Pastor Faced with Sexual Abuse in Viral Video: Survivor Shares Her Story

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Bobi Gephart hadn’t planned to go to church that Sunday – not to the service where the pastor was planning to make a confession about the oppressive secrecy she had carried for so long.

But she quickly changed her mind, realizing she couldn’t trust the pastor – the man she says began sexually harassing her as a teenager – to share the whole truth.

Gephart rushed to New Life Christian Church and Global Outreach in Warsaw, Indiana, arriving mid-service, and made sure her story was told.

Nearly a million viewers witnessed what happened next in that May 22 confrontation, captured on video and posted on Facebook.

John B. Lowe II, the congregation’s longtime pastor, confessed on stage to “adultery” 20 years earlier. “I sinned,” he said, acknowledging that he had never publicly admitted it before “to protect myself.”

Bobi and her husband, Nate Gephart, who were watching from the congregation, then took the stage and took the microphone.

“If you like us, please let us talk,” Nate said, handing the microphone to his wife.

In this undated photo provided by Bobi Gephart, Gephart and her husband, Nate Gephart, pose for a photo. Bobi says she felt “overwhelming support” from people around the world after confronting Pastor John B. Lowe II. (Courtesy of Bobi Gephart via AP)

It had been 27 years, she said, not 20, that she had “lived in a prison of lies and shame”.

“For years I thought I was a horrible person, having suicidal thoughts, not realizing what had really been done to me, that I was a victim,” she told him. “I was only 16 when you took my virginity in your office. Do you remember that? I know that.

She told Lowe “you kept me in your prison”, but “I am no longer a prisoner”.

Bobi Gephart, now 43, told The Associated Press that she wanted the church community to know the truth and had no idea the video, recorded by a family member of the congregation, would generate such a viral response. She received “overwhelming support,” she said.

“I hadn’t realized how much it helps and will help people,” she said. People “not just in this region but all over the world are reaching out to me. Their stories are so heartbreaking.

Lowe resigned as pastor, the church said in a statement May 23. The church said no staff were previously aware of what happened, and offered to help Gephart “heal in any way possible”.

During the May 29 church service, Lowe’s son, associate pastor Bryan Lowe, read a statement saying the church would restructure and hold meetings with members.

Indiana State Police, in a statement, asked anyone with “victim or witness information” about the situation to contact investigators.

Bobi Gephart said he spoke to police, but acknowledged that prosecution of Lowe was unlikely due to the passage of time and because Indiana law sets the age of sexual consent at 16. She said she was aware of other past abuses within the church.

She said Lowe began “grooming” – in which a sexual predator gains a victim’s trust through favors and other means – before he was 16. The sexual relationship continued until his early twenties. Lowe, now 65, was more than 20 years older than her.

Gephart said that from a young age, his family’s life “revolved around the church and the Lowes.”

“We were like family to them,” she said, and when one set of parents traveled, the other often watched over the children.

She said a few people in the church knew what happened, but it was kept secret from most of the congregation, and no one helped her get advice. She said she felt obligated to protect the reputation of the pastor and the church and didn’t even tell her husband about it.

Things changed recently when his brother told him he was haunted by a memory from his teenage years. She said he remembered seeing “his pastor in bed with his younger sister, a t-shirt and underwear.”

When she told him what happened, she said her brother immediately confronted Lowe via text, asking him to quit.

She said Lowe started talking to some in the church, confessing to adultery but not telling the full story.

The church formed an advisory committee, which said in a later statement that it was not done investigating, could not verify the accuracy of Lowe’s version and advised him not to. make the confessions of May 22.

The age of consent varies between 16 and 18 in US states.

Advocates for victims say such sexual activity by clergy is beyond “adultery,” which involves consent between equals. They say it amounts to an abuse of power by a spiritual authority. Some denominations, such as the Catholic Church, define clergy sexual abuse as involving any victim under the age of 18.

New Life is an independent church.

After Bobi Gephart confronted Lowe at the service, Nate Gephart threw a necklace Lowe had given Bobi on the podium, followed by his “covenant purity ring”, which many churches gave to young people to promote virginity Before marriage.

“We work through love and forgiveness,” Nate said. “But people have to be held accountable, and they can’t just bamboozle people and say, ‘Well, I just committed adultery. It was way beyond adultery. Here, then, is the return of the purity of the covenant. I don’t want it in my house. »

Some members of the congregation expressed their support for the couple and questioned Lowe, who admitted that Bobi was 16 when the sexual relationship began. Later, some surrounded him in prayer.

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