Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

A Second Victim Steps Forward – Rebecca’s Story

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.

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C-PTSD, Childhood, Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

I Have Been Away

I have been away from this blog for a little bit. Truth be told I think I needed to take a break from thinking about it all for a while. I have been working hard on political activism all spring and summer, pouring all of my energy into making the world a better place. I really try to keep politics out of this blog because I do not want to alienate any survivors who might find help here. That being said I am also devoted to honesty and telling my story from that place and current events definitely have affected that.

Art Heals

All of my social media is awash in Kavanaugh coverage. Because of the volunteer work that I do within my community, I am on social media a lot. I connect with others online about actions, events, and the news. When I’m away from it for even one day I feel like when I return I have all of these fires to put out and folks to support. This summer has required me to give all the emotional support I can both to those I love and to myself. I count myself lucky to have such an amazing partner who makes sure that I eat, sleep, and smile as much as possible. It helps to know that he is beside me every step of the way. He also keeps tabs on my abuser which is very comforting to me. Knowing that Steve Dahl loves Madison and visits often has made my home feel unsafe.

My Sweetheart

As I have observed everything going on with Kavanaugh I hear echoes of things that have been said to me regarding my abuse. It weighs heavy on my chest like a large boulder that I cannot lift off. Some days rage threatens every moment and every breath I take, other days I have to try desperately to keep the tears from flowing because I know that if they start I will not be able to turn them off. Then there are the days when I sit and stare into space, those days are the worst. I feel immobilized, frozen, like prey trying not to be detected by a world that feels unsafe to me.

I have heard people say they do not understand why Dr. Ford did not report when everything happened to her all of those years ago. I cannot say that reporting would have helped. Often when someone is caught not much happens to them and the accuser pays a very heavy price if she is even believed at all. What I hear those in power saying is, we believe this happened to her but we do not care. That was my experience. No one ever said they did not believe me, they just did not care. They still do not care. What they care about is protecting their male ally. They care about male authority and the sacredness of their organization. They don’t care about me and they never did.

Age 11

I hear some floating the idea that maybe she is just mistaken. It was really some other guy who just looks like Kavanaugh. I’m here to say that is unlikely. I remember my trauma very well, in fact, I remember it better than almost anything in my life. That is how trauma works. I remember what I was wearing, what he was wearing, where we were, what it smelled like, and what music was playing in the background. I might not be able to tell you the date but I know what season it was and what grade I was in. C-PTSD will ensure that you never ever forget.

The survivor knows that when she comes forward she is about to stand trial. There is always a price to be paid when you are a truth teller. Dr. Ford has paid and will continue to pay a heavy price for coming forward with her truth, for trying to do the right thing. When I started writing this blog last winter I braced myself for the backlash and it came like a storm into my life. I was accused of trying to ruin a good man’s life. They said he has led a clean good life since taking my childhood away. Apparently, the crimes committed against me mean nothing because he has been a good guy ever since. Remember these men rarely offend only once. Some questioned whether I even attended the church at the age I claimed all of this happened. All they need to do to figure that out is to look at their Sunday School, School, and Baptism records. The worst part is who came at me. Men mostly, many who have never met me, and some who knew me throughout childhood. Some of them wanting to protect the church and worst many who wanted to protect their friend. They have tried to shift the blame to me and my parents. They are happy for anyone to bear the blame as long it isn’t pastor Grant or Steve Dahl. They have been full of advice for me about how I should forgive for my own sake, take it to Jesus, and get on with my life.

Friends and supporters
Friends and supporters

The silver lining to this storm is women so many women and a few men. By telling my story I have opened the door and now I have so many allies. I have been telling my story since it happened but when I brought it completely out into the sunlight women came from all over to give me love, support, and even better they stood beside me and confronted my abuser. I hope that Dr. Ford sees all of the women protesting, holding vigils, sending her postcards, and sending her love and support. I believe her and I’m hoping my silver lining can be hers as well.

C-PTSD, Childhood, Fear, Rapture, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

C-PTSD and Rapture Anxiety

*If you are triggered by rapture anxiety tread carefully with this post*

I have complex PTSD. My condition comes from many different sources and for multiple reasons. One of the biggest causes is rapture theology. I know that I have written about this topic often so today I want to come at it from a different angle. If you spend any time on the internet you have probably heard about triggers. I have many of them and some days they can really make life complicated.

I have spent much of my adult life trying to undo the damage done to me by the church. I know in my conscious mind that I no longer believe what I was taught but because it was taught to me at such a young age it did permanent damage. Over time things have become better but my triggers never go away completely. I have been putting this off because I know how crazy it sounds but I am also very committed to being honest here and so here it goes…

On most days these things don’t bother me that much but it only takes letting one in to start a cascade of anxiety. A bad day can come out of nowhere and before I know it it has taken over everything. I had a day like this recently and it all started on Twitter. I got up in the morning and I started to mindlessly scroll through Twitter. Another survivor retweeted a tweet featuring a photo of a guillotine. That person was talking about how that photo triggered her and seeing her post triggered me. I immediately felt a sense of dread and my pulse quickened. I started to breathe fast and shallow and I had to self-talk myself out of an unexpected panicked state. Once that door is opened it can be very hard to force it closed again. I start to move through my day trying to keep “I wish we’d all been ready” from playing on a loop in my brain. That first trigger opened the door for the second (that damn song) and that leads to the next, the dreaded white van. So a little later in my day I head out to walk my dog. I have my headphones on and I’m listening to a podcast in part to keep the rapture thoughts at bay. I turn a corner and there is a white van parked on the side of the road, my pulse speeds up again as I rush past it and try to push out the memories of the Unite van from A Thief In The Night. No, men are not coming to get me in order to force the mark of the beast on me, but my lizard brain doesn’t understand that. I talk to myself about how it is just a movie and how we don’t believe in that anymore but the dread lingers all day. My brain keeps shoving things in my face the guillotine, the song, the van. Over and over. Weird looking clouds and loud horns can add to my anxiety when I am in this state. Is that god returning in those creepy clouds, is that horn signaling the start of some apocalyptic hell scape? Later I decide to take a hot bath and pamper myself a little bit, while in the bath my eyes fall upon the shampoo bottle with the UPC code facing out towards me here again is another trigger. I try to resist my impulse to turn all of the bottles away from me so I can’t see the bar code. I don’t want to give into the anxiety soon I just turn them because I want to enjoy my bath, the song returns and my bath is ruined. Before long it is bedtime and I’m laying there trying to sleep. I’m on edge because the anxiety will not let me rest. I look out into the darkness and try to will my mind to be quiet. My inner child will not rest. She knows the danger out there, Unite might be coming for me at any moment. What if you are wrong lingers on the edges of my mind. I sometimes get up and go get a drink in the bathroom. As I walk into the room I see his electric razor sitting on the counter and I’m triggered again.

I know how this sounds, which is part of the reason it has taken me so long to write. It. Things are much better now than they were when I was younger. I don’t respond to these triggers in the same way every day. They have to catch me in the right moment, maybe I’m tired that day or feeling emotional. Maybe I’m already thinking about the church or rapture for some other reason. Sounds  and visual cues affect me worse than words but occasionally words can do it especially certain Bible quotes. “No man knows the day nor the hour…” “Two men will be in the field, one will be taken…”, 666. This is why I don’t participate in conversations online about the rapture because people will bring up these verses and always the Thief in the Night films, and then it is all over for me. When it gets really bad my brain just starts flashing images at me to force me to pay attention. When I was a kid this sweet woman from the church came to give my mother a Bible study. The Search for Truth Bible Study. This Bible study was very popular within our congregation and they wanted all new converts to go through it. It was a huge flip book that stood on the table by itself with large full-page black and white drawings. One of these drawings has stuck with my mind my whole life it featured the white throne judgment and after all of these years (I was 8 when I first saw it) I can still bring it up into my mind easily.

http://search4truth2.com/DOCs/study/search4truth1-chart.pdf

Start at page 54 and go through to the end and you will see what I mean. The night I had my salvation experience my pastor preached a fire and brimstone sermon that scared the crap out of my 10-year-old self. I fully believed that if I left that service unsaved I would burn forever. From my childhood church experience I have almost no memories of anyone talking about god’s love, it seems like it was mostly turn or burn on repeat. I heard it at home, at church, and at school. It was inescapable.

I wrote this to give you all an idea of what it is like to deal with C-PTSD. When the church exposes young minds to ideas, images, and thoughts they are not ready for or able to fully understand they are committing child abuse. My young mind was damaged in a way that I cannot fully fix. I cannot predict when all of these thoughts will rush at me. Rapture theology is not the only thing contributing to my condition but it is a HUGE part of it and the most unpredictable.

D

Childhood, Family, Fear, Rapture, Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

The Monstersk

There are many things to be afraid of from my childhood but the thing that has scared me the most is rapture culture. It still haunts me at 47 years old. I have complex PTSD due to this teaching. I have had to work with a therapist who specializes in spiritual abuse in order to stop having flashbacks and nightmares. None of that is gone completely, it is the monster under my bed and just behind every door, always threatening my peace of mind. If I let it in even a little bit I will spend a week fighting it back into its cage. It is real and more dangerous than any man who ever put his hands on me.

My mother was tormented by fears about the rapture. She could never be perfect enough so she spent long hours on her knees praying and that meant she was not really looking after me. As a small child, I would sit outside her door and worry about if she was ok. She would cry and speak in tongues for hours, I would listen and try to play with my toys…alone. I know that much of my adult anxiety comes from the rapture culture I was raised in. I was always worried about what unconfessed sin I might be missing that would cause me to miss the rapture. I could never rest easy and I could never just be a kid. Add to that those grown men trying to creep on me from the 6th grade on, my life was always about trying to be purer.  I thought something I was doing was causing them to lust after me, and that might make me be left behind.

In 1972 a film came out called Thief In The Night. It spawned a series of 4 films and my church would show them once a year. I was two in 1972 and one of my earliest memories is of my dad taking me out of a showing of that film at the Assemblies of God church we were attending. There is not a time I can remember when I did not have nightmares about those films. I could not sleep alone as a kid because I was afraid of being left behind. My mother finally forced me to sleep alone in the 5th grade and I think that is when my insomnia really kicked in. I have had horrible insomnia for most of my life. Tired is the rule, not the exception. I don’t believe in the Christian god or the rapture any longer but my poor lizard brain still does. That is what is so awful about this teaching. When you start teaching it to very young children it becomes part of them and they are stuck with it for life. My therapist explained to me that the brain cannot always tell the difference between something it sees that is a movie and something actually happening, especially when you see it at such a young age. This is why my brain thinks it witnessed a beheading. I am traumatized like a soldier who actually witnessed someone being executed because my child mind could not logic out the difference. This is an interesting thing to research if you are into brain science like I am. I have been trying to hack this out of my brain for many many years.

When I was in early elementary school I fell asleep under a plastic sled. I had been using it to create a fort in my living room. When my mother came home from work she could not find me. My little body was completely hidden under the sled. She screamed and ran to our neighbor’s house sure that I had been taken and she had been left. Suddenly all of these adults come crashing into our living room screaming my name, it was not a nice way to wake up. She was relieved and I was freaked out, it really drove home that she and her friends really believed this stuff.

Since starting this blog I have spoken to many people who suffer the same fears that I do, we all attended the same church. The aftermath of this teaching is anxiety, fear, nightmares, and depression. I wish someone could explain to me why my parents and church leaders thought it was ok to show small children these films. They are violent and if they had been rated they would have not been appropriate for kids. They showed people being beheaded via guillotine and they featured a child awaiting execution. They showed babies starving due to parents not accepting the mark of the beast. Oh and the people running from the One World Government. I spent so many sleepless nights due to dreaming of being chased by men in white vans and armbands. To this day white vans, helicopters, barcodes, and guillotines can still trigger me. It is an awful price to pay if you are an adult raised in this culture. I can be just out enjoying my day and suddenly I’m triggered and I will often have a panic attack. All this because I see a white van parked on the side of the road. My logical brain could care less but my hindbrain really thinks it is a threat. I will have heart palpitations and I will experience fight or flight sensations. I just have to power through it so it doesn’t take over the day.

So once a year my church would show these films 4 nights in a row. They said it was to save the lost, but really it was to keep the congregants in line. After the film, the altar would be filled with congregants and maybe a stray “lost” person. You may be saying to yourself, yeah but they are just movies. The thing is when you are shown them in early childhood, and then the pastor reinforces the teaching all year-long until you watch them again, that all feels pretty real. Every adult in your life tells you it is real. In your world it is real. Our pastor would make a speech before every film saying that we don’t actually support everything in these films. What he meant was that they were softer than his teaching. The films showed people being saved after the rapture and he did not teach that. If you missed the rapture your only hope was to be killed for not taking the mark. Add to that constant talk of demons and devils trying to deceive you and oppress you, and you can start to see where all of the anxiety comes from.

This is child abuse. I have to wonder what I would have accomplished in my life had I not been fighting to keep my sanity. Not turning in predators is child abuse. Who would I be if I had not been preyed upon by those men? I’m happily married now, but I have been through two divorces because I have an awful track record with men. One of my exes was emotionally and physically abusive and the other one ran off with a much younger woman. By the way, the second one grew up in the same church as I did. I have to wonder if that has anything to do with his upbringing and what he saw happening all around him. He basically told me I was too old. My relationship with my parents suffered due to what they exposed me to and the resentment I felt about that. All of the people from my childhood I basically avoid like the plague, which has left me alone to struggle through the wreckage of my childhood. I’m going to end this post with gratitude. I have found others and I think they understand my struggle, I feel validated and their compassion has warmed my heart. I have 4 amazing kids who I love more than anything. They will never know the sorrow of being raised like I was. Lastly, I have a husband who has stood beside me as I reveal this story and I know he understands. I’m grateful for having survived.

D