The man-made system in the church is broken. Because the system is broken, sin is rampant in the church.
I was born again into that system in 1981 when I was 17 years old. I had found Jesus in the Catholic Church with a bunch of kids on a retreat and started immediately evangelizing and speaking about salvation in local Catholic youth groups. It was exciting. It was dynamic. Kids were coming to the Lord in droves and we quickly joined Bill Lenz in building the foundation of Christ the Rock Community Church (CTR) in Menasha, Wisconsin.
We were taught that it was an improvement of the Catholic church that we were all coming out of. More filled with the Holy Spirit. Better theology. Better. I loved the Catholic Church, so in my teenage mind this new church was going to be off the charts! And in many ways it was.
During that first year we all got close. We were on a mission together. The relationships seemed communal to me. Fun. Close. Full of godly purpose. I didn’t realize until later that there was a significant difference in the relationship that I was developing with Dave VandeHey, the Youth Pastor for our group that was still meeting at Saint John’s.
I trusted him implicitly. I had never been hurt by anyone I loved before and had no idea what was coming. No idea.
During that first year, my senior year of high school, CTR was created and we were in the process of migrating over from Saint John’s. Because I was doing a lot of speaking at Catholic retreats and classes, and Dave was working with the youth, we spent a lot of time together. Somehow we started to separate from the bigger group and found ourselves alone a lot. Because I wasn’t 18 yet, and not yet graduated, my Dad began to question what was going on (with this older, married man). He started to voice serious concern about us. I thought that my dad simply didn’t understand people who were born again. That’s what I was told. That’s what I was led to believe.
Just after turning 18, Pastor Dave professed love for me. I was shocked to the point of becoming physically ill. I was feeling very afraid but beyond that, confused. Panicked confusion. Trying to get my bearings as my world crashed. I knew that I had to get out but I had no idea how and to be honest I didn’t want to. I was in such turmoil that it felt like torture.
He told me how he felt in the strangest way. I was at a youth group event where he was speaking and half way through his sermon the Lord spoke to me as clear as a bell. He simply said to get up and get out. So I stood and walked out the front door. But before I got to my bike, Dave was there asking me to stay and handed me a letter. He had left the pulpit mid-way through his message. He had left the pulpit, ran out to give me this letter and then went back to continue speaking. I took the note and went home.
After a few days of ignoring his calls, I walked into one of the hotel rooms where I was cleaning and he was sitting silently in the chair. It frightened me because I couldn’t figure out how he got in there. I was worried that my friends and family who worked with me would see him there and so I tried to talk him into leaving. Which he did.
After work, hours and hours of work, he was waiting outside and offered me a ride home. I was never afraid that he would attack me. But this behavior seemed frightening, a bit stalker-like. I was disoriented by it and wasn’t sure how to react, so I simply went along with it.
I don’t recall what things happened exactly when because it was a lifetime ago but he had told me things about his past that were sexually deviant and impossible for me to understand. I was too naive and too innocent to even grasp what he was telling me at the time. This also threw me off my footing.
He was twisting things about our relationship, saying that it was God who brought us together. He showed me scriptures to explain how this could be and what it meant. He had been one of the two people that had been discipling me for the previous year. I had grown to trust him implicitly and to believe what he was teaching me. In the midst of it, I believe that God had designed elements of our relationship. I couldn’t tell where the truth ended and the twisted things he told me began. But because of that I felt like I wasn’t allowed to go to God for help.
During the time that Dave and I were together, he had somehow isolated me from my other friends at church. Taking me for long drives instead of going to church events with everyone as we did in the beginning. These things changed slowly in that first year but progressed to the point that by the time I graduated high school we were together alone almost every night.
Shortly after those days, the relationship became physical. We went on as usual at church events that we were expected at but spent hours, upon hours, together alone. Often coming in around 4:00a.m. People in church knew. People in church saw us. People would make really strange eye contact with me. I was horrified at the thought that anyone would actually know and say so. I was so deeply distraught living in this cognitive dissonance, trying to figure out what to do, feeling estranged from God and the Body, that I got sick. I actually developed a bleeding ulcer. Relationships with my family and with my friends were fractured because I did not want them to find out.
During this time, on a couple of occasions, he had offered to get a hotel room. He had asked me to have sex with him directly. He pushed me to leave the state with him. But I kept finding ways to get out of it because I knew that what we were doing physically was wrong. I had been raised to believe that sex before marriage was not love. My mom adamantly taught us that if someone really loved us they would want God’s best for us. And that was sexual purity. That alone saved me from losing my virginity to him. That and the grace of God.
My best friend finally came to my house and demanded to know what was going on. I was imploding both mentally and physically very quickly and she could tell. Shortly after I told her, she turned us in. Thank God she did. This teenage girl, barely in the church herself, was the only one to do the right thing. Because she loved me. Love is a powerful thing. She knew that she was putting our relationship at risk but she did it anyway. Thank you, Julie.
This is where the abuse from the church exponentiated.
When I was confronted, I was relieved. Horrified but relieved. I was very surprised at how the leaders reacted though. I was told that I was the “Proverbs 5” woman:
For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey,
and her speech is smoother than oil;
but in the end she is bitter as gall,
sharp as a double-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death;
her steps lead straight to the grave.
She gives no thought to the way of life;
her paths wander aimlessly, but she does not know it.
This chapter in the Bible, meant to warn young men to stay with their wives and not commit adultery, pinned me into silence. What I heard in those misused verses was that if I continue I will take him to the grave. So I must stay silent so that he can be ok.
I forced myself “to give thought to the way of life”.
I was immediately and then subtly pushed out by Pastor Bill. I say subtly because it was done in a stealthy way that confused me until later when I realized it was done this way to not arouse suspicion. I was cut off. I had no one to talk to about what was happening. I was treated like I had caused this. Yet I protected him. He had a very kind wife. He had children. And I would not hurt him at any cost.
While he was allowing me to take on the weight of the responsibility for what happened, he was being pulled in closer to the church leadership and being promoted.
He continued to call me in secret. He would come to my house very late at night and just stand in front of my window. I found him there by chance a few times. Simply walking by a silent window late at night would haunt me for decades.
He would drop me notes, pop over to my house, stay late after church events but I stayed on my side of the boundary. I was devastated in ways that took years to unravel because the spiritual confusion that was laid upon the firm foundation my parents gave me tortured my mind. And I couldn’t speak to anyone about it. Ever.
It didn’t end there. A friend of mine from high school started to attend CTR. I was so happy because she had been abused by her father and then much older boys in High School, so I was glad that she would be safe here in church. Such a strikingly beautiful, graceful young woman. But as the relationship between Pastor Bill and her started on the same course that I had just been through with Pastor Dave, I couldn’t just stand by and say nothing. I went to other leaders and was nearly attacked. By that time the leadership had marginalized me to the point that I was becoming known in those inner circles as someone who was dangerous, attacking the church, attacking the family.
I watched this young lady be devastated by the Pastor. The Pastor of an influential megachurch. While the Youth Pastor and then Associate Pastor carried on as if they were walking in the truth. I made sure the elders knew. They then joined in the ostracizing of both of us.
Years later as the list of women grew, I created documents with their names, dates and detailed incidents of their abuse. I included the proof that they shared with me, including names and contact information of witnesses. These situations involved a few different CTR leaders.
My name was not included in those documents. And for that I am sorry.
I was told that Stuart Briscoe, from “Telling the Truth” Radio show, who was a type of overseer of the church, attended the leadership meeting set to address the documents of proof that I and my Pastor at the time had submitted. One of CTR elders (Al Rockman) who attended that meeting told us (leaders from Christ’s Church of the Valley) that Stuart Briscoe held the envelope up before the elders and told them that none of it was true.
Again the System failed us.
Not one reported incident was followed up on. Not one witness or victim contacted. Nothing.
Following this attempt to bring these things to light, the lies about not only me but these women continued and now increased.
Pastor John Kieffer has been the only one to date to address any of this. He approached me after he left his leadership position at CTR. He owned what he had said and asked for forgiveness which I wholeheartedly gave.
I have to do my part to break out of this system. To let it get messy and trust God to clean up His church through obedience.
God has been calling me for years to obey as He breaks down the citadel of a man-made organization that has wrongly been built up inside of His Church.
His house is a house of prayer. And He will be the head of His house. Not you. Or you. Or you. But Him.
So be it. I trust Him. The truth will set me free.