How I found hope after my ex-husband was convicted of sexual abuse

February 11, 2019

This past Sunday, the Houston Chronicle released an investigative piece detailing sexual abuse cases of leadership in Southern Baptist churches over the last 20 years. When news hit social media that the article would be forthcoming, my heart skipped a beat. With minimal clicks, I found the Chronicle’s promotion video for the article that included dozens of minister’s mugshots.  

Scanning row by row, my heart sunk to see the familiar eyes of my ex-husband, on the third row from the bottom looking back at me—one of the approximately 220 abusers who reporters found records for, all of whom have either been convicted or took a plea deal. An all-too-familiar wave of nausea, anxiety, and grief washed over me.

On Aug. 12, 2009, my husband, a 19-year veteran of full-time church ministry, left our parsonage explaining that he needed to prepare for a meeting at church.

A blatant lie.

The truth was that he was reporting to the local Sheriff’s department, for questioning.

I went about my morning routine having absolutely no idea that, just a few blocks away, my husband was trying to justify his heinous, sexual abuse crimes. I did not realize on that hot, August morning that our entire world was shattering into a million pieces. Life for me, our four children, the two young victims, and our church community would be forever altered.

How do you explain to your children when sexual sin has been committed by the man whom they call “daddy”? What words can comfort victims who trusted a manipulative leader who twisted Scripture to justify the violent violations they suffered? And, how does a church respond to such a crisis?

My church was present from the beginning

Upon hearing the horrific news, our church cancelled regular activities and spent Wednesday night grieving together. Shock, anger, and disbelief hit this steadfast body of Christ with the force of a tidal wave.

My church had a decision to make in those early hours—one that would set the course of either justice or sinful cover-up. Would they choose love over a tainted reputation? Would they choose healing or destruction? In those dark moments, my church wisely made the decision to run to God, their only hope.

The testimonies of two incredibly brave, precious victims, along with irrefutable evidence led to Jack’s arrest on 18 felony counts. He admitted guilt and was ultimately sentenced to 17 years in prison.

It was a high-profile media case not only in Virginia, but across the nation. My family hid as media trucks sat in our church parking lot. It was terrifying. I made plans to leave the area. I was deeply ashamed. How had I not seen this coming? How was I going to provide for my children? How could I help the victims? Where would we go?

Where was God?

My church stood beside me throughout those first and worst days, protecting my children and me, providing us a safe place to hide, and helping me think through all the decisions that had to be made. Church leaders relayed hundreds of messages of love and concern to me from members. Despite their hospitality, I wanted to run.

On what I expected to be my last Sunday at the church, I quietly slipped into place after the worship music began. My plan was to flee, to leave between the sermon and the offering, never to see them again. However, that was not God’s plan.

My church pursued me

Following the sermon, an older couple left their seats and approached me. They took my hands in theirs and told me that they loved me. They were followed by students, deacons, choir members, and friends. One by one, they grieved with me out of their love for me and my family. Some spoke words. Some slipped money into my trembling hand. I shook, not with tears, but with the sheer magnitude of grace. The line stretched down the aisle and around the sanctuary as people expressed sorrow, grief, and concern for my children. Some said nothing at all, but looked me in the eyes and communicated what a thousand words could not say. My entire soul was enveloped in their love, sorrow, grace, and mercy. I was not alone.

My church continued to care for me and my family

The church never left our side. They encouraged us to stay in the community. They healed alongside of us. They provided us the parsonage to live in and job leads for me. They helped me write a resume after 18 years of being a pastor’s wife and a stay-at-home mom. They gave my children Christmas that year, and the next, and the next. They could have turned their backs on us; instead, there was an outpouring of Christlikeness. They allowed us to heal at God’s speed. They were my family.

Where they lacked expertise, they recruited helpers. Consultants and counselors provided services to the body. There was never talk of cover-up, maintaing an image, or protecting their reputation. They continued to point people to our only hope in the midst of darkness—our sovereign God.

There are still hard days today, but there has been tremendous healing. There is still deep grief for everyone whose lives were impacted. There will always be grief, but there is also hope, redemption, and joy—real joy. In the lives of the victims, my children, my church family, and in my own soul. God is restoring the years that the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25).

Because of the redeeming power of the gospel, there is also the ability to say that it is well with our souls. We are learning the hard work of grief in preparing for an “eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:16-18). He is truly the God who sees and knows (Ex. 2:25) and never abandons or forsakes us(Deut. 4:6), and neither should the church.

My church set a powerful example for others to follow as these stories continue to emerge. Let’s be a people who are present, pursue, and care for our people. Let’s be a people who point others to the only hope in the midst of the darkness: Jesus.

Shelly Durkee

Shelly Durkee is a Christ-follower who is keenly aware of God’s mercy and grace. She is the wife of Ken, God's gift of grace to her, and is mom to four incredible young adults. She delights in every moment spent with her family. Shelly has been published in Christianity Today’s … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24