For 21 years I waited. Hopefully, patiently, submissively; I lived under the terror of my dad’s violent, apathetic, and sexual abuse. That was what I believed God wanted. That’s what I was taught good submissive girls did. We were quiet. We didn’t complain. We didn’t gossip. We honored our fathers and mothers, by never talking about their sin. I prayed God would change him. I clung desperately to the hope that he’d learn to love his daughter more than his sin. When I was about 16 years old, I told our pastor* at our OPC church in Kingwood, that my dad had thrown an iron at my head. I told him I thought my dad could have killed me. He did nothing. I told him my dad sometimes wove recklessly in and out of traffic to make me fear for my life. He did nothing.
I’m 35 now, so that was 20 years ago. For 20 years, I have waited. I’ve stayed publicly silent about the OPC’s knowledge of my dad’s abuse, and other abuses in various congregations. I’ve worked against the Hard Complementarian and Biblical Patriarchy theologies that were leveraged to perpetuate and cover up my abuse and the abuse of others, hoping the OPC would change. I have worked behind the scenes, informing those I hoped would listen, encouraging pastors who I thought could be brave. I dearly love my denomination. I have been and remain to be a faithful proponent of Reformed theology. However, while I trust OPC pastors to preach academic sermons, I have learned not to trust them to be faithful shepherds. I have been betrayed again, and again, and again.
The Path of Destruction
But that is not the only time and OPC pastor has betrayed me. During my lifetime, I’ve been a member of multiple OPC and PCA churches. Please note that the following pastors are named to help establish the timeline, not to imply their guilt or that they were necessarily aware of abuse. However, it was these churches that my dad infiltrated, and where he taught classes, made friends, and gained trust:
- Riveroaks, PCA, Germantown, Tennessee (Pastor Billy Spink)
- Providence, OPC, Austin, Texas (Pastor Jim Hoekstra)
- Redeemer, OPC, Encino, California (Pastor Lee Irons)
- Providence, OPC, Kingwood, Texas (Pastor Adam York)
These are churches I attended after my dad’s abuse was made public:
- Providence, OPC, Kingwood, Texas (Pastor Adam York)
- Bethel, PCA, Frisco, Texas (Dr. Craig Sheppard)
- Spring Cypress, PCA, Spring, Texas (Pastor Dave Muntsinger)
- Cornerstone, OPC, Cypress, Texas (Pastors Robert Arendale / Todd Bordow)
It was at Riveroaks PCA in Germantown that I met Bill Stovall, who later served prison time for “criminal attempt to commit aggravated sexual battery” against children. It was at Redeemer OPC in Encino that I first encountered Mark Abinante, who taught me to play piano during church, and served prison time for “continuous sexual abuse of a child.” It was pastor Craig Shepphard* and Anton Heuss of Bethel PCA in Frisco who my mom and I begged to help my little sisters, who were still living with abuse, and who I was terrified would be harmed. It was pastors Adam York (OPC) and Dave Muntsinger (PCA) who were the first to learn of my dad’s abuse, but who never involved law enforcement. But it was a different pastor, in authority over me in the OPC Presbytery of the Southwest, who abused me.
Former OPC Pastor, Regional Home Missionary, Gary Davenport
When I was about 15, I had an opportunity to talk privately to OPC Pastor, Gary Davenport. Not only was he a pastor, but he was the Regional Home Missionary of the OPC Presbytery of the Southwest, which includes about 25 churches throughout Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arkansas. Across these four states, Gary Davenport helped plant churches, provided pulpit supply, helped coordinate youth camps, and counseled OPC church leaders. He was someone I was supposed to trust. He was someone I was taught I should submit to and respect.
Unfortunately, before I got around to telling Gary Davenport about my dad’s domestic violence and sexual abuse, he began sexually abusing me in a verbal manner. He made comments about the way my breasts fit underneath my bathing suit. He claimed that the way I walked made men think about sex. He asked me, “What would it take to get you to spread your legs for a man?”
This is sexual abuse. This is perverted filth. Thankfully, because of the abuse I was already facing at home, I was highly experienced at placating sexual predators. I knew exactly what to do. I pulled my tee shirt as low over my shorts as it would go. I told him I wasn’t comfortable with the conversation. And I got up and I walked away.
Other NAPARC Pastors
Several pastors from OPC, PCA, RCUS, and various other NAPARC churches have interacted with me. Some have been kind. Some have minimized or shrugged their shoulders. Some have informed me that I’ve been called a liar. Some have covered up, enabled, or perpetuated abuse.
I will present their feedback without comment or interpretation. I trust you to be sympathetic, and hear how these words sound to someone desperate for truth, righteousness, and justice, and who has been waiting for the OPC to take a stand against abuse in the church for 20 years:
- I haven’t written [on the topic of abuse] yet because the subject seems too big, too important.
- I wish we could take all these guys and get them out of our churches – but in reformed circles we like to keep our heads in the sand – at best.
- I understand your frustration. However, I also understand the other side of being patient (even painfully so) in doing things in order.
- We need to be careful about using the word ‘abuse,’ because of the legal implications. We don’t want to give him [the abuser] an opportunity to sue.
- I got a call from [victim’s name withheld] and she said that when she was a teenager Gary [Davenport] used to make out with her; you know, like kiss her … To my knowledge, Gary has never done anything that could be prosecuted.
- Many OPC pastors have read your book, and we support you, even if we’re not out talking or writing about it. Keep doing what you’re doing. We’re here. We support you.
New Horizons: The OPC Magazine
In April, 2019, I offered to send the editor of New Horizons a pre-release copy of my book. I got a hasty thank you in reply. After that, I heard nothing, and assumed they weren’t interested, which I didn’t mind.
Then, in November, 2019, I got an email and a phone call. New Horizons asked me to write an auto-biographical piece about how the theology of the OPC had sustained me through 21 years of child abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse. I wasn’t sure whether they understood what they were asking, but I wrote an article to their specifications. In it, I related stories that I’d already shared in my book, with the clarification that these abuses took place in OPC churches. (You can read that article here, but it has been edited and updated to names names).
At that time, I had not named any names. However, upon reading my article, OPC Pastor Danny Olinger rejected my piece, stating:
“In our judgment, it is not prudent at this time to publish the article in its current form. There are allegations, both explicit and implicit, in the submission that we do not have the means to judge. This is not to take away from the possibility of considering an article in a more general form in the future.”
I found this extremely disappointing. I felt that I was not believed. I felt that I was being silenced, yet again. I felt that in the future, even should my abuse be verified by others, they’d only consider a sterilized version of events.
A Special Meeting of The OPC Presbytery of the Southwest
After my book released on August 20, 2019, Sarah Salter, one of the daughters of Gary Davenport, read it. When she came to pages 21-22, she recognized the voice of her dad in the words of the anonymous pastor I described. She reached out to me on Facebook, and we formed a friendship. Over the months, I have been continually in awe of Sarah’s strength, and the beautiful faith God has created and maintained within her. She is one of the strongest people I have ever encountered. Stronger than many a pastor.
On March 1, Sarah decided to share her story of her father’s sexual abuse. Her Baptist church filmed her speech and posted it to Facebook. At that point, several pastors – including OPC pastors Andrew Moody and Glen Clary – put together who we were talking about. They alerted other men in the presbytery, and decided to call a meeting of all 25ish church sessions. They said that me, Sarah, and Hannah (another of Gary’s daughters) would be included in the meeting, which was to take place on April 9, via Zoom.
I was elated. Finally, I hoped that abuse in the OPC would be talked about candidly. Finally, men of the church would stand up for their daughters. Finally, evil would be called evil and – though justice was a remote dream – there would be a call for accountability, righteousness, and the protection of children.
Unfortunately, after much discussion and prayer, it was agreed by multiple pastors* that the meeting should be canceled. While they have expressed interest in “learning how to recognize signs of manipulation and abuse in general … and thinking of ways to shore up that weakness,” I have no reason to believe anything will change. My distrust is not a choice I have made. The well of my trust has simply dried up after two decades of chronic betrayal.
Note: Since this article was published, I have learned that while the meeting was canceled, a future meeting is being planned to take place after COVID-19 shutdowns lift. Please read my more recent piece, here.
But my story, and Sarah’s story, and Hannah’s story, is about so much more than Gary Davenport. This is about me waiting 20 years for the OPC to hold an abuser – any abuser – accountable for evil. This is about the children of God being preyed upon in a denomination that claims to believe in Total Depravity, yet that often won’t report or call out total depravity even it when its stench is right under their noses.
Multiple OPC and PCA pastors knew about my dad’s abuse. They did nothing.
During my 20’s, I warned PCA pastors that my little sisters, who were members of their church, were being abused. They did nothing.
I told several OPC pastors about Gary Davenport’s disturbing words. They did nothing.
I warned OPC pastors that our former church pianist in California, who was convicted of sexually abusing his own child, was teaching music lessons to children. They did nothing.
I wrote articles, appeared on television, spoke at SBC conferences, and did so many radio and podcast interviews I’ve lost count, telling people that abuse is happening in the church, and that I am an OPC member. I wrote and published an entire book cataloging my extensive victimization and painstaking recovery process, naming abuses that made even hardened police officers wince when I reported.
And the OPC did nothing.
And I no longer expect them to.
I want to be proven wrong.*
You are not only men of God, but you are pastors. However, if you want me, as a woman of God, to submit to you, you’re going to have to do something that I can in good conscience submit to.
You preach about Total Depravity, but when I tell you about death threats, violence, sexual predation, and spiritual abuse, you wring your hands like frightened children and hide in your libraries. Do you ignore abuse, because you believe so strongly in Unconditional Election, that you know children who get raped will be saved or unsaved regardless of whether you intervene? Have you slipped into fatalism, or are you simply cowards? I cannot bear to think that you willingly enable abuse. I have to believe you are afraid. I cling to the hope that you are morally lazy.
How did we get here?
The only pastor who has ever stood up for me, was Robert Arendale. When he heard what Gary Davenport had said to me, he was extremely concerned. He did some digging to ensure Gary was no longer in the OPC, and no longer active in ministry. Robert was not aware that Gary had sexually abused or “rough-housed” with his daughters, nor was I at that time. If he had known, I am confident he would have informed law enforcement.
It is because of Robert, and my current pastor, Todd Bordow,* that I am still a member of the OPC. They are the only pastors who have ever encouraged me to speak truth, and speak it boldly. Unlike many others, they have never asked me to be quiet. They have never reminded me to be patient. They have never recommended that I tolerate abuse and pray.
I am not on a crusade to take down Gary Davenport, or even my dad, Mark Grassman. Based on my experience, abusers in reformed churches live long and free lives assaulting children and beating women, and the pastors who know about it do nothing. But if by some miracle someone has the courage to act, and Gary is disgraced or spends time in prison, Soli Deo Gloria.
My goal – my hope, my prayer, my desperate desire – is the same as when I was 15, having lunch with Adam York. I want the OPC to love God more than they fear abusers. I want pastors to build up and protect women and children rather than abandoning them to the perverse desires of their oppressors. I want the OPC to stop teaching women and girls that Godly womanhood and submission means to keep quiet, docile, weak, and tolerant of demeaning treatment.
Your wives deserve better.
Your sons and daughters deserve better.
God demands better.
I am not afraid of abusers. Abusers are afraid of me. This is the way it should be. This is the way it should be in all reformed churches. No one should fear speaking the truth. No one should fear testifying to the Total Depravity of an abuser. Rather, abusers should be terrified to incur the righteous action of the church.
Unfortunately, because of how many* in the church have handled men like my dad, and because of the way they’ve handled pastors like Gary Davenport, abusers in the OPC (yes, they are here and they are active) know no one stand up to them, and their victims (yes, and hopefully, they are reading this) fear no one will protect them. We want a reason to believe you’ll do more than sit on your hands.
You can preach pretty sermons. You can run theological and logical circles around other denominations. You’re academically brilliant and passionate about scriptural minutia which most other churches completely miss. You can speak in the tongues of men and angels, but if you have no love, it is all nonsense. (1 Corinthians 13)
I am sorry that it has come to this. I have tried to warn, to hold accountable in private, to encourage righteousness and honor. I feel that no one listens. No one cares. You fear the abuser more than you fear God. I am patted on the head and told to be patient and pray. But I have been patient. And I have prayed. For 20 years. And now I’m done* waiting for someone to do something, and I have decided to speak out specifically to the dangerous and vulnerabilities in my denomination, because I love it dearly. Publishing this open letter is the only thing I know how to do – the only hope left I have of getting your attention – and motivating you to take this issue seriously.
Please, do something.
*UPDATES TO THIS PIECE: This article has been updated to reflect new information which has developed since publishing it. I have also clarified some language which inadvertently confused some. I have added the name of Dr. Craig Sheppard, PCA/RTS, and would like to clarify that Anton Heuss was a young youth pastor at the time of the events described. While I did beg Anton to minister to and watch over my sisters, Craig Sheppard was the lead pastor at that time, and was ultimately responsible for overseeing the situation. I am grateful for the North Texas Presbytery of the PCA, whose leadership reached out to me within hours of this piece being published, and who called me on the phone today to pray with me and inform me of steps they are taking to protect women and children from abuse. This is my most desperate desire, and I have been given great hope by these men. I am also removing the name of Adam York in several areas, in order to provide a more full account here. The previous account is true, but I felt additional context would be helpful in understanding it better. I do not rescind my piece. I still have great concerns, anxieties, and I wish to see action and change take place. I apologize for words which caused unnecessary confusion. However, I want to simultaneously encourage my brothers and sisters who have been abused – speak out! It doesn’t have to be perfect. I’m not perfect. We do our best, and when we make mistakes, we fix them and we grow. But we do matter. Truth matters. Protecting children matters. We cannot stay silent.