Secrets in the Sanctuary
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Julie had an admittedly sheltered childhood and youth, living for a decade on the Southern Missouri District campgrounds, where her father, Roger, pastored a church. When a Bible college graduate — a third-generation AG pastor — swept Julie off her feet, she assumed her married life would be as blissful as her parents’.
But Julie’s husband, Brice*, had baggage; some she knew about, some she didn’t. As an instructor at a Bible college and later a seminary, Brice dazzled students with his theological knowledge and oration skills. When he became pastor at an Assemblies of God church, hundreds flocked to hear his dynamic preaching every week.
However, Brice presented a different face at home. He repeatedly committed adultery and physically abused Julie. The assaults stunned her; Brice always seemed remorseful and vowed never to hit her again.
“I can’t believe I kept the secrets for so long,” says Julie, who realizes her indecision to speak out actually enabled her husband to continue the patterns. “At the time, I thought I was doing what was best. I thought, If I just love him enough, if I just forgive him enough, if we just go to counseling, we can save this marriage.”
Brice confessed to committing adultery with four women in his congregations — three in rapid succession when Julie stayed with their 4-year-old daughter at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. The girl endured multiple surgeries and chemotherapy treatments in successfully battling a rare life-threatening cancer. All three women, friends of Julie’s, had been deeply involved in religious activities at the church. Brice told Julie the women agreed to sexual encounters because of his “stress” and all promised to keep silent so Brice could remain as pastor. But Brice matter-of-factly confessed his infidelities to Julie.
“He knew a lot of Scripture and very convincingly told me I needed to forgive him and move on,” Julie recalls. However, Brice — ultimately diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder and bipolar disorder — failed to grasp the emotional pain he caused his wife. He showed no repentance, only blaming others for his downfalls.
Ultimately, aided by supportive parents and her siblings, Julie resolved to leave the 13-year marriage, even though Brice repeatedly begged her to stay. In retrospect, Julie says her husband twisted Scripture to fit his own purposes, and she unwittingly allowed his abuse in her attempt to keep the marriage together.
“I would not have been able to make it without God-given strength and a reliance on the Word both to survive the marriage and in having the courage to break away," she says.
With the knowledge of his adultery revealed, Brice lost his ordination, with no offer of restoration.
Nevertheless, Julie still hoped for a reconciliation as she simultaneously prepared for divorce. But then Brice revealed he had committed adultery during their separation with three additional women, even after receiving treatment at a counseling facility. Julie finally realized her marriage had been based on a series of lies and manipulative behavior.
Another denomination ordained Brice, who soon remarried, but he continued in his pattern of abuse and committed multiple affairs with women. Eventually, Brice became an accomplished and highly decorated U.S. Army chaplain. But when it appeared that revelation of his infidelities would cost him a second marriage — and the end of his career — Brice took his own life.
Two months before Brice’s death at the age of 49 in 2007, Julie told him she had completely forgiven him.
“I thought I had forgiven him earlier, but I still felt like he owed me for what he had taken from me,” Julie says. “I realized I needed to cancel the debt.”
MINISTERING TO WOMEN
For the past 23 years, Julie has been married to Don Davenport, a retired information technology director for the city of Independence, Missouri. They lead a small group and are on the prayer team at Summit Park Church, an AG congregation in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.
Julie, 60, now is an ordained AG minister who speaks at church services and women’s retreats. She recently wrote of her ordeal in Secrets in the Sanctuary. In large part, the book is designed to encourage women enduring abuse or adultery to seek help.
The Assemblies of God is providing additional tools to help ministers and their families cope with the spiritual, emotional, and mental health challenges of their profession.
Although the AG has many more resources available for adherents now compared to when Davenport endured her traumas, she says she is amazed by the number of women who confide that they don’t know what to do about extreme marital problems. She still strongly counsels against divorce in favor of reconciliation
“However, too many women are staying in mentally and physically abusive relationships because they feel they have no place to go,” Davenport says. “By telling my story and being transparent, God is allowing me to help others recognize where they have to confront real sin."
Executive Presbyter Beth Grant says she is grateful that Davenport is sharing her testimony with other women in ministry. Grant says she has heard too many similar tragic accounts as a member of the ministerial credentialing subcommittee.
“Having known Julie for over 40 years, I have watched her handle her very painful journey with integrity, grace, and courage,” says Grant, who also is executive director of Project Rescue. “Spousal abuse is an affront to a loving God who created His daughters in His image and placed husbands in their lives to protect and defend as well as to love.”
Grant says if a minister’s wife is in an abusive relationship, it is essential that she report the abuse and remove herself and children from harm’s way.
“Her courageous step also protects the community of faith from a shepherd who has tragically become an abuser,” Grant says. “There is forgiveness and restoration available. But silence that postpones an abuser’s accountability generally does not lead there.”
“When the behavior happens over and over again, it does not go away all by itself,” Davenport writes in Secrets in the Sanctuary. “It must be confronted.”