Dear Evangelical Christians: It’s Time to Talk About The Abuse

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By Dragonfly Lady ~

There's a lot of media coverage about sexual abuse in catholic churches these days, and I hear a lot of scoffing, pointing and shaming and condemnation in the protestant movements, particularly in the high-profile Evangelical or Apostolic circles. Acknowledging that it happens on their own turf is a different story. So, I've decided to open up and share mine, because I know first-hand what that looks like. So... Deep Breath...

There's a picture of me as a little girl. I have it in a photo album I don't look in much and I'm not sure why I keep it. It actually makes me ill to look at it to this day.

In the picture, I am about 6 or 7 years old. I am smiling, with an ice cream cone in my hand and a pink bow in my hair with ringlets bouncing around my face. The Shirley Temple-styled curls and bow were done by an aunt for a school play I was in the day before. I wanted to keep them in as long as possible because I thought they were so pretty, despite having natural curly hair myself. My curls were not the same.

In this same picture, I am standing in front of a Chevy Citation. It was a dreadful beige hatchback car that my parents had just proudly purchased. Our reward for being good while the transaction took place, was a chocolate ice cream on a cone. It's not that particular event that I hate about the picture. It's what was lurking in the shadows that particular day that prevents me from enjoying the happy moment in that picture.

The realization hit me that nothing had been done. Nothing and no one had stopped him. He was still travelling from place to place, preaching and likely taking advantage of more children.

On that day, we drove home to our little house on the highway to our little village, with our brand new vehicle. Waiting there for us was a cheesy 80's Daytona, with Florida license plates, and a man, smiling, hair neatly combed and sprayed, leaning against the vehicle, sporting an orange-tinted tan and those awful blue and white 70's style shorts that sent “Three’s Company” vibes out. It was Larry.

Larry, whom we were encouraged to call “Uncle Larry” by our parents, was an Evangelical Christian preacher, considered an evangelist in our circles, ordained in a similar Evangelical organization in the United States, and endorsed by other Apostolic Commission of Canada-ordained ministers, including my parents, who were both ordained and operating a church in my small home region in the Province of Quebec, Canada. He had met my parents sometime earlier, through another associate minister, “Sister Flo”. We called her “Sister Flo”because she was a fellow Evangelical member and leader, and as was and still is the custom in some evangelical circles, that was her expected title from us. She was a fiery red-headed Italian-American, from the State of New York, and also traveled and preached, sometimes with Larry. She had brought him along to some tent services my parents attended and took part in.

Larry would have been somewhere in his late 30's at the time, divorced, with two children he wasn’t allowed to see very much at the time. At least that was what everyone understood about him. In hindsight, I wonder why no one saw that as a red flag. Not that there should be discrimination towards divorced dads, but the fact that a leader in an organization that condemned divorce, even in some extreme situations, was still traveling all over the United States and Canada, seemingly with an active ordination and endorsements, yet his own children were kept at a distance from him.

Larry was a preacher that the congregations loved. He was cool, for a preacher. He drove a sports car, he loved watching The Muppet Show, and when he preached, he had an engaging and charismatic way about him that made everyone want to listen. He made his listeners laugh. He was also always very happy to hang out with children and teenagers.

On that particular day in the photo, it was the first of many incidents of sexual abuse that Larry would inflict on me, and subsequently other kids and teens in front of me. This lasted on and off for a few years until somewhere close to the age of 11, I couldn't take it anymore. After having suffered from his sexual abuse long enough, and being tired and scared, I decided that I would try and tell my parents. I was tired of seeing this man in my house, preaching to and befriending parents, only to molest and rape their children, including me, when they would trust him to be alone with us. We suffered threats of death, hell, parents going to prison, and worse, but finally I came to realize that I had to make it stop.

On the final day of my abuse, it was the early hours of the morning and he had come into my room, which was located in the basement of my family home. My parents were still asleep and so was my brother. He tried to climb into my bed beside me and I pushed him out as hard as I could with my feet and yelled “Enough!”. As he was still trying to get up I ran upstairs to tell my mom.

I honestly thought that this would be the end of my nightmare, but it wasn't. In the years following the abuse, I would find out that the support and love I heard about in church, were the furthest from the truth.

I remember the first response to my tearful revelation was this statement:"You were told to not to be running around the house in your pajamas”. She asked a few more questions, then she went downstairs.

The realization hit me that nothing had been done. Nothing and no one had stopped him. He was still preaching and likely taking advantage of more children. By the time she went to the basement, Larry was gone. He took off to Hull, Quebec, which was about an hour away, to the house of another pastor and his wife from what I refer to as a sister church. This couple were the couple who mentored and eventually took part in my own parents’ ordinations. My mother got into her car and drove off to Hull.

When I went to my room again, under a pillow was an empty peanut butter jar, with a chocolate macaroon and a note, basically telling me he forgave me for telling on him. For the record, I’m unable to stomach even the smell of chocolate macaroons today, three decades later.

I never saw him again, and when I asked about what happened to him (I didn’t want other girls hurt), I was told many different stories over the years. Sometimes I was told he got arrested in the States. Sometimes I was told the church took care of it, and many times I was told if I didn’t let it go that I would not go to heaven due to my “harboring unforgiveness”. In fact, I recall several occasions where attempts to “deliver” me from my “spirit of unforgiveness”occurred. Those events, which some would call exorcism attempts, were also a common sight in Apostolic/Evangelical churches, especially during those times. However, that’s another story for another day.

Eventually, after many attempts and battles, I stopped asking, but the heartache I suffered and shame I faced from the church leaders and members including family, continued, and the lies and isolation continues to this day.

Fast-forward to 2012. I was living in Grande Prairie,in the Province of Alberta. I was on Facebook and for some reason, I was thinking about what had happened because I would go through what I refer to as PTSD “seasons”, especially around the winter time. So I decided to type his name into the search bar. I suppose at that point I was looking for some sort of closure on social media at the time (bad idea by the way).My spouse came home to me throwing up and crying in the living room, while a picture of Larry was on my computer screen. Not just any picture, but a picture of him in Africa, with his arms around a group of preteen girls at a church there.

I called the police. I didn't know what else to do. All I knew is that I had to try and stop him from hurting any more children. He was still living in the USA, but back in his home State of Georgia. I called the police department in the town listed on his Facebook page. They told me I had to speak to the police in which the events occurred. I then had to call the Sûreté du Québec, which is the provincial police force there, in my childhood home area. The police there did begin to conduct an investigation, and I had to work with the Grande Prairie RCMP, 4000 kilometers away, to get a statement in addition to calls with the Quebec provincial police.

Unfortunately, members of my family's church and my family found out. At a time where I could have used support and had desperately hoped for it, I became the target of a harassment campaign, on social media, by phone and by other means, including a smear campaign after I asked for an apology from the church for allowing this to go unpunished and subsequently quite probably further abuses of young children globally. Because of the request, and my report to the police, and after continuing to tell my story despite becoming the topic of church meetings, family phone conversations and rejection by people I had once considered friends and family, I eventually found myself iced out, hearing bits and pieces of lies spread through the rumor mill.

Sadly for justice, during the investigation, Larry died of some form of cancer that he had been fighting. Something I had to find out via social media, and report to the investigating officer, because they were working with a prosecutor to see if extradition to Canada could be possible. Extradition never happened. She was able to confirm his death.

I'm aware, having grown up in the Evangelical movement and knowing how survivors of sexual violence are treated (particularly women and girls), that the members of the church and movement that knew what was happening, have viewed this as some kind of divine intervention. So, in that respect, there is no closure. However, I find closure and healing in telling my story and I also find some solace in knowing that now that he is dead, he will not ever hurt and degrade another child. For the record, I am personally aware of and have witnessed sexual assaults on on other girls. I also had the misfortune of him bragging about attacks he carried out on other girls complete with photos on a couple of occasions.

Just a little side note here. As the investigation proceeded, I discovered, from speaking to USA and Canadian police detachments, that Larry had never had any reports filed against him. None. The chances are, his victims likely went through the same pressure into silence as I had, knowing the environment these things occurred in.

I'm 42 years old now and a PTSD fighter, courtesy of traumas that include surviving child sexual abuse within the church community, having my voice silenced about it and living without the support system that survivors like myself desperately need. For the record, PTSD is not viewed as a real thing in most Evangelical Christian circles. I tell my story because I want the country and the world to know that turning a blind eye to “harmless religions” has and continues to contribute to the egregious acts of abuse faced by countless women and children within those organizations.

In order to evolve and advance as a society, there needs to be a clear message of intolerance echoed to those institutions, that we cannot and will not turn a blind eye any longer. We cannot allow further damage to our future generations by allowing a culture of victim-shaming and political pandering to organizations who, without any remorse, commit or allow these horrible acts to go unpunished.

In my opinion, my parents, and the organization do not nor will they ever completely understand the impact not only the abuse itself, but the handling of my abuse has had on my life. It affected my self-esteem, my trust of others, and even the way I process day to day stress. My relationship with my parents and those family members who are still involved with or supporting the church is extremely complicated, and calling where I grew up “home” is difficult, given the history and the ostracization over my opening up about the abuse.

Fortunately, I was able to find therapy and treatment to help me through my tough times when they arise, and I have a wonderful supportive spouse and beautiful children to remind me that I have a purpose and a fight to be a part of, so that they hopefully will never have to see or experience darkness like I have. So, I will continue to share my story, regardless of the ramifications, in hopes that I can help in the prevention of violence, especially towards women and children. So that future generations can feel safe and trusting in their homes and the places they are living and learning from.

So to those women and children, I would like to say this: I may not have had a safe place then, but I will fight for yours now.

I hope that those of you who chose to find out this part of my story will help me do the same.

With love,

Dragon Fly Lady
Artist, Writer, and Poet. Child Sex Assault and Domestic Assault Survivor. Finding and reclaiming my voice and hoping to help others find theirs. LINK: https://medium.com/@dragonflyladyartstudio

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ExChristian.Net: Dear Evangelical Christians: It’s Time to Talk About The Abuse
Dear Evangelical Christians: It’s Time to Talk About The Abuse
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