The Farce of a Secret Courtship
In my case of childhood sexual abuse and the subsequent shaming I experienced at the hands of my (then) church leaders, my ex-pastor very much favors harping on one particular point - a secret, parent-approved courtship that he says occurred between myself and my abuser.
I've discussed this matter on several different occasions, both on my blog and during a few different public speaking engagements, but I wanted to take an opportunity to do so again as I feel it's relevant to the larger issue of society's knack for finding ways to blame victims for their own abuse. Also, this small piece of my story remains the main point at which my ex-pastor (and many of his supporters) have consistently called me a liar over the last ten years of my life, and continue to do so to this day.
I've said all of this before in some way or another, but because it keeps coming back up to the surface, I'll take another stab at it.
My abuser was a family friend before he began abusing me. He was trusted by my parents to be kind and respectful, as were all of the folks who were welcomed into our home, though perhaps this particular man was trusted more than others due to the fact that he was training to be a pastor in our church.
At the time he moved into our home as a boarder, my parents knew that he and I were fond of each other and at some point in the weeks surrounding him moving in there had even been a discussion about him "waiting for me" and possibly being considered for marriage someday. The word courtship came up and was discussed for a brief period of time before my father deemed it inappropriate. We had also been allowed to hold hands on one or two occasions, with my parents present, before my father also nixed that.
Because my parents were aware that he and I liked each other, my father laid down ground rules for him living in our home.
• We were not allowed to have any physical contact.
• We were not allowed to have any physical contact.
• We were not allowed to spend any time alone together.
• We were not allowed to sit next to each other either at the dinner table, on the couch, or in the car.
• We were not allowed to write letters or notes to each other.
• We were not allowed to enter each other's bedrooms.
• We were not allowed to spend long periods of time conversing with one another.
My understanding of courtship, having been raised in the Reformed Protestant church, is very different from the situation that took place in our home. If anything, my situation, on the surface anyway, would have been more akin perhaps to me being promised to this man than being in a courtship with him. Regardless, I was neither in a parent-approved relationship with him nor was I promised to him. There was an understanding of our fondness for one another, there was discussion of some sort of altered courtship which was ultimately disallowed, and there were clear ground rules put into place.
I'm not entirely sure how to put this issue of a parent-approved relationship to rest other than to continue to say that aside from being false, it is also irrelevant. It wouldn't have mattered what my parents had said or what rules had been set in place, my abuser intended to dishonor our family. He set out to have his way with me and it didn't matter what it took to get to me, he'd do it. He is an abuser and he did what abusers do so well - he manipulated, deceived, disrespected, dishonored, and harmed...he abused.
My parents were imperfect. As they say, hindsight's 20/20, and there is nearly always something that could have been done differently. I don't know any parent worth their salt who couldn't make a list of the myriad of things they'd change if they could go back and do it all again. But to say that my parents naïveté put them at fault for my abuse is nothing short of cruel and unusual punishment.
Additionally, for a pastor to put so much energy and fervor into having other people believe I am a liar and a truth twister, and that because of the lack of complete clarity in this detail of my story none of what I say should be relied upon to be truthful, is a red herring of epic proportions.
It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter how tall I was. It doesn't matter that I was infatuated with my abuser. It doesn't matter that a courtship was discussed. It wouldn't even have mattered if we'd actually been allowed to be in a relationship. None of it matters because none of it means that I asked to be repeatedly raped or emotionally abused or verbally abused. None of it takes away from the crimes that were committed. None of it justifies the church's harsh, condemning and downright horrific response to the abuse that occurred.
My ex-pastor has proven that he will go to great lengths to discredit me and take away my voice, and though I would love to simply let this go and leave it behind me as I move forward with my advocacy, I can't. The rate of secondary abuse in churches is nothing short of a tragedy. Victims of abuse often remain silent and avoid going to their church leaders because of the fear that they will be shamed, disbelieved, encouraged to go back to their abuser, or otherwise mistreated, and they are fearful with good reason.
Thankfully, I am in a different place now than I once was -- a different place than so many women find themselves in at this very moment. Blessed to be surrounded and girded up by the support and love of so many good people, I have the strength to face these spiritually abusive bullies who target the wounded and say, "No more. For all your theology and big words you appear so small and unkind. You cannot preach the love of Christ from your pulpit while, just out of view of your congregation, backhanding those who need that love the most."
I have seen far too much to be silent.