Chapter 7: The Church: Part 1

Chapter 7: The Church: Part 1

Chapter 8: COMING SOON Reading Chapter 7: The Church: Part 1 12 minutes Next Chapter 6: Who Is Ekho?

Before I continue to share my story, I think it is important to lay out some of the key details concerning my church since it plays a central role in my story. Simply put, I have a love/fear relationship with the church that I attend. On the one hand, it was the place I met my narcissist, and many congregants propped him up as the infallible President. It really did feel like he was the leader of a personality cult at times. On the other hand, some of my strongest allies are members, and I do see many congregants living out their values and doing their best to make the world a more beautiful place.

When I first attended in 2017, my narcissist was the President (a four-year term), and his first wife (and mother of his children), Prissy, was the paid Religious Exploration (i.e., Sunday School) Director. My narcissist and Prissy were in the process of divorcing after 20 years of marriage and two children, which was devastating to members of the church, in part because their marriage ended when Prissy had an affair with the Minister’s daughter. The Minister at the time had taken a fondness for my narcissist and Prissy, and she considered them to be like her children. Typically, when I tell people these dynamics, they tell me “You don’t have to say anything else, I understand.” They see exactly where this story is headed and recognize that I didn’t have a chance at being treated fairly when my narcissist assaulted me. I had committed the unforgivable sin of breaking the congregants’ rose-colored glasses of their beloved President.

Not surprisingly, my church was the primary recruiting ground for my narcissist’s flying monkeys. In fact, I think all the main monkeys hailed from my church. For the first year after my second assault, the church did nothing to protect me and my children and, instead, leadership sided overwhelmingly with their beloved former President (his four-year term was up when he assaulted me) – my narcissist. Much of the congregation was unaware of what he did to me.

At the advice of my lawyer, I wrote an email to the members of the Board after my assault, and not one person responded to ask how I was doing or how they might support me. Rather, they allowed my narcissist to come back to the church without ever telling me despite the Civil No Contact order in place. Some members of the Board and official committees revictimized me and shared very personal information that I told them in confidence with a broader audience including my narcissist.

The Basics

I attend a very progressive church, made up of people from all belief systems. We attract a very niche group of folks, many of whom have been spiritually abused by their former belief systems and have flocked to our church to find community and acceptance. I have often said that we are mostly made up of hurt people who want the comfort and community of religion but none of the abuse or dogma.

Additionally, my church is supposed to be guided by our principals. We have seven values-based principles, that can be summed up in something like the Golden Rule – Do unto Others (and the Earth) as You Would Have Others Do unto You. In our community, my church is often the center of social justice initiatives and progress. This is essential because it highlights how power dynamics, patriarchy, and stigma associated with abuse transcend politics and worldviews. Victim blaming, protecting the status quo, defending leaders even when they are in the wrong, and personality cults (what I jokingly call ‘Church Royalty’) manifest even in progressive environments.  

Since we are a small college town, a lot of working and retired professors attend my church. My narcissist was a professor, so he had two strikes in his favor. First, he was Church Royalty and, second, he was a part of the university community. Some of the professors who work at our small college can be quite cliquey (while the majority are delightful and add much to our small town). I would imagine you get a sense of faux elitism everywhere, but I have found it to be particularly prevalent where I live, and I have no idea why. The college is a state-funded, dying university, where many professors seem grumpy and disgruntled. Anyway, what I quickly came to notice when I moved here is that there is a group of professors who hang out almost exclusively with other professors, and their kids hang out almost exclusively with other professors’ kids – and they all attend my church.

All this to say, not only was my narcissist a big wig at the church, but he was also in the professor clique. By contrast, I was relatively new to the church, held no leadership position except for the lackluster position of Endowment Committee Chair, and worked as an independent researcher thereby not connected to the local college.

In hindsight, my church had some questionable practices, primarily involving favoritism and nepotism. When I joined, there were three people at the church who ran the show. The first was the Minister, who had a deep love for my narcissist and Prissy (even stated that they were like her children); the second was my narcissist who was the President; and the third was Prissy (my narcissist’s first wife) who was the Religious Exploration Director. It was like an overbearing mother hen and her two chicks running the joint.

Prior to Prissy taking over as the Religious Exploration Director, the position was voluntary. However, the Minister and my narcissist pushed for the church not only to make the position a paid one for Prissy but to include healthcare for quarter-time work. The church was already operating with a deficit budget and could not afford this expense, but I watched as the Minister advocated that the position be paid and, my narcissist pushed for the position to include free healthcare (interestingly, my narcissist and Prissy were divorcing at the time, and my narcissist was deeply concerned about having to pay for her health insurance post-divorce). 

As you can see, the dynamics of the Church were set up perfectly for my narcissist to gain the support he needed after my assault and for me to be revictimized. Even though the Minister had retired and moved away by the time he assaulted me, she still pulled a lot of weight in the church. She lived three hours away, but, interestingly, visited our church the weekend after I was assaulted (she rarely if ever visited the church). Maybe her trip was planned previously and maybe it was not, I do not know. What I do know is that she met with Prissy and my narcissist’s flying monkeys, offered to meet with my narcissist (according to him), spoke disparagingly about me and in favor of my narcissist to people in the church, and never reached out to even see if I were okay.

The Assault and The Church’s Initial Reaction

After my second assault, my narcissist and Prissy gathered a group of friends from church and pushed the narrative that 1) I made up the assault; 2) I was mentally unstable; 3) I could not get a PFA because I wasn’t assaulted but instead self-harmed; 4) I didn’t have a case so the charges were dropped; and 5) I was a threat to children. My narcissist admitted most of this to me when we went through divorce counseling. He had zero qualms with making me out to be the villain and him the victim, despite me going out of my way to protect him, his job, and his children.

I went to the church leadership to explain what happened and to turn over paperwork including my temporary PFA, police reports, etc. At the same time, my narcissist sent Prissy and his best friend, Amara, who was the Vice President of the Board, to advocate for him. I am told that the Board decided that they would remain neutral. While I understand a church’s desire to support and care for both parties, staying neutral in these instances only supports the abuser. It is akin to siding with the abuser. To put this into perspective, a few weeks previously someone had said something vaguely inappropriate to Prissy's new spouse, and this person was sent a formal letter asking them not to return to the church without even inquiring as to their side of the story. But my assault resulted in ‘neutrality.’ Had the tables been turned and I had assaulted my narcissist, I am sure I would have gotten a formal letter demanding I never return – or worse.

I refrained from going to church the week of the assault because I did not want my step-kids to see me with visible injuries. I told Prissy and a few other people that I would not be attending for that reason. I could not imagine how it might make them feel to see their stepmom beat up, knowing that their father did it. Little did I know at the time that my narcissist and Prissy had lied to them and told them that I self-harmed (my narcissist later admitted this to me and was incredibly concerned that they would find out the truth – in fact, his main concern was always that his children would learn the truth about what happened).

I went to church the following week and half of the congregation refused to make eye contact with me or speak to me. People who had been at my house 2-3 times per week, sent their kids over regularly for playdates, and shared holidays with us suddenly would not even look at me. It was like an Amish shunning, devastating at the time but in hindsight, almost comical. Some of the older people in the church who were not tightly knitted to my narcissist and Prissy were kind to me, but the coldness was palatable. I will never forget the smug, hateful look Prissy gave me as I entered the social hall that day.

Religious Exploration

One of the ways I volunteered at my church was to teach Religious Exploration classes (aka Sunday School) to the children. As stated, Prissy was the Director of this program. She canceled my class the week following my assault (the class was never canceled previously) and then, the next week, she sent me a curt email saying that I was dismissed from teaching Religious Exploration classes, even though we are always short on teachers, and I consistently received positive reviews. She was using her position of power to revictimize me. I remember crying uncontrollably that night thinking that everything meaningful in my life was slowly being taken from me – and what was my crime? My crime was being the victim of the church’s beloved former President.

Committee on Ministry

My narcissist, after he completed the Violence Diversion Program, went to the Committee on Ministry with his kids in tow to request to come back to the church. He later bragged about how he wooed the committee members, and even joked with them about how he would “sit in the front of the church because I could not say that the back of his head threatened me.” Apparently, the committee’s response was to welcome him back with open arms. Alas, their beloved former president and the missing piece to the Church Power Couple would be back in the pews with me out of the way (thanks to their effective Amish shunning campaign).

After the meeting, my narcissist bragged about how he hung out with Jennifer, a member of the committee, at the local bar where he further told her his sob story while she, according to him, flirted with him. They also bonded over their shared use of a local defense attorney when they were both charged with crimes (she was the Executive Director of a local non-profit that supports children, and, per my narcissist, she was charged with failing as a mandated reporter to turn in an instance of child abuse in her own home).

With this little charade, my narcissist was welcomed back to the church fold, and I was out of the way. All was right…. for a while.

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