(Warning, this post is incredibly long. This is the story of my family’s hardships at the hands of a toxic religious church. The point of view is more specifically from my sister, Erin and I, as we went through most of these trials together.)
There’s something I need to say, I know I don’t say much on here, and I probably won’t ever do this again, but I feel like I need to at least get this out. It’s been weighing very heavily on my body and soul, and I feel like I need to release it. It’s not mine to hold onto anymore.
This past year I’ve started to remember something; something horrible that I have a hard time even thinking about. I was sexually abused by the pastor of the church we went to for 9 1/2 years. I never thought in a million years this would have happened to me, but at the same time, I knew. It’s so very confusing and my whole life has been turned upside-down. Although my life now makes sense, it still hurts. The only way I can describe the way I feel now, is that I’ve been sleeping for years and I’ve finally been awakened to this harsh reality. Though I’ve never felt so much pain in my entire life, I’ve never felt so alive and free. I finally know what was causing my pain and misery all this time. My fear of trusting, my lack of confidence, my self-hatred, my anger and hatred towards everything and everyone, my lack of motivation, my constant anxiety and fear of everything. He took everything from me. I’ve been dead-alive for 14 years.
My head has always been full of thoughts, but I’ve never been able to just slow down. For years I’ve kept myself too busy to stop and clear my head. I’ve always been too afraid to see what was in there, because deep down inside, I knew something wasn’t right. I couldn’t stand to be alone, I was too afraid… I couldn’t face it. And now I have to find myself and pick up all the pieces. I have no choice now but to face this, because I’ve let it control my life for far too long.
I never want to hurt another person because of this ever again, and I apologize to anyone that I’ve hurt over the years. I’m tired of being called mean, cold-hearted, and a bitch. THAT’S NOT ME! I never wanted to be mean and cold to anyone, and I felt so much guilt when I was. I didn’t know why I was so angry, but because of it I’ve always felt so isolated and alone. I honestly thought I would never meet anyone that I’d love or be able to connect with. I hated even the thought of love, and I wanted nothing to do with it until I started talking to Jacob in 2010. He’s helped me so much in so many ways. He’s shown me unconditional love, something that was lost in me over the years, and finally made me feel safe. He’s also shown me that there is still some good in this world, and that I can trust some people. And even though it’s been really rough (so sorry about that) and it took me 3 years to be able to trust him enough to marry him, I’m so glad I took that HUGE step. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.
Erin and I were always left out at church. The adults and teens would buy gifts for all the kids in the church but us. Everyone hated us, was mean to us, and talked bad about us. We had 2 or 3 friends, and even they weren’t real friends Any chance to be with the popular girls, and they’d leave us in a heartbeat. They would bully Erin and not me, because no one could affect me. I didn’t care what they thought, but somehow they knew that hurting my family was the only way to hurt me. They’d make fun of her weight, telling her that she was fat and disgusting, and that she’ll never get married because of it. I hated how often they would hurt her, and any chance I got I would defend her. But because of all the bullying she began to cut herself and became suicidal at age 8, all the way up until she was 17. It was Erin and I against the world, or at least it felt like it.
We’ve had a lot of hardships in our family over the years. In February of 2003, my youngest sister was born with a club foot. In December of 2003, my dad almost lost his leg. He was in the hospital for 4 or 5 days during Christmas, and a few more times for maintenance. In November of 2004, my baby brother was born with a rare heart defect called HLHS (Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome) which is deadly if not caught within the first weeks of being born. My parents were in the hospital with him for the first 21 days of his life, and we didn’t get to see him for at least a week. Whenever they would go to the hospital for one of his surgeries, we’d have to stay with our grandparents. That was traumatizing. Our grandparents never really talked to us, and weren’t there for us. We couldn’t really do anything; we weren’t even allowed to shower when we wanted to. And on top of all that, whenever my parents were at the hospital, the whole church would target us and treat us horribly.
I remember a time at my grandparents house when Erin and I were eating pudding out of a can and we were talking about wanting to slice our tongues with the lid and bleed out and die, hoping maybe then someone would care. When my brother was 2 months old, he had a heart attack and a stroke, and almost died. When we got the news, we cried through the whole service, but no one cared. The best comfort we got was the church “favorite” patting my back and saying, “It’s ok.” But it was NOT ok. I didn’t know if my brother would make it through. The 2 women that we sat with wouldn’t even let Erin and I sit together. After that, all the kids had a party because we were all home schooled, and when they told us about it and we asked why they didn’t invite us, all they said was, “We thought you’d be too sad to come, and we didn’t want to bother you.” I told them we would’ve loved to come; that it would’ve lifted our spirits. They looked at me annoyed and told me, “Well then you should’ve told us!”
Another time, while my parents were in the hospital for my brother’s last open heart surgery, Erin and our best friend and I were just having fun building a snowman. Suddenly, the church “favorite” comes outside. (She had been crying for God knows what reason…) We offered to let her and her sister both build with us, trying to avoid any confrontation, (she had a reputation for snapping at people who tried to comfort her), her sister agreed, but she went back inside, enraged. My brother then heard her blubbering to her mom about something, and her mother said, “Rub their faces in the snow, throw snowballs at them!” The next time we came to church, our snowman was gone. We asked what happened to it and were told the “pastor’s” daughter had run it over. Then the church favorite slowly and precisely said, “Ha. Ha.” I didn’t know you could have so much hate behind two little words… but she did. It was pretty devastating. My mom had to call the “favorite’s” mom and confront her because she was being so horrible, all while my brother was in the ICU recovering from open heart surgery. Thankfully, at this time, we were staying with our Aunt Terry, who loves and supports us still.
Now, we were really close with our best friend’s mom, because no one at the church liked her or her daughter, either. We would go over to their house all the time, and talk to her about everything. We were even close with her husband, and he was very quiet. He told our best friend to just invite Erin and I to her birthday party, because he knew we were good friends. But in September of 2005 he died of “unknown causes”. May of 2006, our best friend’s mom started spending more time with the other women, and began to turn on us. June of 2006, Erin went to junior camp by herself, because I was 13 at this time and couldn’t go. I begged her not to go, but she was being pressured into feeling that she had to. At first it was pleasant, and it seemed like everyone wanted her to be there, but once they all got there, everything changed. She started to get emotional and cry a lot, and she was on her period and had an infection at the time, and couldn’t swim with her friends. So her friends left her with the adult women who just slept the entire 30 minutes of the only free time she got. They also forced her to play soccer even though she didn’t feel good.
They were so insensitive about her emotional distress, and one particular moment that set her off was when they went to swim for free time. She decided to accompany her friends, because anything was better than staying in the cabin with all the sleeping adults. She tried to participate as much as she was able, but it wasn’t the same. She felt like she didn’t even exist to her friends. They barely acknowledged her, only focusing on enjoying themselves. Obviously feeling depressed, she sat by a puddle, her head hanging low. That’s when the church “favorite’s” mom approached her and said, with a sadistic smile, “Oh, quit being such a baby.” Erin got up and walked away. From that moment on, she knew something wasn’t right, and the next day it was completely confirmed.
There had been a storm that day, and all the girls were forced to stay in the cabin for free time. Erin was ecstatic. She would finally get to spend some time with her friends. But at the last minute, her best friend and the church’s “favorite” came in the door and shouted, “The pool is open!” Another friend, who was just about to draw with Erin, immediately put the notebook down and ran out the door with the rest of them. Erin was heartbroken, and started to cry quietly. Just then, our best friend’s mom came up to her and tried to “comfort” her. But it wasn’t comforting in the least. She snapped at her, and compared Erin crying over her friends leaving her, to our best friend’s mom losing her husband. Erin was devastated. The loss of her best friend’s father had impacted her deeply, and she felt horrible, feeling as if her emotional outburst was pathetic compared to how this grown woman handled her husband’s death. She stopped crying and tried to have a “better attitude”.
But the very next day, the church’s “favorite” started to try and memorize one of the final verses for the week, but she couldn’t do it no matter how hard she tried, and threw herself into her pillow and began to weep. Instantly, all the women gathered around her and began rubbing her back and comforting her. Especially our best friend’s mom, who had just lectured Erin the previous day for being too emotional over things that don’t matter. But here was this girl, sobbing over a Bible verse, sobbing because she couldn’t be number one every year in a row, and the entire cabin seemed to be stricken with grief over it.
After that, Erin decided she was done. No longer would she participate and smile through it. She knew now that she was just a burden. Her tears were meaningless, and her distress was out of line. Even though she was only depressed because she was in immense pain (on top of all the pain from her time-of-the-month and an infection, she also got food poisoning from the poor-quality camp food), her friends had abandoned her and the adults singled her out for every emotion she exhibited. From that moment on, her attitude changed. She was no longer sad and depressed, but angry and defiant. Which is shocking, because Erin has always been incredibly passive, and it takes a lot to make her lash out. So much more happened that I don’t have time to explain, but suffice it to say, they straight-up bullied Erin. And from then on it only got worse for her. She became a target, and that only made me more angry.
After that we didn’t go to camp again. Even before this incident, we absolutely hated junior camp. It was torturous, but we always felt guilty if we didn’t go. But that changed in the summer of 2009, when the “pastor” convinced us to go to teen camp for the first time. I’m still not really sure why he tried so hard to get us to go to camp… maybe it was his way of trying to break us. Things were really hostile at this time, but he told us if this one girl who we couldn’t stand treated us badly at camp, he’d kick her out of the church, so of course we were convinced to go. Plus we just wanted him to get away from us and shut up. We never cared for him, and it wasn’t until 3 years after we left that we truly found out why, and not til last year that I found out why I couldn’t stand him. So when we went, the girl we couldn’t stand “just happened” to get re-saved after the teen leaders and us had a talk with her. That’s when it really started getting bad.
After we got back from camp, everyone flocked around us and said Erin and I had improved so much, and were the best kids in the teen class. Until we started to see that the girl hadn’t changed at all. We tried to bring it up to the teen leaders, but no one else believed us. That’s when we really started to lose everyone. Our best friend wasn’t allowed to hang out with us anymore because her mother said that this girl was way more spiritual than Erin and I. We were at another “pastor’s” church when she told us this, and we completely broke down. The teen leader’s wife comforted us and told us not to give up on her, because we had come so far. Later, Erin confided in her about some very serious matter- she was finally opening up about being suicidal. After spilling all of the details, including writing statements about her suicide attempts, the teen leader who said she loved us so much distanced herself from us, and wouldn’t even talk to us anymore. We were very confused, and didn’t know what was going on. Another one of our friends came to us crying, saying she wasn’t allowed to hang out with us because Erin was crazy. So we were even more isolated and alone.
The situation that pretty much broke us both was a youth activity about a month before we left, to a Biblical wax museum. Everyone completely avoided us, even our “best friend”. Erin was throwing up all day. As we were walking through the place, Erin said, “I don’t think I can do this, what if I have to throw up again?” The teen leader was standing by an exit sign laughing, and said jokingly, “Well there’s an exit, you can use that.” That was it, I’d had enough of people treating Erin like shit. We stayed away from them for the rest of the day, and whenever they’d move on to the next scene, we’d go to another one without them. It was obvious we weren’t happy with them, but not one person came to see if we were all right, except a Filipino missionary that we didn’t even know! After that, they went to the next museum, and we stayed behind and ranted about how ridiculous they were treating us. When it was time to leave, they had forgotten us… everyone was already in the van, and the teen leader’s wife had to come get us. We went to some place to eat and asked our “best friend” to sit with us, but she refused, preferring to sit with the popular girls. So we asked the teen leader’s wife if we could use her cellphone to call our mom, and we went to the bathroom, called Mom, and cried uncontrollably. It was awful. When the teen leader’s wife came in, she just looked at us coldly while we were visibly shaken and crying, and said, “Are you done?” Thankfully, at the time, we had someone who cared about us, and they were ordered to drop us off at her house.
Come to find out, the teen leader had gotten a hold of the information Erin had given the teen leader’s wife in confidence. He took it to the “pastor”, who made her look crazy, and everyone was ordered to stay away from her. He wanted her dead, because dead victims can’t speak, and he was going to blame it on my dad not being home all the time. (He had a full-time job and worked on my grandparents farm. We didn’t get to see him very often, but we knew he loved us, and he was absolutely NOT the reason Erin was suicidal.) When my parents found that out, they immediately went to the “pastor” and talked to him. That’s when all hell broke loose. But they couldn’t get very far, because he was very unreasonable, and it caused a lot of problems in our family for the couple of weeks that we were still there. The day we finally left, it wasn’t really by choice. They chased us out. My dad was apologizing to some people for getting pulled into something that they didn’t understand. The “pastor” had brought them into one of my dad’s and his private conversations. When he apologized to the “pastor’s” wife she said, “You’ve got a demon, I can see it in your eyes.” and eventually accepted his apology. As my dad was apologizing to the deacon and his wife, his wife said “I just want you to know, that no matter what you say or what you do, we are behind pastor 100%.” (She is now the “pastor’s” new wife.) After the deacon accepted my dad’s apology, he immediately went to the “pastor” and told him what was going on. The “pastor” comes out of his office screaming at my dad. 3 men; the pastor, the assistant pastor/teen leader, and the deacon, were surrounding both my parents at this time. The “pastor” said that my dad was sowing discord, the assistant pastor/teen leader called him “Korah”, and told him that we were the worst kids in the teen class. My dad said (Talking to the “pastor”) “You would not even care if Erin was hanging from the ceiling one day!” and he said in a condescending tone, “She wouldn’t do that.” and my dad said, “You’re the one that started it, by telling everyone that the journal was demon possessed and needed to be taken out of the building.” and then the “pastor” got in my dad’s face and said “What were YOU trying to do about it!?” and my dad said, “I was just trying to get some help!” and the deacon got in my dad’s face, trying to intimidate him. The women were hiding in nursery, and Erin and I were in the kitchen, crying and being comforted by the person who cared about us. She told us that she loved and cared about us, and would be there for us even if we left. By this time, the bus captains came back from their route, and joined in; physically restraining my dad as the conflict moved to the parking lot. Every man present, continued the attack on my dad, until he saw it was a futile battle. As my dad walked away, he said, “You can have your church, we’ll see how long it lasts!” My mom came in the kitchen after everything and told us to get in the van, because my dad was at a store parking lot crying. We didn’t know what to feel, we had no idea what was going on, but we knew it wasn’t good. We didn’t know that would be our last day there, but thank God it was!
I’ve never met so many horrible people in my entire life. I don’t know what makes them feel like they have a right to abuse a child, just because the “pastor” says so. How sadistic and brainless do you have to be to do that!? We were completely harmless, we’d never do anything to hurt another human being. Why did they feel the need to destroy us? I wonder what they’d do if they knew that the reason he turned them against us was just to cover up his heinous crimes? Or maybe they already know and don’t care… I can’t even comprehend their evilness.
Now since then, we’ve lost everyone we knew there. The woman who said she cared about us, all of our “friends”, and even one of our family members who still goes there even though this “pastor” has been arrested 2 times for rape. She and her husband believe that he is innocent, yet they haven’t come to talk to our family ONCE! I don’t understand why someone so close to us would believe him over her own family… not to mention, she’s the reason the “pastor” sexually assaulted Erin and I in the first place. She’d always take us to church and then do her own thing, leaving us vulnerable for anyone to get a hold of us.
I don’t remember a LOT of my childhood, but I do know that I was the reason we started going to that church. I told my mom I wanted to go, and I distinctly remember saying it, and being very emotional and full of fear. I now know the reason I asked was because not only was I scared to go to Hell, but I believe he had already abused me, and God impressed upon my heart to go. I used to beat myself up and blame myself for wanting to go there, but I now realize if we wouldn’t have, who knows where we’d be right now. Even though it was a terrible experience and nearly destroyed us all, it opened our eyes to the truth, it helped bring us closer together as a family, and it brought these amazing people into our lives: Jacob, Matt, AshLeigh, and Audra. I know that if I didn’t have such an amazing family, I wouldn’t be here right now.
I do not blame God or church for what has happened in me and my family’s lives at the hands of church people, but instead it’s opened my eyes to the reality that organized religion is wrong. (Now, I’ve never been to a good church, so if you have a good church that you believe is helpful, then by all means, stay. I’m not saying you can’t go to church, I just don’t agree with a lot of the things church people do. But I do believe in being spiritual and having a close relationship with God, the Universe, the Great Divine, whatever you want to call him. And that’s a journey you have to take on your own; no one should tell you what to believe.) And I believe organized religion is wrong because it uses fear and lies to control people. It tells us we are bad by nature, and that there’s no good in us. Well then, we’re totally helpless, and all we can do is accept that we’re just eternally doomed for hell. No matter how good we act, we are disgusting and rotten at the core. If that’s the case, then we’re helpless to save ourselves from some inevitable, horrible fate. So in your darkest hour, they give you hope, a band-aid for an open wound. They tell you to let “god” in, read your Bible and pray, go to church, keep your eyes on Jesus, and allow him in all his goodness to influence your terrible self into being good. Not to mention salvation from a certain damnation. Empty words to keep us disconnected from the true God. But it’s all a clever guise, because religion isn’t God, it’s man. It allows a human to have complete control over your mind.
The real God is like the wind, a gentle reminder saying, “Life is hard, but I’m still here. Enjoy the beauty around you and just keep trying to do better.” It never abuses you or tears you down. It doesn’t need to, because if you discover anything in life, it’s that love is the best teacher, and you can be as good as you want to be. And the reason religious people discredit free-thinkers is because they’re showing you a permanent fix for happiness, and that you can no longer be controlled by fear, because you just embrace it and move on. You have the knowledge that hey, I AM good enough, I can be amazing all on my own, I can make the right decisions for my life, and if I don’t… well, it doesn’t mean death and hell. It just means I need to try harder and be the best I can be. Even if you screw up in life, the earth doesn’t stop feeding you and providing for you. It doesn’t withhold, it stays the same. That’s God, that’s love. ^^ (Obviously if you nuke the earth it won’t provide, but that’s a totally different scenario, lol.) And in my life, when I was truly on the verge of letting go, the earth just seemed to know. The cats would be extra cute and cuddly, the air felt inviting and warm… there was always something I couldn’t explain about it. Then I realized, I knew God all along in my life. I would wake up early to enjoy the morning and all its beauty. I would wander around and just be happy. But then church took God and perverted him into some man-like being, who was just as sick as the men around us. It got all screwed up. And now I look back and realize God was there all along. I just forgot his face amidst all the fear, guilt, and control… but now I remember. ^^
The group of church people that we’ve been around have treated us the worst we have ever been treated, in our most low and vulnerable times, just because the “pastor” said so. They just blindly follow him because he’s the “man of God” and he can do no wrong. They go to him about every little thing in their life, not wanting to think for themselves, because it’s too hard to think for yourself, it’s more convenient to get advice from someone else who SAYS they know God. The idea of one man “called by God” preaching at you, telling you how to feel about yourself, and what to think and feel about God is dangerous. You were given a brain for a reason; to use it! Don’t just blindly believe everything the Bible says. Whether you want to believe it or not, MAN wrote the Bible. The only words that Jesus spoke were in the New Testament, and he never told you to go to church or gave you a bunch of rules, he just wanted you to love yourself and anyone around you. We need to stop focusing so much on sin and how “bad” we are, and start realizing we are all amazing human beings who don’t deserve Hell like we’ve been taught. We need to focus on loving people, regardless of gender, race, or sexuality. We need to see everyone for what they are- beautiful and broken. And how will they get any better if all we do is judge and hate them for what they do? We all deserve respect. Who are we to judge? We all make mistakes, and to judge others for making mistakes differently than you is horribly hypocritical. We all have the same goal in life; to be happy. So stop and think about that other person and what they could be going through before you judge them. Our insecurities are getting in the way of loving and connecting with others. We hate everyone around us because we feel bad about ourselves. You’re hurting them without even knowing them by making them feel less. Most of the time the only one who thinks those negative things about you is yourself, and it’s so damaging to think that way. Give yourself a break, you’ve been through a lot. We all have. The horrible things you think about yourself aren’t true. We are all beautiful!
I wasn’t planning on telling this much of our story, but as I started writing, I couldn’t stop. And this is only a small portion of what we went through, it’s too much to write it all. All these things have been hidden within our family, but nobody would listen.
We’ve been told we were dramatic, but in reality, it’s not drama, it’s trauma. We’ve been called bitter countless times by ex-members, because we stood up for the truth, and didn’t just let go and let God take care of them, but are we not God’s mouthpiece? If he saw this great injustice, wouldn’t he speak up, too? The things that this man has done to Erin, my family, and I are un-forgivable. We aren’t bitter, we just have indignation towards this huge injustice that was done to our family by this vile, wretched, repulsive, atrocious, depraved creature. Words can’t even describe his true nature. And if the sexual abuse itself isn’t evil enough, the words he says are just as evil, if not more so, and murderous to the soul. He is a murderer of innocent souls, and I believe he is the devil in disguise. I know Erin and I are not the only victims of his abuse, and I want him to know this: “We will no longer be silent, and your day is coming despite your denial.”