These secrets I’ll bring to you/ Are of thorns and ice
These secrets I’ll give to you/ Will turn virtue to vice
In my first post, I talked about a situation at my former church. Today there has been another development, and I’m reeling from rage to devastation.
It started when this older man talked to me for a few minutes at church one day, then got my phone number from the congregation directory and texted to invite me to a local event. He refused to tell me who he was, even when I asked his identity. Trying to handle a bizarre situation with humor, I mentioned that the anonymous texts were reminiscent of the Red Devil, the serial killer in Scream Queens. To which he responded with the line that the Red Devil uses just before he stabs his victims to death. He later justified this as “clever” and “cryptic,” as though quoting a fictional serial killer to someone who doesn’t know who you are is anything but menacing.
That was the first incident. He also called and asked me to have coffee (and admitted he was the anonymous texter and told me I was “a good sport for not calling the police”). Then he friended me on Facebook and sent the creepiest private message I’ve ever gotten — but creepy in insidious ways that are based on impressions rather than things he actually said. On the advice of a relative who works in law enforcement, I told him I wasn’t interested and unfriended him. He told me I was “misinterpreting his intentions” but that he would respect my request. He stayed off the radar for a few months, then began talking to me at church and contacted me again through Facebook (he later had the temerity to suggest that if I really didn’t want to hear from him, I should just block him). At which point I sought help in getting him to leave me alone, and he agreed in writing not to contact me again and not to interact with me at a church group we were both part of. Which lasted for all of three months.
As I’ve written, I had a stalker in college. All of our information — phone number, e-mail address, residence hall, home address — was published in a directory available to every student, and that made it easier for him to track me and find my friends. Since then, I have been very careful about whom I share my contact information with. When the church gathered data for their directory, I wrestled with whether to allow mine to be included. Doing so was a major step of faith and trust for me — and his decision to use that info for his own purposes is a betrayal that no one affiliated with the church has addressed in more than a token way.
After multiple meetings with the pastor and promises of action items that did not seem to be followed up on, I filed a complaint. Although the church’s written policy states that I was to be given a timeline in writing, I did not even know the investigation had been convened until I wrote a month later to ask why nothing was being done. At that time I also resigned my membership. I no longer trusted the pastor, and I had begun to feel like everyone in the church was complicit in ignoring patterns of behavior that read as menacing to me (and to others, from what I’ve heard).
The investigators never contacted me and did not speak to the friend who was present when he called me. Yet they somehow claimed to have conducted a “thorough” investigation that exonerated him. My best guess is that because he was smart enough to avoid saying anything overtly sexual, they let him off the hook, but I really don’t know their rationale.
Neither the committee members nor the church elders addressed the request I made in my written complaint and follow-up e-mail — that someone have the courtesy to sit down with me and explain why they don’t have a problem with his behavior. I just want someone to say, “Look, we get that he kept contacting you even after you expressed discomfort. But we don’t think that’s a big deal, and here’s why.” The fact that no one will do this is pretty damn telling.
After their initial decision, I contacted the presbytery to ask for a review of the investigative process. I was told that since I had resigned my membership, I had “no standing” (those exact words) to file a complaint. On the denomination’s website, I found the number for an outside risk management firm, and the person I spoke with there seemed to take the situation far more seriously than anyone in Georgia has done. At any rate, I received a follow-up message from the presbytery promising that they would conduct a review of the process.
Today they notified me that their investigators — both men — found the church’s original investigation “adequate” (their word), despite the fact that I itemized multiple areas in which the church had failed to follow its own written policy. They provided no rationale, no answer to the specific concerns I pointed out, no explanation of how an investigation by people who never even spoke with me could possibly have been thorough or even adequate.
And still no justification for why it’s acceptable for a man on the church payroll to send anonymous texts to a woman in the congregation who has not given him her contact information or indicated in any way that she has any interest in hearing from him, quote a fictional serial killer, and keep contacting her after she has told him in no uncertain terms to leave her alone.
The initial situation was bad enough. But the response from both the church and the presbytery has been dehumanizing. It’s clear that to them, I am a problem to be swept under the rug, a nuisance they hope will shut up and go away if they ignore her long enough.
And this is the Presbyterian Church of the USA — supposedly a liberal, progressive, social-justice-loving denomination. That’s one reason I chose it; I thought that women would be valued and protected and supported in ways we were not in the much more conservative church I grew up in. I thought people would care about me as an individual, that if I suffered harm in the church, there would be efforts to make things right, to reconcile, to heal. I am still in shock at the level of apathy they have shown toward me.
More than a year ago, a wise friend said to me, “Christians need to realize that when people have a problem with the church, they have a problem with God.” His point was that a bad experience in church isn’t like a bad experience in the workplace or at school — people hold the church to a higher standard because the church holds itself up as being the people of God, the place of God. And because the church represents God, their bad actions don’t reflect only on themselves but create barriers between the people they harm and God.
And that’s what hurts the most, I think. That very few people affiliated with the church or the denomination seem to care how this situation has affected me — personally, emotionally, but especially spiritually. I could never set foot in another church for the rest of my life. I could decide that if this is what the people of God are like, fuck ’em; I’ve hung out with plenty of Satanists and atheists and self-described deviants who are far better at being compassionate, decent humans. I could wash my hands of this whole Christianity thing.
And the people in this church would be perfectly fine with that. And I still can’t understand why.
But I’m going to quote the Bible, because I do that now. Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am persuaded, that neither…any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (KJV).
I’m claiming that love. I’m hurting badly right now, so I’m going to the gym to hit the heavy bag and play some Tool and Apocalyptica with Corey Taylor and Agonoize, and maybe that will help. And even if it doesn’t, I’m not going to let a creepy old man and a bunch of apathetic churchgoers win. The actions of one and inactions of the others will not separate me from the love.
I’ll channel my inner Arya Stark and say to the god of death, “Not today!” The love didn’t originate with people, and people can’t take it away. They can hide it and deny it and obscure it for awhile, but it will break through.
It always does.