the Hope of Survivors

Hope Renewed by Samantha Nelson

Sometimes, when we least expect it, something happens that changes our lives forever.

For me, it began shortly before my husband and I arranged for me to counsel with our pastor. Unbeknownst to us at that time, it had actually begun a lot earlier on.

My husband and I had been out of the church for many years, not void of faith or religion, just not attending the usual services. We had finally reached a point where we knew we needed to go back. Walking back into the church family where my husband had spent much of his childhood, and where I had spent some of the early years of my Christian walk, was exciting and frightening at the same time. There was a different pastor than when we had last attended, and he preached a sermon on love and acceptance that first day, so we thought ourselves on the right track again. We attended sporadically for about a year and then we fully committed ourselves.

The pastor and his wife befriended us, and we began to spend quite a lot of time with them and their family. The pastor was the one who pursued the friendship, always calling to invite us for lunch or dinner or something. We enjoyed their friendship, looked up to them as parents and role models, took Bible studies from them, sought counsel from them and worked together on church projects and committees with them. We were very much a part of the church and each other’s lives.

Our own lives were very stressful. I had health problems that were getting worse. We had our own business and were working far too much. We didn’t have much time for personal spiritual growth and my own faith was not as strong as it should have been, or could have been. My hope for a healthy future, void of physical pain, was fast disappearing. Our dog was very ill, my husband was having chest pains and it seemed as if each area of our lives had some stressful situation going on. Then something happened that, once again, raised some questions about my past and the abuse that I had suffered. (See Why Me? What Made Me Vulnerable?) Thankfully, I was able to tell my husband right away.

Having been to psychologists before, as a teenager and very young adult, I didn’t think they were particularly helpful, so I was not eager to see one again to help me with this problem. It seemed somewhat natural to ask the pastor to help me through this difficult time of sorting through these issues. He always seemed to care and he felt very badly about all the health problems I had, although initially, he made fun of one of them. My husband felt uneasy, and unsure if the pastor could separate his friendship from our counseling, but the pastor assured him all would be fine and that he could help me.

Looking back, it was the worst mistake of our lives.

Let me back up and explain… I had noticed odd things for quite some time, things I couldn’t quite put my finger on—the way the pastor would pay special attention to me—a look, a touch that seemed innocent, yet not—frequent phone calls or email and so on. I thought he just really enjoyed the friendship we all shared since on several occasions he had mentioned that he didn’t keep many close friends. My husband was unaware of some of these things prior to my commencing counseling with the pastor. Due to my lack of knowledge of the effects of abuse at that time, I couldn’t fully comprehend the magnitude of what was happening. I didn’t realize the pastor was grooming me to be his next victim. And besides, who wants to think that their pastor is capable of having ulterior motives in anything he says or does? A pastor is a representative of Christ, and in our eyes, a pastor could (should) do no wrong. I tried to talk to my husband about it, but I couldn’t really express what was happening and neither of us could understand, or knew how to discuss it.

Then I started noticing more and more things and, finally, I asked the pastor (via email) if he emailed all the church members this way or just me. I was not prepared for his reply “just you,” he said. That seemed to open the floodgates of emails and phone calls and then he began sharing his personal feelings for me. It wasn’t until much later that the pastor admitted he had “set his sights on me the moment we walked through the church doors that first day.” I had no idea at this point how to stop what had begun or how to tell my husband. I was afraid. I felt trapped. I was no longer myself, but a woman who lived to please her pastor, keep his secrets and keep him from getting upset, and a woman who could no longer confide in her husband as she had done for so many years. I became controlled by this pastor and did whatever I could to keep him from getting upset with me. I was crushed with guilt and shame and didn’t know how to make things better.

I know it seems totally absurd, but I honestly believed that he could, and would, counsel me and help me. I never dreamed he would use the time to further his own agenda. Immediately after we started counseling together, he tried to become more physical with me. Eventually, after a few appointments, he raped me in his office. I thought I would die afterward. I certainly wanted to. I could not fight off his constant pressure and demands for physical contact. I didn’t have the emotional strength to do so and I didn’t know how. So I continued to give in. I eventually believed that I must have been “in love” with him since I was involved with him in this way. After all, he had told me this was God’s will (all kinds of twisted Scripture!) and that he had never been happier in his life. I was, to him, his cure-all. He needed me. Why did I keep going? I don’t know. Somehow I believed I needed him and the help he gave, or was promising to give, I should say. I prayed for God to stop it, I begged the pastor to stop what he was doing and to stay with his wife. He only reiterated his love for me, his need for me, and he begged me not to tell anyone (especially my husband) and to run away and marry him.

By this point I didn’t believe I could quit counseling with him because I thought for certain I would die. Isn’t it odd how someone who is supposed to help you can be abusing you and yet you still feel like without his help you’ll die? That’s how I felt. Truth be told, I was dying either way. I had already begun the self-abuse patterns (cutting, beating, etc.) that I went through as a teenager, and I was making concrete plans to end my life. I was deeply depressed, even to the point of having hallucinations, and was becoming less and less able to function. The pastor knew these things and his response was, “I wish you didn’t feel the need to be so harsh with yourself.” Through the pastor’s bewitching influence, Satan had taken complete control of me and convinced me that I could not live without this pastor and that he was the only one who could help me.

My husband suffered greatly. He spoke with the pastor when he found out that something had happened and the pastor assured him it was a mistake and would never happen again. The pastor continually lied to my husband about what was happening and my husband didn’t know what to do. He talked about turning the pastor in, but that frightened me so much because I felt responsible for this man’s life, career and his family. I would tell my husband that if he told, I would leave or kill myself. I just couldn’t bear the thought of this situation coming to light. The pastor’s wife, however, was the one who finally turned him in. When it became known that the pastor was having an adulterous relationship with a congregant, the pastor was fired. He immediately left his wife and continued to stalk me (hang-up calls, drive-bys and so on) for quite some time. In fact, we have since moved (twice) and are not quite sure whether the stalking is finally over or not.

My husband and I had a very hard time coming through this. The church, unfortunately, was not very supportive, and did not handle the situation as well as it could have. Firing the pastor was the right thing to do, but that should have been only the beginning. Truth should have been told—to us and to the church family. But everything was kept hush-hush. My husband always supported me and kept trying to get me to open my eyes as to how I had been deceived and abused by the pastor. He wanted me to see how Satan had taken control of the pastor, and then me, and caused this whole mess. Don’t misunderstand—it was not an easy thing for us to go through. We had many fights and arguments and often thought we’d never survive the whole ordeal. But, praise God, He kept us together and helped us through it all.

What opened my eyes to the truth? Through God’s Providence, we were invited to a Tamar’s Voice meeting and learned the truth—that pastoral abuse is sadly common and that it is wrong, period. Later, after much prayer and growth in my relationship with the Lord, I learned that the greatest responsibility was with the pastor because he had the power, and that someone in a counseling/pastoral or other powerful position has the responsibility to protect and nurture the one who is seeking help. He is not to harm the one he is trying to help.

Although I was not completely innocent, I did lie; I did commit adultery; I was not the one to blame. I did not pursue this man. I never wanted a relationship with him. If it were not for his power over me as a “man of God,” as my counselor and father figure, he would never have been able to get me to participate in any of the horrible things I did. I was not infatuated with him because of his position, or for any other reason. There was no attraction. He was, to my husband and me, the father figure we needed. His family was the type of family we desired to be a part of, or so we thought. That was all. It took me a long time to understand that this was not an “affair.” It was abuse. It was calculated and premeditated. And we were the victims.

Although I have left out most all the gory details and the real terror in this brief recap, I do feel it is enough for someone to be able to understand the horror of clergy sexual abuse.

I honestly don’t know what I would have done without such a caring, compassionate and God-loving husband. I thank God for him each day, because without him, I surely would be dead. Countless times he listened to God’s voice speak to him through the Holy Spirit and he returned home just in time to reverse the suicide action I had taken and prevent my death.

So, where was God in all this? Well, I didn’t think He was there at the time. But now I can see clearly His intervention in all things—His working to bring good out of horror, His desire to draw me (and my husband) closer to Him, His desire to cleanse the church and to allow the pastor to make his choices—right or wrong. I believe God intends to use me and my husband as examples to other hurting couples and victimized women. We are proof of His power to save, heal and improve broken and hurting lives and relationships. (See Bible promises.)

The sad part is that the pastor has not chosen to confess, repent and return to God (or to his wife). God gave us all free will and the freedom to choose what we will do and whom we will serve in this life—God or Satan. He allowed the pastor to perpetrate his evil scheme to abuse me, and my husband. He also allowed us to make the decision to stay together and heal our brokenness. I hope one day the pastor will take advantage of God’s offer as we have—“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”—1 John 1:9

My hope has been renewed. My sins have been confessed and I am forgiven. I love my husband and appreciate his strength and character much more than ever. I love God even more than I ever thought I could. We have come through this terrible ordeal and have obtained a much better understanding of how the past affects our behavior and emotions today. I have a deeper relationship with both God and my husband. For that I am thankful. If I had to go through what I went through in order to get here, then it was worth the heartache and pain. It was worth the bloodshed (my own) and all the sleepless nights. God will always be with me and He has promised He will not give me more than I can bear—even though it may seem like it at the time. I just need to trust in Him completely.

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”—1 Corinthians 10:13

Today I praise God for the good works He has done in my life. I praise Him for the opportunity to share my testimony in order to help others who are struggling now. I praise Him that He brought me through the pain of my childhood and adolescence so that I may be able to help someone else who is hurting in the same way. I thank Him for my husband whom I love dearly. Most of all, I thank Him for the gift of eternal life through Christ Jesus, without whom I am nothing.

Sometimes, when we least expect it, something happens that changes our lives forever.

Sometimes, it can turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

[END OF STORY]

If you are a survivor of pastoral abuse, we would love to hear your story and possibly make it available on this web site for others to read and renew their hope. You can use a pseudonym if you choose and rest assured that all personal information will be kept private and strictly confidential. Please contact us.

Please note: We do not necessarily agree with or endorse all the information contained in the survivor’s stories. We do, however, feel they have some valuable information that could be useful to you in your recovery. It helps to know you’re not alone, that others have shared your pain and have healed, by the grace of God, in their own time and way.

The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart...Psalms 34:18