I can't blame her for enjoying it, I did the same thing at her age and it's hanging out with a bunch of her friends playing games, listening to music (the church has a real live band that actually isn't awful) and talking. Because there is only one high school in our district, the kids all know each other and really enjoy spending time together outside of school. And after all, it's CHURCH for pete's sake. It's not like she's hanging out at a local crack house getting high and turning tricks.
So what is my problem? Why would this bother me just a little bit?
Thanks to Dan Savage's Youth Pastor Watch on Slog for digging these stories up and making sure attention is paid to them. We cannot ever again allow a systematic cover up of the sexual abuse of children.
The issue of sexual abuse and manipulation of children and young people by their religious leader is not something that is just a series of news stories for me. It's personal. As a kindergartner I attended a neighborhood church with Grandmother and absolutely LOVED the minister. We moved away and I didn't go back to that church again until I was a teenager. The same minister was there and I was ecstatic to get to spend time with him again. I went on a youth group trip to Purdue University at 13, participated in church activities and really enjoyed it. I still loved the minister - he was a big, teddy bear kind of guy, grandfatherly, generous with hugs and he simply radiated love and kindness. He did a children's sermon every Sunday using some of his huge collection of hand puppets and did different voices for each of them. Every kid in the church loved him and looked up to him.
Then he was gone.
I don't remember how it all went down exactly, I was older and working in addition to being a high school student and wasn't as regular about going to church and youth group. But there was gossip, a lot of the adults were upset including Marvelous Mom and Stepdan (maybe they were just dating then?) and I wanted to know what happened. I loved this guy and couldn't believe that he did anything wrong.
So Mom arranged for the interim minister to come to the house and explain the whole situation to me. The minister I loved, who I had known since I was a little girl, had an affair with a young man who was a member of the church. I don't think he was young enough to be jail-bait but I don't think he was 18 yet when the affair became sexual. He was also in a fragile mental state and under the care of a psychiatrist for a mental illness. The boys mother had asked the minister to talk to him, counsel him - and instead he seduced him. The minister I loved had shown porn to young people from the church in his home, not just the boy who he had an affair with but others also. His wife, who I also loved, had known about it. It was not a one-time thing, it was ongoing and lengthy. It must not have been anything technically illegal because I don't think he ever went to jail or even faced charges, but it was a massive and brutal violation of trust that the church members placed in him. He resigned and has never worked in ministry again as far as I know.
I fell apart. The poor interim minister - who is an awesome guy and I will always appreciate for telling me the unvarnished truth and treating me as a thinking, intelligent individual - and my Mom were a little shocked at my reaction. I don't remember all the specifics of the conversation (obviously - if I've gotten the details wrong I hope Marvelous Mom will correct me so I can fix them) but I remember crying and crying and wondering how I could have been so stupid for loving someone who would take advantage of his position and influence over a boy who was young and in need of help, not sex. This man who I looked up to and admired, fell off the pedestal I had put him on with a thud that hurt my heart.
After that I never went to church regularly again and became very suspicious of organized religion. Now that I'm older there are other reasons for my suspicions but the experience in my childhood has forever tainted my trust in people, especially church leaders. I let the kids go to church - the same church - with Marvelous Mom and Stepdan when they spend the night with them because my folks are both very active in the church and its leadership and know everyone better than we did back when the evil minister was in charge. I know that there are precautions in place within that specific church community because there are still members who bear the scars from the events of 20 years ago. And I know the church is inclusive of all types of people including gays, minorities and the children of Muslim-raised fathers like my children. My kids will not hear hate-filled speech or radical fundamentalist intolerance. But we don't go regularly. I don't think I will ever go to church regularly again.
Now daughter has a fabulous group of friends, really great kids that I like a lot, who go to youth group at a church in our community. Of course she wants to go and we let her. I have talked to the youth pastor at the church, I know their basic values, and daughters 6th grade teacher who I respect and trust is a member of the church. But its still a church full of people I don't know well.
We let her go. I talk to her about my past and my concerns regularly, she knows about the minister I loved who hurt so many people and she knows our feelings about fundamentalism and intolerance. I trust her to know what is right, to be able to protect herself, and to grow up and go out into the world without me.
And while she is gone, I wait by the phone with a knot in my stomach