Sexual abuse is a real problem within the church. I know that’s a bold statement, but I’ve heard enough to be able to say that. The only thing I can personally tell is my mother’s story. I’ll leave names and church details out in respect to my mother.
When going though some old things, I came across a letter of my mom’s that shed light on some vague statements she had made in the past regarding an elder at my childhood church. She had said she was abused by an elder, but refused to name names or give too many details.
According to my mom’s account she was downstairs in the nursery to breastfeed my younger sister. The elder was often in the nursery accompanying his wife. My mom left the nursery to go to a side classroom for privacy. The elder came into the room and asked if he could watch making a comment on how breastfeeding is “such a beautiful thing.”
My mother declined and stood turning away from him. But he turned with her staring at her breasts and stroking my sisters head (as she was feeding) taking to the baby telling her “Go on it’s okay, I just want to watch.” He eventually left and my mom moved to a new room to recover and finish feeding her baby.
The elder returned and pushed to “help her” feed the baby. Pulling her shirt up and reaching for her breast. My mom pushed him away and loudly yelled “NO —–.” The man then asked my mom if she “Could forgive a dirty old man.” He asked her to keep the details of the event a secret and held her to a oath of secrecy.
Apparently he also told my mother. “If we lived in Africa it wouldn’t be a problem.” She excused herself to the restroom. He followed her down the hall and waited for her outside the door. He waited outside the door until several other people came downstairs and then left as now there were witnesses.
My mom told my father. And they approached the current church pastor about it. The pastor said he would talk to the elder about it. The pastor then invited them to a meeting with the elder.
The elder apologized to my mom. And told my father “You should be proud of your wife for how she didn’t give in to temptation.” No legal action was taken against this man, and the church left the elder with his title and his duties as a Sunday school teacher and a kids ministry leader.
Eventually the pastor that my parents had initially talked with left to go to a new church. And our church had a new pastor move in. This man was completely unaware of the situation regarding what had occurred.
My mom found out several other women in the church had similar stories regarding this elder. My mother notes three other women in her writings. She became increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of this man “remaining un-accountable” and approached the board again.
She was told she was sinning because she was “Brining up sin I said was forgiven…forget it. —– would leave nursery when I wanted to feed my baby.” She was told that the issue was already solved.
At this point her notes end and I have only brief snips of story told to me by my mom. She tried to escalate the issue to the church board and then it’s governing body. But it sounds like the elder had quite a few friends and family on the church board. My mother and the other women had a few supporters in the church leadership, but they were the minority.
The board came to a decision and the elder’s version of the story was upheld. Rumors went around the church that it was my mom that had made the sexual advances, not the elder. My mother was asked to publicly apologize before the church for her “sin.” My parents chose to withdraw from the church and move to another church.
I do not know if the man is still is an elder. But I know he still attends that church and holds a position of respect still. And he remains good friends with several of the elders at the church.
My mom refused to go public with this, and even only after much trepidation brought it before the church board. This ruined my mother’s only position of leadership and honor; as our church was our life. All our family, friends, and “fellowship” revolved around that church.
I wish I could post the names of the people involved, but I won’t out of respect to my mother. Maybe someday she will be willing to go public with the abuse she suffered. But for now she stays silent as to not ruin the reputation of the church and destroy “g-d’s ministry of the church” in her community.
I wish I had a way to wrap this up. That justice was served. That the church did the right thing, and accepted our family back. But I don’t have that story. I just have a story of a broken woman further hurt by the very people she trusted the most.