Warning: this post contains sensitive material that may be a trigger to some. My intent is just to share my story in hopes that church leaders might learn to be more sensitive in their dealings with single parents in the church.
It was my very first visit to the singles group at the mega-church. As a single mom of a toddler, I wondered if I should even be going. I was still locked in a cage of shame and guilt over having a child out of wedlock, even though God used my sweet girl as the catalyst for saving my life and I adore her beyond measure.
I had been attending the single mom support group at church and I was v e r y s l o w l y coming out of my shell. Over a matter of several months I built up the courage to dip my toes into a singles bible study.
I tentatively walked into the room that Sunday morning alone, ready to turn around the moment I felt unsafe. I saw two acquaintances from single mom group, and resolved that I would be okay. I was greeted kindly with big smiles but I didn’t say much. The pastor introduced himself and asked me my name and a few small-talk questions. He seemed laid-back and humorous. I perceived that maybe he was the class clown in high school.
The other singles mingled as if they were at a cocktail party, while I sat there, in near-panic mode with my heart thumping out of my chest.
Everyone began to take their seats as the pastor called the class to attention. He introduced me as the “newbie” in class and asked the crowd to make me feel welcome. He said a few jokes and a prayer and began his lesson. I don’t recall the scriptures his lesson was based on, but I remember the premise of his lesson was loving “those” people – people who are not seen as the “normal” church clientele. I gathered that he meant people who weren’t “good”. He shared a few scriptures and jokes (again), and proceeded to ask a question of the crowd. As soon as the question escaped his lips, I wanted to gag and run far away. He asked “What assumptions would you make of a woman who walked into this class who was a single mom who had a child out of wedlock?” Immediately I thought “Who told him about me?” “What in the world kind of question is that?”
The men in the class were more than willing to dive right into the discussion and share their assumptions about this woman:
“She’s a slut.”
“She’s filled with shame.” (yes, very true)
The pastor repeated their words after each statement.
The other women in the class seemed a bit disturbed too, but shared.
“She’s looking for friendship.”
“She may have been raped.”
Mr. Pastor-man’s reply to that one “Well, yes, she could have been raped, but that is extremely rare.”
I briefly reflected and answered in my mind… “I was raped…not by my daughter’s father, but yes, it could happen and it’s less rare than you might think, unfortunately.”
The woman who provided that answer blushed and seemed to fill with rage but didn’t say another word. I didn’t say a word either (I could kick myself for that).
“What am I still doing here?” I thought.
The men seemed intent on continuing to share their thoughts:
“She has a shady past.”
“She is stressed out.” (Well, yes)
“She’s a party girl.”
Mr. Pastor-man continued to repeat every. single. word.
Finally, it all got to be too much and the tears started streaming down my face. I gathered up my things, shot the pastor and the rest of the class the dirtiest look ever (I felt like Carrie at the prom), ran out, slammed the door, and never went back to his class.
I shared with a few friends what had occurred. Some were outraged. Others were defensive of the pastor. They said they knew him well and he would never deliberately desire to hurt anyone. Others completely discounted my feelings and made me start to believe I was just overly-sensitive. One friend, a single mom, approached him about the lesson the following week at church. She was a member of the singles group, but had missed class that morning. We had lunch after church, and she told me he said he was very sorry and that if I had stuck around that I would have seen where he was going with it. I already knew what the people, at least the men in that class, thought of me. I wasn’t about to stick around. Besides, I would have barfed all over my table-mates.
Mr. Pastor quite possibly could have had a wonderful lesson after I left that room, but those words were branded on the chalkboard of my mind. Any shame I had walking into that room intensified beyond belief after that event.
The story doesn’t end there, thank God. For more about this, please read my post Religious Masquerade
I am very grateful to Pastor John Pavlovitz for this post, that gave me courage to share my story: A Pastor’s Apology to the Single Community
I am also very thankful to Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson who reminded me recently that I am a complete person and fiercely loved by my Creator.
My gospel friends on Twitter: I am brave enough to share because you are brave enough to share.
*Please note: Though their answers hurt me (and maybe others), the men in the class were honestly sharing their responses to the question. I know who the real enemy is. It was not the pastor or those men. So, the intent of this post was not to man-bash, but to exhibit the power of words.