As my story has become more known I’m hearing many stories from others who attended the church of my childhood. These stories are heartbreaking and have torn me up inside. I have wept tears for all of the girls who have been so hurt by this congregation and Pastor. I am aware that the little flame of my adolescence is still alive and burning within me. I want to do something to stop this from continuing to happen, I just don’t know what to do. Maybe that has always been the issue, I have never known what to do about it. In the end, it is my word against theirs and there are many more of them. For now, I’m going to keep telling my story and I intend to help others who have been hurt by this church. Their stories are not mine to tell, but if they decide to tell their truth I will offer this blog as a space to do that work. I will stand beside them as they tell their stories and help in any way that I can.
I have been trying to understand how this congregation seems to cultivate an atmosphere of older men preying on younger women/girls. It seems to both cultivate that and draw that type of man in. I’m sure that the teachings of women being submissive doesn’t help. If you have read my other entries you know I was molested by a man 20 years my senior. Not only did he molest me but he also molested at least 1 other teen. When I really sit and think about it, I was hit on by older men all the time. They flirted a lot and no one seemed alarmed that 2o something men would be hanging out and flirting with someone between the ages of 11-16. The age gaps were not always 20 years but they were still not appropriate.
When I was very young, again about 11 or 12 (They really started that young) both boys my age and older men started to notice me. I was an early bloomer physically so I could see how a man on the street might misunderstand my age, but these men in the church knew how old I was. I’m not complaining about the innocent attention of the boys my age. I remember having notes passed to me during church telling me how pretty I was, that is a sweet memory of sweet boys. I’m talking about grown men hanging out with young girls, flirting, and sometimes more.
I was 16 when I first had sex. The man I was dating at that point was 25. Let that sink in…he was a regular church attendee and 25 years old. Everyone knew we were dating and they knew I was 16. No one ever said boo to me about it. It was just accepted. This was a man who I had known for most of the time I attended that church. We continued to date after I left the church. He would swing back and forth between being out and being in. When I broke up with him he stalked me for a short time and even told me that I was his virgin in God’s eyes, therefore I could not break up with him. Thankfully I had a manager at the restaurant I was working at who told him to leave alone. He told him not to come in anymore and to stop following me. It worked but the pattern had been set because the next guy I dated was also 25. It seemed normal to me. As I look back on it now I have to wonder how my youth leaders and the pastor did not see the problem with a teenager dating someone who was a legal adult. I always thought I was the exception to the rule, but now after hearing other stories, I find that I am a part of the rule. As a young person, I thought that my pastor and congregation just did not like me enough to protect me. I knew I had faith and so it did not make sense why God did not answer my prayers and why he did not protect me. I thought there was something wrong with me. I wondered if I was being punished for my parents’ sins. I wondered if God just couldn’t forgive me for what Steve did to me. Somewhere in my gut I knew dating a man that age was not acceptable by societies standards, but no one in my life seemed too worried about it.
Another more mild example of what I’m talking about involves a man who was 19 when I was 11. Again not a 20-year difference but still not ok. He would flirt with me and he tried to give me expensive gifts like a new watch on my birthday. My mother put her foot down about that one, but not because of his age. He was black and my mother was as racist as the rest of them. She would not have a black man giving me gifts or attempting to court me. He never laid a finger on me but he was always around, sitting too close, and trying to give me things and trying to keep my attention. I think he gave me flowers at one point. Now that I have raised 4 children I can say that there is no way I would have let any of my kids date a 19-year-old when they are only 11. Wallace and I never “dated” but I had no doubt about how he felt and if my mother had not scared him away who knows what would have happened.
This one experience has been stuck in my head for days. There was a young woman in my church who was the daughter of one of the elders. She was a few years older than I. She never really dated much and when she got engaged it happened really fast. The guy was older and I think she was a senior in high school, or just graduated. When they announced the engagement during a church service the pastor made a big deal about questioning this guy regarding his intentions. He made this big speech about how she had grown up in the church and how everyone felt responsible for her happiness etc… He jokingly (did not really seem like a joke) told the guy that he had better treat her right because the men in the church would come get him if he did not. I find it weird (or maybe not given what I now understand) that the pastor made a big show of being protective of this young woman but then could care so little about what happened to me and others. I think I know why first off her parents were elders and lifelong friends with the pastor and his wife. She was white and her parents gave the church money for years. Her mother was the church secretary for all of my childhood. She was part of church royalty. It seems to me that if you are related to the pastor, close friends, you give lots of money, or you are an elder you are treated as church royalty. Everyone else is just commoners. As a young person watching the pastor give this speech, I could not help but feel how low I was in importance.
I think that is it for today. I have so much more I want to share with you all and I’m sure I will have another post before the end of the week. Please feel free to ask questions. My thoughts are kind of jumbled and so if I was unclear in any way I am sorry.