To draw attention to the ever-present and devastating reality of clergy sexual abuse and to provide resources for churches, lay members, and ministers, the Clergy Sexual Misconduct Task Force formed jointly by Baptist Women in Ministry and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship will sponsor an ongoing blog series featuring informational articles, helpful sermons, and relevant materials.
By Anonymous © 2007
Several years ago, I made a presentation on ministerial boundary issues and sexual misconduct. Following the presentation, Sally Johnson [pseudonyms are used throughout] asked to speak with me privately. We went to a quiet spot, and she disclosed to me an alleged incident of inappropriate ministerial boundary crossing. Sally has given permission for me to relate the following information from that conversation and subsequent ones relative to her alleged abuse.
Sally told me that our conversation was the first time she recalled having spoken of the incident since its occurrence back in 1974. As she told me her story, the memories pained Sally deeply. She spoke very softly, with obvious anxiety, and with tears. Because I had known Sally for fifteen years and because of her demeanor in this conversation, I found her story very believable. She did not identify the pastor who had abused her, and I did not ask. I told her that if she wished to disclose his identity either to me or especially to her current pastor, it might be helpful in case others came forward and named the same perpetrator. Sally told me that she would give it some thought. But feeling better already for having shared the story with me, Sally said she felt no particular need to have anything else done about it for her own sake.
A few months later, I received via email a written account from Sally of the clergy/spiritual abuse she claimed to have experienced twenty-nine years earlier. Her account named her alleged abuser.
“In November of 1974, I was twenty-six-years-old and newly married. I was struggling with two problems. Rev. Hank Jones [pseudonyms are used throughout] had been my pastor and friend for four years so I decided to talk with him. When the counseling session was over and as I was leaving, we were facing each other talking. He took hold of my hands, stepped forward, and began kissing me on the lips. I was shocked and disgusted as I felt his belly pressing against me and his lips on mine. I left the church building asking myself, “What on earth kind of counseling technique was that?” I remember thinking that I had come to counseling confused over two issues. I left more confused now with three issues. I knew I couldn’t tell my husband about it. He wasn’t very excited to go to church anyway. Knowing this, he would probably not go again. I also did not want to imagine what he would do to Hank. I couldn’t tell any of the church members because everyone seemed to think Pastor Jones could walk on water. I couldn’t tell his wife because I didn’t want to hurt her. I didn’t know what to do, so I chose not to think about it. I’m not the confronting type.
I never went back for any more counseling. It wasn’t long after that he wasn’t the pastor anymore. Years went by, and then he moved back. It was hard to watch him at church. I always felt angry, especially when he would talk to me like we were old buddies. It made me sad that he acted like he was unaware of the years of hurt, anger, and disappointment he had caused, like he didn’t remember what he did. After twenty-nine years, all the emotions are as acute as the day it happened.
I do not seek vengeance or even an apology. I do not want to hurt or embarrass his family, our church, or the denomination. The only reason I am writing this is in the hope that Hank will realize the confusion and hurt he has caused me and not do this to another person. I don’t want another person to go through life feeling such negative emotions toward someone who represents God. I know that we all make mistakes, but it just seems worse when an ordained minister crosses over the boundaries. . . .
My only regret is that it took this long to figure out a way to deal with this. Only God knows if there were others who experienced similar things in the mean time. . .”
In fact, it turned out that there had been at least one other potential victim of Jones’s abuse of professional authority and power. I received an email from another woman who named the same pastor as a sexual abuser. The abuse happened decades earlier when the victim was eighteen and nineteen years old, and Rev. Jones was in his early forties, married with young children. This accuser shared details of numerous occasions of abuse—in the pastor’s church office and elsewhere—of kissing and fondling.
After further email communication and many conversations, both victims chose to write statements and submit them to regional church officials for investigation and follow up. Both victims were deemed believable by the judicatory investigator, and Rev. Jones confessed to at least some of the allegations while claiming no memory of the incident with Sally. Jones retains his clergy credentials but has been asked by officials to refrain from accepting any invitations for public ministry.
Recently, Sally said to me, “You know, I remember now that I went to see a psychiatrist for awhile in the midst of a lot of stuff; and whenever I mentioned God or faith, it was like he didn’t know what to do with that. One time I also mentioned this thing that happened with Pastor Jones. The psychiatrist didn’t say anything, didn’t ask anything. He didn’t say a thing!” Sally never spoke of the incident again—until decades later when she confided in me, but she never forgot being abused by her trusted pastor.
The author has been an ordained minister for more than thirty years and does boundaries training with seminarians and other church leaders.