Childhood, Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

Trying To Understand

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.

D

 

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Bible Quizzing, Childhood, United Pentecostal Church

Bible Quizzing

I was a Bible quiz captain when I attended the UPC church. The UPC had two levels of quizzing back then junior and senior. Elementary school kids would be on the junior team and then the older kids were on the other team. I never quizzed as a junior because we did not have teams when I was that age.

The UPC is pretty picky about what translation of the Bible you use. The church of my childhood only read and studied the King James Version. Before we ever had a quiz team I knew that I was special because I could read the King James better than the other kids my age. I was always a strong reader and I could read books meant for much older people. I won the big parts in the Christmas plays because I could read the text better, this made up for my being poor and brown and therefore less in the eyes of many of the adults. When we started quiz teams I quickly rose to the top because of my strong reading and the fact that I could memorize scripture very easily. I also worked very hard on whatever I did, I am still the same way and it has served me well into my adulthood.

I have many happy memories of quizzing. I won trophy after trophy and that built my confidence up. I felt needed and valued and a part of something, that was the good part. There was a dark side. My coach liked all of the attention we were receiving from the church leadership as we traveled around the state racking up wins. Soon winning became everything and the pressure on me as captain of the team was pretty high. I was struggling with Algebra at that time and I told my coach I needed less material to memorize because I really needed to focus on my school issues. I did not get any help or rest from him, he reminded of how important my role was and told me I just needed to work harder. I was smart enough to know that school should come first but I was not strong enough to push back. At that point, I was learning all of my material plus everyone else’s. My coach did not have confidence in my teammates and so he wanted me to be able to catch whatever they did not memorize. Each team had three members who played first string and then up to three alternates in case someone was sick or had to leave early. I ended up answering 75% of the questions. During that time I memorized most of Paul’s writings, Psalms, Proverbs, and a few others. We had to know them verbatim backward and forwards.

My coach was not a very nice guy. He could put on a nice face but when it was just us kids and his wife he could be a real brute. He was ex-military and it showed. He would berate his wife in front of us and it was hard to watch. She was a gentle soul, the perfect submissive wife. I remember one quiz meet when I almost refused to play. That was really getting towards the beginning of the end for me. He had yelled at his wife for something that was clearly his fault. I was embarrassed for her and I told him he was being a jerk. This kind of behavior was unheard of for a young woman of my age, and he yelled at me and told me I was being rebellious. That was a serious accusation in my church. I went into the room I was staying in (we were out of town) and sobbed with anger. By this time I had so much pent-up rage. One of my teammates came in and talked me down and convinced me to play the next day. I did play but my heart wasn’t in it, little did I know that would be one of my last games. Eventually, I quit. When I decided to quit my coach was not very understanding. I told him I just did not want the stress anymore. I needed to focus on school. I look back on it now and I am proud of myself for setting boundaries. I’m also aware that when I started to set boundaries I was setting my feet on the path of leaving. I’m sure that in my coach’s mind I did not need an education if I had a husband.

A couple of side notes, they made us do an exhibition game against all of the ministers in the church to show the congregation how good we were. I remember being angry because they did not make the ministers follow the rules and so it ended up that they beat us. Now I know that we really won but they could not allow a female-led teen quiz team beat the anointed of God. I can remember being very angry about this because I knew it wasn’t right and I knew why they did it.

I was encouraged to win but not to ask questions. I digested the scripture and tried to really understand it. I would ask questions and often the answer would be that I could ask Jesus in heaven. I found things that didn’t add up and that made me a troublemaker, they couldn’t see that I was asking because I wanted to know God, they saw it as questioning God. Over time it became clear to me that I knew more about the Bible than many of the ministers did, this did not help me respect them. I knew they looked down on me because of my intellect and that made me feel bad about myself. On the other hand, it feels good to know that you are smart and so I was always conflicted. I know now I would have never survived adulthood in the church because I would have never been able to be submissive enough. My teen years ignited a tiny flame in my belly that eventually led me away from them, I tried other churches for a long time, but this is when the cracks started to show.

D