An American Christian Chapter VIII — Above Reproach Part 2
This is part two of the Above Reproach story. If you haven’t read the first part yet, please start here. If you are new to this account, please start at Chapter 1.
The following is a true story written by the victim. Outside of proofing, it has not been altered. It is being posted with her support and encouragement. I’m merely here to provide the platform.
Trigger Warning: Manipulation, spiritual abuse, victim shaming
At some point during my fourth year, I began hearing the rumblings of a girl named Janice. Beth encouraged Devon to start talking to her and getting to know her. I felt sick to my stomach the first time I heard about this; I felt betrayed and deceived. I remember seeing Janice’s dad returning to the church with Devon, from lunch, which crushed me. I thought, well, fine. If that is what he wants, then I will move on. I ignored him and was cold and short with him, which only made him seek me out more. He told me he and Janice were only talking, and I shouldn’t worry. He was so good at telling me what I wanted to hear that I foolishly believed him.
We continued to spend time together despite his growing relationship with Janice. I still had his password to his email, and I absolutely checked that. The crazy part to me looking back is how I didn’t see that as a huge warning sign. How was I so caught up in this that I still wanted to plead my case to him? He was seeing and talking to me while also pursuing this relationship with her. I thought I needed to give more of myself to him physically because then he would surely see how loyal I was and how only I could truly make him happy.
While we never had sex, we came very close on multiple occasions. I honestly thought it would happen during one of our last encounters, but fortunately, it never did. I mention this because I was willing to give up my virginity to this person. I had real feelings for him, only to find out he was using his words and actions to get what he wanted, just like he did with everything else.
Devon often preached about being a godly man and how to protect your heart and the hearts of others. If he really cared about me and wanted to protect my heart, how did it get this far?
I was a willing participant in all of the physical activities between Devon and me; I won’t deny that. I also won’t deny that he manipulated me into thinking that if I gave myself to him in these ways, I would get the love and relationship with him that I desired.
During the spring of my fifth and final year in Generation Training Center (previously Master’s Commission), the relationship between me and Devon continued as well as the relationship between Devon and Janice. He never said anything definitively to end things with me or tell me that he had decided to officially pursue a relationship with Janice. Instead, I heard this news alongside everyone else in GTC while we were on a ministry trip to Eastern Washington. He did not have the balls to give me a heads up, nor did anyone in his family who already knew. He blindsided me.
I still remember what the church sanctuary looks like and exactly where I was sitting. I remember wanting to vomit and cry simultaneously but not being able to do either because I had to pretend I was happy for him. I had to put on a smile because I didn’t want to give away the fact that we had a secret relationship for FIVE YEARS. I was utterly devastated. I had to continue with the ministry trip watching everyone celebrate and pretending that I had not just had my heart completely ripped out and stomped on.
Everything was a blur after that trip. I was quickly shaken out of that blur when I found out we were going to Thailand for our international missions trip that year, which happened to be where Janice was serving with YWAM. This was a setup specifically so Devon could spend time with her. I wish I could say that Devon and I had completely cut ties by then, but unfortunately, we still found ourselves talking and spending time together until we left for Thailand.
When we arrived, Devon went to meet Janice while the rest of us waited. The trip was good but had its awkward moments. Janice had clearly been given the heads up about me because at one point during the trip, she and I went for a walk to talk about my involvement with Devon. Of course, I lied and told her some stuff happened, but it was over, and she shouldn’t be worried. I still, to this day, do not know why I never told the complete truth. Devon completely ignored me the entire trip, not that I expected anything else, but still, deep down, I was hurting.
Janice moved back to our hometown from Thailand shortly after we got back from the trip. I had to watch her and Devon’s relationship flourish while I was still never able to truly deal with the hurt and pain I was going through. Janice contacted me at one point and wanted to get together. We sat in the park while she grilled me about what had really gone on with Devon and me. Still, I only gave minor details and assured her it was over. I am sure I did this because Devon and I still talked and hung out until right before they got engaged.
After everything, I still felt like he would go back on his decision to be with Janice and choose me. I hate that I let him control me. I’m embarrassed to look back and think about allowing someone to control my mind and heart in that way.
After Janice and Devon got engaged, all communication between us stopped. I wish I would have left the church then, but for some messed up reason, I stayed. They made it clear that my working on GTC staff with Devon would be inappropriate, and I was no longer welcome. I pretended like I decided to leave to save face, even though I knew this program was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I had given five years to it, and they pushed me aside because it would be uncomfortable for Devon and Janice.
I became a master pretender for more years than I care to admit because I still felt like I had to keep this loyalty to Devon, the Joneses and the church.
Shortly after this, our youth pastor and his wife announced that they would be moving to accept a head pastor’s position. Because nepotism ran deep in this church, Devon was hired on as the new youth pastor. At some point in the midst of all this (or before, I can’t remember the exact timeline) Devon and Janice got married and I attended the wedding.
I was worried about people asking why I didn’t show up because the relationship between Devon and me did not exist to the outside world. I thought I had to go to keep this secret. I look back and think, did I hate myself? Was I trying to punish myself and make my life miserable?
It was typical for the Jones family to cover up indiscretions, especially if it would make them look flawed or hypocritical. Or until they decided to change their view on a particular topic or idea, thus making it okay for everyone else. For example, we were not allowed to watch American Idol while in GTC until they decided they wanted to watch it and then started hosting watch parties. That incident alone does not seem like a big deal, but when it is continuously happening and no one is allowed to question, it becomes about power. Those who did question were often punished and ostracized. It is easy for me to look back now and see why I acted the way I did. Devon and the Jones family made me believe I needed to fall in line, or I would lose everything. It turns out it didn’t matter either way.
One Wednesday Beth told me she wanted to talk, so I obliged. She very briefly and casually told me I was no longer going to be part of youth staff, something I had been apart of for as long as I was in GTC. I sat there stunned and not really understanding what had just happened. I guess she thought she was doing me a favor by giving me a heads up because they planned to announce it to the youth staff that evening before the service. Beth told me I could still attend youth services, but I couldn’t work with Devon on staff because he was taking over as youth pastor, and it would just be too hard on him.
I was in shock. It really didn’t sink in until I was sitting in the back of the sanctuary before the service, with Janice and Devon upfront about ready to announce my departure. Before they even finished the explanation, I got up and left and never returned. I heard later from people who were there that they explained that Devon and I had engaged in a relationship, and it would be better for all of us if I just stepped down. This crushed me yet again as I had given my life to this youth group. I had developed relationships with many of the youth girls who meant a lot to me. I was there one day and gone the next without saying goodbye or even explaining my side. They pushed me out because it would be too uncomfortable for Janice and Devon. My feelings, relationships, hard work, and life did not matter. I left without a fight and would remain silent for a long time.
For the next two or three years, I kept quiet and I defended the Jones family. I lied to people close to me and told them it was a mutual decision to step down from leadership. I never spoke ill of any one of them. I even reached out to Beth and Devon on two separate occasions asking for an explanation. I tried to be honest about my feelings and how hurt I was, but even in the emails, I found myself almost excusing them at the same time.
I can only liken this type of behavior to a form of Stockholm Syndrome. I was protecting the people who manipulated and lied to me and took everything from me. How was it okay that Devon and I were guilty of the same “sinful acts”, yet they stripped me of all responsibilities and titles and promoted him? How was that fair? Those feelings of anger, betrayal, and injustice would fester for years before I finally mustered up the courage to tell my side of the story.
Generation Training Center had annual reunions for past and present members. About three years after I left the church, I attended an after-party with a handful of people with whom I had done the program. We got to talking, and someone finally asked me why I left. Rumors had swirled primarily because of the vague reasons Devon and Janice gave to everyone. One particular rumor was that they had to get rid of me because I would show up where Devon was nothing but a wearing a trench coat trying to seduce him.
Hearing some of these bogus stories was the last straw for me. I unloaded everything that night. I held nothing back, and I finally told my side. I was met with shock but also understanding and support. I had thought for years that I needed to protect Devon and his family. When I finally opened up and was met with love and affirmation, I felt so validated. As cliche as it sounds, that evening lifted a massive weight off my shoulders. I didn’t have to hide anymore. No one judged me, and for the first time in a long time, I cried tears of happiness and relief.
By this time, Devon and Janice had already moved to another state to be youth pastors there. Someone who was present when I shared my side of the story, decided to take it upon herself to inform Devon what I had said. Within days, I received a phone call from an all too familiar number. Low and behold; it was Devon calling to do some damage control. I wish I could say he called to clear the air and sincerely apologize for what had happened, but that is not typical of narcissists or anyone else in Jones family. I called him back mostly because I was curious to see what he was going to say, and deep down, I was hoping he wanted to make things right. That did not happen. He was upset that I had told people. He also said he understood and proceeded to tell me how hard it had been on his and Janice’s relationship. Was I supposed to feel sorry for him?
I told him I told the whole story and not just the watered-down version that painted him in a good light. We were both in that relationship, we were both fooling around in his car, we both texted and called each other, and my clothes didn’t just fall off, so how was it fair that he was promoted and I was stripped of everything? As I mentioned before, the only thing that matters to the Jones family is what they look like to other people. Devon barely muttered the words, “I’m sorry.” The overall tone of the call was to forget about this and move on. He could not get off the phone fast enough.
Soon after the phone call from Devon, I received an email from Janice stating she had heard about the drama that had been going on. Drama? Seriously?! The people I trusted most betrayed me. The supposed godly people who I thought loved me tossed me aside for their own gain. That is more than drama! The email was condescending at best and just another attempt to sweep this under the rug and move on. No one wanted to own up to the fact that their manipulation and desire to cover up anything that tarnished their precious reputation had flipped my life upside down. No one cared what happened to me as long as they still came out on top.
From that day forward, I was always forthcoming about what had happened. It became easier and more comfortable to be honest about my side of the story. It even brought me back to some friendships that had fallen to the wayside.
I blocked out a lot of what happened during that time, thinking that it didn’t have an impact on my life; however, the effects of the pain, betrayal, and manipulation that I experienced at the hands of Devon, his family, and the church still find ways to haunt me. I have worked hard to heal and find peace in my heart and mind, and am still a work in progress. There are times when I think I have put everything behind me, but then I find myself giving too much emotionally and physically very quickly in relationships because I’m insecure that they will leave me. I struggle to trust new people in my life. For a long time, I struggled to say no to friends, family, boyfriends, colleagues, etc. My first year of teaching was hard for many reasons, but one, in particular, is that I could not say no. I overexerted myself to the point of tears every day because I had this overwhelming sense of needing people to think I was good enough. I’m learning to set better boundaries, but it is hard. While wanting to please people and be loved and accepted isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can, at times, have extremely negative effects.
Writing my story has brought many memories to the surface, both good and bad, and has helped me process and heal, and for that, I am truly grateful. I have lived years of my life filled with shame and guilt over that relationship because not only was I a student, but I was a leader and on staff with GTC. I was responsible for enforcing the same rules I was breaking. I have often thought about the damage I caused other girls in the program by holding them to a certain standard, enforcing those rules, forcing them to come clean about their indiscretions, and getting them in trouble, all the while living with secrets of my own.
Many people from the program have forgiven me, and they understand that I was also a victim, but I still have this nagging feeling deep down that I was a giant hypocrite and caused unnecessary hurt and lasting damage. Coming clean with all of this is the beginning of true healing and moving forward for me, and the other people I have affected.
Despite what some people will think, I don’t write this to harm anyone. I write this to shed light on the abuse of power used by many church leaders. I write this to shed light on the lifelong effects this treatment has on people. I hope that writing this will encourage others who have experienced the same or similar treatment to speak their truth! If people in positions of power are never held accountable for their actions, they will never have a reason to change.
This is the end of the two-part story. The saga will continue with more personal accounts from the originator of this project, like many other alumni and victims.
And, Devon, we all are tired of the empty words “Hurt people, hurt people”. Do you know who else hurts people? Those in power who never take responsibility for the damage they have done and continue to do. You can be better. You ARE better. I’ve seen it. Please, just listen to us.