When I first began to understand that I had been abused by my pastor, the confusion was overwhelming. I’d believed with much shame for years both my pastor and I were sinning against God and therefore equally responsible, and sometimes I even took all the blame on myself. I did not understand all the dynamics of a pastor abusing his position of power, and it’d never seriously crossed my mind that my pastor might be a predator.
I’ve discovered as I’ve written this blog for the past two years that I continue to revisit the same truths over and over again. My brain needs constant redirection towards the truth and away from the default thought patterns I learned and practiced for years.
Since the beginning of my healing process, it’s been difficult to separate my own sin from the pastor’s responsibility. I’ve struggled in confusion over and over again whether I should view myself as a victim or a willing participant. I did not want to view myself as a victim, because it felt like I had no control over my choices. I did not want to see myself as a willing participant, because as a victim of childhood sexual abuse this caused me to believe that somehow I’d caused all of the abuse. Both views of myself brought great shame, and the ambivalence I felt over which category I belonged in brought only more shame and confusion.
But recently the truth about my victimization and my sin began to take a little more root in my heart. For a little over a year, I’ve been friends with a volunteer with the organization The Hope of Survivors. They are a great ministry who devote their time and resources in helping adult victims of sexual abuse, and recently this friend, who is also a victim of clergy abuse, provided relief from my confusion.
Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
I realized as I listened to my friend read this verse and point out the word causes Jesus spoke, that my pastor had indeed caused me to sin. God had placed him in a position of authority as my pastor. He was called to watch over my soul and lead me to Jesus, but instead he chose to fulfill his own desires through me. Not only that but he’d been counseling me as a victim of childhood sexual abuse and in my vulnerability I was not able to see things clearly, which made what he did even worse. I understood that what my pastor did was not my fault, but I also understood that I’d made choices as a result of his bad leadership that caused me to sin.
The more I’ve been able to understand the truth of what happened to me, the more the truth has shed light on the sin and shame that have ruled my heart for most of my life. Recognizing the former pastor’s responsibility in my sin lifts the heavy weight of condemnation and enables me to view myself and my sin the way that God does.
The truth does indeed set us free, but much of that freedom comes through a process.
I don’t know where you are on your journey, but I suspect if you were abused by your pastor you still need to be reminded that it really was not your fault.
I’ve come to realize that Jesus only calls us to repent for the sins that we have committed. When we take on responsibility for the things that were not our fault, we can become overwhelmed by false guilt and the shame that it produces. Jesus wants us to know the truth that it’s not our fault, and see ourselves as His children who were truly led astray. He wants us to cling to His righteousness for the sins that we committed as a result, and know that there is no condemnation.
If you are a victim of clergy abuse who is still struggling, I encourage you to reach out to The Hope of Survivors or feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org