the Hope of Survivors

Misguided Love by Sarah*

Statistics show that one in four people are raped and 90% of these victims know their attacker. My story fits in with these statistics, but with a twist, because my rapist was my pastor.

In high school, I was incredibly active in my church and had many responsibilities. The church was going through a renewal process and many of the leaders were being replaced. As a result of the change, there were many open positions that needed to be filled. One such position was secretarial. I stepped up to this responsibility as well as others. Becoming the secretary for the church involved a lot of close work with the pastor and we got to know each other very well and on many different levels. He had a variety of roles in my life—he was my friend, my boss, my pastor and spiritual helper, and a father figure to me. As a result of difficult high school experiences, he began to counsel me as well.

Over the two years of my active involvement, Pastor John* and I spent a lot of time together. We saw each other nearly every day and knew everything that was going on in each other’s lives. In June of 2004, people began to get suspicious about our relationship. I would later learn that these suspicions would come true.

In July, our relationship started to change. In hindsight, I realize that our hugs started to become longer and he started to look forward to our time together a little too much. His wife and my mom began to voice their suspicions out loud. At the time, I pushed them out of mind because the ideas they were presenting sounded completely ludicrous to me since, on my end, there wasn’t anything going on between us—John was just a friend helping me through life’s difficulties. By the time August came around, the physical side of our relationship had changed because John had attempted to kiss me once and had succeeded when he tried a second time. Even though I knew this was wrong, it never triggered in my mind what exactly was going on.

That fall, I went away to college hoping to start a new life. John and I remained in contact, as I was trying to continue volunteer tasks in the church even though I was away. He started to send me cards on a daily basis that told me how much he loved me, how he wanted to marry me and have me in his life permanently, along with fantasies of what our life could be like if together. The relationship was definitely at a new, uncomfortable level for me. In October, we decided to meet halfway between our homes. I agreed to attend because I was planning on informing him that the relationship must end. I had no idea that I would come away from the meeting a scarred, changed woman.

John met me with a dozen roses and an intimate hug when I arrived. We climbed into his van where, after some conversation, he sexually abused me. Although I don’t remember every detail from the event, I do recall thinking over and over again in my head that I wanted him to stop. I didn’t understand why he was doing this; why he wanted to hurt me. I thought he was my friend, not someone who acted out their sexual fantasies with an 18-year old. After the rape ended, we sat in the front seats of the van talking. I told him that I wanted to end the physical side of our relationship because there was too much on the line to lose—his family, his career, our personal and spiritual values, as well as my college career. He sobbed while I talked, but he knew what we needed to do, no matter how difficult it was for him. When I left him, he was still crying. He left that day and ended up confessing our relationship to a congregant of the church upon his arrival back home. 

After John’s confession, it was no longer an option to “put the past behind us” and move on. The sin was too great to bury and ignore. John and I had one last conversation with each other over the phone where he apologized through his tears, told me how much I meant to him, and ended with a prayer. Not more than two days later, he had resigned from the ministry, confessed to his wife, and both of us were left with broken hearts.

For the past three and a half years I have accepted responsibility and the blame for this incident. After all, I must have had an idea of what was going to happen when we met because of all the stories he had shared with me. Why did I drive there if I knew what was going to happen? I knew people had suspicions about our relationship months before it blew up as well. Why didn’t I stop it before it had started? The short answer to these questions is that I trusted him. I trusted him with all of my heart. I didn’t believe that he would hurt me because when you put your trust in someone, you don’t believe that they would do something to hurt you. It’s the farthest from a person’s mind.

My boyfriend forced me into counseling four months ago because I was having panic attacks over the flashbacks from the incident nearly every day. When I began to put suicidal threats into action, he had had enough. When I started the counseling process, I was resistant to it because I was convinced it was all my fault and I didn’t want to change this feeling because what if I found myself in the same situation again? I didn’t want to repeat the same mistake. However, with the help of my counselor, I have been able to realize that the incident wasn’t my fault. God convicts us of the same thing over and over again because He is consistent and specific and, after a lot of soul searching, I’ve come to realize that God isn’t holding me responsible for any part of what happened. 

At one point, my counselor directed me toward The Hope of Survivors website. Reading through the various information and understanding other victim’s stories was the breaking point in my healing. After reading the stories, I knew that I wasn’t alone in my situation. There were other people in this world that understood what I was going through because they had been there. I learned how taxing this type of abuse could be on a person and found suggestions on how to heal from the pain, which has been extremely helpful to me. This website taught me that what happened between us was not an affair because it was not consensual. I also believe that John was responsible for upholding appropriate boundaries between us, which he didn’t.   

The healing process from this event has taken a while and I’m positive that the process isn’t complete, as I still have some growing and realizations to come to. It’s difficult to come to terms with sexual abuse, as there are a lot of feelings of shame, guilt, isolation, and grief, but I’m here to encourage any survivors that God is a forgiving God and One that will stay with you through all your emotions and the pain that sexual abuse brings.  God has compassion for those who are suffering from abuse because He sent His own Son, Jesus to experience the horrors of it. Jesus was verbally abused, mocked, slapped, beaten, spit on and violated, but as the Bible says, “by His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Whether you’re in the midst of the healing process from pastoral abuse, or consider yourself healed but scarred, continue to rely on God for everything because He is the sole Person who will bring you through this pit.

*Names changed for anonymity.  

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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