Monday, September 14, 2015

Why We Left the CREC, Part 1--The Engagement

I’m sure a question that begs to be asked at the outset of this is “why now?”  The answer is, quite simply, because, in the wake of the public conversation regarding Douglas Wilson and the handling of the sexual abuse cases, people are listening.  We’ve been thinking and praying for a long time about when would be the right time to share our story.  We want to do it in a way that conveys our sorrow over the events that transpired, our love for family and friends who are still in the CREC, and yet still communicates that we are convicted that what happened was not handled appropriately.  It, in fact, allowed, and continues to allow, abuse in many forms to take place not just at Christ Church, but in other CREC churches as well.

We’re also cognizant of the fact that we will be accused, once again, of bitterness.  We’ve learned that disagreement with the church leadership in the CREC automatically brands one as being bitter.  Once labeled as such, any testimony one brings forth can easily be discounted.  Please know that our intention is to shed light on things that we find to be disturbing.  Things that hurt the church and its members.  Our concern is that these actions are pushing people, believing Christians, no less, away from Jesus and the community that should be acting as his body—that is proclaiming itself to be His body.
My first experience begins before Ryan.  Before my family as many of you know it.  At that time, my sister, who is younger than I am by not quite 17 months, was engaged.  I was a month shy of 22, and rapidly becoming an old maid by CREC standards.  In fact, I’d even been told by one man that I was “too old and too well educated” and that made me undesirable. And it seemed true.  No one was expressing any interest in me.

Mom and I were at a wedding.  Once again, the bride was younger than I was.  A rather eccentric man at the CREC church we were attending introduced me to a man from a CREC church the next state over.  He was 16 years my senior.  My initial reaction was “no way.”  However, the next day, a Sunday, he sat with us at the regular meal after church and asked for my email address.  I gave him my “secondary” email address.  We commenced writing.  Then calling on occasion.  The next month he came to visit for my birthday and a courtship commenced.

I grew to care for him deeply.  Even love him.  But I was still a bit uneasy and unsure.  However, every Sunday a man from church (various ones) would comment on what a great guy he was, and how excited they were, and I would think “I’ll give it awhile longer.”  Come February, he proposed.  In my naievety, I thought,” If he wants to marry me, he must truly love me!”  And therein lay my error.  Despite misgivings,  I said yes, and the wedding planning commenced.  We set a date for mid-summer.

Once we were engaged, he owned me.  On one occasion, one of his family members asked me what I wanted to change after we got married, and I said “I’d like to buy two-ply toilet paper.”  I knew it was a dangerous question.  One I didn’t really want to answer, and that seemed like a safe answer.  It was also honest.  He was furious.  I’d disrespected and undermined him.  Talk about keeping me fit and trim—especially after children, was constant.  Then came the tickling.  He’d tickle me until I was bruised.  I’d ask him to stop, but it was like he didn’t hear me.  Until I was yelling at him to stop.  Then he’d get angry and sulk, because, once again, I was being disrespectful.  I’d also had surgery for some health problems, and was on some “maintenance” medications.  Several times he asked me how they would affect my sexual performance.  I had no idea!  Not only was I mortified, but I was becoming concerned by the fact that my appearance and “performance” seemed to outweigh my health in importance in his mind.  By now I was scared.  Genuinely scared and I had no idea what to do about it.

And then there were the photos.  Once I’d gone to visit him, and stayed in his mother’s apartment since she was out of town for the weekend.  He had a key, as did I.  When I woke up the next morning, my phone wasn’t exactly where I thought I’d left it, but it was still connected to the charger, so I thought I must not have remembered correctly.  The weekend seemed to go as they typically went, and I thought nothing of it.  Then, a few weeks later, I was at a friend’s house, and she was going through the photos on my cell phone for fun.  This was a decade ago, when we all used flip phones and they weren’t generally used for photography.  There weren’t many.  She came across pictures of me, fast asleep, in his mother’s apartment that weekend.  He was the only other person with a key.

Some hubbub ensued, but in the end, it was determined that it was outside his character to do such a thing, and the matter was dropped.  Mom and I never felt easy about it, but we felt we really had no recourse, and what could we really do, anyway?  Again, we were admonished to trust him.

There was one particular instance in which some things had happened.  Like the tickling, my mom and I weren’t heard until it escalated.  We apologized for the response that he deemed offensive, and I was genuinely sorry.  However, during what was to be our last premarital counseling session, the elder who was counseling us did press the fact that my fiancé at the time should also issue an apology for the behavior, including the tickling, that led up to our response.  We sat there for a solid hour.  He finally said that he didn’t see how it would make a difference.  Awhile later, he grudgingly gave an “I’m sorry.”  But I left that session and went to bed for the rest of the day.  I kept going over and over in my head everything that was transpiring.  How was I supposed to trust and submit to a man I felt genuine threatened by?  I kept praying, and praying, but felt no peace.  However, all I got from the elders was to trust him.  He was soon to be my head.

Two weeks before the wedding, I was physically ill over it.  Even though I’d been having misgivings, my mom was being told by the elders to encourage me to trust him.  However, at this point, we decided to call it off.  I couldn’t do it.  We drove the six hours to where he lived to do it in person.  I’d written him a letter, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to speak.  After reading it, his response to my mom was “What I’m wondering is, if this is a decision that she should even be allowed to make.”  Those words still ring clear.  A decision I shouldn’t be allowed to make.  Then, in my presence, he threw away gifts I’d given him during our courtship and engagement.

I was instructed by the elders in our CREC church not to talk about why I broke off the engagement.  The elder who had been conducting our premarital counseling was a personal friend of my now ex-fiancé, and he had speculated to mom and me that I likely simply wasn’t quite mature enough to get married.  A statement was sent to the church saying that we had differences in communication that we couldn’t resolve, or something to that effect.

Afterward, a number of women approached me, saying how relieved they were.  That my ex-fiancé had always creeped them out.  He was too touchy during church dances.  There was just something “off,” etc. That they had determined to be his friend, because he would be my husband, but weren’t sure how to manage that.  However, because there was nothing concrete—no solid evidence, the men didn’t want them to speak out about it.
At one point I mentioned on my little blog that I was thankful we hadn’t yet kissed—that that was saved for the man that I hoped to marry someday.  Within a couple of days, the elder who had overseen our counseling and was personal friend of my ex-fiancé called me and asked me to take it down, because it was demeaning to his character.

And that was the end of it.  The next several months were a difficult time of recovery, but by God’s grace, I did recover.  Unfortunately, we didn’t realize at the time that covering up abuse, both mild and extreme, was a pattern in these churches, and we stayed.  We weren’t yet rethinking the theology that drives these patterns.  That came later.  Much, much later.

And my ex-fiancé?  He’s now a deacon in a CREC church.

20 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this. It is starting to look like a pattern in these churches and I hope more people take notice. May God strengthen you.

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  2. I'm glad you had the character and support to say no and stand firm. I wish you and your family years of happiness.

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  3. I'm glad you had the character and support to say no and stand firm. I wish you and your family years of happiness.

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  4. I am somewhat nervously awaiting what must be at least part 2 of your story. I have seen too many similar events, too much 'silencing' and 'protecting' of 'the Church' rather than the people who have come to it to serve and worship. I too have family, friends and loved ones in the CREC, Wilsonianland, and the greater Reformed world. The question that plagues me is whether it is the theology that inevitably leads to abuse, or the fact that the entire institutional church is mostly a hierarchical power structure that serves the interests of the hierarchy over that of its members. Before its defenders cry foul, I would point out that this is exactly what the Reformed position is on the Catholic Church, and they have never been shy about saying so. However, the corruption and distortion and abuse is not limited to one branch of the institutional church - the fact is, the institution is not the body, and perhaps this is God's way of revealing this and calling His children to come out of the Harlot. BTW, I am praying for you and your family. I can only thank God for walking with you through this very trying journey, and pray that He will continue to sustain you. May I humbly ask if you have ever looked into the issue of vaccine damage? There is a vast amount of mostly hidden information out there, dating back to the very inception of the concept, behind the media talking points, for those who are brave enough to seek it out.

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    1. Part 2 might take awhile. It's a bit more complicated and convoluted, but it will come. And yes, I have looked into vaccine damage some. I haven't updated on my children's medical issues recently. However, we have new information that points strongly towards an autosomal recessive genetic condition that affects all of them--just some more than others, and it is known to cause autism as well.

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  5. I'm a member in good standing of a CREC church (RCC in Oregon City), and love my church and denomination. I also have no interest in covering up or perpetrating any kind of abuse or sin against anybody, having lived through a number of difficult times at the hands of abusers myself (not in the CREC, but in other places). That said, Proverbs Pro 18:17 holds sway when it says "the one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him." There is no way to verify, either way, anything you've said here. It's not that I believe what you've written or don't believe it, or that I want to believe it or don't want to believe it. It's that there's simply not enough information here for a public reader to be able to make a judgment. Can you remedy this?

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    1. I also was a member of RCC for 10 years and I see much similarity in the way women have been treated there. But you're right. It's up to you whether you believe or not. (The fact that you're a man is going to limit your experience in this by nature.) However there are many stories coming out of these churches and there are more that won't come out. If you think this is a spiritually healthy place for your family, than by all means, carry on. But my family has permanent scars directly from our involvement at RCC and we aren't the only ones. Proceed at your own risk.

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    2. Eric, if a woman is being abused physically, emotionally, verbally, or spiritually, yet the abuse only happens in private, at what point does her story become believable? If she says the abuse happens while her abuser says it does not, who is to be believed? Does one need to wait until she is bloody and bruised with medical records to back her up? Should she somehow be crafty enough to be able to predict when the next verbal lashing will happen so she can record the discourse? If this abuse is indeed happening and the church leaders don't believe the victim, are they automatically correct? Just some things to think about.

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    3. Hi Eric. There was plenty of tangible evidence at the time. The elders saw the photos themselves. They even believed the denial the fiance' gave. Again, he had the keys. I saw the photos, the bruises, observed the abuse and once gave it right back to him. At this point he went bawling to the elders about getting his hair tugged. Of course THAT WAS TAKEN SERIOUSLY even though he had NO evidence.Of course I fessed up to it. Oh my, what a cry baby he was about it. He was pretty damn lucky he wasn't standing up. I have a great "knee lift".

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  6. Hi Eric. My wife's account above is about as detailed as you can get without naming names. It's already detailed enough that anyone who attended either church at the time of the abuse would know who the parties are. We're in a difficult position because talking about it at all exposes those involved, and yet not talking about it allows abuse to continue. There are those currently in leadership at RCC who know about this case, and it's your right to ask them about it. However, you're going to be in a "our word against theirs" scenario no matter how you look it. Neither side has any tangible proof. If you've keep up at all on any of the current issues involving CREC abuse or Doug Wilson, you'll know that it's the continuing patterns that are the most disturbing. Unfortunately, our case is a mild one compared others, and only one of many.

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  7. Eric, I was actually around Amber and her then-fiance when they were courting and engaged. Dude was a creeper, and her account is consistent with what I observed then.

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  8. I also hope that you enlarge on your comment, which I just reread, that you weren't yet 'rethinking the theology that drives these patterns'. I am interested, because I have certainly been 'rethinking the theology' for some months now. My great desire is to discover if the theology is as faulty as I now consider it, and how to warn others before it harms them and their loved ones.

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  9. I have been a part of a CREC church for 22 years. I'm sure what happened to you was very difficult and I'm sad you had to go through that.
    That being said, I'm not really sure why it is the church's fault that you got engaged to the wrong type of man?
    People at church are usually excited when they hear about an engagement, they aren't going to automatically say that the man you are with is rather strange and maybe even creepy. It's just being polite. You had all those uneasy feelings about him, but you still accepted his proposal.
    I don't know all the details, but I also know we can't blame a church for who we marry...
    I have never once been made to feel like I was too old to be married when I was single at 25.
    I have never felt abused, scarred, or put down because I was a woman at RCC. I have been supported, encouraged, and had ministry leadership opportunities there.
    I know you went through some hard times, we all have, but every church has it's own set of issues, and so do we.

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    1. I think maybe you don't understand. Amber was SET UP with this man by men in your church. Women in YOUR CHURCH had misgivings about said man, but were not listened to because the men over-ruled their feelings regarding him. The men kept encouraging Amber to trust her fiance even though she had misgivings. Amber was being BRUISED by this man and the elders knew it, yet they never ONCE told her even hit the pause button. Do none of these facts raise a red flag in your brain?

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    2. P.S. - Amber was not believed. She brought this abuse before the elders and WAS NOT BELIEVED. She was a victim and she was put down. For some reason I don't think this is the first time that's happened in a CREC church.....

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    3. "Wrong Alice" you refer to having 22 happy years in the CREC and that's great that you haven't suffered as many others have in the same denomination. However, I would like to point out that many of those years you refer to were as a child and you are still quite young, and have very little experience outside of the CREC. Also, as I think you are a child in the leadership your experience may also be quite different from children raised in families that weren't.

      I would challenge you to read "People of the Lie", especially the parts about group evil, how otherwise nice people can be duped into doing evil to others, often through apathy and an unwillingness to consider the viewpoint of those that were abused by the group. I would STRONGLY challenge you to read it.

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    4. I did mention that it was my mistake that I allowed the relationship to continue. I own that I should have called it off. I also realize that many were being polite in not speaking out. However, others told me that they would have said something if they could have--but they had been told not to. Those voices would have been very helpful to me during that time, and we have to ask ourselves why they weren't allowed to speak. And ultimately, when I was left bruised, I wasn't heard. Either the leadership who was counseling us has no understanding of the dynamics of abuse or didn't believe me. Either way, it indicates a serious problem, and one that seems to be a problem in more than one church in the CREC.

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    5. The Wrong Alice, I think the part your missing is the hush order. Amber was instructed to not say anything negative about this man after she called off the wedding just as all others were given hush orders. These hush orders have buried some horrific sins that will come to light sooner or later. Amber's situation is just one of many. If you have not been personally abused in the church won't know about it. This is a typical sign of power mongers keeping control of the situation. What saddens me is knowing so many really wonderful people in the church who don't even know these dynamics are wrong. They have grown up in an abusive situation and think it is normal. That was me for years.

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  10. Dear Ms. Amber,

    I am very glad you called it off. I am also very glad you posted this. What you have reported is far more than simply disturbing the way it would have been if these things had been perpetrated by some members of a traditional culture. These are persons to take the Lord's name: shepherds who devour their charges. There is a reckoning coming for such as these.

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  11. I would really love to communicate with you. I'm a departing member of a CREC church, watching a CREC disaster happening. So many deceptions.

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