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My Personal Abuse Story in the Church
Breaking the Systemic Sin of Sexual Abuse in the Church rejecting the silence that keeps it protected.

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: 

Proverbs 5 

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.

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Jackson
Jackson
1 year ago

This is heartbreaking. May all involved trust and obey Him who knows all things. God bless you and keep you as you continue to walk in obedience to Him.

Douglas Pirkey
Editor
Douglas Pirkey
1 year ago

“…but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1. 7 – 9).
Love you, Joie.

Craig Doriot
Admin
Craig Doriot
1 year ago

how can the kingdom of God expect to express light and hope for the lost while its leaders are feeding their lusts on the weakest of its members, the children?

There is a substantial power imbalance here. It’s probably easier to see in the exposure of the scandals of the Catholic church: young, impressionable boys who are growing in spiritual understanding. Looking up to these priests, naive and trusting them in their spiritual authority, at the same time they are growing into adulthood and maturing sexually. Priests who are isolated with these young boys, some of whom are sexually repressed or even predisposed (perhaps through personal traumas) to seek out roles that might offer the opportunity for abuse.

The kids and their families, of course, have the utmost respect for these priests. The highest earthly spiritual authority they know. Esteemed role models. From these most trusted sources, the most serious violations occur and the kids are shattered and many never recover from it.

Now add to it that these priests have an entire support network of other church leaders and community both within and out to cover any sin and scandal. The system is protected and keeps going at the expense of its weakest members.

On the other hand, the kids or their families that find out now have the painful choice of whether to be quiet and protect the system or work to tear it down. Tear down what they themselves have been building through financial and ministerial support for so many years, even generations. The weight of the church being torn apart, and families being torn rests on these decisions for these young kids, but really the tearing had already occurred by the actions of its leaders. These whistleblowers would have to be willing to risk coming against their entire support network, their community, their family and friends, and they would have to stand in the talk and the public shame of what was done to them. And in confronting their own, they know they will be facing the brunt of the entire system’s wrath, with little support.

The movie “Spotlight” showed that it was not just elders, clergy and bishops, but church members, police, judges and many others who protected the corrupt priests, and most everyone knew but remained silent.

Craig Doriot
Admin
Craig Doriot
1 year ago
Reply to  Craig Doriot

its not much different in this epidemic of evangelical churches. Often its the youth pastors who are finding themselves in unhealthy power dynamic with young, impressionable women who are coming of age. This dynamic will attract sexual predators and may not have a healthy balance of people interacting with youth.

Though in fairness today, we also see so many head pastors having affairs or divorcing their wives and remarrying a woman in the congregation.

Joie Pirkey
Joie Pirkey
1 year ago
Reply to  Craig Doriot

I am so thankful that victims are standing up and exposing what is going on. And for all of the people who support them. It matters. It changes the culture.

Jackie Vigier
Jackie Vigier
1 year ago

I was witness to this so called relationship, and knew it wasn’t right! I know how this bothered you for years, the feelings, the hurt, the misunderstandings, etc. I am proud of you Joie for standing up, knowing God was calling you to act, not only for yourself but for the sick church who needs to repent! Praying for not only you, but for the others who have gone through this very sick, sick betrayal of someone they thought they could trust! Dear Jesus, please bless this one person, this one step to move your church closer to acknowledgement and repentance. In Jesus name!💔❤️

Joie Pirkey
Joie Pirkey
1 year ago
Reply to  Jackie Vigier

Thank you, Jackie. You are a constant support of what is good.

Nathan Bowe
Nathan Bowe
1 year ago

You’re brave Joie and glad you opened up about this. Only God knows the hearts of us all. May the Lord bless you with strength, peace of mind and his comfort with finally opening up. ❤️❤️😥😥🙏🙏

Lizabeth Shelberg
Lizabeth Shelberg
1 year ago

Very sad that the church isn’t taking accountability and that the abuse continues.They have turned a blind eye to something so distructive in the church! It sounds like the church gave you no help regarding your own healing of abuse? You probably felt so alone?How did you navigate your direction and healing during all of this?My heart goes out to you!

Kate McClintock
Kate McClintock
1 year ago

I am so unbelievably sorry that you (and other women) ever experienced this. This is so heartbreaking to hear that you faced such horrible treatment from church leadership in response to something very traumatic. The church is supposed to be there for everyone and be a support system. I am so sorry that you were silenced and felt you couldn’t speak for so long. You are so brave and strong for speaking up and sharing your story with everyone. Thank you for opening my eyes to the problems within CTR. You have my love and respect! I hope life is treating you well as you deserve all of the love and kindness the world can offer.

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 months ago

I was also a victim of misconduct at this same church (CTR) 30+ years ago by someone who was in a counseling position and is now a staff pastor. You are brave to speak out.

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