Survivor of sexual violence at an SBC seminary
Redeemed. Forgiven. Justified. Chosen. Safe. Loved. Set free. A new creation. Free, indeed. Child of God. More than a conqueror. Never alone. Free from condemnation. Reconciled. Joint heirs with Christ. And complete in him.
I have heard these words my entire life. As a three year old, sitting alongside my twin sister at my Southern Baptist church, clothed in identical, pink smock dresses, folded white eyelet socks, and shiny shoes. Mama always had a great way of making us look like perfect little identical angels, until we decided to roll under the pews during church or cartwheel through the balcony during “How Great Thou Art.”
I heard these words from Bible verses, bright and shiny and exciting at Baptist youth camps, and as an awkward teenager and at my part-time job at Chick-fil-A. Becoming an adult brought on new natural curls I was unsure how to tame and pimples I covered up with foundation that didn’t match my complexion. I was insecure about my appearance, but as a new believer, I was confident in my salvation.
I read these words and verses in textbooks as a religion major at a Baptist college. I worked in the religion department as a student worker and attended and worked for a small Southern Baptist church. I survived on Easy Mac, Diet Mountain Dew, and very little sleep, but feeling called to the ministry kept me focused on the prize.
Those words “called to ministry” defined me inwardly as a seminary student when women on campus were often defined as something else. Single women were something that needed to be fixed by marriage. And my favorite—we were there to find a husband. I was there because I knew with confidence God led me to that place to continue my education after college. I am, and I was, the child, teenager, college student, and now wife and mother sitting in the pews of your church.
Shamed in the face of abuse
However, I felt those in authority did not see or value me as a child of God, a sister in need of protection, or a vulnerable, hurting student when I reached out to them over a decade ago to report I had been raped. Instead, I was questioned and made to feel as if what happened was my fault. I vividly remember the bright pennies inside the penny loafers of the men I told about the assault. I remember looking down at the floor as I shifted from side to side, still in physical pain from what happened. I remember my hair was down because I used it to cover my face.
The visual in my mind was as though the men that questioned me were sitting in high stools while I sat in a regular chair. Much later I realized we all sat in the same chairs. But as I felt belittled by leaders to whom I’d come to for protection, the visual that comes to my mind does accurately reflect what I experienced when I reported being sexually assaulted to men who claimed the name and authority of Christ.
The day I reported what happened to me, I felt leaders saw a problem to be dealt with rather than a child of God who had been sinned against. I was a threat to an institution rather than a sister in Christ.
I was viewed as someone there to tarnish the reputation of the Church, instead of being seen as part of the body of the same Church. I was thrown away with no help. I lacked clarity about what happened. I believed I wasn’t raped based on what I was told.
Sidenote: I was brought up to believe the adult, especially the pastor, the doctor, leaders, and especially Christian leaders are always right. To this day, I don’t know how truth was reversed or how I suppressed those memories into the deepest part of me. I never allowed myself to go back. I kept it a secret.
Breaking the silence, finding freedom
Now, let’s fast forward nearly 15 years later to the spring of 2018. I am so happily married to someone that works in insurance. I married up, and he loves God more than anyone I went to school with. God has blessed us with two of the most beautiful children on the planet. I’m not biased. We have a great church, and I have a job that I love—not in ministry, as those dreams were crushed from the years of shame I carried. I have my own social media business, and I stay busy. In fact, I just recently received awards for top 20 professionals under 40 and was voted the best social media marketer in my community.
Looking back now, being busy is what kept my mind occupied on something else. Because I work in social media, last spring I began to notice things that made me uncomfortable—headlines that shouldn’t have been on my computer screen. I still remember the first story about a misogynist and physically shaking my head while squeezing my eyes shut to try and push the memories away. But they began to vividly appear. Those days were over, yet the fuzziness of what happened got clearer as I dove deeper into current events. While in public, at home, or asleep, I began feeling the jarring physical pain I pushed away for too many years. I tried not to read the stories, however, the flashbacks continued to come.
At my worst in the spring of 2018, my husband kindly and gently asked me why I was so angry. I yelled, and I screamed, and I told him exactly what happened for the first time. It was something I hadn’t shared with anyone in 15 years. Speaking of it made it real. I can still hear him say, “Megan, you were raped.”
Hear this: what I described at the time of my rape to the leaders of my school and what I described to my husband were identical stories. To some Southern Baptist leaders, it was a problem to be silenced, but to my husband, even in the unwarranted anger I hurled at him, he responded with clarity about what actually happened, and his first instinct was to immediately protect me, shield me, embrace me, and show me how much he loved me.
My husband was observant and patient. He saw me instead of my anger, and his concern was for me; he was never concerned with what others thought; protecting something or someone else; what this might cost us—in fact, what it has cost us. The next day, he took his very reluctant wife to see our pastor. It was so difficult for me to share that story again that I asked my husband to.
My pastor was the opposite of those men with the pennies in their shoes. He responded the same way my husband did—with humility and with validation when he didn’t know what to say—and there were many times that happened. He didn’t pretend to have answers. He wept for me, and he wept for us.
My pastor was patient as he listened. He wasn’t quick to make assumptions about how I reacted or didn’t react after my attack. He never questioned my years of silence or asked why I kept this secret for so long or why I was sharing it now. Silence didn’t discredit me in his eyes.
He wasn’t afraid to tell me the physical symptoms I had at the time were no indication of the healthiness of my relationship with God. He wasn’t afraid of me, and he wasn’t afraid of modern medicine. He was secure in his role as my pastor, and he was educated. He wanted to make sure we knew insomnia can cause psychosis, which can lead to many other issues, including suicide. And at the same time, my pastor knew he was not equipped with the tools in his office to treat what I needed. He knew I needed to see a medical professional and encouraged us to do that immediately.
But that didn’t stop him from reading Psalm 3 and other passages from the Bible that were the only balm to my soul and wounds that day. And he prayed for us. My pastor shared something with me that day I will never forget. He said, with a kind and meek smile, in the most gentle way possible, that he had always seen potential in me. Yet he also saw a reluctance to throw myself into ministry. We knew in that moment that the reluctance came from the shame that I carried for 15 years.
He checked in on us after that almost daily to make sure I was seeking help. He contacted professionals. Without sharing my story or identity, he worked diligently to educate himself. After leaving his office, I became consumed with something else. Leadership where my attack happened had changed. I knew they were probably unaware of what happened. I had this overwhelming sense of urgency to tell them in case there were other victims hurting and silenced as I was. It was all-consuming and kept me up at night. In my attempt to reach out to the school to try and care for victims I didn’t even know, the past reality was the complete opposite of the men with those pennies in their shoes.
I was met with an immediate, “We will support you if you wish to press charges.” In addition, I was given access to my file. Right in front of me, in black and white, I read my file and the report of what happened, and my heart dropped into the deepest part of my stomach. I did report what happened. It was the same story I shared with my husband. I wasn’t crazy. I found encouragement and validation that day when someone shared with me, “You were forced to show mercy when there should have been justice.”
From that moment, I was and remain cared for by the institution I was convinced had failed me. And yet those became some very dark days. For the first time, I was safe, heard, and believed, but that didn’t erase the past. The memories I suppressed returned with a vengeance. At the time, I knew nothing of complex trauma or PTSD or what was happening inside me. I only knew what I was experiencing, which included physical pain, flashbacks, and insomnia to name a few. It wasn’t pretty. What I was forced to look at made me question everything around me. Through therapy and EMDR, a treatment many have found life-changing for recovering from trauma, I found healing. EMDR took me back to those places, but I walked away from my attack knowing I’m no longer there, I’m whole, and I’m safe.
For those who don’t have experience with a difficult subject, it may be helpful to know survivors inside and outside the church walk through life with an incredible amount of internal fear, anxiety, and insecurity. To this day, I question the validity of friendships and motives of people.
What I would say to the woman who has been abused
What would I say to that hurting girl in the office with those men on high stools? What would I tell her so she could understand the path to safety?
I would help her with an understanding of justice. While God is a God of justice, the past remains with me. Justice doesn’t bring healing. There’s a false perception that I will feel better once justice plays out the way I think it should. Sometimes it leaves survivors feeling more empty than before because of the security many believe it will provide. I’ve learned for many women that we’re not prepared for what justice did not provide for them.
Another false perception I had: As I came forward, others did with similar stories, but I didn’t feel relief. In fact, my pain became more intense. I didn’t feel better that there were more stories like mine. I felt regret, and I felt responsibility. And new victims certainly didn’t change my past.
In addition, guard your story. Once you expose your story publicly, it can never be taken back. I never realized my motives and intentions would be questioned. I had no idea lawyers would ask if I was having financial or marital problems. I never expected to have pieces of my personal file exposed online. I wasn’t prepared for the fact that members of my own family would not believe me. Overnight, I was no longer a person. Instead, I was reduced to a movement associated with a political party or theological shift they somehow felt could all be dismissed as agenda-driven and irrelevant. Once again, I was a threat to power, which made me the enemy.
However, my story is the biblical story. While some may think I am their enemy or that anyone who speaks for the vulnerable among us is a threat, we are not that enemy. But there is an enemy. It’s the same enemy of every human who’s ever lived, even those who disagree on the very issues we’re discussing here. There was a day in the garden when no one had ever shed a tear, been hurt in any way, and when there was no separation between God and his creation. On that day back in the garden, when the enemy showed up as a crafty snake to twist God’s words and to try and guarantee his seat of power, Eve listened and Adam followed rather than obeying the voice of God who had given them everything they needed.
What we’re facing and discussing may seem new, and the dynamics of how to address these are specific to our time, but the source is the same enemy from the garden—a snake who wanted to be God, convincing people that if they will do this one thing, they can have power like God. Far too many have listened to him, and far too many are still listening. But it doesn’t end there, because once the fruit of power has been consumed, victims are inevitable. And then that enemy tells them lies—lies about who they are, which keeps them silenced. We must join together against this enemy and draw near to the one who has already crushed his head.
Sisters and brothers struggling with the same past experience as I am: your identity is in Christ, whether there is an abundance of evidence or none, whether justice prevailed or justice was not served. Apology or no apology, repentance or none. Whether you are heard, believed, or have remained silent. When members of my family did not give me the support I thought I so desperately needed, it brought me to my knees. The words of Rich Mullins best describe how this season has looked: “And now the night is fading and the storm is past, and everything that could be shaken was shaken. And all that remains is all I ever really had.”
And the words of God best describe what this has revealed: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Light came from my husband, who was the first voice of truth about what had been done to me and who has faithfully walked with me despite all it has cost us. The darkness has not overcome the light.
Light came from new leadership, who sat in chairs across from me, eye to eye and heart to heart, and shepherded me on the path to healing even when attacks came. The darkness has not overcome the light.
Light came from rediscovering my calling to ministry and seeing God weave together my business experience and love for the Church to burst something new. The darkness has not overcome the light.
And I have been told that the light comes from within me, which is Jesus—that despite the attack, trauma, humiliation, ungodly leadership, loss of family and friends, media, and the loss of more than you can imagine—all that loss—it is nothing compared to the light of Jesus; the Jesus who was attacked, who was mocked, who was dead but rose again, destroying that lie-telling, power-stealing enemy who wants to shove us all into darkness. No, he has not won. Jesus has won. I am his, and it is his love and power that shines in me when the shadows creep. The darkness has not overcome the light of Jesus and never will.
So, I’m here today with confidence and with boldness, knowing I am in fact redeemed, forgiven, and justified. Chosen. Safe. Loved. Set free. A new creation. Free, indeed. Child of God. More than a conqueror. Never alone. Free from condemnation. Reconciled. A joint heir with Christ. And complete in him. Not because someone finally believed me. Not because I was given a second chance. Not because I’m called to ministry. But because of who I am in Christ.