Brown, Michael

My Sexual Abuse Story

This account has long needed telling. Its purpose is not to harm anyone. In a way, it’s for myself alone. If my story can help another, that would make it worthwhile. If you’re offended, that’s on you. When I speak of the fellowship and how I was raised, I will concede that things have changed, for the better. Less legalism, more love. That’s the only reason I’ve stayed. I don’t do well with “when” and “how long ago” questions, so if there are errors in that aspect, I apologize. The basic facts, I remember. I have some cognitive issues due to substance abuse in my past.

I was raised in “The Truth” from birth. It’s all I ever knew. I was told it was the only true way to salvation. I have an older brother, Greg, and two younger sisters, Joni and Lisa. None of them are currently professing. There were many rules that I didn’t like, but for the most part I followed grudgingly. My parents were strict, my dad was to be feared. My dad was the enforcer in the family, my mom the peace maker.

We attended meetings faithfully. My folks were both raised in The Truth and were believers. I was discouraged from participating in many school activities. Short hair for the boys and dresses and long hair for the girls. We had no TV, but maybe a clandestine radio. I felt like an outsider at school, like I didn’t fit in.

As I grew older, I rebelled against the rules, as I thought they were unfair and overly strict. That began what was to be a theme in my life, even to this day. Leading a double life. Being one way around my parents and the church, and another around school and friends. I wanted to be perceived as doing the right thing—without living according to the principles of my parents and the church. Drugs and alcohol became an outlet, all the while going to meeting as a “good boy”. I was able to pull it off for the most part successfully. I wanted what the church represented but was unwilling to be true to it.

UNWILLING. How I hated hearing that word, but it was actually the truth. My brother and I made our choice dutifully at Malcom, Iowa convention in the same Saturday night meeting. Mostly from pressure and knowing it was expected. We must have been 12-13 years old. Not understanding much but following along. Finding something to share in meetings was an exercise in futility. When I opened my Bible, it might as well have been written in Greek. But I did the best I could, faking it.

As we got older, baptism was the next expected step. Again, not understanding, but doing what we were told. I remember my brother and I going to the Behrend farm for baptism. Frank Tyson was the older worker in our part it seemed for the total of my adolescence. My mom always made sure she had given us a fresh haircut, otherwise, Frank would offer to give you one. And that was to be avoided at all cost! I remember a young teen in our part that was a victim of his trimmers, and was so traumatized, he didn’t go to school for two weeks!

Anyway, the important criteria for baptism: “was your hair short enough”. As my brother and I were preparing for baptism at Behrend’s, Frank came down and said, “You boys can’t be baptized. Your hair is too long”. That was crushing. Trying to do the right thing, and then halted due to our unwillingness. There was no talk of the true meaning of baptism, just if you’ve followed the rules. My dad threw a fit about it, and we were baptized. Under protest, it seemed.

There were some great times during my teens. Meeting other kids at convention. Long distance relationships with girls. Good girls, not like the ones at school. Get-togethers at the Nutt farm, friends in Omaha and Colorado our age. They were some of my best memories growing up. I looked up to the college-age age kids. They seem to have a peace and serenity in their life that I longed for. Like they had been issued an owner’s manual that I hadn’t been given. I wanted that for myself, but it didn’t seem available to me.

My senior year of high school, I graduated mid-term and enrolled in a local community college. As bad luck would have it, my hair started to fall out. First, a little at a time, and eventually all. My mom and I made a trip to Mayo Clinic, where we were told it was a condition called Alopecia. There was no treatment for it, and it wasn’t life-threatening. So, go home and live with it.

In an age where hair was such an important part of society’s image, it was extremely traumatic. This was before Michael Jordan made it a fashion statement. I felt like an ugly freak. Fortunately, I was out of high school. I’m not sure I would have survived it. I eventually started wearing a wig, which I never felt looked good (double life). I still have the lasting effects from back then. My life went off the rails at that time. Drugs, alcohol, and illicit women became a big part of my life, all the while trying to be the “golden child” to my parents and the church (double life). I was living at home at the time, going to meeting and school, and working at my dad’s printshop. I was a mess.

I’m getting around to the Sexual Abuse soon, I promise…

In the past year I’ve been made aware of the Child Sexual Abuse/ Sexual Abuse (aka CSA/SA) turmoil that has plagued our fellowship. It seemed every other day there was a predator or victim brought to light. I felt the righteous anger that many felt toward the predators and heartbreak about the survivors. It’s been a confusing and tumultuous time for so many. Yet, I didn’t feel like I was affected directly. No one I knew was a survivor or predator. I loved my little meetings, and they loved and cared for me.

The workers in our field were true and faithful. I had faith that changes were being put into place that would insure these things never happened again. I didn’t feel how it affected me. Until a memory came to light through intensive therapy…

In March of 1979, I was invited on a Colorado ski trip. I would have been 18. There were about 25 professing kids going, all upper teens to mid-20s. I knew about half of them. A couple of Kleeb girls, Lynn Kleeb, the Stubbes, Glen Hoover, Bruce Helmreich, Marilyn Nutt, Raelynn Burgess. That’s from my faulty memory and fuzzy photographs. I looked up to them, idolized them even. Was so excited to be a part of that group! Maybe this was my chance to get my life back on track. The trip was organized by Peggy Griggs, who I knew from get-togethers in Omaha and Des Moines. Her father, Bill Griggs was to be the chaperone.

After making our way to our condo in the mountains, we unloaded our gear and settled in. Girls on the second floor, guys on the main floor. As chaperone, Bill Griggs had the only bedroom. When it came time to sleep, Bill insisted that I share his bedroom and his bed. He claimed that there wasn’t room on the floor in the main room for all the sleeping bags. I wasn’t keen on the idea, but being shy and submissive, I went along to get along. I think predators have a sixth sense to know who they can victimize.

That night in his bed, I was sexually assaulted. I was scared and shocked by his advances. Here was a professing man, an elder in the church, that was doing this terrible thing to me! At some time in the night, I found a sleeping bag in the main room, cinched up the opening and curled up in a ball, sobbing. In the morning, I was in no better shape. The guys around me asked what was wrong. There was no way I could tell them what happened. There is no feeling of loneliness like that of a sexually abused victim. Why had this happened? Was it somehow my fault? Had I done or said something that gave him the idea that I wanted it? To say I was traumatized would be an understatement. I made the best of the rest of the trip, keeping my distance from Bill. I never talked to anyone about it to this day, except for my therapist.

After recalling this atrocity, my memory wouldn’t divulge his name. I’m a member on the CCF app (Connected and Concerned Friends), so I put a feeler out and his name was supplied: Bill Griggs. The memory came flooding back. I had pushed it so far back, so I wouldn’t have to think about it ever again. Only now, through seeing the courage of other survivors, do I have the strength to put these words down. Thanks to some kind folks on CCF, I was able to find out more information about Bill Griggs. I read a letter written by his son, Kent. He detailed the history of his father. It was written in 1993. Bill passed away in 2015.

These are Kent’s words, not mine:

I never heard a worker say anything about homosexuality, incest or pedophilia, but these too are real problems in the “Truth.” I believe that the workers thought all sex was wrong, so these dysfunctions were not any worse than normal sexual relations. All sex was to be denied except for procreation. Workers and Elders sometimes used their power to seduce other men, women, and children. I should know—my father is a documented pedophile.

I don’t remember my father ever abusing me sexually, but this may be a classic case of denial. My father was a child molester when he was a worker before I was born. The documented incidents of molestation involve a 12-year old boy who was repeatedly abused over a two-year period. My father would sneak into the boy’s room and molest him while the family was asleep in the other rooms. When the “head worker” was told, his response was “Well, the workers aren’t married and sometimes these things happen.” I didn’t know this until I happened to contact Threshing Floor Ministries in August of 1993. I had been told by my mother in 1984, after their divorce, that my father was a homosexual who hadn’t made love to her since 1968, and she showed me a letter he wrote to prove it.

As I remember, the letter was mostly evasive and a denial of the issues except for the reference to something that had happened before they were married. (I think now that this was the mentioned molestation.) With regards to this, he had written, “Well…maybe in that way my heads not screwed on right.” That is as close as I have had to an admission of guilt. I heard rumors of other incidents but like usual, the truth was suppressed by my father, the workers and the victim.

Looking back now I can think of other times when maybe things weren’t quite proper. As an “elder,” my father was often the chaperone for camping and ski trips. The parents thought their children were in such good hands. They didn’t know how untrue that was. My father was always willing to lend a hand to young men in their time of need. (Now it looks more like his time of need.) Looking back, they all had the same type of dysfunctional personalities. They always looked poor and hungry with an eager-to-please and never-question attitude toward my dad.

This abuse will probably continue until he dies, gets killed by an irate parent or goes to jail. At this time, he is still going to meeting, giving his testimony, and is in apparent good standing with workers and other members of the “Truth.” It’s like he has no regrets about all the lives he has destroyed. I don’t think he knows a 29-cent postage stamp is all that stands between him and prison.

This was shocking to me! Am I to believe that a known predator was an elder in the church, and that he was allowed to be in close proximity to vulnerable young people who he took advantage of, including myself? What am I to do with this information? My life in the years since has been marked with substance abuse, permissive sex and failed marriages, interspersed with drug rehabs and periods of sobriety. Leading the same double life that has permeated my being all my life.

I’m in a good place now. I’m sober and in recovery. I attend several AA meetings per week. AA has saved my life. I have a community in AA that loves and cares about me. That understands my trials like no one else can. That is priceless. I continue to go to meetings, but don’t know what that future looks like. Can I, in good conscience, keep attending knowing that I have been harmed and betrayed by the ones I should have been able to trust? I feel angry and I don’t want to be. Life’s too short to be pissed off all the time!

Anyhow, I’m weighing my options. I feel certain, after I post this, I’ll be hearing from the workers in our part. The word seems to get around. I feel comfortable enough with them to have an honest conversation.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it,

Mike Brown
Johnston, Iowa
December 19, 2023
[Son of Van & Karen Brown]

NOTE: William (Bill) Frank Griggs was born August 15, 1924, and died August 26, 2015; he was survived by his son Kent and daughter Peggy.

My Exit Letter

Note: This past Sunday morning I decided that maybe I should send a group text to those I’ve been meeting with, as well as other friends and workers that I’ve grown close to through the years. There’s been times that I’ve just disappeared, usually because of yet another relapse on drugs and alcohol. There would be misinterpretations of my absence. All are not on CCF, and haven’t read my posts. So I did just that:

February 18, 2024

Good morning.
Mike Brown here. Just thinking about all of you this morning. As you may have noticed, I haven’t been with you these past few weeks. I don’t want you to think I’ve “burned my life to the ground” yet again. The complete opposite has occurred. I’m finding a renewed relationship with God outside of your fellowship. Shari C. once wrote to me that “there is always a right step from wherever we are”, and for me, it is this. There have been many reasons for my leaving. It’s not out of bitterness or anger, but of enlightenment. It wouldn’t be prudent to go into an explanation on this forum, but if anyone desires to know more, I would welcome the conversation.

I want to thank all of you for your love and support through the years. You’ve been a blessing in my life, and I won’t soon forget your kindness.

With much love,

Epilogue: It seemed like the right decision at the time. I felt it was an explanation, without being accusatory or rude. Throughout the day, I received many kind notes, wishing me well in my search for a stronger relationship with God. They don’t wish ill of me, nor I of them. These are people I care deeply about.

When I woke up the next day though, I wondered, “What have I done?” I had closed the door on a church and group of people, some of whom I’ve known my whole life! I felt like a man without a country. I started to doubt my decision. It seemed so final. Then the bargaining began. “Maybe I’ve over-corrected. It’s really not important that I don’t believe all the tenets of this group. Even though there have been some bad apples, the workers in my field would never do such things! They don’t speak of exclusivity much anymore, so maybe they don’t even believe that.” And, on and on. I was conflicted and tormented. Maybe I should have that conversation with the workers. Maybe I should go to Bible Study. It’d be nice to see those folks. And the biggest question, “Now what?”

Since then, I’ve climbed off the ledge. Now is the time to make a stand. To learn, to grow. Read more about grace and what that means for me. Sure, it’s new, and scary. But I’ve been told you don’t get the good things without doing the hard things. This won’t be easy. Maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But, there is a good chance it will also be the most rewarding, too. I’m praying for guidance. I have faith that my god will provide it.

Mike Brown