Here’s another story from my hometown of San Diego. Part of it is depressingly normal (pastor convinces vulnerable congregant that she needs his “sexual healing”), and part of it is extraordinary (the offender is now suing the victim).
The story begins at Point Loma Nazarene University, where John Wright serves as a professor of theology. The Christian Post and San Diego’s ABC News 10 report that in 2014, Wright invited Amy McClanahan, then 20 or 21 and a student in one of his classes, to attend the Mid City Church of the Nazarene, where he and his wife served as pastors.
McClanahan told Wright about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child…
… and Wright offered to counsel her. (Does this sound familiar?)
By 2016, McClanahan was working as a camp counselor at Mid City Church. Wright began inviting her to coffee on a regular basis. He often held her hand as they talked (“I was kind of weirded out but I thought it was OK because he was my pastor,” says McClanahan), then moved to kissing and to “hundreds” of sexual acts, most of them in the church. Wright promised her that “the trauma would wash away” when he performed sexual acts on her. He told her many times that he loved her. She was vulnerable enough to believe him, and she willing agreed to his demand for secrecy. Eventually, per Wright’s lawsuit against McClanahan (as reported in the San Diego Union Tribune), she asked him for an open dating relationship. Instead, he ended their sexual contact. McClanahan is suing Wright for traumatizing her through sexual exploitation in the guise of “counseling,” and Wright and his wife are suing McClanahan for disruptive (and allegedly unlawful) behaviors.
The San Diego UT published an eloquent statement by one of Wright’s former students. In his essay, Joel West exposed Wright’s lawsuit against McClanahan as a sheer act of bullying. West didn’t say much about Wright’s victim, but I will.
Amy McClanahan, I salute you! While I can’t endorse actions outside the law, I salute any survivor who refuses to be “nice” and “cooperative” and “ladylike.” Most victims never report at all; most survivors who report willingly take part in our own silencing. Afterward, we turn our anger inward, into depression, self-harm, addictions, and eating disorders. Amy McClanahan is doing none of these things. She refuses to be silenced, she refuses to act ladylike, and she’s aiming her anger right where it belongs. In my opinion, she’s treating Wright far better than he deserves. And by refusing to swallow her anger, she’s taking an important step toward her own healing.