The goal of this blog series is to motivate people to find redemption in Christ and to believe in the local church again. If you missed them, the first four posts are linked below.
*Key names have been changed for privacy purposes. This post is rated R (if you are a teen, please read with a parent or guardian)
Have you ever been deceived in a relationship or by leadership in the church? When I found out my ex-boyfriend Frank was abusing young girls in the youth group I was shocked and devastated. This man I had dated and loved was the complete opposite of who I thought he was. He had built a web of lies and my world had been woven in them for years.
There were so many moments of self-reflection where I asked God the“what ifs” and “who am I’s”. Yet through it all there was a bigger picture. A picture of God’s grace and goodness that now, well over a decade later, I can finally see the answers.
Frank’s “past” got brushed under the rug. His bible college advised counseling but gave him a degree in ministry regardless. Frank’s parents ignored the allegations against Frank. They over-spiritualized his perverted behavior and slapped a “generational curse” label on it. The district the church was in turned a blind eye. Frank was free. He got married and moved on to be a youth pastor out of state. He pastored at many churches for over ten years investing in hundreds of kids.
I had moved on as well. I battled through my depression with counseling and prayer. My friends cheered me on and my family supported me. I established my career in my dream job and eventually got married to an amazing man. Ministry called me into serving in ways I never imagined but had prayed for. Life was good and Frank was a thing of the past . Or was he?
A little over two years ago I found myself searching the national sex offender registry. I held my breath as I typed in Frank’s name. Every few years or so I would look on the registry and find peace in the fact that his name wasn’t on it. That meant he had gotten the help he needed and he wasn't hurting anyone. On this day particular day, there was no peace, just his mugshot.
I can’t begin to tell you in how many ways my heart was broken. I sat there, staring into those eyes. For the first time, they seemed hollow and creepy.
I called up Rose, a longtime friend. She pulled up his mugshot and didn't hold back "He LOOKS like a sex-offender".
"Because he is a sex offender." Our words felt heavy as the truth of who Frank was set in.
I can only speculate that he had victimized people for over ten years. His actions put him behind bars and he was now labeled as a lifetime registered Tier III sex offender. Frank was charged with sexual abuse of a minor. A Tier III crime is one that is punishable by at least a year in prison and is the most serious of the Tiers. This man had manipulated a minor and used his authority to have abusive sexual contact.
The story unravels to be a bigger mess, similar to that of a Lifetime movie plot. Those details don’t bring any value to this post so I’ll refrain from writing them. I will tell you this, Frank’s label and jail time will keep him from being in a place of leadership in the church ever again.
A few weeks after hearing the news, I was at a prayer meeting. The topic of the night was on forgiveness. Having walked through my church wounds years earlier, I thought I forgave Frank’s family and himself. As we prayed I could sense God showing me there was still some work to be done. Frank’s conviction had drudged up some emotion and pain that was deeply buried. I asked for prayer and without giving them any details they began to pray.
“God we just ask that you help Jenny forgive whoever she needs to forgive. Give her the boldness and courage to give it over to you.”
I couldn’t forgive. It was as if my unforgiveness was protecting the victims and providing them an ally. I sat stone-faced, grasping my unforgiveness with all my might. My mind was racing with one thought “But you don’t know what he did. But you don’t know what he did.”
Then a woman who was praying said this “I feel like you are saying 'If you only knew what he did to them' ..."As those words hit me like a one-two punch to the gut, sobs escaped my body. She continued “If you only knew what he did. God’s saying ‘I know and I'm still asking you to forgive.’”
This was the start of the last leg of my journey in overcoming church wounds and crude dudes. Forgiveness is not always earned. Yet Christ is the ultimate example of extending forgiveness when it often isn’t deserved.
What Frank did is not acceptable, not even close. But when I forgave Frank, I chose to trust the situation in God’s hands. In the famous words of Frozen, I learned to "let it go".
When I did that, God started to show me what HE thought about Frank. I started to pray for Frank, his family and the victims. In doing so I was shifting my perspective off of the deception and started seeing the promises God has for all of them. Thank GOD for the victims and their courage to come forward. My heart breaks that they are so young and had to navigate through this. Thank you for being brave and having the courage to stand up to what is wrong. There is freedom in sharing your story. In doing so, you preventing Frank from hurting other girls in the youth group.
This topic is just skimming the surface and can even expand to people in authority at school and sports teams. We don't stop cheering our teams on because we read about a pedophile coach. Nor should we stop going to church. It's time the church stop brushing things under the rug and start talking about the hard stuff.
My message is this ... be aware that it happens, be courageous to battle against it and learn to walk in forgiveness.
I know my story of overcoming deception is one in millions. Spiritual manipulation, deception and lack of integrity in leadership are all things that can cause deep church wounds in someone. My prayer for you, is that you find healing and purpose through God’s love and power and in the sacred place again; the local church.
5 Ways to Overcome Deception:
1. Pursue God's heart and understand His CHARACTER
When you know God, you’ll know what’s not God.
2. Detach from the deception
Give yourself space to heal and regain a healthy outlook again. It's called healthy boundaries! It's okay to set healthy boundaries with dysfunctional people. The same goes for church. Give yourself space. Learn to separate your church experience and your experience with God. They may be intertwined but they are separate.
3. Work through the pain
Find someone to process it with. A safe person -- a counselor, best friend, parent or Pastor. Your voice is valuable and deserves to be heard. Be empowered to walk this out with God by your side.
4. Pray & Release
Give them over to God. It’s not your job to fix the situation anyways. All you can do is work on you and be obedient in the areas God shows you. Forgiveness is a process, not a one hit wonder. Overtime your heart will transform and you can walk in wholeness.
5. Be Planted
God calls us to be in community. The church is a beautiful place to do that. I believe there is a healthy church out there for you to be apart of.
I hope this series was encouraging. Feel free to reach out if you are struggling -- Just know, God is fighting for you!