"The guilt I was feeling was overwhelming. Nothing I had been through before compared to this guilt and pain."
Kimberly joined a Baptist church soon after enduring several personal tragedies: her mother and two of her brothers died in the span of five years and her third brother was sent to prison. She was trying to work and care for three children. Her husband noticed that Kimberly seemed depressed and called their new pastor so that she could receive counseling.
The counseling lasted several months. Kimberly was working in Women’s Ministry department at the church and the pastor asked her to come and work as his assistant, and she accepted the position. While she was at work, he would make it a point to bring up the troubles she had addressed in counseling – including her family losses and past abuse. At the same time, he and his family became friends with Kimberly and her family. His children would play at their house, sleepover at each other birthday parties. The pastor befriended Kimberly’s husband and gave the family gifts, including a car. The family took a vacation to Canada and upon checkout, the desk clerk stated that their hotel was paid in full by the pastor.
Pastor had multiple roles
As the pastor took on multiple roles as Kimberly's boss, her family's friend, and her religious leader, Kimberly found herself immersed in the pastor’s life. She rode with him to meetings that she did not have to attend because he would state that “he just needed her there.” He asked her to accompany him to his doctor's appointments, and she went out with him to lunch at his request on many occasions. He called her at home every morning. Conversations became increasingly personal. He talked about his life and his abusive childhood. Most of these conversations occurred without her husband’s knowledge.
“At the time, I thought ‘Wow, this is why God has me here – to be his confidante,’” Kimberly recalls.
The pastor began requesting hugs from Kimberly. The counseling sessions started again. He talked about issues she had told him about in earlier sessions; she would become upset; and he would hug her to comfort her. She told him she thought she would end the counseling, but he promised he had himself under control. Eventually the relationship turned sexual. The pastor used scripture to justify and spiritualize the relationship. Kimberly felt an overwhelming feeling of guilt.
“The guilt I was feeling was so overwhelming. Nothing I had been through before compared to this guilt and pain,” Kimberly said.
A pattern emerged
Kimberly started catching her pastor in lies about his relationships with other women. She noticed the pastor’s pattern with other women in the congregation – doing them favors, buying them gifts, counseling them, becoming friends with their spouses and their family. As his assistant, she knew when he had meetings scheduled with women, and even was asked to send other women flowers. She was deeply angry, hurt and depressed. She wanted help but the only person she could ask for help was the pastor himself.
She began to reach out tentatively by asking questions in Bible study sessions on the subject of adultery and how that applied to pastors. Eventually, she explained to the church elders what had happened. When they confronted him, the pastor denied everything. The elders decided to tell the church that Kimberly had lied. She recalls one elder saying that they needed to “protect the pastor at all costs.”
Kimberly and her family resigned from the church after 13 years and after that received a letter from the church chastising them for their defiance of speaking publicly on this issue. Kimberly and her family are now members of another Baptist church. “They welcomed us with open arms,” Kimberly said. “They had had to put a pastor out of their church for the same thing.”