Part three of a series of articles.

In the United States, 25 percent of girls and 8 percent of boys are sexually abused before they turn 18. It’s incredible then that with a staggering number of victims, it often takes a critical mass—and time—before we’re willing to acknowledge that people we admire or trust are capable of sexually abusing children. People who abuse children often appear to be regular, normal folks, and we often don’t recognize that child sexual abuse is occurring because it is committed by people we know. – Elizabeth Letourneau, Ph.D.

Debbie attended the church from 1978-1986. She was an eleven year old child and Steve was in his early thirties when the sexual abuse started. It continued for about two years. He was married and popular in the church. She blamed herself, thinking she must have done something wrong to cause his actions. When she found the courage to tell the pastor, he recorded their conversation and stated he would get back to her. The pastor, who was also the Wisconsin District Superintendent for many years, never did. Instead, the perpetrator left the state and Debbie received no counseling. Steve’s wife, Debra, filed for divorce in 1985. She caught her husband in bed with her 15 year old sister, Alice, whom Steve later married.

Some church members avoided her or gave her evil looks. Years later, while in her late 40s, she found her voice and the courage to speak up. Little did she know what would transpire as she started writing about her childhood. While feeling alone in what happened to her, others from Calvary Gospel United Pentecostal Church in Madison, Wisconsin started contacting her. They also were sexually assaulted. (The statements in this article are what has been alleged by the survivors. There have been no convictions as the cases mentioned here were not reported to the police and to my knowledge, the alleged perpetrators have not admitted guilt.)

I know what the research says. I know that my grooming for sexual abuse was so effective that, many years later I still feel responsible for my own abuse. I understand the dynamics that produced this effect in me. And, yet, after all my knowledge, all my therapy, and all the years of praying, it still feels like my fault, like I was complicit in my own abuse. And, it still feels like I owe my abusers compassion, love, secrecy, and the denigration of myself for their aggrandizement.

This is how effective and destructive abusive grooming is. And this barely touches on the reality of all the feelings, trauma, PTSD symptoms, and other long-term effects caused by sex offenders. – Maureen Farrell Garcia

As Debbie has continued to blog, more women have come forward, sharing their past with her. In early February 2018, some who left Calvary Gospel started leaving negative reviews on the church Facebook page and commented on posts. Comments were deleted by the church and the review section was soon removed. [There is an unofficial Facebook Page for the church where there are some reviews available.] Before that happened, members were hurriedly leaving positive five star reviews in an effort to counter the others. I didn’t catch these when they first started, but I did save around twenty screen shots. What I witnessed was similar to that I have seen in the past, where people rally around the pastor, don’t allow themselves to consider what is being shared, and dismiss anything negative without looking to see if there is any validity to the claims. The person who brings up a problem becomes the problem. The person is labeled things like being bitter in an effort to dismiss and discount whatever they share. These are well-known signs of an unhealthy church.

It reminded me of a time in my former United Pentecostal Church in New Jersey. The pastor had discovered that two former members had done a radio broadcast about spiritual abuse. They mentioned no names. The pastor took an entire Thursday evening service to play the cassette tape of it to show what was being said about the church. This created a stir among the members, an us vs. them mindset, and they rallied around the church and pastor. How dare those former members say those untrue things! I was away when this happened, so I borrowed the tape from the pastor. When I returned it, I gave it to another woman. I can still picture her standing in the church hallway, holding the cassette by her fingertips and away from herself.

Child sex abuse cases are a lot harder to try than a murder case. I would rather try a murder case than a child sexual abuse case because they’re so difficult. Juries do not want to believe that this happened. They do not want to believe that that guy sitting over there did something to a child. – Mary A. Jennings, Prosecutor, Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office

Debbie posted her one star review and wrote, “This church is not a safe place for young girls/women. They do not report sexual abuse to the authorities.” Scott, a church member, soon replied, “Another lie…ridiculous!” It should be noted that Scott was not even in Wisconsin at the time of Debbie’s alleged assault.

Rachel posted a scripture and mentioned the name of Debbie’s blog. Scott replied, “I just read this ‘blog’. It is full of misconceptions and outright lies. This church does NOT at all teach what she claims…in fact, I am part of an organization within this church drawing attention to the fact that men are the source of many issues dating back to Adam in the book of Genesis. He was absent when Eve needed him and men today need to be aware of their responsibility to support and love their wives…not pull them down. That claim is ridiculous!”

Laura, a former member who didn’t know about the depth of abuse that happened with the other girls until last week, remembers the meeting with John Grant (the pastor at the time, now the Bishop, as his son took his place) concerning an adult man and a minor girl. The pastor allegedly said, “I’m required by law to report this. I’m not going to jail for any fornicator.” Laura and her husband later discovered that it had never been reported. They were instructed by John Grant to see to Lisa’s emotional and spiritual healing and leave the rest of it to him to deal with. Laura later wrote that she knows “of several situations where adult men were inappropriate with minor girls and the church looked the other way. …These men MIGHT have received a pat on the hand for what they did, but the girls were labeled as though they were the ones at fault.”

She continued in another post that further explained the same meeting, “…there were two elders present. One of them said, concerning the victim and the family, ‘Well, if the parents would live right…!’ The other one said, ‘You better be glad we aren’t in the Old Testament days when they stoned people for this.’ How comforting and supportive was this to a family whose world was turned upside down by a predator? After the situation, the young lady was shamed and labeled by many/most of the people in the church. It was heartbreaking. Now, look at the songs and the message at CGC this morning. They sang about the enemy, they talked about the enemy. They are subtly maneuvering people’s minds to believe that they are the innocent victims of an unwarranted attack by bad people. They are refusing to address this situation openly and honestly. They are hijacking the label of victim and placing it upon themselves. If you know anything about psychology or spiritual abuse, you will understand exactly what is going on there. If you have a blind loyalty to the royalty, you will not look into the mountains of facts and evidence.” (four typos have been corrected)

A woman I will call M shared this was her home church and she is loyal to it. Yet her and her son were sexually assaulted (she first used the term harassed). She wrote, “I’ve never reported it and I never will. I’m a warrior but I’m not stupid; I’d be shunned.” This is very sad.

Kim, another church member, posted a screen shot of something from Wisconsin’s laws about clergy members reporting abuse. While she didn’t want to “make light of the events that transpired,” she felt that those posting should follow Matthew 18 “rather than openly criticize a church organization.” She went on to share that “There are reasons why pastors and church leadership handle things the way that they do. They answer to a higher authority.”

Yes, all too often pastors make the decision to handle crimes ‘in house’ and not report them to police. Doing so in situations such as are being covering in this series of articles, it enables pedophiles and other predators to continue sexually assaulting others. In Debbie’s situation, the man went on to be a pastor, something that would never have happened had he been reported to the police and convicted.

If these allegations are true, something has been very wrong with this church. Will David Bernard, the current General Superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church, fully investigate events that transpired at Calvary Gospel Church? If these allegations prove to be true, will John Grant’s license be revoked as well as the license of anyone else who may have played a role in failing to report sexual assault to police?

I want to end with a quote from Laura that was made in the review section after comments from church members started going missing. I believe she sums it up well.

Concerning the posts that were removed telling people to move on: Moving on is what all these victims have had to do because they never received the help they deserved from the church. Instead they were labeled and pushed away from the community. There comes a time, though, when recovery has taken place and the hurt have regained their strength, that they come back and hope to see justice done. If not justice through the legal system, at least those who covered up crimes exposed, hopefully enough to prevent future victims. The problem is that there is a mentality there that says the victims are liars and their beloved leaders could do no wrong. Those who have poured salt on the wounds are those who called these survivors liars and refuse to believe what happened. There are MANY victims who are coming out and finally speaking up. They are courageous to take this stand and finally be heard. It’s a shame that those who are reading these are circling the wagons and declaring that it’s a spiritual attack. It’s not. It’s consequences for crimes that have been swept under the rug for decades. We were there. We saw what happened in many of these situations. And if there are…say 10 who are speaking up right now, you can be sure there are at least 10 who are not yet talking about it.

UPCI WI District 2016 Christmas for Christ from CenterStage Media, LP on Vimeo.

Part One: The United Pentecostal Church and Sexual Abuse
Part Two: A UPC Minister’s Sexual Fantasy
Part Three: A UPC Church Responds To Sexual Abuse
Part Four: A Pastor Who Should Not Have Been Part 1
Part Five: A Pastor Who Should Not Have Been Part 2
Part Six: A Pastor Who Should Not Have Been Part 3