Overcoming Clergy Abuse with Author, Sandy Phillips Kirkham

For 27 years Sandy Phillips Kirkham had a secret. As a teenager she was sexually abused by her Youth Pastor and it was covered up. The person she trusted the most and looked up to,  took advantage of her vulnerability. Sandy loved the church and the Lord. For 27 years she did not open a bible or go inside a church.

Listen as she shares her victorious testimony, her healing journey and how she helps other victims of clergy abuse.

Listen to the entire episode !

Read our Show Notes

Nicole Cleveland (00 : 01)

All right. Welcome to the show.

Sandy Phillips Kirkam (00 : 04)

Well, thank you. I'm glad to be here.

Nicole Cleveland (00 : 06)

Wonderful. Let me first say thank you. Thank you for your transparency. Thank you for giving back to those that are suffering in silence and those that are suffering in secret because as we know, there's so many people that have gone through what you've gone through, but they don't have that voice. So you are... You are their voice. Essentially. So thank you so much for what you're doing. Thank you. Let's go back. You are the author of Let me PREY upon you and not P R A Y It is p r e Y. Sandy. Tell me a little bit about why you wrote this book and you just did not take what you went through and bottle it up and keep it to yourself. Why did you write the book?

Sandy Phillips Kirkam (00 : 57)

Well, I wrote the book, Um because for 27 years, I did keep it a secret. And, um, that wasn't good. And I was actually letting my abuse control my life for that 27 years because I had never really talked about it. I was trying to hide it. I was ashamed. I felt guilty for what was done to me, even though it wasn't my fault. So once I had a trigger factor, I had no choice but to face my past and to face what was done to me. And once I began the healing process, what became very clear to me early on, was that our stories and our experiences are very important to each other. And so something in my story will resonate with another victim. And so we need to talk about our experiences in our stories. And what I did find out was by helping others, It really helped me to heal because I was able then to to see the purpose in what was done to me. There was.God gave me a purpose. And he gave me a ministry to help others. And so I wrote the book because I felt there was a need for my story to be shared

Nicole Cleveland (02 : 06)

Absolutely. And let's go back a little bit. Your abuse started at the age of 16. It was by a youth pastor at your church. How long did it last?

Sandy Phillips Kirkam (02 : 18)

Uh, five years until I was 21. it ended only because his actions were finally discovered by the elders in the church. Otherwise, I don't know that I would have ever gotten out of it. He was so abusive and controlling in my life that in my mind I had no way out. And this would Only end when he said it would end.

Nicole Cleveland (02 : 37)

Wow. And it continued on for five years. So who did you tell?

Sandy Phillips Kirkam (02 : 44)

Well, initially, because his actions were discovered. There were some people in the church who were aware of what he had done. Uh, most people did not know because the church leadership decided to try and keep it a secret and move him to the next church before anyone else could find out. I then spent 27 years hiding it, hoping no one would find this out about me. I never told my husband my close friends had no clue that this had been, ah, part of my past until I had a trigger factor, which I described in chapter one of the book. And then I just knew I couldn't push it back down like ahead. For 27 years, this was an explosive reaction, and I knew that I had to deal with it. So I told my best friend I told her first, and it was difficult to get the words out. I was sexually abused by my youth. Pastor E took me 20 minutes before I could get those words out, but she was the first person I told him. Once I began telling her, I told a couple other friends. Oddly enough, I waited to tell my husband because even though I knew he would be supportive, the fear that are abusers put into our minds that no one's going to believe you or you're going to be blamed for this is so ingrained. And at least it was for me that I was so fearful of just telling anyone and the one person that I didn't, I feared most that my judge me or blame me or wonder why I hadn't told him sooner was my husband. So even though I knew he would be, um, supportive, that trauma that my abuser created, actually, just it messed with my thinking. It just messed with my thinking. And so I waited about four months to tell him Yeah, and He was extremely supportive.

Nicole Cleveland (04 : 29)

That's great. And that was at the age of 49 Is that correct?

Sandy Phillips Kirkam (04 : 33)

Yes. And even Age 49. Again. I was so paralyzed by the words Don't ever tell. Don't ever tell anyone you're gonna be in trouble if you tell. And like 49 I still had that fear.

Nicole Cleveland (04 : 47)

Yeah, I get it. I'm a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Get that fear to live with the fear and walk around with that fear off, just thinking that it's your fault. And as a teenager and as a youth, as someone that really depends and looks up to those above us that are supposed to be role models on DSA posed to assist us and help us, it really takes you to another place, right? Right. And being in the church, though, talk to me about your relationship with God because, ah, lot of times it effects that relationship with God because you're looking at it like Okay, this is not supposed to be happening and you're allowing it toe happen. Um, as a child, that's what you

Sandy Phillips Kirkam (05 : 36)

Think. And I was baptized at 13. I was very active in the church. I absolutely loved church. I loved being there. It was my safe place. Um, once the abuse started, slowly, I began to pull away from the church and I Once the abuse ended, I had a very, very difficult time going to church. I forced myself to go because I wanted my Children to have that experience. But it was a anxiety attacks when I was in church, because he had taken something very special and spiritually in my life, and he contaminated it. He really took a a special part of my life away from me for that 27 years. And so I had a difficult time with church. I never blamed God, but he created a disconnect between me and God. Um, I carried my Bible to school with me every single day. When I was in high school for 27 years, I never picked that bible up again. I never prayed again after that. And if you had told me at the age of 13, when I was baptized and I felt such joy at that moment that at some point in my life I would have a complete disconnect from my God and my savior up, I wouldn't have believed them. So he created that situation because you can't control those trigger factors there. I'm in church and I just had them. And so for 27 years, honestly, Nicole just I mourned. I mourn the loss of my spiritual life. I wanted to be like I was before the abuse, and I didn't know how to get there. And it was partly because I was holding all of these memories in and blaming myself. And once I was able to understand that this didn't happen to me, this was done to me by someone that I should have felt safe with. It was done to me by someone who pretended that he cared for me in order to trap me in a relationship. And once I was able to understand that, um, I could move on and he'll and what turned the corner for me is I read Jeremiah 23 versus one through four, and it says, Woe to the shepherds who are scattering my sheep. And then I found other Bible verses about the wolf in sheep's clothing. And then I realized God warned just 27 times about Wolfson Cheap clothing. 27 times We've been warned in the Bible. And what that said to me Waas God, Was Justus angry about what he did to me as I was hurt and and so I began to understand God didn't do this. God, was Justus angry, and he doesn't condone this behavior. In fact, he warned us against it. So that was the turning point when I was able to find in the Scriptures that God to was angry and that he hurt with me.

Nicole Cleveland (08 : 20)

Um what a discovery. And he had to lead you there because you were so close to him. And I look at it like you were preyed upon and because you had such a deep faith. And you were that that youth leader that was going to bring so many others up with you eso he contaminated that and that betrayal was so deep. So did I hear you say for 27 years you did not go to church. He didn't pick up a Bible.

Sandy Phillips Kirkam (08 : 51)

I never picked up a Bible and I could not pray. Um, I think one of the saddest things for me is that my Children never had a bedtime prayer with her mother. Um, that haunts me, but I did the best I could with the baggage I was carrying on. And I think God understood that I did go to church because I took my Children to church. I could not. I could not connect with the church. And so when the pastor would pray, I would start to think of my grocery list or anything else but prayer because my abuser would prey on a Sunday morning after he had sex with me the night before it became so convoluted. And so, um, confusing to me that I couldn't separate the two. And so, for a lifelong with 27 years that that disconnect stay there with me. Um, but I'm happy to say now I am very much in a spiritual place in my life. I'm very much connected with God. I can read the scriptures. I pray I still have trouble in church. Um, but I understand why now and so the trigger factors aren't as intense, and sometimes they don't bother me as much. I'll just have a fleeting moment on. I think that's all part of God's healing.

Nicole Cleveland (10 : 03)

Absolutely. And you're getting back to that place you are continuing to get. Get back to that place. Eso talk to be good.

Sandy Phillips Kirkam (10 : 12)

Well, I'll never be the same as I waas because abuse changes a person. I certainly won't have the same um, trust And, um but I know that I can get to a place where I have peace with God and church. Will I have faith that my church like, well, we'll turn around as well at some point.

Nicole Cleveland (10 : 34)

I think the most important part is that you have a relationship with God and we are the church. And so that is what you're rebuilding and continuing thio have and to keep But thank God and glory be to God that you started your healing process. Talk to me about the healing process because, ah, lot of times people stay stuck and they don't work on that healing. Did it include counseling? Did it include you really Just praying to God. What were the steps in your healing?

Sandy Phillips Kirkam (11 : 11)

Um, Well, first of all, let me just say healing is hard work. And you probably know that absolutely it is. It is such hard work and you'll take four steps forward and then you'll take 10 steps back. Absolutely. You need to celebrate the steps forward. And so the first thing I did was I had this moment of understanding that this wasn't my fault and that even at 16, I thought, you know, I had an affair with a married man who was my pastor. And once I realized that that that moving to the next step of education, I tell victims you need to understand what was done to you. Educate yourself on the terms of grooming, manipulation, gaslighting All of those things were done to you in order to trap you in this relationship and keep you in that relationship. And then, as I said, that Bible verse just stuck out at me and and put me in a path of okay, I could do this with God. God could be a part of my healing as well. And then the hardest part probably was learning to forgive. Um, I had to figure out a way to forgive this man for what he had done. And what I realized was for 27 years I carried guilt and shame, and that controlled my life. Once I confronted him then I had anger and disappointment, and that was controlling my life. And so I had to let go of the anger. I had to let go of the pain because if I didn't, he was still controlling me. If I So you know, forgiveness has a lot of connotations, and it's hard for victims to say, Well, I'm never gonna forgive him. It's really about unburdening yourself of this person and letting God take it. Just let go of it and that's not easy. I don't want anyone to feel because it took me a long time and again there'll be days, I think. Okay, I'm really upset. I wanted justice. I wanted him removed on. None of that was happening, so I had to, except that I wouldn't have the outcome that I wanted and let God take that part of it. And so I did. I let go of it and I have forgiven him and he's no longer part of my life. In that sense,

Nicole Cleveland (13 : 14)

That's wonderful. Talk to me about the confrontation because you confronted him, is that correct? I

Sandy Phillips Kirkam (13 : 21)

Did talk to me about that early on. There was something in me and I Maybe it was God. You know, Matthew talks about. Go to your brother. Who's offended you. I did have a couple that helped me. Um, they were very spiritually in their life, and I trusted their judgment. And so I did talk to them a lot, and so they were very helpful in guiding me along. But even from the very beginning, I just felt this need that he needed to know what he did to me and that I couldn't forgive him if he didn't understand what he had done to me. And so I hired a private investigator. I hadn't had contact with him for 27 years, founding, ministering in a church in Alabama, and I confronted him, and my confrontation really was two things. I wanted him to understand that I now understood what he did to me. This wasn't about love. He never cared about me. This was sexual abuse. But I also wanted him to understand what he had done to me. So I I made a list of about 23 things that he had done to me. You know? You know, when you took my spiritual life, you you hit me. You you lied to me about this. I made him read the list so that I could then turn back to him and say, I will try to forgive you. And that was the purpose of my confrontation. Um, I also hoped that the church leadership would remove him. Um, they didn't, and they wouldn't. Um, I had was not his first victim. I wasn't his last. According to him, there have been many sexual misconduct throughout his ministry. He's still in the ministry. A za matter of fact,

Nicole Cleveland (14 : 55)

Sandy, let's pause a little bit. Um, how

Sandy Phillips Kirkam (14 : 59)


Nicole Cleveland (14 : 59)

That make you feel when you hired the private investigator? You found him still ministering. How did that make you feel?

Sandy Phillips Kirkam (15 : 06)

First of all, I kind of scared me because I thought, you know, this man is probably continuing this kind of behavior. So I was I worried that there were other victims, and then, um, I think I was disappointed in his reaction to some extent because he didn't really acknowledged that he had what he had done was wrong. But he gave excuses of why he did what he did, and that was disappointing. I don't think he ever really understood the damage that he had caused throughout my life. I

Nicole Cleveland (15 : 37)

Didn't own it. He didn't own it,

Sandy Phillips Kirkam (15 : 39)

Really did not own it. He didn't. And he initially didn't want to meet with me. He was nervous about meeting at the church. So he refused to meet me at the church s Oh, there were all kinds of signs for me that he really wasn't a repentant man. And the fact that he still hadn't told his current church about his past. Um, that's not transparency. That's not repentance. That's hiding your past.

Nicole Cleveland (16 : 02)

Yeah. Sandy, you are an advocate right now, right? For individuals that have gone through clergy abuse, victims of clergy abuse and abuse. If there is an individual that's listening right now, because breathe again is a moment of hope, inspiration and solutions. And they may be listening. They may be on their walk. They maybe, maybe in their office, they may be listening and they're saying, That's me, but they don't know how to take that first step. How would you minister to that individual?

Sandy Phillips Kirkam (16 : 36)

Well, I would say the first step is you've got to believe that you were not at fault, and victims even is young ages will say, Well, Mommy told me I should have done this and I did it with Victims tend to carry too much guilt. Any guilt and shame belongs on your abuser. So that's the first thing. The second thing is, I would say Find someone that you could talk Thio that you can trust. And I know sometimes that could be hard for victim because they don't want to talk about it. But that releases necessary. I volunteer for an organization called the Hope of Survivors, and they have a website that they help victims so they could go to that website. You can also there other websites out there that will give information for you because I think again, that first understanding of what was done to us so helpful to move on to the next step. Because unless you embrace the fact that you were sexually abused, then it's hard not to blame yourself and, um, that Zatz by, um, important step. Um and and counseling is so important. Um, victims of abuse need to unravel. Ah, lot of the lies that were told by their abusers. They need to unravel the junk that was given to them through their abuser and that that takes sometimes a professional. So don't feel like you can't ask someone for help, because that's important. You can't do this alone. And then I would say your abuse does not define you. You are who you are because God created you and God has a plan for your life and it does not include your abuser. So take that plan that God has and embrace it. And like I said, those were the steps that I use for that worked for me and read, Read all you can about it because that understanding helps

Nicole Cleveland (18 : 20)

Great advice. Um, what's one to look for in grooming? If there's an individual that maybe parents, parents that could be listening right now saying, um, that person is a little bit too close to the coach or that person's a little bit to close. They've taken a, um, sense of, I don't know, fatherly love to a young girl. What are some of the signs?

Sandy Phillips Kirkam (18 : 46)

Well, you know, we don't wanna be lurking around corners looking for people who might be, You know, good people who are doing things that we don't want accuse them up But when there's a lot of attention paid to a child or a teenager, that's that's a clue. That's a red flag. And I think we need Thio. Trust our gut. So many people said to me after they had learned of the abuse, you know, there was that time that he said such and such. And I thought that was odd. Or remember this time that he took you in his office and I thought, Well, that's weird but they didn't take the next step. So trust your gut. If something doesn't seem right, just pay more attention and just see if there are other signs or clues. There's sometimes a red flags that we choose to ignore because it's the pastor or it's the Boy Scout leader or it's the coach or its are nice uncle. We tend not toe, toe, want toe, go there and think that they're doing things they shouldn't do. But if you've got a gut feeling that's a that's a that's a place you might want to start. But I think that paying that extra attention is the first place and then I always say, Just engage your Children and and teenagers and talking to them about just things in general, but mentioned, You know, I know you've spent a lot of time with so and so you know, how is that going, Or how do you feel about that? Or do you mind that he took you to so and so give them an opportunity to open up a little bit? Um, that might be a start to

Nicole Cleveland (20 : 08)

Wonderful. Now, Um, Sandy, you wrote the book. Let me pray upon you. What can a reader look forward to by reading this book? Who is the book for?

Sandy Phillips Kirkam (20 : 20)

Well, that's kind of an interesting question, because when I was writing, my editor kept saying, You know, you need to have a target audience who's your target audience? In foremost, I wrote it for victims, but my second purpose, and I think it's just a Z. Equally important, I also wrote it so that I can help educate those who aren't understanding how clergy abuse happens or why we don't say no. Or, you know, why should these men not remain in ministry? So I wrote it as an educational book is well for those who would want to understand this issue in this topic a little bit better. I also hope that pastors would read it so that not that they might be accused of this kind of behavior. But they may have an assistant pastor or youth group leader that they need to be aware of the signs and pay attention in this book, I think would help in that way as well. So I wrote it again so that other victims can hear my story and hope find some help and healing from it. But I also wrote it so that there might be some education in helping to prevent future abuses is, well,

Nicole Cleveland (21 : 19)

Wonderful. And how will the listeners purchase? The book is on Amazon, your website. How will they purchase it?

Sandy Phillips Kirkam (21 : 26)

It's on Amazon. It's on Kindle and is in book form. It's also on my website, which is just my name. W w dot Sandy Phillips, Kirk um dot com. Um, my website also has a lot of information I think would be helpful to victims. That goes back to your other question. Um, because again, you're right. People will say that's my story, or I felt the same way, and it's important that we share our stories And so the website there will have quite a bit of information as well. And I have a Facebook page. Um, Sandy Kirk. Um, author,

Nicole Cleveland (21 : 58)

What do you say to that individual that says, I know this is wrong, but I don't want to get him in trouble.

Sandy Phillips Kirkam (22 : 05)

You're not going to get him in trouble. His actions get him in trouble. And that was a fear for mine. I didn't. You know, I knew if I were to tell anyone this was gonna be an explosive thing, that would happen in the church. It was going to blow up the church. But what he is doing is wrong. It is not in God's nature for what this man is doing. So he does need to be exposed not only for your own health and safety, but for those other women or girls that he may abuse in the future. So it's important that you tell and I know that's not easy. First of all, I don't know that I ever would have told. And once it was discovered, I kept it a secret for 27 years. So I understand that fear. But in today's world were a little more in tune to this. And so, um, find someone you can trust, and you need to tell him you're not going to ruin his reputation. He did that the moment he decided to touch you. That's who ruined his reputation. And God does not want these men, uh, in there in the church. They're not. They're Wolf's in sheep's clothing. You are exposing someone who needs to be exposed

Nicole Cleveland (23 : 08)

Absolutely and one more time. What's that website address? For the listeners,

Sandy Phillips Kirkam (23 : 14)

It's W W. Sandy Phillips. Kirk Um K I r K a J m dot com

Nicole Cleveland (23 : 21)

Wonderful. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Sandy Phillips Kirkam (23 : 24)

It's been a pleasure to call. I really appreciate it.

Gglot (23 : 27)

Transcribed by Gglot.com

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