The world has watched and reacted to Christine Ford and Brett Kavanaugh. Those who shame victims question why they, and Christine Ford, do not come out sooner. I’m offering three stories from my Christian days that may help others understand.
The church and society have failed victims and continue to do so. One story took place in the 80’s, the same decade as Ford’s incident. The second was in the early 90’s. Finally, the third story is in this decade. I hope you will see what I see in these stories. If they come forward, nothing happens. If they stay silent, nothing happens.
The first story of rape of a female friend happened in 1986 when I was in youth group at an Assemblies of God church. I was a sincere believer. There was a girl in the youth group that I was friends with. We will call her Jessica.
One night Jessica called me and I could immediately tell that something was wrong. She went out on a date with a boy in our youth group earlier that night and he raped her. I never once asked what she was wearing. I did not ask for circumstances or want to know what she was doing. In my innocence I knew rape was wrong and this was not her fault. I also did not know what to say except to ask her if she was all right.
I did ask Jessica if he hit her or strangled her or broke any bones. This was not to set a level of rape. I just wanted to know if she needed to go to a hospital.
Jessica asked me what to do and I asked her if she told her mom. She told me her mom would make it her fault. I had no idea what to say to that because I could not imagine someone not believing her. I then asked her if she should call the cops. She said that never works out for girls who are raped at school. I was shocked to hear there were girls in school who had been raped. I also could not imagine police not believing someone who has just been a victim of a crime.
My young brain was reeling. I wanted to help Jessica but I did not have anything. She was looking for help too and she prompted me. She said, “You’re like the Bible answer man in youth group, what does the Bible have to say?” I got excited. There was an answer in the Bible. It was God’s Word. I also had this brand new super thick and obnoxiously large study bible. It had a topical index so I looked up rape. YES! Rape was covered. I found the verse in the topical index. It took me to Deuteronomy 22:28-29. With her still on the phone I excitedly read the words out loud to her as I was discovering them:
“If a man encounters a young woman, a virgin who is not engaged, takes hold of her and rapes her, and they are discovered, the man who raped her must give the young woman’s father 50 silver shekels, and she must become his wife because he violated her. He cannot divorce her as long as he lives.”
What started off as an exciting moment with enthusiasm as I read this ended with slow words with pauses before each word. I could not believe that this was a loving god’s best idea about rape and I heard dead silence on the phone.
All I had to say about that was that I was sure there was something else in there and I would find it. I told Jessica that I cared about her and I do not remember what we talked about the rest of the call.
We never spoke about it again. I asked her about it the next time I saw her a few days later. She said she did not want to talk about it. So we never did. After high school we would lose touch.
A few month after she was raped, I would face my own molestation at the hands of a youth leader of our church.
I had a random encounter with Jessica in the late 90’s. She was working as a cashier at a bakery I walked into. She told me she read a newspaper article about me a few weeks prior and enjoyed it. I asked her how she was doing. She was a mom and married and seemed happy. We made small talk and compared names to see who we were still in contact with. I bought my bread, got in my car, and moved on with my life as she did hers. I have no idea if she ever had closure or healing.
A few years later I was back in the Assemblies of God church I was raped in. This is 1990 or 1991. There was a new youth pastor. This new youth pastor’s nephew had run into hard times in St Louis and stayed at the youth pastor’s apartment. A girl in our young adult group who we will call Lisa reached out to me to tell me the youth pastor’s nephew raped her. Again. I never asked her about what she wore, where she was at, or any of that. I just wanted to know if she was physically all right. After a conversation on the phone and a subsequent one over at Denny’s, Lisa decided she was going to meet the youth pastor at his office and tell him what his nephew did to her.
Lisa told the youth pastor. The youth pastor told her she was a tease and had a reputation for not being a virgin. She must have, in his estimation, done something to encourage sexual behavior and she does not get to ruin this troubled young man’s life. She was crushed. She was also removed from the group. The nephew, however, had a job doing janitorial work at the church that was in good standing.
A few months later, the nephew who raped Lisa used one of the youth pastor’s personal checks without permission to buy a pizza. One of the members in our church worked for the pizza chain and told the youth pastor. An accusation of rape did not warrant an investigation and the victim got blamed. A $12 check? That warranted an investigation, eviction from the youth pastor’s apartment, and a complaint to the police. A $12 check mattered more than the safety of a young woman.
Lisa had her life changed in the wake of these events. She has faced multiple incidents of rape and sexual assault throughout her adult life. She has also been married to two abusive husbands. Could that course had been changed if she had proper support as a young woman after her rape? Could being believed and empowered have made a difference? We will never know
“Shannon And Friends”
Flash forward to 2011. I was now a senior pastor of a church I started. We had a youth outreach. It was not a youth group. It was more akin to what happens when you combine a pizza party with group therapy. We had ‘at risk’ kids of all kinds. Domestic violence victims, dropouts, addicts, victims of human trafficking, bullied over orientation, and a great many other things. In this group we had over 70 regular attendees. Over half of them were girls ranging in age from 13-20. I could count on one hand how many of these girls had not been a victim of sexual assault, rape, or incest.
At the beginning of every season we had a party with dancing. The house, as they say, was always packed at this celebration. I gave the adult volunteers (who signed a contract of behavior and went through training of appropriate engagement and conduct) tasks at these parties. I was working parking lot that night. This meant I made sure anyone who was smoking was at least 18 and no one was doing anything illegal in the lot. Not everyone in the community approved of what we was doing with “troubled teens” so police and self proclaimed watch dogs watched our every move.
There he was, sitting on a chair by the dance floor with a smile on his face. I watched his eyes. Every bit of cleavage, bare midriff and short skirt had his eyes. This was uncomfortable to watch him watching them.
As I was watching this my brain processed other moments with him. More than once he would show me something he stumbled upon online about girls in the group. With concern he would send me a link of a girl from the group online asking questions about things of a sexual nature. How to attract older men, how to be better in bed, etc etc.
It had never occurred to me that he never once sent me anything about the young men in our group. It also never occurred to me that he just happened to come across the strangest online forums where the young ladies just happened to be.
I needed time to think, but the girls needed to feel safe. I walked up to him, handed him some petty cash and asked him to get a few things at the store claiming we were running low on some things. He agreed. This gave me about 20 minutes.
I talked to Shannon as soon as he left. I asked her if there was more. Has anything else happened? She nodded. I asked if she was the only one or if there were other girls. She said there were more. I asked if we could have a quick chat.
The girls that came forward with Shannon were about half a dozen. Most of them had a similar body type. Busty, short, and about a size 12 and a penchant for heavy eye makeup. That stuck out to me. There was a type. We were sitting in a back room with one of the female adult volunteers who I trusted. They were nervous, but they trusted me and the process we had created here.
I heard stories of inappropriate comments he made at other gatherings we had. Private messages to the ladies (which was forbidden in the adult volunteer contracts). In all of them, the conversations made them uncomfortable, and there was also a feeling of shame. He would “check them out”, ogle them, make a comment, and then say things that would make them feel ashamed and self conscience.
I had a board and I had procedures. Some of the procedures were about sexual assault. In that moment I realized the procedures did not address immediacy of need. I told the ladies I believed them and we were gonna take care of it, but I cannot do it tonight. But I also need them to feel safe so I will get him out of there.
I do not remember what I said or did, but I fabricated something that he bought that got him to leave the party for the rest of the night to attend to something else. He was, by the way, a board member in my church.
Now came the tricky part. How to have a board meeting about this without him knowing there was a board meeting about this. I pulled it off. I had invited the girls to come if they wanted to. Some came, including Shannon.
I was sure the board would do the right thing. This was my board of my church and they knew how I felt and how precious these kids were. We had women on our board. This was a slam dunk for justice, right? He had not broken any laws that I knew of, but there were ethical concerns that violated the adult volunteer contract.
I wish I had told the girls to stay home that night. Especially Shannon. My board of adults, most of whom were parents, did not see things how I assumed they would. I heard comments like:
“He may not be aware he is doing it.”
“Maybe you are misreading the look. No one can know what is in someone’s head.”
“Well, some of you girls do dress provocatively, maybe we need a dress code.”
“That thing he said, are you sure he said that, maybe you took it out of context, kids do not always understand nuance.”
One even questioned Shannon:
“You’ve been raped before. You’ve been molested. Are you sure this is not misplaced revenge? He has a reputation and a career. You know that, right?”
The furthest my board would initially go is that we could talk to him and ask him to “tone it down”. I lost my cool. I said he is out of adult volunteer. Then I said I would resign if this does not happen. I was not bluffing. I also said that these girls names do NOT get released to him. We had a zero tolerance policy on certain betrayals of trust with the youth by adults, this was one of them.
There was push back on that. They said he has a right to know who his accusers are. This was a fuzzy area in their minds. I reminded them the accusers are scared minors and this is not a court of law.
I was an Outlaw Preacher pastoring a church that was part of the Progressive Christian Alliance and this was the conversation I was having with my board. They finally, and reluctantly, agreed that he could be removed from volunteering at the youth group but his access to Sunday services and membership on the board would remain intact. Because grace and some warped and unhealthy view of forgiveness.
When the board told him about the meeting, they positioned it as saying, “We are so sorry, but there were accusations by young ladies about you. We know you are a good guy, but we have to avoid liability even though you did not do anything wrong or break any laws.”
The immediate result was that the outreach group was safe again, but Sunday church attendance for teen girls dropped significantly. Many of the teens stopped trusting the adult chaperones that were board members. I became the main go to by the kids for private matters.
I apologized to each girl that this is as far as it went. The truth is, I felt I let them down. Shannon thanked me and said this was the most anyone did for someone who was “like them”.
The long term result? I saw how manipulative that man truly was. He figured out in short time that I was the one who initiated this investigation. In response, he was more difficult in future board meetings. He developed division that led to a church split and reduction in attendance. When my marriage started to end and my ex wife and I separated, he inserted himself into the middle. From there he told strategic lies and while I was already down and vulnerable, he took his shots and they hurt me.
When I had my divorce I tried to keep it amicable. I did, however, insist with my ex wife that if she chose to be friends with this man, I could not stop that, but he was not to be in the house or in the presence of our child because I considered him a threat to my kid’s safety. My child at the time was not out as a trans male yet. I thought I had a daughter. Physically, my son was starting to develop into this man’s body type. That scared me.
Some of my friends who were fellow alum from the high school we went to know about this incident. Most of them do not believe me and still associate with him. Most of them are also liberal, have children, and claim solidarity with the #metoo movement and Ms. Ford. Yet they and my progressive church board chose the man in power over the powerless teen girls that asked for help.
The more things change the more they stay the same.
Their god and Nadia Bolz Weber may forgive. I don’t.