Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-part series. Part three can be found here when it is posted.
It has been two years since the Williams left Peace Community Church.1 They would have remained silent had the abusive leadership not proceeded to crush others the Williams love.
“Michael and I loved being at Peace Community Church. We loved the community, the worship and a place to serve. We were deeply hurt that we felt we could no longer stay. All at once we lost a place to worship, a church community, fellowship with people we loved. And we lost ministries that we felt God had called and gifted us to serve in.”
We carry on with Kate’s story of pastoral abuse.
Part One of Kate’s story may be found here.
Just as we see in the Garden of Eden, we tend to blame-shift when confronted for our sin (Gen. 3). Toxic leaders make an art of it.
What the Williams discovered is that abusive leaders will often “change the narrative from his/her verbal abuse to the person’s (that they have attacked) sins and call the attack a conflict.” It is just another form of blame-shifting where the attention is placed on the offended and taken off the offender.
Pastor Ensome wrote one email to the Williams where he described the experience of a member who came to his house and later told others he had “yelled at her.” He complained to the Williams that his wife and daughter were in an adjoining room and they had said Ensome did not “yell” at the woman.
Pastor Ensome has both admitted to and others have described his anger. It does not come out necessarily in a loud voice but in attitude and words. In his email telling of the story he basically admitted to examples of a significant problem for his leadership – anger [see Titus 1:7-8].
But he skillfully wove the narrative to once again make himself a saint and the woman a liar. The confrontation at his house wasn’t about his sin (what she was confronting him for) but rather about the woman’s perception of his response.
In doing so, he made sure it was understood that he was the humble one AND the persecuted one effectively shifting the blame.
It’s All Your Fault
In an email three months later, the Pastor continued the spiritual abuse, misusing scripture to badger and excuse his poor shepherding, shifting the blame to Kate. He said in the email,
“Jesus knows you, and all that you have done for him. Really, that is all that matters. If my words turn out to be false, then your honor in your service to Christ is all the greater. You are the only one who can fail to walk with integrity with Christ. I really have no power to destroy what matters to you and to the Lord Jesus. My words really make little difference, if any.”
Notice the sleight of hand he uses here? While supposably apologizing and entitling the email “encouragement,” Pastor Ensome in essence told Kate that his words don’t mean anything. It is her fault if she does damage to the integrity of her walk with God.
It is her fault.
The blame for her deep hurt is found in Kate doing damage to herself. Not in his words. Pastor Ensome has no culpability for his words.
As Kate said, a pastor’s words carry a lot of weight. “Especially a pastor whom I had respected, admired and trusted. How could my pastor say such hurtful things in such a mean, and cold manner?” This is why Paul and James suggest teachers and leaders should have more accountability [James 3:1, 1 Timothy 3:2, 5:19-20]. A pastor’s words have special authority.
“He told me that my eyes emanated judgement so, for weeks after that meeting I questioned what I looked like to people when I was talking to them. He stated that John (an elder), who I also respected, had issues with me. But, John emphatically responded that he did not. . . He told me the staff pastor had told him I couldn’t get along with the ladies that I had poured so much of my heart and energy into serving. . .Though the staff pastor told me he never said anything like this to Pastor Ensome.“
And yet, Pastor Ensome suggests that words will never hurt her. The only way his words can hurt her is if she is spiritually weak . . . so, now it is her fault.
Isolating the Target
When Pastor Ensome told Kate the staff pastor and elder John both had difficulties with her, he effectively isolated her.
One of the most common, and effective means of controlling the narrative is by forcing the victim into their own little bubble. . . where there is no help. Or, so it seems.
Kate, for a time, thought she was alone in her struggle with Pastor Ensome. She and Michael had no one to advocate for them. According to the pastor, everyone was against her.
But, fortunately the truth won out as both the staff pastor and other elder (John) made it clear to her that they had nothing against her. In addition, the long-time member shared common stories of abuse with her.
Though we do not want to depend on others (rather than Christ) for our strength, God has made us for community and for bearing of one another’s burdens.
And so, they can no longer keep silent.
No Longer Silent
Though they have gotten free of Pastor Ensome’s abusive leadership, they are determined to stand by those who are continuing to suffer under his misuse of spiritual authority. Just as others suffered before the Williams showed up on the scene, there are others who continue to face Pastor Ensome’s wrath; including two recent employees.
One has resigned and another has been fired.
“Pastor Ensome’s words took away from me part of my identity and undermined the loving relationships I had with those I served. He damaged my trust in others in positions of authority. . . We have come to realize that it may not be in the best interest of PCC for us to remain silent because keeping silent may actually be hurting the church if Pastor Ensome is allowed to stay in his position of power.“
It is a risk to stand up against someone who has authority. There is real danger. But this is the way of the cross; to risk harm in order to seek truth and healing for others who are not free.3 As a friend of theirs helpfully shared,
“There is no neutrality with this sort of sin. You either confront the abuse, or you enable and embolden it. Silence only serves the abuser. Sin grows in the dark.”
When I asked Kate what Scripture has been helpful as they have sought healing, she mentioned Psalm 18:1-3. She explained, “He truly was, in the early days after Pastor Ensome’s attack, my Rock and Refuge.”
She also added that she felt ministered to by Psalm 34. It helped her to remember to “praise Him everyday and remember His faithfulness and goodness.” Kate said, “Verses 17 and 18 in particular were promises to hold on to. Even though this was a painful experience, there was sweetness to it because the Lord’s Presence became such a comfort.”
Like many of the psalmists, survivors of leadership and domestic abuse can know that the Lord hears prayer and He knows what it means to be cruelly abused and mistreated. He has faced it Himself.
But, unlike others who have survived abuse, the Lord is powerful and able to bring vindication from the deep wells of His love for His people.
Part Three of this series (Michael’s Story) can be found here on September 2.
3 Was it not this very thing Jesus did to bring us freedom; to suffer the loss of His life at the hands of the authorities in order to bring freedom to others.
The names used in this article are fictitious, but the story is not. Pearls and Swine does not publish names, places, or identifiable information as it is our desire to keep victims of abusive leadership safe and to not distract from the lessons that can be learned from their story.