... Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm. -- Psalm 105:15 (KJV)
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. -- Matthew 18:16 (KJV)
I do not consider myself a victim or a survivor. I carry no shame, guilt, or embarrassment. Even as a 15 year old, I knew that I was facing a wolf, and I successfully fought him off. Some who have contacted me were not so fortunate to escape the clutches of predation, however, and shared personal stories of assault and abuse that they endured from both clergy and church members inside the UPC.
It's an absolute shame and disgrace that this happens in any church; the good have to carry the burden for the bad. To this day I am friends with a number of ministers licensed in the UPC; they too have been appalled to learn of this story. And while the organization may not have a problem with pedophiles in their clergy to a greater extent than any other denomination or religion, they do have a problem.
Back in 1986, telling someone about what was going on was not as easy as it is today, especially given the circumstance that I was in. The most obvious person to report this to would have been my father... he was my parent and pastor. I could have approached and confided in other people in the church who I trusted, but ultimately it would have gotten back to him anyway.
My father was a very strict man with a constitution that was directly attributable to his rugged upbringing. He was not afraid to back down from anything or anyone. Prior to joining the church, "Pete" (as he was known) was a brawler, and he carried the residual scars to prove it -- tattoos on both forearms, nine toes, one eye, and healed-over broken ribs and knuckles from many a barroom fight. In his day he worked as a bouncer, a roughneck in the oil patch, piloted tug boats from Trinidad to Mexico, joined a motorcycle gang, kept a loaded .45 in his boot, raised and sold prized fighting roosters... and that's just what I know about.
Everybody in the local church circles who knew Dad was familiar with his reputation antequam christus. His conversion testimony was his opus magnus and represented an inflection point in his life. Vickery knew it too -- how could he, an ordained UPC minister, even think for one second about abusing the son of such a man? What kind of fool would take such a risk? It was unfathomable for me to comprehend, which made his appalling behavior even more perplexing.
Then there's something known as the discernment of spirits, a sort of sixth sense that evangelical organizations such as the UPC believe in. It's considered one of the "gifts of the spirit" that gives the possessor the innate ability to sense when something is wrong or out of place with a person or a situation. So where was it? Why wasn't it doing some major signaling here? When was somebody going to notice something? As far as I know, not a single person had a clue about what was going on -- not my father, nor any of the church members.
That's what makes these people so dangerous. They fly under the radar and hide under the guise of the religion and the sanctimony of their position of authority. No one would ever suspect them -- the very thought of the guest revival preacher doing something like this wouldn't even enter the mind of the people attending the services night after night.
What's more is that he actually believed that he could get away with this under everyone's noses. The ease in which he prowled without suspicion indicated to me that he wasn't a neophyte -- he either tried this before and got away with it, or explained it away when confronted. Years later I would learn that my intuition was on the mark (more on that in a future post).
As I weighed the risks of divulging the constant harassment and attempted abuse, I wondered if I would be believed. After all, it would be my word against the word of a preacher. But if I were believed, what would happen then? Would Dad go off and pray about it first, then confront him? If confronted, I suspected that Vickery would attempt to palliate the situation by accusing me of misunderstanding his intentions. The ultimate concern was that Dad would lose his temper and beat the living daylights out of the perp to within an inch of his life.
In my mind, every one of those scenarios was equally probable. I was facing a conundrum... a real dilemma.
After mulling all of it over, it became apparent to me that any outcome would have resulted in a scandal for the church. I concluded that even though Vickery incessantly stalked and badgered me with the intent to abuse, he failed. Because I was able to successfully evade him for the rest of his short time around, I decided to stay quiet and "take one for the team" so to speak.
There's more to come.
There's more to come.