Dear Man in Prison,
Before you read this I want you to look at my picture. Yes, that’s me as a child, when I was raped. That innocent girl is no more. Though I have experienced bucketsful of healing, I still live hypervigilant. I still struggle with sex. I still have flashbacks. All because of the sinful, unlawful actions of two others.
You wrote your words behind bars to an audience of many, many, many. Did you realize that you would open a deep wound in sexual abuse survivors’ hearts and souls by characterizing the rape of a teen in your youth group as an “affair?” It was no affair. It was a calculated ploy by a person in authority, over a decade older, to a minor who was not old enough to understand the nature of your advances. This was abuse of power. This was molestation. This is why you serve your time in prison. And it is precisely why you will spend your life with the words “sexual predator” as a moniker. This is not a judgment statement, per se, but simply the evidence of a just law.
Your words reflected little remorse other than getting caught and being prosecuted for a crime. Where is your anguish for the victim? For your wife? For your children? For the youth group you pastored? You have not only marred their souls, but warped their view of a loving God. They will struggle with your violation the rest of their lives. They may view God as capricious, unprotective, or non-existent. You cannot undo that kind of soul damage, no matter how many words you write, even if they are cloaked in biblical language.
And when you get to the place where you genuinely do not care about your reputation, where you do not hide behind cliched rhetoric, and you openly state the devastation you caused, I will look forward to your adventure in redemption. Raucous redemption comes on the bedrock of gut honest, sometimes-ugly truth. You absolutely can experience this kind of redemption. I know this because I have experienced it too. Except in a different way.
I, too, was about 12 years younger than those who molested me. I could not say no, did not know I could–not with the threat of death to my parents. And what they did when I was a child has haunted me for 42 years now. It has affected my relationships, my self esteem, my heart, my worth. And I’m one who has doggedly pursued healing since I was a teen. I have chased it, begged for it, hoped for it, all the while struggling against this feeling deep down inside that I was only worthy of violation. Only worthy of being used. Only worthy as long as I looked a certain way.
All this time, all these years, these violators have roamed the earth free. Only they are not truly free. They won’t be until they say the truth, that they, in their utterly self absorbed state, chose to have sex with a young girl for their pleasure. They will have to live with this truth until they dare to humbly admit that what they did was horrific.
That’s my prayer for you. That you would not simply be sorry for being caught, for losing your marriage and ministry and family, but that you would deeply, honestly, truly grieve for that girl you violated, for the trust you obliterated in the youth you were trying to shepherd, for your children and wife who trusted you to act like Jesus. Grieve that. Grieve deeply. Grieve honorably. Grieve quietly outside the limelight.
Jesus bore the weight of your sin against the girl and your family and your church. But He also bore the weight of my grief in the aftermath of rape. He is the sin bearer and the pain bearer. The same Jesus who has beautifully been setting me free (as I have dared to say the truth through tears and scars and worries) is the same Jesus who will audaciously set you free as you dare to say the truth, even when it agonizes you.
You are paying the just penalty for your crime. But Jesus bore the weight of all our sin, though He didn’t deserve to. Let the wow of that sink in. Of course He can forgive you. Of course He can forgive me. But that forgiveness blooms in light of telling it like it is. What you did was not a consensual affair. It was not adultery. It was sexually predatory. Name it. Grieve it. Meet with the victims of your crime and apologize. Repent truly.
I believe that one of Satan’s greatest weapons against the human heart is sexual abuse. And I grieve that you are part of this awful system of sexual aberration. From this point onward, spend your life humbly. Expose the dark lies that reverberate through mankind that say we are simply a sum of our biological parts, and that satisfying our urges for the sake of our pleasure (at the expense of another) is our right.
Is this situation redeemable? Yes, through the costly blood of Jesus. Through good, honest community that calls sin what it is and crimes what they are. Through truth about what really happened between you and the girl charged to your care. From that place, hope and healing can grow.
I am deeply burdened and overwhelmed at your treatise, but I hold out hope that you will understand the gravity of what you did, and that those affected can try to put their lives back together. Unfortunately, there is no magic wand that “cures” the violation of what you did. The hard work of healing for the victims will take time, a lot of time. It is not impossible, but it is excruciating and much longer than I ever expected.
I write these words knowing that I will be misunderstood and possibly maligned. But I cannot be silent any more. I was silent for ten years, and that silence eroded my wherewithal, my hope, my worth. Only in telling my story and standing up for others who have been hurt in similar ways have I begun to see some shred of light. Do you know how many times I asked God why why why this happened? Do you know how many times I thought of hiring a private investigator to find out what became of those two who stole so much from me? Do you know how many tears I’ve wept when the healing journey felt unfair and way too long?
When you understand the breadth of those questions and the similar anguish your victims now wade through (as if through thickened mud), then write a post about it. But until then, shrink away from limelight, seek God on your face, and let Him lead you toward truth.
For those of you totally in the dark about this, I’m referring to this post on Leadership Journal* where a convicted sex offender tells his story of preying upon a girl in his youth group (when he was her youth pastor), calling it adultery and consensual. Since the post went live, many have asked Leadership Journal to take the post down because it gives a platform to a man convicted of a crime who doesn’t seem to understand the gravity of what he did.
They have not taken it down. You will see their clarification at the beginning of the post, and his tacked on disclaimer at the end. The other disturbing thing: there have been at least 75 comments on the post (respectful) including two of mine that have been censored. Right now there are 18 comments. It worries me that a journal dedicated to Christian leadership will not allow for discussion on their post. I truly, truly do not understand this. If you feel this post needs to be pulled, many of us are using the #takedownthatpost hashtag to voice our outrage.
If you’re curious about my story, I’ve written about my own healing from sexual abuse in my latest book Not Marked: Finding Hope and Healing After Sexual Abuse.
It’s my hope and sincere prayer that if you have experienced this kind of violation, that you would find grace and truth and empathy in its pages.
*Note: I have used a link that will not add traffic to Leadership Journal, so they cannot profit (by having more pageviews.)