I never hit publish on this blog post from 2019: Stories of Abuse From Within the Church. I forgot about it until I saw it in my drafts today. 

I think at the time, I was hesitant to share it because I had a lot of questions. What will it stir up? What problems will it cause? Do I have the capacity for the haters? Do I really want to open up my story of church trauma and spiritual abuse to the world? It’s hard to imagine now why I tolerated such things. (Short answer – I was single, and I worried about finding another job because I saw how others were blacklisted.) 

I am stronger now. The priest who abused me as a child has been held accountable. (The case closed in late 2022.) I’ve had a lot of therapy for that and other abuse from leaders in the Church. And God has been teaching me about the deeper reasons why I stayed in abusive situations in the past and healing my heart. There is no more shame or fear in sharing my story anymore. 

So it’s time to hit that button …. Publish.

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When you’ve been a part of an organization that leads many people to Christ, you can’t imagine there’d be a dark side.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been shocked at the stories in the news from the Southern Baptist Convention, Willow Creek, Harvest Bible Chapel, and Sovereign Grace Ministries. Each one includes abuse – spiritual, physical, emotional, and psychological.

Ever since I published my blog about Detoxing After Working at Harvest, I’ve received emails, phone calls, and messages on social media from leaders or staff members from some of the church plants. Stories of being forced out, manipulated, lied about, bullied, controlled and shamed. At an event called Healing From Church Hurt, I heard some similar stories—the same patterns. Every one of them shares some common abuses. My heart breaks as they recount the stories … because it’s not just one thing that happened to them … multiple times, they tried to have conversations, understand, or reconcile.

I thought what I went through was unique to me. It wasn’t.

A few weeks ago, I decided to read my old journals. I’d forgotten so much. Looking back, I can see things now that I couldn’t see at the time. And it’s scary.

I often asked God to help me be a better servant. I prayed for strength to work the long hours without complaint. Over time, I started to lose my confidence and joy. I started to journal about struggling with my prayer life. The more time went by, the worse I got. I was so tired … all the time … And I thought I was the problem.

I will share some details of my story for a few reasons. Maybe you’re in a situation and wonder if you’re making too much of it or are crazy. Maybe you’re a bystander and don’t understand why the person you love is wrestling so much. I hope the things I experienced bring understanding and healing to those still suffering.

I worked for the Harvest Bible Fellowship in the early days. My boss was the Executive Director. It started normally. It was a joy to serve in church planting. Slowly, more and more rules were set as you’ll read below. 

Part of me believes these examples could be seen as “normal crappy boss” events or “bad leadership.” Everyone has had some sort of bad experience and we learn how to cope or find a new job. But as you read this, please remember I was a new believer and had wanted to honor God. I was made to believe as a Christian I needed to submit to my boss. One thing may be a bad day but they were constant. I ended up having a life where I was controlled in every area  and didn’t have any time to do anything outside of the church/job, no autonomy nor privacy.

Some of My Story

  • I couldn’t go to the bathroom without leaving a sticky note on my desk where I was.
  • I had to take lunch at the same time as my boss. If I wanted to go with friends, I had to ask permission.
  • I couldn’t eat in the church lunchroom or drive between campuses with an unmarried man. (I was unmarried too.) 
  • I couldn’t have snacks at my desk because people would socialize with me (and I needed to work).
  • I couldn’t go home for dinner between work and rehearsal for leading worship for women’s Bible study because, “You need to work around my schedule. This is not a 9-5 job.”
  • I had to answer my phone at night or on weekends 24/7, and if I didn’t answer, I was reprimanded.
  • I couldn’t leave at night until I was excused. If he was in a meeting, I had to wait … even if there wasn’t work to do. One time, I left for a hairdresser appointment at 7 pm, and I received an angry phone call explaining to me again how I had to work around his schedule.
  • I was told I couldn’t date another unmarried pastor on staff. I was questioned about our relationship and grilled about physical details. Then we were forbidden from talking to each other because we had kissed. We were threatened with losing our jobs if we did. It was spread around the church staff as if I had done something wrong by dating (and kissing) this pastor. He told me that because the pastor was younger than me, it would never work out. That when I was in my 50s, he’d no longer be attracted to me.
  • I would be blocked into my desk as he stood behind me with an arm on either side and his chest pushed up against my back.
  • He would grab my arm, pinch my cheek, and say, “How you doing good girl?” And sometimes kiss my forehead. One time, after he did it again, I punched him in the arm. I promptly went to HR to “turn myself in.” I was told there was nothing they could do about him. If they had to choose, they’d fire me and keep him.
  • If I wanted a day off for personal reasons, I had to explain what that reason was. (A little embarrassing when it was the gynecologist.)
  • When I had cupping on my back from my chiropractor, he pulled out the back of my shirt and looked inside, without asking, and in front of another pastor.
  • I had to go in on the weekend and be late for a family function because he forgot to turn on his out-of-office reply, and I had to go do it.
  • I had to miss a training seminar that I paid for on a weekend because he decided he needed me to work.
  • I was told this job wasn’t the kind that allowed me to lead worship on the weekends anymore, so I had to stop serving.
  • Everyone had the week off between Christmas and New Year, but I had to be in the office. Literally, no one was there, and there wasn’t any work to do. So I read a book.
  • When I pushed back on things like the above, I was threatened with being fired, “Maybe this isn’t the right job for you.”
  • I was told I couldn’t look for another role at the Church without him “releasing me.” When someone asked me if I wanted a position, I followed instructions and told them to ask my boss. He accused me of looking for a job behind his back. And then proceeded to tell me that it was time for me to “transition out.” As soon as a replacement was found, I would be without a job. Then, I was told that if I found a job, I needed to give 4 months’ notice. (I gave three weeks.)
  • He wanted to help me find a new job and make the decision of which one to take … so I was to run all opportunities by him. (I didn’t.)
  • He wanted to pray for me every week after I left. (I declined)
  • After I left, he called to ask me if I had told Todd Dugard (Sr. Pastor at Harvest Barrie and HBF Board member) about some of the things I saw while working for him. He said if he had found out when I was there, I would’ve been fired for disloyalty. And Todd, as well.

Other pastors called him a “slave driver.” I know a few of them talked to him about how he was treating me. They often said he treated me like a second wife.

I actually found the other pastors very supportive. I hoped if they talked to him, he would see it and change. I thought this was an isolated case of control by one man. But since leaving, I’ve been contacted by many people who suggest this type of control was rampant at Harvest, especially for the women.  And it was taught to the church planters that this was how you lead. It has caused unbelievable damage to the body of Christ. 

This is NOT OKAY. This is NOT NORMAL. Of course. Most of us who read this will agree. But I’m sure there are many other women right now who are enduring the same things (or worse) and need someone to say it. 

Let’s identify what some of this was – sexual harassment and assault. And I had no idea. I thought I wasn’t a very submissive employee.

I have so much compassion for that younger version of me. When your entire world revolves around one community (work, social, spiritual), you are brainwashed into thinking you have to make it work because the cost is too high to leave.

Stories of Abuse From Within The Church

There is a systemic problem in the Church today. One that allows harassment, control, and abuse because too many leaders remain silent. In my case, I believe many good leaders spoke up about the things they saw him do to me. They addressed my boss many times. They told me what they had said to him and validated it wasn’t okay. He would get better for a while and in front of those who had eyes to see. But the best leaders didn’t stay at Harvest, so they didn’t know it continued or couldn’t help.

It’s time for the truth to come out. It’s time for those who have the strength to speak up for those who are still confused, broken, or scared. It’s not gossip or slander when we are identifying abusers and incidents of abuse.

Victims need someone to help them do what they cannot do for themselves. Then, continue to stand up for them when it gets worse because they shared the truth. There will be consequences for all parties, but I believe the Lord will protect the righteous. As the body of Christ, we must prepare our hearts for the shock that is to come from stories of pastors and movements we have admired and learned from over the years. We must decide today that we will believe the victims and do something to support them.

I will be a voice for the voiceless as the Lord leads. I pray He gives us all the strength, grace, compassion, and wisdom in these days. God is revealing more and more because He loves His children and the Church. Whatever He reveals, He heals.

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