Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Meeting with church leaders

Church leaders wouldn’t even deign to meet with me until AFTER I filed a lawsuit.

By that time, over a year had passed since I reported my childhood abuse to church and denominational leaders, and I desperately wanted something to happen. Naively, I still thought that, if they would just talk to me, they would understand and would see the need to do something.

It was a profoundly painful meeting. Clergy abuse survivors shouldn’t have to talk about their abuse with people who lack the education and experience to respond appropriately. It often winds up inflicting even greater wounds.

As soon as I saw the senior pastor walk in the room, I felt dismay. Several years earlier, he had been reported for sexual abuse of a vulnerable adult congregant. I specifically asked that he NOT be one of the church’s representatives for the meeting. Whatever the truth of his story, I just didn’t want to have to think about it while I was dealing with my own trauma. I didn’t want to feel as though this man, who himself had been accused of abuse, might be sitting there leering at me. I had hoped he might simply have the decency to respect my wishes and the sensitivity of the situation. He didn’t.

But when I saw the music minister walk in the room, my heart lifted. I immediately recognized him. He was my piano teacher as a kid, and he was the person I had told about the abuse. I went straight to him and shook his hand. I was so glad to see him that I started crying. I felt certain that he was there to try to help me. I was wrong.

As we sat around that big conference table, the music minister began talking about how my perpetrator had spoken with him about how afraid he was that someone in the congregation had seen him “in a compromising position” with me.

I listened in stunned silence. He was talking about a point in time BEFORE I broke down crying at a piano lesson and told him about the abuse myself. This meant that the music minister had known about the abuse even earlier.

He could have stopped the abuse sooner. But he didn’t.

I turned that new information over in my head. I thought about how the abuse had escalated at the end. I thought about how it wouldn’t have happened if only the music minister had taken action when he first learned about the abuse from the perpetrator himself.

I looked at the music minister, this man who had also been my piano teacher. He was bragging – BRAGGING - about how he was the person who had eventually convinced the youth minister – my perpetrator - to move on to another church. He looked all puffed up with pride, seemingly oblivious to the horror of what he allowed to happen.

I tried to keep my gaze steady and my voice modulated. I tried to hold on…and I did for a little while. But sometimes the body has a mind of its own. Within minutes, my chest clamped shut. I couldn’t breathe. Waves of grief and nausea overtook me. I stood and turned my back to the table, and then I was doubled-over and heaving.

My attorney declared a break and ushered them all out of the room to try to give me some privacy and dignity.

When I recovered, they filed back in, and one of the deacons started talking. He was bragging about what a loving church they were. His spiel went sort of like this:

“Why…just a few weeks ago, my own step-daughter came parading into the church on Sunday morning. She’s 25 and she’s been nothing but trouble her whole life. It’s just been one thing after another. So there she is, parading into the church when she hasn’t been in ages, and she’s pregnant out to here. She’s NOT married… AND… (his voice dropped to a hushed whisper) … her boyfriend’s a BLACK man. Well…she just paraded herself into that church, and made such a spectacle, and I was SO ashamed of her. But I want you to know that those good church ladies just gathered all around her and loved on her. And I KNOW they would have done the same thing for you if you had just come to us with the right attitude.”

I sat there, trying to figure out what part of his story could possibly have any relevance to what happened to me.

I tried to think of what to say, but before I could get words out, the body once again took over. I stood, turned my back, and then doubled-over, heaving.

When I recovered, they all filed back in again and I listened to still more nonsense. But I kept pondering the deacon’s story.

I suppose he thought that it was all related to “S-E-X” and so it was all the same. From his perspective, an unmarried 25 year-old getting pregnant by her boyfriend wasn’t much different from me being sexually abused as an adolescent church girl by a married 30-year old minister.

Obviously, the deacon was totally clueless.

When the meeting ended, the only thing I could think to say was to congratulate him on his upcoming grand-baby.

The church followed up the meeting by sending me a secrecy agreement to sign, saying that I would never again speak about the subject of my abuse.

As soon as I saw it, I knew the pain of that meeting had served no purpose. They were still totally oblivious.

I didn’t sign their stupid, immoral secrecy agreement.


di said...

Hi Christa, I too have my own blog and I too was abused by a pastor when I was a teenager. It was not in the Baptist churh but a denomination with a little more struture governmentally.

I have had better responses from the church government than you but far from perfect ones.

A friend of mine who was also abused at age 17 at the very same time I was being abused sent me a link to an article of yours from two days ago.

Wow. It was powerful and I forwarded it to many of my supporters. Thanks.


Christa Brown said...

Di: Welcome to my blog and thanks for forwarding around my article. I've talked with people abused in many different faith groups, and I think the wounds are quite similar regardless of faith group.

I just checked out your blog - Prodigal Daughter, and saw that you know Mona. Such an extraordinary person! I think so highly of her.

Lin said...

Christa, Why didn't their reaction shock me? Because it has become the norm these days. And it is getting worse. Those men literally had contempt for YOU.

It has become about protecting the church against bad publicity and the leaders and also the abuser. What is so appalling is that they do not realize that by not confronting the abuser they are not only guaranteeing future victims but consigning the abuser to accountability which brings repentance. Without true repentance, these men face eternal damnation.

Anonymous said...

I heard on the news that huckabee will NOT be speaking at Trinity in Jax this Sun night