Much to my dismay, God keeps bringing people to my door who have been abused by a pastor or other trusted church leader.
Over the last year, I’ve taken on three cases against abusive pastors. Two involve significant embezzlement and fraud by pastors in different churches. A third involves extensive sexual abuse and misconduct by around half a dozen men on the pastoral and ministerial staff at Christ Chapel Assembly of God in Woodbridge, Virginia.
Although I’ve never sought such cases, more keep queuing up and demanding my attention.
My Personal Angst
This isn’t what I planned for my law practice. Even though I do lots of other kinds of legal work, these are the kind of cases I personally hate to handle. That’s because I am not an attorney who can just go through the motions. I only take on new clients if I personally care about their plight and believe I can help. Because I care, pastoral abuse cases can be personally crushing.
As an attorney helping women who’ve been sexual exploited by a trusted pastor, there’s no way I can remain clinically and dispassionately detached and still be effective. To help them, I have to be their strength. I have to take on and bear the weight of the sins and the hurts they’ve suffered, while letting them know that someone with authority finally cares enough to listen to them, believe in them, and stand firm on their behalf against the evil they’ve suffered.
For them to tell me what happened means that they must open up the hurt, shame and sense of violation they are carrying, and it is often more than they can bear alone. To help them, they must trust me with their stories. That trust only arises as I am sincere and transparent in my empathy, and resolute and caring in my strength. Time and again, I’ve seen how healing it is for them to find someone who will finally listen and help them find the voice and dignity their own churches stole from them.
For me, however, the evil and the abuse they suffered – at the hands of unrepentant but respected pastors – is almost too much to bear.
It is crushing. Almost daily as I work on such cases, I break down weeping after hearing from a new victim, or learning of yet another man who is preying on women in his church.
Some of those abusive men, it turns out, had been my friends. And so I mourn – for the women and also for the carnage caused by men I too respected, trusted and called friends.
There is a price to pay to help these women. Yet my wife and I strongly felt that the Lord wanted me to help – even if it means bearing their burden, forgoing personal compensation, if needed, and putting other paying cases on the shelf.
So I agreed to step forward, investigate and act on their behalf. And although it sometimes drives me to my knees in tears, I have felt so privileged to get to know them. In coming forward to bear witness against their abusers, they are never driven by revenge or personal gain. Rather, they simply want to stop the abuse, protect others and find closure.
And in so doing, despite being wounded and shamed, they demonstrate a quiet, humble courage few can match.
~ Jim Wright
Next, I talk about a case I’m now handling, and address the question of How Should We React, in Part 2 of this series.
- Abusive Church Leaders (Part 2) – How Should We React?
- Abusive Church Leaders (Part 3) – Mandatory Public Warnings
- Abusive Church Leaders (Part 4) – Civil and Criminal Law
If you or someone you know has been a victim of pastoral sexual exploitation, I recommend I’m So Confused, by The Hope of Survivors, as a good starting point to understand and begin to seek healing.