Cycle Dude and I listen to NPR (National Public Radio) a great deal. This morning, I caught part of an interview with a young woman who had been sexually abused in the 1990’s by the youth pastor in her church. The interviewer asked the young woman if she still has her faith. I did not hear her answer, but I got the impression she did not.
My heart aches for that young woman. Although I was not sexually abused by a member of the clergy, Catholic or Protestant, I was “relationally” abused by a Protestant pastor.
My family had attended a denominational church in Mytown for four years when my marriage started to disintegrate. I turned to a pastor for help, for marriage counseling. Ex and I were sent to a non-licensed, non-professional church member for counseling. For the first 30 minutes of our hour-long session, the man told us his story and why he liked the program he would use with us. This happened weekly for about a month before I finally said, “Enough. This is about us, not you.”
When ex sought counseling one-on-one with a pastor, he was told he could not be counseled because he had an issue with another member of the congregation. We were basically treated as pariahs because we no longer met the church’s definition of “holy”. My children were even treated with disdain – and they didn’t do anything!
One does not have to be sexually abused to experience abuse at the hands of a trusted church leader, church member or congregation. Christians have no qualms about shooting their own wounded.
For about a year and a half after the incident with the folks in the Baptist church, I shied away from church, attending occasionally out of respect for my children. My marriage did fall apart and I felt shattered – my life, my relationships, my faith.
I began attending another church that was led by a pastor I knew several years earlier. He put together a team to help ex and I walk through the separation and divorce. I was so thankful. He even said, “We’ve never done this before, but we know we need to take care of you.”
I tell this story to say that not all churches or church members are abusive. It is difficult to trust again after one has experienced any kind of abuse, no matter who the perpetrator is. My faith in Christ is stronger today than ever because of people like the pastor who knew it was his responsibility to care for a wounded member of his congregation. I know that my faith is not in man, but in God. I know that His heart broke as well as mine at the abuse my family and I endured.
My faith was shattered for a long time and it was painful to pick up the pieces. I had two friends who helped me to pick up those pieces. I have learned as a woman of faith that I need to extend a hand and to give grace instead of lobbing scripture bombs and judgement at my Christian brothers and sisters who find themselves in time of need. None of us are “holy”, no not one. Give grace. Stay tuned. . . .