by Stephanie Logan
This seems an appropriate time to share the tale of this church cover-up because eighteen years ago my world was turned upside down. And, as it is prone to do, the church prioritized its own reputation and protected and coddled the man responsible.
In 2001 my husband (now ex) was in ministry when he confessed to an “emotional affair” with his secretary. Despite this, he was ordained as his mistress and I watched. The men standing around him all believed that they had the gift of discernment and that God had spoken to them and guided them to bestow upon my husband the title Reverend. Somehow though, God never told them about the mistress looking on or the fact that the affair was far more than emotional.
The summer following his ordination we were commissioned to serve with our denomination and their relief and development arm in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. I could write a book about our two-year stint in Mongolia but for this story I will skip to the end.
After a long spell of suspicious behavior, my husband had a come to Jesus moment in September 2004. In reality, he was forced into a come to Jesus moment when he contracted an STD, and I figured it out. After over a week of denial, he took advantage of a visiting evangelist from the States who was calling people to repentance. That night I awoke to him sitting on our bed staring out the large window of our top floor apartment at the lights of the 50s era Soviet neighborhood that we called home. He sat there and confessed to the years long affair in the States, a more recent affair in Mongolia, and visits to the neighborhood *massage* parlors. Suddenly all the young girls who had shown up at our door, looking for the tall American, made sense. He also confessed to having stolen money from the Mongolian church and our cash emergency funds to pay off the mistress though he claimed it was because he was so “full of compassion” for her.
I was stunned. I was broken at the reality of what I was hearing. His ordination was invalid, our commissioning was invalid, the money spent to send and train us and to care for our family had been spent on deception. Though the fault was not mine, I felt a crushing guilt and shame. And then fear. What diseases had he shared with me? On that day I began operating in a cloud of anxiety and with a goal of holding my family together that overshadowed every choice I made for more than a decade after.
He then began a process that is rather common in evangelical and fundamentalist circles.
I’m talking an every day kind of common.
My husband confessed over the phone to our team leader. Then a denominational VP and the head of our development arm were on an Asian tour, so they stopped, and he gave a confession to them in the privacy of our home. I sat beside him like one of those wives of fallen preachers on TV: quiet, submissive, and always willing to forgive as tears trickle down her cheeks. You’ve seen it.
Then they required a private confession to our adult team members and so we packed our bags and traveled north where he confessed, again with me by his side, and everyone in the room extended forgiveness. Then we packed up our most basic belongings and returned to the States to a rural Wisconsin church that had pledged to support our team.
The church in Mongolia was not made aware of all the details. Neither was the church that had sent us.
I was shocked again when we arrived in Wisconsin because the members of that church had no idea why. They were told only that our family was facing “difficulty” and that we needed “healing”. The members of the congregation (having been deceived) donated an apartment where we lived for free for three months as we settled in, furniture, household items, groceries, cash donations, and odd jobs to help us as if we were returning heroes. Someone even offered to pay for our children to go to the private church school. Literally tens of thousands of dollars were offered. I protested repeatedly to the pastor but was assured that this was the way it was done to “protect” me and my kids. But I didn’t feel protected. Again, the clouds settled in thick and heavy. In this protection I had to keep secrets.
After we had been in Wisconsin for about a month, the final confession and discipline meeting was called. This would be the official confession. Records would be kept. Important men would be present. Consequences would be handed down.
But I decided that I could not handle hearing another confession. I would go to the church, but I would not sit in on that meeting.
On that day, we arrived at the church and I settled myself into a comfortable chair with a book to ride it out – until the discipline committee appeared. The senior pastor’s wife and the wife of the man who would serve as my husband’s accountability partner came directly to me to assure me that I had their support during the meeting, but I told them that I didn’t need it as I wouldn’t be attending. They did not like hearing that.
Didn’t I know that this meeting was for me? Didn’t I know how much I would be helped by seeing leadership hold my husband accountable? This was part of my “healing”. Didn’t I know that they needed to know everything so that they would know how to support me?
I still didn’t want to attend. My mind screamed at me to tell them no.
But what if I didn’t and that made us look bad? What if the denominational leadership didn’t like it? What if they thought I wasn’t being supportive?
I gave in to the manipulation and fear.
I took a seat next to my husband, put on my forgiving wife face, and listened yet again. Only, things he hadn’t yet shared were now admitted: things that crushed what was already broken in me. I wanted to stand up and run from the room but it was as if I was frozen in time. My body wouldn’t cooperate with my mind. And I wasn’t being addressed. I wasn’t being asked how I was, what I was feeling. My purpose was to act as a support for the very person who was repeatedly hurting me. I was doing what was required of a godly woman.
After the confession was considered satisfactory, the members of the group were allowed to share their disappointment and express their forgiveness. Then the terms of the “punishment” were laid out. My husband would be provided professional counseling at no cost and the therapist would report results to the leadership. Added to this would be a form of spiritual counseling that is the love child of defunct pop-psychology and exorcism. This would be performed by the senior pastor of the church. My husband would be required to meet regularly with his accountability partner, regularly attend church, and not involve himself in any questionable behavior. In other words: look and act like an exceptional Christian man. If he met the standards and lived two years in this manner, then his ordination would be restored, debts would be forgiven, and we would be returned to ministry. When they asked for our agreement, I nodded numbly.
And then the real reason for my presence became clear. The denominational VP who was present announced that we were never to speak of the details, never to speak of the reason for our family difficulties, and never share with anyone what had been shared in that room. And when the discipline was finished, the records of everything done would be erased and forgotten. The entire group was sworn to silence. In the middle of trauma responses that I didn’t understand, I was sworn to silence.
Even though I had lived through a previous cover-up and should have known better by this point, I remained in the church. Just as I accepted my place in the congregation (silent, submissive, and leaning on male leadership), I accepted my place in my home. I doubled down on any behaviors expected of godly, Biblical women. Where I had once been someone who would teach, I became someone who kept quiet and felt guilt at even answering a question in Sunday School. Where I had once been a pants wearer and liked my heels, I became hyper conscientious about modesty: wearing loose dresses and skirts and doing nothing that would draw the attention of a man. I took my husband’s lead and homeschooled our children becoming an exclusive keeper at home and making everything possible from scratch because that is what godly women do. I submitted to dangerous philosophies for women and children that have taken years for my kids to recover from.
I did all of this with the assurance that if I had problems in my marriage, it must be my own fault. I must not have submitted enough or been modest enough or provided enough sexual attention. If I were to be like Christ and become nothing, then it would turn things around. That is what I was told. That is what I read – everywhere. Christian bookstore shelves are full of such nonsense.
My husband made it through the two years successfully. And again, he was treated as if a hero. He received congratulations from men in high positions and an offer for our family to go back, not just to ministry but, to Mongolia. But something was broken in one of our children that I would only much later come to understand, and I knew far too many bitter missionary kids. I didn’t want that for my child. And trust had not been rebuilt with me. I wanted to see if my husband could be trusted when no one in authority was watching. So, I refused to return to ministry until I could be sure things were truly well in our home.
They never were.
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.
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