Pastor Mike Sperou of North Clackamas Bible Community will get his day in court: indicted on three counts of first-degree unlawful sexual penetration of a child under the age of 12
Last week, a much-anticipated church sex abuse story came out in the media. I’ve posted a lot of stories here – quite a few about people I do not know. This one is different for me and perhaps for some of you. A friend of our SSB community is watching “the rest of the story” unfold as his dark church and former pastor have now been exposed to the world.
Some may remember how Pastor Ken Garrett and I met. Ken’s church, Portland Grace Bible, is very similar to the name of the church that sued me (Beaverton Grace Bible Church). I met him after news of my defamation lawsuit went viral. I’ll let Ken explain it from his private e-mail to me in May of 2012:
We found out about your situation when our church (Grace Bible Church, Portland) began receiving tons of hits on our website–accidental visits from people who were actually looking for your old church. Also, we’ve received a nasty phone call, and a couple of nasty/scolding emails that were intended for Beaverton GBC! Strange world! Actually got my attention, since on a very heavy traffic day, our church website gets about 8 hits! No worries, it was fun to think for a few nanoseconds that our site was going to go viral! 🙂
I already liked this guy. The next part of the e-mail really touched my heart and has been the common thread of our relationship these past years:
The main reason I’ve written is to share with you that my wife and I were involved in an abusive “bible-based” church for 12 years. We did the whole thing: “discipleship training,” high-pressure evangelism, criticism and disdain for other “backslidden” local churches, etc. What a dark hole! What a painful exit it was for us, and our poor daughters! It was here in Portland, is still in existence, although they’ve changed their name.
Now we’re at Grace Bible Church in downtown Portland, where I’m the pastor. The main reason I wanted to write to you is to tell you that you are certainly not alone, the phenomena of abusive bible-based churches is not only real, it is largely unrecognized, and unappreciated by the church at large (just my opinion, here!). Of course, we are still, as a family, processing and healing from the whole experience, although we’ve been free for over 15 years now. I think the healing goes on until we finally see our tender-hearted Lord face to face! But, I just wanted to reach out and encourage you to hang in there, keep praying, and trusting in God. (Source)
The church’s name is North Clackamas Bible Community, in Clackamas, Oregon, and it’s important to understand that this “church” was not the kind of traditional church you and I think of, but was a community of church members who lived in rented homes in the same area. You can see the word community in the name of the church, North Clackamas Bible Community, but it might be more appropriate to think of “commune.” Members sold their homes to move into the community, they lived together, gave of their wages, did most activities together. Kids went to public schools, but came back “home” to the community.
Rick Bella covered this story in The Oregonian. When you read the article, you will read of classic spiritual abuse signs: love-bombing, a charismatic leader, a manipulator, etc. But along with spiritual abuse, we read of allegations of sexual abuse:
The seven women – who ranged in age from 11 to 16 at the time of the alleged abuse – and other former church members said Sperou claims deep emotional scars from childhood traumas and the Vietnam War. They said the church, originally called the Southeast Bible Church, seemed to start with good intentions. But they said the church evolved into a cult-like organization that dissolved family bonds as Sperou sank into heavy drinking, drug use, adultery and sexual abuse of children.
You can see in the following excerpt how unhealthy this environment was for young girls:
The seven women said they felt honored if Sperou invited them to spend time with him. They could watch pay-per-view movies on his big TV and eat take-out Chinese food, pizza and ice cream. They would cozy up with him in bed, they said.
In a 1997 interview with police, Sperou acknowledged that, “girls were encouraged to spend time with him,” but said his wife or other adults were present when the girls came into his bedroom. He also told police that, “many times the girls would come down to his room to watch TV and while there would fall asleep and would subsequently end up spending the night.”
When detectives asked him whether he put his hands underneath the girls’ shirts while hugging them, Sperou told police that “he probably has” but that he “meant nothing by it.”
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8
The difficult thing about reading an article like this is that some might say, “who in their right mind would allow their child to be on the bed with their pastor?” Well, it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a grooming and manipulation process. It happens to children and adults. You have to think – how did Jim Jones get so many people to uproot friends, family, jobs to move overseas? How did he get them to drink the Kool Aid? These were highly educated people who were duped as well. Church or cult leaders get to these positions because they are masterful, conniving, and evil, and it’s all about them.
But eventually, something seems not quite right:
At first, none of the girls thought it was odd that they and Sperou were in pajamas or underwear, lying in his bed together. They said they were completely in the dark about sex.
But it soon became uncomfortable.
Without quoting any more excerpts from the article, I want to encourage you to read the full article (including photos), Women wait 18 years to see Portland pastor face child sex-abuse prosecution. I have to say that I have never read a better article detailing a spiritual/sexual abuse case than this one by Rick Bella of The Oregonian/Oregonlive.
The following are the names of the seven courageous women who have come forward and are not afraid of putting their names and faces in the public spotlight in the hopes that justice can be served:
Emily Bertram, 33
Shannon Clark, 28
Bryn Garrett, 30
Jennifer Olajuyin, 32
Amy Robinson, 35
Rachel Schackart, 29
Jessica Watson, 33
You can read more details about these ladies at this article (also including photos): Meet the seven women who accused pastor Mike Sperou of child sex abuse
Ken Garrett has participated here, popping in when he can, sharing his expertise with us and joining in conversations. He’s also contributed a guest post or two. Now he is seeing his own former pastor go through the court process. Please keep these folks in your thoughts and prayers. Please pray for Ken and his family, for the seven survivors who came forward, and for perhaps other survivors.
Also, keep in mind as this case has become public, not only have the seven women had to rehash in their minds their horrific experiences, but their parents, family, and other former church members are likely processing and grieving their own experiences as well. This case has likely opened up old wounds. They might be going through questions like: Why did we stay so long? Why didn’t we do anything to stop the abuse? Where was God in all of this?
I had the opportunity to meet some of these precious folks at a picnic 2 summers years ago. As we gathered, we shared some of our stories. It was a sad, yet beautiful time, knowing that we were on a journey of recovery from a very difficult church experience.
Ken, we’re thinking and praying for you all, especially as the February trial draws near.