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'I Know the Shame': Pastor Reveals Childhood Sexual Abuse; Finds Healing Through Forgiveness

03-22-2019
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FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS, Ill. – At home, church, or the gym, Monty and Kimberly Weatherall see themselves as a team.

Kimberly has helped her husband tackle his weight, regularly joining him at Insanity workouts which are partly responsible for Monty's shedding of more than 80 pounds.

"I walked in there well over 300 – upwards of 320 pounds," Monty recalled.

She also served as a rock of support when he spiraled to the depths of despair.

"I made a decision to end my life," Monty relayed while chronicling his story for CBN News.

Those words hit his wife like "a ton of bricks."

Hiding a Painful Secret
 
Monty resisted getting help partially because he felt more comfortable offering help and encouragement as a pastor of a church in southwestern Illinois just outside of St. Louis.

Yet when it came to his own personal problems, he couldn't navigate the storm brewing within.
 
"From four to seven years old, I was abused over those three years by two male relatives," he recalled.

Fearing retribution, he never reported the abuse. Instead, he hid the pain by pretending to be someone else.

"For the rest of my life, I began to play these different characters, because I was so uncomfortable with being myself," he explained.

It worked until the only character left was the man in the mirror.

"I didn't realize that on some level I was blaming myself," he said. "But I had to give myself permission to realize that it wasn't my fault."

He told CBN News once he finally overcame thoughts of suicide, he viewed it as a turning point that marked the beginning of a long journey.

Road to Recovery

Monty's road to recovery started with a focus on his outward appearance. He resolved to get in shape, establishing a regimented physical routine to help lay a foundation for his emotional healing.

"I think psychologically, as I am being tortured as a child by the abusers, I tried to hide all of that," he explained. "And for much of my adult life, being overweight, out of shape, I made a decision that as a part of taking my life back I had to take my body back."

Monty found a former pastor- turned-counselor, who guided him through difficult sessions, recalling those early childhood memories.

Similar to female counterparts who've also been sexually abused, it took decades into adulthood to begin the process.

"The majority of women that I see who are violated as a child really aren't ready to begin the healing process until at least thirty," explained Candace Wheeler, a licensed professional counselor who specializes in treating sex trafficking victims at her practice in suburban Washington, DC. 

From #MeToo to #ChurchToo

The #MeToo movement has shown that few, if any, communities are immune.

Sexual abuse scandals have plagued the Catholic Church for decades and are now hitting evangelical circles, sparking a new social media campaign: #ChurchToo.

Challenging as it may be, Wheeler believes the revelations can help churches better address sexual abuse and reach the victims.

"What we are seeing is the community as a whole starting to at least be willing to talk about this conversation," said Wheeler, whose nonprofit ministry R1:99 treats women who've been sexually trafficked. 

"I think the #MeToo movement is helping some pastors realize that we do have a lot of survivors in our churches. And what are we doing and what can we do to help them heal?" she asked.

It's a question that motivates Monty Weatherall. 

"I know the shame. I know the courage that it took for those women and those men that are coming out to say 'This happened to me,'" he said.

With a heavy focus on justice reform and stories of redemption, Monty worries Christians may be neglecting the victim.

"I'm glad when authentic redemption is taking place. That's great," he explained. "But we can't forget those boys, those girls, those men, those women that have been abused."

A Reclaimed, 'Thriving' Life

He authored a book, Taking My Life Back, specifically written with the victim in mind. It documents how Monty went from suicidal thoughts to thriving — and even forgiving his abusers.

"For me, it started with a decision. I'm going to get healed," he explained, adding why he made the decision to forgive. "My abusers: they didn't know who I was going to become."

"They didn't know that I would become a pastor that would help thousands. They didn't know that I would even witness to them and lead them to Christ and baptize one of them. They had no idea what they were doing," he continued.

For Kimberly, she said their marriage is stronger now, and they're happier than ever.

"Sometimes I look at him and I don't even think it's the same person I married," she explained. "He was wonderful then, but he's wonderful and healthy and whole now."

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