Bobi Gephart had not planned to go to church that Sunday – not to the service where the pastor wanted to make a confession about the oppressive secret she had carried with her for so long.
But she quickly changed her mind and realized she couldn’t trust the pastor — the man she says sexually exploited her as a teenager — to share the whole truth.
Gephart rushed over New Life Christian Church & World Outreach in Warsaw, Indiana, arrived mid-duty and made sure her story was told.
Nearly a million viewers caught what happened next in that May 22 confrontation, caught on video and posted to Facebook.
John B. Lowe II, the longtime pastor of the church, confessed “adultery” on the stage 20 years earlier. “I sinned,” he said, admitting he had never publicly admitted it before “to protect myself.”
Bobi and her husband Nate Gephart, who had been watching from the gathering, then went on stage and took the microphone.
“If you love us, please let’s talk,” Nate said, handing the microphone to his wife.
She said it’s been 27 years, not 20, that she’s “lived in a prison of lies and shame.”
“For years I thought I was a horrible person, who had suicidal thoughts, didn’t realize what had really been done to me, that I was a victim,” she told him. “I was just 16 when you took my virginity to your office floor. Do you remember that? I know you know.”
She told Lowe, “You kept me in your prison,” but “I’m not a prisoner anymore.”
Bobi Gephart, now 43, told The Associated Press she wanted the church community to know the truth and had no idea the video, captured by a family member in the community, would evoke such a viral response. She received “overwhelming support,” she said.
“I didn’t realize how much this helps and will help people,” she said. People “not only in this field, but all over the world are turning to me. Their stories are so heartbreaking.”
Lowe resigned as pastor, The church announced this in a statement on May 23rd. The church said no one on the staff knew what happened beforehand, and it offered to help Gephart heal “in any way possible.”
At the church’s service on May 29, Lowe’s son, assistant pastor Bryan Lowe, read a statement saying the church would be restructuring and holding meetings with members.
The Indiana State Police issued a statement asking anyone with “victim or witness information” about the situation to contact investigators.
Bobi Gephart said she spoke to police but acknowledged that prosecution against 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 sex offender gains a victim’s trust through favors and other means — before she was 16. The sexual relationship lasted into her early 20s. Lowe, now 65, was more than 20 years her senior.
Gephart said since she was young, her family’s life “revolved around the church and the Lowes.”
“We were like family with them,” she said, and when one parent was out, the other often babysat the kids.
She said a few people at church knew what happened, but it was kept secret from most in the community and no one helped her seek counseling. She said she felt an obligation to protect the reputation of the pastor and the church and didn’t even tell her husband.
Things changed recently when her brother told her he was haunted by a memory from their youth. She said he remembered “seeing his pastor in bed with his younger sister, dressed in a T-shirt and underwear.”
When she told him what happened, she said her brother immediately confronted Lowe via text message and asked him to resign.
She said Lowe began speaking to some at church, confessing to the adultery but not telling the full story.
The church formed an advisory committee, which in a later statement said it had not yet completed the investigation, could not verify the accuracy of Lowe’s version, and had advised him not to take the May 22 confession.
The age of consent varies across US states from 16 to 18 years.
Victim advocates say such sexual activity by clergy goes beyond “adultery,” which implies consent among equals. They say it amounts to an abuse of power by a spiritual authority. Some denominations, such as the Catholic Church, define sexual abuse by clergy as victims under the age of 18.
New Life is an independent church.
After Bobi Gephart confronted Lowe at the service, Nate Gephart tossed a necklace Lowe had given to Bobi onto the podium, followed by her “covenant purity ring,” which many churches have given to youth to encourage virginity before marriage.
“We work through love and forgiveness,” Nate said. “But people have to be held accountable, and you can’t just fool people and say, ‘Well, I just committed adultery.’ It went way beyond adultery. So here is the Covenant Purity Ring back. I don’t want it in my house.”
Some in the congregation supported the couple and questioned Lowe, who admitted Bobi was 16 when the sexual relationship began. Later, some surrounded him in prayer.
The Associated Press’s religion coverage is supported by AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.
https://www.local10.com/news/national/2022/06/04/woman-buoyed-by-support-after-viral-pastor-confrontation/ Woman encouraged by support after viral confrontation with pastor