I have a story to tell.
My church harassment story
A little over a year ago Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were murdered by their local law enforcement. It broke my heart. I had trouble sleeping, being focused at work was practically impossible, I was crying all the time. It was a mess.
This was a turning point for me. I decided a few things:
- Alton would be the last time that I watched footage of a police shooting.
- That I would not partake in sharing violence porn in the name of “justice” (y’all know what’s happening. Ain’t gonna pimp out our pain so that we can be seen as human.)
- My church, unfortunately, was not the place I was going to find comfort in my time of need.
- I was not just going to sit around. I was going to do something.
So I got some people together and organised a prayer march and vigil. I called some friends, local, leaders, made an event and we had a sweet time of prayer, worship, mourning and solidarity.
Turns out that I had made a mistake. I used the phrase Black Lives Matter in my promotional material and there was a man at the church I attended who took issue with that and thought is his job to make me see the error of my ways.
From August to October of 2016 this man sent me long messages, links, articles telling me how as a Christian I should not align myself with BLM, how I needed to speak out against the hypocrisy of the movement. He said he knew what the problem was with America and race issues. (we aren’t American and he is a white-passing biracial man who is not black) There was a lot, I will not bore you with all the details.
In that time I was in the middle of moving, going on tour and going through some pretty heavy stuff personally. I replied to the first message which I skimmed saying that I didn’t have time to reply at the moment. As the weeks went on he would send me more information to educate me on the truth even though I never replied to any of his subsequent messages.
This man was not my friend, I barely knew his name, and he never asked why we hosted the vigil, or for clarification. He made it his business to educate me. What I didn’t realise at the time until it was far too late was that this was harassment. His behaviour was inappropriate and uncalled for and I should not have had to deal with it.
When I got back from tour, I reported him, with screenshots to my church. I knew that I would see him there and I was nervous about going and how he would interact with me. I had already asked him to leave me alone on FB. But it made sense that since the only reason he knew me was that we attended the same church that this would be a church discipline issue.
Let me pause right here to say, this is not to speak ill or disparage anyone in particular. This is simply my story. I am sharing this for myself and for others who have been or will be in situations like mine. Everyone involved is aware of how I feel and this is as resolved as it is going to be. This is not an invitation to harass or abuse anyone. So don’t go searching or tagging nobody. Now back to my story
To say that this situation was handled poorly is an understatement. Even with screenshots of our interactions and explanations on my part, I essentially had to beg those in power to come to my defence and protect me. I was told that this harassment came with being in ministry.
Side note: I was not officially a leader at this church, I volunteered but held no official title. My job as a missionary was completely separate and the man was harassing me for what he deemed wrong political/social/spiritual convictions. Had it been a random, or someone through my job I would have handled it differently, but since I was targeted by a “brother in the Lord” it made sense to go to the church.
I was also told that I was strong (so I didn’t need defending) and it seemed that the situation was handled so they saw no need to get further involved. If this man were to contact me again, I should alert my leader and they would handle it.
Of course in the following week or so, I was contacted by this man again. I reiterated that I did not want to hear from him and since he was incapable of respecting my wishes I was blocking him. I then took a screenshot and forwarded it to my church leadership.
The response was to email us BOTH (I was CCd in it, essentially giving this man that I had made clear I wanted no contact with my email) and in the email it was said that I asked for help communicating and that sometimes it is better not to talk to people about certain things and to just pray for them.
I will admit, I saw red. I felt completely disregarded, disrespected and alone. The email read as if I was the one in the wrong and I was being overly emotional and irrational. And that since I wasn’t capable of handling a simple conversation with MY HARASSER I should be prayed for.
Not once in this email was this man reprimanded for targetting me and others. Nor was he told that it was wrong to disrespect my wishes when I asked to not be contacted. Not once did my leader ask me how I felt or if I was safe. Nor did they reassure me that I belonged in our community, just as I was. That my voice was valued, that my experiences were heard.
I tend to question myself when it comes to authority and things happening to me (I have learned that this is the byproduct of having experienced abuse in my life.) So I shared the screenshots with trusted friends and leaders in other communities and it blew my mind that within minutes they were replying with support, anger and reassurance of my value and worth.
Other than for 10 minutes one Sunday last winter before a shift, I have not been back to this church. This wasn’t my only reason, but this experience made it clear (in many ways) to me that I wasn’t safe or fully valued there. I honestly haven’t really been to church in the last year.
Fast forward a to a year later. I have moved cities and have moved on from this situation. This man found me on Facebook and sent me a “wave”. I learned the hard way that a block on messenger is not a block on Facebook. I rolled my eyes took a screenshot for my records and moved on with my life.
About a month later I received a message from a friend saying that they received a message from this man asking about me, why I had left the church, how he tried to call me out about BLM and how I didn’t take it well and saying he is concerned that I have been deceived by the devil and bunch of other things.
My first instinct was to laugh. Is this dude for real?! It has been over a year, I don’t go to your church, or even live in your city. Why are you so obsessed with my life?
Then, I felt angry and violated. Why did he feel the right to discuss my life with others? How dare he slander my name in this way? And I knew that this would happen. Had I been taken seriously when I reported him a year ago, maybe he would not be harassing me or my loved ones today.
So I sought counsel and support from trusted people in my life, took the screenshots that my friend had of their conversation, contacted some people to be witnesses in case it escalated, and reported him to the leadership at his church AGAIN. I also searched, FB, IG and Twitter to make sure that any account associated with this man was blocked and made all my social media platforms private.
And now I am sharing this experience with you. In the wake of #metoo, #churchtoo, #chhsexism and women around the world owning their stories and their voices, this happening this week brought home the point that i needed to say something. Not just for my safety but for the well being and knowledge of others in situations like mine or worse.
Thankfully, I no longer live in that city. But if I did, I would be worried about what would happen if this man showed up at a church or event I was attending or leading. Stories like this are the reason why so many don’t report their stories of assault. Particularly inthe church.
We have the tendency to downplay dangerous and harmful behaviour as misunderstandings, or personality quirks. We also have the tendency to talk down to women and assume that they complaints are not real or an exaggeration and as such allow harmful, problematic men to do and say whatever they want.
This is a sin we must all repent from. We need to and can do better. As for me, a year later, I have made some new decisions for myself.
- I will never again muffle my voice for the sake of my salary/job/reputation. This may mean that I will never work in ministry again. And if that is the case, so be it.
- I will not hesitate to honour and love myself enough to remove toxic people from my life. This means if you are going to slide in to my DM telling me that I am going to hell, am of the devil, have disgusting views etc. save me the trouble, please don’t.
I share this in hopes that those in my life will be vigilant as this person may be attempting to get to me through them.
For those of you who have suffered abuse of any kind from within a church or spiritual setting. You are not alone. It is not your fault. You are worth defending.
For those who don’t think we have issues with sexism and racism in the church, hear me when I say this. this would have ended differently if I was male or not black.
For those who are leaders or gate keepers in Christian communities. Please, hear us when we speak. Don’t assume we’re okay or the type of person who is “strong enough” to handle abuse. Please have a policy in your church communities for what you will do when abuse or harassment takes place. Please speak boldly about how your community values differences and diversity. It has to be made plain and if it does not come from your lips, unfortunately some people won’t hear it at all.