This Article is Part Three of a series telling the stories of two women who were sexually abused, one of their families, and the church leadership that misused their spiritual authority in response. This article includes topics such as sexual assault, domestic violence, 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.
“As a pastor’s daughter I was always expected to be a bigger person.” Mia is a tough girl. She has been through a whole lot in her life.
A turning point for her was when she was sexually molested by a son of a Deacon in her church at ten years old. Her father was an Associate Pastor and he and her mom noted her change in behavior after that. But knew nothing about the assault. [Mia’s mother and father noted in a video they created that he had assaulted another girl and the church had handled it badly, covering it up and giving him a slap on the wrist.]
There was something “dirty” about that horrible experience, but she saw it as her own rather than the perpetrator’s sin. She just couldn’t bring herself to share it with her parents or others in the church.
So, it stayed hidden for years.
Mia went through two more horrendous experiences of violence – forcefully sexually molested a short time after and then raped by a youth pastor and his friend when she was 14 years old.
Like many who have been sexually assaulted, Mia took it on herself and did not share her story for many years. There were more than the usual reasons for her to remain silent about these horrible sins that were not her fault at all.
Mia was raised in an unsafe church environment.
As I listened to her story, I was overwhelmed with sadness, anger, and disappointment as I heard the litany of reasons why Mia has left the church. But, to be clear, she has not left Jesus, just the church. The bride of Christ has horribly added to her suffering and she cannot even enter a church without a raised heart rate and breaking out in a sweat.
At one point in our conversation Mia apologized to me, knowing that I am a leader in the church. But, I could only shake my head and commiserate with her. I know that many have experienced the kind of oppressive behavior Mia has in the church.
Mia’s story is for leaders who want to make church a safe place for sinners who have been sinned against in often the most egregious ways. Church leadership – elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers, etc. – are called by the Lord (like everyone else) to be a solace to the vulnerable among us.
As was written in the blog prior to this, Mia went to the elders in her church believing that this was what a congregant member should do when struggling in her marriage. Though she didn’t know it at the time she went to them, her husband had been having an affair for several years and his paramour was pregnant with his child.
When Mia approached the elders, she shared openly her stories of sexual abuse. She also shared the sinful life she had lived during her teen years following those assaults.
Mia had abused alcohol and drugs and had an abortion when she was 16. She explained that it was about two years before coming to the elders that she had really dealt with her abortion. Mia shared that when she had her first child, she felt shame, believing that she should have been judged by God and should not have been allowed to get pregnant again.
She believes that this attitude came from the Pharisaical teaching of her childhood church.
Mia was still living with this kind of self-loathing despite knowing Jesus’ forgiveness when she came to the elders.
Rather than consider the incredible violations of Mia as an image-bearer when men used her body so wickedly, one of the elders (Sam) wanted her to know she was still dealing with consequences. It did not appear that he had any concern for the forgiveness she was promised in Christ. He couldn’t get beyond her long-ago sin in order to focus on the healing and help she needed in her marriage and from the after-affects of sexual assaults.
Mia explained that Sam said “she was a horrible sinner and needed to deal with this.” She went on, “I had created a godly family with my husband, but Sam had to go back and pound on those times.”
Those times for which Jesus had forgiven her.
As Mia explained, “He was never kind. He never said, ‘We will get through this.'” Mia said, “He is such a prideful man…convinced he is an amazing person.“
As explained in the earlier blog, Mia suffered under a leadership that was more concerned about following their church rules than the love of Christ. Instead of responding to her hurt and trauma, they had to protect their own leader at all costs when she challenged Sam’s shepherding.
They have never held Sam accountable for his failure to shepherd Mia as Christ has called His elders to shepherd.
Oppressed by the Church
What has Mia learned from her church leadership?
She said she had to leave the church to find healing.
She explained, “Separating from that church took away their power.” Mia had been raised to respect and honor the authority church leaders have been given by Christ. But, that power had been misused to crush their sheep and their Phariseeism and failure to love and serve God’s people, to which Christ calls His leaders, destroyed Mia’s respect for them.
Mia shook her head, “It is so sad that non-Christian friends are way more understanding. They don’t judge you that you didn’t come to Sunday school two weeks.”
But There are Some
However, Mia has found some healing from those who take Jesus’s calling seriously. She described being dragged to an organization called “Journey to Heal Ministries” when she was still bitter and angry.
When she was introduced in the meeting, she said, “I would not lie about my life anymore.” She expected a response like she had received in her church, but the response was so different.
“They said, ‘We are so happy to have you here.’ I wrote my story and was apologizing like crazy and they told me, ‘IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT.’ It was the first time I had heard that from Christians. It was the most healing from my sexual abuse.”
The spiritual abuse continues to gnaw at her soul. But, Mia said, “My dad is very important. He says, ‘It’s okay to be where you are at.‘” She continued, “In the old days, it was discipline until you get to where you need to be. But, now it’s okay to struggle. I am not kept at an arm’s distance from my parents. When leaders lie to you, you have to question.”
Her parents are okay with that now.
Mia has remarried a good man and hopes her story can help others trapped in legalistic and uncaring church environments.
Where Do We Go
I am praying that church leaders who hear Mia’s story will recognize their own tendencies of self-protection and failure to extend grace to those who bear their souls before them. Jesus covers the sins of these hurting lambs and those sins are removed as far as the East is from the West.
And when it comes to those who have been horribly sinned against, like in Mia’s case, look to the Good Shepherd as an example. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.” [Isaiah 42:3]