I imagine that there are as many ways for churches to cover up their corruption as there are churches. Though shame and intimidation are primary, pastors and church boards and denominational leadership can be quite creative with their methods.
I have a handful of church cover-up experiences that I could share. But there are two that I think best illustrate the patterns that most churches follow. This is one of them.
When I was a sophomore in high school, my church was looking for a new youth pastor. The main candidate was a major leader in our district youth movement, but he had made a bad name for himself among the female members of our youth group. During the previous summer, he had been leading our district during our national youth conference and had entered our girls’ dorm bathroom on multiple occasions as girls showered and got ready for bed. It made us very uneasy to see him after that and when our church began courting him for the youth ministry position, we made our concerns known to the leadership.
But during the interview process he made clear that his bad behavior was not intentional. He said that it was related only to that event and our bad behavior (we were going to bed late) and we could be sure it would never happen again. The church leadership really wanted him and the clout he brought to the position, so he apologized to us and then the church leadership told us that we were not to bring up the issue within the congregation. They called him to be our youth pastor and he moved with his wife and children to the small parsonage at the edge of the church property.
Within a year he was showing clear signs that dropping into the girls’ bathroom during events was a habit and he began to get very nasty with his wife and some of the female members of the youth group. During that year he also began to plan events that were targeted almost exclusively to the female members of the group. Small groups of us would plan to go to these events and, since the groups were so small, he would invite us to meet at his home and drive us in his personal vehicle rather than in the church van with a group of sponsors. On the last occasion that I remember, I showed up on his porch and knocked on the door. He answered the door wearing only a robe and obviously having just exited the shower. His mullet was still dripping. Another girl was already there in his living room and his wife and children weren’t home. As I entered, he went down the hall and called to me to follow him. As I got to the door of his bedroom, he invited me in and began to pull clothing from his closet as he asked me what he should wear. I paused. I don’t remember what I said, if anything, because all I wanted to do was get out of there. I excused myself and went back out to the living room and sat with the other girl. At 16 years old, I knew it wasn’t ok, but I didn’t have words to put to what had happened.
I couldn’t shake the creepiness of the event and his increasing nastiness in general. He would yell at his wife – insult her appearance and criticize her parenting skills – in front of the whole youth group. He would target certain girls and make fun of them.
I wasn’t the only girl in the group getting the creeps and a few of us discussed amongst ourselves how to handle the situation especially because we had been told very clearly that we could never talk about the subject of his entering bathrooms. I was already a student of the Bible at that point, so I looked and found Matthew 18 where it says that if your brother sins against you, then you should confront him. If he denies it, then you should take witnesses. If he denies it a second time, then you should take him before the church. I naively thought that applied to all believers within the church, but I still had a lot to learn about the difference between how men and women are valued in the faith.
We decided that I would speak to him first since the bathroom incidents were off limits and the bathrobe incident had happened to me. I asked to speak with him after youth group one night. We stepped into the stairwell for privacy, and I felt that creepy feeling all over. I kept my distance and I told him how uncomfortable the incident and his nasty comments were making me. I asked him to stop. Like I said, I was naive.
His response was less than accommodating. He questioned me, turned the tables on me, and told me that I was being unforgiving and bringing up the past. I hadn’t. I had been very careful not to, but of course his behavior had nothing to do with the past and everything to do with DARVO.
It would be nearly 30 years and several more cover-ups before I learned that acronym.
Since my youth pastor didn’t respond well to me, the group of girls agreed that we would all go together and try. We would obey the Bible. It is amazing how bad that idea always turns out for women.
As you may have guessed at this point, he didn’t respond any better to all of us as a group. We decided to keep quiet about it and go to our parents and ask them what to do. We all used that Matthew 18 passage. We wouldn’t gossip. We would be *Biblical*. This was the way problems were to be dealt with in the church. We were being as good as we knew how to be.
Some of the parents didn’t want trouble and their daughters left the group. But three of us (if I remember correctly) remained and the senior pastor agreed to hold a meeting between those of us who remained, our parents, and the youth pastor. We were told a day and time to attend – Sunday evening after the service on the following week.
Suddenly, I started getting ugly looks from people at school. Two guys asked me straight out why I was trying to “take down” the youth pastor. I couldn’t believe they even knew something was going on. Who told them? That Sunday, those of us in the group were treated like outcasts. There were whispers everywhere.
That Sunday evening, I remember praying. I was still naive. I honestly believed the spirit of god would reveal truth like he was supposed to, and we would all sing Kumbaya while holding hands.
Along with our parents, the girls gathered outside the room where we were supposed to meet the pastors . Then we opened the doors to walk in as a group. But there weren’t just two pastors there. Instead, there was a semi-circle of chairs set up. On the far left were seated the elders of the church, then the senior pastor, the youth pastor and his wife (holding hands), a couple of youth sponsors, and then on the far right a crowd of parents. It wasn’t a meeting as we had been told. It was a crucifixion. The church had already decided to take us down.
They let us speak for a short time. Each time one of the girls talked we were challenged, or our character was attacked by one of those present. When I brought up the bathrobe incident, it was denied. When we said that we were offended by how he treated his wife, she denied it had ever happened. When we mentioned the bathroom incidents had continued, we were called liars and told that we were being unforgiving and bringing up the past. It seemed there were arguments and remarks prepared for everything we had to say.
It ended with rebukes. Not for the man of god who had more than crossed the line in his behavior, but for us. We were told that our behavior would not be tolerated. We were scolded for being gossips, though we had not. We were told in no uncertain terms that we were never to bring up the incidents again. There was prayer and an offering of reconciliation if we could behave ourselves.
I didn’t go to youth group later that week and when the next Sunday rolled around it became clear that we were now pariahs. Some people even physically turned their backs on us. Eventually, all the families involved left the congregation and the youth pastor continued his ministry until approximately one year later when he was caught with his pants down. He was put on a hush-hush discipline. His family stayed on in the parsonage and he was later restored to ministry in another location though that did not last. He and his wife eventually divorced.
For almost eight years no one said a thing and there was a distance between me and most all the old youth group members. One of the girls left the church permanently then, but I would not take that step for more than two decades.
I later foolishly returned to that congregation and most of the people acted as if nothing had ever happened. Just one man, an old friend of my Papa, came to me and apologized. He gently touched my shoulder one Sunday after the service and said, “We should have listened to you, Stephanie. I’m sorry that we didn’t.” Then he walked away. That was all that was ever said.
I have personally seen this pattern repeated many times in my years in the church. And I have heard even more stories from other women, and the occasional man, who have faced much the same thing. It is as common as churches themselves.
This should have been my first and my last church cover-up experience, but I proved to be a glutton for punishment.
Former evangelical homeschool mom and one-time missionary and pastor’s wife, Stephanie Logan, aka Snicklefritz, writes from her life story and four decades of experience in the evangelical movement. Her views and stories are her own.
Copyright © 2022 snicklefritzchronicles.com
One response to “A Tale of Two Cover-ups: The Girl”
Truly appalling. It proves the political nature of churches- they aren’t about faith, but about maintaining power and control. I wish more folks would realize this.
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