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November 14, 2013

Ladies, Beware!

Protect yourself from ministry predators



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It all started my freshman year of college. It was my first time away from home, and I was excited. I was eager to meet new people and explore the world. I came from a small town, so with great excitement also came naïveté.

I volunteered that fall during campaign season to make some extra money; that’s when I met Pastor Brown.* He seemed to be such a godly man. He invited me to his church and even picked me up from campus. His church membership had only two adults and the rest were children, but that was okay; I didn’t mind. I was just happy to hear a message from God and worship with other believers. Pastor Brown asked me to volunteer at his church right away. I always loved serving God and the community, so I said yes! In the beginning, everything seemed fine.

After a short period of time, he seemed to develop feelings for me. He started to act more like a man who was pursuing me than a pastor who was three times my age. I began to receive hugs that seemed more like squeezes. They just didn’t feel right, but I thought I was overanalyzing it. It wasn’t until my roommate and her friend began to discuss their observations with me that I realized something wasn’t right.

I was very uncomfortable, but I loved the kids, so I kept serving. The next school year, my boyfriend made the same observations. I guess I didn’t want to believe it. Finally, a sergeant from the campus police department saw Pastor Brown pick me up one day and received negative vibes (or maybe discernment). I’m not sure what caused his concerns: the pastor picking me up in his freshly polished Cadillac, his flashy outfit that looked as if he were going out for a night on the town, or the awkward embrace he gave me that almost cut off my circulation. Whatever it was, the sergeant had a talk with me the next time he saw me. I was a work-study student in his office, and I guess he felt the need to protect me. He asked me many questions about the pastor and expressed his concerns for my safety and well-being. That’s when I finally took heed to my intuition and my friends’ observations. I stopped serving at Pastor Brown’s church. However, Pastor Brown continued to call me and ride around campus looking for me for approximately one year. It frightened me and hurt me at the same time. How could a married pastor do this?

Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of my encountering pastors and ministers inappropriately seeking me. Over the last 10 years, I have come across several men telling me and other women that God told them we were their wives. These men had no intentions on marrying me or my sisters in Christ. I’ve also encountered leaders making inappropriate comments to me and other women. I’ve seen men invite women to be part of a ministry, only to invite themselves into their lives.

I believe this problem is more prevalent in churches where the pastors or ministers have no accountability. The churches are not connected to a denomination, and/or the pastors started their own churches. From my observations, they find it easier to prey on single women, divorced women, or women having problems in marriage. In my case, I’m single. So I say to my fellow sisters in ministry, Be careful.

Setting Proper Boundaries

It is important to set appropriate boundaries when serving with men in ministry. We are serving the Lord based on the calling he has placed on our lives. We do not have to be treated as objects when we serve. It is important to address inappropriate comments when they are first made. It has been my experience that the more you allow inappropriate comments to be made, the more the comments continue and become even more offensive. We need to address the comments directly or report them to the proper authorities.

If a crime is committed, report it to the police. Do not allow church personnel to handle criminal behavior. In my experience as a former prosecutor, many times churches cover up sexual abuse. If it is not criminal behavior, I recommend going to another trusted leader in the church. If the matter is not appropriately addressed, you should seek another church where you can be safe. You should also know that you are not alone and it is not your fault. You should be free to serve the Lord without harassment.

“You’re My Wife”

I don’t know if this is in a handbook somewhere, but this line is used frequently in the church. Many men use this line with both new and mature Christians. I’ve heard it more since I’ve been serving in leadership roles. Many ministers have indicated to me that God has called us to serve the body of Christ “together.” Some men use these lines in an attempt to win our hearts, but they really haven’t sought the Lord about marriage. Ladies, we need to seek direction from the Lord for ourselves. When we get connected to the wrong men, it will affect not only our lives, but also the people we are called to minister to. I have discovered that I am not alone in my experience. I have found numerous websites that highlight thousands of women who have been victims of clergy misconduct.

In fact, Baylor University conducted a study of the prevalence of clergy sexual misconduct. This study defined clergy sexual misconduct in this way: “ministers, priests, rabbis, or other clergypersons or religious leaders who make sexual advances or propositions to persons in the congregations they serve who are not their spouses or significant others.” This study found that in an average congregation with about 400 people, where women made up 60 percent of the congregation, on average, seven women reported being victims of clergy sexual misconduct. Of the entire sample they used, 8 percent of people reported having knowledge of clergy sexual misconduct in their own faith community. Based on this finding, an average of 32 people in a congregation of 400 reported being affected by clergy sexual misconduct in their own congregations.

When clergy sexual misconduct occurs it affects everyone. The Baptist General Convention of Texas released a report in 2000 which noted that in the 1980s, 12 percent of ministers said they engaged in sexual intercourse with church members and nearly 40 percent acknowledged sexually inappropriate behavior of some kind. Richard Blackmon, in an unpublished 1983 doctorate thesis, quoted the same statistics. He went on to say that in the study, 16 ministers refused to answer the question about sexual intercourse with parishioners, so the numbers may have been even higher. Unfortunately, there is no true way to determine how many victims there are, since no national database tracks clergy abuse.

Ulterior Motives

The word of God warns us, “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Ladies, we must use wisdom and discernment when accepting ministry opportunities. In my experience, some people will ask you to serve in their ministry only to get to know you better. These individuals recognize your gifts and will use them to their advantage. They see your heart for God and your passion to serve in ministry. They’ll use them to start a relationship with you. When the opportunity presents itself, they will make their advances; therefore, we must pray and ask the Lord to guide us before accepting ministry opportunities.

Going Forward

It is a privilege to serve the Lord. It is an honor to be called into ministry. We must protect ourselves from the individuals who want to distract us. We are called to work alongside men in ministry to advance the kingdom of God; however, it is important to be wise. We need to trust the Holy Spirit living inside us to lead us away from danger. So let us continue to serve the Lord with boldness and with wisdom. I have learned the hard way, but it is my hope that others will not make the same mistakes I have.

If you have been a victim of abuse, it is important to seek counseling right away. I would also recommend reading more about clergy abuse at Hope for Survivors or Sharon’s Rose. These websites offer hope and encouragement for victims of abuse.

Ladies, let us continue to serve the Lord and let nothing distract us from this precious message we have been entrusted with.

*Name has been changed to protect identity.


Carmille L. Akande is a licensed minister, attorney, speaker, writer, and blogger based in Dayton, Ohio. She has a heart for outreach and discipleship ministries and blogs at CarmilleAkande.com.

Related Tags: sex & sexuality, sexual misconduct, sexual sin

Comments

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this article. Sexual harassment and misconduct of all kinds are far too prevalent within the clergy. And women are often expected to put up with inappropriate touching, suggestive remarks and creepy advances. Many pastors have no boundaries because of pride, power and narcissism. So many women are left with nowhere to turn. Thank you for stating: "If a crime is committed, report it to the police. Do not allow church personnel to handle criminal behavior. In my experience as a former prosecutor, many times churches cover up sexual abuse. If it is not criminal behavior, I recommend going to another trusted leader in the church. If the matter is not appropriately addressed, you should seek another church where you can be safe. You should also know that you are not alone and it is not your fault. You should be free to serve the Lord without harassment."

We have a leader at our church who believes it is ok to "sponsor" a woman. It is a 12 step program (biblical). These steps are intimate and you need to tell your story in order for your sponsor to best guide you. This man takes it upon himself to help girls who are sober about a month. These women are vulnerable -he wants to be the father/brother to them. When feelings grow. He lives them. I can attest to this. It has happened to me by this man. What do I DO? The pastor thinks he has stop sponsoring this woman. he has not.

We have a leader at our church who believes it is ok to "sponsor" a woman. It is a 12 step program (biblical). These steps are intimate and you need to tell your story in order for your sponsor to best guide you. This man takes it upon himself to help girls who are sober about a month. These women are vulnerable -he wants to be the father/brother to them. When feelings grow. He lives them. I can attest to this. It has happened to me by this man. What do I DO? The pastor thinks he has stop sponsoring this woman. he has not.

I am going through this right now. I reported the sexual misconduct to the appropriate leaders in our church, and my report was given by them to the Presbytery (which governs 135 churches in our denomination)...The Presbytery turned over my evidence as well as highly personal information about me that I included in my report to the predatory pastor before ever bringing him in to question him...They claim they are "following all procedures" and have verbally admitted to me "that they wish this would all go away"...I left this church which had been my home for over 10 years...now attending a church that has zero tolerance for this kind of behavior...and the predatory pastor... who was only hired about 8 months ago, is still there...I would appreciate prayers for Justice and Truth! Thank you:)

I really appreciate your writing this article. It hit very close to me as I too was sexually harassed and pursued by my former, 3 x my age, married pastor after I was first saved and seeking to serve in a local church. Because I could sing, the pastor asked me to lead the music ministry, which I did gladly as I wanted to use my gift for the Lord's glory. However, after a year at the ministry, Pastor was always giving me gifts. See, I was a divorced woman with 2 small children and whenever he learned of a need I had, ie my car fixed, or some other repair for my house, he would be conveniently available. Then.. what I thought was out of the blue, after a bible study, he asked me to kiss him passionately? huh? my stomach begin to turn! I respected this man and truly thought he was called by God to pastor the sheep, but he apparently had been harboring thoughts about me for some time as he admitted. He said he dreams about me, he always desired me and on and on. I got in my car quickly and drove off! I remember for a month afterwards, I would continue to check the locks on my house and windows, I was nervous and feared he would come to my home. I returned to church after 2 sundays and he was teaching on immorality. Really? I was sick. I left the church after that, I couldn't stand to sit under his teaching as I felt he was untruthful. He held a meeting with his church board and said that he and I had been having an affair for months! oh my! then he told a close pastor friend that he was in love with me. I was ostracized by the members of the church, except for one couple who knew that the pastor had been lying. That was more than 10 years ago and today I am a Christian recording artist, happily married to a God fearing man, and we are being trained to serve as Pastors. God is so good! I suffered from disillusionment and disgust as well as being hurt by Ministry Predators, but I trusted my God and He has been true to His word! That man no longer has a church, his wife has left him and his children moved to another state with his grandchildren. I see him now, passing out tracks of the gospel near the courthouse where I live and guess what? I wave and say "hello, I pray you are doing well."

I think what you had was a guy with one heck of a crush that led him to lying about you to cover his hurt at you not accepting him. He took his hurt to the extreme of getting even. When you heard he told the board he was having an affair with you, you should have confronted the board with your truth even if they didn't believe you. Personally, I would have seen a lawyer after his board announcement to see how you could legally handle it for the simple reason you need to stop any smearing of your reputation/harassment. Had you done that, you might still be in your original church. What you did by leaving was give his side more credence which remains in people's minds. Your leaving looked like a break up between the two of you. It doesn't matter if he was eventually kicked out because you really don't know why he was kicked out, it may have been for any other reason than having an affair with you. That's why you despite your embarrassment have to give your version to the board to make them question so as to not continue to ruin your reputation. The first complaint may end up with doing nothing but any future complaints end up backing you up by adding to your complaint. Your reputation is valuable to you. As a Christian you have to maintain a good reputation so as to make your encouraging others to follow Jesus more acceptable and this alone makes your reputation worth fighting for. And if you have to get a lawyer to protect your reputation, do it.

Have had similar experience in a "start up" church ~ between sexual predators at church and those on "Christian" dating websites, ladies must be extra-careful these days not to be manipulated by men who "claim" to be of God! The Bible says we are "sent as sheep among the wolves" ~ let us also remember that sometimes the wolves are in sheep's clothing to trap us! It's a good idea to never be alone with a man from church, regardless of his title/position (much like keeping the Sunday School room door open to avoid sexual harassment charges.) Use your discernment and pay attention to any concerns others may voice to you; they may see what you do not.

Barbie, is there a board of elders or deacons at your church. Is there another governing board that you can reach out to? Does your 12 step program have a national or state board? I would start at those places. You need to report his behavior, because he will continue to violate women. In many instances in my life, I wish I could have acted sooner. God will give you the strength and its okay to take someone with you for support. We must speak out about this type of evil.

Barbie, have you tried speaking with the board of elders or deacons? Does your denomination have another governing board? Does your 12 step program have a state or national board? If so, I would start there. God will give you the strength and there are so many people out there who will support you. We must speak out against this type of evil. If I could do it over again, I would have spoken out a long time ago. And, Janet, I'm praying for you and there are so many support groups out there! Ladies, thank you for your thoughts and your strength in the Lord.

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