Here’s a disturbing story for you: This week, the communities at New York’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church and Redeemer City to City received an email letting them know that Pastor David Kim was no longer working there. It was the result, they said, of “an individual who made serious allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct by David approximately 17 years ago, when she was a college student and David was the founding director of a campus ministry at her university.”
That individual is Jen Willems, and while the sexual abuse she suffered was bad enough, the way various church leaders handled the situation was arguably more disturbing. Her story involves multiple people lying to her face and trying to cover up the details.
Willems was a student at Princeton in 2001 when this all began. She had met David Kim the previous fall when he was the leader of a Christian group on campus and she was new to the faith. They ended up meeting in private, she said, for “spiritual guidance” but he took advantage of the situation:
First, he started rubbing my shoulders, but then he quickly progressed to touching all over my body, under my clothes, lying on top of me, and holding me really tight pressed up against his body. As this was happening, I went into shock and don’t remember much until the next day. My memory of what happened that night is in pieces, and a lot of pieces are blurry or blocked out. I was shocked, scared and confused. I trusted David as a spiritual leader who was teaching me about God. I never thought of him as anything else, and I couldn’t reconcile the man who many students revered with the man who was assaulting me.
Years later, fearing he was doing the same thing to other women, she told the story to a Christian counselor in Dallas, Daren Martin. That didn’t go well either.
After telling Daren about the PTSD symptoms I’d been experiencing, I told him what David had done to me. Daren’s response was: “What’s the big deal?” He said I was overreacting and that David hadn’t done anything wrong. He advised me: “Ask David if he has feelings for you.”
Martin had nothing useful to say. So Willems went ahead and confronted David Kim, who seemed more concerned about the fact that she told someone else what had happened than her own well-being. But he promised her he would confess what he did to another pastor — someone who could offer guidance on how to proceed.
Guess what? He never did that.
It wasn’t long after that when Willems learned Daren Martin was no longer a counselor. He lost his license for reasons relating to “sexual exploitation of a client.”
Daren and David both gaslighted me. They both tried to manipulate me into believing that the sexual and spiritual abuse I had suffered was “nothing,” that I was overreacting, that it wasn’t even wrong.
Meanwhile, David Kim was now working for a major network of churches in New York City. He had been promoted to more leadership positions while she was still dealing with the aftermath of abuse.
This past April, Willems told her story to two pastors who govern that church, and they promised to look into the matter… with a commission comprising of all men, none of whom were trained in sexual abuse allegations. She didn’t agree to that. Her additional attempts to get the church to listen didn’t work either:
On May 15, I notified the Director of HR for Redeemer Churches and Ministries and Redeemer City to City that I had been sexually violated by David Kim when I was a student and he was a campus ministry leader. Five times I requested an independent investigation by qualified investigators to determine if there were other victims. Five times they denied my request. They did not listen to my concerns. Instead they tried to control the process to protect themselves. Ultimately, Redeemer City to City quietly terminated David without informing anyone as to why.
It was only after Willems posted a version of her story on Facebook (to a limited audience) that the church leaders told her they had mishandled the situation. They eventually sent out an email explaining why David Kim had been terminated… but, as she said earlier, it downplayed the seriousness of what he did.
I adamantly oppose the use of the phrase “inappropriately crossed boundaries” to describe what David did to me. That is a gross understatement. David targeted, groomed, assaulted, abused, gaslighted and silenced me. He used his position of spiritual authority to deceive and exploit me. And when I practically begged him to come clean in 2005, he again duped and silenced me. I assume he did not disclose his behavior to Redeemer when he was hired or to the PCA when he was ordained. He has not been “forthcoming.” His deliberate deceitfulness demonstrated over time is even more disturbing to me than the assault.
The crime was bad. The cover up was worse. And the cover up involved a hell of a lot of Christians.
There have been a number of #ChurchToo stories to come out over the past year, but unlike the #MeToo stories that focus primarily on the predator, these stories involve the abuser as well as a network of people who didn’t want the story to spread. Church culture — patriarchal, insulated, secretive — became an obstacle for the women seeking justice.
It couldn’t have been easy for Willems to tell her story, but because she shared it, maybe other possible victims who attend those churches — or the campus group she was a part of — will have the courage to tell theirs.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Amy for the link)