In the past 24 hours I’ve been on the phone multiple times with Bob* & Lori*, a couple I’ve known for more than ten years – since they were nineteen. Lois and I were at their wedding and we’ve stayed in contact as they completed their education and Bob began working in a church as the youth pastor. This morning I looked and found the letter of recommendation I wrote when Bob applied for this position five years ago. Last night at the church leadership meeting Bob was given an ultimatum: resign within 24 hours or, on Sunday morning it would be announced that he had been fired for “inappropriate conduct with an underage girl.”
About two weeks ago, Corrie*, a 16 yr old girl in the youth group, sent Bob a text. She attended a party where there was lots of alcohol and couples pairing off. She woke up not remembering much and now she was afraid she might be pregnant; she had questions and wanted to talk. Bob agreed to meet her at the local coffee shop – a favorite with the youth and a place he often met with teens.
That night Lori and Bob talked about Corrie’s situation and prayed for her. Corrie continued to text Bob; they exchanged more than 200 texts over the next two weeks and Lori read most of those texts because she and Bob don’t have secrets. In spite of encouragement from Bob, Corrie did not want to talk to her mom and step-dad. They didn’t go to church at all and had problems of their own. Corrie thought her mom was already talking to a lawyer about a divorce.
Wednesday morning, while Corrie was in the shower, her phone rang and her mother answered. That call was soon forgotten as she began looking at Corrie’s text messages. She found the thread of messages with Bob about Corrie’s fear of being pregnant.
Corrie’s mom demanded to know what was going on – and Bob’s last name. In spite of Corrie’s protests her mom was convinced she was having an affair with the youth pastor. That afternoon Corrie’s mom went to the church, with Corrie’s phone in hand, angry and screaming and threatening a lawsuit.
The senior pastor looked at the texts – all the way back to the first ones where the meeting at the coffee shop was set up. Alcohol, parties, meetings at the coffee shop, fear of pregnancy – without Corrie and/or Bob & Lori to explain, the evidence was overwhelming.
By this time Corrie borrowed a friend’s phone and called Bob to tell him about her mom but he was still surprised by the terse call he got from the senior pastor: come to the church right now.
When Bob walked into the church office he found the senior pastor, the chair of the church board, and Corrie’s mom. He was asked if he had talked or communicated with Corrie in any way in the past three hours. He said yes. Bob was stunned when the church board chair sternly suggested he say nothing more until he spoke to a lawyer.
Bob saw no need for a lawyer – he’d done nothing wrong. He tried to explain and the senior pastor attempted to come to his defense but Corrie’s mom was unconvinced. She knew all about priests and pastors who prey on teenagers and every man she’d ever met only wanted one thing. She walked out of the room. The senior pastor and board chair, even though they were trying to be supportive of Bob, couldn’t believe he had been so stupid as to meet with a girl and exchange text messages, many of which mentioned sex and menstrual cycles and parties. Even if Bob was completely innocent – and they wanted to believe that – this didn’t look good.
Then Corrie’s mom walked back in the office and announced she had just called the sheriff. He was on his way over to arrest “this predator” (she pointed to Bob). Bob told me at that point he just went numb. When the sheriff arrived and heard the story he wouldn’t arrest Bob because Corrie was not there to corroborate; her mother was livid and this time left the building.
Thursday morning Corrie showed up at Bob & Lori’s house. She can’t believe this is happening and wants to leave home and stay with Bob & Lori. They had to say no. That night the church leadership met. Bob & Lori and Corrie told their story and felt they were understood. They answered a lot of questions and, after some discussion, were asked to leave the room.
The church leadership decided it was “best for the reputation of the church” for Bob to resign.
Even though God looks at the heart, people look at appearances. (See 1 Samuel 16:7)
My heart aches for Bob and Lori. I’ve prayed with them. Wept with them. Read scripture with them. Prayed some more.
It’s 8:30 pm Friday; I just got off the phone with Bob. We reviewed his resignation letter one last time and he’s on his way to hand-deliver it to the board chair.
I asked Bob and Lori if I could share this because this could easily happen to about 50 people I know. We all need to be careful. If you think “this could never happen to me” you would be just like Bob this past Monday. Now his world has been turned upside down.
Remember: an unguarded strength quickly becomes a terribly destructive weakness.
*Names have been changed, but this is shared with permission.