Trigger warning, so please read on with caution.
I was raped at a party just days after my 16th birthday. My friends and I decided to celebrate the end of our sophomore year by going to a frat party. In good teenage fashion, I drank too much and blacked out. When I came out of it, I was underneath a man I didn’t recognize that had about 100 lbs on me. When I tried to get out from underneath him, he pinned me down and continued to thrust himself into me. For years, I never spoke of it, but battled an eating disorder, self-harm, and crippling anxiety and depression.
I joined Grace Church as a freshman at CMU having no prior church experience and therefore was blind to any red flags that may have arisen. I had been talking to/seeing a guy that was heavily involved in the church. I decided to be baptized at Grace after a year of attending and serving in kid’s church, and was told that in order to do so, I’d have share my story in front of the church. I was reluctant to share the real story – the story that traumatized me, shattered me, and pushed me straight into the arms of Jesus. But a leader I trusted in the church strongly encouraged me to share the full story…The one I was terrified to tell and had never said out loud to anyone, but finally felt like I was in a safe enough space to share. This church leader explained that it wasn’t my story to tell, but it was the work of Christ in me and therefore I needed to share it all. For God’s glory, not mine. The next Sunday, I stood in front of the congregation, unable to make eye contact, with sweaty palms and shaking knees and told the story of my trauma. A few days later, the guy I’d been talking to explained that he no longer wanted to pursue a relationship with me because I wasn’t “pure.” He was only interested in marrying a virgin. I was devastated. Not at the loss of him by any means, but because of how worthless, dirty, and vulnerable he’d made me feel. I understand that this man does not represent the entirety of the church, however, he does represent the type of person that this church breeds.
Once again, I sunk into a deep depression and engaged in self-destructive behaviors. This time, I added substance abuse into the mix. Anything I could think of that would numb the unbearable pain I felt. Desperate, I reached out to the church for help. I was told by a church leader that “God would not listen or answer prayer until I was rid of the sinful patterns in my life.” I was so broken. So I stopped going to church altogether. Clearly, I wasn’t worthy of God’s Grace. I was the exception of God’s endless mercy. I’d filled my quota of mistakes in life and was out of second chances. So I gave up.
To the leaders of Grace:
I know your intentions are good, and I can’t imagine witnessing the negativity surrounding the organization you’ve spent the majority of your lives building. But your words and actions have brought so many people so much pain, and even ruined lives. This is not the work of Christ. Your message is a stark contrast from the spirit of the man that spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well with love, forgiveness, and kindness. It is crucial that you see that. Your practices are harmful, abusive, and ultimately draw people away from the church. It’s been many years since I was last a part of Grace Church, and I still haven’t been able to sit through an entire church service without feeling triggered and/or having a panic attack and needing to leave. Although I desire to be part of a church community again (and desperately NEED to be part of a community), I am having difficulty opening up and trusting again in a church setting. I don’t know if or when I’ll be fully healed from my experience at Grace. I spent years in counseling learning to cope with my experiences, but joining a church again is a feat I have yet to achieve. Grace, know that your words and actions have power. Take time to re-evaluate the message you are sending. If it was the message of Christ, we wouldn’t have this collaboration of painful interactions experienced at your place of worship. A church is supposed to be a place of healing, rather than a place that causes so many to need to seek healing from. I am begging you to consider our stories in order to re-evaluate your message so that no one else will endure the pain we’ve experienced while being members at Grace. Also know that a sincere apology goes such a long way. I can’t help but think I’d be much better off had I received an apology and acknowledgment of emotional pain inflicted upon me from people within the church that I deeply admired and trusted.