Now that I have been networking with my little group of survivors I’m aware of the shame and fear installed into us throughout childhood. As we discuss next actions there is a fear and shame that permeates everything. Even now in adulthood, it can be hard to stand up to those who abused us and caused us so much pain. It can be hard to stand up to the Pastor when you are still afraid of him. I did not realize until I started writing my story that I still feel fear about confronting Pastor Grant and Calvary Gospel.
I was raised in a congregation where women are not believed or supported. Your thoughts, dreams, aspirations, interests, and opinions don’t matter. What matters is obedience. Women are treated like wild animals who need to be caged and trained to be docile and voiceless. You are taught from birth that women brought sin into the world. You are also taught that your body is dangerous and shameful. From a very early age, the responsibility for your body and how it affects others is laid in your hands. Men can’t be expected to control their god given urges but a preteen can be expected to have all of the control in the world. They teach young women that god expects them to be submissive to men and then they say you have to say no and safeguard your body until marriage. This can be very hard when you have men thirty years and older constantly flirting with you and trying to seduce you into giving them whatever they can get. These older men are savvy and they know how to groom their victims. Most of the young girls in this situation have no chance of coming out of the situation without shame. This is the price of being female.
Cover yourself completely, keep men safe from the sight of your knees or collarbone, but be pretty or you will not catch a husband. Having a husband and children is really the only path forward. Make yourself attractive but don’t wear makeup or jewelry because that makes you a Jezabel. Always be planning for marriage but don’t think about boys too much because that is sinful.
There is also fear. Fear of being caught, fear of the abuse continuing, being afraid to report, and the worst of all fears, fear of the judgment of an angry god. I know I lived in fear the entire time I was attending Calvary Gospel. I was afraid that someone would find out what Steve was doing to me. Then I was afraid to tell my pastor, and when I did tell I was afraid of the gossip I knew would come. I was afraid of what kind of embarrassing punishment I might have to endure, and I was afraid that maybe god wouldn’t forgive me. After each abuse, I would run to my room and pray beside my bed. I would cry and ask god to forgive me. I never felt clean. I never felt forgiven.
This was my childhood prayer, words attributed to my childhood hero King David from Psalm 51:
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.
Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.
O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
All of that was a big burden on the heart of a child. We who were abused within the church still carry the shame. The echoes of the crimes committed against us vibrate out even now. They have affected my choices in most areas of my life. Shame coupled with fear kept me in my first marriage for way too long. Both of those things have caused me to strive to keep myself small, under the radar, and uncertain of my worth. It has taken me until the age of 47 to really understand all of this. Who would I have been had someone protected me from this predator? What would I have done with my life had the church supported me and helped me to heal from the abuse? Would I have made better relationship choices, instead of choosing the same bad men over and over again? Would I be able to love my body instead of being at war with it for my whole life? I question myself a lot. I think this comes from not being believed. They did not really believe I was molested they believed I was an adulterer. Women who leave the church due to abuse are often characterized as being crazy, and even if you know you are not crazy it can lead you to distrust yourself.
Now I know I have worth and I try to remind the others like me of their worth. We are not forever broken or tarnished. We are not those little girls anymore. We are grown women, strong survivors who have children of our own. I have to keep reminding myself of that last part. I am a grown woman now and there is a reckoning coming, I intend to hold my abuser accountable and also those who covered up his crime. It might make my heart pound in my chest but I refuse to cower anymore. They might hold the power to make me flinch but I will not let them make me back down, I refuse to let fear and shame win!