Clergy Abuse Victims are Often Ignored by the Church
Clergy abuse victims are often left to fend for themselves after being harmed by a church leader. In 2014, an elder at my church sexually abused me. The elder, Dr. Dolion was also my therapist/psychiatrist. I didn’t think I could survive it. Shame, pain, and betrayal hung like weights around my neck as I struggled to keep my head above water. I dreamed of being fought for, David showing up to valiantly stave off the Philistines as I watched in awe from my spot safely behind the battle lines. I imagined being rescued by the church body like a shepherd gathers a missing sheep and tucks it deep into the fold before removing and eliminating the wolf.
Instead, I found myself outside the fold, standing next to the wolf. My pastor was helpful at first, but then he morphed into damage control mode. Protect the church. Protect his reputation. Salvage his job. Don’t make enemies. Soon, my pastor lumped me and Dr. D together—two sinners in need of help. Yes, my pastor actually used those words.
I finally told him that he was like a father to me and that if he couldn’t treat me like I was one of his own daughters not to speak to me at all. Later, he admitted that he was in a quandary because he was friends with the abuser’s boys. These boys were grown men with families of their own. Shouldn’t they be afforded the truth and allowed to come to their own conclusions?
Even worse, I felt everyone’s eyes on me—sizing me up, judging me, and blaming me. It’s such a shame what he’s being accused of. What did she do to tempt him? Is she trying to collect on his insurance? Soon, I discovered firsthand what the gossip mill was churning out.
After church one Sunday, a fellow church member approached another victim whom I had never met. “Did you know that the girl who reported Dr. D has done this to tons of doctors?”
“Well, I don’t know that girl, but I can tell you that she is not the only victim. He abused me too,” she replied. “So you can return to your sources and tell them to stop spreading lies.” Oh, to be a fly on the wall as the friend stood speechless before back-peddling awkwardly into the crowd.
Clergy Abuse Victims are Often Blamed
Many victims of clergy abuse get this kind of treatment. Nobody wants to admit that the man who has been praying with them and attending bible study alongside them is an evil sociopath. So they blame the victims. The church removes the threat, dismissing the innocent women harmed, and once that is finished the circle closes back in and they carry on as normal. It’s only one less sheep after all, hardly noticeable in the long run.
I sickens me that this continues to happen, and I don’t blame the church members who are often left in the dark, struggling to grasp what happened, forced to make a determination with limited resources available. Often the gossip mill is that source. Dr. Dolion had attended my church for 20 years, and I had been there 24 months. A doctor or a patient in therapy. Who would you believe?
I think the church just like the abuser’s family deserves to know the truth. Give them the facts, and then they can make their own assumptions, but for heavens sake, don’t let the gossip mill act as their only source of information. Should we keep parents in the dark when violence erupts at the school? Don’t communities deserve to know when an escaped convict is on the loose?
My pastor chose not to share the details of Dr. D’s medical board investigation. After Pastor Dean removed the abuser from the elder board, he informed the other elders and then buried the secret.
Victims in this situation are first-off devastated by the abuse and betrayal by someone they came to respect and trust, and then they are further crushed when the church family abandons them. I finally wised up and walked away, but before doing so I was repeatedly retraumatized by mostly well-meaning Christians.
Quoting the Bible Inappropriately Weaponizes Scripture and Further Harms Victims
Scripture used at the wrong time, used out of context or delivered without compassion and empathy is weaponizing scripture. So many scriptures were weaponized against me as I struggled to survive in those early weeks and months. Here are some of the scriptures that hurt the most.
“For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” James 2:10 (ESV) and “For God shows no partiality.” Romans 2:11 (ESV) After learning what this sexual predator did to me, a fellow Christian used these scriptures to remind me that God sees all sin the same. In other words, in God’s eyes, the abuse I endured and my telling a white lie were the same. Wow. Luckily, I had a close personal relationship with Jesus; otherwise, her unfounded comment could have sent me packing.
Before we speak, especially when talking to someone in a fragile state, we need to ask ourselves one question. Is what I am about to say going to point this person towards Jesus or away? Fortunately, I knew that was not how God saw the offense, but it did give me pause. I struggled to accept that the abuse grieved God and that God did not view this premeditated crime in the same way He viewed me stealing a rabbit’s foot from the gas station as a little kid.
Fun fact—after taking the coveted rabbit’s foot from the gas station, I ran through my front yard, clutching the coveted item that was to bring me great fortune, when I tripped and dropped it. And guess what I never found again? The stupid lucky rabbit’s foot. So much for being lucky. I looked around, imagining an evil eye watching me and then apologized to God profusely and ran inside, never to steal again.
All joking aside, telling a victim with fresh wounds that God sees these two offenses the same, was highly inappropriate, not to mention deeply disturbing and damaging. If God does not acknowledge the severity of what happened to me and other survivors, then I’m out.
Although I know many consider sexual relationships between pastors and parishioners or therapists and clients as consensual, they are far from it. The sexual assault (by a therapist) that I endured is criminal in 32 states. Criminal. Against the law. Felony. Jail time first offense in some states. Sadly, Oklahoma was not one of them, leaving me with few alternatives for justice besides a civil malpractice suit.
When I mentioned this to my close friend, the pastor’s wife, she informed me that Christians are not allowed to sue other Christians, to which I blurted out, “He is not a Christian!?” She was referring to 1 Corinth 6:1 (NLT), “When one of you has a dispute with another believer, how dare you file a lawsuit and ask a secular court to decide the matter instead of taking it to other believers!”
Clergy Abuse Victims’ Shaky Faith Hangs in the Balance
Now I am not a bible scholar, nor am I mocking the use of these scriptures. I am simply saying that scripture can be used to heal or to harm, and we need to take great care when offering scriptural support to those who have been egregiously harmed by the church. Even with good intentions, we can send a victim reeling if we aren’t careful.
And I can’t speak for God here, but I can tell you that the man who meticulously groomed me and then sexually assaulted me, not just me but many others, this man who took lives literally and figuratively with zero remorse, this man that I am speaking of is no Christian! The title of Christian is not like getting a driver’s license. It is not a get out of jail free card. A Christian is a person who is attempting to imitate Christ in all aspects of their lives. This man certainly was not.
Moving on to this gem…”Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” Malachi 3:10 (ESV) Not growing up in the Christian world, I needed clarification on this one.
A dear lady who acted as a spiritual mentor to me on many occasions informed me that before I reached out to God for help in dealing with this tragedy that left a gaping hole in my world, I better make sure I had tithed as much as I was supposed to. Wait, what? I needed to pay God before He will help me? How much? What is the correct dollar amount before I start getting help? Wow, the God I had encountered years earlier did not operate this way. That God expected nothing from me.
Scriptures Used Appropriately Can Bring Great Comfort to Clergy Abuse Victims
Before we close, let’s look at the scriptures that comforted me in my time of suffering.
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Matthew 18:6 (NIV) God uses the term little ones not to refer to children but to refer to new believers as I was. Yes! Finally, someone pointed out God’s outrage at what happened.
“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Rom 12:19 (NIV) Wait, God feels wrath about what took place? He will seek vengeance? Envisioning God, a mighty warrior father, fighting my battles for me, and avenging me provided a huge dose of healing.
That leads me to a final scripture that provided comfort during this time. “The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you…” Duet 1:30 (NIV) Now that is what I’m talking about, and that is the God I know and love. God will fight for you, and He won’t leave you standing alone, ashamed and defenseless.
“Trust him, and he will help you. He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn, and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.” Ps 37:5-6 (NLT) That’s right. God will show the world (or at least those who matter) our innocence. We can remove that from our to-do list. That realization lifted a huge burden off my shoulders.
Words are like weapons. That’s why it says in Hos 6:5 (NIV), “I killed you with the words of my mouth…” When we find ourselves in a situation where we are trying to offer Godly council or wisdom to someone who is hurting, especially those harmed by a religious leader whose faith is already fragile, we should ask ourselves—Will what I am about to say point this person towards Jesus or away? And remember, sometimes nothing is the right thing to say.
For more on how to help the clergy/therapist abuse victims in your life, click here: https://amynordhues.com/what-adult-victims-of-abuse-need-you-to-do/