|Predator Pastor by Chris Keaton|
My nightmare began September 2001 when my husband went out of town for a few days. He was the mission pastor at our church and had been on staff for 10 years at that time. Whenever Mel went out of town, the other pastors on staff would tell me to let them know if there was anything I needed while he was gone. This time was no exception, except this time it was the senior pastor who offered his help. That night, after I got the kids to bed, he called and wanted to know if everything was ok; did I need anything. I said everything’s fine. At one point in the conversation he said, “If you need anything, even maybe if you need me to make love to you…” Hold on! (The sound of screeching brakes in my head!) I thought, surely I didn’t hear him right! It was weird. I didn’t respond. I don’t remember the whole conversation. I was in shock, in disbelief and really confused! Then he came over!
He just showed up at the house and that really shocked me. He’d never been over to the house before. He told me he’d always felt like there was a special connection or bond between us and he wanted to know if I felt the same. I’m thinking in my head, Holy Cow! NO! I’d always looked to him as a father figure! But I couldn’t say that. Here’s my pastor—and I had respected him and loved him as my pastor since I was 16 years old. He was a spiritual leader, a counselor…he was confusing me really bad. I told him I loved him as my pastor, but not in the way he was talking about. Then I told him I thought he should leave. He reacted like he was taken aback, like he didn’t expect that at all. I think he was shocked I said that he should leave. He continued talking, saying everything again, and I had to tell him to leave again. He did leave finally. I think he was flabbergasted, but he left. As he was walking away (it seemed he’d parked his car on a different street), the whole way he reacted to me telling him no, the whole way he came across, I thought, oh dear God, what have I done? He’s going to fire Mel. He’s going to get me back. He has the power to make my husband’s life miserable or even just fire him. He never said any of those things, but the way he reacted made me feel that way.
After he left, I thought, I’ve got to call Mel! But then he called on the phone again and was apologetic and said how he screwed up; he shouldn’t have said those things. He’d never done anything like this before, but he really thought there was something special between us, and he thought I felt the same way, but he guessed he was wrong. I wanted to call Mel and tell him everything but I remember thinking, what will happen if I tell him? He messed up, yes, but nothing happened, and I didn’t want to destroy this man’s life when he was sorry. Everyone messes up. Just because you’re a pastor doesn’t mean you don’t mess up or that you’re not human. I didn’t want to be responsible for destroying his life. And if he lost his job as the senior pastor, what would happen to Mel & me with four little kids? What would happen to the church? Besides that, I was thinking, how will anyone believe me? I thought, nobody’s perfect; I’m not going to destroy his life over one mistake that he’s made. So I decided not to say anything.
The next night, I got my kids to bed and was getting ready for bed myself when he called again. He wanted to come over, but I told him no, I was already in bed. Then he said, “If you’re already in bed, then why is your light on?” (The sound of screeching brakes in my head again!) I turned the light off and looked out the window and, sure enough, he was sitting in his car in front of my house! He wanted to come in. I had to keep telling him no. The next night, he showed up at the house again. I felt obligated to be polite and respectful. I couldn’t believe he came over again. I thought I was clear that I didn’t “like” him in that way. I thought he was sorry for what he’d done.
It’s easy to look back now and know exactly what I should have done but back then, in the middle of this all happening, it wasn’t so clear. There was so much confusion in my head about how to process it all. Why was he putting me in this position where I had to keep telling him ‘no’ when I knew that was not the answer he was looking for? He was being so nice and so friendly and so much more personable than he ever had before. Because of who he was in my life, I wouldn’t dare be rude to him, much less get angry or speak my mind bluntly. This was my pastor that I’d always looked up to and saw as being very close to God. The one I trusted to have all the right answers because of his relationship with God, his position as pastor and his knowledge of the Bible. Why was he backing me into a corner with no way out and acting this way toward me? Couldn’t he see how much he was hurting me with his actions and his words? He must have asked me three times that night if he could kiss me and, each time, with all the strength I had, I told him ‘no’. Each time, scared to death that he would get mad at me or end up hating me. Each time, it got harder and harder to tell him ‘no’ because I couldn’t understand why he hadn’t heard me the time before…why was he making me tell him ‘no’ again and again? As weak and soft spoken as my “no’s” were, it was killing me inside to have to ‘stand up’ to him like that. I was left wondering what was wrong with me; something had to be seriously wrong with me because bad things like this kept happening to me.
His phone calls and advances were persistent and continuous. I kept telling him no, but it didn’t matter. He’d push and pressure until I felt like I had no choice but to give in. He gradually wore down all of my defenses and trapped me into his web of guilt, shame, confusion and silent compliancy. My soul went numb, my heart broke to pieces, and mentally and emotionally I disconnected myself from reality so as not to feel anything as I was manipulated into mindless, reluctant obedience. I was always scared he could fire Mel. It absolutely terrified me. Even if he didn’t fire him, he had the power to make his life completely miserable. No matter how unwilling I was, he was not taking no for an answer. He would jokingly keep pressuring and pushing me until I would freeze up and give in.
I would tell him. “I can’t live like this; it’s driving me crazy.” There would be a break where he would leave me alone and wouldn’t call me for a while. Then he would start calling again and he’d want to meet again and the whole thing would start over. There had been so many times I wanted to tell Mel but he talked me out of it every time, completely convincing me that it would be wrong, and nothing good would come of it, only bad. I was filled with terror, absolute panic-stricken fear.
Depression and anxiety became a huge problem in my life so I started seeing a therapist, thinking maybe I needed to finally deal with my issues from the past. But I never said a word about what was going on with the senior pastor. After seeing this therapist for a year and a half, things were not getting any better. In fact, everything seemed to have gotten worse because I had this dark, suffocating secret sucking the life out of me, and because church had become nothing, when it used to mean everything. I went through a period where I got high to escape from everything because I was so depressed and suicidal.
He had me convinced that if I ever said a word to anyone, I would be responsible for the destruction of everything that would follow. But I was dying on the inside. I’d been slowly fading away from everyone, including my husband and five children. All those years of abuse, I was emotionally and mentally vacant. My children had no nurturing mother concerned for them. My husband saw that I had “checked out” and our marriage suffered because of it. I didn’t want to do anything; I just wanted to die. Everything in me was saying I should tell, but I was so scared because he was a very well liked man, very influential, and he had the power to destroy everything. But then I thought, you know, he had already destroyed everything. I trusted him, and he played on that. He used everything he knew about me to get what he wanted. I almost killed myself over this. I didn’t want to lose my kids, or for my kids to lose their mother. I’d been feeling like I was losing my mind and I knew it was because I’d been keeping this a secret and I couldn’t do it anymore.
October 2008, I told my therapist and I told Mel everything. I then recorded the senior pastor talking to me on the phone for evidence. Mel & I wanted very badly to bring all the other pastors on staff and their wives together to let them know all that was happening and to hear the recordings, but first of all, Mel felt strongly directed by God in prayer that it wouldn’t be appropriate to bring such an issue to them when they have no authority to do anything about it. We needed to bring this to the people who have the authority to act in removing the senior pastor from his position, not only in the church as pastor, but also as the 2nd in charge in our state. Secondly, we had no idea who we could trust anymore. The man we trusted the most, and with everything about our lives, turned out to not be at all who we thought he was. How could we know whom we could trust? That was a big reason for using legal means when we brought this to the attention of the leadership in the fellowship.
After 8 weeks of my husband fasting, praying, seeking God, and talking with Christian professionals that were completely unrelated to the church, we decided on the best plan of action. Copies of the evidence, along with a letter from our lawyer went to the heads of the fellowship overall and also locally. The letter from the lawyer stated that this was to be handled correctly, or if they tried to “sweep things under the rug”, we were prepared to file a lawsuit against the fellowship and the church.
Although the ministerial credentials of the senior pastor were taken away from him and he was made to resign from the church, it didn’t happen for 10 weeks. During those weeks, the senior pastor lied to everyone, kept the other pastors and the board from hearing the evidence, and had such a controlling grip on them, he had them all believing Mel and I were the ones who were lying and we were just after money. These guys, whom we’d worked alongside in ministry for almost two decades, all believed the worst about us because that’s what the senior pastor wanted them to believe.
After 10 weeks had gone by, one board member made the decision, against the pastor, to go to the district office to hear the recordings. After the board and the other pastors got to hear the recordings, that’s when they knew it was the senior pastor who had been lying the whole time, not us. We thought we’d finally get to talk to them to tell them our side of the story. After having been lied to for 10 weeks and having never heard the true story, we thought they would want to hear from me what happened in order to set things straight in their minds about what the truth was and what the lies were. But the poison of the lies the senior pastor had told about us was still very much alive. Here we are, over two years later, and although they believe the senior pastor is guilty, none of them have ever apologized to me for the lies they believed about me or have even been interested in hearing my side of the story. The fact is most of them have not talked to me at all. I feel abandoned and rejected by their silence toward me, their neglect of me as a victim, a friend, a fellow pastor’s wife. It has been more painful to me than the abuse endured by the senior pastor. That church was my home for 26 years, and now I’m left homeless because the leadership chose to ignore me, rather than make things right. I feel like the man left in the ditch to die after having been beaten and robbed. (Luke 10:30)
To make matters worse, although they let the senior pastor resign when he should have been fired, they fired Mel without even talking to him because of the threat we made to sue if things weren’t handled properly. His ministerial credentials were also taken away from him for the same reason. We never filed a lawsuit, but all the preachers acted like we committed the unforgivable sin by even threatening it.
Since my coming forward, there have been many other women who have come forward also. Nonetheless, the former senior pastor continues to deny the truth and to lie to his family and friends. He has since started a new church where he continues to masquerade as a shepherd. I believe he was able to do this because leadership failed to handle things decisively and truthfully before the congregation. So many are still confused as to what really happened. Mel and I have been trying to do whatever we can to make sure the truth gets told in order for people to be free from his control and for him to not be able to hurt anyone else again.
Had it not been for my therapist and The Hope of Survivors, Mel and I would have been completely lost and alone through all of this. Reading through all the information on The Hope of Survivors website, we couldn’t believe how widespread clergy sexual abuse is but, most of all, we had found people who knew what we were going through; we weren’t alone. It was such an encouragement to learn and understand how I’d been groomed and manipulated, how this wasn’t an affair, or my fault; I wasn’t just stupid and weak. I believe that, because of the knowledge and understanding we gained about pastoral abuse, it helped to save not only me, but our marriage also. Telling the truth didn’t destroy me. My husband and I are closer than ever before. And, although the road will be long and hard, I’ve been made free and am on the path to healing.
[END OF STORY]
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