"This is a serious accusation you are making, and if you choose to make it, you will be thoroughly investigated." This was the first statement made to me after disclosing my sexual harassment complaint to the executive pastor.
If you haven't read part 2, go ahead and do that now. Part 2 talks about the sexual harassment I was dealing with and the lousy job the church had done up to this point.
Because the church I was working in did not have an HR department, and Charles decided he didn't want to listen to my sexual harassment complaint, he sent me to the church's executive pastor. Let's call the executive pastor, Terry.
Sitting across from Terry to make my complaint was tremendously uncomfortable for multiple reasons. The most awful of those reasons being all of the offices had one wall that was entirely glass. The creative arts department officed next to Terry, meaning that Mike could walk into the building at any point during this meeting and see me meeting with Terry.
While telling my story, Terry sat impassively. Once I finished, he paused, looked at me, and said, "This is a serious accusation you are making, and if you choose to make it, you will be thoroughly investigated."
I would tell you that I couldn't believe what I was hearing, but that isn't true. I could completely believe it. I worked in an office that believed my looks disqualified me from my job (if you missed part 1, you can read more on that here) and ignored my pleas for help.
So I hung my head and said, I understand. I sat mortified as he demanded proof. I squirmed in my chair as he asked me question after question, trying to uncover the part I had played in my harassment. My anxiety grew every second that I sat in that office, knowing that anyone could easily hear our conversation through the panes of glass that made up the wall behind me, including Mike.
Victim Blaming, that is what occurred in the church office that day. These are words we have become all too familiar in our society. Victim-blaming is the perception that victims are in any way responsible for the actions of offenders.
Not only was I blamed for what had happened to me, but Terry was also putting me on trial in a glass box where my abuser could easily see me. I wasn't being cared for mentally, emotionally, or spiritually by my church's leadership team. More importantly, they put me in physical danger by allowing this to be on full display in front of my abuser.
After I tried to quit the creative arts team because I felt unsafe, uncared for, and completely undervalued, my supervisor, who refused to hear what had happened, told me to speak to Terry. Terry then told me he would investigate me if I chose to make this grave accusation. And then, they told me to go to my cubicle to work while they brought in Mike and told him the allegations I had made, using my name.
Later the next day, Mike was allowed to resign. He moved on with no disciplinary action on his record. He left suddenly, with no statement made to the staff. And 'no statement' is putting it lightly; we were told not to ask questions.
When it was announced to the Creative Arts staff later the next week, Charles said that he had left, and we were not to answer questions about where he was now or why he had gone. This put me in many very uncomfortable situations. Mike had sexually harassed me, and when people asked where he was or why he was gone, I was not allowed to make a statement. When I had to ask volunteers to give extra time to cover his position, they wanted to know why. I had to shrug my shoulders and say I don't know. When people came to me and said, "If Mike were still here, we wouldn't be stretched so thin" or "We were better prepared when Mike was here," I just had to keep my mouth shut and walk away. And because the leadership had not told anyone why he was no longer on staff, there were multiple times that other staff members would send volunteers my way when they asked questions about Mike.
I stayed on the creative arts team for a short while longer before deciding that I deserved better than the treatment I was receiving. Then I stepped away from the team.
Since Mike was not terminated for his actions and was allowed to resign, he could easily find employment at another church and put himself back into a leadership position to do the same thing to other women. Any church that employs him in the future may never know. It is vital that we not allow offenders to walk away from their crimes to step into situations where they can commit their crimes again. Employers are responsible for all actions that occur after known offenders walk off their property because silence is compliance.
Here is one problem with many churches today; there is no HR department. With no HR department, people wonder where to go when they have questions, concerns, or complaints. In my situation, I tried to go to my direct supervisor, who didn't want to hear my complaints. Church leadership never resolved this problem. Still today, there is a man with 'pastor' before his name, in a leadership position, who does not know how to deal with workplace harassment properly. And that is not okay.
The reality is the church is a building full of sinful people. Even if all of those people are seeking the Lord, they still have a sinful nature. Churches are not exempt from the workplace failings of the world. There is still sexual harassment, lying, cheating, secret-keeping, and manipulation within church offices. We cannot pretend that these things don't happen because we allow them to multiply and fester when we do. To fix the church, we have to recognize that the church is a group of sinners, saved by grace. We, as Christians, are no better than any other human in the world. We are creatures whose worldly desires will get us into trouble if they are not kept in check. We can only control our failures in check if we talk about them. We are not perfect deities simply because we work in a church, but we have to remember that many people view us this way. And as Peter Parker was once told by his wise Uncle Ben, "With great power comes great responsibility." As a church, we are held to a higher standard. And church staffs should conduct themselves in that way. Not acting as if they are immune to failings, but as if they are acutely aware that they are susceptible to the same problems as any other workplace. And like it is a priority to them to protect themselves and their church family from the harms of this world. We are called to be the salt and the light. That doesn't mean we should be salt and light to the 'world' while turning a blind eye to the church's shortcoming.