I never planned on telling my story.
I have been silent for 13 years about the married pastor who was inappropriate with me.
In light of the Bill Hybels of Willow Creek accusations, my heart is to help the body of Christ find mercy, grace, and understanding. Not just for the women but for Bill as well.
I hope by sharing my story you’ll have some insight into why the body of a church won’t always find out the facts. In short, I believe God gives people time to repent because He loves them. If you aren’t personally involved or know first hand what happened, it’s natural to take sides with the person you trust. I get it. I’m not judging anyone’s choice. But I pray you are open to being loving to everyone involved in the situation. Remember they have families who are going through this too. (You can read more about how to respond to all parties here.)
The thing is … I’ve been accused before of things I didn’t do. I’ve also been on the other side where someone did something and they wouldn’t admit it. In both cases, I lost friends and it hurt my ministry. I had to put it in God’s hands. It took a while, but He restored everything I lost. And the truth came out.
I’ve seen threads on social media where people ask questions like:
- Why did the women wait so long to say something?
- If an investigation showed there wasn’t any evidence why should we believe otherwise?
- Would God really bless someone with so much influence if they had been guilty of such things for so long?
- How can we accuse a man that has shown nothing but good character and leadership?
- How does this help the body of Christ to keep talking about this? Can’t we just move on?
I will answer some of those questions at the end of this post. But first, I want to share my story so you see how complicated it can be. There are things we did right and wrong. But I can tell you, we did the best we could with what we knew at the time.
I had been walking with Jesus for just under a year. I was the worship leader at a small church just outside of Chicago. One Saturday afternoon, I went to the church to pick up something for Sunday. The Sr. Pastor (PJ) was there and asked me to come into his office to discuss a meeting we had planned for Sunday evening with the worship leadership team. I stood in the doorway and after a bit, he asked me to sit down. I didn’t think anything of it. Then he dropped some innuendos. He said things like, “I’ve thought … why are you single? I mean you are a great woman of God.” He made other comments and asked questions that made me feel uncomfortable. But I shook off that feeling and answered his questions about my desire for marriage. I saw him as a big brother and thought he was about to say he was praying for me.
Then he said, “I’ve felt a chemistry between us.”
I froze … nothing moved except for the tears that ran down my face. He asked why I was crying. I told him, “”Because I don’t feel the same way.” I’d been around long enough to know when a man was hitting on me. Before I was saved I had to deal with a lot of inappropriate behavior from men. Back then I knew how to slap a face or act like it didn’t happen. But I never expected it from a man who preached the gospel every Sunday.
I don’t know why I didn’t just get up and walk out. I wish I would’ve.
He went on to say things like, “I’ve thought about if we were both single, would we date? Yes, I think we would.” Or “I’ve always wanted to be with someone with brown eyes like you.” Or “Whenever I watch you lead worship … “
I’ll skip the rest of the details.
I went home and couldn’t even cry. I was totally numb. I was sick to my stomach but I still had to lead worship the next morning. And to make it worse, the entire worship team decided to not play because they were upset that I wouldn’t let the violin player be on the team because she was unapologetically living with her boyfriend. I had a piano player friend from another church coming in to accompany for me so I didn’t have to lead an a cappella set.
But I’m resilient. And since I was a professional actress for over two decades I knew the show must go on. I also think my love for God and His church was so pure … I didn’t want the congregation to not have worship the next day. I was most likely in survival mode.
At one point while I was singing, I got choked up and had a huge lump in my throat. I continued to move my lips and just let everyone think the microphone went out. I pulled myself together. After service, I helped at the new member luncheon. Then we had the leadership team meeting to discuss the worship team “strike.”
My day ended at about 9 p.m. As I got in my car to go home, I started to shake. I don’t know how I made it to an elders house. I was in a fog. I blurted out what happened the day before. The elder said, “I knew you were going to say that.” I was embarrassed to share what happened with another man. I felt shame. I finally cried.
This elder was in his 30’s and had only been on the board for a short time. His wife was my prayer partner. He called Focus on the Family. They had a hotline for pastors who struggle and apologized that they didn’t have anything for the “victim.”
The next day I went to work. I overheard PJ tell my boss, the ministry director, “I don’t know what’s wrong with Jill lately. I think we need to let her go.”
I went back to my office. Got on my knees and cried out to God.
My boss came in with a fury. “What is wrong with you!”
I was scared. Remember, I was just a year in the Lord … so I really had no grid for any of this.
I told him what happened. His face softened and he said I’ll be right back. A little later, he returned, sat down and looked at the ground. To my surprise, PJ admitted he said those things to me. But the pastor also said it was the enemy and he didn’t feel that way anymore. It was like no big deal. But my boss knew better. Years before he was an elder at a church where the Sr. Pastor had an affair.
The Next Few Days
Things unraveled very quickly in the next few days. Now, I know I was in shock and had a traumatic experience. But at the time, I didn’t know how to process it or what to do.
I didn’t tell family or friends because I didn’t want to gossip. I wanted to honor God and forgive my brother in Christ. It all happened so fast that it hadn’t crossed my mind to see a counselor. And each day brought a new accusation so I was just trying to survive.
By Tuesday, PJ’s wife called me to tell me how I sinned … because I should’ve just brought it to them and not involved the elders.
PJ started to twist things I said and made it seem like I’d come on to him. He said he got the feeling I was interested in him when I shared the story of why my marriage failed. That made me mad … I shared that because when your pastor asks you why you got divorced, you want to tell the truth. And it was the first time I was taking responsibility for my own sin and failure in the marriage.
The elders asked me what I needed. I said I didn’t want to be alone with PJ. One day he blatantly came into my office and said, “Come on … this whole thing is ridiculous.” He wasn’t sorry. He accused me of overreacting. I knew I couldn’t lead worship again … not after he revealed he lusted after me from the first row.
I resigned the next day. The church was left in the dark as to why I left. And when someone asked me, I told them to ask the elders.
The elders decided to let PJ stay on and preach the next weekend. Ironically he preached on the fruit of the spirit of self-control.
I must give credit to the elder board. They didn’t know what to do and yet, supported me the best they could. The elders gave me a small severance. Some of their wives reached out to me and one thanked me for not having an affair with the Sr. Pastor. I understood they couldn’t be there for me. It could’ve been much worse without their support.
In The Next Few Months
I was called into a meeting with someone from the Baptist Association (I think that was the name of it). I went because they said they needed to hear the details firsthand in order to help PJ and his wife. I wanted to be a part of whatever healing they or the church needed. But it was like I was on trial without an attorney. I was grilled on every accusation and asked to re-count every part I had been trying to forget. Can you even imagine the scene? I was one woman in a room full of men. PJ snickered and rolled his eyes as I retold the things he said and did that day. The association guy told the elders to not admit fault because I could sue them because I had it all written down in my journal. Granted, the elders were not against me, but I was re-traumatized. And I was so confused.
I finally went to see a Biblical counselor. She didn’t say a word the whole time. She sent me away with a pamphlet on forgiveness. I wasn’t struggling with unforgiveness. Honestly. I was praying for mercy for PJ and truly, I wasn’t mad at him. I was sad for him and his marriage. I just wanted a safe place to cry and share how I was hurting. And have someone offer compassion. Or advise me on what to do.
It’s not a surprise that I couldn’t find a job. I was broken. But worse than that, I didn’t know what to say about why I left my previous position.
Six months later, they decided to tell the church. They asked me to attend a meeting where they planned on explaining to the body why I left and PJ’s apology. I knew details were not going to be shared but I was also told there would be repentance. PJ said, “From what I’ve been told, I was inappropriate.” I was blindsided. The elders were surprised and unhappy about his speech too. He spoke like a politician and it felt like a well-polished sermon without any truth. Then I endured the woman in the pew in front of me who turned around, pointed a finger at me and yelled, “WHAT DID YOU DO!?”
That wasn’t the worst part of the story. To me the worst part was after that last meeting, PJ continued to do things. Other women came out with similar stories. He ended up being fired and moving out of state … to pastor a different church. And from what I heard, the church dwindled to about 20 attendees.
I didn’t want to ruin PJ’s life or expose him to the church. I wanted him to get the help he needed. He needed help with his marriage, his lust, his lying, and unrepentant heart. I wanted nothing more than for him to be able to find healing and continue to fulfill his calling. As believers, we should be the example to the world. We can make mistakes, repent and after a time of counseling (or whatever else needs to be done) be restored and continue to serve God.
I’m not sure I ever saw repentance from PJ. I never received an apology. But I pray he is thriving in his relationship with God.
WHAT YOU CAN LEARN FROM MY STORY
- I didn’t tell anyone right away. Why? My guess? I was shocked. I couldn’t process. I went into survival mode.
- The elders didn’t know what to do and it took time to figure it out.
- There is way more going on behind the scenes that you could ever imagine. Good and bad. But it’s not anyone’s business to know those details as they are being worked out. It’s not a jury trial.
- I think the women who go through this are in a tough place (I know I’m biased). Because we have been violated and it’s hard to heal and defend yourself at the same time when others do find out and attack you too.
- We tried to keep it between the parties that needed to be involved. I didn’t tell anyone and I didn’t hint at what happened when people asked. Why? The elders were trying to get him into a program to work on his marriage and dig deep into the real issues.
- Because I was visible and loved, people wondered what happened to me and pressed them to make a statement. Looking back, I don’t know what I would’ve done as an elder. But it allowed things to become clear that it wasn’t an isolated incident. But I don’t think it’s a necessary thing. I mean, if I sinned and repented I wouldn’t want everyone to know the details. And it just brings shame to that person like a scarlet letter. That’s a whole other subject but if this is something you want to learn more about, I recommend reading Culture of Honor by Danny Silk.
WHY WOMEN DON’T COME FORWARD
When this happens to you, it is the hardest thing to process. When you’ve admired a man and he violates your boundaries, it is hard to think clearly about what to do. Especially when the list of consequences are so overwhelming and can erupt like an active volcano. You never know what will happen. There is a real chance you could lose everything.
There is fear of being fired for saying no. Or fear from how the spouse, family members or close friends will respond. Or will they believe you? When you confront a predator they get defensive and often twist the truth. If they are a person of influence you are even more concerned about your future. They can ruin your reputation. You can lose friends, relationships or community. You can lose security or income. You fear being blamed for doing something to cause it. I could write a whole piece of encouragement to the women about how God is bigger … but that’s for another post.
Sometimes the process of going through confrontation, meetings, and going over the incident again takes a lot of your life. It drains you emotionally and physically. Depending on what is going on … it may be better for the woman and her family to just move on. This is especially the case if the man is powerful, you think it’s an isolated incident or they apologize to you. But sometimes it’s just not what you want to go through publicly. I’m not saying its right, but it is one reason women don’t come forward.
But a delay in coming forward doesn’t mean they are making it up.
ANSWERING OTHER QUESTIONS
Just because there isn’t any evidence to prove an inappropriate conversation or touch, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. I mean, it’s not like we think about getting out our phone to take a video or picture at that moment. All we can think about is making it stop as quickly as possible. I froze. But there have been other times, I’ve pretended I didn’t hear the sexual comment or just got out of there. I can’t believe I’m even addressing this question … yes, investigate. But the hard proof isn’t what you will find in these cases. Let’s stop using that as a reason to not believe women.
Just because someone is anointed and has a thriving ministry doesn’t mean they are walking in close relationship with God. The gifts and calling are irrevocable. I know there have been times in my ministry where I’m totally burned out and yet God still uses me and does awesome things. It stinks to admit that but it’s true. I also know that when I’m tired, I’m most likely to fall to sin. And I can only imagine the bigger the ministry, the more you have to keep up … and lose. I can see why someone with a prominent ministry would lie about inappropriate behavior. They have a lot to lose. But pride does come before the fall. Truth always comes out. Personally, I’d rather lose the admiration of man if it meant I’d be right with God.
If it’s been made public we can move forward in our lives but we shouldn’t “move on” and forget about the issue and just let it go. And the person that needs to heal shouldn’t be left to fight for truth alone. The person who was inappropriate needs to heal too just in a different way. To not deal with it means to hurt the Church. Or maybe hurt the next woman who comes along. But do we really want unrepentant leaders discipling us? The body of Christ is not Hollywood … we can’t just let things go and pick up the next piece of gossip. Every unresolved or hidden sin leaves a door open to the enemy to attack believers and the Church. If we love the Church we fight for her even when she wants us to go away. Throwing stones isn’t the way to resolve it but fighting for love is God’s way. It may seem violent to love someone into repentance… but the cross demonstrated it’s effectiveness. It must be dealt with but that doesn’t mean the public needs to be a part of that.
HOW TO RESPOND TO THE OFFENDER
This has been a very long post so maybe I’ll write more on this someday. I’ve had more than one experience with a spiritual leader who was inappropriate. So, unfortunately, I’ve learned a lot.
But if I had to say one thing it would be this. Love anyway.
I think of Romans 2:4 that says “His kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” If someone offends me I want to be kind. If kindness leads me to repent to God, then why not offer the same opportunity to others? If they don’t repent, we can still walk in forgiveness, kindness, and love. I think there is some confusion about how we forgive but still choose to be separated from someone or their ministry. Forgiveness isn’t the same as reconciliation. We can forgive but we don’t go back to the way the relationship was before until they’ve repented. And even then, trust takes time to get back and the fruit of repentance needs to be seen first.
The offender needs prayer because they are not OK with God. I asked God about how to pray for PJ. So I prayed for him to draw near to God. But because PJ wasn’t close to God when he did that to me. By the time he said something to me, he’d been meditating on it for some time. And as long as he wouldn’t repent, he was still turning from God. See, they can’t fulfill their calling if they aren’t willing to humble themselves, say they are sorry and ask for forgiveness. That’s a big deal! I don’t want anyone to miss their destiny. I think about how Stephen used his last breath to pray for those that were stoning him. He prayed for mercy on them. Have you thought about who Stephen was praying for? Saul! Who became PAUL! They are under attack too … but by an enemy, they can’t see. We need to pray for them to be back in right relationship with God because future generations may depend on it.
I can’t say why other women don’t share their stories right away or ever … but if you haven’t gone through it, please don’t blame them for their process. That is part of the reason they don’t come forward. Have compassion for what we’ve gone through. It often takes time and money to heal emotionally and spiritually. They have to consider all outcomes and weight it. How will it affect their families, jobs, health etc? You can’t even imagine the consequences they are dealing with because of someone else’s sin.
In the same way, if someone doesn’t repent, we need to trust God has them in the process too.
We are all a work in progress and God’s love is for everyone. Let’s not get in a tizzy over where someone is in theirs. Predator, offender, victim, accuser, liar … whatever name you put on them isn’t who they are in Christ. They were made for better than their behavior and they aren’t there yet. They may be broken but not beyond restoration. Walk your path. Do your journey. Be faithful in prayer. God will heal the brokenhearted, set captives free and restore all that was lost or stolen.
Be at peace, my friends. The truth will come out.
P.S. When the truth does come out and you are trying to make sense of it all … or need to know how to best support the person offended, read my blog post to the bystander.
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