“I have learned now that while those who speak about one’s miseries usually hurt, those who keep silence hurt more.” —C S Lewis
In her story my friend Gale mentioned a class I started so she would “have a place to go on Sunday mornings.” I think this is a good place to pick up my story, since the events surrounding this class would lead to one of the defining moments in my life.
I mentioned we had joined a new church in the area, one that had formed as the result of a church split. We had not been part of the church that split and had not experienced that turmoil and pain, so for us this new church was a new beginning. When a group of several hundred people met at a local high school for the first time, everyone felt like something special was happening. We were in the first blush of a new beginning, and as with most new beginnings, there was a sense of excitement and anticipation that something good and right was happening. That feeling lasted for quite a while in those first years; then began the rumblings. Some called them “growing pains”; I hoped they were right.
Those difficult months of Gary’s physical decline were taking a toll on Gale in all ways—physically, emotionally, spiritually. She told me how isolated she felt, how disconnected to people, how exhausted, how alone. She wanted and needed to be with people at church but felt she had nowhere to go on Sunday mornings; there was no class where those who were in pain and grieving could find strength and encouragement. I wanted to help her through this time, so I told her I had an idea: if she would come Sunday mornings and bring the children to their classes, we would find an empty room, and I would spend that time with her. Initially I didn’t see it becoming a class, but that quickly changed. Other women heard I was meeting with Gale and asked if they could come too. In just a few weeks we had a “class,” and it kept growing. Each week I would plan a lesson centered around spiritual gifts, but whether we covered that lesson depended upon the needs of the women who were there that day, especially Gale. We were connecting, building relationships, learning to be honest with each other, to know each other, to encourage and support each other, to love each other. The presence of the Spirit of Christ was palpable. Something special was happening. Then a message was sent to us from the “leadership,” meaning the pastor: the class would no longer be allowed to meet since it had not been initiated or authorized by him.
The news was crushing to those of us who been part of something we all knew was a work of the Spirit. I was shocked by this edict, but honestly felt there must be some mistake. Surely the pastor wanted people in the church to listen to the Spirit and use their gifts to build up this new body that had formed. There had to be some misunderstanding, I thought.
I knew there had already been conflicts in the church. A few men had gone to the pastor and tried to talk to him about how his controlling leadership style was affecting the church; from all accounts, those meetings hadn’t gone well. Some of those families had left the church. As I thought about Gale and the other women, I had the growing conviction that I needed to go and talk to him. Maybe I could express myself in a way that he would hear and understand. It was January, 1992, and Gary had recently died. Gale needed our support now more than ever. Besides, there were other things that were happening in my life that I wanted to talk to him about. I decided I had to go. I called a close, trusted friend and told her what I was going to do. I had expected her to be concerned, but I could hear the alarm in her voice when she responded, “Noooo! You can’t do that! You don’t know how he can be!”
We talked for a long time about why I felt I needed to go, and what I wanted to talk to him about. Nothing I said seemed to lessen her concern and she continued to try to talk me out of it. Finally I asked her if she thought I would be in danger of a physical attack. She responded, “No…but he can be so cruel. If you do go, you can’t go alone.” Her husband had been one who had gone to talk to him, and it had gone badly. Knowing her husband’s experience helped me understand why she didn’t want me to go. But if the danger she feared was an angry abusive barrage of words, that was something I felt prepared to handle. Like many people who grow up in a home with a parent (in my case, my mother) who was unpredictable and likely to explode with rage, sometimes even violence, at any moment, for any reason, I had developed some special skills, known as coping mechanisms, that I could call on if needed. Because of my experience with my mother, I had spent a lot of time studying and learning how to handle, or sometimes just to endure or avoid, these situations. But I couldn’t imagine that a discussion with a pastor could be that bad. So I asked my friend to pray, and I prepared myself to meet with him.
The church office was located in a mobile home set up on property purchased by the church for future building. I greeted the secretaries and was shown to his office. I sat down, noting my position, his position, and the locations of the doors. I wasn’t expecting this to become confrontational, but I took note of my surroundings just in case. I know not to get trapped in a room with someone who might lose control; having an exit strategy is essential.
I began by talking about what I was studying, focusing on what I had learned in the study on spiritual gifts I had gone through several months earlier. I talked about what was going on in my life, about the opportunities to speak and teach I was being given. I opened up to him about what a struggle that was for me because I had a deeply-rooted fear of public speaking and had always gone to great lengths to avoid it. I asked him, as my pastor, for his support and prayers. Then I moved to the subject of the class, telling him how it began, how it had grown on its own, how the women who came were feeling the presence of the Spirit. I asked him to reconsider and let us meet, especially since Gary had recently died and Gale needed the support. I had begun a class in my home on Monday nights after we were told we couldn’t meet on Sundays, but Gale couldn’t come then because she needed to be home with her children.
I finally stopped talking and waited for him to respond. When his first words were a loud angry, “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE…!”, I knew this was not going to go as I had hoped. I sat listening as he berated me for doing anything without his permission. I listened carefully, trying to figure out what exactly he thought about the church and how it functions. I asked some questions, wanting to be sure I was understanding him correctly. He told me he was the head of the church and any decisions made, no matter how small, had to have his approval. This didn’t fit at all with the picture of the church I saw in scripture. I said, “Let’s see if we can find a point of agreement. It is my understanding that Christ is the head of the church. Would you agree with that?”
“Yes,” he replied emphatically. “And I’m the subhead!”
My response was immediate: “Then what we have is a two-headed monster! A body with two heads can never be healthy.” There was silence for a few moments as I tried to wrap my head around the fact that those words had just come out of me. I wasn’t surprised when he exploded and the torrent began again, this time more vicious. I found myself pulling away in my mind, watching him attack me from somewhere else. I went numb, and it felt like I was watching someone else. This was one of those “special skills” I mentioned. At that point in my life, I knew I could do this but didn’t know what I was doing or that it was a real thing and had a name. But that’s something I’ll talk about more later when I talk about toxic stress, and childhood trauma, and being made whole.
He made it clear that he was the ruler of the church, and my only responsibility was to “come under his authority.” No one would do anything in this church without his knowledge and permission. He told me I would not be teaching or doing anything else in the church until I accepted him as my authority and had his permission. I was to go to the couples’ class on Sunday mornings, to “sit there and keep your mouth shut” because I am a woman. Furthermore, teaching a class in my home, as well as speaking or teaching anywhere else, required his permission. That’s where I drew the line and had to respond, saying that while he could prevent me from doing anything in this church, he could not and would not control what I did in my life. I would follow the leading of the Spirit, not him. That response elevated his level of anger again and he continued to hammer me. I stopped responding and just listened, making mental notes of what he was demanding so I could analyze it later.
As I watched him and listened, I became overwhelmed by an awareness of what would be coming for the church because of him. The sense of the pain he would cause was intense. I became aware that tears were rolling down my cheeks. I didn’t want him to think he was breaking me down, so I told him what was going on in me: “I know you see my tears, but I want you to know they’re not for myself because of the way you’re treating me, even though you are being brutal. My tears are for what I see coming for the people in this church. If you will not humble yourself, God will humble you. And when he does, there will be so much pain, so many people will be hurt. That breaks my heart. These tears are for them, for the pain you will cause.” His anger flared again, and the volley of accusations and insults resumed. I could tell my words had shaken him, but he would not stop and let this end, and it was time for it to end. There was nothing to be gained by continuing.
I looked down, began to shake my head slowly as he continued his verbal barrage. I said quietly but firmly: “I will not leave until you stop attacking me.” I repeated that phrase once more, maybe twice, and he began to calm. With a confused look he said, “Jan, I don’t understand. You’ve stayed in this room and haven’t walked out. No one has ever done that before. I know you are sincere and you love me. You wouldn’t have done this if you didn’t. I wish you could understand that it’s God’s plan for you to come under my authority.” He began to talk about God’s “chain of command” and “umbrella of authority.” I recognized these as coming from Bill Gothard and wasn’t surprised since I knew he was a big fan of Gothard. He told me if I would come under his “umbrella of protection,” I would be “covered” and would be free. As long as I did exactly what he told me, even if it turned out to be sin, he would be responsible, not me. I shook my head slowly and told him I understood what he was saying and knew where it was coming from, but I didn’t believe it and would not accept it. “So,” I said quietly, “I guess that leaves us in different places. I wish it weren’t that way, but that’s the way it is.” We said goodbye, and I left. I had been in that room with him for two hours. I was exhausted.
I was grateful for the side door leading directly outside so I didn’t have to walk back through the office and face the concerned, questioning gazes of the secretaries. By the time I got to my car, my hands were shaking. As I drove home, my body began to shake as well. The physical effects of those grueling two hours were beginning show themselves. When I got home I headed straight for my bedroom. I dropped on the floor beside my bed and, still shaking, took some deep breaths. Then I picked up the phone and called my friend. She answered, I said her name…then the floodgates opened, and the sobs came from deep in my soul. She said, “Oh, Jan, it was bad, wasn’t it? I was so afraid of this.” I managed to say, “Yes. He was vicious.” She asked me if I would let her come be with me. I told her no, I just wanted her to stay with me on the phone, to sit with me in my tears so I wouldn’t feel so alone. And we sat.
Not long after my friend and I finally reached a point where I felt ready to end the call, I heard the garage door open and knew my husband was home from work. I was still sitting on the floor beside the bed when he came in to change into his workout clothes. He looked at me but said nothing. I tried unsuccessfully to keep my voice steady as I said, “I went to talk to Glenn today. He tore into me; he was vicious.” My husband looked at me for a moment then, without a word, turned and walked out of the room. C S Lewis once wrote, “Spiteful words can hurt your feelings but silence breaks your heart.” Lewis was right.
I was so hurt, and afraid that I was going to descend into a pit of despair so deep that I would not be able to get out. I wept continuously for that entire night and the next morning. I pled with God, “Don’t let me fall. Why did You allow me to be so hurt when I was only seeking to be obedient to You?” The Spirit’s answer broke through my pain into my mind with the words: “I will never let you fall below the point that I won’t pick you back up. You must let go of your fear of being hurt. I am in control of your life. It will be through your crushing that the fragrance of Jesus will be released in your life.” At that moment, through my tears, I was able to respond, “Lord, I believe You. If you told me to go back and experience this again tomorrow, I would go. I might be hurt, but You will pick me up. I don’t have to be afraid anymore.” I thought, I hoped I had made it through, that this would be the end of the pain and the fear, the end of the crushing. Time would reveal that it wasn’t.
For the first week or so after that day I tried many times to talk to my husband about what had happened and how I felt, to make him understand that I didn’t want to stay at that church. His only response was silence, except for saying he saw no reason to leave since he didn’t have a problem. Sunday morning following that awful day saw our family back again at the church, with my husband acting as though nothing had happened and me avoiding the pastor. Hearing his voice again evoked a mixture of reactions in me; I alternated between feeling sick, wanting to run, and wanting to stand up and roar, “Enough!” Instead, I sat quietly and tried to focus on something else. That didn’t prove too difficult since three of my four children were sitting with us.
A few weeks passed, then my husband told me the pastor had asked to meet with him. I felt hopeful: maybe my husband would say something to him about the way he had treated me. The day of the meeting came, and I anxiously waited for my husband to come home afterward. When he came in, he said nothing, so I asked the question that was foremost in my mind: “Did you say anything to him about the way he treated me?” His answer cut like a knife: “No.” Confused and angry, I said, “Then what exactly did you talk about?” He responded with, “Pastor said you need to come under authority,” then walked out of the room. That was it; there would be no more talking about it. And at that moment, something in me shifted. I realized later that this had been a defining moment in my life.
For the next year I went to church on Sunday mornings and sat. This is what was needed because I deeply loved my children, and I did what was necessary to keep life calm and stable for them. I would have endured anything to give them a sense of something I had never had as a child: safety and security. Only my friend knew what had happened. I told no one else there because there would have been no point. There was nothing I could say or do that would have been beneficial or led to resolution. I did tell a local counselor about what happened when my husband and I went to him for marriage counseling. That’s when the counselor opened up to me about his own painful personal experience as Gothard’s righthand man; this is a story I told earlier. Needless to say, his marriage counseling was not helpful. I had the feeling I had become his counselor.
At church I sat, but I continued to teach classes in my home and began to respond to more and more opportunities to teach in the community. I felt I was handling the situation well; later I would realize that my body was keeping the score. When the plan for building on the church property took shape a year after my exchange with Glenn (I could never refer to him as pastor after that day), my husband became disgruntled about the way the program was being handled and began to talk about leaving the church. I confess I did what I could to feed his discontent; understandably so, since I had been ready to leave for a year. When the move finally came, I felt as if I could breathe again. That was when unexpected things began to happen, and I found myself drawn into that whirlwind. The year was 1993.
Maybe you’re wondering if what I sensed was going to happen to Glenn Rogers and Tri-Cities Baptist Church actually happened. Several years elapsed before it happened but it did, and the pain was as deep as I had felt it would be, maybe even deeper. The details of that story are not mine to tell; they must be told by those who were there and experienced the damage of his betrayal. I have heard directly from some of those he hurt: the women who were stalked by him as well as those who were involved in exposing him. His duplicity had a devastating effect that still negatively impacts the lives of some today. Maybe through hearing this story and the story still to come, those who have been hurt by his behavior or by the behavior of others like him can begin to make sense of what happened and see that this story is not just about our conflict. It is much bigger than we knew.
At the time these events took place, a war had been raging in the SBC for over a decade, having begun in earnest in 1979. One of the issues at the center of the war was this idea of authority. What I didn’t know then was that victory had been declared two years earlier, in 1990. What I was experiencing and would be experiencing in the following years was the victors claiming the spoils and routing the “enemy.” In the end, the Gospel would be the loser.
It is my hope that knowing this story will help you understand at least one reason why people have been described as “leaving the Evangelical church in droves,” and why the ranks of the “nones” have been steadily rising. Hopefully, we can act and speak out in ways that not only expose the abuses but bring much-needed correction. It’s one thing to lift up your voice to expose and denounce that which is wrong; it’s another thing to do it in a way that brings change and healing. This second way begins with knowledge and understanding. And there is much we need to know.
You might remember the news of the firing of Paige Patterson from his position as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWTBS) a little over a year ago in May, 2018. Patterson lost his job because of something that happened in 2003 when he was president of a different seminary, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. Now Patterson is once again in the hot seat. Both he and SWTBS have been named as co-defendants in a lawsuit filed in federal court. A female student has accused both Patterson and the seminary of failing to protect her when she was raped at gunpoint by a fellow student at least three times during the 2014-2015 school term. An article published last month in Christianity Today gives a clear picture of what is happening. I strongly urge you to read that article (“Southwestern Distances Itself from Paige Patterson in Sex Abuse Lawsuit”) and the other one referenced below (“Lawsuit reveals details about Paige Patterson’s ‘break her down’ meeting with woman alleging campus rape”) The name Paige Patterson will be significant in the story yet to unfold. A “break her down” meeting…now that’s something relevant to the story I just told, and something we need to think about.
But before I get to that, I need to take you back again to that summer of 1974 in Switzerland. There’s a story there you need to know, and someone important I want you to meet.
“Lawsuit reveals details about Paige Patterson’s ‘break her down’ meeting with woman alleging campus rape.” Bob Allen, Baptist News Global, June 24, 2019. https://baptistnews.com/article/lawsuit-reveals-details-about-paige-pattersons-break-her-down-meeting-with-woman-alleging-campus-rape/
“Southwestern Distances Itself from Paige Patterson in Sex Abuse Lawsuit.” David Roach, Christianity Today, August 16, 2019. https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/august/southwestern-swbts-reckoning-over-paige-patterson-abuse-law.html