The week after a resolution was read at our church staff meeting to protect children from sexual abuse and also to help survivors of childhood sexual abuse survivors, I sat in a meeting with my pastor and our church’s youth intern. I was the church’s administrative assistant and each week we had a meeting to discuss the previous weeks and the following weeks events.
Our pastor had been the previous week to the national meeting for our denomination. He was encouraged by the resolution passed and planned to make copies of it and read it in front on the church on Sunday. He wanted all of us in our staff meeting to take turns reading different sections aloud. When it came to my turn to read I froze. The words were hard for me as an abuse survivor to read. The section I was to read listed the actual crimes committed against children.
“I don’t want to read that.” I said, feeling sick.
My pastor knowing my some of my abuse background skipped past me with understanding and compassion.
When he completed reading it, I declared angrily, “I wish they’d passed it several years ago.”
In my pain, I proceeded to tell them how years ago I’d come to our former pastor about abuse my daughter suffered by a teenage boy, and how he’d had made the statement about what happened to her that “boys will be boys.” I got so angry at that statement that he apologized for saying it. He said he’d said it in an attempt to calm me down. I couldn’t believe he’d said such a thing to me, and I tried to forget that he said that, but I never did. The boy that abused my daughter was a distant family member. My husband and I didn’t want to report the case to DHR, and the pastor told us it was OK not to. We believed after his advice that it would be OK not to report the incident. We also thought, as he had encouraged us, that maybe she would be able to forget it. I should have known better than that, but in an attempt to spare our five year old pain we didn’t report it. I recognize now what a terrible mistake that was, because years later when my daughter was close to turning 13 she was hospitalized for a week in a psychiatric unit. She was severely depressed, not eating and hallucinating. Watching her suffer was a living nightmare for our family. After a week in Children’s Hospital and a week in a psychiatric unity, she was finally stable enough to come home. Not long after this the memory resurfaced of the abuse when she was five and she has been able to heal slowly. But it has been a very long journey, and I sincerely believe if she’d gotten counseling long ago right after it happened she wouldn’t have suffered as much.
In the meeting that day hearing those words from the resolution I was thankful the church was hearing the cries of abuse victims, but I was also angry with myself and for my former pastor for not telling me to report it. I was also angry with him for other choices he’d made in the past concerning his relationship with me that had been gnawing away at my soul like a cancer.
My current pastor and the youth intern knew something wasn’t right with me. I got angry and screamed something. I don’t remember what it was. I felt disoriented for the rest of the morning. From my counselors definition of dissociation, it seems that was what happened that morning.
My pastor and his wife and our youth intern encouraged me to seek the help of a professional. They could see my obvious unresolved pain. Reluctantly, I agreed. I went online and found a counselor online who’s books I’d read and had been helped by. Even though she lived in Colorado I took a chance to see if she’d counsel me over the phone and sent her an email. I was amazed that she would.
The first counseling session was the next week. I was sitting in a room in the back of the church so I’d have privacy. One of her first questions was why I wanted to talk to her. I began to tell her about the resolution and it’s effect on me. Then I proceeded to tell her how I was a victim of childhood sexual abuse by my father and had gone to my pastor for help about it almost ten years before. She asked the question why was this causing problems now. I told her the pastor and I had been close. She understood immediately what I was talking about. As I told her a little more of how things had crossed obvious lines they didn’t need to she told me she had talked with women before that this had happened to. She said in all likelihood he was a predator and could have possibly done this before. I was devastated by hearing this. I knew that what had happened between us was wrong, but I think I actually believed he loved me and that was why he had messed up. She assured me it wasn’t love. When I hung up the phone that day I was devastated. The thoughts reeling in my mind was that I had been taken advantage of and deceived.
My current pastor walked in when I was coming down the hall to head home. He asked about my session with my counselor. I was overwhelmed and needed to talk to someone. He said he could talk, and I sat in the sanctuary and told him what my counselor had said about me being victim of a predator. He was shocked and overwhelmed to realize it was the former pastor who still attended our church. He encouraged me to tell my husband. I told him I couldn’t. I told him that he had my permission to ask someone in another state for advice as long as my name wasn’t given.
Two weeks later my pastor came to me with an email from a professor at a large seminary in another state. He had sought advice from Diane Langberg, one of the most well known and experienced counselors in Christianity for sexual abuse. She called the relationship with my pastor that I had been involved in for close to ten years, pastoral abuse and not an affair.
Later Dr. Langberg began consulting with my current pastor. She gave advice on how to handle the situation. She encouraged him to get my written permission from me and to take the issue to the head of our local denomination. She sent cds to the church clearly defining pastoral abuse, describing the profile of an abuser and the effects of such abuse on the church.
I gave verbal permission, not written, for my current pastor to go to the leader of our local denomination who handled misconduct from pastors. That night my pastor told the other leaders at our church, and then came to my home to tell my husband what had happened. I was amazed and am still absolutely thankful that my husband forgave me without even thinking about it. God had brought the verse to his mind, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” in the shower an hour earlier before he had any clue what he was going to be told.
We agreed that there needed to be a charge brought against our former pastor of pastoral abuse. A couple of days later my ex pastor was confronted by the leader from our denomination.
Our counselor recommended we go to CO ASAP for intensive therapy. My husband was dealing with anger towards the former pastor, who had called himself my husband’s best friend. I was overwhelmed with self contempt and feeling like I was drowning in shame.
Our current pastor worked really hard to get us sent to CO for a week. We are extremely grateful for all he did to get us there.
But before we left we were told that the former pastor would meet with our regional denomination committee the next week and in all likelihood he would be deposed from the ministry. This committee felt it wise to follow up right after with our local church and tell them what had happened. They suggested that I give my name. They believed giving our local congregation all the facts would keep the wrong information from getting out into the community. Again, we understood the meeting was to educate the congregation about pastoral abuse. The meeting would go on while we were in CO in counseling.
I was very upset that a congregational meeting would take place and did not want my name given. Things seemed to be happening way too fast, my counselor thought so, too. My current pastor and my husband assured me the purpose of the meeting was to define pastoral abuse and that I would be viewed as a victim. I told my current pastor I wanted to talk to my counselor before my name was given. He agreed to this. I’d talked to an attorney, recommended by GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment) and he had said he’d write a letter on my behalf to keep them from giving my name at the meeting. I trusted that my pastor would not give my name without permission and did not ask him to write the letter. How I wish I now that I had taken the attorney’s advice.
The next week in CO in counseling a large majority of our time was spent dealing with the church and how our family was going to handle everyone knowing and how to talk to our kids if the information got back to them through gossip. I felt under such pressure from everyone knowing about my personal history of abuse from my father and from my pastor. We could only scratch the surface in counseling in dealing with our marriage and my past history of abuse, because we were in crisis mode over the church having the meeting and going home to a town where my church would know everything.
On Tuesday morning of that week in CO I received a phone call from my pastor suggesting to me that I deactivate my Facebook account. I’d been posting some Bible verses on there that my husband and I had been talking about that encouraged us both. After the conversation I set my page to more private so others wouldn’t misinterpret what I’d said. During the course of the conversation, my pastor and I got into a heated discussion. He declared to me that my name would be given at the meeting on that Thursday night. I was told I no longer had a choice. I told him I felt like I was being punished for doing the right thing in telling about what had happened to me. He was also encouraging my counselor to talk to me about going ahead and resigning from my job. I’d been encouraged not to resign by an attorney, because this could be interpreted as an admission of guilt if this case went to court. My pastor told me at that point that I’d admitted to not listening to the Holy Spirit in my relationship with the former pastor, which was true in the one specific situation I told him about, but I felt now my current pastor was treating me as someone who’d just had an affair rather than an abuse victim and forcing my name being given felt like punishment.
My counselor and husband calmed me down after the conversation. I decided to allow my name to be given after my counselor and I composed a letter that would be read at the congregational meeting. In the letter it described, without giving too many details, how my relationship with my former pastor had been abusive. My husband, my counselor and myself all met with our current pastor and elders on a conference call the day before the meeting. It was agreed by all parties that my letter would be read in it’s entirety and if there were any problems with the letter they’d let us know. It was also agreed that in the meeting what had happened to us would be called “abuse against the entire Tinnea family.” He was close to our children and my husband. He had even counseled my husband and reassured him that his relationship with me was strictly like a father/daughter. This deception ran deep and was very tangled.
I also voiced to my local church leaders on the phone that day that I had not appreciated them telling me my name had to be given at the meeting. There were no apologies for that. It seemed they’d made their decision, because it was best for everyone to have the facts. I was hurt but decided to trust them to at least handle the meeting correctly.
My former pastor was indeed deposed from the ministry. I was told he took full responsibility for everything. I felt so much sorrow over what had been lost. However, we are thankful that our regional denomination leadership did take what he had done very seriously.
The congregational meeting went on as planned Thursday night. My husband and I received a phone call after the meeting from the current pastor who assured us the long meeting had been peaceful and much mercy was voiced toward all parties. The former pastor’s daughter even texted me after the meeting saying the meeting had gone well and that all of this was a opportunity for unity in the church. It seemed everyone was doing OK, but my husband and I went to bed with a feeling of unexplainable unrest and found it hard to sleep. Something just didn’t seem right.
We flew home the next day and both believed we should go ahead and try to face things head on and go to church that Sunday. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done walking into that sanctuary knowing that everyone knew what I’d done, yet I believed that everyone had been educated on pastoral abuse and that my letter had been read in its entirety. After the service was over a lady came over saying she forgave me. It took me a back, because I thought someone might actually say I’m sorry for what your family went through, but no one did. Later I received a text from a lady who communicated she forgave me, but again no mention of abuse. It caused me to text my pastor and ask him, “Was it called abuse at the meeting on Thursday night?”
I received a text back saying it wasn’t called abuse or affair. My husband and I were floored by this news. Our pastor told us to call the head of the denomination committee if we had any questions, that he had been in charge of the meeting. My husband was angry and called immediately to talk to him. The head of the committee said that he didn’t call it abuse or affair because it wasn’t either, it was both. Then he told me I was shirking responsibility in not wanting it called an affair. I then asked him did they even read my entire letter at the meeting. He said that they did not.
The pain we felt after that phone conversation was devastating and crushing. We didn’t feel like we could even trust our current pastors and elders anymore.
The church no longer felt safe.
We arranged a meeting with our pastor and leaders to let them know of our offenses in how we were deceived about the meeting. We were told that it was called ministerial abuse at the meeting. Then we confronted them about my letter not being read in it’s entirety. Actually, according to a friend of mine at the meeting, very little of it was read. Finally, after much discussion they admitted they had been wrong in not letting me know that the letter was edited and asked for grace. They continued to say that they had edited it to protect me. They continued to assure us that pastoral abuse was defined at the meeting and that it had not been communicated as an affair. They did not apologize for telling me that my name would be given. It was communicated that they believed they had done what they believed they were supposed to do.
Since that meeting, my current pastor did call and apologize about the deception concerning the letter. He admitted he was wrong. He also admitted how hard this had been on all of them. I expressed to him that it would be good if they would consider using Dr. Langberg’s cds to educate the congregation and at some point read my entire letter. He did not say he would do this, but at least he listened. When my husband talked with him yesterday, he understood that the our local church leaders had met again, and it was decided that no further action was necessary on their part to make this right…
I sit here and type this today and wonder how could things have been done differently. It’s such a quagmire of confusion, that I really can’t pinpoint the answer. It would have been helpful if someone somewhere could have had an understanding of sexual abuse to help with the decision making in everything. The head of the pastor committee of our denomination admitted that he didn’t have an education in this. He has yet to apologize for telling me I was shirking my responsibility. It would also help if they’d have actually used Dr. Langberg’s materials to educate the church over time. I was told that she did consult with my pastor and she had emphasized to him that the darkness needed to come out into the light and that it was very important that the victim to be given a voice. I don’t think she meant for it to work this way. I think the congregational meeting was a mistake. The pastor admitted his wrong and was deposed from the ministry. Why did our congregation have to be told so quickly? Could the denomination ministers not keep things from being talked about outside the meeting? Also, why would they force me the victim to give my name. Certainly, I had a responsibility in all of this, but it is clear that this pastor set me up from the beginning to be abused. My counselor calls it abuse and not an affair.
As I have read through Dan Allender’s book, I have seen so much of myself in the ambivalence, betrayal and self contempt he describes in abuse victims. It is the counselors responsibility to keep proper boundaries and my pastor did not. Once I started down the wrong path with him I was locked into a cycle of shame, and he kept telling me it needed to be kept a secret. From what I understand what he did was illegal in some states, but not in my state.
People in the town are starting to gossip. I have two young teenagers. If it reaches their ears I am sure it won’t be abuse that they hear. I feel trapped in this town. I feel purposeless. If this is what repenting and telling the truth brings on a person, I certainly wouldn’t recommend telling my church.
I know that I have to work towards forgiving everyone so I can get better, and I will. I failed and God forgave me, my husband forgave me, my oldest son forgave me, and I know my younger children will, too when they are old enough to understand. But it doesn’t mean that I forget, nor does it mean that I approve of the way that this was handled.
Greater love has no one than this than to lay down his life for his friends…the world will know you are my disciples by your love for one another. How could they force me to give my name in front of a congregation of people and call it love when I repented? How could they push to do this so quickly when my husband and I were already so hurt over what had happened that we needed intensive counseling to save our marriage, and they expected us to be able to deal with everyone in our town knowing? Why didn’t they ask a professional for help and advice? So many questions that I have.
Right now I want to run as far away from this town as possible, but we can’t. Our home is here. It’s so very hard.
We are trusting in God alone to open the door to making this better for all of us. I’m praying it’ll be in another town!
One major bright spot. Our marriage is better than it’s been. Truly the darkness coming out into the light turns into light, but everyone didn’t need to know in order for this to happen.
Organizations like GRACE and SNAP are doing an excellent job of bringing situations like mine into the light. Links to their web websites are listed below.
If you or anyone you know has suffered from clergy abuse, please educate yourself so you can provide true help and healing.