Monday, November 28, 2011

My Crime Fighting Partner

At some point within the next couple of months following my "meeting" with David and company, I received a strange email. Joe [name changed], my childhood best friend and one of David's chosen wanted to talk. We had loosely kept up with each other since high school; our wives had also been best friends. They lived out of state, but we still managed to see each other at least once a year. Still, knowing each other as well as we once did, I knew it wasn't normal to get this sort of email from Joe. He wanted my phone number so we could talk sometime. We set up a time that would work for both of us.

Almost simultaneously, two thoughts went through my mind. One, I assumed David called him like he promised Rick he would. Two, what if his recollections of what happened to us are different from mine? What if he disagrees with my assessment of the situation? And if he does, what if he's right? Obviously at this point in my journey, it didn't take much for me to doubt myself. Thankfully, Joe would have a lot to do with me moving past that "self doubt" stage.

When our appointed time for the phone call came, I answered the phone with no small amount of apprehension. The first thing out of my mouth was "is this what I think it's about?" After Joe answered affirmatively, and after some discussion, I discovered that something amazing, something I can attribute only to God, had happened. Regarding my initial thoughts, David had not in fact contacted Joe, and Joe did agree/remember things the way I did.

Forgetting for now the fact that David had not contacted Joe (and in failing to do so, had deceived Rick and Dennis in a very provable fashion), Joe agreed with me!! This would be the first time I would have the incredibly liberating experience of hearing from another of David's victims that I was right. That everything I remembered, and the way I remembered it was correct. That it was right for me to call it abuse. And more importantly, that I was right. I was justified.

So the next question is, if Joe didn't get a phone call from David, and if myself, Rick, and Dennis were the only ones at FBC that knew this was going on, why did Joe want to call me to talk specifically about David? And why now, after all these years of silence? This is where the God thing comes in. Turns out, not even weeks after my blow up and subsequent emotional floodgate opening with my wife, Joe had an almost identical experience. The idea that two childhood bestfriends, separated by thousands of miles but joined by such a monstrous act would be almost simultaneously dealing with something as life changing as what we were dealing with, even now is more than I can comprehend.

At that point Joe had not had contact with anyone at FBC regarding David. He was understandably disturbed when I learned of Rick's "solution". Couple that with the fact that Rick had communicated to me that David had reported to him that his attempts at amends were complete, and something didn't add up. As far as Joe was concerned, the solution was inadequate, and David had obviously been less than truthful with Rick (again).

Thankfully for me, Joe entered the FBC picture at a time when my resolve and determination were not just beginning to flag, but were completely gone. He was, at least with FBC, able to pick up where I left off. Over the course of the next several months, Joe and I talked at least weekly. Other than my wife, he is the biggest reason I've been able to make it to this point. Having someone to talk to that truly understood the emotions I was going through, the thoughts running through my head, and the doubts I still had was quite literally a lifesaver. I was very much at a point that I felt like I had done everything I could to stop David. Joe was able to continue to apply pressure where it was needed.

Finally, in the late winter/early spring of 2009, I received a phone call from Rick that he had decided that David had been less than truthful, and would be firing him when he returned from a senior adult trip the following Saturday morning. It would be announced that Sunday night in a special "called meeting". I had not set foot in FBC since my last meeting with Rick, David, and Dennis, and I certainly wasn't going back now. Sunday night (which, at this point worried me much more than Saturday morning) came and went. I was able to talk to a couple people who were at the Sunday night meeting. It was reported to the church that David was let go for "some serious moral failures". I like to think of it as abuse.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Meeting with a Monster

Today is the parole hearing. I could sit here for hours and type my heart out, but I honestly don't want to think about it more than I have to. So instead of talking more about the parole hearing and how I'm feeling about it today, I'm going to continue my story. I wanted to finish it before the parole hearing, but I obviously missed that goal. I will, however, be able to finish telling about my involvement with FBC Benton.

David, Rick, Dennis and I sat in Rick's office. David was allowed to present his "case", which he did in true con man, pedophile style. He asserted that what happened with me was during a "rough patch in his life" (his exact words), and it was something he had moved past. I thought, sitting there in that office, seeing that Rick and Dennis were obviously buying the snake oil David was selling, that I was going to be physically ill. The worst wasn't over yet, though.

I was asked to express to David how what he'd done had continued to affect my life. Rarely at a loss for words, I stumbled and stuttered through a very brief, very benign rundown of how my life sucked because of David. I said an ounce of what I wanted to, and much to my regret now, spoke without an iota of the emotion I was experiencing. When I was finished, David asked for my forgiveness, to which I replied "I hope I can someday, but I can't today". He then asked (in front of Rick and Dennis, mind you) if we could go to lunch sometime and talk. I couldn't respond.

The next thing that happened is something else I added to my list of major regrets. It's one of those times in my life that I should've yelled, screamed, jumped up and down, or thrown a fit, but didn't. Rick presented David and I with his "solution". Rick's big solution was for David to provide him with a list of victims (David's list, according to Rick later, only had around a dozen names), and then call each victim listed and apologize. Or, as Rick put it, "seek to make amends". If he did, he would be allowed to keep his job and control of the youth choir. If he didn't, only then would he be fired. I was asked to agree to this "solution", and sign a paper documenting my agreement. To this day I don't know why I did it. I am not by nature a passive person, or one to keep my mouth shut. But with those three men sitting there, I signed the paper, and I agreed to the "solution".

This basically wrapped up the meeting, which ended feeling like the intention was more to talk me into something, instead of addressing David's victimization. We prayed (of course, right? Who wouldn't want to talk to God with their abuser?), then David asked me to wait a second. I did. He left, went to the copier, and brought back a photocopied devotional about forgiveness, asking me to read it and think about it. While I was screaming at him and fighting the urge to shove it down his throat inside, I simply said "thanks" and walked out. This would be the last time I was in the same room with David Pierce.

Monday, November 14, 2011

This is the Week

This week is the parole hearing. Last I heard, it was Wednesday the 16th. Definitely makes this a hard week. The first part of this week is going to be filled with unknowns and expectations. The second part of this week (if the outcome the prosecutor predicted comes to pass) will be an entirely different story. With the hearing this week, it makes it difficult not to be totally consumed by what is going to be happening on Wednesday. I had pretty much gotten to the point that I was able to forget (or at least manage) those many painful memories. Now they're dug back up.

I've also been thinking quite a bit about what happened (and is happening) at Penn State the last couple of weeks. I can't help but draw parallels between what happened at FBC Benton and what happened at Penn State.

One of the things that really strikes me is how odd it is for a completely secular state university to recognize the mishandling of this situation and to immediately address it from an HR standpoint. Yet, an institution (and man) charged with shepherding a flock allows a man to continue directly working with youth for months after allegations are made against him, and no public outcry is made, and no action taken by the Southern Baptist Convention. You can't imagine the message this sends to victims of not just David Pierce, but any kind of ministerial abuse. It makes it appear that Penn State was more concerned with protecting children, and FBC Benton more concerned with protecting itself.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not calling for anyone's termination or resignation from FBC Benton. I just want to make sure that people really understand what happened, and that they see the difference in how these situations are handled by different institutions. In initial newspaper reports, every statement from Rick said that David was terminated as soon as allegations were made. In subsequent articles (articles in which either victims were interviewed or police reports were consulted) this statement was not used. However, there were no subsequent statements from Rick or FBC clearing up the "misstatement" or explaining the delay in dealing with the allegations made against David. In Penn State's case, part of what got Joe Paterno terminated was the fact that he issued statements to the press saying that he was not aware of the allegations against Jerry Sandusky at the time. Quite a difference between FBC Benton and Penn State.

If you haven't already, please remember those of us that survived not only David Pierce, but FBC Benton this week. Leading up to the parole hearing will be difficult, and the time after the hearing may turn out to be even worse.

Friday, November 4, 2011

My Abuser "Comes Clean"

The next part of my story will likely be the most difficult for me to put into writing. There are people at FBC that I still care for very much. I don't want to see them hurt. I do, however, want the truth to be told not only about what David did, but about how First Baptist grossly mishandled the information I brought to them. I know churches will continue to make mistakes when faced with these situations, but until open dialogue starts about the specific mistakes made, nothing is going to change.

On November 30, 2008 my wife went to FBC to meet with Rick first thing that morning. She repeated everything I had told her. He, of course, wanted to immediately talk to me. I left work early that day and met my wife back at the church. The two of us then met with Rick. I told him everything that happened to me. I didn't withhold any details, no matter how graphic. Rick was taken aback by the allegations. Not surprisingly, he asked for some time to think about and pray about the allegations. So began a long, drawn out process of meetings.

Initially there were a couple meetings with just Rick and I. Several weeks into it, Rick involved Dennis Byrd, the then chairman of the personnel committee. At the first meeting with Dennis, it was communicated to me that David would be confronted with my allegations. They (Dennis and Rick) were going to be meeting with David right after Christmas. After all, they wouldn't want to ruin HIS holidays, right?

So I waited. During that time, every worst case scenario possible went through my head. That David would deny it and no one would believe me. That word would get out about my allegations and we would be forced to move. Finally, Rick and Dennis met with David. To everyone's surprise, he didn't deny what happened with me. Nor did he admit the full scope of his actions. In true David fashion, he was apologetic and contrite. He easily sold Dennis and Rick that he had seen the error of his ways.

What happened next is a moment that sticks with me just as vividly as that first afternoon in David's truck. I received a phone call from Rick that he wanted to meet with Dennis, David, and myself. Why I agreed to it I'll never know. The abuse itself not withstanding, that meeting was quite possibly the worst hour of my life.