When Pastors Are Sexual Abuse Survivors

Childhood trauma can sabotage ministry in sinister ways.

It took me 20 years to acknowledge I’d been molested in sixth grade.

I’d always had a memory of the molestation, but it was fuzzy, distant, and I had no category to place it in. Thank God it wasn’t worse, I thought, or that could have really messed me up.

Eleven years into ministry, I emotionally imploded. My newborn son wasn’t sleeping or breastfeeding. My wife had postpartum anxiety, and we fought constantly. My home felt like a scary, overwhelming place, where more was demanded of me than I could provide. I distanced myself from a wife who only wanted a husband who would say, “It’ll all be okay.” That’s typical of sexual abuse survivors: we’re terrified of emotional threats, and we hide from feelings that overwhelm us. How could I tell her everything would be okay when I was barely keeping the panic in my heart at bay?

Things were no better in the ministry I led, where attendance was down and I was receiving confusing messages from my supervisor intimating that the church’s pastoral management team wasn’t happy with me. I became defensive and combative, subconsciously afraid everyone would realize what I already knew: I was a failure. There was something wrong with me. Something shameful.

I didn’t cheat on my wife—thank God—but I got closer than I thought myself capable, and while my marriage survived this near-miss, my job did not. I was fired when my wife was six months pregnant. I experienced daily panic attacks and drastic weight loss, and I was told by a recruiter that my resume now had Scarlet A that would keep me out of ministry for years.

For the first time I began to wonder if—underneath my sin, unwise choices, arrogance, and …

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