse is sorely lacking in our churches; and should encourage you to continue your pursuit!
It’s sad to see these men defending/protecting their guilty friends, and even frustrating and hurtful to victims of sexual abuse, observing these responses. But those of us seeking to bring awareness need to learn from these responses, so we can break down the barriers of ignorance.
Justin, you were very fortunate to have your abuser confess immediately; but I believe that is the rare response; and knowing that fact will inform how to bring awareness. My abuser never admitted to his sin; and when I, the victim, exposed him, I was shunned from my family, accused of lying, told I was mentally unstable, and my husband, children, and I spent years excommunicated from my parents and siblings. Nothing was more hurtful than being punished for being a victim of abuse! But the Lord held me close and guided me to help that included a better understanding of abusive behavioral patterns as well as healing of my heart.
My counselor informed me that abusers rarely confess, and usually have multiple victims.
Those facts are helpful as we try to expose abuse and stop it from happening to others; confirming that we must find a way to educate others on abuse, because statistics confirm that we are not the only victim of our abuser; and warning us that how we expose is crucial because most abusers are going to come back swinging!
There is no one way to expose an abuser, because every situation is different. But wisdom is needed. My abuser was a college professor; a lay preacher in our church; a gifted teacher, popular and respected among his students; and a fun yet respected father; my father. In a sense, sexual abuse can be the perfect crime! Who is going to believe a young woman against the testimony of a well respected man?!
As we expose abuse, we need to realize that we are dealing with the influence of the evil one; and though Satan is crafty, the author of lies, Christ sits at the right hand of God having won all battles over sin, giving us confidence that He will guide us to victory in the battle to expose and stop abuse.
We need to approach church leaders with respect, that opens the door for them to listen to us! We need to educate them with facts about abusive behavior, the huge affects on victims, as well as education on dealing with abusers and victims. When exposing an abuser, we need to build our case with wisdom. Justin, in your situation, you had Church leaders who witnessed the confession. You could reach out to them, first with education on abusive behavior so they realize that you are most likely not the only victim, then ask them to collaborate with you on exposing your abuser to the pastor of her church. In my situation, my counselor, a seasoned counselor in sexual abuse, knew my story could not be construed! I clearly remember asking him why he believed me, because I literally could not prove my story to even my children; I had no witnesses, and my family had years of my dad’s positive influence in their lives! My counselor looked me in the eyes and told me that no one could make up the testimony and symptoms he had witnessed in my story! He had worked with enough victims to know my story was true! I wanted to cry when I heard those words! Finally this victim was believed! I didn’t have to worry about stopping my dad, because he developed macular degeneration overnight soon after I exposed him. Up until that point, my husband and I had carefully worked to make sure none of our children or other children were alone with him during the years before our estrangement from my family. My mom could not admit that her dear husband would ever be a predator, yet she was instrumental in reuniting our family; and years later she asked me to speak to a victim of abuse, because as she said, “You will know how to help them!” My brother commented at one point that during our time of family excommunication, my dad’s behavior was that of a guilty man. My lesson thru it all: my goal was to stop abuse, not demand everyone believe me. That was accomplished in my situation, I have peace to this day that my family may not want to acknowledge my dad as a predator; my goal was still accomplished- my abuser was stopped! God stopped him from continuing his sin.
Abusive situations are so varied because abuse crosses all economic situations and all diversity. It can present as a perfect crime: a child against a well respected adult! The battle to expose this horrible crime is one against demonic forces; we must be wisely prepared; but we must be confident, and we must press on, because God is on the throne! The victory will be thru Him and for His glory! Press on Justin, the Lord will guide you and He will be glorified thru your work!