Childhood, Depression, Forgiveness, Rapture, Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

Where Have All Of The Children Gone?

Since I have been writing about my childhood within the church many people have contacted me. Through those contacts, I have had contact with even more people. One thing that has become clear to me is that Calvary Gospel Church (CGC) seems to lose many of their young people. Why does this happen? Is it because of abuse within the church? Sure in some cases but I feel there is more to it than that.

When young people are abused the church tends to minimize the damage and try to cover it up. They do not listen to the victims and they don’t offer any kind of aftercare/compassion when these things occur. Because the police and social services are not involved that pathway to help is not available to the victims either. Those young people are left to twist in the wind and try to make sense of the devastation in their lives. This often leads to depression and a low self-esteem. Victims are made to feel less than and because of that they eventually leave the church.

When the survivors leave, the church writes them off. Time after time I have heard about people leaving and never hearing from the church again. Young people who have spent their whole lives within the church are treated as if they never existed. This has bothered me for years. I don’t know how they can see this behavior as Christ-like. When I left no one came after me. It was like I never existed. What the church often does when someone leaves is they gossip about that person. Eventually, the person in question hears about this gossip and is reinjured and suffers trauma all over again. This makes it very unlikely that the young person will ever want to return to the church.

Questions are often off-limits. When young people go through their teen years questions are natural and should be expected. Teenage rebellion and acting out should also be expected. Within CGC questions and questioning authority is not ok. If you ask too many questions you will be told you have a rebellious spirit. If you are a naturally curious person you will not do well within that congregation. Normal acts of teenage rebellion are often used to label a person forever. Things that all kids do are seen as worthy of a life sentence. If you do anything wrong in the future your past will be brought up as if it happened yesterday.

Mental illness is not treated seriously. Often they will attribute it to sin and tell you to pray harder. They treat the consequences of abuse the same way. If you have anxiety because of their end-time teachings that must be because you are not ready for the rapture. It could not possibly be because those teachings are not healthy for young children to be exposed to. If you are depressed and struggling because of abuse that happened during your childhood they will tell you to forgive and let go. Let god handle it. When that doesn’t work some young people will turn to alcohol and sex to try to quiet the demons. They often leave the church looking for help wherever they can find it because the church did not help and in many cases made things worse.

This brings me back to my original question. Where have all of the children gone? Many of them have left in search of a church that teaches love and grace. Some had to leave and even cut off family members just to save themselves and their sanity. Some, like me, have found other paths that have proven to be healing and helpful. The church seems upset that so many of us are angry. They don’t understand why we can’t just forgive and move on, they feel attacked. I would say they need to look at themselves. They need to ask why so many of their children walk away. They need to take some responsibility for the young lives that grew up in their presence and were influenced by their teachings. If I were them I would ask myself why are these people still in pain? Why are they so angry with us after all of these years? What is my responsibility in all of this? They need to come to terms with the role they have played in creating the situation they now find themselves in.

I’m not surprised so many young people have walked away. For many leaving was the only way for them to survive. For those who got out, I’m so happy for you. For those who are on the fence, maybe one foot in and one foot out, we are over here waiting for you. If you ever decide to really leave those of us who have been out will welcome you with open arms. You won’t find judgment here but you will find compassion and understanding. Once I left the church I found my value and I learned I was worthy of love. On the outside, I found acceptance and understanding. CGC isn’t the only way.

 

 

Advertisements
A.C.E., Childhood, Fear, Rapture, Self Esteem, Sexual Abuse, Shame, Sin, United Pentecostal Church

Girl Interrupted

Once when I was in therapy the therapist asked me to envision my child self. My mind went to a field we had near my childhood home. I would run around that field playing Wonder Woman. I went sledding with my dog down the hill beside the field and I would make crowns from the dandelions I found in the grass. When envisioning my child self my mind immediately took me to that place and sitting in the grass making crowns and placing dandelions in my hair. That little girl was still pretty carefree but that wouldn’t last for long. By that time I had been exposed to rapture theology and my parents were struggling within their marriage and we were poor. Even with all of that to worry about I was still an adventurous, imaginative, happy-go-lucky little girl.

Little Debbie

We started attending Calvary Gospel on and off in 1978. By 1980 I was becoming pretty entrenched. You might think that Steve Dahl was the first thing to interrupt my girlhood but I don’t think that is true. What came first was fear. Calvary Gospel was awash in it at that point. Sermons like the one that lead to my salvation were not the exception they were common. My world kept getting smaller and smaller. It seemed like everything was a sin and the devil was everywhere just waiting to deceive and maybe gobble up a little girl like me. The seeds to all of my anxiety were planted, watered, and tended there. How can you be a little girl when all you can think about is hell, the rapture, and what sin you might have committed while just going about your day? It didn’t take long before innocent things like watching cartoons on tv or listening to the radio could be enough to damn me for eternity. This is where I learned to make myself small and it has impacted my life in a very negative way. I became super fearful and so I stopped taking chances/risks and instead tried to stay safe. Safety is good but it can go too far. I believe all success requires being willing to take some risks.

Soon I learned that women were supposed to be quiet in church. Women’s role in family life was to be submissive to the husband and to raise the children. I was never asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I think it was assumed I would be a quiet submissive wife. When I was a little girl I wanted to be a minster. I would line up all my dolls on the sofa along with my stuffed animals and Barbies. We would have church and I would lead the worship and preach the message. At about age 10 I stopped dreaming about what I wanted to be when I grew up. Soon my goals shifted to being an evangelists wife and going to a UPC supported music school. I knew that a good ministers wife needed to know how to sing and play an instrument in order to support her husbands work. I went from being the leading lady to being a support player. Wonder Woman was long out of my reach.

A.C.E. did not help. I attended the church school and those old PACES did not show women doing much other than working with kids. We did not have many great electives to take and the work itself was not inspiring. Most of the time I was bored out of my mind. I went in a bright straight A student and left hating school and just wanting it to be over. No one ever talked to me about college or offered to help me with picking a career. The staff seemed just as miserable as the students. It was not an environment that fostered curiosity, questions, or deep thinking. It was learning by memorization, no real thinking required. Things that could not be taught that way, like algebra turned into a nightmare for me. I am a kinesthetic learner and I love a good discussion. There was no place for any of that within my Christian education. In my late high school years, I toyed with the idea of becoming a teacher but nothing ever came of that dream. The idea of college just became too much to try to figure out in the midst of all of the other things going on in my life. Even being a teacher was a downgrade from another childhood dream of being a doctor. Public school in the 70’s taught me I could be anything, the church and Christian school undid all of that.

Steve Dahl took what little bit of self-esteem I had and crushed it. That experience made me feel dirty and sinful. I had a pretty good body image before he came into my life but that all changed. I started to see my body as a sinful trap that kept ensnaring this godly man. I felt betrayed by my body because at times I enjoyed the attention he gave me. I started to see my body as something that needed to be hidden, controlled and prayed for. I certainly did not feel fearfully and wonderfully made. I did not feel created in god’s image. All of the things that made me a woman seemed evil and wrong. Eve was my mother and well we all know how things went for her.

Age 11

Catching a husband seemed important. I worried about being attractive but not too attractive or attractive in the wrong way. I was half Mexican and so that added an extra level of difficulty. I could not get a straight answer about who it was ok for me to marry. At that time interracial marriage was considered wrong and there were no other Mexicans in our congregation. I felt that my being half Mexican meant I needed to find a Mexican husband, and that seemed like a tall order. I dated Caucasians boys but I always felt the undertone of racism that existed there. I would not be anybody’s first choice. I was tainted by my molestation and the color of my skin. I felt lesser. My parents were not part of the in crowd and that also lead to me feeling like a second-class citizen. It made me feel even smaller.

About 15

Yesterday I was talking with some other survivors about who we could have been had we not grown up in the UPC environment. We all feel like girls interrupted. Our childhood interrupted and corrupted by Calvary Gospel church. Our innocence was stolen. We were not allowed to be kids. The adults always seemed to have their minds in the gutter and so every innocent thing became an opportunity for sin and especially sex to invade our lives, and yet no protection was offered to keep us safe from the real dangers. Predators were protected and supported while victims were scorned and not to be trusted. We received a substandard education and the church seemed to care more about whether or not our skirts had slits than whether or not be could go to college. The adults in my life didn’t seem to care about the lack of food in my home or about the devastation that my abuse caused in my life. If they had done that one thing, protected me from my abuser my life could have been so different. If they had offered loving support and reassurance my life could have been so much better. They took beautiful, bright, and hopeful young girls and turned them into anxious, fearful, and damaged women.

Now as we try to raise awareness about what happened to us all the church can do is scorn us. They can’t seem to understand or they don’t care to see what they have done to us. These things are not things you just move on from it takes hard work, support, and a lifetime of striving to overcome. There isn’t a single one of us who hasn’t been striving to be better no matter what our damage is. We don’t desire to be bitter we desire justice and we hope to save other children from the fate we have suffered. We were girls interrupted but now we are women seeking to bring about change.

Last year my word for the year was restoration. I wanted to go back to the time before I was so afraid. I wanted to see my body as a miracle and a blessing and I wanted to say goodbye to shame once and for all. I worked to remember who I was before my worth was called into question. Last year was a big year. My life has totally changed. I feel like my life has been restored. I’m taking chances again and I’m daring to go after what I want. I’ve stepped out of the shadows and I’ve become more engaged in my community and politics. I’ve been reunited with old friends and found many new friends and supporters. I’ve learned I’m not alone thanks to #metoo/#churchtoo. I am not the person the church might like you to think I am. I’m not bitter, I’m strong. I’m not trying to engage them in spiritual warfare, I’m trying to seek justice for my child self. I’m trying to tell the truth and speak for all of those who cannot speak for themselves. Wonder Woman doesn’t seem so out of reach now.

D

Crime, Fear, Leadership, Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

On The Edge

Today I feel on the edge. Last night the dam broke and all I could do is cry and there doesn’t seem to be an end to these tears. My heart is wrecked from my own pain and the pain of all of the other victims. Yes, some of these tears are from sorrow, but mostly they are tears of anger. People keep reminding me that I’m brave and courageous, I don’t know about that. What I do know is that I’m filled with rage towards the people who hurt so many and those who covered it up. My heart is so heavy and the tears threaten each and every moment of my existence.

My mind always seeks to understand. How can it be that so many children were left unprotected? How can those in authority sleep at night knowing they’ve allowed predators to go free? Forget the Bible and Jesus, how can any moral human be ok with all of that? How can anyone with a soul watch children grow up and be a part of their lives on an almost daily basis and then just shrug when they are wounded in a way that will profoundly change the rest of their life?

This morning the full force of all of this hit me! It can be hard to see people you know so personally as evil but today I’m calling it like it is. I’m tired of twisting myself into pretzels trying to figure out their motives and all of the cultural reasons why seemingly good people go along with bad leadership. There is no excuse. No amount of marriage problems, lust problems, or whatever excuse he is using today will ever excuse what Steve Dahl did to me. There is nothing to understand. He is a pedophile and that is really all I need to know. He is out there in his community and still a danger to those around him. My feelings about Pastor Grant are the same. I don’t care who he was trying to protect, I don’t care about his bad publicity concerns, I don’t care if he was obligated by law to report, what he did in my situation was evil. He was supposed to be my shepherd and teacher. All he taught me was fear, and how little value I had within his congregation.

So I’ve said all of that to say, they should expect no mercy. My concern is for the victims. I believe in cause and effect. They are trying to play the victim now, saying that we are all bitter and seeking to destroy the church. Sadly they are not being honest about their role in their own destruction. I’m sorry if this post comes across as raw and unpolished. One thing you will always get from me is honesty and today this is where I’m at.

D

Assemblies of God Church, Childhood, Family, Fear, Government, isolation, Poverty, United Pentecostal Church

Isolation, Bootstraps, and Fear of the Government

My mother was a very strong woman. She often worked two jobs and still made the time to do things like refinishing the living room floor. We were very poor for most of my childhood but my mother would not consider asking the government for assistance. In the 70’s it was much easier for men to get out of paying child support and my father very rarely paid anything. Because of her stubborn resistance regarding asking for help, we often were on the edge of losing our housing and we often did not have enough to eat. I would walk home from school at lunch and scoop peanut butter out of the jar because that is all we had. I also have memories of my mother fishing for dinner. If she did not catch anything we did not have dinner. At times she would keep a cooler with milk, bologna, and maybe some kind of fruit. When you don’t have electricity it can be impossible to cook or keep food cold. It wasn’t always that bad but it happened pretty regularly.

Where did her resistance regarding asking for help come from? It can be traced back to her parents and religion. My grandparents were rugged people who believed you should help yourself through hard work and determination. They tended to only associate with others from their church because of fear of the world and the devil’s influence on it. They passed that fear down to my mother. They felt that you never ask the government for assistance and you don’t let them into your life if you can help it. This means don’t call the police unless you are dying and never answer the door for social services. You should never apply for things like food stamps because you would have to fill out government forms, thus giving them info about yourself and because you should be able to help yourself through hard work.

All of this kind of thinking tends to lead to isolation. You cannot ask for help without shame, you can only associate with others from your church, and your church is pretty anti-government. On the surface, it might seem like the UPC is patriotic and pro-government, but that isn’t really the truth. My grandparent’s Assemblies of God church was pretty much the same. Once you are isolated from the community around you all you can do is hope your church will help, in our case that help never came.

I have many memories of sitting on the floor at my grandparent’s house listening to the adults talking. They often talked about the end times and the One World Government. They speculated about who the anti-Christ was and how he would take over the U.S. They talked about the government being able to watch us through our televisions and about how someday they would be able to see through the walls of our homes. They felt we were already being watched. I know this may sound crazy to someone who has not grown up around this stuff but I assure you they believed it all. My mother and her family saw the government as evil and this meant you did not go to them unless you had no other option.

This distaste for the government may have led to my molestation not being reported. Sure the church did not want the bad press of having a molestation case coming out of their church, but there is also a distrust of the government happening there. In the end, the pastor is your government. He makes the rules, punishes the sinners, and decided who rises and who falls. You cannot question him because that is taboo.

1 Chronicles 16:22 “Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.”

Anyone could be the anti-Christ. It could even be the U.S. president. He might even be serving right now. With that always being the case then how could you trust the government? It will be the government that eventually gives out the mark of the beast so…you can see where all of the fear comes from. The end result makes pastors into kings of their own little kingdoms. They are not to be questioned and if you do you will soon find yourself out in that cruel world they have warned you about. You will be shunned and subject to a different type of isolation.

All of these beliefs kept my family in poverty and kept my mother suffering for much of her life. It makes me sad that she worked herself to death trying to live and pay medical bills. It makes me angry that her mental illness went untreated for so long because she thought it was sin and not illness causing her depression. If she had not been afraid maybe she could have received help from the county with childcare, food stamps, and medical assistance. How could my life have been different if I had better medical care, enough food so that I could concentrate on school, and childcare so I wouldn’t have to be a latchkey kid? If some of these things had been in place maybe I would have not been such a good target for Steve Dahl. Being with him was an escape from a pretty hard life, at least I knew he would feed me.

D

Leadership, Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

Bitter

Calvary Gospel church has responded. We have been called liars, bitter, and they have accused us of lashing out at the church to bring about its destruction. In every way, they have sought to discredit what we are trying to say. They claim that they have always reported incidents of abuse, but those of us who were victims know this isn’t true. The most common thing I have heard is that we should just let it go and give it to god. We are going about this the wrong way, and that we should get on with our lives.

Being called bitter is a common thing within the UPC. If you ever decide to leave or disagree with the leadership it is because you are bitter. If you are sick and you don’t understand why god hasn’t healed you, it could be because you are bitter. If you say a crime has been committed against you, you should be quiet because you sound bitter. Calling someone bitter is what is used whenever they want to shut you up and control you. Well, that trick doesn’t work on me anymore.

The first person I told about my abuse was Shannon Ramsey. She has passed away and that fact makes me very sad. I could tell as soon as I told her she was horrified, but she was only 19 and I’m sure she had no idea what to do. She went home and told the couple she lived with, Jeanette and Chuck Cox. Jeanette told Shannon to tell me if I did not tell the pastor she would. So then I went and made an appointment with the pastor. Pastor Grant knew because I told him and his wife Darlene knew because he told her everything. Here are the names of the other people in leadership at that time. Roy Grant, the pastor’s son was my youth pastor. Jim Rutherford was my school principal. George O’Neil was a minister and was also the one who baptized me. Felix Crowder was also in ministry, focused on music and the campus ministry. John Seidl was just getting started in ministry at this point. Chuck Cox was a Sunday school teacher and aspiring preacher. Rich Thomas and William Thorpe were both elders at that time, and I know there were other elders I just cannot recall everyone who was in service at that point. These are the men who were in leadership when my abuse happened. Their wives knew too but would have had little power to do anything, unless they broke away from church leadership and went to the cops. I’m not naming them because I’m bitter, I’m naming them because some of them are shifting blame. They were the adults and by going along with leadership they helped cover up a crime.

To understand the scope of this you have to understand how the church works. Everyone knows most everything about everyone else. Gossip is a fun pastime in a religion where most everything is forbidden. There is no way a couple would split up, a man (who was very popular within the church) would just up and leave, and a teenage girl would disappear without people wanting to know what the heck was going on. The kids may not have known but many of the adults did. They may not have known all the details but they knew enough. Because of the control, the leadership has over the congregation I’m sure none of those people would have felt safe stepping out and asking questions or deciding to act on their own. Straight and honest answers are never given so all that is left is gossip and innuendo.

They are not giving straight answers now. They are blame shifting, lying, and victim shaming. They are trying to make us shut up by saying things like, they are monitoring our Facebook pages etc…This makes me laugh a little because my Facebook page is locked down tight. I don’t think I’m their target though, they are targeting victims still in the church, or with family within the church, they are targeting those on the fringes who they fear might start talking. They are doing what they have always done, controlling through fear and intimidation, and with a sprinkle of damnation on the side.

Many of the people listed above are still at Calvary Gospel. Some have spun off and are now running their own churches. Roy Grant my former youth pastor is now the main pastor, John Grant has been granted the title of Bishop. I have to wonder if those who have moved on and started their own churches took with them the lessons John Grant taught them about how to deal with abused children? Roy certainly has, he is showing it in his response to us. No one who is currently in leadership has reached out to me or the other victims. No one has offered support or asked any questions. They are not any more interested in hearing our stories now than they were in hearing our stories when we were young. They just want us to shut up and stop being so bitter. I speak only for myself when I say my days of being quiet and shutting up are over. I have only begun to fight. I’m not bitter I’m awake, aware, and calling them out on their sins.

D

Childhood, Crime, Fear, Sexual Abuse, Shame, United Pentecostal Church

Shame and The Price of Being Female

Now that I have been networking with my little group of survivors I’m aware of the shame and fear installed into us throughout childhood. As we discuss next actions there is a fear and shame that permeates everything. Even now in adulthood, it can be hard to stand up to those who abused us and caused us so much pain. It can be hard to stand up to the Pastor when you are still afraid of him. I did not realize until I started writing my story that I still feel fear about confronting Pastor Grant and Calvary Gospel.

I was raised in a congregation where women are not believed or supported. Your thoughts, dreams, aspirations, interests, and opinions don’t matter. What matters is obedience. Women are treated like wild animals who need to be caged and trained to be docile and voiceless. You are taught from birth that women brought sin into the world. You are also taught that your body is dangerous and shameful. From a very early age, the responsibility for your body and how it affects others is laid in your hands. Men can’t be expected to control their god given urges but a preteen can be expected to have all of the control in the world. They teach young women that god expects them to be submissive to men and then they say you have to say no and safeguard your body until marriage. This can be very hard when you have men thirty years and older constantly flirting with you and trying to seduce you into giving them whatever they can get. These older men are savvy and they know how to groom their victims. Most of the young girls in this situation have no chance of coming out of the situation without shame. This is the price of being female.

Cover yourself completely, keep men safe from the sight of your knees or collarbone, but be pretty or you will not catch a husband. Having a husband and children is really the only path forward. Make yourself attractive but don’t wear makeup or jewelry because that makes you a Jezabel. Always be planning for marriage but don’t think about boys too much because that is sinful.

There is also fear. Fear of being caught, fear of the abuse continuing, being afraid to report, and the worst of all fears, fear of the judgment of an angry god. I know I lived in fear the entire time I was attending Calvary Gospel. I was afraid that someone would find out what Steve was doing to me. Then I was afraid to tell my pastor, and when I did tell I was afraid of the gossip I knew would come. I was afraid of what kind of embarrassing punishment I might have to endure, and I was afraid that maybe god wouldn’t forgive me. After each abuse, I would run to my room and pray beside my bed. I would cry and ask god to forgive me. I never felt clean. I never felt forgiven.

This was my childhood prayer, words attributed to my childhood hero King David from Psalm 51:

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.

Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.

Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.

O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

All of that was a big burden on the heart of a child. We who were abused within the church still carry the shame. The echoes of the crimes committed against us vibrate out even now. They have affected my choices in most areas of my life. Shame coupled with fear kept me in my first marriage for way too long. Both of those things have caused me to strive to keep myself small, under the radar, and uncertain of my worth. It has taken me until the age of 47 to really understand all of this. Who would I have been had someone protected me from this predator? What would I have done with my life had the church supported me and helped me to heal from the abuse? Would I have made better relationship choices, instead of choosing the same bad men over and over again? Would I be able to love my body instead of being at war with it for my whole life? I question myself a lot. I think this comes from not being believed. They did not really believe I was molested they believed I was an adulterer. Women who leave the church due to abuse are often characterized as being crazy, and even if you know you are not crazy it can lead you to distrust yourself.

Now I know I have worth and I try to remind the others like me of their worth. We are not forever broken or tarnished. We are not those little girls anymore. We are grown women, strong survivors who have children of our own. I have to keep reminding myself of that last part. I am a grown woman now and there is a reckoning coming, I intend to hold my abuser accountable and also those who covered up his crime. It might make my heart pound in my chest but I refuse to cower anymore. They might hold the power to make me flinch but I will not let them make me back down, I refuse to let fear and shame win!

D