When Church Leaders Abuse Their Position

At the young age of 22, I entered into a youth program through Christ Church Kirkland (CCK), called Master’s Commission. This was an intense one year course, that focused on discipleship & leadership skills for young christian adults. There were 12 students that year who went through the program. We all lived with different christian families that were attending CCK.

Students met daily at 7 am, read christian books, memorized Bible verses, evangelized, discussed covenant relationships, listened to the teachings of CCK pastors, and served the church where needed. Students were graded weekly by the christian host family they lived with. This family evaluated our interactions with their family, how we performed the chores we were required to do, the cleanliness of our rooms, and if we were sharing our “deep heart stuff” with them. When these weekly student evaluations came back from the host families with low marks we would find ourselves in “Monday Club”. Monday Club was similar to detention. The higher-ups in Master’s Commission would dictate what we would be doing to “make up” for our low marks that week. Sometimes we cleaned church leaders homes, sometimes we ironed church leaders clothing, sometimes we tended church leaders gardens. Often, if one of us students were repeatedly getting Monday Club, then we would be required to fulfill Monday Club AND write a paper on the low mark received. For instance, if we repeatedly did not evangelize a stranger, then we were required to write a paper on the importance of evangelizing according to the Bible.

Within the few first months of being in Master’s Commission (MC’s), it was impressed upon us students that we needed to confess our “sins” to our interns. Interns were once students who graduated from the program and then applied to be an intern the following year. Basically, their job as an intern was to help students through the program. Students were assigned one intern for the year and like the discipling method of the Shepherding Movement, which CCK was birthed out of, we met weekly and updated them on how we were doing.

{Here is the simplest explanation I have read about the Shepherding Movement:

“So in a Layman’s definition, the Shepherding Movement is the idea that a congregation should submit in every way to the authority of the pastor and his relationship with God—even if it means relinquishing our own personal relationship with Christ for the sake of submission.”

Jennifer Newton}

The year that I did the program, I knew many of the interns, because many of us once went to the same high school, North Seattle Christian. One female intern and I became fast friends and over the Christmas break we spent time having fun together. I felt the need to share something of my past that was weighing on me. I felt a pressure to be transparent through the program and she was the safest person to do it with, as my friend, not an intern.

One evening when we were hanging out, I opened up and shared about my first and only sexual relationship.  It was with a girl that I went to school with my senior year. This was something I had carried with me for 4 years. Since I grew up in the church and they taught me from a young age that the Bible taught against homosexuality, I felt a lot of confusion around this experience and guilt associated with it. She listened, asked questions, and made me feel loved, regardless of the fact that CCK also taught that homosexuality was a sin. I remember feeling better, almost relieved after we said goodnight. I felt accepted in that moment and felt I was doing what was “right” according to Master’s Commission… sharing everything.

When our winter break was over, and MC’s resumed the daily routine, I was told by this intern friend (that I had confided in) that she shared everything, I told her, with the pastors of the MC program. I immediately felt a knot in my stomach. I felt scared. I held my breath while she said that she was sorry, but that was what she was supposed to do as an intern. She was to report up the ranks, and she informed me that I was going to have a meeting with all the pastors of the church later that day.

My secret, was no longer a secret with whom I chose to share. I felt betrayed. I had spent years thinking about what I had with another girl, and had taken a lot the time to decide who it was safe to share it with. But in this moment, that didn’t hold any weight. I don’t blame this friend of mine. She was scared too and was following in suit to what everyone at CCK was doing…reporting up the ranks until Norm and Marcy Willis knew everything about everyone. They were the chosen ones to hear God for everyone. They were more spiritual and as long as we submitted to this concept, all of us sheep would be protected from the devil…and our own wicked hearts.

After MC’s was done that day, I was told to go wait in the church lobby. I was embarrassed, anxious, physically shaking and scared. I was never asked if I wanted to have a meeting with the pastors, I was just told that it was happening. I didn’t have the courage to say, “no”, or that I was uncomfortable. I couldn’t find my voice.

I sat out in the church lobby until my meeting time had come. Kevin McCuen, the MC program pastor, came to get me. We walked back to Norm’s office and he did his best to make me feel safe, but it didn’t work. As he opened the door, my stomach knotted up even more as I surveyed the room. Here’s my simple sketch of the scene:



Dennis Trout, Norman Willis, Kevin McCuen, and Rick Stone. These men were all sitting behind a table with their Bibles open and notepads. There was a single chair facing them about 5 feet away from the table. Clearly that was my hot seat. As I write this now, I think to myself, how eerie this is. A young 22-year-old girl, being told she needs to talk about her sexual relationship to four grown men…four christian pastors. All of these men were married and had children of their own. None of their wives were in the room with us. No one asked me if I was comfortable with this set up. None of these men, whom I am supposed to see as God’s servants, asked me if I wanted to have this meeting or if I wanted to have another woman there. I was literally the dumb sheep needing their shepherding.

The next two hours of my life, I was interrogated about my sexual experience with this girl. Bible verses were quoted to me and these four men questioned me as if I was on trial. These “spiritual fathers”, as they called themselves, began to blame my real dad for my “sinful” sexual desires. Norm, Dennis, Kevin, and Rick, each took their turn in trying to convince me that it was my dad’s fault that I had turned to homosexuality. Because my dad “abandoned” my mom and my sisters, this trauma led to my attraction to women. They all had the same answers for why I had this sin in my heart. They gave me scriptures to read to be free from this sin. Before we ended, I was led in a prayer by one of them. I had to repeat after them out-loud. I chanted after them something about breaking the generational curse of my father’s sin (divorce) and I repented for my homosexual experience. I was told never to tell any girlfriends at church about my sexual relationship with this girl. My friend who told on me, she and I could no longer be friends according to the pastors.

When I left that room. I was so confused. Still shaking. Still shamed. They tore my father apart for his own “sins”, and they swooped in to be the godly representation of how a father should be.

I carried this experience quietly within me for the next 18 years of my life. My naïve, people-pleasing, trusting spirit was locked behind bars that day. For the next 13 years at CCK,  I participated in “courtship” teachings through attending seminars, filling prayer journals with my questions addressed to God about my husband to be, and answering that familiar question over and over with my mentor, “So, are you interested in anybody?”.  To be married with many children, as a woman at CCK, was the desired christian role. (Oh, but this is another blog post altogether.)

It took me another 16 years to honestly address my sexuality again. This time by myself, in the quietness of my room – four years removed from the grip CCK had on my mind. At 40 years old I finally shared with my dad for the first time about that one day behind closed doors with the leaders of CCK…he was aghast. I cried, he cried, we cried together.

Today, I write because I am just one story, among many, that needs to be shared, in the hopes that this story doesn’t repeat itself…