Today I’m sharing a new story with you. Another victim of Calvary Gospel Church has decided to tell her story. I have always intended this blog to be a place where victims other than myself can also share their experiences. This is Rebecca’s story.
It’s my turn now. I’ve left Debbie high and dry while I’ve done a lot of processing, now it is time to tell my story. I struggle with where to start, as my story starts in the UPC when I was very young. How do I choose what to say in my first post? So please bear with me as I give the highlights and the can of worms will follow.
My parents joined Calvary Gospel United Pentecostal Church when I was in the 3rd grade. Soon after my sister and I were enrolled in the church’s school. My childhood was completely enveloped by the UPC. Parents were expected to take a backseat roll in favor of teaching whatever the church dictated. My parents questioned nothing, and allowed everything, as long as it was within the church’s walls. Needless to say, we were easy targets for anyone wanting to take advantage of vulnerable kids. If we questioned anything or any of the leaders, we were disciplined and labeled rebellious. Calvary Gospel is a tight-knit community, where any independent thought is quashed and shunning is commonplace, it can be frightening to show any independence. I witnessed parents who disowned children and teenagers forced to make public apologies in front of the congregation. It was built into all of us if the “man of god” said it, it was unquestionably true. I could say more about this but I need to move on.
So I was unlucky enough to catch the eye of one of my Sunday School teachers, who also helped out as a youth leader. Everyone knew he favored me and teased me about him constantly. I was called his “little girlfriend”. He would give me rides, leave notes in my school desk, show up at my house or my friend’s houses if he knew I was there, he came to every youth function, every service, everywhere I was.
In the eyes of Calvary Gospel Church, my predator was a great young man, a burgeoning minister. He was also 17 years older than me. I’m going to refer to him as “Ben”. I was 12 the first time he sexually assaulted me. He never even noticed or acknowledged that I never responded when he’d kiss me. I clearly wasn’t enjoying what he was doing and I resisted when he’d make me touch him. He would take my hand and force it onto his pants. This went on for years until we had full intercourse when I was 14. He was 31. I took my first pregnancy test at his job after hours when I was 15. I went on birth control shortly after.
During this time I wrote letters to a friend of mine telling some of what was happening. She told her sister and her older sister went to the pastor. One night after the evening service Ben found me and was very angry. He pushed me up against a car and told me I had to lie. He threatened me, telling me it would be my fault if he got into trouble, that he wouldn’t be able to able to become a minister. I was terrified of being caught, being humiliated, kicked out of the school, and shunned. So I lied. I told Pastor John Grant Sr. that I made it all up. Strangely, Pastor Grant accused the girl who brought him the letters of making them up herself to get attention, and he kicked her out of the choir. I felt completely responsible. It silenced me even more. Sadly this made me that much easier to manipulate, control, and abuse.
I can’t wrap my head around how all of the church adults knew we were a “couple”. How was it appropriate and acceptable for a 33-year-old man to be dating a 16-year-old girl? And of course, the sex continued. He would show up wherever I was. At my school, my job, at my friend’s houses, and my driver’s ed class. He once picked me up and took me to the duplex he shared with a few other guys. He was on top of me in his bed when he heard one of his roommates come home. He shoved me into his closet and shut the door hiding me so his roommate wouldn’t see. I don’t know how long I was in there. Maybe minutes, maybe an hour. It was long enough that he grabbed some old fast food cups and gave me one so he could tell my mom that he took me there to eat instead of where he had really taken me. All I know is, I felt so demeaned, so ashamed, so lost. I felt hopeless. He controlled my every move. I couldn’t date anyone else, I couldn’t go anywhere, I couldn’t do anything, without him. After every sexual contact, he would make me get down on my knees and read Psalm 51 out loud and repent. Thinking of it makes me sick to this day. I hated it. I never liked praying out loud. I never saw the point in wanting others to listen to me. My prayers were between me and god. But I did it, read the Psalm and begged for forgiveness. “Ben” would assure me that he forgave me too.
Now I see the absurdity of it, forgive me for what?! Being a temptation when I was 12?! But in the Calvary Gospel culture, it was my fault. Men were never held accountable for their actions. I saw younger girls that were also preyed on by older men and watched how the men would be sheltered and protected while their victims the young girls would pay the price. It was reinforced again and again that the adults around me knew and would do nothing. Once when I told Pastor Grant what had happened, when I actually built up the courage, he told me not to “rock the boat” because it would “make the church look bad”. I knew I was being eaten alive by this system. I was hopeless, but like any good UPC’er, I made it look good.
I should wrap this up for now. It’s like a plate of spaghetti, one thought/memory leads to another and another…It’s difficult to stay on one path when I have so many stories and details to add. But I want to add my voice to Debbie’s, and many others, that were and probably still are being victimized by the UPC. After all of these years, I’m not the scared and depressed little girl anymore. It’s my time. I will be heard.