The spring of 2011 should have been the happiest time of my life. I was newly engaged to my best friend and the love of my life, Emily, and we were planning our wedding and honeymoon together. We had decided to enroll in scuba diving classes- a lifelong dream of mine- so we could dive on our honeymoon. I had a new job, and despite being told by my pastor/former employer week after week for six years that I was a terrible employee with no work ethic and that no one would ever hire me, I was already making more than my previous whopping $24,000.00 a year job as a music director in the church I grew up in. In addition, Emily would be moving to Colorado in just a few weeks so we could more easily plan our future together. I couldn’t wait! Life was good -the best it had ever been- but instead of being happy I was angry, bitter, and miserable.
A few weeks prior I had watched a 20/20 special called “Independent Fundamental Baptist Cults”* and my world turned upside down. I sat there speechless as I listened to story after story of teens being sexually molested by predators in the churches they attended- teachers, pastors, and sometimes even fathers. When the churches found out, the leadership covered up the abuse, and blamed and punished the victims. Names of pastors and evangelist whose preaching I had sat under, and names of churches that I had attended flashed on the screen. I felt my face turn red as the reality of my past began to hit me. When I was a Junior in high school a trusted family friend, an authority figure, and a respected member of our church initiated a sexual relationship with me. She was married with four children, and in her mid-thirties. (click here to watch a recent video I recorded on this topic). When everything came out a year later, we were both equally “punished”. Because I was under the age of consent at the time, this woman should have been put in jail for criminal sexual conduct and conspiracy to commit murder. Instead, everything was covered up and she was encouraged to stay in church as part of the restoration process. Now, 12 years later as I was watching this 20/20 special, I realized for the first time that I could have been part of that investigation. 20/20 should have been filming my church and holding my pastor accountable. I had never felt so many emotions at one time- anger, hurt, confusion, bitterness, insecurity. I was devastated.
The next Sunday, I intentionally missed church for the first time in my life. I wasn’t sick, out of town, or too busy- just furious. I called my parents the next week and lashed out at them for their part in not putting this woman behind bars. After work at night I began researching lawyers and the statute of limitations for criminal sexual conduct. When I realized that the statute of limitations had passed, my anger worsened.
During that same week, I got a Facebook message. I was shocked when I opened up the message and saw that it was from her:
Congratulations! She is a very beautiful woman and you both look crazy happy. I pray God’s blessings on your life together and am happy for you both!
I could only see red. My heart was pounding so hard I could almost see my shirt pulsing. All I could picture was 12 years earlier this woman crying as she told me that the saddest day of her life would be when she was sitting in the congregation at my wedding wishing it could have been her. When I still lived in the mid-west where I grew up, I was forced to see her every few months. She enrolled her son in the high school where I taught music, and would often show up at our church during special meetings. But now I was hundreds of miles away trying to forget about my past and prepare for my future and BAM! It was like I got the wind knocked out of me! I quickly wrote back a mean and hateful e-mail, calling her a pig and threatening that if she ever contacted me again, I would “blow this thing wide open”.
For the next several months I barely attended church. When I did go to church, I hated it. I quit exercising and began eating excessively. Whereas I was once just overweight I became obese and seemed to have no control over food. My bitterness towards this woman grew, as did the bitterness and hatred towards my pastor, and anyone else involved in that situation. The worse part- I brought that baggage into my marriage and it affected my entire family for seven years.
To this day I struggle with the correct terms to use when referring to what happened when I was a junior in high school . Was I really a victim? Was she really an abuser? Compared to other stories that have come across my desk since I started talking about my book, absolutely not. Compared to Rachael Denhollander and the hundreds of victims in the Larry Nassar case, not even close. Compared to the victims in the 20/20 investigation, no way. But according to the law of the state I grew up in, then yes. According to years of documented research, definitely.
A few months ago I was talking with someone from my past about my book and what happened when I was a junior in high school. One of the first questions they asked me was whether or not I accepted blame and took responsibility for my part in that situation. As other victims have been reaching out to me over the past month, I have noticed a common thread in their story- they are in some way blamed for what took place. A little girl was molested by her father for years and her mom blamed her for stealing her husband. Then the church leadership blamed her for not fighting harder. A teen got pregnant by her youth pastor and was blamed because she flirted and dressed immodestly. A ten year old boy was beaten so badly by his father that he literally tried to climb the walls to get away. He was blamed because he disrespected his father. There is no doubt that for every one story I am told of, there are thousands of victims who are still silent because they feel like they don’t have a voice. If that’s you and you’re reading this, my heart breaks for you. I will fight on your behalf because for 20 years I felt like didn’t have a voice. But now I do and I’m just getting warmed up. Stand by…
*Click the links below to watch the 5 part YouTube series on the 20/20 special, Independent Fundamental Baptist Cults: