If you’re a girl raised in the church, you learn early on to cope with blatant inappropriate male attention. From the time I was ten years old (maybe younger) I was used to being teased mercilessly by men, ridiculed, and grabbed in front of other adults. This graduated to comments about my body or what I was wearing, to being touched intimately on the arm (one man did this right in front of his wife). And it’s continued into my adult years and you know what, I never objected. It’s drilled into girls to be polite and I was taught that this was how all men behaved.
My worst experience occurred when I was a preteen. In the church my family belonged to, there was a certain twenty-something man who attended and it wasn’t long before he was targeting all of the teenage girls and taking advantage of the whole church. He started by showing up at youth group meetings, following us teen girls around the building, honing in on the women’s Sunday School class, making perverse comments, commandeering the music on Sunday mornings from a sweet older widow, and mooching off the church financially. He once walked around the sanctuary with his fly open, refusing to fix the problem despite all of the hints dropped. And he leered, unabashedly.
My parents didn’t like him and were worried about the situation. My mother especially despised this man. They soon learned that they didn’t know the half of it.
My friend at that time was the minister’s daughter. In the couple of months since this person began to attend our church, we talked about this man and I learned many things from her. A nice girl, she was a good Christian, she knew her Bible verses, prayed without ceasing, sang in church on Sundays, and was well-liked by all. Especially by this man.
”His thick breath heaved on me, I was terrified that he’d grab me or kiss me, or try to molest me.”
“He’s been to dinner at our house and he sits by me. He’s always talking to me. On the Sunday mornings I sing, he brings me special tea and I have to drink it. He wants to give me special music lessons.” She confided to me.
I felt sick to my stomach. This was bad. He followed me around and stared, making me uncomfortable. The worst came during the Christmas play; I had a small role and was concealed behind a curtain for some of it. While I waited to play my part, he sat down next to me, leaned in close, and claimed to be confused by the program and asked me to explain it to him. His thick breath heaved on me, I was terrified that he’d grab me or kiss me, or try to molest me. He probably figured he could do whatever he wanted and get away with it. After all, he had done what he pleased in regards to my friend. A crowd was on the other side of that curtain, my parents would have intervened if they had known. My dad would have beat the hell out of him – never mind that we were in the House of God. But being young and naïve, I was afraid and I kept quiet.
Until my parents shared their concerns with me, then I told them all.
My mom couldn’t believe it. “You have to talk to her. Her parents can’t know.”
Anyone with half a brain had to know, especially her parents, but I thought my parents wanted to give her parents the benefit of the doubt. Her father was the minister, after all. He was there to lead us spiritually. Perhaps my friend hadn’t told them what she had told me.
“You have to encourage her to talk to her parents. They have to be aware of what is going on with their own child!” Mom insisted.
”At age thirteen, my friend was going to have to protect herself.”
I often wondered why my mom just didn’t call up her mother and tell all. Now that I’m older, I know that the minister and his wife wouldn’t have appreciated their Biblical parenting questioned. No, my parents knew that it’d be useless to speak to the minister and his wife. Speaking to my friend wasn’t about cluing her parents in, it was to clue my friend into being on her guard. Her parents weren’t going to protect her, they were going to cover up whatever scandal that occurred. At age thirteen, my friend was going to have to protect herself.
Five days later was my fourteenth birthday and my friend was coming over to celebrate. Rather than excited about my party, I was a bundle of nerves. I relied on a talk with my grandmother for encouragement and prayers to God, asking for His help. The adults congregated in the dining room while my friend, myself, and our younger sisters gathered in the living room. We ate pizza and chatted.
This was my moment.
I got my friend’s attention and dove in headfirst. “I don’t know how to say this, but everything you told me about that guy at church…” When I said his name, a chill crept down my spine. “I think he likes you in the wrong way. I think he likes both of us in the wrong way. He’s dangerous, you have to be careful.”
“Yes, I know.” She nodded.
“I think you should talk to your mom and tell her everything. She should know.”
“I have. She knows.” Her gaze dropped to her plate.
So, it was true. Her parents knew and let this insanity go on despite the dangers it placed their daughter in. Not to mention the rest of us girls.
“Okay, good.” I didn’t know what else to say except, “I hope he leaves the church soon.”
”For a few years, I was free of lecherous men. If only every church could be like that one.”
Nothing more was said in regards to that guy. We had some cake, we looked over my presents, and we went upstairs to listen to music and hang out. I pretended to be all right when in reality my whole world was turned upside down. For me, church had always been a safe, happy place where we could go to learn about God, the Bible, and worship. And parents, good parents, were put on this earth to love and protect their children. That is what Mom had always told me. How could my friend’s parents do this?
“Well?” Mom asked the second my guests left.
“They know. She’s already talked to them and they know.” I hugged myself. “I don’t know what to do.”
“You’ve done everything you could do.” Mom shook her head in disbelief. “You’ve been a good friend.”
My family and I heard the previous minister of our church was going to guest preach somewhere else and we decided to go to hear him to show our support. We went out to eat afterwards and, concerned that the situation at our church was getting out of hand, my parents informed him of what was going on, since he had maintained close connections to the church board. My friend’s father, the current minister, was not going to act – but once the church board was informed, they intervened.
My friend’s father called one night and ended up on the wrong end of the argument with my dad. A mild-mannered man, while he was a Christian and had firm beliefs, he didn’t believe ministers were infallible. The minister might preach the Word of God, but Dad had no qualms on telling a minister where to get off if his children were being placed in harm’s way.
The conversation grew heated and I could make out on the other end the minister claiming, “He hasn’t done anything! We have to be Christian about this!”
“The hell I do!” Dad shouted back and clicked the phone off. “We are not going back there.” He declared and we were all in agreement.
That night, I went out to the front porch and sat by Mom on the porch swing. I knew we were doing the right thing, but I feared for my friend. “What do you think will happen to her?”
“I don’t know.” Mom replied, honestly. “But we’ll pray for her safety and for God to protect her since her parents won’t.”
We later heard that guy was asked to leave the church, and though I saw my friend a few times after that, things were never the same. Later, my friend and her family moved south. But we remained true to our word and never returned to that church. We found another place to worship, where we felt truly at home and we didn’t have to worry about predators.
For a few years, I was free of lecherous men. If only every church could be like that one.
The generous support of our readers allows 4W to pay our all-female staff and over 50 writers across the globe for original articles and reporting you can’t find anywhere else.
Like our work? Support 4W on Patreon!