Childhood, Compassion, Family, Forgiveness, Holiness Standards, Leadership, Parents, Poverty, Self Esteem, Sexual Abuse, Shame, Trauma, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

You Are Worthy

Today I want to tell you that you are worthy. If you were sexually abused as a child you are worthy. You did not draw that older man into sin. He made his choices and he was an adult. You were a child and children cannot consent. I am so sorry if the church did not protect you, love you, and help you to heal. You deserve love, support, and an apology. I am still stunned at Calvary Gospel’s silence. I am experiencing them as no more loving now than they were when I was a child.

You are worthy even if your family did not dress right, or if you are brown or black, and even if your family did not tithe enough. A child shouldn’t have to pay for their parent’s choices. None of us can control the color of our skin or the family we are born into. We certainly could not have controlled our parent’s actions.

You are worthy even if you made mistakes, snuck into the movies, or listened to top 40 radio when your parents were out. These things are not sins, they are a normal part of growing up. No one perfectly listens to the adults in their life. Normal human development dictates that teens challenge adults, it is how we grow and become independent.

You are worthy if you wore a slit in your skirt, asked too many questions, or got bored in church. If you kissed a boy behind the church camp auditorium when you were supposed to be inside, if you faked being sick to stay home from church, and even if you faked speaking in tongues because you were afraid to disappoint your parents.

I see you trying to pretend that you are ok, trying to heal, trying to deal with the coldness coming from the people who raised us. I see you dealing with trauma, being the family outcast, never being 100% sure if you made the right decision when you left the church. I see you wondering if you should have kept your mouth shut about it all.

I understand not being educated properly and how that stays with you all your life. I understand playing small, staying invisible, always waiting for something bad to happen. I understand feeling weird in the world like you can never quite fit in. I understand the world not understanding where we come from and how exhausting it can be to try to explain.

For the men out there I see you too. Struggling to come to terms with what has happened to the women you grew up with, ministered to, your sisters and friends. I see you having many of the same struggles as I have only different at the same time. I know that there are survivors among you and when you are ready to tell your story we will be there for you as you have been there for us.

Consider this my love letter to all the survivors out there no matter what your damage is. You are worthy. Please don’t let those who refuse to ask for forgiveness, who refuse to take responsibility, and who choose to stand in judgment rather than lend aid define you. I see you as strong, brave, and overcomers. We have overcome the lack of love, support, grace, and normal human kindness we should have received as kids. We have found each other and created a life raft for one another and any new survivors who choose to join us. You are good even if you are not perfect. You are worthy.

 

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Childhood, Crime, Forgiveness, Leadership, Parents, Pastor John Grant, United Pentecostal Church

What About The Parents

Mom and I

As things have unfolded many people have asked me about my parents and their role in all of this. I have covered this at length here in my blog. Feel free to go back through the archives and you will see I do not let my parents off the hook. Some have said that the parents should be prosecuted for not reporting. My parents are no longer with us. I feel one thing that is missing in the discussion about parents is an understanding of how Calvary Gospel works.

I tell my truth here in MY blog. I believe that the UPC and Calvary Gospel are a cult. In Madison, the church revolves around John Grant and a cult of personality. He may be a bishop now and not the senior pastor but that doesn’t mean that his shadow doesn’t loom large. Everyone within the church is expected to follow him and “question not God’s anointed.” Parents often let the pastor make decisions that really should be made by parents. If the pastor says do not report to the police they will most likely do what he says. I’m not saying they are off the hook, but I am saying many of them are brainwashed. I would ask for the same understanding of these people as you would extend to any cult victim. I know that pastor Grant told one set of parents to let him worry about reporting and the perpetrator. He instructed them to go home and take care of their daughter. They took this to mean things were being taken care of.

There is a strong message of not bringing the police into the church. This is for many reasons, one is because it could bring scandal and shame onto the church. It might keep new folks from coming in and getting saved. This message is sent to both victims and their parents. You also have to understand that these people believe God will handle it all. God will forgive, the victim will forgive, her parents will forgive, and then it will all go away. Meanwhile, the young person who has been victimized is left to twist in the wind. Their feet having been set on a path of trauma and burden. They suffer the trauma of what has happened to them for the rest of their life and along with that so much more. The burden of not talking about things is big, move on and forgive no matter the cost. If you can’t do that (guess what most can’t) then the problem is with you. You haven’t truly forgiven, you’re not trusting God enough, God would heal you if you’d just figure out the formula and get over it.

Parents have often gone to the pastor for help. “Please keep this creep away from my daughter” they cry! They might inquire as to why 30+-year-old men hang out with the youth group. Often they are labeled trouble makers and dismissed and ignored. Here is where the real struggle is…they are taught that the UPC is the only place you can go to be saved. Calvary Gospel is the place or another oneness church. No one else has the truth. So they feel they must keep attending and bringing their babies to the church. So what do you do? If we don’t go to church there our babies won’t be saved, if we do go to church there the creepy guy is going to keep trying to groom our daughter. Plus the pastor seems to think we are nuts or overreacting. They are taught that the church is a godly place, a safe place and that the pastor is head over it all. This is why he is responsible. You can’t say “question not God’s anointed” and expect people to trust and obey their pastor when he makes good choices and then not also apply this when he makes wrong decisions.

In the end, the whole thing is about control and image. Children are sacrificed so that the church can continue to look superior. John Grant is crying about his reputation. His reputation is more important to him than the lives of so many who have been hurt by his decisions and leadership. Hell and damnation hang in the balance for these parents. They have been taught that if you go against your pastor or take your family out of the church you will go to hell. A literal hell burning you forever and ever hell. You might miss the rapture and your children might have to be beheaded to gain entrance into heaven. Many of these parents make the best choices they can and they now fully admit the choices were wrong and they were misled. Other parents see what is happening and allow it to happen because honestly, that is the church culture. You see it everywhere! Older guys and younger women. Because you cannot date outside the church some parents are just glad their daughter is being pursued by a “godly man.” Many parents would never expect that these men are trying to have sex with their daughters. Sex outside of marriage is forbidden. Plus the pastor sees all of this and says nothing. No one ever tells the men to stop, so it seems as if he condones the behavior and since he is like a god it leaves people confused.

Some of the men prey on kids like me who had sick parents. My mom sent me to church believing I would be safe and that anyone who attended could be trusted because they were God’s people. She trusted pastor Grant. I went to my pastor and not my mother because he was the highest authority I could go to. My mother had no control over Steve but pastor Grant did. Pastor Grant was the biggest man I knew, the highest figure in my life besides God. As a little girl I went to the man I thought had God’s ear and I told him my troubles. Sure my mother should have done more, but this doesn’t mean that pastor Grant has no responsibility. I spent more time at church than I did at home. Not a single person, pastor Grant or church member ever checked in on me. No one prayed with me or asked me if I needed a friend or support. Wouldn’t you think he would have directed people to take care of me knowing what he knew? Instead, I held all my truth inside and it crippled me.

I hope this helps folks to understand. As I stated previously please go back and read some of my other posts.

D

 

 

Compassion, Forgiveness, Leadership, Sexual Abuse, Southern Baptist Church, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

What Will It Take?

As I sit at my desk tonight the question that sits at the front of my mind is what will it take? I and many others have lifted up our voices and spoke truth to power and yet they still can’t seem to find their hearts. Since I have told my story not one single person who is still in the church has reached out to me. In many ways, this doesn’t surprise me because once you are out of the church you are nothing to them, on the other hand, I have to believe that somewhere in that congregation there has to be one person with a heart. If only it was as simple as finding someone with a heart. Once you find that, then you have to find someone who isn’t afraid. Sadly many people who still attend and even those who have broken away are still afraid.

Lois Gibson has called Calvary Gospel Church out on her Spiritual Abuse blog over and over and yet no one has responded. She recently realized that they blocked her on Twitter so it is obvious that they know about her blog and they can see that she has heard the stories.

I am sure that they are talking about me and others because that is what they have always done, it is a testament to the hold they have over their congregants that not one person has broken ranks. I believe it would never even occur to them to apologize or seek healing between us and them. In their minds, they are with god and therefore right and we are not and therefore wrong. To be honest I cannot ever remember them apologizing for anything. I have no memory of any minister or person in authority saying they were wrong.

It isn’t just the local church the UPCI has not responded either. My guess is they assume there is not much we can do to them legally so they do not care. It is sad that they feel they bear no responsibility for the young souls they allowed to be wounded. I understand that they cannot be held responsible for the actions of every person within their congregations but they should be held responsible for the things they know about and what they did with that knowledge.

It isn’t just the UPC that is guilty of this behavior. If you follow #churchtoo you will see that the Southern Baptist Church has acted in a similar fashion. It has happened in the Catholic church and in non-denominational churches. I feel that if American Christianity wants to stop losing members it needs to address this behavior across the board. The response from these organizations shouldn’t be to call into question whether or not the wounded person really believed in god or to call upon the survivors to forgive. It shouldn’t be to lash out at people who are struggling to heal themselves demanding that the wounded repent and come back to god. What is needed is a heartfelt apology, and a willingness to look within and see where they made mistakes. Next change needs to happen, there needs to be a willingness to value young women, people of color, and those who don’t have a lot of money to put in the offering plate. They might have to sacrifice some of their sacred cows if those people are causing harm and driving people away. The reform that is needed would be very hard but necessary journey.

If you have any questions about my journey or would like me to talk about something in particular here on the blog please let me know!

Thanks,

Debbie

Forgiveness, Sexual Abuse, Sin, United Pentecostal Church

Forgiveness and Casting Stones

Often over the past week, I’ve caught myself thinking about forgiveness. When is it appropriate to forgive? Is forgiveness necessary? I’m suspicious of the idea of radical forgiveness that is often taught in self-help books, new age philosophy, and some Christianity. I’ve tried it and it has never really worked for me.

For much of my adult life, I’ve tried to forgive the worst crimes committed against me. Everyone told me to do it for myself, I wouldn’t heal without it. It did not feel right at the time and it doesn’t feel right now. Where do we get our ideas about forgiveness? I would argue that our ideas about forgiveness come from our culture’s Christian underpinnings. I have had many Christians tell me that I must forgive because god forgave me. Those types of arguments do not work on me because I am no longer a Christian. They’ve also pointed out to me that I’m sinful and therefore have no right to cast stones. This too has no meaning for me because I no longer believe. I have to wonder where that line of logic ends. So if someone murders my child will I be accused of casting stones if I call out the killer? If a person’s home is robbed are they supposed to stay silent because they have sin in their past? Maybe this rule is only applied to church abuse victims? I do not believe that casting stones is the same thing as calling attention to a problem.

I’ve been accused of being bitter and of trying to destroy a man’s life. I don’t feel that finally having the courage to speak truth to power is being bitter. My actions will not be what destroys his life, his actions set that all in motion many years ago. He continues down the road to destruction by minimizing what he did through referring to it as adultery and not child abuse. I suspect his dishonesty will be his undoing. He claims to have asked for forgiveness years ago, but how can that be so when he cannot even speak the truth about what he did? Those around him seek to protect him from his crimes and part of that is by turning the focus onto me and what I may be doing wrong.

In the end, telling victims that they need to forgive is a way to take the heat off of the perpetrator and focus it back onto the victim. It becomes about whether or not she/he has forgiven and whether or not she/he believes they’re sin free and therefore worthy to call out sin. It gives the victim a task to complete and a way to judge the victim whenever they attempt to speak up for themselves. Using the coded language of adultery instead of child abuse is a way to minimize the crimes of the perpetrator and create crimes for the victim. She/he is now no longer a victim but a sinner just like the abuser, guilty of sexual sin and therefore unworthy to cast stones. Pardon my language but that is some bull $%^&.

Since I started writing this blog I’ve noticed a few things. I am becoming stronger and stronger every day. Through telling my story I have received so much goodwill and understanding from people. By bringing it out into the light and revealing the crime I’ve gained support in a way I’ve never experienced before. This blog has led me to others like me and allies that I would’ve never had contact with had I just forgiven and kept it hidden. I don’t see forgiveness for Steve Dahl in my future. This doesn’t mean that I intend to think about what happened 24/7 and let it consume my life, it means that this happened to me and it was awful and I will never forget. I believe there is a time and place for forgiveness, it comes after getting honest about what you’ve done and trying to make amends. It doesn’t come through victim blaming and minimizing your crimes.

 

 

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.

 

 

Compassion, Crime, Forgiveness, Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

Missing

My story is being read by more and more people. I appreciate everyone who takes the time to stop by my blog and go on this journey with me. I have been receiving lots of feedback and I would like to address some of that here.

I’m finding some Christians feel a real need to defend god. They feel like my story is an attack on god or that I’m somehow blaming him for what happened to me. Often their comments are filled with statements like “don’t blame god” or “god never fails” or “I’m sorry you feel that way, I hope you will come back to god” or “god will provide and protect”. Please understand I have no desire to debate god with anyone. I have made my choices in life and I’m happy with them. I don’t care what you believe as long as it helps you get through life, makes you happy, and doesn’t hurt others. What concerns me is the missing lack of attention to the content of my posts. I don’t think it helps anyone to debate who is worse Catholics or United Pentecostals. Arguing over whether or not god was blamed in my post or whether or not it is all UPC churches is not the issue.

I know this can be hard for some folks to hear but I don’t see how god is the issue at all. Why even bring god into it? In my view, the issue is adults and how they commit crimes and are not held accountable. At issue are the systems that make it possible for people to get away with hurting children, or how children fall through the cracks. Another thing to consider is how the church is a business and men are protected because they are the ones paying the tithes. Rape is happening within UPC churches and some people’s main concern is to preach to me? It worries me that I have laid my soul bare and many don’t want to talk about how we stop what is happening.

I know it can be scary when it feels like something you cherish is at risk. As humans, it is normal to want to protect what you cherish. For some people that is the Christian god, pastors, and churches. I would only ask you to take a moment and just be human, show some empathy and compassion, and be willing to look critically at what has happened, and is continuing to happen and ask yourself if you are ok with doing nothing. Do you feel that praying for me is enough? Will you carry my story with you into the pew this Sunday? Will you ask your church leadership what its policies are regarding sexual assault? If those policies are not in line with the law will you leave that church or take action to change the policies?

Whether we agree on the topic of Christianity and god can we at least agree that sexual abuse of the young is wrong and that those who commit these crimes should be turned into the police? Can we also agree that those in leadership who cover up these acts should be turned into the police? I’m fine with people claiming forgiveness if that is what they believe, but should that forgiveness mean they suffer no consequences? When my children would disobey I forgave them immediately because I loved them, but I also made them suffer a consequence so they would understand that there is a cost to our actions. Shouldn’t these adults suffer a consequence as well? I love my country even if I don’t always agree with those in power. I respect my nation as a nation of laws. When an atheist breaks the law he should pay for that, and so should a Christian. Your house of worship or lack thereof should be of no bearing.

If you have any ideas on how we can work together to change the culture of abuse within spiritual communities I would love to hear about it!

D