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Baptist Abuse Stories

Denise KodiTwo months after arriving at Hyles-Anderson College, I was forcibly escorted to the campus infirmary and injected with a tranquilizer. I assume it was a tranquilizer, since I wasn’t told what it was, or asked if I wanted it. The nurse simply stuck me in the arm. She didn’t even bother to roll up my sleeve first.

I remember thinking, This can’t be legal, but I was 18 and didn’t believe I had any rights. Within seconds after being sedated, the room went wobbly and I slid out of my chair. Someone (I don’t recall who) drug me into a little room, shut the door and locked me inside.

You might be wondering what “sin” I had committed to warrant this. Rumor had it I was crazy. But the truth is: I didn’t fit in. I enrolled in HAC because graduates back home claimed it was the next best thing to heaven. They said things like, “God gave me abundant joy!” I wanted abundant joy, too. I had been raised in a violent home, with a stepfather who was physically and sexually abusive, and I wanted to go someplace safe and loving, where I could blossom into the kind of person I knew I could be.

But after two months at HAC, I was miserable. I had always loved writing, language and literature, but quickly discovered these were off limits. As a woman I was restricted to three “majors”, one of them being housewifery. When I asked other girls why we didn’t have more choices, they scolded me and said I should be grateful. I felt increasingly alone. With no one to talk to, I wrote poetry. When one of my roommates found a series of depressing poems, she reported me to HAC authorities.

After being drugged, I was “sentenced” to the infirmary for two or three days. Meals were brought by student nurses who were told neither to talk to me, nor let me out of my room, nor answer any of my questions about why this was happening. I had nothing in that room. No pen, no paper. Ironically, they didn’t even give me a bible to read.

Finally, on the second day of my incarceration, I spotted two of my roommates through a crack in another door which opened into a main hallway. When no one was looking (they weren’t allowed to talk to me), they scurried over and whispered: “We think you’ll be getting out soon…” News of  The Crazy Girl in the Infirmary had spread like wildfire. Rumor had it I would soon be meeting with the esteemed Dr. Marlene Evans, Dean of Women.

I thought my prayers were answered. I had never met Dr. Evans, but anyone who attended HAC or First Baptist Church knew she’d authored many books and led the Christian Womanhood Spectacular conventions. As part of my work-study program (in addition to cleaning First Baptist Church), I had distributed box-lunches for the Spectacular, listening to throngs of women rave about Dr. Evans’ wisdom and compassion.

The prospect of meeting with her was exciting. I returned to the cot in my cell and imagined how our meeting would go. An established “author,” sitting down to talk with a young mentor. Wise. Compassionate. Surely Dr. Evans would understand.

The following day, a student nurse unlocked my cell door and said, “It’s time.” She let me go into the bathroom and freshen up (I’d been in the same clothes for days). Then she escorted me down a series of hallways, through a door– and suddenly there she was, my hero.

I grinned bashfully, respectfully. “Hello, Dr. Evans.”

“Hello,” she said without looking up. She was sitting at her desk, working, a box of tissues beside her. Evidently she had a cold and she was cranky. She motioned for me to take a seat. I noticed her office was absolutely crammed with stuff: trinkets and pillows and plaques. Gifts, she said, from fans.

I took a seat and waited. When she finally looked at me, I started to tell her what I had rehearsed all night: that I admired her leadership, that I was a writer too, that I hoped she could guide me in the right direction. “I think I’m unhappy, because I want to develop my skills and—”

She stopped me. “That’s enough,” she said. She wasn’t interested in hearing any of this. No? No. She was a busy woman. Here was the deal: Evidently, I was depressed. Depression did not come from God, it came from Satan. Maybe I had a willful heart. Whatever my problem was, I couldn’t stay at HAC. “You’ll lead others astray. We can’t have that. So,” she said, “you’re going home.”

And just like that, it was over. I spent a final night in jail. The next morning two men tossed me in a car with my suitcases (my roommates had packed my things, since I wasn’t allowed back in the dorm). I was driven to Chicago’s O’Hare and literally dropped off at the curb. “I don’t know this airport,” I said. “You’ll figure it out,” the guy told me. Then he got back in the car and the two of them sped off.

I returned to Denver disillusioned but strangely relieved. I didn’t belong at Hyles-Anderson. The dudes who tossed me out at the airport knew it, Dr. Evans knew it, and deep inside I knew it, too. I remember looking at the snow-capped mountains as the plane circled to land and thinking, I’m finally free.

My freedom didn’t happen immediately. It took years to overcome the punishing mindset and learn to believe in myself, but gradually I got there. I enrolled in a university where I followed my passion, majoring in French and English literature. I was invited to study in France, graduated with honors, and lived in the Czech Republic for a while teaching English. Over the years I’ve worked with refugees, at-risk youth and taught workshops on writing as transformation for people battling their own conditioning. I’ve had stories and essays published, won awards, and met some amazing people.

Today, I’m grateful for being expelled from HAC. Not grateful for being drugged and imprisoned! That was a deplorable act on their part. But if they hadn’t treated me so horribly, if Dr. Evans hadn’t been such an insensitive clod, I might still be “imprisoned” in a life that was never right for me.

If anyone out there is struggling with something similar, I would implore you to listen to your heart. Do not listen to the manipulation and degradation– those are lies, and those lies are meant to silence you. They are meant to squash your beauty, your strength, your courage, your story. If your voice is silenced, the rest of us will miss out on whatever you have to contribute!

Please don’t cheat us out of knowing the wonderful, authentic you. You may wind up doing something so awesome it will make this world a better place! So, please listen to the truth within yourself, your inner-guide, your spirit, your soul. You have everything you need inside.

Thanks for reading and feel free to get in touch through my website: www.denisekodi.com

My name is Debby Kenderdine. I grew up in an Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) home. My Dad went to Fairhaven Baptist College in Chesterton, Indiana. After he was finished there, he moved our family to Philadelphia where he served as a pastor for about 8 years. When I was 10 years old, my dad made the decision to go to Cambodia as a missionary and to go under Fairhaven Baptist Church. Two years later we moved to Cambodia. After a year and half there, my mom passed away in a motorcycle accident. We moved back home after she died and we lived at Fairhaven.

Exactly a year later, we moved back to Cambodia. Fairhaven sent an intern over to spend the summer with us. I was very excited, since I grew up with this man and loved him like a brother. However, a month before his internship was over, he molested me. I was 15 and scared out of my mind. I went to my Dad for help. My Dad said he would handle it. He did, but I was told that I had to keep it a secret. I did for 7 years.

My family eventually moved back to Fairhaven where my Dad was interning to be the next lead pastor. I hated it. People were constantly watching and judging everything that I did. More than once I got into major trouble for being dressed “immodest.” Then, the man who had molested me moved back to Fairhaven as well. This really disturbed me greatly to the point that I hardly ever slept and if I saw this person walking towards me I would get anxiety attacks.

In my second year of college, I managed to get myself kicked out for looking at porn. This was none of their business, of course, but in the IFB everything seems to be the pastor’s business. I became a prisoner in my own home after being kicked out. I wasn’t allowed to speak with anyone except my family and the staff. I became severely depressed at this time. I prayed every day and night for God to kill me and when I woke up alive, I would be angry. Once I almost tried to kill myself, however my fear of going to hell took over. (At the time, I thought that if a person killed themself, they automatically went to hell.)

I began to listen to pop music, which actually saved my life. It allowed me to see that I could make my own choices in life, something I hadn’t realized before. It also taught me to love myself just as I was. I didn’t have to change for anyone.  For the first time ever I had some hope. When my dad found out that I was listening to the “devil’s music” he was furious. He took everything I owned and threw it away. (Mind you I was now 22.) This, however didn’t stop me any. I restocked my music and went on.

My dad resigned from Fairhaven that year and moved to a small Wisconsin church. Of course, he took me with him. There, he became more relaxed. And this led to my being able to finally escape through the help of a dear friend.

Leaving wasn’t easy. There are many things that came up that I wasn’t prepared for. In my head I had it that once I left the cult, I would leave all the pain it caused behind, but that simply is not true. I didn’t know how to cope in real life. I had no social skills. My first job was hell for me and it was because I didn’t know how to speak up. I had spent a lifetime being told to shut up and it was different in the real world. Also, trying to make friends was very difficult. It wasn’t until I went back to college this past year that I began to develop friendships again. Dating was another difficultly. I didn’t know that I could say no to what the man wanted. Then there were simple things like learning how to text or use a computer and even a TV.

For quite some time I had to cut off ties with my Dad and, my brothers refused to speak with me. I am lucky though, because now they talk with me. Many of my friends who left Fairhaven are not so lucky. I did face a lot of anxiety, depression and loneliness after leaving the cult. I also got into a couple of bad relationships because I didn’t know any better. However, I have begun to heal. I am in college for psychology. I have a supportive second family and boyfriend. What is more important is that now I am no longer afraid to live my life.

This is Cathy Harris. The following is from my heart:

I plead on behalf of myself and for others who have no voice; Stephen Jones and the BJU Board members, be strong and Godly leaders. Please honor your commitment you PROMISED survivors.

Bob Jones *initiated* hiring G.R.A.C.E. Work together honestly with Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (G.R.A.C.E.) in good faith. Without games. Without spin. Without selfish motives by the school to spruce up its “Show Window”—In good faith, finish the job.

Please stop turning away from survivors of the crimes G.R.A.C.E. has been investigating for the last year.

  • All of us are former students and graduates of Bob Jones Academy and/or Bob Jones University.
  • Some of us are grown-children of BJU’s faculty and staff— their sons and daughters.
  • Some are even former faculty/staff and BJU Press authors.
  • Some of us could have been your future if we hadn’t been discarded as worthless wounded.

I beg you to not only see us as we currently are, but I also beg that you see the potential of all we were meant to be. Our potential we could have been if we had been handled correctly when we divulged our painful assaults or molestation’s.

We WERE One. Of. YOU!

We ARE BJU–or we were, unless you think of us as mere rubbish. But the truth is, we are not trash that needs to be discarded, without thought or consequence. We are human beings who have been terribly wounded by our abuse, and re-victimized at your University by dorm supervisors, dorm counselors, other faculty members who are “unlicensed counselors” and Administrators in the name of God while students at BJA/BJU.

Our cries may have been heard by the Lord, but the University was deaf.

All most of us ever wanted was a *sincere* “I’m sorry”, (Rest assured most survivors have become professionals at seeing through insincerity.) Not money. Certainly not media exposure. If BJU is unwilling to do these things, what other recourse do we have left?

It boils down to accepting to allow the G.R.A.C.E. Investigation to finish. Accept G.R.A.C.E.’s report graciously whether BJU agrees with every single one of G.R.A.C.E.’s findings or not.

Be willing to repent as you *promised survivors* for the wrong way these crimes were handled in the past.

Be willing to *really* listen and weep with those who weep as the GRACE Team has been doing all of this time.

Be willing to *truly* mend up the wounded and protect the innocent in the future.

We have *been* victims, Stephen Jones.

We’re *now* survivors.

This is not going away.

We won’t quit until BJU does right. Not only for us, but to insure those current or future BJU students who may divulge being a victim of molestation and who will face sexual assault/rape in the future will both be protected and their claims handled correctly by law enforcement. Not shoved under the carpet by Bob Jones University.

Once again, we are not going away.

We can no longer be silenced.

I have told my story to many people verbally.  I have written it down in bits and pieces on social media sites such as Facebook.  I have even shared it with other victims in forums for those trying to recover from sexual, spiritual, emotional and physical abuse. In light of recent events with Bob Jones University firing G.R.A.C.E. from their independent investigation, I feel the need to share my story publicly.  I, like many victims of the Independent Fundamental Baptist cult, are outraged that BJU has slapped the faces of victims.  Their cowardice shows by their lack of courage to hear what G.R.A.C.E.’s findings would be.  Just weeks before the final report was to be delivered, at the time of this writing, G.R.A.C.E. had no knowledge as to the reasons behind Bob Jones University’s decision to fire them.

It is very hard for a victim to tell their story.  To give it in detail, in a public forum, takes a lot of courage and strength.  My hope is that my story will help others realize that they are not alone and that they do not need to walk the path of validation by themselves.  I have walked that path.  It is terribly lonely, frightening and exhausting.

While it is terribly hard to find anything in my story that can be criminal or even prosecuted today, what I endured was heinous.  What I endured is considered child abuse by today’s standards.  It could also fall into that category when it occurred.  Sadly, I have to say that the abuse continues to this day  because it is not being addressed and it is still swept under the rug.  Since I opened a Facebook account a little over four years ago, I have spent much of this time diligently trying to right the wrongs, expose the truths within the lies, and tell MY story.  My only hope is that my story gives someone else courage to address what needs to be addressed in their life.

I grew up in what appeared to be a normal, loving home.  My mother was and still is a very loving mother.  She tried to give the best she could to my brother and I.  She was an outstanding mother and I loved how we would go shopping every Saturday after we cleaned the house.  Almost every time we would go to the mall, she would buy me a scoop of bubble-gum ice-cream which I would lick so hard that it always landed on the floor in front of my feet.  We spent a lot of time together.

The first 13 years of my life were pretty much considered normal.  I would have fun with my cousins during the summer.  I was in a public school.  I went roller skating with my friend every Saturday.  My grades were average.  I was well-adjusted.  I was happy.  My parents always got compliments on how my brother and I behaved in public places.  But, there was always a fear that my brother and I had of our father.  He was quick with his hand and we were fearful of  angering him.  My mother was fearful of him.  He threatened her with bodily harm on numerous occasions.  Various incidents happened during their marriage that caused them to realize that the marriage was not what they wanted.  My brother and I were forced to realize that our parents were going to divorce.  I was in 7th grade at the time and I was so stressed about my parents that I had forgotten to do my homework one day.  I never forgot to do my homework.  I went to school and told my teacher at the time that I had forgotten to do my homework.  She gave me a detention.  I ran out of her room and went directly to the girls bathroom to which I began sobbing a body wrenching sob.  It scared me that my emotions had taken over the way that they had.  That made me cry harder.  My teacher entered the bathroom and asked me why I reacted the way I did.  I told her everything.  I told her that my parents were divorcing and that I had to live with my father and that I did not want to.  I felt that I was stuck.  She was not a heartless woman. She took the detention away.  That was a relief because had I gone home with that news, I was surely going to suffer for it.

My brother and I came home one day from school.  We had to take the school bus as we lived in a very rural part of New Jersey.  We came home and we noticed that all the living room furniture was gone.  Our mother’s clothing was gone.  All her belongings were gone.  We were stunned.  I cried for the longest time and the only person who could comfort me was my paternal grandmother.  I loved my grammy.  I begged to have my father drive me the 45 minutes from our house to hers on the night my mom left.  I just could not understand why things happened the way they did. I share all this with you because it builds the reason why my father decided to begin his religious journey.  At least in my mind, this is where it started.

When my parents were having their troubles, my father would attend church more regularly than we had in the past.  My grandparents were very religious and they told him about an Independent Fundamental Baptist Church in a town not far from where we were building a home.  I think that there was an effort to incorporate more religion into our lives in an attempt to save a failing marriage.  It was not that we were not religious.  We were.  We just became more so with this disaster in our lives.

My brother and I were forced to answer questions asked by strangers who appeared that they were interested in us.  It is now, that I realize that these people were lawyers and court appointed psychologists.  They wanted to know who we wanted to live with and why.  But, I always felt this horrible pressure on me to say that I wanted to live with my dad – even though I wanted to live with my mother.  I kept a diary at the time and all my pages during this time-period state just how oppressive it was to live in the house with my father.  He was never happy.  He put on a facade for the outside world, but at home, he was grumpy and just never a happy man.  At the tender age of 12, I was able to notice this about him and noted it in my diary.  I still have this diary today.

The divorce finalized and my brother and I were awarded to our father.  My mother was devastated.  Her story is a much more horrible version.  I will say that my mother was not painted in a complimentary way.  My brother and I were enrolled in the IFB school that was a ministry of the IFB church that our family attended.  The tuition was a lot for my father to pay, but he paid it – somehow.  There were times where we could not even afford a gallon of milk, but he paid the tuition.  There were many winters where he could not afford to fill the oil tank to heat our home, but he paid the tuition and gave his tithe. We heated our home with kerosene space heaters.  It is a wonder I am still alive.  My clothing smelled so badly of kerosene.

Our IFB church had what was called, “Paycheck Sunday”.  During this Sunday in late November, my dad gave his full week’s pay to the church.  Everyone did.  A full week’s pay for a single income parent during the early 1980‘s in blue collar New Jersey was not an easy task.  But the same mantra was uttered by everyone,  “God will provide”.

I guess the realization that having two teenage children with activities was too much for my father to handle alone so he began dating right away.  Every woman he brought to the house, my brother and I did not care for.  He eventually married someone just 8 years my senior.  I was horrified. My brother and I were immediately no longer part of his life and it was shown with many actions.  My brother and I began experiencing changes in how we were disciplined and we were treated extremely different.  By the time I was a Sophomore in the IFB school we attended, my brother and I were extremely miserable.  We were realizing that what we were going through was not normal.  We were so miserable  that we would tell people that things were not right.  Later that year,  my brother had had enough and asked to have my mother sue for custody of him.  She won and he went off to live with her for a while.  I was alone in a house with a step-mother who despised me and a father who placated to her every whim and need.  I was forgotten.

When my parents divorced, my mother had a boyfriend.  This man gave her the attention that she felt she deserved.  She was so starved for attention that it was nice to be the center of it without having to worry if she was saying something wrong or doing something wrong.  It was very well-known that there was infidelity in the marriage and that ultimately caused the demise of my parents marriage.  My mother decided she had enough and that was when she moved.  This boyfriend of hers took great strides to get to know my brother and I.  We were, after all, going to her apartment every other weekend.  He was living with her after she got settled from the divorce.  I was about 15 years old when his affections turned to more than just genuine interest.  He was more touchy with me as my body began to develop.  I was not sure what these advances were.  I know now he was grooming me.

My father was never kind to my mother when she would come to pick me up to go to her home on the weekends that she had visitation.  He would avoid her.  He would state things to me that my mother was worldly.  He was trying to taint my perception of her and trying to make it so that I would be less inclined to go visit her.  This made me want to see her more often.

One particular weekend, my mother’s boyfriend wanted to take me four-wheeling in the woods.  I was 15 years old.  I loved going four-wheeling as that was a highlight and I was finding that my freedoms were becoming less and less living with my father and his new wife.  They were now pregnant and a baby was on the way.  I still had a voice at my mother’s house, but even that was being quieted because by the time I would break out of my shell and start talking, it was time to get in the car and head back to my father’s house where I would have to get ready to go back to the IFB school I attended.  I was in the truck alone with my mother’s boyfriend.  I really don’t think my mother had any idea that it was not a good idea to allow her teen daughter with a man alone.  Maybe she was incredibly trusting.  I am not sure.  We drove out to the woods and started going through mud puddles.  This was in the mid 1980’s, so there were no cell phones.  I was in a truck for 8 hours out in the middle of the woods – far from any civilization – while this man raped me repeatedly.  He was stronger than me and he was drinking.  He made threats to me that if I told, he would kill my mother.  I believed him because he said he was with the Mafia.  I was a 15 year old girl and so naive because of the things that I was being “sheltered” from.  Finally, we went back to my mother’s apartment and he raped me one last time while parked next to the dumpster in the apartment complex.  He always made advances toward me. Now that I am a 44 year old woman and I think about it, he was very calculating in his plans for me.  He would send my mother off to go buy him potato chips (Wise Brand).  While she was gone, he would expose himself to me.  Again, the threat that if I told, I would lose my mother or that I would be harmed too.  He raped me in my mother’s bed while she bathed in the tub in the next room.  One night, he raped me in my bedding on the floor of the living room while my brother slept next to me.  We did not have our own room when we visited.  This constant advancement on me made me not want to spend time at my mother’s house.  I was trapped.

I knew that I could not tell anyone my story.  You see, I dealt with the fear that the boyfriend would kill my mother and I dealt with the fear that if I told my father that he would forbid me to ever see my mother again.  Add to this stress, a girl who is defiled is always guilty.  She either wore something she should not have or she walked a way she should not have.  We were taught in the IFB that the woman was the cause of all men’s sins.   My home life was becoming less and less normal.  The lectures we would get would go on forever.   We were not bad kids.  We obeyed every letter of the law laid down before us.  However, I was never good enough.  I tried so hard to be a good daughter, but it was the same thing – I always failed to meet expectation.  I was to be seen and not heard.  It really got bad when my half-sister was born as it was now my responsibility to raise a baby.

Around my Junior year in high school, my brother wanted to move back to my father’s house because he was promised material objects if he did move back.  He was told that if he moved back home he would get a bb gun, a motorcycle and weights.  He wanted so much to have a relationship with our father and our father made claims that things would be better.  His visitation with my brother was always so fun.  He was a different man around my brother when those weekends came.  He allowed freedoms that we normally never got.  We actually were able to have friends over.   So, my brother, desiring a relationship with his father, really believed that he would get all the things he was promised.  He moved back “home”.  There were no court documents filed and no attorney’s fees paid.  He moved back and everyone was happy – except my mother.  She was stricken with grief, but she allowed my brother to do what he thought he needed to do.  She never once uttered a negative word about our father.  She always felt that it was our observation to make.  Her opinions never muddied our perception of our father.  It was not the other way around.  Rarely was a kind word said about our mother.

My brother went back to the IFB school and graduated 8th grade that year.  He wore a borrowed suit because money was so tight.  I was wearing borrowed shoes that were a size and a half bigger than my feet.  I stuffed them with toilet paper to make them fit.  I was wearing my step-mother’s clothes to school.  Skirts that were 3 or 4 sizes larger than my small frame were pinned on the sides to keep the waist band up.  I never got new clothing unless my mother bought something for me.  We were the children of the ex-wife and we were reminded daily.  Little incidents, like not turning my brother’s socks right side out, became an issue.  His socks would not get washed if they were a balled up mess.  To this day, I see my sons’ socks and I think of that.  Of course it takes only a second to turn socks the right way, but a fuss was created and meanness ensued.  It was constant meanness and vindictiveness in the home.  I was told that I was to always be available to watch our half-sister.  I was the live-in baby sitter even though I had intramural sports that I was involved with and homework that took at least 2 or 3 hours a night.  We were expected to be in church every Wednesday evening, Sunday school, Sunday morning service and Sunday evening service.  There was no time to just be a kid.  I started going off alone into the woods just to get away from all of it.

I walked the halls of my high school with my secret of the rapes and just tried to be the best daughter I could be.  I made no noise because we were taught to never bring attention to ourselves.  We were told that we were never to argue anything.  We were told that if our father said that the sky was black and it was as blue as blue could be without a cloud, we had to agree that it was black.  There were no opinions allowed.  I was smacked across the face with a mouth full of braces when I voiced my desire to move to my mother’s home.  I had had enough of being taken for granted and treated horribly.  By this time, my mother had grown wise of her abusive boyfriend. My brother voiced that he did not care for the man and the two of them kicked him out.  Because he had moved back to our father’s house,  I could not leave my brother in this environment so I did not try to move to my mother’s house.  I also was beginning to drink the IFB Kool-Aid by the gallon and was reading my bible daily.  I had my own little monthly Daily Bread booklet.  I would do my devotions from them.  I read all 66 books of the bible.  I was doing all I could do to be the daughter I thought they wanted me to be.  My brother was not tolerating the lifestyle.  He just could not handle the constant badgering and the oppression we were experiencing.  We began telling people that we were having troubles, but nobody listened.  We were told to read our bibles more.  We were told to “honor our mother (stepmother) and father”.  Today I know that that commandment is taken out of context a lot in the IFB.  There is also a bible verse that says, “Fathers provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” – Ephesians 6:4.  We tried to tell people that we just could not live the life we were living.  We were being ignored and treated very badly.  My maternal grandparents felt there was an issue and they tried to help.  CPS was called to our home and they were turned away.  My brother and I were never interviewed by the agency.

Things got so bad that my brother and I began making plans on how we were going to run away.  We talked many hours in his bedroom.  I still remember a conversation we had.  I remember the way his room was set up.  I was laying across the foot of his bed and he was next to me on the floor.  We were talking how we could not tolerate it anymore and how we were going to get away.  We were thinking of who to tell and who we could trust.  He finally said that we just have to settle down and let things take their course.  I remember specifically a time when we were thrown into the back of our family car and I was so upset that I was going to miss something that I wanted to do with the school.  Our father was notorious for throwing everyone in the car not telling us where we were going with the explanation that we were just “going for a ride”.  This ride happened to be 12 hours long down to my grandfather’s house.  I was so upset that my only escape from my family was being taken from me.  My brother calmed me and said, “It will all be okay in a little while.”

For a 14 year old boy, he was so much stronger and wiser than his years.  I was 17 years old at the time and I had just started my Senior year in the IFB high school.  He was starting his Freshman year in the same school.  He just got picked up onto the Varsity soccer team and we were so excited that we had an escape through our respective sports.  These sports took us from our abusive situation at home.   Every hour away from there was an hour of freedom that we gleefully relished in and felt free.   As the days progressed, I did not notice my brother getting depressed.  He was always the one lifting me up.  Now, he was losing it.  I was involved in my cheerleading and was involved with my Senior year now, so I never saw the signs.  He began telling people in his class that he hated his life and that he had to end it.  His friends were all either 13 or 14 years old so they never really thought that his words would come to fruition.  They were innocents.  They were children.  One night, September 16, 1986, we went home after practice and we had to do our homework and nightly chores.  We were so accustomed to not talking because we would get in trouble if we woke our half-sister.  Any speaking we did was normally in the form of whispering.   We also had to be quiet when walking out to the garage because there was an alarm on the door that would beep every time the door would open.  My brother told me he was going to feed the dog.  His last words to me, “I’ll see you in a bit, sis”.  We were expecting company that night.  Our uncle was coming to see us as he had not seen us in a while and was coming by to catch up.  I watched from the kitchen window while I worked on the dinner dishes as my brother went out to feed our German Shepherd, Bear.  He came back into the garage.

My brother was always tinkering on something.  At this particular time he was working on a bike frame that he was in the middle of repainting.  He had it hanging from chains that held a heavy weight bag from the rafter of our garage.  The chains were not long enough to have the heavy weight bag low enough to be used properly,  so our father suspended the bag with extra length from a rope.  On this particular night, he removed the bike off of the chains, wrapped it in a towel or blanket and set it on his weight bench.    The same weight bench that he was promised if he moved back “home”.  I heard the dog barking and realized that my uncle had arrived.  I ran out to the garage to go meet him at the door.  What I saw forever changed my life.  What I saw forever changed the image that I see when I close my eyes each night.  What I saw is the reason why I am so vocal about abuse and abuse within the IFB today.  I saw my brother hanging from those chains.  The chains were deeply embedded in his neck.  He was gray.  He was motionless.  He was dead.  I ran over to him, and tried to raise him by lifting him so that the tension of the chains would release from around his neck.  They were interlocked by S hooks.  They were so deeply imbedded that I could not release the tension.  My uncle must have heard me or looked in the window, but all the sudden he was next to me trying to lift my brother up.  He screamed at me to go get a knife from the kitchen so that we could cut the rope that was attached to the chains and to tell my step-mother to call an ambulance.  There was no such thing as 911 in 1986.   I ran in the house trying to be quiet to not wake the baby and I whispered to my stepmother, “call an ambulance, Scott hung himself”.  I whispered it.  Why did  I whisper?  I whispered because I was so conditioned and oppressed by this woman that I knew I would get into trouble if I screamed.  My screaming should have trumped all regard for her rules.  But fear stopped me and I whispered.  I ran into the kitchen, grabbed a knife and ran out the door.  As I got back to my uncle, I noticed my brother’s grey sweatpants had a wet spot on them.  I began screaming inside, “NO”.  I knew what that meant.  My uncle got him down and removed my brother’s shoes.  My aunt started CPR.  I did not know what to do and was starting to freak out.  My exterior was stoic, but inside I was screaming.

My home sat off of the main road.  This main road was not well lit and we lived three miles down from the first stop sign.  As I already mentioned, it was a very rural area.  I ran down our gravel driveway in my bare feet to get to the road so that I could flag the ambulance to the house.  Anyone going down my road would drive right by the house.  We were always told to go to the end of the driveway to flag company in.  On this particular night – it was no different.  I ran and stood in the middle of that road – still warm from the heat of the day.  I still feel the warmth of that road on the bottom of my feet.  I looked up to the sky and saw every star.  I cried the most soul crushing non-human cry I have ever heard come from my body.  I pleaded with God that night to not take my brother.  I cried for hours it seemed.  The ambulance took forever.  I do not remember going back up to the house.  I do not remember the ambulance coming.  But I do know they came because my next memory was talking to a police officer.  I told him everything I remembered.  Our father was working a second job, so he was not home at the time of the incident.  I told him the story when he came home.  I told my mother the story when she arrived.  I told the whole story as I have just written it here.  My story is written in a police report.

As the night progressed, I was telling my story over and over.   Then things started to change.  All the sudden I was told that I was not going to tell the story like the way I have just recounted.  I was going to tell the story that it was an accident.  That Scott did not hang himself.  I was even coached to not talk about it at all.  I was told that I was not going to talk to a therapist.  I was told that I did not need to go to the hospital for what I witnessed. The policeman asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital.  The EMT kept looking at me for signs of shock.   My mother told my father that her boss would pay for a therapist to speak with me about what I saw and endured.  I was just told to not talk about it.  I was told that things will get better.   I was told that Scott was just was messing around and that it was a horrible accident.  I was told by my father that my brother was playing with the chains and they came back and hooked around his neck.  His words still echo in my mind today – “don’t you think he was just playing around and they came back and hooked around his neck?”  “Don’t you think that the stool next to him was knocked over because he was trying to frantically reach it with his feet?”  “Don’t you think he died because he wanted to die?”  The last question is the hardest one for me.  This question was asked of me when I last tried to speak with my father in January, 2012 about allegations of abuse that have come to light regarding the IFB church and school I attended.  That was the last time I spoke to my biological father.  He promised to call me back and talk about these allegations that were starting to surface within the IFB church and school I attended.  I am still waiting for his phone call.

I was told that if I ever tell my story that I would get into trouble.  I remember a friend coming to my home a day or two after my brother passed.  I tried to talk to her in my room, but I was so scared that I would be heard.  I tried to get the words out.  I was so fearful that I would get into trouble.  She reminded me of this story and the fear I had.   I know that what I experienced was real.  I needed help.  I got no help.  I was denied any form of help.  I was told that the children in the IFB school we attended were told that my brother died of a weightlifting accident.  The pastor had decided that was the best way to handle this story.   I was bold enough to ask my father, many years later, if the pastor told him to lie about my brother’s death.  My father’s answer was “yes”.  He never even hesitated in his answer.  I can not even think about lying about something like that.  Why he did not stick up his middle finger on each hand to that pastor is beyond my comprehension.  Why he did not put his familial duties as a father above the laws of this man, I will never understand.  I can only guess that my father’s following of this man was greater than the love he had for his family as this was the pattern that has been repeated over and over to this day.

On the day of the funeral, I stood outside and met every single person who came to see my brother.  The IFB school we attended had a “field trip” that day for all the 7th -12th grade.  They were to go to the funeral home and pay their respects to my brother.  I met every single kid that got off that bus.  Where was the person for me that day?  Where was the person that was supposed to comfort me?  I was the one who found him – why wasn’t I being comforted?  Standing outside in my step-mother’s too big, pinned-at-the- waist black suit with toilet paper in my shoes so they would stay on, I greeted every single person with a smile on my face. I was trying not to bring attention to myself. What was wrong with me?

The eulogy was the most disgusting thing that I have ever heard repeated to me.  I did not hear the eulogy that day as I was too busy trying to keep my mother from jumping out of her chair and hitting that pastor.  He stood up there and bragged how his son was thriving in this world while my mother is burying her own.  This was the man of God that we were following?  No compassion.  No love.  Just pretentiousness and narcissism.  My step-grandparents felt that they were the maternal grandparents that day and denied my maternal grandfather the right to ride in the limousine with my family and his grieving daughter.  Instead, he had to drive himself to the cemetery.   There was so much hurt and I just had to hold it all together for my mother.  I had to keep her calm.  Nobody kept me calm – but something made me strong that day.

Our school was involved in an annual event each year where we would compete with other Christian (IFB) schools in the Tri-State area.  We competed in what was called Academic Day.  A day that included going head to head in debates about topics such as creationism vs. evolution (a difficult topic to debate when everyone in the room believes in creationism).  Schools vied against each other for the coveted position of the best choir.  There were sewing (textiles) competitions for the girls to enter.  Sewing showed the best of our academic caliber.  There was a competition to see who had the best score in solving an accounting business model.  There was competitions about speeches and which school delivered the best impromptu or recited speech.  My event was the speech under the line of Dramatic Interpretation.  I had to recite a speech with feeling and draw my audience into me.  They needed to feel what the speech was saying and hang on my every word.  My speech was entitled, “I Hadn’t Time” by prolific Christian author, Ethel Barrett.  The speech was taken from her book, “There I Stood In All My Splendor, Chapter 4”.   It was a 10-12  minute speech on which I was graded for articulation, posture, style, proficiency, and memorization.  I was slated for first place. This story as I was telling it to my audience, was about a young mother who is alone with her son, Kip, for the last time.  She is sitting in front of his coffin and she is recounting all the things that he was trying to get her attention for.  He wanted her to sew a patch on his shirt or to see a frog that he brought home.  She recounts the things that her son wanted her to do and realizes that her being busy was routine.  Now her child is gone and she has all the time in the world for her son.  But it is too late.

This speech was the most heart-wrenching, tear jerking speech.  My father insisted that my mother come to the school and hear it because my school was hosting Academic Day that year.  When I saw my mother, I begged her not to come into the room that I would be delivering the speech.  I knew that it was not for her to hear.  My brother had just died months earlier and here I was delivering a speech about a mother grieving over her dead son.  The teachers in the school should have forbidden that I do that speech.  My father should have forbidden that I do that speech.  I did deliver it and to this day, I ball up with tears because I remember the opening words verbatim.  Staring at my mother as I delivered this speech was one of the most horrific things I have ever had to watch.  The pain that crossed her face was, without question, unremarkable.  I could not deliver the whole speech without breaking down in a jagged cry at the end.  I did not win 1st place because I had to be prompted and because I lost control.  If only the judges knew what I had just endured.  To this day, I still have my third place ribbon and the grading sheets that the judges filled out on me.  They are a reminder of the hell that I should have been saved from, but was forced to endure.

I finished my senior year with all sorts of christian leadership awards and a scholarship to attend Pensacola Christian College.  Dr. Robert C. Gray Jr of Trinity Baptist from Jacksonville, Florida preached at my commencement in May, 1987.  Two months later, allegations about his involvement with minor girls in his church were brought.  Turns out he was a pedophile and this man was in my church.  This man shook my hand.  I still can not believe the proximity I was to him.  My skin crawls at the thought.

During the summer of 1987, I was to turn 18.   My life just was not the same life without my brother.  I went through the daily motions.  I still did my devotions and still tried to be the best daughter I could be, but there was not enough love for me – even after the loss of a child.  I was not living.  I was simply existing.  On the morning of my 18th birthday, I decided to change all that.  I woke that morning packed what I could and stashed it.  I told my father as he was taking me to my summer job that I was going to be moving in with my mother after I finished my work day.  I called my mother from my job and told her to be at my home to get me when I got off work.  I got home and in my driveway were my mother and my pastor.  The same pastor who lied to everyone about how my brother died and delivered the eulogy.  This “man of God” told me that if I leave to go with my mother that I would end up just like her.  I would be worldly and I would not be the woman of God that I should be.  I left without ever looking back.

I still attended the church, but I was looked at differently.  I was to go to Pensacola Christian College in the fall and – in reality, I was following my then boyfriend.    But I also realize that the Christian Leadership awards and the scholarships that I won were a way to keep me quiet about my brother’s death.  I thought that following my boyfriend to PCC, one of three colleges that I was to choose to attend,  was my ticket out of the hell I was living.  I started preparing for my move to Florida and asked for help from my father.  He would not help me.  He told me that as long as I am living with my mother that he had no obligation to help me.  My mother bought all my books, all my bedding and all my PCC approved clothing.  My mother sent me money for expenses, care packages and other expenses that I am sure she would never tell me about.  I never once got a dime of financial support from my father when I went away.  I tried to call him to inform him how I was doing, but there was never any interest.  I attended PCC for my Freshman year and hated every minute of it.  A person was guilty until proven innocent on that campus.  It was very oppressive.  I was beginning to see that I just could not live this way.

Summer came and I went back to my mother’s home.  I would see my father at church, but had no desire to go to the his house and visit.  Things were very awkward.  My step-mother was pregnant and I felt it was so soon after my brother passed away, in my opinion.  I worked that summer and gained some cash.  I told my mother about the rapes.  The boyfriend was long gone.  I still have never told my father – though he probably will find out now that this is posted on a forum.  I broke up with the boyfriend I had followed to PCC and started tasting freedom a little more.  I dated a boy that I really liked that summer and I knew that I was finally starting to live.  The veil was lifting.  There was life to be lived and I was free.  I went back to PCC for the fall of my Sophomore year and I called home every weekend crying to be picked up.  I had recurring nightmares.  I began purging everything I ate.  I hated it there.  I was a 19 year old woman and I was being treated like a 12 year old child.  No touching someone of the opposite sex or you would be “socialed”.  You get socialed too many times and you get “shipped”.  You get shipped, you are blackballed from your church.  No walking on the same sidewalk as the boys.  No using the same stairwell as the boys.  No music with a beat.  No Christmas music before the Christmas decorations were up on the campus.  Lights out at 11 – even during exams.  The never -ending ear worm of a song we sang every day at the beginning of chapel:  “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.  Praise Him, creatures here below. Praise Him above heavenly host. Praise Him Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen”.  My world was not what it should be.  This is not how a 19 year old ADULT should live.  The freedoms that we were supposed to have were non-existent.  There were no freedoms.  Every move was monitored, scrutinized, judged and calculated.

Finally December 20, 1988 came and I left that campus for what I thought would be the last time.  I actually returned a few years later to see my half-sister receive her degree in nursing.  My half-brother was now attending PCC and was a security guard for the campus.  He would not hug me when he saw me.  He would be socialed.  I was proud of my half-sister on the day she graduated.  I had concerns that her degree would not provide her much by way of a job and voiced these concerns with her.  Ultimately, this was her decision and I was proud of her for accomplishing a task and for her life moment that she wanted to share with me.  This pride had to be stifled, however.   Nobody was allowed to  “hoot and holler” because anyone who showed their pride for their graduate was being prideful in the Lord’s house.  The audience was given a very stern warning by Dr. Joel Mullenix (present when I attended PCC in the late 80’s) to not “hoot and holler” or the commencement ceremony would be stopped.  Someone did “hoot and holler” and it was stopped and we were all chastised from that pulpit – a full auditorium of adults chastised for being proud of their child’s or loved one’s accomplishments.  I just could not believe what I was hearing.

I was able to break free from the PCC environment and lucky for me, my mother was moving across the country to begin a new life with her soon-to-be husband in  California!!!    A quiet little girl from New Jersey was moving to California! Starting my life free from all control, all judgement, all religion – that was my plan.  I arrived in California and the world was so fresh.  Everything was new.  I was new.  I was living.  I managed to get a great job.  I wanted to go back to school.  So I tried to enroll in my local community college.  The woman registering me that day laughed at me when I showed her my high school transcript and the transcript from PCC.  Her words still resonate with me today.  She said, “you don’t have enough credits to graduate high school let alone have these credits from Pensacola transfer.”  My jaw dropped.  My mother could not believe it.  PCC is unaccredited and the IFB school I attended is only recognized by other IFB schools.  The education that I received was sub-par at best.  I always knew that, but now I had confirmation.  I had to do most of my high school credits over and I had to redo everything that I had done at PCC.  I was now back at square one.  I would have to say that it was in a negative position that I was in as I had to capture enough credits to be considered eligible for the local junior college.  I worked while going to college.  I worked as a bookkeeper for a tiny law firm in California.  I learned a lot about probate law and criminal law.  I also studied my heart out.  I wound up enrolling in a Jesuit college not far from my home so that I could continue to work at the job I loved so much.  I graduated Cum Laude with a degree in Business Administration.  I did this all on my own.

During all of this, I would still call home to talk to my dad and see how he was.  I wanted to check in on a family that had now grown to three half-siblings.  I sent them gifts to let them know that I trying to be a part of their lives.  I am 20 years older than the youngest sibling.  It was important to me at the time to be a part of their world.  Unbeknownst to me, they were not allowed to ask about me.  I have learned recently that every time my name was mentioned that my father would get angry.  I was even threatened that my arm would be broken if I tried to convince any of the children to move out to California.  My birthday would come and go.  Christmas would come and go.  I would not get any acknowledgement that I was a part of their world or that I was welcomed.  Gifts – if they did come – always arrived late.  I was not part of my father’s life any more.  When I graduated college in California, he was there.  I was over the moon that my dad traveled to California to attend my graduation. I also had a grandmother who traveled from Boston and an aunt who traveled from Texas.  However, my father took all my attentions.  I willingly gave them thinking that this time with him would bring him back into my life and that he would be proud of me, finally.  I was wrong.

A year or so later, I was about to get married.  I asked my father to walk me down the aisle.  Without any warning, he flew to California to see me.  I was amazed that he was in town, but had to scramble to rearrange plans so that I could spend the weekend with him.  I had a brand new home with my fiance and I was proud to show it off to him.  I showed him where I was getting married and went through all the plans with him.  I really thought he would walk me down the aisle.  The day before he left to go back home, he told me he was not going to walk me down the aisle because the boy I was marrying was not saved.  I was broken hearted.  The familial duties were once again put on the shelf for religious reasons.  For appearance sake, his appearance, he chose to not walk me down the aisle.  He broke the cardinal rule for every father.  He destroyed the visions I had of walking down the aisle with my father as he gave me away to my husband.  Dreams dashed and heart broken, I sought the next best thing.  My maternal grandfather walked me down the aisle on my wedding day.

That marriage did not last long.  It was 10 months of pure hell.  I was physically abused, emotionally abused, and threatened with death.  I finally got the courage to leave this abusive environment, which before I was married never had any physical abusive signs.  There were emotionally abusive situations, but I played them off.  I called my father for help and I was told to talk to my pastor.  The same pastor who lied about my brother’s death, delivered the eulogy, told me that I would end up being a whore just like my mother, was going to give me marriage advice.  His advice to me was, “Steffers – you need to go back to your husband.  You need to be submissive to him.  Show him through your submission that you are saved and lead him to Christ.”  That was the last time I have ever spoken with my pastor.  He condones spousal abuse.

I have discussed numerous times with my father about my upbringing and how the education I received was below average.  Each and every time, I have been told that he did what he could for me.  As a parent, I understand that.  But if my child were to tell me that my decisions had set them up for such heartbreak, I could not handle that without apologizing to them. I don’t think I could defend what I did if it was brought to my attention that my actions actually hurt my children in any way.  I have never received an apology from him – only more excuses.

I have tried to address why I am not important in my father’s life.  The issue is always skirted around.  In January 2012, I tried to discuss these things and now other issues that I have been made aware of within my church and school.  Issues that have been brought to the attention of a detective because many voices screamed and they were finally heard.  Issues that many people have known about and many have talked about.  To this date, these issues and allegations still will not be discussed with me.  I have tried.  I have tried as respectfully as I can.  I suppose the ostrich with its head in the sand is the best analogy here.  If it doesn’t see anything, nothing is there.  But, I am here and I am not going away.

I have been vilified.  I have been denied as being a child of his.  I have been told that I was dead just like my brother.  I have been told that family members were told that I ran away and can no longer be found.  My three children have been held by this man.  He has met my loving, supportive husband of 15 years.  I am not a person who has done anything but speak the truth.  I am not the monster here.

I am strong because each of the things I have shared here, in this long story, will not destroy me. There are a lot of events in my life that have shaped me.  All have been handled by me, alone. This is MY truth. This is MY story.  I am who I am today because I chose to thrive.  I chose to not let my past end me.  I chose to let my past shape me.  I have found courage.  I have left the darkness.  Every day, I get stronger.

I share with you who I am. I have no agenda.  I have no motive.  My only hope is to help those who are learning to find their freedom.   My voice is for my brother.  I avenge his death.  I will not let anyone cover up his death anymore.  I avenge anyone who has had their death covered by lies.  I am sad today, but I honor my brother’s memory by speaking for him.

In honor of Scott Edward Reger

March 28, 1972 – September 16, 1986

Stephanie Davies

February 9, 2014

Religion's Cell:

Notice the fundamentalist comments that attack this victim for telling her story of abuse. Fundamentalist Religious Zealots have no compassion, no mercy, no love toward victims that speak out. Their intent is to attack and silence them, shame them further, and slander their character with their use of scripture and words laced with poison. These are not real Christians. These type of people are “clones” of a corrupted religious system that fosters hate toward the hurting, abused and weak and, toward those that DARE to speak TRUTH to them. I believe Jesus refers to their kind as “white-washed sepulchers.” Sad.

I applaud “Once Lost Child” for her courage and strength in finally telling her TRUTH. My prayer is that God’s hand of judgment will be meted out on those that are trying to silence and further harm those that speak out about the crimes committed against them “in the name of God.”

Originally posted on Once Lost Child :

Over seventeen years ago,  I started having flashbacks from the years of abuse I suffered as a child. Flashbacks came on as a tsunami. I could no more control these flashbacks than those in the path of the 2004 Tsunami could pile enough sandbags to hold back the Indian Ocean.

Flashbacks of all the  smells, ghastly images, and disgusting physical sensations came unbidden during my waking hours.  Bloodcurdling nightmares from agonizing years of abuse invaded my unconscious during sleeping hours.

I was sure I was losing my mind.  Terrified and panic-stricken that I had become psychotic or worse was developing schizophrenia.  I told a family member who was a physician what was occurring.  This family member was familiar with some of my history.  He allayed my fears.  He assured me I wasn’t becoming psychotic nor was I developing schizophrenia.  He explained I was not losing my mind.  I was suffering…

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little girlPicture a little girl running, alone, trying to find her way home. She’s six years old. She is running away from her babysitter’s house, carrying a painful secret. She’s fleeing the pornography the sitter’s sons shoved at her. And she’s fleeing something worse, something that fills her with shame.

Somehow,  she finds her house – but the door is locked, and she has no key. She runs to a neighboring house. The neighbors let her in, and call her mother at work. Her mother comes home, furious at her little girl for running away from the babysitter’s. She doesn’t ask the child why she ran home or what she was running from. The little girl is afraid to speak up on her own; she’s terrified the boys will come get her if she tells.

The angry mother grabs the girl by the arm and yanks her into the car. On the short drive home, she lectures her daughter; then she spanks her. What does this teach the little girl? Don’t run away, and always obey adults no matter what. The mother sends the girl back to the sitter’s house, this time under orders to apologize to the boys — for not obeying them — and to promise them she won’t do it again.

So for one year, every day the little girl goes back to the baby-sitter’s house, and every day the older boys sexually assault her repeatedly.

To avoid the hurt and pain, the little girl retreats into her mind, pretending she’s not the one being raped. At home, she’s miserable; no one will listen to her. She throws fits, trying to regain a sense of control.

Finally, the babysitter and her children move away. The little girl loses her best friend — the sitter’s daughter — but she also is finally free of her tormentors. She won’t have to look at any more naughty body parts or feel the shame and pain of the violations she suffered.

The little girl and her two big sisters go to vacation bible school. A nice lady there tells her all about Jesus. The little girl wants Jesus to love her; she asks Jesus into her heart whenever she feels ugly or dirty. The three sisters go to church more often.

The little girl finds comfort in the idea of Jesus. She loves to sing the hymns: “Stop and Let Me Tell You,” “The Lord is my Shepherd,” “We Have a Great Big Wonderful God”… She feels safe — for a little while.

Then she discovers that among her family’s friends is a father who likes little girls. By this time, the little girl craves a father’s attention; her own father is always angry, always yelling at her.

This other father likes to hold the little girl on his lap, read Bible stories … and rub against her. This teaches her that rubbing grown men, and letting them rub her, is natural. She feels shamefully invaded and good at the same time. The other father tells her God will only forgive her sins if she does as the man asks; he says the girl must forgive him or she’ll go to hell. He tells her he’ll kill her if she tells anyone.

Once again, the little girl retreats into her mind while her body is invaded. She and the other little girls keep going to church. They accept this is just the way things are for them, that they’re meant to be used by men. Sometimes they love Jesus; sometimes they’re very angry.

At home, life only gets worse. Her parents fight all the time. Her father hits her when she whines, fusses or disobeys. He comes home drunk; he yells, hits and threatens the little girl and her mother. So the little girl keeps going to the older men who fondle her and make her feel like a princess.

By the time she is 13 years old, she has a miscarriage. She wears pink lipstick and dresses in clothes meant to get boys to look at her and like what they see. Soon she is an all-grown-up girl, yelling at God in her mind, trembling in fear. She’s tired of her father berating her for getting pregnant; she’s tired of being forbidden to see boys.

Then she finds an escape. She starts to run track, play volleyball, and study hard, avoiding the pain and sorrow her father still doesn’t want to hear about. She hurts deep inside, but she doesn’t know why.

She thinks often of ending her life, but each game keeps her going. The crowds cheer for her, people smile at her. She hides behind a plastic smile. She’s voted the school’s most popular athlete, and the nicest person, of her senior year. She goes on to college to play ball. She no longer wants to be around Christians; she believes God is a joke or a myth who offers neither hope nor love.

Then the all grown up girl’s carefully constructed armor shatters. She falls and tears her Achilles tendon. For two months she can’t play ball, and she can’t escape the pain and confusion inside. She’s never the same. The cheers on the ball field aren’t enough to keep her going anymore.

She has a boyfriend, but he pushes her to return to Jesus. She wants to, but she can’t. She trusts no one with her pain. Instead, she gets drunk and tries to kill herself. That’s when her angel finds her. The angel — a true friend — gets her to the emergency room in time to save her life.

Her angel-friend invites the girl to her home. The girl is surprised to find that this angel has nothing but love to give her.

It is to the this angel-friend that the girl finally releases bits and pieces of her long road of torture, pain and sorrow. For the first time, the all grown up girl is held and rocked as she weeps out her pain. She’s afraid she won’t be able to stop. The angel reassures her that it’s okay to cry as long as she needs to.

The all grown up girl was 19 years old.

Emma Wise is the pen name of a woman who was sexually abused as a child. In the years since she tried to kill herself, she earned a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees. With the help of therapists and her faith in God, though not organized religion, she has built a life and is married with three step-children and five grandchildren.

From the Author: Emma’s story is a peek into the mental and emotional battles that can plague an abuse survivor. It takes a lot of courage to share one’s story and open one’s self up to others. I am proud of Emma. This is a first step in a healing journey for her.

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Dear Journal 01-11-14:  I know I don’t have to share everything, but for some reason I am compelled to share my healing journey. I need to make sure I am not hurting myself by what I say, or exposing myself to feeling alive and connected in some strange false way. I only want to share if it is healthy and helpful – not only to others but also to myself, and my friends.

People who have suffered severe abuse and trauma are often plagued by never ending bad dreams. I don’t know why some people have them and others don’t who live through the same situations. I am obviously cursed in this arena. I truly think I could have worked through a lot on my own and would have stopped thinking about the past during the day if I had not been bombarded nightly with traumatic scenarios – often new images of the same people but in different situations or a replay of the same people in what could have happened if this or if that had occurred. Daily, I often wondered why I could not simply move on and get over the past… let go, as so many well-meaning people say, but the past would not let me go. I have had many years of normalcy at night. And while I can handle a few bad nights, these negative childhood dreams that return remind me of the horrific childhood that I lived through and make me sad that such a horrible life had to happen to a sweet little girl (that happens to be me).

I sang a beautiful worship song in my bedroom one morning. In part of the song, I sang about how I am moving forward with Jesus and my past is left behind. I loved singing the song. I don’t know if they correlate. If maybe a demon put thoughts into my dreams last night to remind me that the past is not all gone or if my mind just somehow decided to circle the past, but I had emotional childhood dreams last night and awoke crying after an exhausting night.

In the dream I was secretly working with some police who were going to try and trap my abusers and bring them to prison. In my childhood, I always was afraid to work with the police or child services because I knew that if one showed up at the house and didn’t follow through with putting my abusers in prison that, when my abusers found out, that I was the one who worked with them and I would literally be killed. People who hear me say this think that this is an exaggeration but, anyone who really lived in my childhood or knew the abusers capability, understand this was a fact of life we lived with constantly – a fear that we would do something he deemed wrong enough that we would be killed. (we meaning me and my alter protectors). In part of this dream, I pin the police officer down to the ground and pound on his chest telling him if anyone gets killed before he acts (because they were taking their dear old time coming up with a timing and plan) that the death would be on him. Then I awake, shaken, crying… not for what I dreamed about, but for the very fact that I still dream about my childhood.

I think about my life that I have now and how happy I am and simply want to shake it off and move on into the day. I know I can. But I wonder why I am different… why out of all of my siblings have I been haunted by horrible dreams that effected my life so deeply. It is not like I had control of what I dreamed. But the very fact that I did dream about this junk is why I couldn’t just let it go and move on…. it had a hold on me and did not let my mind go. And then again, I do not know why. My siblings don’t talk about and share for me to know if they have such dreams. They simply move on like nothing happened. They have handled the past the best they could and I respect each for their own choice.

When a person is deeply physically injured – like from an IED explosion – the bleeding is intense and most often it is pouring out from many bodily sources… limbs may be mangled or missing. Triage is lifesaving, not cosmetic. You simply must act quickly. Pressure needs to be applied to stop the bleeding. Instinct must take over. It is either do or die. This is what my first 10 years of trauma therapy was like. I didn’t much have a choice. I was emotionally bleeding everywhere, on everyone and at anytime. Being around me was not easy and being my friend was painful a lot of the time. Enduring therapy was like having tender scabbing wounds picked at or even ripped open.

Sessions were rarely enjoyable; often I felt like I was re-entering the trauma and I very badly did not want to go… but I was compelled to go for my livelihood. But it is time again for therapy. I don’t think it will be deep level trauma therapy like before. It will be at a different level. For the past 2 years I have been trying to start again, to in a sense pick up where I left off a decade ago but of course, people and times have changed. I am now in my forties. I started therapy in my 20s. There is a HUGE gap of life I–in many ways– survived, not really lived but existed, again… a lot like my first 18 years of life. Only I was not being injured; I was healing from the initial child abuse injuries.

This time in therapy, I am facing my life in the present. I am assessing where I am, who I am and what I need to be doing with the days I have remaining in life. I do know that I am presently safe and whole and that I am deeply loved by God. Thankfully, I am healed to the point that dreams like I had last night don’t creep into my day and therefore they don’t, in any meaningful way, effect my new day. Of course, I can’t help but wonder if they make me a little different in my thoughts. I can only hope that I will use it for good and be more sensitive to others who have suffered. I thank God for His saving grace and the fact that HIS mercies are new every morning. I plan today to move forward with God and leave the past behind. I am going to live in the freshness and goodness that this day brings. I thank God for how far He has brought me and for the enormous healing I have experienced. It is time for me to press into God but in a much different way. I’m going to be learning how to LET GOD LOVE ME, to let HIM FILL ME, to experience HIM in my core and to be grounded in HIM, anchored in HIM…. not mentally/intellectually or hanging onto to Him (ha – let Him hang onto me is more like it) as I travel the turbulent storms of trauma therapy. This time I am going to press into HIM and SIT! Absorb. Rest. Learn to be STILL. And receive all that I lack and so much more that I can not begin to imagine. So today, I step off the ledge in a totally different way, and free fall into God. I want to soak in all of Him I can and thereby to be transformed.

From the Author: Andrea’s Story is not an isolated one in religious circles. There are countless numbers of abused children that suffer at the hands of their parents because of religious indoctrination. All this abuse is done “in the name of God” in order to instill extreme fear and to bring about total and unquestionable obedience. Children raised in any fundamentalist sect, will endure the abuses that Andrea endured. They have no choice. They have no voice. Sadly, the scars left behind are ones that affect and damage a person well into the future. The tentacles are binding and, seem to suffocate life and joy from the one affected. To learn more about the hidden abuse of children in organized religion, click HERE.

Andrea’s story is a compelling one. Not only is she telling her story here, she is telling it to the world through her book, “Precious Scars.” Her book is a reflection of the many scars, emotional and physical that religion has given her, sadly, at the hands of those that should have protected her – her parents.

These scars once symbolized pain, sadness and fear for Andrea. Today, they have been granted a more powerful meaning. From their midst burst a phoenix. According to mythology, the phoenix is a beautiful bird with brilliant colors and magical powers. Instead of filling its nest with eggs, it instead uses it to die, burning up in its own heat. After three days, the phoenix rises again from the ashes. Her phoenix symbolizes rebirth, life and hope. Out of the ashes of a dark and painful life came something else, something stronger, purer, better. Out of the ashes, Beauty arose.

Here’s Andrea’s Story about growing up in an Independent Fundamental Baptist home. To read more about Andrea’s story, you may order her book: Precious Scars

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My parents were once normal people. That’s what others tell me, anyway. My mother’s brother, my uncle, says that he and my dad used to hang out together, drinking, relaxing, having fun. My mom got pregnant at just 16, and she and my dad had a shotgun wedding. I came along a few years later, and my dad, with a heavier burden than he had expected, joined the military to take some of the edge off. They were sent to Germany shortly after my birth.

My father was highly educated, and you would think that that would inoculate him against spurious religions. But it didn’t. When they got to Germany, IFB missionaries began to court them. My parents were soon devoted to the church.

Once we got home, they cut ties with their families. It didn’t really happen all at once. They would alienate one person after another. After all, my aunts and uncles were living ungodly, worldly, unsaved lives, and my parents were afraid that their sin would rub off on us.

We were first stationed at a small air base in California. It was there that my mom began to have some serious problems. She was diagnosed with manic depression, which is now called bipolar disorder, at 26. Our lives had changed forever.

My parents refused to acknowledge the diagnosis. They firmly believed that prayer would get them through it, so they prayed. Psychiatric medicine was of Satan. But my mom’s manic episodes were also pretty satanic. My sister and I were screamed at while my mom pounded on us using both hands, whapping us up one side of the head before slapping us on the other. She would put her hands on our shoulders and “shake some sense” into us. She would blister us, her term for a spanking that left welts.

Angela and I spent hours plotting our escape. We were just six and 10, but we were desperate to run away. Unfortunately, we couldn’t figure out how to get off base without being discovered. Then my sister was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Even today, doctors don’t really know what actually causes T1D, but my parents knew: It was God’s punishment for their premarital sex. God punishes unto the seventh generation, they believed, and they never let us forget it.

My parents decided that we needed to be in IFB schools. Before that, we’d gone to the base schools, but an incident between a young boy and myself came to light, and my mother decided that this sin could have been prevented had we been in Christian schools. Clearly, God kept raining down punishments on our heads because my parents weren’t doing right. So we became further isolated, and the bruises became easier to hide or explain away.

When my sister reached puberty, my parents went to a Gothard Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts conference that would tell them how to handle her. I don’t know if it worked, but I do know that life became exponentially harder the older we got. We continued to be slapped, blistered and hurt throughout our teen years, and I hated myself for not being the good Christian that I knew I was supposed to be.

Screaming was the soundtrack of our lives. By the time we reached Illinois, I was suicidal. I tried to talk to my youth pastor — who else did I have? — and he told me that suicide was one of the greatest slaps in the face to God, that I would indeed be punished. Besides, I had so much to live for … but I had nothing to live for, nothing more than more violence, more pain, more fear. I hung my head, and moved on. I would try so hard to be the kind of Christian I was supposed to be, but I always failed. I hated looking so different from the other kids. I hated feeling like I had to worship and praise God even though I was pretty sure He didn’t care at all what happened to me. Maybe most of all, I hated the hypocrisy of the screaming and verbal and sometimes physical abuse that filled the car every Sunday on the way to church and how we all had to snap into insta-smiles the second we got there.

Angela went off to college, and things quieted down a bit. She attended Hyles Anderson College, and my parents were in awe of Jack Hyles. They decided that we needed to become even more spiritual. So away my makeup went, and my skirts and culottes became even longer, even baggier than they’d already been. I felt humiliated every time we walked out of the house, but I dare not express my feelings. I couldn’t express any opinions at all, when it came down to it.

Other girls at my IFB school had cute 80s hairstyles, bright makeup, neon plastic jewelry and on-trend clothes. I wore prairie dresses that my mother made using clearance gingham from Wal-Mart. It was such a small thing, but it hurt to be so very different just like it hurt to know that even though I was 14, I was still getting blistered because I was just that disobedient.

Even until that point, though, I didn’t realize that my family was not normal. I never thought to cry out, to tell someone in authority, that I was being abused because no one called it abuse. It was the rod of correction, discipline, chastening. And every time, I deserved it because I’d forgotten to wash the dishes, or smarted off, or simply been in my mom’s way during one of her manic rages. So I focused on the visible differences. I was sent off to an IFB college as soon as I graduated from high school at barely 17, and I could finally breathe.

IFB colleges have strict rules and oppressive environments, but for the first time in my life, I really was finally free of violence and pain. I studied hard, but I also fell in love. I told myself it was love, anyway. In reality, I mostly saw him as a way of escape, and as we sneaked around to find isolated spots on campus, we fell deeper into a physical relationship.

As my mother later would say, be sure your sin will find you out. I was kicked out post haste when the administration discovered the nature of our relationship. What awaited me at home was far worse. My mother began to scream that she had always known what a whore I was and then began to chant in a voice I still remember to this day that adulteresses should be put to death. She put her hands around my throat and began to shake me as she had so many years before. Her grip around my neck tightened, and I knew I was going to die.

The timing could not have been better. My dad walked into the room right as sparkly darkness began to drift down over my vision, and my mom let go.

I moved out after that. It caused no little scandal since daughters were supposed to live at home until marriage. No decent IFB guy wanted me now, though, since I’d been “defiled,” and I was not about to spend every day in fear of my life.

Living on the outside was something I’d been completely unprepared for, but I relished the freedom. I could come and go as I pleased, I could wear pants and no one was hurting me. They may have seemed like small things, but they were enormously important to me.

Over the next several years, I began to discover who I was and find peace in my relationships with other people. I sought counseling to manage some terrible coping habits that I’d picked up over the years, and I learned that everything that had happened had a name: It was abuse. And it wasn’t my fault. I began a relationship with a young man who never saw me as the horrible, sinful person everyone in my previous life had always told me that I was.

I’m nearly 40 now, married to that wonderful young man, and we have three sons together, and those memories from such a long-ago time are ever-present in my mind. My mother has since died, and my father has disowned me. There’s a terrible peace in that. I wish that we could have had a relationship, but our pasts are too damaged, too fraught with the evil of an abusive family and the religious system that encouraged it, to have been able to move past it.

MY ISOLATION, MY PROTECTION: living isolated, in fear of the world; Shunning

shunningMy parents taught us assiduously to be skeptical of anyone outside of our family. People in the church were okay, but still not to be trusted or relied upon; we could only rely upon each other. The IFB church helped in this regard, believing anyone in any religion, even a different form of Baptist, were wrong, misguided, in error, going to hell. The Southern Baptists were liberal, loose and soft on sin. This because they danced, allowed their girls to wear pants and just by the very nature of the South, were more relaxed in manner.

By teaching us that they, and we by extension as long as we remained “in the fold” created by them, had the One True Path and that we would get contaminated by others’ sins to be led astray, we learned to turn inward. We learned to mistrust everyone and everything, buying into their persecution complex, their belief that “everyone is out to get me”; failing that, at least to taint us by association or participation in their sinful ways. Thus, we needed to concentrate on building stronger and stronger ties within the family and the church, so that we had a rock-solid foundation and would not waver when faced with someone in the World who would inevitably tempt us. We would be able to stand strong.

They created such a picture, instilled such a fear, a wariness, a suspicion and guardedness of anyone outside our home, outside our family, that the only logical response was to turn inward. To return to our home and family. No one outside our Inner Sanctum could be trusted. We knew we could not trust our parents or siblings – they proved that by repeatedly betraying us. Yet without a viable safe place to turn, because the World and all its offerings could not be trusted, our only option besides sleeping under a bridge alone, was to stay. The evil we knew remained better than the evils we did not know. They made us understand that if we left, we would be utterly and completely desolate, alone, lost and vulnerable. We could return home; they would take us, but we knew our transgression of leaving would mean a lower rung on the familial ladder.

With the exception of Bonnie and Pat, a female/female couple who lived next-door to us in the Blue House in Waukegan (1982-3) long before we knew anything about gays or the Fundie stance against homosexuals, we were never friends with our next-door neighbors. Constantly and tirelessly instructed to not talk to them. Now, I look at that as another indicator that we were abused: they did not want the people who lived closest us too close. They might have seen something, heard something.

I would never have termed it isolation before writing this, but in re-examining my childhood, the proverbial Red Flags pop up where I least expect them, often in and among things I thought innocuous up till now. This is another one.

At that time, especially in the small rural town in the mid-west where we lived, very few people went to church. Not enough that we were odd because of the size of our Quiverfull family (though relatively small by Quiverfull standards, still much larger than anyone around us), and how our family operated – which was very different than others around us, much more stringent – we were now also strange because we went to church. Were professing born-again Christians, which no one around us was at the time. Now most people consider themselves Christians, and nearly everyone attends a church of some sort. But in that time, and in that area of the country, going to church was rare and made us an oddity. On every front we stood out, could not escape or avoid standing out.

I hated standing out. Hated being different. Desperately wanted to blend in, disappear into the background with the blessing of anonymity by being normal. We were not normal.

The first level of people we were not to associate with was the general public. They fell into the category of “unsaved” or “heathens”, and were Verboten. The barest of pleasantries in order to not be rude or disrespectful was sufficient; anything beyond that simply could not be. We were to prevent friendship or on-going relationship of any kind.

Further, we were taught that friendship with one of these Unsaved, one of these Heathen, simply was impossible. Because we did not share the most important and foundational component, belief in Jesus and salvation, the only way to have a friendship with someone like this would be to elementally reject and set aside our faith. Because it could not happen, I didn’t try, and thus missed out on countless friendships after entering the public school system. They couldn’t be my friends: they couldn’t relate to me or I to them. Their values would contradict and conflict with mine, and I didn’t want to be contaminated by associating with them. We were pure water, they polluting oil, and could not mix ever, no matter what, unless they accepted Jesus. Only then could we let them into the most personal and private areas of our life.

The second layer of isolation involved our extended family. My mother’s family were Catholic, and we in the IFB world knew they were going to hell for venerating Mary over Jesus, the doctrine of trans-substantiation (and yes, at 8 I knew the title and the definition of this and how it conflicted with our doctrine, as well as Bible verses I was to use to show Catholics how wrong they were), and other things that they took every opportunity to tell us. My father’s family were Protestant of some sort, but I never knew what type of church they attended, if at all. Because the type of church mattered.

Extended family occupied a circle inside the general category of Unsaved, but only just. They were not in the inner circle; that place belonged only to our family, my parents, sisters and brother. I could probably count on one hand the number of times in my first two and a half decades that I saw any given aunt or uncle, grandparents, cousins. My parents strictly controlled the amount of time we were permitted to be around them. Held their own families at arm’s length.

I knew my mother’s father had been abusive. She has told two or three stories about him, one involved him chasing her mother with a cast-iron skillet to hit her. I knew of his physical abuse, and I suspect sexual abuse, though she remains coldly silent about him. Any words she says about him are thick with anger, hatred, bitterness.

The first time I talked to him I was seventeen. He called our house, and I answered the phone. He introduced himself as Mike, asked to speak to Mag. That was the only time I’d had any contact at all with him, this man vilified by my mother’s few words.

When her mother died, she and I travelled to stay with one of her brothers and his family. At one point, they received a phone call. She then came to the room we were sharing, agitated and flustered, hands flapping as she paced back and forth. He was coming, she told me. On his way, imminent arrival. When he arrived, she refused to come out, refused to see him.

At the funeral, no one approached him, no one spoke to him. At one point, I walked over to him and introduced myself, Hi, I’m Lani, Mag’s daughter. And then she shunned me for the rest of the service. I knew she was angry at me for speaking to him, and later when we spoke of it, she could hardly spit the words out of her angry mouth. You don’t understand! You don’t know what he did to us.

I responded by telling her I didn’t care; I would not carry on generational bitterness. She exploded at me, I’M NOT BITTER! With some more you don’t understand statements. No, I don’t understand. She never told us, never told us about him or her childhood beyond a few short, tersely-brief stories meant to give evidence and validity to her not wanting us to see him, intended to make me thankful for her protecting and shielding us from his evils.

As a direct result of this isolation from extended family, my siblings and I still do not have relationship with any aunts, uncles, cousins or our sole remaining grandparent, JD’s mother. Any interactions are liberally sprinkled with awkwardness at not knowing them, not having history or memories with them. No holidays spent around Grandma’s table; all our holidays belonged strictly to our family, in our home, but always with people in the church, orphan-families who had no family with whom to celebrate. These were families my parents took under their wing, to instruct them in how to build a solid marriage and raise obedient children.

These occupied the next-smaller circle, inside Extended Family but outside Immediate Family, and this circle also belonged to our friends. That is, our friends inside the IFB church. And there were precious few of those.

The most inward circle was reserved for only our family. No others could enter, until we married. Then our spouses would be permitted entrance into the inner sanctum.

However, in this innermost of circles, the smallest and most restrictive, the isolation bended and twisted and curled around us, like a snake slithering through our midst. We never knew where we’d see it next or how it would encircle us. It was not a biting snake; its wounds were inflicted as it separated one or more of us, using its slimy, scaly serpentine movements to slowly strangle us apart from the rest.

The damage then, was two-part: physical separation in that we would be set aside, apart from the rest of the family, for a time; and emotional separation, where especially Mag would harbor anger against us and not speak to us for the duration of the separation.

Only during the writing of this book did I term the separations for what they really are. I’d labeled my childhood as abusive. I knew that with most religious or spiritual abuse situations members can be shunned as punishment, to coerce them back into the fold, to return from their wayward ways as the scriptural Prodigal Son. I mentally checked off the important aspects: parents beat us, check. Churches abused us spiritually, check. Verbal abuse, check. But we hadn’t been shunned, so I thought whew, we at least escaped that.

In the middle of one night, my thoughts roiled around in the guise of dreams, words tumbled over and over such that one sentence couldn’t end before the next had overlapped. Slowly, they honed in, tightening in my mind, focusing inward to the underlying point: oh my god, she shunned us, I thought, and woke at the same time the thought solidified into words. She shuns us.

The abusive story was complete.

Mag’s version of shunning is a bit different. It is not an all-or-nothing denial of our existence forevermore. She does not physically act or speak as if we are dead or that we never existed. Her method of shunning, or isolating us within the family, is much more capricious, much more fluid. She shuns when and if she feels it necessary to make a point, to teach us a lesson.

In Mag’s world of shunning, she holds the cards, controls the world. She uses it to what she deems her advantage, to keep us off-kilter, always guessing, never knowing where we stand with her. It is emotional manipulation at its very finest, and Mag has honed it to a well-defined art form. It can be so fast as to appear a transitory tantrum, with a large explosion (or a series of small explosions) then, if she doesn’t get her way, she’ll storm off in a huff. When this happens, I’m never sure when she’ll deign to speak to me again. Sometimes it’s hours; sometimes months. Regardless, when she does decide to acknowledge my presence again, there is usually a large dose of residual manipulation in the form of what I term the “wounded bear” complex. She ensures the other person knows she was offended and hasn’t let the offender off the hook yet, all without breathing a word about the event that set her off.

While we were growing up, we had a particularly unique form of shunning exhibited in our family relating to mealtimes. They used food as a leveraging tool, based on our attitude and work that we had completed during the day.

There were times we were not allowed to eat. I recall being made to stand in my place, in front of my chair, during dinner while everyone else ate. This was the picture that accompanied the words in the dream-state that informed me we had been shunned. Standing at the table as everyone held hands around us for the song and prayer required prior to eating, and did not touch us or speak to us during the entirety of the meal.

These meals would drag on seemingly for an eternity, with JD offering extra helpings to everyone multiple times, eating dessert, lecturing on the topic-of-the-day, discussing the day’s happenings. My legs burned, muscles threatened to rebel against being still for so long, and my stomach refused to remain silent. We had to stand with hands down by our sides, eyes straight ahead.

I tried, as always, to control my tears – received not a few You want something to cry about? I’ll give you something to cry about! statements – but inevitably a few would stubbornly refuse to obey and trickle down my cheek. I could not use my hands to wipe them away but made and unmade fists by my side, keeping the fist on the side away from my parents’ eyesight. And I had to work to hide my anger at being treated such, not let it show on my face: that was a surefire ticket to an attitude adjustment with the belt. I, more than my siblings, could not avoid the evidence of my emotions on my face, a fact that resulted in more than a few attitude adjustments.

The punishment continued after the meal with being made to clean up. At that age, I always had one of my older sisters “helping” me. Really, they were present to educate me, to instruct me in the proper way to clean up. Sometimes these were fun times, teasing and happily chatting. But after a meal that included shunning, the silence lay heavy in the air. I was still forbidden from talking to anyone, and to avoid having my mouth taped, I endeavored to show them by my voluntary silence that I understood what I was to do.

The sister, either Libbie or Andie, also had the duty of ensuring I did not sneak scraps off the plates, to appease my hunger. I was also forbidden from eating until the next meal which meant an interminable night of a rumbling stomach that would not let me sleep peacefully. Times like these we became adept at sneaking food from the pantry. Spaghetti noodles were my favorite, as they were small, could be eaten quickly, and couldn’t be counted. Marshmallows too, if I were brave to sneak something sweet. I loved sweets.

Andie was more compassionate; Libbie was, still is, very hard-hearted and tendered zero sympathy. She more than the rest of us completely swallowed the rhetoric shoved down our throats. She believed we deserved our punishment. And she could not be trusted to keep confidences but would betray us to Mag, silently and without our knowledge. We never guessed she was their mole; we simply thought Mag and JD really did have eyes everywhere. Libbie was their eyes.

This type of shunning continued for several years. In high school, they simply refused to let us sit at the table, remanded us to our room for the duration of everyone else’s joyful consuming of aromatic foods whose scents wafted up the stairs and under the door to taunt me. Always after a meal like this I had to clean up after everyone else, but by this time they expected I knew my duty to not eat. But I was very adept at sneaking small portions that would not be missed; because they checked the leftover containers to ensure the amounts matched what was left at the end of the meal.

Mag’s manipulation of us through battering us with emotional neglect continues to the present. It is so ingrained, so instinctual, so capricious I believe it is completely unconscious. Though I also believe she has no idea of the ramifications or tangent consequences to us or our psyches, I also do not excuse her any longer. In essence, she acts with social skills comparable to a spoiled three year old.

Not only does she herself shun, but she pulls everyone in the family into her shunning game. She uses her diabolical skills as emotional manipulator to convert my father and siblings into turning against me as well. Now, with this new definition of shunning on her actions, I look back at instances of her not-talking to me and see them for what they truly were. Not talking to me after disagreeing about baby-proofing (as in, I wanted to; she thought me to be spoiling my child) – shunning. Not talking to me after I joined a charismatic church – shunning. Her ire at me during her mother’s funeral – shunning. Not talking to me after Libbie’s wedding, as well as turning the entire family against me – shunning.

Libbie’s wedding exemplifies her tactics of persuading others to believe her and join with her in battle beautifully.

When my oldest sister got married, I like a dutiful sister traveled with my husband and babies to participate in supporting her. By this time my brother had also gotten engaged, and so I think I met his fiancé for the first time at Libbie’s wedding. By this point I had put myself on this path of questioning the way we were raised, questioning Mag and JD’s methods, questioning if they really did “the best they could have” under the circumstances. As a result, I’d experienced not a little bit of tension and animosity towards me and had begun distancing myself from my parents specifically, and also my siblings who Mag roped into agreeing with her.

My children were 22 months and 7 months, and I had persistently worked with Libbie for her to find me a babysitter so that I could enjoy the rehearsal and wedding without chasing after babies or worrying about their inevitable disruptions, and without needing to apologize for their babyness.

On Sunday the day after the wedding, they wanted to have a family breakfast at the hotel with everyone. I was exhausted from wedding activities and little sleep – my younger child was still waking up several times a night. Plus I knew the drive back to Raleigh from Virginia Beach would be taxing – my children hated being strapped in, unable to move for prolonged periods of time, so whoever was not driving was entertaining them so as to keep them content and quiet(er) than they would be. They had no coping skills for driving like this and were too young to understand. I’m sure they felt we were punishing them unnecessarily. Road trips were not fun, and so we avoided them as much as we could at that point in their lives.

I explained to everyone our need to leave first thing Sunday morning, that we would miss the family breakfast. At this point I still needed to be heard, to be understood, thought that if I just explained things correctly, used the right words, that my message would be heard and they would cease to antagonize and criminalize me for not complying with their wishes. Mostly “their wishes” applies to Mag, and JD by extension because he doesn’t disagree with her much, but Mag pushed her wishes on everyone else with her coercion and emotional manipulation.

Unable to get them to stop nit-picking at me, finding fault with my plans as my choices did not accede to what they wanted of me, I threw my hands in the air and went about our business preparing to leave, ensuring we did not leave anything behind, had fresh diapers on the kids, gas in the tank, and so forth.

Not sufficient to lambast me in person, Mag and my sisters continued to harass me via email for the next few weeks. At that point, Andie and I were still adversaries, clashing and believing what Mag said about the other person, and she took part in the email bashing. Her husband even took part, and between the two of them, they told me that I was hurting everyone on purpose, that I was self-centered, and tearing the family apart. Among other things, which she has since profusely apologized for. I do not fault her any longer for saying and doing these things then; I merely use it to exemplify what the family was like then and the hold Mag retains over anyone who lets her. Andie, Evie and I do not any longer let her control how we perceive each other, and we decline to take part in her schemes against anyone else.

At this point though, she turned everyone against me. I’m sure she griped about me at the family breakfast – it is her manner. Sadly, she has done it enough that I know her tendencies.

I responded authoritatively to each and every email, discarding my pleas for empathy and understanding, as my explanations only served to continue the harassment. The more I responded to their allegations and accusations, the more they accused me. The more I attempted to explain my point of view, my situation, the more I was labeled self-absorbed and egocentric. The more I asked for consideration of my circumstances, the more they said I was manipulative and trying to force everyone to bend around me as the center of the world. I should add that at this point, I was the only one who had children so no one understood the demands of having two babies; after many years, after everyone else had children, they would use that to appeal to my compassion: please, Lani, you should understand.

And so after a few bouts with several family members, including my brother-in-law, and conferencing with my husband as to the best way to handle the situation, I took a different tack: I responded with confidence, authority and a strength I did not yet own. And I cried after each email was sent. They had no business informing me that I was “tearing the family apart”, especially my brother-in-law, who had never met my daughter or come to my home or made any attempt to get to know me. That accusing me of “hurting everyone on purpose” was untrue and they did not have permission to say that, or anything like it, to me again. And many other things that I do not recall, as it has been nearly a decade since this all took place.

As a result of standing up for myself to my family, no one talked to me for months. No phone calls, no emails, no visits or invitations to visit.

Now, though, Evie, Andie and I see this sort of situation – which was and is far from exceptional in our family – as exemplifying how our parents turned us against each other. Used anyone who dared step out to stand on her own feet, in opposition – however courteous and respectfully – of their will and their way as an opportunity to influence the others, indoctrinate the siblings to their way of thinking and doing things. This created strife and massive rifts in relationship that the three of us are endeavoring to now mend, but these rifts and strife instilled between and among us run deep and are exceedingly difficult to change. We are trying.

But how stressful never knowing if your mother is angry at you! And wracking your brain, trying to determine which incident set her off this time. Examining over and over your actions, your words, wondering how she could have misinterpreted meaning or intent. Always viewing her and her words with skepticism, trying to figure out her underlying meaning, what the double-speak might reference. But never being able to define it or her actions for what they are, else ensure a barrage of venomous anger. As always, standing up to her means inciting her to wrath and guaranteeing that if she hadn’t been angry and shunning before, she surely would after.

Still, to this day, though I have left this life far behind, I struggle with letting people in. With the instinctive labeling of people relative to the circle in which I should place them. It is a constant and conscious and deliberate pursuit, to reject the isolation that I internalized due to the doctrines of the IFB and the practices of my family. To pause when I hear the words in my head, to form the thoughts into words and then reject those thoughts that tell me I should keep myself apart, separate.

It takes work to emerge from this sort of isolationist mentality, but it can be done. It takes effort, but it also takes desire. Without wanting to change, I would not seek change. Without defining from where I have come, I cannot define where to go. I still have a practiced mentality that completely dismisses next door neighbors. Living in the South has helped, though it has taken nearly two decades of deprogramming in this setting. Of not being irritated at what I defined as intrusiveness, of not reacting viscerally at what felt inappropriately intimate. Of not labeling people as dangerous, out to unravel my carefully-constructed life.

Now, though, I am much more gentle on myself, realizing my instincts of self-preservation, of preventing people close to me from damaging the most inward and delicate parts of my heart, reflect the severity of my upbringing. When I can put words to it, when I can make connections between why I do or feel something and what my parents did or taught me, I build a new step. A step that takes me further from them.

It is a long road, and a slowly-built one. And a never-ending road. But worth the effort.

hana williamsOn the night of May 11, 2011, sometime around midnight, 13-year-old Hana Williams fell face-forward in her parents’ backyard. Adopted from Ethiopia three years before, Hana was naked and severely underweight. Her head had recently been shaved, and her body bore the scars of repeated beatings with a plastic plumbing hose. Inside the house, her adoptive mother, 42-year-old Carri Williams, and a number of Hana’s eight siblings had been peering out the window for the past few hours, watching as Hana staggered and thrashed around, removed her clothing in what is known as hypothermic paradoxical undressing and fell repeatedly, hitting her head. According to Hana’s brother Immanuel, a deaf 10-year-old also adopted from Ethiopia, the family appeared to be laughing at her.

When one of Carri’s biological daughters reported that Hana was lying facedown, Carri came outside. Upset by Hana’s immodest nakedness, Carri fetched a bedsheet and covered her before asking two teenage sons to carry her in. She called her husband, Larry, who was on his way home from a late shift at Boeing, then finally dialed 911, telling the operator, “I think my daughter just killed herself. … She’s really rebellious.”

From court testimony, pretrial motions, and a detective’s affidavit, here is what we know about what led up to that night: Hana had been outside since the midafternoon, wearing cutoff sweatpants and a short-sleeved shirt in the rainy, mid-40s drizzle of spring in Sedro-Woolley, Wash.—a small town just 40 miles south of the Canadian border. Carri had originally sent Hana outside that day as a punishment, ordering her to do jumping jacks to stay warm. She walked Hana to an outhouse reserved for her use and watched her fall several times, but went back inside to avoid seeing what she thought was attention-seeking behavior. As the hours wore on, Hana refused to come back in when Carri called. Carri put out dry clothes and sent two of her biological sons to hit Hana on her bottom with a plastic switch for disobeying. But Hana had begun to remove her clothing, and Carri, who believed in strict modesty, called the boys back in.

As the operator walked her through mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, an even-voiced Carri explained that Hana’s mouth was full of mud, her eyes dilated, “like she’s in a dark room.” Her voice grew annoyed as she described Hana’s nudity, and how she’d been “passive-aggressive,” causing “so much stress!”

Hana was pronounced dead at the hospital, the cause hypothermia compounded by malnutrition and gastritis. The following day, when Child Protective Services tried to check on the other children, Larry Williams refused to let them in. When police followed up, a deputy noted that the family acted as though Hana’s death was “an everyday occurrence.” Twelve days later, detectives and CPS conducted interviews with the children, but their answers seemed rote and rehearsed, all repeating that Hana was rebellious and refused to mind Carri; one child said he thought Hana was possessed by demons. According to investigators, Immanuel said that “people like [Hana] got spankings for lying and go into the fires of hell,” just before Larry abruptly ended the interview.

Two months later, in mid-July, CPS received an anonymous tip from someone claiming that Carri didn’t like her adopted children and that Immanuel was starting to be treated like Hana had been. CPS launched a formal investigation, and all eight remaining children went into state care. In late September, Larry and Carri were arrested and charged with Hana’s death.

When Hana died, she became one of at least dozens of adoptees alleged to have been killed at their adoptive parents’ hands in the past 20 years, and part of a far larger group of children who become estranged from their adoptive families—frequently, as it turns out, large families with fundamentalist beliefs about child rearing. Just within the Seattle area, and just among Ethiopian adoptees who came from the same orphanage and adoption agency as Hana, there has been an unreported crisis of “forever families” that fail. These are adoptions that, in an absence of any real oversight and in environments of harsh discipline, began with good intentions but went profoundly wrong….click here to read more.

I distinctly remember the summer of 1994 because it was the summer that I finally packed away all of my beloved Barbies. I knew it was time to put away childish things and grow up to be a big girl. Little did I know how fast I would have to grow up…..

When the school year started, Bill Wininger would call me into his office just to make sure I was doing okay. He portrayed himself as a father figure and let me know he was there for me if I ever needed anything. It was strange how random these meetings were–sometimes in the middle of history class and sometimes right before gym class–but he always said that we were buddies and that this should be our little secret.  It felt weird when he hugged me, but after all, he was portraying a father figure, and fathers hug their children; and he was the “man of God,” so he wouldn’t do anything wrong. When the hugs turned into a little something more, I knew something wasn’t quite right, but when you were in his office it was as if you were under some sort of spell. You would just freeze, almost as if you weren’t really there but watching yourself in a dream. Even though we were taught by church and school to respect and obey authority without question, my parents always explained their rules and let us question and talk about them.  I thank God that my parents instilled this self respect in me. Although I could never say or do anything while I was in his office, outside of his office I was able to tell him that I didn’t feel that it was right and that we shouldn’t do this anymore. Thankfully, he never did call me back into his office after that, and shortly thereafter, he left the church.

I thought he had repented of what he had done and made a fresh start down in Georgia.  In my young, innocent, and forgiving heart I truly believed this was true.

If only I had known how untrue this was……

I am telling my story not to benefit myself, because personally I would rather just take it to God and forget the whole thing happened.

I am sharing this to stand with my dear friends who suffered along with me, Janeane, Robin, and now, I know Bethany did as well.

I also pray that anyone who is afraid to come forward will get courage from God to stand up for what is right.

 When all the stuff about Jack Schaap came to light, I became brave enough to tell a very abbreviated version of my story on the Do Right Hyles Anderson College Facebook page.  I did put Bill Wininger’s name out there but, I want to tell my story here too.

I would have done this much sooner, but I am the mom of 5 children with the youngest being 3 weeks, so needless to say, I haven’t had much time to myself.

I started attending North Sharon Baptist Church as a 3 year old. As a matter of fact, it was Bethany Leonard’s dad who came to my door and invited my family to ride the church bus. Her family has been a blessing to my family. After all, they are the reason I started going to church.

I loved my childhood at North Sharon Baptist Church.  It was like a second home and family to me; especially after my parents were divorced.  I was in eighth grade when this happened so my church family was my rock.  I knew the people had a genuine love and concern for me.

Well, right before my parents divorced, our church went through a big scandal and my brothers and sister and I, who were attending North Sharon Christian School at the time, suddenly found ourselves in a public school.  My parents were advised this would be best because of our direct involvement in the scandal. We rode the bus of one of the men who was falsely accused. For me, it was devastating. My world had just fallen apart.

It was during this time when Bill Wininger started grooming me for abuse.  It started off as innocent. He would call me into his office to make sure I was doing okay and give me hugs. Well, it proceeded into much more than that over the course of the next year.  I knew it was wrong but, tried to justify it by telling myself he was the “man of God” and he had a reason for it. I remember thinking he was trying to judge my character and see if I was really a “good girl.”

One day after school, I rode home with another family at the school because I was babysitting for the family overnight.  Needless to say, they could tell something was wrong right away.  I was quiet the whole way home, could barely eat dinner and, was trying to hold back tears. I remember both Mr. and Mrs.,  ______  asking me what was wrong and I told them I couldn’t talk about it.  But, deep down inside,  I wanted to tell someone. Just before school let out that day, Bill Wininger called me into his office and that was when the worst of the abuse occurred. Not only was it worse than any other time in his office but, after he was done, he looked me in the eyes and asked me why I let him do that to me!  It’s amazing I didn’t burst into tears right there. Instead, I just froze and didn’t say anything.  After all, why did I let it happen?

Shortly after that incident, I remember purposely trying to avoid him. I was scared to death. I started having bad dreams at night and would sit up in my bed and just cry uncontrollably. My sister shared a room with me and was obviously concerned and curious as to why I kept doing this. She kept asking me to tell her what was wrong and I kept saying, “I can’t.” She finally told me, “You better tell me what’s going on!” Well, I finally told her but, made her promise not to tell anyone, not even my dad or brothers because I knew if my dad found out, we would never go to church again.

Soon after, I noticed I wasn’t alone.  A couple of my friends (Robin Nixon being one of those friends) were being called into his office too. I at least felt safe enough to talk to my friends about the abuse. This is what got me through emotionally until I graduated high school. My brothers eventually found out somehow; not sure how, but it was the big secret of our youth group for the longest time. All the teenagers eventually knew about Bill Wininger.

Well, I’m sure I left something out, but I’ve already written a lot. Needless to say, this has made me a stronger person and there’s so much more I could share but will leave it for a different time.

If there is anyone out there who has been abused and is afraid to tell, please, please tell someone! I am glad my sister pried the truth out of me.  She will never know how much it helped to finally tell someone.  I love her more than words can say. She has been one of my biggest rocks through all this!

I attended North Sharon Baptist Church for many years, and for the most part I loved going there. The people were like family, we were a very close knit church, and even more so after a few of the men in our church were falsely accused of child molestation. Going through a trial like that will bring a family closer for sure.

That was a terrible time in my life, for more than just the fact that our church was being drug through the dirt. During this time my pastor, the man that we are supposed to be able to trust, and counsel with during hard times, started a very inappropriate relationship with me.

It all started very innocently, in my eyes anyway, with just a tap on the hand as he walked by during closing prayer, going to greet people after the service. Then as we were going through this battle at church, he would call me into his office, and just give me a hug, and make sure I was doing alright, I mean our youth director was in jail after all. I still didn’t think too much of this, though he preached against men and women touching, but it was Bill Wininger! He was a man of God, he wouldn’t have any ill intentions. But I was wrong, whether he planned it or not, things didn’t stay so innocent for long. I’m not going to go into detail, but things quickly went very bad. I remember thinking how in the world could he get up in front of our church and preach and tell them that things were going to be ok, when he was putting the lives of those men sitting jail in jeopardy. If someone caught him, there was no way those 2 men would ever be acquitted of the crimes they had been falsely accused of.

He used that to keep me from telling anyone, he was sure to make sure to remind me often that if anyone found out about “us” that those 2 men, and probably more, would rot in jail.

Things went on for quite some time, about a year and a half, until he finally felt the “call of God” to leave our church. I have heard stories as to why God called him right then, and so quickly, but I know nothing to be 100% truth, so I won’t speculate, but they were gone with very little warning.

Shortly before he left, a couple of other teenagers and I got to talking and I discovered that they had very similar issues with our pastor. None of us knew what to do, the best we could come up with was to do our best to avoid being in the church alone. But then, he just started pulling us out of class (we all attended the Christian school there) to “counsel”.

We were never so relieved as when he finally left, my senior year of high school. That should have been the best time of my high school career, however that is when the guilt set in. I knew that he wouldn’t stop, though I really wanted to believe he would. I have been plagued by this guilt ever since. I hope that we can all finally get the peace that we have been searching for these past 18 years.

This is a very abbreviated version of my story, but I wanted to get it out there. I want to finally do something, and if I can help just one person find the courage to stand, then everything I went though was worth it.

Sherri’s Story

Ten Thousand Days in Hell

From my earliest years in school, I was labeled “teacher’s pet” by my siblings and friends – a label I never quite understood. When it was flung at me, I would smile and shrug my shoulder, as if to convey, “It’s nothing and it means nothing to me” because I knew it was meant to be more of an insult than a compliment.  The truth was I liked school. Actually, I loved school – I liked the vast majority of my teachers, I enjoyed accomplishing academic tasks, I felt a satisfying sense of accomplishment at school, and I did not understand why the insinuation that my teachers liked me was a put-down.  Looking back, I realize that teachers liked me because I was an exceptionally good kid.  I was neither brilliant academically nor gifted musically nor exceptionally athletic; in fact, I was extremely ordinary – painfully average-to-low-average at literally everything – however, I was extremely compliant. I never caused any trouble, never stepped out of line (literally or figuratively!), never even considered doing anything I was not ‘supposed’ to do . . . or not doing anything I was ‘supposed’ to do! Add to all that the fact that I completed all my work on time and never questioned or challenged any concept or directive, and I was a teacher’s dream – the kind of student who never had to be called out, reprimanded, or reminded of expectations. I was the kind of kid whom teachers adored and showered with wonderful report-card comments (“Such a sweet girl” . . . “Such a delight” . . . “Such a joy to teach”) and always sat next to those who struggled academically or behaviorally, because I was a good “role model” – the perfect student – the student that teachers wished all others would emulate because if all students were like me, all teachers’ lives would be easy-breezy.  Problem is, in thirteen years of school, not one teacher was astute enough to figure out the closely-guarded secret to my success: I was an exceptionally good kid because I was an exceptionally abused kid who was extremely fearful to be anything other than absolutely perfect.

My “goodness” did not extend solely to the classroom. I was a well-behaved, well-mannered, obedient daughter at home, too. I truly did strive to know what was expected of me and flawlessly meet all expectations. Trouble was, I was a kid and no matter how diligently I tried, I was always coming up short of perfection . . . and so I was always receiving beatings. By “always” I mean on a daily basis, usually more than once a day and by “beatings” I mean hundreds of smacks, slaps, spankings, thrashings, and whippings that usually started with a parent’s open hand and usually ended with a fist, a hairbrush, a wooden spoon, a fly swatter, a board, or any other object within immediate reach – most often, a thick leather belt.  And by hundreds, I mean hundreds of lashes a day. My parents held their heads high and broadened their mouths into a huge smile when they bragged to their friends with a gleam in their eye about the rule in our house that most infractions were worth a hundred licks, and of course MAJOR infractions worth much more than that.  And so I received my daily licks . . . when I was a toddler, I was spanked on a near-daily basis for not clearly pronouncing the letter ‘r’. In elementary school, my daily spankings were for such consistent infractions as leaving towel lint on the dishes as I dried them, missing a spot on the floor as I vacuumed, leaving a streak of cleaner on the bathroom mirror, and having messy handwriting – that darn ‘r’ again – I received endless spankings in third and fourth grade for not forming my cursive r’s correctly and for not slanting my cursive writing to the appropriate angle. Oh, and there was always the math. I was math-challenged. What made perfect sense to my thirty-something father made no sense to me no matter how hard I tried to understand it. Instant recall of multiplication facts was like a foreign language to me and long-division was equally challenging, and so I took thousands of licks during my elementary years over my “refusal” to complete my math homework correctly or to properly explain to my father why a problem was incorrect and what I should do to get it correct. In fourth grade, my teacher (whom I adored) had a Winnie-the-Pooh-themed party, complete with cake and punch and life-size Winnie-the-Pooh characters and Winnie-the-Pooh movies, for everyone in class who orally recited all their multiplication tables within a minute per family,  I was the only fourth grader who did not attend the party. While the class enjoyed cake and animated movies, I sat in the hallway, tears streaming down my face, reciting my multiplication tables over and over again, increasingly panicked that I could not “beat the clock.” The well-meaning teacher thought I cried because I wanted to join the party; she never knew I cried because I was going to be mercilessly spanked when I arrived home and had to shamefully admit  that I had not mastered my multiplication facts within the given time-frame.

I do not believe a day went by that I did not receive several spankings. At some point, my parents came to believe that all spankings should be administered by the father. This was a difficult dilemma, as my father did not stay at our house seven days a week. He frequently drove his work van to his construction job site on Sunday night after church and stayed there – in the van? in a motel? with another family? I never knew – until Friday night or Saturday morning. Though I enjoyed the respite from his wrath during the week, I knew there would be hell to pay on the weekend, for my mother solved her dilemma by purchasing three spiral notebooks – one each for me, my sister, and my brother, and recording our daily offenses in the notebook. On Saturday, my father would call us individually to his bedroom, shut the door, and go through the pages of the notebook line-by-line, dutifully administering an individual spanking for each individual item on the list. I do not recall how many grievances my mom recorded in the notebook; I do, however, recall sneaking into her bedroom, tearing out an entire page filled front and back with offenses from each of our notebooks, tearing them into small bits, flushing them down the toilet, and feeling a sense of relief and accomplishment that we would receive that many fewer spankings come Saturday. Those were the days that I began dreading any contact with my father and praying that he would get in a car accident and die on his way home . . . which, of course, meant carrying all the guilt associated with such thoughts and self-hatred that I wasn’t a better daughter.

As I progressed to upper elementary and middle school, the spankings were usually for such offenses as putting too much butter on the parents’ breakfast toast, or too little butter on the toast – or for putting too much milk in the parents’ breakfast cereal, or too little milk – or for putting too much mayonnaise on the parents’ bologna sandwich, or too little mayonnaise – or for making their hot cereal too hot, or not hot enough. I also received frequent spankings for taking too long to complete my chores, or for completing them so quickly that they couldn’t possibly be done correctly – or for taking too long to complete my school homework, or completing it so quickly that it couldn’t possibly be quality work – or for putting too little starch on my preacher-man-father’s collared white shirts so they didn’t hold a crisp shape after I ironed them, or so much starch that they were uncomfortable – or for putting too little powdered detergent in the laundry, or so much detergent that it left white streaks on the clothes – or . . . I could go on and on with the tedious list of mundane daily tasks that I was spanked for on a daily basis, as all infractions were considered a form of sabotaging my parents, or rebellion of some sort, but you get the idea. Oh, and there were the very frequent spankings for spending too much time in the bathroom; decades later, I was finally diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, contracted in no small part, I’m certain, because of the constant fear I harbored as a child and later as a teenager.

One summer day when I was five or six, I was treasure hunting with a friend. We were digging in the dirt behind a huge electrical box – perhaps it encased a generator or some such thing – it was large enough to hide us from the nearby sidewalk and adjoining parking lot to our apartment complex. We were convinced that we were going to find pirate treasure in the middle of land-locked Indiana. We were elated when our old, bent spoons clanked against something hard – we were sure it was a trunk filled with gold coins. We dug faster and faster, our hearts racing, until we unearthed a wooden box. Certain we had excavated some long-lost fortune, we held our breath as we pried the box open. Inside, wrapped in layers of linen, was an old glass canning jar. We gently lifted the jar out of its wrappings and took off the lid. Inside the jar, more linen. We slid out our newly discovered treasure and unrolled the linen very gently. Imagine our chagrin when a baby bird fell out of the linen. At that very moment, I was caught in the ear by my father’s steel-toed work boot and his bellowing and hollering, demanding to know what we were doing. I was saddened by the baby bird and so confused about why my father was suddenly home in the middle of a workday that I did not know how to respond. My silence was taken for defiance, and he kicked me several hundred feet to the apartment building entrance, up a flight of stairs, and to my bedroom, where I received my usual hundred lashes. After that, I was very afraid of playing outside and started staying inside more and more frequently, finding solace in books and playing school. At least if I was inside, the click of the door would warn me he was home and I wouldn’t be caught off guard again. Over the coming years, I frequently thought of that baby bird and envied the safety of its hiding place in a jar . . . in a box . . . in the quiet ground. I often hoped someone had been kind enough to rebury the bird. And I often longed to be buried in peace and quiet beside that baby bird.

In 1977, our family took a road trip from Hammond, Indiana to Indianapolis to visit my mother’s family. My siblings and I adored our aunts, uncles, and cousins, and cherished the few opportunities we had to visit them. When we arrived at my aunt and uncle’s house, I was so excited I jumped out of the car, ran up to their front door, and knocked. I did not realize they were not home, and instead of an aunt or uncle opening the front door with arms extended wide to hug me, I was greeted by their guard dog, half wolf – half German Shepard, tearing around the corner of the house with every intent of ripping me apart. My parents did not get out of the car or make any attempt to distract Wolf (as the guard dog was aptly named), although my father did save my life by rolling down his car window an inch or so and instructing me to shut myself between the front door and the screen door and hold the screen door as close to me as possible. As my parents had not told my aunt and uncle we were coming for a visit, I stayed shut between the two doors for what seemed like an eternity, waiting for them to arrive home and call off Wolf. Tears streamed down my nine-year-old cheeks as the dog repeatedly lunged at me, snarling and foaming at the mouth, trying to pull the screen door open far enough to tear into my flesh. I suppose it was pure adrenalin that gave me the strength to hold onto the screen door with all my might as I shrunk as far into the corner of the two doors as I could. I remember feeling so relieved when my aunt and uncle finally arrived home and called off the dog. I bolted across the yard to my parents, expecting hugs of reassurance; instead, my dad grabbed my wrist and threw me on top of the hood of his car, whipped off his belt, and lashed me for what seemed like an eternity, all the while screaming at me for being such a stupid, defiant, rebellious daughter. When I fell onto the ground, he yanked me back up and threw me either against the car or back onto the hood and continued unleashing his fury on my small body. I knew better than to do anything other than cry silently and whisper “I’m sorry” over and over again, hoping each lash would be the last. When the beating subsided, I was instructed to go to bed with no dinner and when I did not have the strength to walk into the house, my father’s steel-toed work boots found their way to my aching and bruised backside to help me. My aunt took me to her room and laid me on her bed, peeled off my bloody clothes, and applied salve to the many cuts, welts, and stripes covering my back and my arms and legs. She sneaked into the room a few more times that evening, applying ice and salve to my wounds and feeding me soup, as I could not sit up to eat. She warned me to lie to my father when he asked if anyone gave me any food. She also told me to pretend to be asleep when he checked on me. He did open the bedroom door every hour or so to be sure I was in bed and not playing or having fun with the cousins. I couldn’t have played if I wanted to – I could barely move. All I could do was lie on my stomach, cry silently, and fight the nausea from the pain. The next day was Sunday and my father was upset when he was told I could not go to church, as I was still in so much pain I could not stand, walk, or sit. My aunt stayed with me, again nursing my wounds and trying to get me to eat a few bites. We left after church and returned home.  Shortly after that, we had a knock on our apartment door. It was the Hammond Welfare Department investigating reports of child abuse. (My parents were livid that my mother’s family had reported the incident.) My mother did not let the investigators in; instead, she called the church – First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana – and asked for advice. She spoke to the pastor’s secretary, who told her the church would help protect my parents against all allegations. Within minutes, Pastor Jack Hyles called and instructed my mother not to open the door unless the investigators had a search warrant. He coached her on what to say and what not to say when she was questioned, and taught her how to coach me and my siblings to respond to any questions we received. Jack Hyles also instructed my mother to pack a bag for me and each of my siblings so the church could spirit us into hiding, if necessary, so that we would not be removed from the home. My mother told me if anyone asked me questions about the discipline in our home, I was to respond, “My parents discipline us according to the Bible” and was to emphatically deny any spankings. She explained that if I said I was spanked or if I said anything other than what I was told to say, the big bad State of Indiana would take away my newborn brother and it would be my fault. Now, I adored my baby brother and I did not want him to be ripped away from our family, so I was determined not to say anything other than what I was told to say. I also understood quite clearly that if any of us four children were removed from the home, we would be placed in the home of heathens “like the drunk downstairs who hates his kids and is sending them straight to hell by refusing to allow them to go to church” and we would be placed in a public school where we would go straight to the devil. Nothing struck fear in my heart like the thought of being forced to go to a public school – I had been well-indoctrinated to believe that church owned and operated schools were the only option for anyone who hoped to avoid going to hell. I knew I would say what I was told to say and I would not say what I was told not to say and I shivered in fear for weeks about the impending visit from state officials to question me and my siblings. The dreaded day arrived  . . . representatives from the welfare department knocked on our door with all the documentation they needed to inspect the apartment and question the children. My mother fetched me and my sister from our outside play and reminded us in a harsh whisper exactly how we were supposed to answer the questions we were asked. My sister was summoned inside. I stood at the bottom of the apartment stairwell, shaking and crying as I awaited my turn, knowing I could not explain away the bruises and welts that still covered the entire backside of my body as a result of my encounter with Wolf, the guard dog, and trying to decide what to do if they asked me to remove all my clothes (which we had been warned may happen). As I stood there trembling and trying to remember all my instructions, the investigators left. They had questioned my sister, eighteen months my senior, found no bruises on her when they strip-searched her, and decided they did not need to talk to me. The church had already hired a lawyer for my parents (a deacon in the church) who went to court with them, coached them on how to answer all inquiries, and ultimately got them off the hook. The case was closed and everyone was relieved. Me, more than anyone, as I received frequent verbal reminders that if I had not been so willfully disobedient the day I ran up to my aunt and uncle’s front door my family would not have been in this mess in the first place. I internalized the guilt and shame heaped upon me and felt so remorseful that I was more determined than ever to be the obedient, submissive, compliant daughter my church and my parents expected.

Four years later, my parents had relocated to Hesperia, California, where we attended another Independent Fundamental Baptist Church and school. Now, I had been receiving spankings my entire twelve years of life for my speaking voice. My father deemed my voice too harsh, like a man’s, or too bossy. Every time I opened my mouth to speak, I knew it came with the risk of my father flying across the room to smack me, punch me in the mouth, or belt me because of how my voice sounded. He must have told me a hundred thousand times to speak softly and quietly, like a lady. As a result, I was literally afraid to speak, especially to adults, and avoided it at all costs. If I had to speak, I tried with all my might to speak softly and quietly like a lady.  I was in seventh grade, and as always, attending a church school, when a new problem developed for me. One of the school teachers was elderly and hard of hearing. He started commenting to my parents that I spoke too softly and it was difficult to hear me, so I started getting whippings at home. I was extremely confused now about how to speak – quiet and soft like a lady, or loudly enough to be sure Mr. B could hear me. The result was I avoided conversations with adults at all costs. I shrunk into myself and tried to avoid being seen or called out for any reason, because I knew if I had to speak up, I was in big trouble at home one way or the other for how my voice sounded. One cursed day, I was nearly killed as a result.

The students in our small school were able to purchase ice cream bars at lunch time for a quarter. One afternoon, Mr. B sent me to the kitchen (which doubled as the kindergarten classroom) with the ice cream order. The procedure was to wait by the door for the kindergarten teacher, Mrs. L, to come and take the order slip, get the ice cream bars from Mrs. L, then take them to Mr. B to be handed out. I dutifully and silently waited by the kitchen/classroom door. Mrs. L told me twice she was having a difficult time with a disobedient child and it would be a few minutes before she could help me. I nodded and continued to wait silently outside the door as she took the unruly five-year-old into the storage closet and administered swats (a very common occurrence in all the Christian schools I attended). Being too afraid to speak to adults, it never occurred to me to ask Mrs. L if she wanted me to leave and return later; I waited silently at the door because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. Several minutes later, she came to the door, took the order slip, fetched the ice cream bars from the freezer, and handed them to me with the warning, “You’re in big trouble, young lady.”  I was confused – I did not know what I had done wrong, I did not know what kind of trouble was coming my way, and I did not know when to expect that trouble. I just knew she was angry because I had in some way slighted her and I knew I better be very afraid of my unnamed consequence. All day and all evening, I tried to squelch my growing fears while going through the motions of school and home chores. My father arrived home late that night, stormed into my bedroom, grabbed my forearm, dragged me into his bedroom, and ordered me to strip from the waist down as he ripped off his thick leather belt. (My sister and I were always ordered to strip from the waist down for our spankings, even into our late teenage years – a humiliation I always dreaded worse than the actual whipping itself.) I don’t know what Mrs. L told him, but I knew he was angrier than I had ever seen him before and I was scared for my very life. He threw me face-down on his bed and started swinging the belt as hard as he could. (There were certainly hundreds of times my parents flew off the handle and started swinging at us with an open hand, a clenched fist, or whatever implement was within easy reach, but the vast majority of our spankings were received while lying face-down on a bed. I frequently heard my father say when parents “spanked” their child, the child should incur the greatest amount of pain possible, as the pain was supposed to deter the child from committing the given offensive again. With the child laying face-down on the bed, the parent could swing their arm out and up enough to put their full force behind each lash with a doubled-over, leather belt.) My father gave me one hundred . . . two hundred . . . three hundred lashes with his belt. I stopped counting at three hundred. The force behind his lashes was so powerful, it pushed me across the bed and I kept falling on the floor. Every time I would fall on the floor, my father screamed at me to get back up and on the bed. My body was so broken from so many lashes and lacerations that I had a difficult time pushing myself up. I would cower on the floor, begging him to stop. Each time, he just started whipping me with his belt in the face, until I finally got myself back up on the bed. I was in a lose-lose situation – circumstances I had faced thousands of times in my twelve years – my mother would report a given offense to my father, exaggerating the details to enflame his rage, then me or my sister or my brother would receive the usual hundred lashes for whatever crime she had reported. After the first spanking, he would repeat what she had told him, and ask, “Is this true?” If we answered yes, we received another round of a hundred lashes for willfully choosing to commit said offense. If we said no, we received an even worse consequence for “calling my mother a liar.” I learned early on always to say yes, whatever she said I had done was true, as the punishment was less severe. I was in that situation now – he kept screaming at me to tell him whether or not I had done what Mrs. L said I had done. I did not have any idea what she had reported to him, but I knew taking the blame for it was better than implying she was a liar, so I kept saying, “Yes, yes, it’s true” and every admission of guilt resulted in another round of lashes. My parents philosophy always was, “Spank them ’til they start crying, then spank them ’til they stop crying” . . .  the problem on that day was I could not stop crying and every time I tried to stop crying, I started hyperventilating, which my father somehow perceived as continued willful defiance. They also believed parents were to spank their children “until their will was broken.” I would have said or done anything that day to prove to my father that my will was broken – in fact, my very spirit was broken – but he was in such a rage that nothing on that particular day was stopping him. The beating went on for what seemed to me like hours. Finally – finally – my mother did something she had never done before or since . . . she came into the bedroom and begged him to stop before he killed me. She literally grabbed his arms and hung onto them with all her might to keep him from continuing to lash me. I know he raised his hand to her when she first attempted to stop him. I do not remember if he hit her, but I do know, despite the fact that she usually tried to incite his rage against me and my siblings, and despite the fact that I prayed for a merciful death that day, it was the day my mother literally saved my life. My head-to-toe bruises, welts, and lacerations were so bad that I missed nearly a week of school, as I literally could not sit and could barely walk or stand. I spent a week in bed, recovering, and my fear of both my parents increased tenfold, as I realized that day they could literally take my life if they so chose.

During my teen years, my fears multiplied a hundredfold . . . not only was it more difficult to hide my ankle-to-shoulder blade bruises and welts when changing for sports with a team of girls from my small school, but the physical abuse expanded to include sexual abuse from my father and a blind eye and deaf ear from my mother. The sexual abuse started when I was twelve. Our entire lives, my sister and I were required to kiss both parents goodnight – a mandated nightly ritual I dreaded for hours before the witching hour when we had to tread into the living room in our pajamas, kiss both parents on the cheek, say, “Good night. I love you” and then endure my dad’s tickling until he tired of it or my mom tired of it and made him stop. The “tickling” was, as close as I can guess, the one ritual he held to that made it appear he was bonding with his daughters. Unfortunately for me, I truly was (am) ticklish, so every night truly did start out with me laughing even as I pushed and pulled away from him to the greatest extent possible because I knew his hands were going to quickly travel beyond my ribs to grope my most private areas – over and over again, for what seemed like an eternity. And as I tried to twist away from his groping fingers, he would grasp my wrist or my arm ever tighter with his “free” hand, until this ritual, too, left bruises and welts up and down my arms. If I put up too much of a struggle, it would result in a slap across the face or an ever-dreaded spanking. Night after night, year after year, I tried to force my sobs to sound like laughter as I fought confusion and fear. I was not only confused by his actions by also by my mother who sat by and watched, turning the TV up louder and louder until she finally – finally! – would put a stop to it with “That’s enough –

let her go to bed,” and I could finally run out of the room and seek solace in my bedroom. Solace that I knew would be short-lived, for night after night, year after year, he would creep into my bedroom, wake me up (if I had been fortunate enough to fall asleep at all) and make me join him in the living room, where he always slept separately from my mother. He would say he had stomach pains and I needed to push on his stomach to force the pains away, but every night he pushed my hand farther and farther down and forced me to grope him. This started when I was twelve and continued until I was nineteen – every single night of the year that he was home (some nights mercifully found him away from home for his job) – and it would continue for hours each night. I frequently tried to pull my hand away and he would slap my hand, then slap me, then belt me, then hold my wrist or arm so tightly that I did not have the physical strength to pull away while he quoted Bible verses such as “Children, obey your parents,” or “Whoever curses his father shall be put to death.” And so I sat there, on the living room floor, night after night, year after year, shamed and praying for deliverance in any form – my father’s death, my own death – and believing the nightly ritual never ended as God’s punishment upon me for silently cursing my father.

A number of times – meaning (over the course of eight years) dozens to perhaps hundreds of times, my mother would get up during the night to go to the bathroom, or to walk through the living room to the kitchen for a drink or a snack. She would look directly at us – make eye contact with my pleading eyes and see the tears streaming down my cheeks – ignore us and silently go back to bed. As a teenager, I came to understand that my mother purposefully directed my father’s wrath and rage toward me, my sister, and my brother – even lying to him on many occasions about offenses she contrived so that we would get beat – as a means of getting his angry attention off her. I understood that was how she coped with an unhappy, verbally abusive marriage. But I never understood her stony silence when I was being sexually abused by my father. And I never dared tell anyone about the abuse – I knew full well that my father was capable of murdering me and believed if I breathed a word to anyone about the abuse taking place in our home, I would surely suffer death as a result. Trust me, death would have been merciful – I just feared a slow and painful death at my father’s hands.

I started working when I was fourteen. By fifteen, I worked three jobs. I attended the school-owned and operated church for an hour or two of academic work, then went to the kindergarten and taught the five-year-olds how to read. (Trust me, I know how ridiculous that sounds, but it is God’s honest truth. I was paid a hundred dollars a week for working in the kindergarten class.) At noon, my mother drove me to a jewelry store/gift shop, owned by a family in the church. I opened the store, then cleaned and waited on customers ’til five o’clock, when my mother picked me up and drove me home to change clothes, then took me to Golden Corral, where I waitressed from six ’til midnight. My parents took every penny I earned and the punishment was harsh if I wasn’t earning enough in tips. They knew I should earn forty to sixty dollars in tips on weeknights and well over a hundred twenty on weekends. If I had any less, I was in big trouble, and I made sure I never had any less.  When I was nineteen, my sister got engaged. I had been at college two or three months when my mom called and said, “Your sister is engaged. We need you to come home and work to pay for the wedding.” (Years later, I learned that my sister and her husband had paid for their own wedding. I was summoned to support the family financially as they were losing my sister’s income.) I received a plane ticket the next day, went home, and had two jobs within twenty-four hours. I never minded working a hundred or more hours a week – it got me out of the house. I “stole” enough of my own tip money to buy a latch-and-hook lock for my bedroom door so my father would quit pulling me out of bed at night. It worked, although not without consequences of its own. He would stand at my bedroom door every night and knock, calling out, “Sherri. Sherri, I need you. Sherri, open the door. Sherri, come into the living room. Sherri, obey me at once.” He rattled the door, knocked, sometimes pounded, and called for hours – literally three to four hours a night every night. I lay as still as possible, praying that he would think I was asleep and that he would not bust the door down and beat me lifeless for ignoring his calls.  We lived in a very small house – my mother’s bedroom door was literally four to six inches beside my door, and my brothers’ bedroom door was just three or four feet across the hallway. I’m certain everyone heard him knocking, rattling, and calling. I got very little sleep and what sleep I did get was plagued by nightmares. Although to this day I still suffer from a sleep disorder and from nightmares about my father, he never again pulled me into the living room in the middle of the night, and I never again had to touch him or be touched by him.

The fall after my sister was married, I returned to college. Hyles-Anderson College in Crown Point, Indiana, owned and operated by First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana – the only option for me, as my father had attended there, I and my siblings were expected to attend there, and it had never occurred to me to do anything other than exactly what was expected of me. In many ways, college was a refuge and a haven for me, although not without its own challenges, as it was an Independent Fundamental Baptist college where complete submission and compliance was expected and no one was allowed to question or criticize anyone in authority. But that was not foreign to me – I knew that game and could play it very well. I made friends and I worked and I worked and I worked. During my teen years, when my parents sent me to work and I supported the family (oftimes I was the sole supporter financially) my parents had promised they would repay me by paying my college tuition. As it turned out, they never gave me a penny for tuition, room, board, books, or even toothpaste. I averaged 100 hours of work per week during college – working for the college – to pay my way through, but I never minded the work. College life lent itself to a whole other litany of stories, but I would rather have been there – I would rather have been anywhere – but home.

After graduating from Hyles-Anderson College in 1992, I was employed by an Independent Fundamental Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, for two years. I taught in the church-owned and operated elementary school. In 1993, an assistant Pastor at the church was accused of repeatedly sexually molesting a “bus girl” – a student in my sixth grade class. The church rallied behind him and supported him until about ten police cars showed up on the church property one day and escorted him off the property in handcuffs. He pled guilty, was convicted, and went to prison. The Sunday after his arrest, his sixth-grade victim was in church. She was distraught because “no one believed her” and she was being bullied for telling her story. She asked to talk to me (I was her school teacher, after all). As she sobbed, I listened to her story and started to assure her that people believed her and would support her. Our conversation was interrupted by the pastor’s wife, who escorted the girl away. I was called to a meeting with the pastor’s wife after the Sunday morning service. She told me in no uncertain terms that I was not to talk to the girl again. She said, “You don’t have any experience dealing with this sort of thing. You let the adults handle it.” The pastor reiterated that in a meeting the next day and again told me I was not to talk to the girl or her family again. How did the “adults” handle it? The girl was immediately expelled from the Christian school, as was her younger sister, and was never allowed to attend the church again. Her mother was interviewed by the local news and she said she did not understand why the church banned her family from any and all contact with the church and school families and staff. She was very angry about not receiving any support from the church staff. I’ve often wondered how that little girl fared. I hope she was able to find some validation and healing in her life.

The next school year it was widely believed that another assistant pastor was sexually involved with a fifteen-year-old girl in the church/Christian school. As it became seemingly more evident and people (me included) started voicing concerns, the pastor quickly squelched it. He met with the thirty-something-year-old man and gave him an ultimatum: Leave now and I’ll give you a good recommendation. Stay and I’ll have to tell the girl’s father. Now, nobody wanted to tell the girl’s father – he was a prominent member of the church as well as a very successful businessman who had just donated millions to the church to raze their auditorium and build a new auditorium. The assistant pastor and his wife and three daughters left – literally spirited away overnight. He went to West Virginia where he was a youth pastor for a while. He now pastors a non-denominational church in Maine.

My twenty-four-year-old roommate, also a teacher in the church-owned and operated Christian school, had an ongoing sexual relationship with a high-school boy . . . a “bus kid” who was fifteen/sixteen during their relationship. The relationship ended when Evangelist Joe Boyd came to the church for a week-long revival and my roommate had a week-long sexual liaison with one of the “preacher boys” traveling with Boyd.

My affiliation with the church in Louisville was the beginning of the end of my affiliation with Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) churches. I left the church after my second year there, as I didn’t believe three sex abuse scandals in two years was a fluke. They offered me a five-year contract to stay, but I knew I couldn’t. Although it took two more years to leave IFB altogether, the seed had been sown. You see, I had been immersed in IFB churches and schools twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for the first twenty-seven years of my life. I was literally in the church buildings seven days a week and attended an average of twelve preaching services a week, in addition to an hour or two of Bible classes Monday through Friday. The indoctrination was complete and all-consuming. The church controlled literally every aspect of my life for nearly three decades. And although I was surrounded by thousands of other church members, I lived a life of isolation. Literally. My father did not allow me and my siblings to talk to one another unless we were in the living room where he and my mother could hear every word we said. Once I entered seventh grade, I was not allowed to talk to other students in the school. My sister and I spent our time before and after school cleaning the church buildings, as socializing with classmates would only lead to talk of evil and wicked topics, according to my father. Nothing seemed abnormal to me, as this was the life I was born into and the only way of life I knew. However, once I became a church employee and started teaching in a church-owned and operated school, I started realizing that severe abuse was not just my personal experience, but an endemic problem within the IFB denomination, and I knew I could not stay and turn a blind eye and a deaf ear as so many tens of thousands before me had done.

I believe the saddest part of my story is the fact that my family was immersed in church seven days a week for decades and no one – not one person – attempted to stop the abuse. My parents were almost always on staff, either as volunteers, or as paid workers. My father pastored two churches – one when I was an infant and another when I was a teenager. When he was not pastoring his own church, he was frequently a paid staff member in other churches . . . my mother was always a Sunday School teacher, a nursery worker, and frequently a school teacher. My father was pastor, assistant pastor, Sunday School teacher, youth pastor, Christian school teacher, Christian school principal, etc. My parents counseled hundreds of others on how to have a happy marriage and raise obedient children. And all the while – ALL those decades – our home life was hell and not one person from the church ever attempted to protect me or my siblings. Not one person asked me if my home was safe. And I know there were obvious signs of abuse – not just the bruises and welts that always marked my body, but I flinched and cowered every time an adult raised his or her hand: I burst into tears if I imagined I had displeased an adult in some way: I was too fearful to speak the majority of the time and froze if adults talked to me: I barely ate, I barely slept – surely, surely, someone, somewhere suspected. Through four IFB churches and three IFB schools, every adult in my life chose to cover up the abuse, to protect the abusers, and to allow the violence to continue unchecked for decades. In that way, the church not only perpetuated the abuse, but covered it up and protected the abusers. I knew I could not be part of that system. I knew I had to leave, though it meant being shunned by most of the people I held dear in my life.

I stopped attending church two months shy of my twenty-eighth birthday. With trepidation, I started claiming my own life. I committed one of the worst sins an IFB woman could commit – I started wearing pants. One autumn afternoon, my doorbell rang. I answered the door to find the pastor’s wife of an IFB church in Colorado Springs, Colorado standing on my front doorstep. She had been contacted by my mother and was at my home to encourage me to give up my backslidden ways and get back in church. I stood there in my jeans and sweatshirt and told her I was not interested in attending her church because I knew I was not truly welcomed in her church unless I gave up my own personal freedom and adopted all their beliefs and practices. She explained that the church had an outreach ministry that visited the local homeless shelter every weekend and bussed the shelter residents to church on Sunday morning, including a man who was a cross-dresser. Her words are seared into my memory. “Honey, if we go to that shelter every week and bus that cross-dressing man to every Sunday morning service, we would welcome you as a cross-dresser, too. Now it’s true that you could not be involved in our ministries until you stop cross-dressing and get right with God, but even cross-dressers are welcome on Sunday mornings. I really wish you would come. I’ll even sit beside you.” I laughed aloud as I responded, “The fact that you have no idea how offensive it is to stand on my doorstep and call me a cross-dresser for wearing jeans, while expecting me to attend church with you tomorrow, is only one of hundreds of reasons why I will never attend your church.” After nearly ten-thousand days spent in hell, I closed the door and took my first step into freedom.

Introduction

            I want to tell my story, but where do I even begin?  How do I express, in a few short pages, the years of anguish and turmoil I now look back upon?   I guess I will start at the very beginning, since that’s where every story starts.  I was born into a Christian family.  We attended North Sharon Baptist Church in Grass Lake, MI.  My parents were very involved: my dad worked a bus route and was on the deacon board, and my mom was in charge of phoster club and involved in the music.  Whenever there was anything going on at the church, we were there.  The church is supposed to be a safe place – a place where you learn about God and how much he loves you, exemplified by the leaders in your life – but for me it was quite the opposite.  For me, it was the place where I was introduced to just how deep human depravity can go.

When I was little, I didn’t go to daycare or preschool like some of my friends did.  I was lucky; I got to stay home and spend every day with my mom – just the two of us.  In those early years, I learned a lot from my mom.  I learned how to wash dishes (those soap suds were so much fun to splash and play around in!).  I learned how to make my bed (as long as the top cover looked smooth, who cared about the lumps and bumps underneath?).  I learned how to dress myself, and how to pick up my toys.  I learned that chocolate milk tastes best when you drink it out of the cup with the cowboy hat on it.  I learned how to do puzzles, and I learned my ABCs.  I learned how to brush my teeth and how to fold the washcloths when mommy did laundry.  I learned how to do a somersault, and learned that hydrogen peroxide fizzes and bubbles when you put it on your scraped knee.  I sang songs and colored pictures.  I played outside and took naps cuddled up to my stuffed animals.  My days were carefree and filled with wonder and happiness.  But suddenly, that all changed.  A new teacher entered my world unannounced, and I began to learn other, different things.  This new teacher was our pastor, Bill Wininger, and the things I learned from him began the first time he sexually abused me.

He taught me what betrayal felt like.  He taught me the meaning of deep, deep sorrow.  He taught me a fear like I had never experienced before.  He taught me what it was like to wish I could die, to long for the pain to stop but instead it just kept burning deeper inside of me, a fire that would not go out.  Before I could tie my own shoes, he taught me the physical difference between a male and a female.  When I was still riding tricycles, he showed me what happens when a man is sexually aroused.  Before I could write my own name, he taught me that even though we have one body on the outside, there can be two different people hiding inside.  He taught me of a terror that freezes the brain and makes you stop breathing.  While I was still mastering the art of running, he taught me what it was like to flee a pursuer but never escape.  He taught me that little girls never get away from the big, strong man.  When I was still naïve to any darkness in the world, he taught me what evil was.  Thanks to him, I learned what utter panic felt like.  I learned that you could scream with everything inside of you, yet still make not a sound.  I learned that your throat could turn raw when you hadn’t even whispered, and your eyes could burn when you hadn’t cried a tear.  I learned that, when you get scared enough, everything goes white.  I also learned that, although there were two of him, there were also two of me.  He could hold down my weak body every time, but the other me would fly far, far away, into that sheet of white that surrounded me once everything else stood still.

From him, I learned that everything isn’t happy and lovely in the world.  From him, I learned that “safe” is a place that is impossible to find…ever.  From him, I learned that experiences from when I was a child would continue to haunt me, splinter me, and shatter me into a thousand pieces every day for the rest of my life.  And now, looking back…I have learned that he changed me forever.  I’ve learned that he reached into me and stole the position of utmost power in my life, warping the thinking of a young, developing mind, starting a battle I will fight for the rest of my life.  And it’s too late to change that.  And he will never be sorry.  And he will probably never stop teaching.  And the child in me weeps when I face this truth.

My Story

            When I was three years old, the music groups my mom was a part of decided to start meeting at the church for some of their practices.  This was convenient, since most of the people involved had their children in the Christian school.  It was easy to just stay after dropping off their kids to run over some songs.  There would generally around three to five people, including my mom, at these practices.  My two older siblings were both in school, so I was the lucky lone child who got to tag along with mom.  No one else at the practices had young children with them, so I would play by myself.  (Once or twice a little boy around my age came with his dad, but he had to sit on the front pew and wait.  His dad had no way of knowing what a wise decision that was.)  Since the adults would practice in the auditorium, I convinced my mom to let me go play in the upstairs nursery.  My mom is the most protective mother I have ever met, never one to let me out of her sight, but this time she agreed.  After all, the nursery was just off the main foyer a little ways away, close enough for her to hear me if I called for her…she never considered that I might not be able to call.  And what was there to worry about?  There was no one else in the building at that time, except perhaps the secretary downstairs and the pastor.  But that was the problem.  The secretary’s office was downstairs, and the pastor’s office was upstairs – right across from the nursery.  And that is how Bill Wininger found an opportunity to add another victim to his list.

I don’t know if the abuse started the first time I played alone in that nursery, or the second or third time, but I do know this – that nursery became a place of waiting and dread for me.  I will never forget sitting against the back wall, watching the crack of light between the top and bottom nursery doors for movement, listening to my breathing and the clock going tick…tick…tick.  My mom always told me to leave the nursery door open, but I couldn’t; I was too afraid.  I would close it as soon as she left, and cringe when it creaked or slammed, freezing as I listened for his footsteps and hoped he hadn’t heard.  The nursery also had bunk cribs with gates that lowered in the front, and I would crawl into the bottom crib that had the best view of the entire room, where I could see both doors.  To feel safe, I would lower that gate so I was in my little box where nothing could get in without me seeing it coming.  But those old crib gates were so difficult to lower; I would try to go as slowly and quietly as I could, but at the end I would always lose my grip and the gate would slam, invoking yet another episode of freezing with fear as my ears strained for sounds of him coming.  Of all my memories in that nursery, I don’t remember doing much playing.  I would just sit there with my little doll, holding her tight and telling her not to be afraid, because I would keep her safe.  I told lies to make both of us feel better.  But we soon learned that being brave doesn’t keep away the monsters; they come anyway.  And come he did.  And just like that, my innocence was stripped away at the hands of this man I once trusted.

I remember one music practice where I stayed in the auditorium.  Whether it was by my mom’s instruction or by my choice, I do not know, but I remember hearing the creak of the floorboards in the back of the auditorium as someone entered, and seeing him standing there, a silhouette against the open door behind him that led out to the foyer.  I froze and did not make eye contact with him, but watched out of the corner of my eye as he stood there with his right hand in his pocket, seeming to listen to the song being sung.  But I knew better; I knew who he was there for.  He was watching me.  After what seemed like an eternity, he brought his hand out of his pocket to squirt his breath mint into his mouth, slipped it back into his pocket, then walked out the door, closing it behind him.  And I started to breathe again.  It seemed like it was all in slow motion.  Whenever he was present or when the abuse was happening, time slowed down to a crawl.  It felt like I would be stuck in that moment forever.  Even now, sometimes I feel that way out of the blue – like I’m stuck in a moment that will not pass.  There is a massive weight on my chest and it gets harder to breathe.  I call it “monotony,” because it’s like never-ending time.

Even when we were not alone, I felt like he was always watching me from the shadows.  Whenever I’d be in a room and he’d walk in, even if there were 100 other people there, my radar picked up exactly where he was and I just knew he was watching me.  It was an eerie feeling.  He had no power because other people were present, yet my heart still thudded a little harder in my chest.  And it was a mix between pride in feeling like I was his favorite person in that whole room, and being afraid at the same time.  You see, I thought I was so special to him.  He called me his “little buddy.”  My 3 &4 year old mind was so black and white; either someone was good, or they were bad.  So I separated in my mind that there were two different sides of him: one was good, and one was bad.  Although they were completely different, I knew one could not exist without the other, because they were in the same body.  I so needed and craved the love, that I accepted the bad along with it as necessary.  I knew that if the bad went away, I would lose all the good along with it.  As in, if I told, I would lose every single person in my life who loved me.  I truly believed that.

One of the things I have struggled with the most is that, despite all of the things he did to me, I continued to go to him.  When the closing prayer was finished after a church service, I would make a beeline for the back door, wrapping my arms tight around his leg for a hug.  He would always either lean down and hug me, or pick me up and hold me, which made me feel so special.  I’ve asked myself, “How could I continue to go to the man who was hurting me?  Why didn’t I run from him or avoid him?”  But it’s because I saw him as two different people in the same body.  I literally believed that he could change into someone else inside.  When other people were around, he was the man who held the room captive, the man whom people looked to as a great “man of God.”  But when everyone else disappeared and it was just him and me, he turned into “the other him.”  Oh, how I feared and dreaded “the other him.”  The other him was eerily calm and frighteningly cold.  He was very matter-of-fact about everything he did.  I can still hear his voice saying to me, “Now Bethany, I’m going to have to……”  And I believed him.  He had to do it.  I was that bad; I had done something so horrible that his hand was forced, and he had to carry out this punishment.

There was no questioning him; he was never wrong.  You did not tell him “no”…kids, adults, nobody.  He had an anger that could send chills down your spine, whether it was the screaming from the pulpit or the intimidating words he could offer face-to-face.  So when he told me that I was bad, I knew he was right.  After all, in the IFB realm, the adults were always right.  They held all the power and the kids held none.  Parents were taught to always side with the authority, to never let their kids see adults be undermined.  No one told me that this was different, that sometimes the adult could be wrong.  So I knew from that fateful day forward that I was a very bad little girl.  I tried for years to be good enough to erase the “bad” label, but it was never enough to make me feel good inside…not even close.  I felt intensely ashamed and embarrassed about what happened when I was alone with him.  It was as though I was a repentant child afterwards, asking his forgiveness.  I was so relieved that he was benevolent enough to still love me after what I had supposedly done – I would do anything not to lose that love.  When it was over with, there was just an overwhelming sense of relief that I had survived.

Why did I never tell on him?  Why didn’t I go straight to my mom and tell her these confusing and extremely painful things that had happened to me?  It was because he convinced me that I was the one who would be in trouble, not him.  If anything, I was scared to death that he would tell my parents on me.  I was also convinced that if I told, everyone would be taken away from me.  This was reinforced when our church went through a massive ordeal and my dad spent a year in jail.  For a 4 year old, a year is a very long time.  I thought my dad was never coming back, and I knew the reason why.  My dad was taken away from me because kids said that he had hurt them.  It was just a given in our church that these kids were lying, which my mind translated into: All kids who say those things are lying.  I had already lost my dad; there was no way I was about to become one of “those kids” who tell lies and get people taken away.

Another reason is that I didn’t even have a name for what he was doing to me.  In my mind, I called it “killing people,” because I thought that’s what he was trying to do – kill me.  I am still haunted by the panic that would hit the moment I would feel him grab me, his hand coming around from behind and closing over my face.  In all my life, I have never experienced anything as frightening as that.  My mind would start racing a thousand miles per minute, “It’s happening again; it’s happening again; oh-no it’s happening again.  No, no, please no; just make it stop.  I just want to die; please just let me die quick, just let me die…”  And just like that, I would give in and resign myself, just pleading in my mind that it would happen fast.  My body would just go limp.  It felt like falling asleep instantaneously with no control over anything, only I was only half asleep.  From somewhere far, far away my mind was still aware of what was happening, but my body was disconnected.  I could still feel, but it’s like the message didn’t affect my brain.  They were separated.  The information was coming in, but my mind had no response for it.  I felt the pressure on my chest as I fought to draw in a breath of air, but did not experience the panic that should have accompanied it.  I felt my stomach churning as I thought I was going to throw up, but this did not worry me.  I heard his breathing and felt his body, but it was as though I were a third-party observer.  I was completely numb and resigned to my fate.  And I thought I was dying…every.single.time.

Thankfully, BW left our church when I was six years old when he feared his cover was about to be blown (not with my abuse, but someone else).  Obviously, I knew nothing of this at the time, but have learned it since.  Since almost nobody either knew about what was going on, or didn’t believe it, or wasn’t talking about it, he got away completely free of consequences and went on to his next church in Georgia, leaving many people in Michigan to lick their wounds in silence.  At the same time, many people wept and lamented losing this “wonderful pastor.”  Quite a few families even followed him to Georgia – that is the kind of power he had over people.  But thankfully, I was free of him.  So I kept on growing up and doing all the normal little girl things.  But something was still not right inside.  I wanted to escape the emotions that I did not understand.  But I did not know where the emotions were coming from, because I never let myself think about the abuse.

When I was 7 or 8 years old, I even concocted an elaborate story and tried to convince my family that I had actually been raised by an Indian tribe, not by them.  I explained it this way…”When I was a little girl, about 2 years old, mommy was rocking me in the rocking chair.  All of a sudden, time stopped, and the Indians came and got me.  Since everybody else was frozen, they had no idea what had happened.  Once I was gone with the Indians, time started up again for them, but they didn’t know that Bethany wasn’t there anymore.  It was a robot instead.  I know it looked just like me and sounded just like me, and could do everything a human being could do, but it wasn’t really me.  I was far away, running through the woods and playing in the stream, learning all the Indian ways of life.  I grew up there until now, when they brought me back to my real family.”  I had names for every Indian in the tribe.  I talked about all the things we would do every day.  And I was furious and inconsolable if anyone acted like they didn’t believe me.  It is so interesting to look back on now, and realize that it was yet another route of escape for me.  If I wasn’t really there from age 2 to 7, then I didn’t really experience the things he did to me.  I didn’t really feel them, so it didn’t bother me.  This type of denial worked for a little while, until I got older and the story no longer was enough to make me feel safe.

As time passed, I learned that “numb” was almost the same as “safe;” at least, it felt the same.  So I found ways to replicate the numb.  As a four year old girl, I had begun to self-harm.  At first it was just hitting and making bruises on my body, but as I got older it progressed to scratching and then cutting.  It was my escape from the emotions that I did not understand.  Because for a long time, I did not let myself consciously process my abuse.  As in, I did not let myself think about it at all.  It was absolutely terrifying.  Every time a thought would cross my mind about the abuse, I would start saying in my mind over and over, “That never happened to me; that never happened to me.”  I would repeat it until the fear subsided and I had shoved those thoughts down once again.  But they would eventually come rising up again, and it took more and more effort to keep them at bay.  Just like a person who builds tolerance to a drug and it stops having the same effect, my cutting got more extreme until it just wasn’t working enough anymore.  Then I found another method that worked even better – I could starve those thoughts away.  I had struggled with minor disordered eating for years, but I finally plunged completely into anorexia.  Starving my body down to nothing made me feel safe, and safety is what I was always searching for.  It was a vicious cycle of euphoria when the scale had gone down yet again and I felt that hollow, gnawing feeling in my stomach, and guilt when I saw the pain in the eyes of those who loved me.  To avoid writing another book, I’ll just say it has been a long journey, but God has done some wonderful things in my life in that area.  The struggle doesn’t ever go completely away, but it does get better.

After many years of treatment and counseling from all different places and people, I finally began to open up and talk to my family about what happened.  They believed me, which blew me away because I was convinced that they would essentially disown me when they realized I was accusing this “great man” of abusing me.  They have supported me all the way as I deal with these issues from the past.

I wonder sometimes if BW is tormented at night, while he sleeps.  I know I am.  I am blessed on the nights that I don’t remember my dreams, because they are almost never pleasant.  I’ve had nightmares about him since I was little.  I now refer to him as “the monster from my dreams,” because that’s exactly what he is – a monster.  There was a day when I never would have said that about him, but only monsters prey on the vulnerable and rip their innocence from them to gratify their own sick appetites.  Since I began to talk about this a couple years ago, I have found out that I am not the only victim of BW…far from it.  He was not picky with who he went after or how many he went after at a time.  I will never betray the privacy of those victims I know of, but let it suffice to say that he has a trail of victims behind him that has gone on for decades.  He uses intimidation and manipulation to draw people in, and once they’re in they feel stuck.  He has caused so much sorrow and heartbreak.

It’s interesting; I just realized the other day that I have something in common with my abuser.  We both know what it’s like to want to die.  Funny how that works out…  We are haunted by the same things.  I have no idea why he does what he does, nor do I care to know, but this much I will say: It is SO WRONG.  He has worn his mask for long enough.  I’m not going to play in his sick performance for one more day.  I am jumping off the stage and announcing to the audience that he is just an actor and it’s all a hoax.  He will not get one more moment of my time or one more benefit of my silence.  Because do you know what?  I am the happiest I have ever been now that I am free of him.  I am married to the love of my life.  Honestly, my life now is a good dream that has come true.  And that is something BW will never have.  He will never find that peace inside, at least not as long as he continues to play his games and tell his lies.  In the end, the truth always comes out.  My heart breaks for his family…my heart breaks for those who have suffered at his hands.  I am so thankful we have a God who heals and brings comfort.  He has been everything to me through this, and if nothing else, because of what I’ve gone through I now know God for who he truly is, and I’m more in love with him than ever.  I have learned and finally believe that there is always hope. <3

– Bethany Leonard

In Christian society, your “testimony” is like a spiritual resume, telling those in your fold of your conversion experience, allowing them the chance to critique you, to decide if you were really a “true” Christian. My testimony is different.  It is the story of how Fundamentalism almost destroyed my soul.  Most of these details I have never shared with anyone before, only those in my Facebook group “I Survived Fundamentalism.”  I have agonized for almost a week about posting it publicly.  But, I have to.  There may be one of you going through this same turmoil and I want you to know you aren’t alone.

Yesterday, I spent the bulk of the day reading “Leaving the Fold.” I couldn’t put the book down. It has been an eye opening emotional roller coaster. I didn’t realize just how much Fundamentalism RUINED my life and squelched my true self. More importantly, it destroyed my relationship with God.

I realized just how much of my life was wasted trying to conform to a standard that was impossible to measure up to. I realized just how contradictory the Bible is. I realized that I was both created in the image of God and an abomination in His eyes for who he created me to be. I realized that the loving God was capable of killing us all in an instant, if we weren’t satisfactory in His eyes.

I so desperately spent my youth trying to fit in. Trying to fit into mainstream society as a homosexual, only to be shunned, made fun of, tormented and cast aside. Trying to fit in to “Christian Society” as a sinner with a secret to hide, only to believe that I would NEVER get into heaven. Time and again, I walked down the aisle, “Just As I Am,” desperate to secure my place in Heaven, only to fail once again.

I want that 8 year old boy back. The one who had the shit scared out of him at Bible Summer Camp by a red-faced screaming man, telling me my 8 year old Matchbox car playing sinning soul was headed straight to hell. Yet, the next day, the “counselor” who was there to save our souls, drove me to the beach in his brown Pontiac Bonneville only to molest me on the sands, telling me how much God loved me and how much he loved me.

I want the 16 year old boy back. The one who desperately sought someone to love, someone to talk to, someone who he could be himself with. The one who threw himself into church to make himself worthy of God, yet always fell short. The one who hid his secret from the world, terrified of exposure.

I want the 24 year old man back. The one who was told by his mother that he would be considered dead if he “chose” this life. The one who had no self-esteem and sought approval by sleeping with anyone that would have him. The one who felt he was so unworthy that he had to buy love. The one who felt so guilty after every sexual encounter that he would strip the bedsheets and bleach the sin out of them. The one who lost 40 lbs from colitis from the stress of life.

I want the 32 year old man back. The man who’s sin had enveloped him into a life from where redemption was not possible. The man who still sought approval through his sexual currency. The man from whom love always escaped.

I want the 40 year old man back. The one who bargained with God to save his mother, the good Christian lady who did all the right things, only to be shit upon by life. The lady who’s husband was taken from her at age 33. The lady who felt her back problems were caused by God punishing her for keeping a clean house The lady who was convinced her death was because she didn’t live right and that God was once again punishing her. The 40 year old man was desperate to save the good Christian lady, so once again he became a weak and laughable character, diving in to Christian culture in a desperate attempt to be good enough to ask for a favor from God. All semblance of self reliance gone, the prayers were sent up daily, the donations sent to Joyce Meyer and the like, the library filling up with books such as “Battlefield of the Mind” and “Being Christian.” Obviously, this didn’t work as she died.

As the 40 year old man plodded along, he was punished for not being Christian enough. Panic attacks set in…you know, those attacks from the enemy. To him, fear meant you weren’t strong enough in your faith.

So, now, here stands the nearly 48 year old man. He is battle weary. He may have some cracks in his soul, but he is not broken. He is wiser. He wants the 8 year old boy, the 16 year old boy, the 24 year old man, the 32 year old man and the 40 year old man to know that they are loved by him. The 48 year old man will take care of them. He will protect them. And he promises them that they will never be subjected to that kind of a God again. He isn’t really sure where he is going at this time. But, in another 8 years when we check in with the 56 year old man, he will be a much better adjusted person, with a deep connection with the God that loves us all, the God that rises above all doctrine and dogma.

From the Author: Lani Harper is a religious abuse survivor that has found the courage to speak out about the abusive teachings within religion. She is currently working on a book that will encompass how the teachings of her religion affect children. The working title of her book, is Dear Mom & Dad: You’re Fired. It is a much needed resource to show the populous how destructive religious teachings can be in the home; especially for children. I am looking forward to the time when it hits the market. Lani is an excellent writer and, is gifted with the ability to expose truth in such a way that it can infiltrate the heart of the reader and give genuine understanding regarding religious abuse and how it is used to destroy lives.

MY INJURY, MY SECRET: Lack of medical care

It is common in these cultures to minimize medical care for a variety of reasons. They decry the establishment of the medical community as information-gathering conspiricists complicit with the government which, though they appear to support, are in actuality extremely suspicious of its actions and question its policies and procedures that conflict with what they believe God wants them to do. But they also minimize medical care in order to hide abuse. Or they have lists of approved doctors who are complicit in hiding the abuse. These doctors are either Fundies (fundamentalists) or sympathetic to Fundies and will not report any injury that looks like abuse.

I had maybe just turned 6 when I received my first two-wheeler, and we were living in the blue house that JD (my father) had built in Waukegan (or Beach Park) Illinois. Shortly after receiving this bike, Mag (my mother) actually planned to go on a bike ride, just the two of us. I was beside myself with excitement. I never got her all to myself, always had to settle for the crumbs of her attention that I got when she didn’t have to be watching Dale and Evie all the time. Or be cooking with the older two. I was the middle child of five and expected to just find my place.

She and I prepared to leave. I had a miniature basket that looked like a small laundry basket that I tied to my handlebars. I had a bunny I wanted to bring along, and she needed a place to ride. I couldn’t very well hold her for the entirety of the ride, so I made a seat for her. We pulled out of the driveway and turned left, and I must have over corrected or lost my balance somehow, but my used-new-to-me bike and I fell into the gravel road. I skinned my left knee and my right hand was torn up. I remember crying and coming back inside, sitting on a chair just inside the door while everyone frenzied around me trying to figure out what was going on. There was some terse informing me I had to stop crying, but I was hurt and disappointed: I knew there would be no bike ride with mom and me now, and there was not.

That injury did not heal. I look back now and at the severity of the injury that does not equal the intensity of the accident and wonder: what really happened? It was nearly eight weeks, and most of the summer, I spent in and out of doctors’ offices getting my hand cleaned and treated and wrapped. My oldest sister is convinced I had a splint on my index finger, but I have always insisted that that particular event did not have a splint.

Which begins to create a spiderweb of possibilities. Was there another incident with a finger of mine getting injured that required a splint? Did they not appropriately clean my injuries from the bike accident and they got so infected I had to see a doctor? Why was my hand injury so severe? It required tons of gauze wrapped around my first two fingers, then down around my palm several times.

I also remember having this treated and returning to multiple residences during the healing process. Houses that I can’t place, that I don’t know where they were. I remember having my hand re-bandaged then returning to a bedroom where twin beds lined three of the four walls. Mine was under the window which had a window fan. Central air conditioning was not common at that time, so we used fans. I remember not wanting blankets because I was sticky with sweat, and I kept holding my bandaged hand up to the fan to cool it off.

I came in while the other girls were sleeping, and I crept across the cool, squeaky hardwood floor to my bed, eased myself onto the mattress and tried to ignore my stickiness in order to go to sleep. Why was I being treated at night? Was it a secret doctor? Why was this not the same house where the accident happened? We hadn’t moved in the interim. And Mag was not there: were my parents separated at the time? Did JD keep an extra residence to take us girls for secret time with us?

My sprained ankle when I was five was another instance I do not believe they took me to a doctor. I remember being taught to crab-walk through the house. It was so severe I could not put any weight on it, but any sensible doctor would have given me crutches. My sister Libbie taught me how to wrap it with an ace bandage, then sent me on my way to creep and crawl around the house, using hands and one foot and my rear in order to do navigate hallways and stairs.

About this time I also had a back injury, the first that left me with a life-long issue with my lower back that has plagued me off and on. I was outside playing with a ball at the blue house. This house had a garage with an automatic door opener. Someone had pushed the button to close the door, and my ball rolled under the door. Instead of going to get help or going through the house, I decided to crawl under the door. I had just enough room to get under it, but because of the time period, these doors did not have a safety sensor that would stop it if someone crossed under it while it was operating. So it closed on top of my back, and I had to sit there on all fours, screaming until someone came to find me. I was stuck and in pain, with the entire weight of the door resting on my small frame.

Another episode where I had a back injury took place at camp. I don’t know what camp is like for non-Christians, but for us fundies, when we were living in Roscoe, Illinois, we would go to the mountains in Wisconsin to Camp Joy. It took several hours by bus, and was located in an extremely remote area surrounded by acres and acres of wooded land, fields here and there, on the edge of Whitewater Lake.

My room along with numerous other girls was in the main lodge. The center room of the lodge houses the dining hall, and has one wing to the left and one to the right through double doors. Each of these wings has multiple large rooms used for sleeping, with several bunk beds in each.

Because it’s in the very hilly area of Wisconsin, they built a water superslide that goes from the top of a hill and ends in the lake. We would walk all the way up the hill, through trees and underbrush along a foot-worn path to the top of the slide and climb the stairs. The slide had three runs, so that they could send three children down at once, but they had ceased doing this, as some children on the outside two had fallen off on their way down and been injured. At this point, they only used the center run. One time I went down the slide, I gained a lot of speed, and being a small child, and perhaps because I unknowingly pulled my legs up at the last second, just before leaving the slide and sailing through the air and down into the water, I flipped around backwards. This meant when my body left the end of the slide and I careened through the air, my back hit the water first, instead of my behind and legs. My back smacked the water worse than any belly flop, and the instantaneous pain meant I struggled swimming back to the top and then to the side of the lake to get myself out of the water.

I remember crying as I was walked back to the lodge, hunched over with pain. They tried to get my shirt off so they could look at my back, but this required my grabbing the underside of the frame of the bunk above me (they had put me on the bottom bunk) in order to get my back off the bed so they could remove or lift up my shirt. Yes, in spite of the pain, they had laid me on my back in bed.

A stodgy old nurse gave me a cursory look-over, then I was put in bed to just lay there and recover. Alone. All day. Alone and crying with pain. They never took me to a doctor. They may have given me some Tylenol for pain, but the pain was so great I could not move for several days. Could not get to the dining hall, so they brought me my food. I lay on that bed with no way to count the time, knowing my friends were having fun without me.

I was told to “just rest”, but resting while enduring so much pain was next to impossible. I could not even reach my arms around to touch my back with my hands. and the bruise that emerged covered nearly the entirety of my back in a black and blue discoloration of my fair skin.

This injury prevented me from participating in camp activities for the rest of the week. I think by the end of the week, I could move around stiffly, walking like an old woman, slightly hunched over still, and had to stay with the counselors, sitting on the sidelines as everyone else got to play, run, jump, swim and cavort around the way kids do at camp.

The first time my parents took me to a doctor about my back was in middle school after testing positive for scoliosis. The testing took place during gym class, and the teacher tried to hide her alarm at the severity of the curve in my spine and the fact that my hips were not level.

The inflexibility of my spine meant that when I attempted to touch my toes while standing, I could reach no further than about mid-calf. This was not a problem with needing to stretch more; my spine simply would not bend the way it needed to because it was twisted and curved around in a pronounced S shape.

I am not sure why Mag decided all of a sudden to take my back issues seriously – I had complained about lower back pain for years; indeed, I did not remember a time without back or hip pain. But she went on a mission and found a pediatric back doctor of some sort and took me.

The doctor was a man, and coupled with my self-conscious sensitivity concerning body changes relative to puberty, I was humiliated that I had to undress and parade around scantily clad in front of a man. As I did not know how to voice my discomfort, and knew inside I’d be ignored anyways, and not knowing there were female options for doctors, I swallowed and tried to endure though I can still feel the fire of embarrassment in my cheeks as he sat behind me touching my hips and butt as he examined me. I was then sent for x-rays, after which he looked at x-rays of my physique.

He determined that he could do nothing – it was not severe enough to warrant surgery, but enough to keep observing it, and so scheduled to see me back in a few months. We went four or five times, with much the same experience and diagnosis: nothing to do but come back every few months to ensure it did not get out of hand.

After several visits like this, I told Mag I didn’t want to go anymore, that it was the same thing every time and he wasn’t able to do anything to help me. Instead of taking concern for my well-being and the health of my back as her responsibility, she never mentioned it again. I continued with low back and hip pain for more than a decade after that before I discovered chiropracty.

My entire life, Mag and JD dismissed things they did not value. They (still) do not explore something new-to-them to investigate its benefits or potential positives. They merely scoff and brush it aside, refusing to educate themselves to see if their opinion is correct.

Chiropractic care was one of these things. They scoffed: what use is cracking bones? They’d say with a tone that said more. They thought it ridiculous, worthless; these people were quacks, they told me, charlatans. People who duped their “patients” into believing they were physicians, but really they were deceitful, deceptive and Of The Devil. This “of the devil” determination was slapped on anyone and anything that fell outside the purview of our born-again Christian fundie mindset. They never researched chiropracty, never looked at or talked to any actual chiropractic doctors, just simply dismissed it without another thought.

But the degree of curvature was so severe that it had most likely developed slowly as I grew over the several years prior to my seventh grade year when they screened us. The teachers tried to hide their alarm, but urged me to tell my parents to get me checked out. The curvature prevented me from reaching my full height – the first chiropractor I saw also x-rayed me and measured the curve to be 47 degrees. At 50 degrees, surgery is the only option, but prior to this, even then there were braces and therapies to slow it down or guide the spine to grow upright instead of sideways. The chiropractor told me the curvature was so pronounced that if my spine were straight, I would be three inches taller.

Meaning, I was not allowed to grow to my full height due to lack of medical care when it would have made a difference. Thus, I stood out in my family: all my sisters grew to adult heights of about 5 feet 7 inches. They teased me as the “petite” one, the one who got Mag’s small-statured genes.

I began to see chiropractors just prior to getting married in my middle twenties. A little terrified, a little skittish – what was I doing, seeing the devil’s doctors? Feeling a little rebellious (I didn’t tell my parents what I was doing; they would have began a strongly-worded and toned lecture to tell me how astray I was), I went with my then-fiance to observe.

After he finished with my fiance, I let the doctor examine my back, though I was tentative – I had told a bit of my discomfort in previous back-examinations from my doctor experiences to my fiance, and he assured me that chiropractors did not undress you, that this particular version of medical care was very non-invasive. The doctor felt my spine through my shirt, and assured me that he could help.

Were I younger, he told me, he could actually have improved my spine by decreasing the curvature. At my age, though, he told me the best he could probably do was to get me more mobility (I was not very flexible due to the curve and how it had pushed my ribs and other bones out of place to make room for my spine) and definitely decrease my pain, increase my comfort level on a day-to-day basis. With my fiance urging me on, I decided to give it a try.

I began seeing chiropractors regularly, and as a result back pain rarely plagues me unless I have done something to strain it. My hips did not bother me again until after having babies, but even that issue is alleviated with regular adjustments. I have flexibility in my lower back that I never had before, and at the end of the day, when I lie down in bed, my back doesn’t keep me awake with the severe ache from just living, sitting, walking, standing, driving that happens in my days. And, despite what the first chiropractor told me, the curvature in my spine has improved significantly.

Multiple chiropractic doctors have independently told me the same thing that first one did: were I even 18, they could have done so much more for my back in decreasing the curvature, most likely even making my spine perfectly straight again, as well as realigning my hip. But due to my age, my bones had set and would only shift slightly. As a result of the lack of medical care in this culture, and a result of dismissing an option without researching to verify its ability to help me, my back and hips are permanently deformed, and I am physically disfigured.

I place the blame entirely at my parents’ door. Their attitude concerning chiropractors prevented me from getting help in a place that could actually have helped me. They ceased actively seeking out medical care of any sort for this issue, consigning me to a life of pain. And by lack of care, I live with the reality of being deformed when, had they explored the realities of chiropractic care instead of believing what the church told us about it, they could have fulfilled their sacred responsibility to ensure my health and well-being.

In fact, the more I have thought about it, the more I think Mag felt guilty. She may have done something to me when I was a baby that resulted in my hip being misaligned, and the reminder that it was still not correct, that I am maimed because of her and that it was an issue that plagued me throughout my life, made her hide and avoid any instance that would continue to remind her of what she had done to me. This is speculation, and she will never tell me. But given the realities of our childhood, how they purposefully injured us in order to “train” our behavior, this fits the profile.

Why else instantly and completely give up pursuing help for me for what others had determined was a serious physical malformity? Why else in this instance but no other would she let me, a child, have a say and go with my wishes when in all other instances they disregarded us? Why else not ever mention either the malformity or the pain that plagued me again? She never checked in with me on it, when she checked in on other, smaller maladies like headaches or flus. She would, however, if backed into a corner where she felt she had to admit it, blame it on me, on something I did, in a feeble attempt to exculpate herself.

Consequently, when my daughter complained of a rib hurting, I took her straight to my chiropractor. She had knocked a rib out of alignment while playing on a jungle gym, and I could not idly sit by when I knew of a tool that would help. Small things like this are ways that I purposefully walk contrary to my parents, endeavoring to be a better mother, to raise my children better. If looking at, and defining, their errors results in my learning not only how to not parent but how to parent, then I have succeeded in breaking the cycle. If I can say that is abuse, then I can identify things that are not abuse. I can free myself and move forward, but only when I know what I am moving away from.

And I will keep their secrets no longer.

Silent No Longer: Lani Harper’s Story

 How to sum up the first twenty years of my life in a few paragraphs? The stories are too numerous and shocking for me to process, let alone speak of. The memories tumble over one another, leaving me gasping for air as I look with new eyes at my childhood. A childhood I thought was near-idyllic for many years. Even after I started to see my parents as too harsh on us as kids, it took nearly a decade and a half for me to put the label on it. The stories are many, but they all begin with a single point. I cannot tell the rest until I tell the beginning, the root from which all other things sprung. I am a 36 year old woman, a wife of more than ten years, mother to three, yet I still feel like a 6 year old girl being tersely instructed to not tell, or else.

They taunted me with mysterious unnamed events that they assured me I didn’t want but would befall me if I spoke, told me they were only able to spare me these horrible things if I kept the Code of Silence. They told us that this was how Christians disciplined their children. Other people outside of our faith wouldn’t understand why we did things this way. They were ignorant, through no fault of their own, and we had to spare them this particularly harsh reality of Christian families.

Logically, I know that he will not beat me or physically harm me now, but emotionally, psychologically, I still hold a terror that he will. Yet I am compelled to speak and encouraged by those who have gone before to tell their stories. Sad, that this is how we bond, that we have been reduced to clinging desperately to one another in our shared woundedness.

My name is Lani Harper, and I was abused.

I am the middle child of five, the third girl, and my father always introduced us like this: This is Number One Daughter (hand on Libbie’s head), Number Two Daughter (hand on Andie’s head), Number Three Daughter (I always tried to duck his hand; I hated the heaviness on my head), Number One Son (a pause while he puffed himself up with pride at introducing our brother Dale), and Number Five (hand on Evie’s head). Number One was better than Two, Two better than Three, but we all paled in comparison to Number One Son. He was never “Number Four”.

I grew up in a house where my father JD exercised complete and absolute authority over all. His word was, we joked then (but with an underlying seriousness) law. And he brooked no challenges, no contrariness, no insubordination. To do so was to incur the wrath, to bring down his heavy hand of judgment in the form of severe disciplines. I suppose he may have always had this sort of near-obsession with power and control, and joining the military because he was flunking out of college only reinforced these authoritarian tendencies and cemented them by practice, giving him tools and methods to use on us, his insubordinates. He often commented on how running a house was similar to running a ship. And, he would say, I want to run a tight ship. We were commanded to fall in line and to call him Sir.

Children in this culture are viewed as the property of the parents, and especially of the father. When termed that way, instead of viewing a child as a gift, a blessing, an individual entrusted to two people to nurture into an independent, educated, intelligent, functioning member of their community and citizen of their country, one begins to see how little children are valued.

Children are not people. They are not worthy. They are born sinners, with the innate and persistent duty to sin against their parents. It is an us-versus-them mentality: the children are against us, are going to undermine us, are going to undo us at an elemental level. Consequently, the parents’ focus becomes the need to stand firm against their children’s “wiles”, and to guard themselves against being drawn astray by their children. To be strong and stronger than their children. To resist their children anytime the parents feel pulled against their will, their desires, their instincts. And then to deny their children as they ask for things, in an attempt to show the children, as my father would say, who’s boss.

With this perspective, every small blunder became magnified under the perception that we were elementally sinful, deliberately devious, manipulative, intentionally-subversive. And it was punished as such. It was a society obsessed with control, evidenced by the behavior of the man’s children. We were brutally instructed on how to act, how to speak, how to comport ourselves in the home such that when outside the home, we would not embarrass them with our childishness.  We were drilled a horrid play-acting at home with severe punishment even for transgressing in practice – until we relinquished our will and just did things the way he wanted them.

So we sought to learn the mercurial rules, learn to be good, learn to do anything and everything we could to not bring about the abuse.

We were happy because children are happy until given a reason to be otherwise. Happiness, I believe, persists as a desperate pursuit in order to feel normal, and to try to balance out or paint over some of the darkness in the home with something beautiful. It is a pursuit critical to their sanity, offering an escape from the horrors they have to face.

It took years after having kids of my own before I gathered courage to myself to describe to my husband how my parents spanked my siblings and me. After hesitantly giving the details, with a guarded watchfulness in my eye to see if he’d scoff or brush it off as inconsequential, he surprised me. That’s not a spanking, he said, that’s a beat-down.

I had to change my definition: I now refer to them as “beatings” and not “spankings”. Definitions make all the difference.

The beatings began, like for most children raised in this early pre-solidified fundamentalist culture, in infancy. The weapon of choice grew with us, beginning with a wooden spoon or ruler. Then it was a ping-pong paddle, then a yard stick, and finally JD’s very thick leather belt folded in half, and beatings were given for any number of perceived-failings large and small.

During dinner one night, I stood to reach into the center of the table to give myself a second helping. I remember being excited, though whether at serving myself or being granted a rare second helping, I am not sure. I was about eight and small in stature, and I had a half-full glass of milk. In my childish exuberance, I reached over my glass and knocked it over. And froze. Maybe it didn’t happen. Maybe they would let it go. The milk seeped into the crack between the leaf and the rest of the table, wetting the place mats and the table runner underneath the dishes.

Let’s go, JD said with a sigh of exasperation and thew his napkin on the table, looks like you need a lesson with the belt. And so, in the middle of the meal, I was escorted to The Bedroom. I knew what doom awaited me. All for spilling some milk. I knew that, if I were allowed to finish my meal, that I would be allowed no further drink because spilling my glass might have been purposeful.

He closed the door behind us, and told me to pull my pants down and bend over as he dramatically pulled his belt out of the belt loops of his pants. Disobedience was not an option and would most certainly grant me a far worse session with the belt, so I pulled my pants down. Sometimes my mother would let us leave our underwear on, but JD never did. Once I tried to wear double underwear, anything to help dull the blows a bit, but got found out and the reprisal was so severe that I never did it again. But for JD, all our beatings were naked from the waist down, and if we were wearing a dress, then we were totally naked.

I stood half bent over, holding the edge of the bed, while his mountainous bulk shadowed me from the ceiling light. And braced myself for what was to come. No amount of bracing kept me from stumbling to keep my stance, to keep from falling over. I was a small child and he used all his substantial force to emphasize every strike. Though my legs trembled violently and could barely hold me up, I knew that falling over meant starting over.

With each strike, I was to count out loud. I tried to order my wobbly tongue and quavering jaw to speak clearly enough that I wouldn’t have to begin again, but inevitably I cried and he could not understand me. This meant restarting multiple times, and his frustration when I lost track of where I was. The numbers I pictured in my mind wouldn’t stay still. In the middle somewhere, overcome with humiliation, anger, frustration and other emotions I could not name, I urinated. And prayed that my underwear and culottes tangled around my ankles would absorb the warm liquid, prayed that my socks would catch any straggling drips, prayed that it would not wet the carpet beneath my feet.

I gripped the end of their comforter so hard that I made fists in spite of the fabric in my palms. Gripped harder and harder so as to resist the powerful instinct to raise my hand to shield my bare behind. But I had done that before too, and not only did my arm get the brunt of a lash or two, but I had to begin all over again, ensuring the beating lasted longer.

Hot saltiness tumbled down my cheeks until I was almost gagging on my tears, combined with the warmth of urine down my leg, and the all-encompasingness of my humiliation threatened to drown me. Indeed, I prayed for death in those moments.

I seem to remember 18 being the magic number, though the number changed every time. This, I guess, so that we would always be wondering, and he would always be in control. I was never sure when exactly he would decide I’d had enough.

When he was finished, he made me recite a verse or two while pulling my clothes back on with trembling fingers. There was a lecture about how how this was his God-given duty to show love to me and help me become less sinful, that I deserved more, worse and should be thankful, that this was hard and he didn’t like it but it was necessary and in my best interests. Then he would duct tape my mouth shut, a concrete reminder that I was never to say anything to anyone. My mouth was now shut, and I knew I was to keep the tape on all night, during my sleep. Now go clean yourself up, hurled at me with disgust in his voice.

I did not get to finish my half-eaten meal, but was sent still-hungry to clean up the table and kitchen. I did not regret not being made to sit down, but moving was difficult. My sister Andie was to help me, both to ensure that the job was completed properly and also so that I didn’t sneak scraps off plates to try to ease my hunger. Anyway, the tape over my mouth prevented further eating. Her eyes burned compassion into me whenever I dared look at her.

My mother actually told me after one beating that I would not remember these episodes and that if I did, it meant I was bitter. I remember thinking that I was okay with that because I did not want to forget what she had done to me and how much I hated her in that moment. I always walked out of The Bedroom with newly-kindled anger and hatred at my parents.

The bruises stayed for weeks, but often there would be another beating before the bruises from the previous incident had completely healed such that my skin was a mottled mess of yellow and green old wounds mixed with the bright red-purple of the new welts. The frumpy, blousy style of the early 80s, combined with the mandated-loose clothing of the fundamental churches actually worked to my benefit: I could hide my wounds, though even the softest cloths chafed my swollen, cracked and oozing skin.

And always, on the way out, he would say, remember, what happens in The Bedroom stays in The Bedroom, and what happens in This House stays in This House. And he would send me away with the knowledge that he was watching and all-knowing, that he would know if I told even my siblings, which would result in another lesson. We were never allowed to comfort each other, though there were a few hasty, whispered words to the newly-beaten one in the dark of our room. We did not dare hug.

I cried myself to sleep, fiercely dashing the tears from my cheeks, attempting to wipe them away before they sogged the adhesive and loosened it from my skin. I had to be able to show him my still-taped mouth first thing in the morning. After a while, we stole tape so that we could remove the tape while we slept, then replace it in the morning.

The Pearls published their book about the time I graduated from high school, but my parents had been using their methods, espoused by Jack Hyles and Lester Roloff at the time, from our infancy in the late 1970s. Contrary to what the Pearls, Gary Ezzo, Jack Hyles and others who espouse this way of rearing children believe, this expectation of a surface appearance or semblance of obedience actually works against the parents who use it: in our family, it created bitter children adept at hiding their bitterness. It created strife and hardened our hearts (that they thought they were softening) against our parents: we hated them. It created a subversive culture of deeply angry children with secretive, ignored and repressed anger, who lashed out at each other because we could not lash out at our parents. It created a culture of blind obedience instead of teaching us how to make good and informed decisions. It ignored the fact that we would grow up and move out, and kept us in this perpetual childhood for longer than is natural. As a result, I spent much of my twenties figuring out things and growing personally in ways I should have been able to during my teen years. Finding independence and autonomy, discovering my authority and my rights that were denied me.

It wasn’t until I had children that I realized spanking isn’t hard, it is easy. It is easy to hit, and once you have begun a habit of hitting, the next hitting episode comes easier and easier until it’s rote, instinctual, without thought, automatic. Hitting is also a gateway to anger: the more I hit my kids, the angrier I became and the easier it was to become angry. I recognized this very early, while my kids were still very little, but though they were nothing as severe as my own beatings as a child (three swats with a spoon while clothed), I regret every episode of spanking them.

I do not remember my last beating, though they continued in much the same fashion until I was sixteen. I still remember the humiliation and ferocious anger at being violated on the outside by the beating and on the inside by the changes they sought to force into us, by the association to God and spirituality. It affects me decades later and has thus shaped my views on everything from parenting to God to spirituality, to self-worth and more.

I got out without really knowing what I was running from or why…and was shunned, but that’s a story for another time. Decompressing and deprogramming continue into the present, but I hope that telling my stories will begin to dispel the power my parents and their secrets still hold over me.

My name is Lani Harper, and I am a survivor.

Pedophiles are like Serial Killers – My Story by David Pittman

My name is David Pittman – For 30 years I’ve been keeping a secret that almost killed me. From the time I was 12 until I was 15, I was molested by my youth minister at Rehoboth Baptist Church in Tucker, GA. His name is Frankie Wiley, full name Franklin Andrew Wiley. Due to the pathetic statute of limitation laws in Georgia and almost every state in the USA, he walks free. And up until recently he was serving as an associate minister at Trinity Baptist Church in Ashburn, Ga. While he no longer holds an “official” position at the church, he still has access to little boys because the pastor of the church defends him. I have been told they grew up together so that’s the only reason I can conceive as to why he would allow this confessed child molester to continued access of potential victims of sexual abuse.

In 2006, I found Frankie serving as youth minister at Jodeco Road Baptist Church, where Jerry Light was the Pastor. I contacted Pastor Light, told him my story and he and the Chairman of Deacons, after doing their due diligence about my story, confronted Frankie. Frankie admitted to both men that he had molested me. They fired him on the spot. He then went back to get help from a family at a previous church in Flowery Branch, Ga. When they were made aware of the circumstances, they too told him to leave. He returned to his hometown and got a job with the schools as a substitute teacher and when I told the superintendent there, he fired him. I continue to track his activity with children and if you look at his Facebook or MySpace pages they are filled with preteens and teenagers as he has a whole new world of potential victims.

There is an important update I need to give you as the reader, I first posted this article in October of 2012, but as of March 30th, 2013, a total of 7 men have come forward, from three different churches, ages ranging from 10 to 15, that Frankie raped, molested or sexually assaulted in some way prior to, during or after the time he was sexually abusing me. There names are Cale Harbour, Christopher Elrod, and sadly one is now deceased, Andy Harrell. Andy gave me permission to use his name prior to is death in 2012. Unfortunately 3 others are not in an emotional place of healing and told me “they just can’t talk about it right now” and I know how they feel. It’s how myself, Cale and Christopher felt for many years. But they reached out to me because they thought all this time they were the only ones and needed to talk to someone who understood what they had been through.

It’s important that you know how Frankie and other sexual predators operate. He invites 2-3 boys over to his house for sleepovers. He keeps 1 or 2 in another room and has the other boy stay with him in his bed. This is where the molestation takes place.

These vultures go after others like me who came from a family of divorce or worse. They take advantage of the vulnerability; a young boy simply wanting attention from a male role model. This is their “play”, also known as “grooming” and how it eventually leads to the abuse. God only knows how many there actually are-which is why I am writing this. The National Crime Statistics say “an uncaught child molester has approximately 117 victims.” And one young man I mentioned, can no longer speak at all-he died in June 2012. According to what he told me, because of the shame and guilt from being molested by Frankie Wiley, he took drugs to numb the pain, the drugs lowered his ability to make proper decisions, and in the end it cost him his life. It seems clear to me that the blood of his death is on the hands of Frankie Wiley.

Since the state of GA has a pathetic statute of limitations on child rape, I am unable to bring him to justice. I called Mr. Kenneth Keene at the Georgia Baptist Convention to inform him of this pedophile using his church as a haven for hunting. His response was to pray for me and say “sorry but each church acts separately and there is nothing we can do.” After two conversations, I wanted to tell him that Frankie had moved churches, but he wouldn’t take my calls or emails. It appears the Baptist Church, as an organization, not the individual parishioners, are following in the footsteps of the Catholic Church. They prefer to deny and cover-up rather than own up to the evil within. They know that the moment they admit to what is actually happening, they open themselves up to lawsuits, and it seems like they would rather have more children abused, molested and raped, than admit wrongdoing, take these pedophiles out of their churches and pay money to the victims.

But don’t take just my word for it, an organization has found 18 leaders within the Baptist Church who know of instances of abuse and choose to do nothing. Mr. Keene is listed among them.

“The only thing needed for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.”
- Edmund Burke

It appears as though this has become the case within the Baptist church.

http://stopbaptistpredators.org/blind_baptist_leaders.html

How many other adults out there have suffered this atrocity and are unable to bring their abusers to justice due to the insufficient laws held by almost every state in this land? These predators know this and count on it. They count on us not saying anything until it is legally too late. The reason being, most survivors of abuse aren’t capable of acknowledging what happens to us until, on average, we are in our 30′s and 40′s. The statute of limitations in almost every state runs out between the ages of 18 to 23. It’s simple math for the predators and the organizations that protect them.

When Dr. Light contacted the pastor of Trinity Baptist, Rodney Brown, with verification of Frankie’s molestation, all he said he would do was to bring it to the church. While Frankie is no longer “on staff”, he is still active with the youth. What they fail to understand is these predators NEVER stop until they are caught. The elders at Trinity are either too ignorant or too negligent to protect them. When I sent an email to the parents of Trinity Baptist, after the pastor failed to tell them, he called me and said I was a bad person. Pastor Rodney Brown said I caused a split in “HIS” church. To which I replied, “pastor, first of all, its not YOUR church. The “church” is the people who make up the body of Christ, not the person standing in the pulpit. And who is the bad person here? Me, for letting the parents of Trinity know about an admitted child molester with access to their children, or you, who CHOSE to keep it secret until you were FORCED to tell them? And hearing that the church split tells me that half of the people there didn’t agree with you in allowing this sexual predator to continue to be around their children.” Below you will find a link to Trinity Baptist Church where they proudly list Frankie as their worship leader. Is this the type of church you want to send your little boys and feel safe about doing it?

http://www.usgennet.org/usa/ga/county/turner/trinity.html

And to any of the aforementioned people who would deny anything I have spelled out in this letter. I challenge them to submit to a lie-detector test. I am more than willing to do so and testify under oath. Myself, Cale and Christopher have the one thing they don’t…the truth.

I wonder how many parents of the children Jerry Sandusky molested wished they had this kind of information. How many little boys would still have their innocence? How many little boys would have been protected? To me, this pastor is WORSE than the pedophile. A pedophile is sick and won’t stop until incarcerated or deceased. This man, like the administrators at Penn State CHOSE to protect the monster in their midst.

We have started a non-profit, 501(c)(3), charitable organization and advocacy group that will help others like me who were robbed of their innocence and struggle every day with a way to stay alive. We provide counseling at no charge to those in need, educate parents on how to better protect their children and lead a monthly support group for survivors of CSA. By having this support, we help survivors to fight the urge to seek out vengeance on the person who killed their childhood. You can get more information at our website – together-we-heal.org – follow us on twitter @Together_WeHeal – join our Cause Page at – http://www.causes.com/causes/640477-together-we-heal – follow our blog – togetherweheal.wordpress.com – or join the Facebook group at http://www.facebook.com/groups/togetherweheal – The other reason why I am asking all of my friends to join is because survivors of molestation and abuse will seldom speak out…but they will read in private if they see helpful sites like these posted on your wall. You may never know who you are helping, but trust me you will be helping. I know because it took me almost 30 years to finally acknowledge and address what happened to me and that allowed me to begin healing. And for those who have any misgivings or doubts, we do not make one dollar from any of this. We do all of this on a completely voluntary basis. I just don’t want any other survivors to think they are alone.

My childhood voice was strangled by the rope of molestation. My assailant is free (for now), but with your help other victims will have the courage to come forward in time to incarcerate these predators. Most survivors have a similar feeling; one of feeling trapped—having to relive the crime that keeps them quiet, that keeps them inside their minds, it even costs some of them their lives. So many have committed suicide because they did not have the tools to handle the trauma, others (including myself) turned to drugs and alcohol to numb their pain (many times ending in overdoses). And even more who are never able to have any kind of life. No loving relationships, no lasting friendships, no children to show true parental love – all due to the pain caused by the crime of abuse, molestation and rape.

I was told by a GBI investigator something that has stuck with me to this day…a pedophile is like a serial killer that leaves his victims alive.

I believe that most accurately describes a pedophile. It’s truth articulated.

Frankie served as a youth minister at the following churches from 1981 to 2011 – if you or anyone you know have concerns, please contact me.

Rehoboth Baptist, Tucker, Ga.
Second Avenue Baptist, Rome, Ga.
A Baptist church in Flowery Branch, Ga.
Jodeco Road Baptist, Stockbridge, Ga.
Trinity Baptist, Ashburn, Ga.

He also worked as a substitute teacher at the local school system in Ashburn, Ga., sometime around 2009-2011.

If you or anyone you know has been molested by Frankie Wiley or by anyone, please reach out to someone, things are different now, you WILL be believed, you are NOT alone. Please, reach out…there are people you can trust now.

From the Author:

Linda Murphrey is a popular inspirational speaker and expert in human behavior as a Certified Personal and Professional Development Coach, a Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and a lifelong student of interpersonal dynamics. She has been educating, speaking and mentoring people on how to reach their dreams, thrive in the midst of change and fulfill their highest destiny – both professionally and personally. A seasoned sales and business development expert, business owner, speaker and inner success coach, Linda offers a vast breadth of experience and expertise. She has served as a consultant to individuals and numerous corporations by instructing and impassioning executive management, sales professionals and entrepreneurs to plan and realize their goals.

Linda has currently written and released several chapters of “Healing from a God Who Wasn’t.” The book is Linda’s journey from religious fear and entrapment to freedom and truth.  In these chapters, she delves into her personal life growing up in a 50,000-member cult. Her chapters are a guide for victims of toxic faith searching for “religion rehab.”  I recommend these chapters for anyone who has been involved in any religious bondage, no matter the religious sect. Cults all operate the same. The abuses are the same. Her personal story as the daughter of Jack Hyles not only reveals the shocking details of the secrets she was forced to keep, but they also teach lessons to the reader that will help them to heal and grow. For more information or to purchase any of her chapters please visit Linda’s website:  lindamurphrey.com.  Here is Linda’s Story (similar to her TEDx talk in April, 2012):

headerEarly in my life I learned that there was one thing that would always, without fail, kill a festive mood at a dinner party. And that was to talk about me – to talk about my life, my life as the daughter of a cult leader. There was very little that was jovial or lighthearted about the first twenty-eight years of my life, and it is a story to which few people can possibly relate. So I avoided that topic at all costs. It was too painful, and I knew no one would understand. I became a master at diverting attention, diverting the conversation onto somebody else and away from me. I so rarely talked about my life that, on the unusual occasion when I would slip (after someone had  pushed me to divulge), rather than just casually and comfortably sharing – I vomited the story! And it went something like this:

*****

I grew up outside of Chicago in Hammond, Indiana, where my dad was the pastor of a church that, through the years, evolved into a mega-church with a proclaimed membership of 50,000. It operated and still operates under the guise of an Independent Fundamental Baptist church. But those who have left, the followers who have tried to leave, the outsiders, and even the media recognize it as a cult – an organization centered around one man and his belief system.

There were very strict rules that I (and all members) adhered to in order to avoid committing the many proclaimed “sins” – women wearing pants, drinking alcohol, rock music or even Christian music with a beat, men having long hair, movies, dancing, etc. You name it – if it was fun, it was probably a sin.

Every member was in complete obedience to my father. They didn’t dare disagree or be disloyal, for fear of being publicly ridiculed, punished or banished for doing so. They didn’t go on a vacation without asking my dad’s permission, and if he had said to “drink the Kool-Aid”… I’m not kidding, they would have. My dad’s influence spanned across all states and in other countries. His teachings and methods permeated hundreds of churches across America, influencing tens of thousands of people.

My dad lived a double life: one of a righteous family man and dynamic religious speaker in the public eye, but one of sordid secrets privately – secrets that only my siblings, my mother and I knew. He hated my mom, treated her terribly, and even turned his own children against her. He told us she was crazy, and we knew that in order to make my dad happy, we must hate her too. Our home was full of turmoil, hatred, stress and strife. As a little girl, it was isolating, intense and frightening.

My dad was unfaithful to my mom. He had a mistress for many years, a woman on staff who was also the wife of a Sunday School teacher. He built her family a beautiful home right around the corner from our house. You could see their home from our back door. It was all just craziness – living one way, preaching another.

My older brother became another version of my father. As Pastor of a church in Texas, he was found to have been having affairs with fourteen different women in the church. He later divorced his current wife and married one of the fourteen. My father tried desperately to cover it up; moved him to another church where he was later found to have had seventeen affairs with different women. He recreated what he had seen my dad live. And my dad did nothing but lie for him and cover it up.

I felt like I had one main responsibility as a child. It was simple, but daunting – to keep all the secrets. And there were so many. You see, he had taught us that the best way to please God was to please him because he was “God’s man.” And he taught us that in order to please him, we must keep all the secrets. We could never even tell our best friends what went on in our home because it might be the cause of the destruction of his ministry. I literally feared for my very life if I ever talked about my dad’s ministry or about what went on in our home. I feared God would kill me for any disloyalty to God’s man. The greater the secrets, the greater the fear – and the greater my determination to keep quiet.

I’ll admit – the money from my dad’s ministry was rather enticing as a kid. Tithes and offerings from such a huge mega-church, as well as from my dad’s book sales and speaking engagements, created a lavish lifestyle for our family. My father (under “his” ministry) owned blocks of buildings in the city where the church was located. In addition, there was a college campus, two high schools, two grade schools, a cemetery, and other properties/buildings. And, even into our adult years, he owned us. He owned our homes, our cars, our furniture, our careers… he owned our lives. We didn’t dare cross him because we were too afraid we’d lose everything.

He died an extremely wealthy man, evidently a multi-millionaire, but left nothing to his children. Instead, he left everything to the organization, which my younger sister and her husband led until August of 2012.  During the time that my brother-in-law and sister controlled the church, they perpetuated my dad’s legacy: the strict rules, the undying loyalty, and the desperation to keep all the secrets.

I never understood why I was the only one of the four kids who was so tortured by the hypocrisy, so disturbed by the mind control over thousands and thousands of people, and so determined to find a better life. Why was I the only one that insisted on answers to my questions? And, why was I the only one that ultimately broke away and completely cut ties with the brain washing, the oppression, the fear, the secrets, and the life that had never been…my life?

I finally walked away when I was about twenty-eight years of age, then being estranged from my entire family. And, other than my oldest sister, I did not see my family again until many years later at my dad’s funeral.

*****

Okay, see what I mean? Not a story to share in casual conversation at a dinner party. Or maybe ever. So after leaving my dad’s organization, I decided that I would never talk about my past at all. For one thing, who would understand? For another thing, it was too hard. It hurt too much. So I made a mental note in permanent marker: MUST NEVER TALK ABOUT MY LIFE! And for many years, I didn’t. I couldn’t.

However, wonderful things have happened through the years.  Therapy, deprogramming, freedom from the mind control…and I began to heal and learn and accept and forgive. I even learned to be thankful for that bizarre life that I had lived, because I realized I had learned some amazing lessons not only from being there, but from having the guts to leave. I now have values that are deeply carved into my very soul from my experiences. Values you don’t get from reading a book, or from a workshop, or from another person. Values that are only this deeply engrained when you’ve lived what I lived.

Because my dad was a cult leader, I now embrace three values that no one will ever take away from me. The first one is freedom:

  • Freedom to explore my own interests.
  • Freedom to live within my own value system.
  • Freedom to determine my own value system.
  • Freedom to believe what I believe, and never stifle what I believe.
  • Freedom to disagree.
  • Freedom to ask questions, and to require honest answers.
  • Freedom to learn who I am.
  • Freedom to love who I am.

The second value is truth. I learned pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to be very “free” until I dealt with what was true, and that was hard for me. Truth was a scary word for me, because for my entire life, I had never been allowed to face truth and speak of what went on in our home. I had never even told my best friend everything that went on in the Hyles household. Being truthful was one of the scariest things I could think of, but it was necessary in order to be set free.

I learned that “secrets grow in the dark, but when exposed in the light of truth, they begin to lose their power.” Mary Vernon (my dear therapist in Dallas, Texas, who nurtured me and who loved me through many years of healing) used to say to me, “Linda, you are only as sick as your secrets.” So slowly, I stopped keeping secrets. And as scared as I was in my late twenties, I finally began to deal with what was true. I finally began to speak what was true, and eventually, learned to live openly only in truth.

The third value is courage. Did you know that you actually cannot live in freedom or truth if you have no courage? Courage is a requirement for both. You may desire to live in complete freedom and complete truth, but if you’re lacking courage, you will live in neither one.

In my late twenties, I’ll admit – I only had a tiny shred of courage. It wasn’t much. But it was all I needed. My desire be free and honest was so great that my small shred of courage was enough to allow me to walk away. I have a plaque on my desk that I have had for years and it’s gone with me everywhere I’ve ever moved. It says, “The secret to happiness is freedom, and the secret to freedom is courage.” Those words have always resonated with me.

I knew I wasn’t going to be happy unless I was free, but I knew I wasn’t going to be free unless I could muster up some courage to get out of there and begin facing truth. I had to cling to and act upon that tiny shred of courage in order to finally leave a cult, the only friends I’d ever known, my childhood connections, my history, and my family…knowing that in doing so, I would finally have what I had longed for my entire life – freedom and truth.

Freedom. Truth. Courage. Three words that may seem a bit trite and over-used by some people. To me, they are the air that I breathe – values upon which I insist on living and loving in my life.

Oh, and one other thing that I actually now value? Sharing my story. Talking about me. Who would have thought! I now recognize that it is through sharing my story that I can so passionately share with others my values – values gained after twenty-eight years in an emotional prison that kept my heart under lock and key and, kept my soul shackled by fear and kept my mind from knowing…what I knew.

You know, I sometimes wonder if perhaps living in the absence of our values is what can most clearly determine what indeed our values are. For me, I believe that the absence of and the denial of these values, is what ultimately created the presence thereof. For so many years, I was denied freedom, truth, and courage. And now? I will never let them go.

Not to worry. You’re still not going to find me at a dinner party talking about my childhood. That’s not going to happen. You won’t find me sitting around with strangers or mere acquaintances, elaborating over the fact that my father who took a wonderful church and turned it into a 50,000-member cult. I still know that’s a mood killer. I get it.

But you will find me here, and in other appropriate settings, especially if I can help someone – talking about my life…with sincere gratitude for all that I’ve learned…in spite of and because of living in the absence of freedom, truth, and courage.

And thank God, I now have all three.

From the Author:

Since coming forward with her story in 2012, a lot has happened. Linda has published four chapters to her book, Healing from a God Who Wasn’t. Her brother-in-law, Jack Schaap, now the former pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, is sitting in federal prison for taking a minor across state lines for sex.  Needless to say, this has created much emotional turmoil in Linda’s life. Because of Jack’s arrest and her coming forward to speak the truth, she has been attacked and maligned by people within the Independent Fundamental Baptist cult from all over America. Complete strangers, some of them pastors! What a sad testimony to the fact that brainwashing blinds people to truth. Not only this, it causes them to act hatefully and maliciously toward those who dare to speak truth and expose the lies they have believed. What a sad testament to the fact that religious leaders can control the minds and hearts of masses of people. Cult followers choose to remain blind and attack and discredit the source of that truth rather than to accept it.

Linda came forward to release the truth that had been kept from the public for over fifty years of her life.  These secrets made her sick, very sick. And what she discovered was that, in the hearts and minds of thousands, her dad is STILL an idol that is revered and protected. Unfortunately, as I have expressed so well on this blog and in my book, Religion’s Cell, “Mankind has a tendency to act in accordance with what it perceives to be the truth, not in accordance with what the truth is in fact. . . Bringing to light the error in the perceived truth sheds light on the real truth. However, because perception is fact in the minds of many, revealing the truth can bring a person under the verbal attack of the masses, especially if they are truths that debunk religious dogmas, doctrines and behaviors or expose abuse.”  I was right.

Despite the attacks and hate mail, Linda still speaks truth. She remains committed to “speaking the truth in love.” Secrets only make a person sick and the mind, a battleground. Telling the truth takes courage and frees a person to be who they truly are instead of a clone of the cult system and a keeper of secrets. The time has come for Linda and victims everywhere to break free of the shackles of bondage to fear and stand strong against the darts and arrows hurled. There are countless thousands suffering bondage and abuse within the religious systems of the world and they need people to come forward, exhibit freedom, show courage, and tell the truth. That time is now. Thank you, Linda, for telling your story!

come homeI was raised with deep roots.  You learn a lot on a farm about roots when raising crops and about the worms that eat away at those roots. There is nothing more disgusting than a big green tobacco worm that eats the leaves of the tobacco plant—unless it would be the cut worm—that cuts the plant off at the root.  Even after a cut worm has severed the plant it lives awhile before the withering process begins.  That withering process is what I saw happen in my family and now with my parents’ with IFB abuse.

My father was raised by a mother who loved God.  She had 7 sisters and brothers and they lived off the farm lands in Wisconsin. I remember the day a Bible College student walked out into our tobacco fields to sell us a Bible. My father, who I had never seen buy anything, bought the biggest and brightest Red Bible in the bunch. That Bible sat by his chair by the stove and he read it often as I grew up. He never went to church and was fearful of being in a crowd of people. He could not even talk on the phone comfortably. But people respected my father. When my little sister went to a local IFB Baptist church and said she “Found God,” My father watched. When I went forward in the same IFB church after evangelist Jack Hyles preached, my father watched. When Ron Comfort came to evangelize, we got my parents to go to the church. My sister and I cried during the invitation and asked my father to go forward. He did. Dad became active in the IFB church along with my mom. He learned to give his testimony, lead in prayer and, was elected to be a deacon. He stopped smoking, stopped growing tobacco, and he told others what God had done for him.

Then the cut worm struck when my father was asked to vote on expelling an IFB school student for listening to music with a beat. (You see, secretly my father loved the Grand Old Oprey music.)  He felt coerced, as a deacon, into expelling the student, but when he saw children were being hit and were fearful, the cut worm struck and my father left the IFB church. My dad started a new church that met in an empty grocery store and they had about 30 people who followed them from the old IFB church. I understood the loss my parents felt for their beloved church members. I saw the withering process of grief. My mom lost a lot of weight and my father started having heart trouble. Leaving their roots was hard for my parents. Being quiet about abuse in his church was intolerable for them.

I returned to the IFB church, even as my father was standing up for abused children, in spite of the fact that my own son had been abused in an IFB church. Dad was willing to walk away from his IFB church where he had built the steeple and was truly part of that church’s roots because his mom’s country church had closed and merged with that IFB church. I admired his courage to do the work of the cut worm. I was more of a tobacco worm nibbling at the leaves while leaving the plant intact. I had learned through all of my counseling experience that you can only be a victim of a system one time. If you choose to go back you are now a volunteer. I was walking back into the church system where my son, Scott had been abused, because I missed my friends—the sense of a family—was drawing me back.

When my anger over past abuses surfaced Dr. Professor, a church deacon, encouraged me to let it go and to forgive. I was willing to try. I only wanted to move forward. As my husband Larry and I sat in the back pews singing the hymns I ignored the soundtrack from Jaws playing ever so softly in the back of my mind. Even though the warning built to a crescendo in my head…. “dunt…Dunt…Dunt…DUNT…DUNT…DUNT”—I continued to wade  slowly back into the IFB waters.

Sitting in the IFB pew, I was judged for being divorced. Pastors used the pulpit to bash psychology and spanking of children as the primary mode of discipline.  Complete surrender to rejoin the church was the goal of the IFB in order to graft    their abuse victims back to the root. The roots of the IFB belief system were awakened in me but the true roots my father had given me had gotten tangled up in the IFB doctrines.

My father eventually had a heart attack and was put on hospice at home.  He asked to have his Grand Old Oprey and Gaithers music played at his bedside. My husband, Larry a musician who played old Elvis and Beatles music, understood the importance of music in finding some measure of comfort. Larry used his experience to see to it that my father had the music that he loved. My father stayed connected to his family roots as long as he could but his heart continued to fail him. He gave us all instructions as he died.  His sister, Judy, was to be in charge of cleaning the bird poop off his grave stone, Rita was to watch out for Mom, Jo was to continue to be a nurse and me—I was to continue to draw pictures and write books.

He knew we all loved God and that he would see us again in heaven. He chose to die when I left his bedside to shower. He was gone. My sister’s husband, who had also left the IFB pastorate because of the abuse that he saw in the IFB system, preached the funeral. That was the last time he ever got behind an IFB pulpit. My husband played the guitar and we both sang at my father’s funeral—we sang with the 4/4 beat hated by the IFB—we stood with my father and, for my father. My father had found his roots.

I’ve been wanting to share some of my story for a while.  And this is just a small part of it. But after reading so many stories from others of horrible abuse they suffered, I began to feel like my experiences didn’t compare and weren’t that important.  Just recently, I was talking to a fellow abuse survivor on the phone and said as much, and she urged me to get this written and share it – saying it’s important for ALL the abuse to be exposed, that there are many others who suffered abuse and think “well, it’s just not as bad as what others went through”, so they keep it to themselves.  That conversation has been on my mind, and I thought “Well, it’s not like others…who were molested or raped.” When it hit me. Yes, it is.

Only those who grew up in an IFB environment really understand how sheltered young adults, particularly young women, can be.  This is to give you a little background of how naïve a young woman I was when it happened.  We didn’t attend movies or even own a TV, and I had very little exposure to “the world”. When I was 21 years old, I was forcibly raped.  By my husband.

We were married when I was 19 and he was 18, just three months out of high school, neither of us with any sexual experience. Our Hyles-Anderson-trained pastors strongly encouraged (and still do) marrying young people off as early as possible – that’s their means of keeping young people pure until marriage.  Self-control is not really expected, particularly of men. When we’d been married just over 2 years, I was thrilled to learn I was pregnant, and then devastated 2 months later when I miscarried.

About two weeks after the miscarriage and the ensuing D&C, he decided he had “waited” long enough and demanded sex.  I began to cry and said I wasn’t ready.  That simply infuriated him and he held me down and forced himself on me.  I screamed over and over for him to stop, but it was like he had turned into someone else. When he was finished, he left me sobbing on the bed and stormed out of the house.  I felt so filthy and hurt and broken.  Still hysterical, I called my father, but couldn’t talk.  He came over and held me while I continued to sob for several hours and eventually calmed down.  My father never knew until very recently what had happened that night.

When my husband came home, both of us simply acted like nothing had happened.  In the years since, I’ve realized that’s a really common coping mechanism when you have to continue to have contact with your abuser.  And in time, the abuser even uses that against you – saying you didn’t seem very upset about it and that you’re exaggerating, or else you would have told someone. Except….I did tell someone. Several days later, I went to see my pastor and sobbed out what had happened.  He very matter-of-factly said that my husband really shouldn’t have forced me, but that he WAS entitled to sex and that I had NO RIGHT to refuse him.  Ever.  He even quoted the passage about a wife not having power over her own body.  His summation was that I was NOT raped, because it’s not rape between a husband and wife.  It wasn’t until after we were divorced a few years later that I was able to confide what happened that night to a friend.  That friend started to cry and told me I WAS raped – twice. First by the one person I should have been safe with more than anyone. And again, by the spiritual leader to whom I turned for help.   I was shocked, but slowly began to realize the truth of those words.  Since then, I’ve realized that it was not just that pastor’s coldness when he should have given comfort.  He actually blamed me for causing it, basically said it was my sin of not submitting that created the situation where he HAD to force me. And again, after that day, both that pastor and I acted as if it had never happened. When I later separated from my husband, the pastor blamed me again, saying I had contributed to the failed marriage by making  him feel less of a man by not allowing him “enough” sex.

In the years since, I’ve also realized that all the male-dominance teaching actually helped create the sense of entitlement that gave a naïve young man the sense he could just forcibly take what he wanted.  I have long since forgiven that young man.  But forgiving the pastor that condoned his actions is a long way off.

-“Louise”

CYNTHIA 1998

Me during my cult days – 1998 – after leaving this first IFB church.

First of all, let me say that I have hesitated in writing my story on this blog because I spent the first half of my book, Religion’s Cell, expounding on the tactics used against me and my family as members of the Independent Fundamental Baptist Church. It just didn’t make sense to me, once I wrote my book, to tell my story ever again. Actually, there was no need to. I wrote it in my book out of a need to expel the hurt and anguish that I was dealing with. Once I wrote my book, I had no further need to “re-tell” my story.

Over the last year, however, I have had many of those that have read my book tell me that they wished I had told more of my story in my book. Other victims have asked me why I have not told my story here as well. In truth, I just didn’t feel the need to do it. My recovery from the spiritual and emotional abuse, to me, was complete and, I felt that God had prepared me for the tasks at hand. It is because of other victims, that I tell more of my story here. It is for them and those readers that have a desire to hear more, that I write it here today in hope that it will help them.

This said, I do not wish to just tell a story. As is my usual writing style, I want people that read what I write to learn something that will help them. This is why I have chosen to write this part of my story in the manner in which I have.

I will not recount the destruction and trauma that I have spoken about in my book. That part is available for the world to read if they so choose. What I want to talk about are the “red flags” that my husband and I ignored in the very FIRST fundamentalist church that we attended that set the foundation for the  destruction our family.  We attended two other IFB churches after this one that also watered the seeds of legalism and instilled attitudes and behaviors that led to abuses in the home.  All three churches operated under the same system, rules and tactics.   I speak about these other two in my book.  For the sake of others experiencing these “red flags” and ignoring them, is why I am covering this topic. Hopefully, it will save others from suffering the heartache and destruction that our family experienced because we ignored the “red flags.” Our Christianity was built around a corrupted foundation of man-made doctrines, rules and dogmas. I want to save others from building their lives around such a foundation.

I sincerely hope that my story is a blessing and encouragement to those who find themselves in the same place of religious bondage that I found myself back in 1993 when my husband and I joined a fundamentalist “cult.” I also hope that those in an abusive church will recognize these “red flags” and FLEE the abusive system to find true freedom in Christ.

– Cynthia McClaskey, Author

red flags ignored

My husband and I were invited to an Independent Fundamental Baptist Church in 1993, by our friend, N_____.  At the time, we had been attending and Assemblies of God Church with our two children for the previous three years. (Before that, we went to a Catholic Church. I was raised Catholic.)  Although we thoroughly enjoyed the people and the preaching there, there were things that we could not wrap our minds around as being “right.”

Our first service at TBC was an event that my husband and I will probably never forget. It was our introduction to expository preaching. What we felt at the time, was that the preaching was such that it was applicable for everyday living. The preaching was the first thing that drew us in. The second thing that drew us to this place, was the friendliness of the people. This is not to say that the people at AOG weren’t friendly; they were! There was just something “different” about the way that these people treated us. The inner circle of members (leadership and their families) acted like they genuinely cared about us and our family. For several months after, they showered us with attention and love.  But, we soon learned that it was not what we thought it to be. The real friends soon stood out above those that wore the “facade” of love. This was a “red flag” we ignored.

After joining the church, we realized there was something different about the ladies at this church. It never really stood out beforehand. All the ladies wore dresses. No one wore pants!  It wasn’t long before I was pressured into giving up my pants in exchange for “service” and “the will of God.”  My husband did not agree with this rule but went along to keep peace in our relationship. After this, many more rules were expounded to us that we were required to adhere to in order to be in “God’s will” and to “serve” in the church in any capacity. There were so many spoken and unspoken rules of dress for the women, that the load was grievous to bare. This was a “red flag” we ignored.

Unfortunately, because I was an independent thinker, I soon experienced isolation. This wasn’t an obvious isolation to those around me because it was done in an unusual way. The clique, those in the inner circle in the church, started avoiding me. They would not shake my hand or talk to me. They would just smile and walk on by.  If they saw me walking toward them, they would make sure to keep a distance from me.  In the church and church gatherings, they kept their distance.  There were countless services where I would sit in the pew and no one would talk to me except a few choice people.  I felt like something was wrong with ME.  I felt unloved.  I felt that if they thought something was wrong with me then, God must feel the same way and, was angry with me. This attitude was further exacerbated by the financial stress in our lives. God must surely be punishing us, because of ME!  At night, I would cry to my husband about how I felt. I cannot count the number of times I cried about this.  This went on for three years!  My husband would tell me that maybe they were intimidated by me or, that maybe they did not have people skills and did not know how to hold a conversation. He would tell me that there was nothing wrong with me; but I didn’t believe him.  I tried to conform to everything I was told to conform to; to no avail. I just wasn’t good enough for them, or God.  Today, I understand that shunning is a tactic used to get people to conform to the rules – and it works!!  Despite this treatment from the “inner circle” however, we made some wonderful friendships that we thought would be for a lifetime. After exiting, we realized that we were wrong about that too. This shunning was a “red flag” that we ignored.

There were only two families in the church that really made the difference for us and, were the only reason that we stayed there in the early days of our membership. We developed a genuine friendship with them and their children and a genuine love for them. These two families were some of the most wonderful people we had ever met. Later, we developed friendships with a few other families and our whole time in this church revolved around just a handful of people.

These initial two families took us into their homes and genuinely loved us. They also influenced us toward “the rules” me and my husband and our children were taught to follow regarding women and men, dress standards, associations, etc.  In the same vein, the preaching and teaching was key in reinforcing the legalistic mindset of our oldest son that fostered his contempt and rebellion toward me as a women later on.  The teaching and preaching was also responsible for my indoctrination and my mindset that fostered abusive responses toward my husband and children later on.  These indoctrinated responses toward conflict became knives that cut through the very fabric of the relationships in our home.  Looking back, we realize that they did it unknowingly because it was all they had known and were taught as “truth” for many years before we ever came on the scene.  They were conditioned to believe as they were “taught” and believed it was “TRUTH.”  We did it because of the same reason. We thought we were being taught “truth” and that in order to please God, we must follow the rules the church taught.  Nonetheless, these two families loved us and we loved them. There was no finer example of Christian love than these two families.  What we have since realized is that many of the people within this sect exhibit  “conditional” love toward others based on conformity; not an “unconditional” love that mirrors God.  The fruit of this association with this church was the planting of the seeds of legalism in the minds of my husband, me, and my children; seeds that later sprouted and led to much abuse and strife in the home.  All of this, hidden under a cloak of righteousness that no one could see.

T.B.C. was a small church in a small town.  There were probably only about 50-60 families at the time we joined. At least, that’s all we ever counted in the services. This did not include the bus kids.  They had a bus ministry, a choir and soul-winning and visitation.  The next  “red flag” occurred when I decided to join the ladies visitation with my new friend, A_____.  Today, I wish I had not ignored this “red flag.”  The pastor’s wife and, many of the ladies that were in the inner circle, were seated at a table in the kitchen area. I was the only woman not in, or associated with, “the inner circle.”  In walked the Pastor and he began bad-mouthing a former staff member that had just left the church. He and his wife were two of the most precious people. I sat there in shock as I witnessed his comments regarding S_____. Did anyone else pick up on the slander? Did they see it for what it was?  I didn’t know.  I left to go on visitation with what happened imprinted on my mind and heart.  I knew this family. How could he speak evil of them? I went home and told my husband about what the Pastor said and we both decided to keep this knowledge to ourselves.  But, it helped us to put a question mark on everything the pastor did from that point on.  I did not understand until after I exited the cult, this tactic. It is used on every person and family that leaves the cult in the “wrong” way.

The next “red flag” that we ignored was that everyone in the church seemed to hold the pastor on a pedestal as though he were God. The church members displayed an excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to the pastor. No one was allowed to question anything the pastor did. Anyone foolish enough to do so would be publicly humiliated from the pulpit or through gossip. We learned quickly that the pulpit was used as a whipping post to humiliate members into conformity to the leader’s standards and doctrinal beliefs! We also learned that gossip emanated from the top down and was used toward those who did not conform.  Needless to say, I was “labeled” as bossy, loud, and rebellious through gossip because of my independent spirit. On a regular basis, women were ridiculed and mocked from the pulpit by the Pastor. The underlying messages in the sermons were such that it led to an attitude that women were second-class people and should not be in positions of leadership over men! It instilled a “women are door-mats” mentality and, they better take the abuse quietly and meekly.  This battle with this mindset caused much emotional turmoil in me and led to a negative self worth and self-esteem. It instilled in my son, the attitude that he was not to submit to my authority because I was a women. This attitude was the cause of much conflict between us after leaving this church for the next fundamentalist church which hammered home this mindset to even a greater extent. (It was the second church that solidified this mindset in my son…and it was done by the teachings of people who were our closest friends. That is the saddest part of all and we could not see it until God showed it to me after we moved to our third church.)

The next “red flag” that we ignored was the fact that the church members seemed preoccupied with bringing in new members.  The whole system of the church revolved around “numbers;” numbers of bus kids on the buses, numbers in attendance in church, numbers in attendance in Sunday School, keeping track of numbers in soul-winning and baptisms. Where was the true fellowship and unity of the members when they were so busy trying to get numbers? The whole work of the ministry was all about bringing in the numbers and growing the church as big as we could make it. Later, I realized that the bigger the church, the more money that comes in to support the leadership.

The church members were also preoccupied with money and status. This was another “red flag.”  We began to notice that many members wore the nicest clothes and drove nice cars. The men and teenage boys always wore suits to church and the ladies and girls, the most beautiful dresses.  The pastor’s children, especially the wives, wore very expensive clothes AND, wore a different outfit for each day of the week. They very rarely wore the same outfit twice in a year! The pastor and his sons had many suits.  The special events for the Pastor involved the giving of much cash and expensive gifts to the pastor. The pastor and his family lived in a huge two story home provided by the church and exhibited “status” while some in the church were struggling simply to pay their utilities or to buy food!  That’s where me and my family were – struggling. Yet, we were required to give 10% of our GROSS income to the church or, we were not “right with God.”

By the time we left this church, our family had expanded to four children and, we were six people living on less than 15,000 a year.   I cannot tell you how often I went without food to give my children their two or three meals a day that usually consisted of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or, pasta, oatmeal or some other cheap food. We drank powdered milk, never bought name brand foods, clipped coupons and very rarely ate out if it wasn’t business related.  It was so bad that the kids had developed the habit of hiding food for themselves, for later, from their siblings.  We laugh about this now, but at the time, we didn’t. Having something to eat was everything to us and the kids.  We shopped at Goodwill for clothes and, I fasted 2 – 3 times every week so that my children could have food because we could not afford enough groceries.  At one point, we had no choice but to go to the pastor to ask for food and they bought us enough food to last a few months. THAT was a blessing; but bittersweet. I will never forget how much I cried as the pastor’s son and his wife brought in the groceries. I was ashamed and I was thankful all at the same time.  As a result of poor income, and having to tithe 10% of our gross, as well as giving to missions, I dropped down to 94 pounds and silently suffered. In the evenings, if my mind wasn’t occupied with working, I would silently cry over our situation.  I felt that I had no hope of my life ever getting better; that the hardships would never cease.  My husband would tell me often, “Honey, this is only temporary. You have to tell your self that.” I tried to do that, but it didn’t help.

The “red flags” began to pop up at every turn and we found ourselves struggling emotionally and wanting more than anything to find another church that taught the truth.  Sadly, because of indoctrination we genuinely believed that the Independent Fundamental Baptist Church was the only true church.  Therefore, we felt we had no other options but to stay put until God moved us to another IFB church.  All this time in this church laid the foundations in our family that reinforced the attitudes and behaviors and, fostered strife in the home.  Here are more of the “red flags” that we ignored:

  • Questioning of the doctrines, dogmas, teachings, rules or church policies was discouraged or even punished by the pastor and church members.
  • The leadership dictated in great detail how the members should think, act, and feel (for example: members must get permission from leaders to date, change jobs, get married; leaders told the women what types of clothes to wear, how to discipline children, and so forth).  Because my husband and I never went to the pastor for “advice” in making personal decisions for us and our family, this led to some of the “shunning” I spoke of earlier that I could not understand.
  • The church was elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s), and members. They made us believe that we were the only church that preached the “truth;” that all other religions were going to hell; that we had a mission to save the world from “hell;” that if we left the church, God would curse us and hurt us.
  • Because of the teaching and preaching, we, and many of the church members developed an “us vs. them” mentality which caused conflict with those outside the church who believed differently or lived differently. It instilled and “anti” mentality instead of fostering unconditional love toward others and accepting them as they were.
  • The Pastor was not accountable to any authorities (as are, for example, military commanders). He was similar to a King over a kingdom and not only controlled his kingdom, but the personal lives of the members! There was no accountability for the pastor. He pretty much was able to do as he pleased regardless of what anyone else thought. Even if the pastor was wrong, the members would back him to the bitter end.
  • The leadership induced guilt feelings in the members in order to control them.  The preaching developed into congregant bashing on a regular basis. The pastor would consistently tell us from the pulpit how stupid we were; how sinful; how wicked.  This led to the members believing that without the pastor they could not be what God wanted them to be; that they could not serve God; that they NEEDED the pastor’s guidance in order to please God and be right with God.  This also instilled a mindset that God would punish anyone that left the church or believed differently than the pastor.
  • Subservience to the church caused me to cut ties with family and friends, and to give up personal goals and activities that were of interest before joining the church. I had Catholic parents and 11 brothers and sisters that I had nothing to do with for 20 years. Because of this, I am still estranged from many of my brothers and sisters. I have managed to build the bridge with my parents and a couple of siblings, but that is it. This is the most hurtful part of all. The loss of family and friends that once were my world. To this day, though I have tried, they want nothing to do with me or my family.
  • This loss of family and friends was replaced with expected devotion of huge amounts of time to serving the church in the ministry. Me and my children served 4 to 5 days a week for the churches we attended after this one. We were so busy serving that it prevented us from “thinking” and realizing that there were “red flags” that we should not be ignoring. This constraint on our time also kept us blind to calling the abuse exactly what it was – ABUSE!
  • We were encouraged or required to socialize only with church members. Anyone outside of the church would be a bad influence on us and our children and cause us to fall away from God.  This mindset was so strong that it helped to further our bondage to the church and the church family because, now, they were our only friends and family. The churches we attended made us sign a sheet of paper stating all these “rules” in order to serve in the ministry!

Ignoring all of these “red flags” led to a monstrous web of destruction over the coming years for my marriage and the relationships with our children.  The aftermath of which, caused me to go to place of contemplating suicide once the extraction from the cult was made. Toward the end of our stay in this church, the Pastor hated me, his family hated me, others hated me. So much so that when I went with my friend to the hospital to help her take a gift to the pastor’s daughter-in-law, the Pastor became visibly angry that I was there with her. When I went to visit my friend in the hospital, all the ladies got up to leave when I entered the room and the pastor’s wife had to stop them from being so obvious.  When we left the church, the pastor made my closest friends break any and all contact with our family and, made them return all my letters unopened.  To this day, I can only surmise that my “non-conformity” to his “control” of our home, and my independent spirit, was the reason for this.  How’s that for Christian love?

Extracting our family from the cult was traumatic for me. I speak of this as well in my book. I had a complete emotional breakdown and suffered for two years in the confines of my home. I lived in fear that God was going to hurt me or kill me.  I was so depressed that I believed that suicide would be the only way to stop God’s hand of punishment on my family because, truly, I WAS THE PROBLEM. Because God had made me a FEMALE, everything bad that happened in our lives, was MY FAULT. If something bad happened in someone elses life, it was MY FAULT. Because I was so sinful, God hated me. I could never be good enough for God or, others.  If you became my friend, you would be cursed because of me.  That’s the way the IFB teachings made me think and feel. Therefore, if I took me out of the picture, God would bless my family.

We have since, by the grace and mercy of God, been freed from the cult mindset. Now, I realize that God allowed bad things to happen to me so that he could bring about His PURPOSES in my life and prepare me for the plan he has for me.  The extraction was traumatic because of the way it all happened; BUT, it was the ONLY way God could get me out of the cult so that he could use me for his purposes in exposing the lies of the religious system and giving victims a voice regarding their abuses.  God KNEW what I needed to go through in order to be awakened out of my religious slumber and mindset in order to realize “truth.”

After exiting the cult, my husband and I bought gifts for our children and sat them down and apologized to each of them for the way we raised them and asked for their forgiveness. With tears, we promised them that we would change.  WE DID.  We changed IMMEDIATELY in every way we possibly could and have never turned back.  Humbling ourselves and making a complete turn-a-bout is what salvaged our children’s love. They had been harboring much anger, hurt and bitterness toward us because of the disciplinary tactics of the IFB. I talk about these in my book, Religion’s Cell.  Thankfully, though, even though I have lost a relationship with many of my own siblings, I still have a relationship with my own children. I do not know if I could have survived losing them too.

What I have realized is that the teachings of the cult instilled “fear” in me that was unhealthy. It made me a serious person. It instilled a negative self-worth and self-esteem in me. Am I better today? Absolutely yes!  No more BONDAGE to a religious institution and its leaders! No more emotional and spiritual abuse!  No more TWISTED doctrines and theologies that degrade women!  No more verbal beatings from the pulpit about how wicked I am! Everyday I am thankful to be free. Everyday I am thankful for my husband and children. Every day I am thankful to be alive. I am thankful to the many victims of religious bondage and abuse that have also come into my life. I have since learned to love people “unconditionally” without any strings attached. I have a personal walk with God that surpasses anything I ever could have imagined. I do not attend church and I do not give to a church. I give to others individually.  I talk to God every day and know how much He loves me. He is pleased with me. He leads me along to do the tasks he has set before me. Yes, I am so thankful. If you or anyone you know experiences any of these “red flags,” I urge you to not ignore them. Many of these “red flags” are prevalent across all denominations where abusive churches are concerned. Do your best to extract yourself or, rescue your friends.

I am a 66 year-old college Sophomore, because I wrote about my life and won a scholarship…it took me 6 years to go from Freshman to Sophomore.

This letter is lengthy, but I hope you will read it in its entirety, because it encompasses 36 years of abuse and a journey of, overcoming, thriving and unbelievable (others say) resilience, grace and courage under “fire.”

I was married to a physically (lesser extent) and verbally abusive “man” for 31 years and naively went to speak with the pastor (of disaster); I ended up educating him, although it was to no avail. I found the courage to get a divorce and then fought the spiritual abuse for 18 months to try and stop the pastor from “counseling” any more women, because two of the women were suicidal (because of his “counseling” skills).

In the end, my name was put up on a big screen in front of the congregation (3 times and on my birthday, no less), followed by the words, “Conduct Unbecoming a Child of God.” Called to a meeting (16 “men”), not allowed to have a woman with me, and asked “Are you still having sex with your ex?!” The abuser was never called to a meeting.

I stood in front of the congregation (they did this to me on my birthday, no less….8 years ago on September 29th) and said, ‘Wow, I didn’t think this many people would show up to help me celebrate my birthday…They were grim as a heart attack; I was smiling. Their problem was that I allowed the x to live in my house after the divorce.

I was fortunate to have a therapist who was an expert in spiritual abuse, journey with me for those 18 months…he taught me the most valuable words I’d ever heard: “Restorative Justice.” This is what you did, this is how it made me feel. I have letters from Dr. Ron Enroth (which I have used in my memoir and attended a spiritual abuse conference in California). As usual in my life, something positive came out of the situation: http://www.churchabusepoetrytherapy.com, with over 21,000 hits.

At age 60 I won a scholarship because of what I wrote about my life and at 66, am a freshman in social work/counseling. I am the most resourceful, stubborn person I know…..I never give up (sometimes that is not a good thing).

I believe we are here to make a difference, and I have been working like a “Trojan” to do that.

One of my passions is to get the message out there regarding verbal abuse, because it is so prevalent in our society, that it goes unrecognized…..even therapists miss the dynamics.

Here are some of my accomplishments toward getting the message out there. Please feel free to share any of these links so that others can be comforted and helped that are being abused in a religious environment.

Soul Poetry

Oakland University Review of Alice Carleton

The Oakland Press on Alice Carleton

The Oakland Post on Alice Carleton

Alice’s Website

I’ve been writing to media types for close to 20 years, so that I may use my voice to help (global statistics) the 1 in 3 women who are abused…every 9 seconds a woman is assaulted.

As of the U.S. Census of 2010, there are approximately 52,321,404 women living in this nightmare/human rights violation.

I am a moderator of an abused survivors’ group and American Counseling Association and I keep submitting my paper, Society’s Hidden pandemic: Verbal Abuse, Precursor to Physical Violence and a Form of Biochemical Assault. I can not understand how they do not accept it, but I will keep trying.

I don’t think society understands that abuse affects ALL of us. The U.S. spends over 5.8 billion dollars a year as the result of violence. Abuse is the leading cause of injury….more than car accidents, muggings and rapes combined.

Over six million child abuse cases a reported every year.

At the end of my life, I hope that because I was here, someone’s burden was lightened.

I wrote to the producers of the OWN Network to propose a program entitled: The Silent Scream (stories of women living in fear, silence and shame) in abusive situations.

Except for 3 years in the army /Presidio of San Francisco at the height of the Vietnam war, hippies, peace, etc…..such culture shock, coming from a little town in Maine………..I have been in an abusive situation.

I didn’t meet my father until I was 33 (divorce situation), and never really thought much about not having a father; it just was…the way it was……60 years later, I wrote a book, taking the anguish of a lifetime: Sanctuary of the Soul (poems of anguish, healing, hope, comfort and celebration), and am honored and humbled at my endorsements: http://alicepoetry.webs.com/samplepoems.htm

My memoir: Ghost Child to Triumph (from a child with no voice, to someone who speaks up against injustice) is in the process of being edited.

Thank you so kindly for reading my story, and I look forward to your thoughts and would love to know what you think of my poetry, Sanctuary of the Soul

P.S. I grew up in extreme poverty:

(no phone, car, refrigerator, tub/shower) in a 120-year old tenement house with cockroaches and rats (they didn’t visit us too often; fear of my mother), in which snow came in through a crack in the wall (indoor olympics)…….molested by a drunken neighbor who broke into the apartment, after my mother had left me alone, had my hand held over an open fire by another drunken neighbor (woman).

I still cringe when I hear the nickname the tenement house had………. 50 years later. It is not a bad word, but the idea that people knew my house by a name was for me…..the final stigma/shame (worse than the abuse and poverty combined.)

Thank you for “hearing” my story!

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