US video shows how churches minimise the voices of female victims

Note to Readers: This story contains details of incidents of child sexual abuse, sexual abuse and clerical abuse and may be upsetting for some readers. If that is you, feel free to give this story a miss.

A video circulating on Facebook shines a light on how disturbing stories of abuse in the church continue to be hidden until forced into the open.

In the video, Pastor John Lowe II of New Life Christian Church in Warsaw, Indiana, receives a standing ovation after he confesses to his congregation that he committed adultery 20 years previously and the relationship continued for “far too long”.

“I have no defence,” he said. “I committed the adultery. To say it plainly: I didn’t make a mistake. I didn’t have an issue. I didn’t have an affair. I didn’t make a misjudgment. I sinned. I need to say that and you need to hear it.”

After asking the congregation for forgiveness for the “deep wound” he had caused, and saying he would step down, the congregation rose to its feet and applauded him.

The moment was reminiscent of when Andy Savage’s megachurch gave him a standing ovation after his confession, which minimized his sexual assault of a 17-year-old.

“You did things to my body that had never and should never have been done.” – Abuse victim

Immediately, though, the mood changed when a woman came to the microphone with her husband and gave a much darker reading of the situation.

She said she had been victimised by Lowe when she was 16 and had “lived in a prison” for 27 years.

“You did things to my body that had never and should never have been done,” she said, as male members of the church including the Pastor’s son crowded around her, seeking her silence.

“The church needs to know the truth. This church has been built on lies, but no more. The lies need to stop.”

A statement from the church this week clarified that “the long-held secret first came to light when a woman in the church came forward and disclosed the relationship to various people in the church.

“When confronted by others in church leadership concerning that report, Pastor Lowe confessed privately that the adultery did, in fact, occur. The woman in question and her family did attend together and addressed the congregation, indicating that improper sexual conduct first occurred when she was 16 years of age and continued into her twenties. She tearfully described living with deep shame and pain over the ensuing years.”

Eternity is reporting this story not to spread gossip but to highlight the way churches can be complicit in shaming and minimising the voices of women who are victims of sexual abuse.

It was only after the woman’s husband took the microphone and said what happened was far above adultery and threw down the chastity ring his wife had worn while the Pastor was having sex with her, that members of the congregation demanded that Lowe answer the allegations.

“Churches are ill-equipped because we focus on forgiveness rather than accountability.” – Kylie Maddox Pidgeon

Christian psychologist Kylie Maddox Pidgeon spoke about this phenomenon during a recent webinar on domestic violence in the Anglican Church.

“I’m reminded of a study that was discussed in The Conversation in 2019 that outlined some of the ways that churches are complicit. And when I read it, it gave voice to what the women in my counselling room were saying,” she said.

“And it was saying things like churches are ill-equipped because we focus on forgiveness rather than accountability which just places more responsibility on the victim or the survivor to get over it or to forgive him.

“Churches can have cultures of prioritising men’s voices, whether it’s preaching, teaching, or leadership, which creates an unconscious bias, that men are more credible or men are more likely to be believed. Whereas actually, all the research tells us that we need to believe the women.

“And [the abuse] has probably been going on for longer because she’s not used to being believed in that church environment. The layers about women should submit to men and women shouldn’t be preachers and teachers can cause women who are experiencing violence to have those extra lives of voicelessness. ‘I don’t have a position here; I’m not trusted or not believed. I don’t have a platform to speak out about what’s happening to me.’”

If you have been impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse, a 24 hour, confidential information, counselling and support service is available in Australia by telephoning 1800 RESPECT (i.e. 1800 737 732), along with an online chat service. Please call 000 if you are in danger.