Truth Matters

A settlement was recently consummated between Christian Gospel Temple and one of the victims who filed suit last year. A friend of mine who also grew up in CGT, Jennifer Meier-Beita, was interviewed again last night on the Channel Five News.

Jennifer recently created a website where she could publish documentation showing that the victims who filed lawsuits last year were telling the truth. Although a settlement agreement for an undisclosed dollar amount was reached through mediation about six weeks ago, when Channel Five reached the current pastor of CGT (Steve Farmer) by phone, "he would not comment on the case settled out of court and still denied any wrong doing by the church or its members."

This past January, I began writing a book about my life growing up in CGT** and my deliverance out of the group I once believed was "the true church." I was born and raised in this church. I moved from California to Tennessee in 1993, along with hundreds of others, because our pastor told us it was God's will for our congregation to relocate to this specific area of the country. I wasn't convinced that God was requiring the move, but I didn't want to stay in California without all of my lifelong friends. So I moved.

It wasn't the first time our church had moved and it was only one of many attempts by our pastor to relocate our entire congregation. Within a couple of years after moving to Tennessee, our pastor then tried to convince us to move back to California. He said that it had been God's will to move, but now it was God's will to go back. God had changed His mind. There had been other times when my pastor's reasoning and explanations of God's behavior raised a red flag for me. But I convinced myself to remain with this group of people until I finally recognized that I had to leave in 2003.

There were many disappointments and disheartening events in the years following our move to Tennessee. I began to see a lot of cracks in the things I had been taught. My confidence in church leadership was devastated by the revelation that our pastor's brother was an alleged pedophile. I became aware that the first known incident of sexual abuse committed by this man had occurred in the early sixties. Equally disturbing was the discovery that my pastor knew and swept it under the rug. He did not share the information with the rest of the family or members of the congregation. Not only did he keep the molestation a secret, he allowed his brother to sit next to him on the platform as our "unofficial" assistant pastor for years. It has been alleged by his three granddaughters that he went on to sexually abuse them. The further abuse was avoidable and preventable, had the pastor not covered up this problem. I have been told by family members that the alleged pedophile had told his brother and other men in authority long ago that he had "a problem" after coming home from WWII. He needed help. And there was none. I don't know if that claim is true, but I do know from multiple witnesses that the man who stands accused of the extreme abuse of his granddaughters has made private confessions while professing public innocence. It's a horrible situation.

One of the man's granddaughters is my sister-in-law, Cheryl. We have been very close for years and I have dedicated my book to her. She has been sharing this painful journey with me for the last ten years. She has poured her heart out to me again and again. She has shared with me the details of many private conversations in which disturbing things were said to her by the current pastor and his wife (as well as others). In some cases, she knew she was being lied to. She often felt there was a blatant attempt to manipulate her into saying and doing certain things she did not want to do. Her confidence in the integrity of CGT leadership was shattered many years ago. But the revealing comments and behaviors leading to her disillusionment were mostly private. In private conversations, the reality and extent of the covering up was made clear to her. She told me that she said to someone just yesterday, "The information in the deposition is not new for me. I have known about lies for years. There was just no way to convince people. It's in black and white now, and there are still people who won't look at the truth. But for those who will, it must be obvious now why we had to do what we've done. The truth needed to come out. The lies needed to stop."

I'm sure it must have been assumed that her loyalty would be to the family image when certain details were shared with her. It was not. What mattered to Cheryl was the truth. It was revealed to Cheryl early on in this ordeal that the current pastor has known about the first incident of abuse (committed by her grandfather)since 1967. Not only did the former pastor, Cornelius Mears, conceal the abuse. The current pastor, Steve Farmer, concealed it as well. Cheryl has said to me many times, "I'm sure Steve made sure my grandfather never had access to HIS children. But no information was shared with my parents that might have afforded protection for us."

There have been other abuses through the years that have been swept under the rug and never dealt with appropriately. At one point, my sister-in-law pointed out that the church could bear responsibility for further abuse (because this had been pointed out to Cheryl by a psychologist she was seeing). The current pastor's wife later informed her, "Oh, by the way, we checked with a lawyer. That can't happen. The church cannot be held liable." Try to put yourself into the shoes of a victim hearing that response. To say it showed indifference, insensitivity and a lack of compassion toward victims is, in my opinion, to state the obvious.

I spent the afternoon with my sister-in-law and her mother yesterday. Once again (as I have on so many other occasions), I saw the pain and anguish of a mother who was robbed of the ability to protect her own daughters. Knowing she could have protected them if only information had been shared, she has carried guilt and shame for not having protected them; guilt and shame that does not belong to her. I have witnessed her tears and her anger many, many times. She expressed to me yesterday that she knows she has to forgive, but it is so hard to get there; especially when there is no repentance or acknowledgment of wrong doing.

Adding to her personal turmoil is the fact that her husband has maintained a relationship with his parents. In his heart, he believes he has taken a stand. Of course he loves his daughters and feels outrage over their abuse. But his actions demonstrate internal conflict between still loving his elderly parents and feeling angry with them over the abuse. His mother did not inflict any physical abuse, but she has blamed victims for talking. (She told a reporter that their claims were a load of baloney.) While his daughters have longed for their dad to openly support them in a more visible way, they have demanded nothing from him. That kind of support has to come willingly. Their family has already been ripped apart emotionally by all of this. They don't want to make life any harder for their mother than it already is. But this has resulted in even more pain for them as victims because people in CGT have thrown this apparent "conflicted support" up to Cheryl and her sister, suggesting that she is a hypocrite for taking a stand against the leadership of CGT while continuing to love her father in spite of his perceived divided loyalty. (I am not revealing anything that isn't commonly known. Many questions have been asked about this situation and it's very much out in the open.) I have sat with my sister-in-law in tears over how hard it is to deal with having that aspect used against her as a weapon by those who seek to diminish her credibility and sincerity -- all the while claiming they feel compassion for the victims and insisting that CGT wants to be transparent.

To anyone who spent time in CGT, the dishonesty demonstrated in the deposition on Jennifer's website is glaring. I know there have to be people in CGT who are appalled and horribly disillusioned. The unanswered question is whether or not they will demand accountability from their pastor. The truth is out there now. He claims no wrong doing, yet he settled the case under seal and a blatant lack of transparency is revealed in his deposition. When does the truth become relevant? If not now, when?

I have many times thought about trying to write a book. I knew I had a book in me, but I doubted I would ever get around to writing it. And even if I did, what would I do with it? Who would be interested in reading it? This past January, I felt inspired to begin writing and just see if I produced anything worthwhile. Once I got started, the book materialized quickly. The memories came; the words and emotions flowed out of me. I prayed many times that God would throw up road blocks if He didn't want me to publish my journey. But if my story could help someone else, I told Him I was willing to suffer the condemnation and rejection that would come along with openly sharing my life's story. It has already been suggested that my book is a bunch of lies and it's not even in print yet. I know I will be called a liar because the truth is embarrassing to many. I fully anticipate that some of the same people who are excusing Steve's lack of integrity under oath will accuse me of lying when they KNOW I am telling the truth. I'm prepared for that.

The book is not an expose' of CGT; it's a memoir of my life. I lived the things I wrote. And I know that every person who was there with me will know in their heart of hearts that I have told nothing but the truth if they even bother to read it.

I decided to write about this today because Jennifer offered to post links on her website to my blog and the future website of my book. I accepted her offer and have gotten a lot of hits coming from her website already. News stories these days are a collection of soundbites and only a snapshot of a complete story. I wanted to share a little bit of my perspective on what is happening so that readers would understand the significance of the settlement. I want people to know that all of this is -- and has always been -- about the truth prevailing over deception.

Jennifer mentioned in her interview that the leaders of CGT have tried to rewrite history; our history. That is true. If there had not been such an effort to conceal the truth while maintaining a desire for transparency, I don't know if I would have felt as compelled to tell my story. But there has been so much deception, I began to feel deeply convicted that it was not right to allow a dishonest misrepresentation of the past to be handed down to another generation.

When I began feeling the inspiration to write back in January, I had no idea of the events that would transpire over the next seven months. I had no idea that I would complete the book in such a short time. I didn't even know if I would finish writing the book once I started. And I certainly didn't know that the pastor would lie under oath or be publicly exposed. The reality of these events coinciding with the impending release of my book comes as a surprise. But from the day I began to write, I felt like timing was an important element of the book's message and that God had ordained the timing.

There have been other unexpected events. Prior to last November, I had never known anyone with a background in publishing. But God put a very dear couple in my life through our trip to Israel. I shared the first few chapters (as I began writing) with them and they offered to help guide me through the steps of self-publishing. They introduced me to my editor. Prior to last November, I had never met Charlie Daniels or his wife, Hazel. But they also accompanied us to Israel in November and we became fast friends. Charlie accepted my invitation to write the foreword to my book. Having Charlie write my foreward is a great honor for me, an unknown author.

Friends of mine recently handed me a check for $1,000.00, explaining to me they felt God had put it on their heart to give me that specific amount toward the cost of producing my book. Fearing I would decline their offer, they explained that they have an account they call their "God money." It represents offerings they deposit and then use to bless others as God leads them. So this was not money from their personal funds; it was money already designated for God and God's purposes. Since they believed God told them to invest this amount in the book, they really hoped I would not refuse it. I had just gotten an email from the editor informing me that he could edit and typeset my book for $1,000.00. That was not a mere coincidence to me. When they handed me the check and told me why they were giving it to me, I began to cry. I told them that even though it's been a very hard couple of years for John's business, we do have resources to draw from in order to finance the production of the book. But their gift was much more than a financial help. It was a significant confirmation to me that God was with me in this endeavor. I have alluded to this confirmation in other posts, but have not felt to elaborate on it until this morning. The friends who blessed me with this investment in my book prefer to remain anonymous at this time.

This has turned into a very lengthy post, but I haven't posted anything since last Wednesday. So maybe you won't mind the time you have spent reading (if you still are). I know that people from CGT read my blog. There are various ways to know this. To those readers, I want to say something personal. I love you and I always have loved you. Exposing the truth has not been solely for the vindication of victims. If you will embrace the truth God has revealed and respond appropriately, the truth will greatly benefit your lives and the future of your children. I believe with all my heart that God has brought this exposure. Please open your hearts to the truth. Please care about the truth. And if you read my book, I ask you to please do so with an open and an honest heart. I am not your enemy. And I have not written this book to hurt you. I have written it as my testimony of deliverance. I am proclaiming the Gospel of God's grace to everyone who will read my story. There are no lies in my book. There is transparency.

**Christian Gospel Temple changed its name to New Life Fellowship in March 2013.


Steve Bodiford said…
Wonderful Story Shari! I am sure it will be a very compelling and spotlighting read as well as a healing balm for others.
Cheryl said…
Shari when my mother and i read this tears were streaming down her face.Thank You for expressing our hearts! I believe our stories are just starting to be told....... YOU ARE MORE THAN MY SISTER-IN-LAW YOU ARE MY SISTER IN THE FLESH AND SPIRIT! Yes it is dramatic i mean for it to be!!! THOSE ARE MY REAL TRUE FEELINGS!!!
Shari said…
Thank you for posting this comment. I love you, Cheryl! As I say in my book dedication, I did not have a sister growing up, but I have one now. : ) Our close relationship has been a gift from God in my life. I'm so glad your mom was touched. The feelings she expressed to me Monday inspired this post.
Anonymous said…
Shari: thank you for being there for these poor women. And thank the Lord they have the courage to come out with the TRUTH! Too bad there were no MEN in that congregation and so God used the WOMEN. Please tell them its not unusual for people near to the situation to deny "anything like this could happen here"...remember the lying lip is but for a moment and the truth stands forever. God bless you and your book sounds so good...
Shari said…
Thank you, Anonymous, whoever you are. This comment meant a lot to me. Just wanted you to know.

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