When a Pastor Becomes a Predator

How would you respond to sexual misconduct at church?
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One day more than a decade ago, the senior pastor of my church stopped by my house unannounced. I had just had a baby, so I presumed his visit was pastorally motivated, although I was a little thrown off by his sudden appearance at my door. I invited him in, and we made small talk for a while. My baby began to fuss and it soon became apparent that he needed to nurse. My pastor didn't take his cue and offer to leave, so after several tense moments of trying to soothe my son without whipping out my breast to feed him, I told my pastor that we'd need to continue our conversation some other time. He finally left.

I didn't think too much of this incident–at least not until he showed up a second time uninvited. Thankfully, I was running out the door, and I told him I couldn't visit right then. As I drove away from my house, I had a sick feeling in my stomach, like something wasn't quite right. Why would my pastor drop by without calling first? And why me? We weren't that closely connected through the church. Why would he stop by my house to pay a visit? Don't people usually call first?

Thankfully, nothing materialized beyond these two incidents. For me, that is. Years after I moved away from this church, I learned that there were several women who brought forth allegations of sexual misconduct against this same pastor. To this day, one of these women remains estranged from the church and from God, largely because of the devastating effects of being victimized by her pastor. And to this day, I no longer trust pastors like I used to.

My pastor didn't abuse me. But when I recall the sick feeling I had the second time he arrived on my door step, intuitively I knew his behavior was wrong. Why, then, was I unable to call him on it? Why didn't I just say, "Now is not a good time for me to visit. Why don't you call me when you're at your office, and we can schedule a time when my husband and I are both available." My inability to hold him accountable for wrong behavior–whether he had good or bad motives for coming to my house–could very well have made me a candidate for his abuse. I now know to pay close attention to that sick feeling: If something feels wrong, it probably is.

When I interviewed Sharon (a fictional name to protect a real woman's identity) for the story, "Sexual Misconduct at Church," she said the same thing. Sharon experienced the sinking feeling that something wasn't quite right when her pastor hugged her. At first, she was slow to call this awkward embrace what it was–inappropriate–because she trusted him. Sadly for her, his hugs escalated into all-out harassment, making her employment at the church untenable.

September19, 2008 at 10:16 PM

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