You nurtured me in the truths of God’s Word since before I could walk. You prayed over me at my baby dedication and celebrated my decision to identify as a follower of Jesus Christ through baptism. I looked to you for counsel as I made school and career choices. I listened as you provided my marriage counseling and performed the ceremony for my wedding. Because you were there to guide and shepherd me during these and other milestones in my life, I chose to turn to you in my most desperate time of need.
As a child, I was held captive to the dark, lonely and terrifying prison of sexual abuse. My assaulter was cunning and powerful, fooling church elders and friends by being the life of the party and among the most respected of our spiritual leaders. My prison keepers, however, are the haunting memories and lies of the past. I have searched and clawed on my own for a way of escape from this windowless cell but have found none. And when I finally found the courage to come forward about the trauma I am still experiencing, I decided to turn to you for help. I turned to you because you have trained me to do so. I turned to you because, truly, I didn’t know where else to go and I needed my Pastor Shepherd more than ever.
I needed you to believe me. I needed you to believe I wouldn’t, couldn’t make this up. I needed you to see past the facade my perpetrator has maintained and look deep into the depth of my pain. I agonized over your possible reactions, knowing that you would likely find it inconceivable, but concluded that you would lovingly shepherd me toward truth and justice, helping me escape from the dark captivity of my past.
Instead, you believed my perpetrator.
I hoped that you would trust me. Trust that the deafening words of my assault were the most difficult words I’ve had to whisper aloud. Trust that I had no reason to lie and did not have ill intent or hidden motives. Trust that I simply longed for personal healing and am no longer able to bear that my silent suffering has allowed his abusive hands to imprison others.
Instead, you chose to trust the masterful deception of my perpetrator.
I desperately needed you to support me. I was confident that you would remain right beside me as I took each difficult but necessary step toward justice and healing. I hoped that you would be with me as I reported to the police, that you would support my husband and children as they began this road of recovery with me. I expected that you would hold us up through those lonely weeks as we were gossiped about, shunned and accused of terrible things.
Instead, you publicly expressed support for my perpetrator.
I needed you to respect me. I expected that you would not talk over me, behind me or down to me. I believed you would respect my dignity, knowing that what has been stolen from me does not define me and that it was never my fault. Respect that I have a future worth fighting for.
Instead, you chose to respect my perpetrator’s carefully crafted reputation.
Perhaps most importantly, I needed you to value me. You have always taught me to treasure who I am in Christ. I hoped that you would value that before God, my sexual purity remains in spite of what my perpetrator has stolen. I needed you to value that my insight is important when crafting prevention and reporting policies for our church.
Instead, you valued your position, platform and celebrity status over my soul.
I came to you because you are my pastor, my shepherd, and I believed you would guide me toward hope and freedom. I grew up knowing you to be the tangible, caring hands of the Lord Jesus, modeling His care for the least of these. This is what I desperately needed from you and I never expected that it would turn out any other way.
But - when you believed the deception of my perpetrator, you reinforced the lies that for years have bound me to silence.
When you verbally expressed trust in my perpetrator’s “known” character, you stifled the cries of children who, like me, are chained indefinitely to the crimes of men like him.
When you chose to publicly support the perpetrator and his needs over mine, you perpetuated the abuse that has stolen my freedom and leave me with no hope of rescue.
When you demonstrated respect for my perpetrator without respect for me, you fortified the prison walls that he built around me, walls that hold me - and others like me - captive.
And perhaps most importantly, when you valued your status over my soul, you undermined everything, absolutely everything you have ever taught me about God
Diana Durrill is a pastor's wife and mother of five who is passionate about educating church leadership on the proper response to abuse, care that includes the physical and spiritual wellbeing of both victims and their families. You can follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ddurrill