This article includes topics such as sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, physical violence, and spiritual abuse. I acknowledge that this content may be difficult. I also encourage you to care for your safety and well-being.
Second in a three-part series on two women who were sexually abused, one of their families, and the church leadership that failed to protect and care for them.
“I felt so dirty and worthless and useless and to be reminded of my worth in Christ is something I still depend on to this day when the doubts creep in.“
You would think that some former druggie, murderer, or adulterer said this. Looking back at his great sin, he turned to Jesus to see that He continues to love him though, like King David, he had failed miserably. But, now, he had turned from his sin in repentance.
But, that wasn’t the case.
Emily was raped.
Her great evil was being sexually molested repeatedly by a neighbor when a child and then being raped repeatedly by her boyfriend both before and during their engagement.
Her church leaders have said these were Emily’s fault.
Like in Mia’s case (see her story) Emily’s church was not some radical fringe, cultish group. Rather, she was raised in a small, but respected denomination that prides itself on doctrinal thoughtfulness and purity.
But her church leadership has acted with anything but thoughtfulness or purity. They have acted with as great an evil as I have seen in these cases of leadership abuse.
Emily went through a period of blindness and attended a blind school for a short time when she was 18. She told me, the blindness was diagnosed as due to PTSD from her childhood sexual molestation and has since been resolved.
She said she began dating Jeff out of rebellion there but was “forcibly stopped” by her parents. They “tricked” her into leaving the school leading her to believe they had a family emergency. She explained, “They refused to let me out of the vehicle once they confronted me about my relationship” with Jeff.
Emily soon after attended a Christian singles conference where she met Chip. He was a big man and a member of one of her denominational churches in another city. They met up once again the following summer when they both attended the conference again and began “dating” over email.
Emily had no desire to marry Chip, but she explained to me, “I felt like I was used goods and nobody else would ever want me after that.” She and Chip ended up getting engaged.
But, she discovered him to be controlling and he hurt her repeatedly, physically and sexually, even before they were engaged.
Following one of his rapes she was taken to the Emergency Room where he remained by her bedside every minute. One of the nurses wrote in Emily’s record that she was very concerned about the “psychological circumstances of family at the bedside” along with several other comments about who was with her in the ER room. It can only be assumed that Chip was keeping a close watch on what she would report to the doctors and the nurse had suspicions as to the cause of her injuries.
Emily has pictures of the bruising. She said,
“I did try to report this to the [church leadership] but was rebuked and told to stop slandering my [fiance] in order to balm my own conscience.”
In addition, Chip had made comments that “he had molested both of his sisters as children and hoped that I could produce several daughters during our marriage.”
Emily was frightened and confused.
She reached out to Jeff once again. He offered to put her up in an apartment he had access to while she healed.
Emily stayed up all night, packed up what she could in garbage bags, and left her family’s home without them knowing. She told me,
“I left a 4-page letter on the kitchen table for my parents and Chip. [During] the entire trip to [Jeff’s city] Chip blew up my phone constantly. In the past if I didn’t answer messages and calls immediately he would hound me and others until I responded.“
That evening and well into the night, Emily’s father and other church leaders were texting and messaging her. They were
“begging me to come home for the good of my soul and blasting me for the sins they thought I had committed, including living with a man I wasn’t married to. Never mind that we had separate apartments.”
In time, her father quit contacting her, but her pastor continued messaging unabated. Emily was being “shunned” by her family and “hounded” by her pastor.
“I asked many times to be allowed to show evidence of the sexual abuse and physical abuse – both in the form of deep bruises and scars (that were still visible months later) and electronic proof I had gathered and kept.”
Since her mother was not speaking to her, Emily even offered evidence of the abuse to a lady in her church.
“Pastor Johnson said anything I submitted would be useless and automatically dismissed/denied because of the way I had left made me an ‘unreliable witness.’ I was not even allowed to submit proof since it was simply an attempt for me to excuse my sexual immorality.”
Playing the Harlot
Emily was compared to Jezebel. She was told she had “played the harlot.” She was told she could be “Rahab” (a prostitute) though needed the redemption Rahab got and she didn’t have.
Emily was told she had “lied to Chip” because she had not told him she was leaving.
“I was told that as a condition of repentance I would need to send Chip an apology letter specifically citing the sexual sins in full, explicit detail that I had led him into and for breaking my ‘vows of betrothal to him.‘”
She sent a letter that she described as full of the “juicy details.” But, Emily also begged to show the church leaders her evidence of abuse.
Her letter wasn’t good enough. She was planning to marry Jeff, who was a Catholic, and that showed she was unrepentant. It was believed that he could not be a Christian and Catholic.
She was then required to tell Jeff she did not believe he was a Christian and he was going to hell.
Emily was excommunicated by the church.
To Open and Shut the Kingdom Gates
“After the excommunication it was as if I no longer existed. Pastor Johnson had told me I was also being excommunicated because Jeff was Catholic and he told me that they, as elders, had the authority to open and shut the gates of heaven. And that they were shut to me.”
It was a Catholic priest who was most helpful in her healing. Emily told me the priest assured her, “Whatever sins I had committed I had been forgiven for by my faith in Jesus’s sacrifice and that it was time to also heal from the spiritual and physical wounds I had.”
The priest offered to have a couple Sisters sit with her.
Amazingly, Emily continued to seek the blessing of her former church. She reached out to them a year later and they told her she needed to show at least 8-12 months of repentance for her membership to be reinstated. Emily said she lived in “absolute terror of making an error.“
As evidence of repentance, Emily was told to remove pictures of her wedding from Facebook that included her new husband with the feet of Jesus in the background.
Emily said, “I was required to stand in front of the congregation while my sins were read aloud in graphic specifics.” However, her parents were unwilling to see her so she was not present when they read her “confession” to the church.
She “started to wear a head covering and only wore long skirts to further exhibit humility and submission since Pastor Johnson said that humility was a sign of repentance.”
Where To Now?
Emily is crying out. She has been so deeply hurt by the church and her family, on top of the trauma caused by sexual abuses she has suffered over the years. She has held it in, trying to go on with her life. But she wants her story to help others.
She has received so little vindication. It took much for her to open up to others about the spiritual abuse she has faced. Those with which she has trusted her spiritual growth and safety have so badly failed in ministering to her in her brokenness.
And Emily wants to see her relationship with her parents redeemed.
Who is going to humble themselves and seek her forgiveness. Who is going to recognize that their theology has gone seriously awry when they consider rape to be the woman’s fault?
Who is going to step aside from their complicity with rape and spiritual abuse and seek her forgiveness on their knees?
Unfortunately, it is not looking hopeful.
Emily needs to have the final word in her story:
“In sharing all of this I in no way excuse my sinful nature or the fact that everyday I am in need of God’s mercy and grace. That being said, I firmly believe the way I was treated was grossly negligent and spiritually abusive. I need safety and support. I needed shepherding and healing. All I found when I most needed love and light was damnation and darkness. I came to them bleeding and broken and they left me more broken still.
Growing up dad and mom taught us God uses broken, fallen vessels for his purpose and glory . . . I can’t help but think this is one of those cases. I found safety with Jeff when literally no one else was safe or could provide that safety for me. And we have a beautiful family and my husband loves the Lord and we are raising our daughters to know their worth in Christ and His love.“