In a podcast last week, Katie Roberts described how her seminary professor, Dr. Art Azurdia, groomed and abused her over a several year period. Following the podcast, Katie wrote an article describing how she came to believe that her relationship with Dr. Azurdia was not an adulterous affair, but abuse. It is reprinted here with her permission.
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” When you’re smack dab in the middle of something, it can be impossible to see the big picture. That was me for a long time. After God rescued me from the situation with my seminary professor, I worked hard to try to figure out what had happened.
As I processed endlessly, I was able to distinguish the trees. I could explain the facts of what had happened. I could describe how I felt about it. I could see that it had affected my life and the lives of everyone I knew and loved. But I needed to make sense of the situation and in order to do so, I had to understand the big picture – the forest. And I couldn’t. I also found that the people genuinely trying to help me couldn’t either.
My best guess was that the forest was adultery, and I tried to make sense of it using that paradigm. I looked at passages in Scripture about sexual sin and lust. I compared myself to David and studied Psalm 51. But no matter how hard I tried, it never made sense. Some of the puzzle pieces fit, but most didn’t have a place anywhere in the whole.
This forest didn’t address the horrific things that had been done to me. It didn’t take into account that he’d been my seminary professor and that he’d deceived and manipulated me. There was no place for the fact that I’d said no. It couldn’t explain the trauma I was experiencing, like panic, flashbacks, problems concentrating, and headaches. And it didn’t do anything to hold him accountable for the things he’d done to me, nor did it protect others from experiencing the same treatment. I was lost in that forest for a long time. I thought something was wrong with me because I was still so confused.
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But I now realize that my confusion wasn’t an indication that something was wrong with me. Instead, I’d guessed wrong. I’d mislabeled the forest and I didn’t have the right framework. It was only when I figured out which forest I was in that everything finally fit together.
How did I see it? I benefitted from hearing stories similar to mine and I paid attention to what was going on online. It helped to read about power differentials and consent. But what ultimately opened my eyes was what I saw in Scripture. There, I found a clear paradigm of relationships in which some people have power and others are vulnerable, as well as how God views it when those with power misuse it in his name. I am still learning and processing this and plan to write more in the blog over time, but here’s the starting point that helped me.
In Ezekiel 34, God gives a metaphor to help us understand this paradigm. He says that the spiritual leaders of Israel (the powerful) are responsible to care for the sheep (the vulnerable). The shepherds who were supposed to feed the sheep, to protect them and watch over them, had actually been feeding themselves. As a result, the sheep were scattered and became food for wild animals. Do you see the forest that I saw? Those with power – the spiritual shepherds, including my seminary professor – are responsible to care for the vulnerable – the sheep, including me as his student.
But that still didn’t fully describe the horrors of my situation. Because my seminary professor had not merely fed himself instead of me – he had fed himself on me. Like Denethor cramming food in his mouth, smacking his lips, and dribbling the juice down his chin, he had consumed me. As I read on, I saw that God addresses that, too. He says “I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.”
The prophet Micah elaborates on the same thing in graphic detail: “Listen, you leaders of Jacob, you rulers of Israel. Should you not embrace justice, you who hate good and love evil; who tear the skin from my people and the flesh from their bones; who eat my people’s flesh, strip off their skin and break their bones in pieces; who chop them up like meat for the pan, like flesh for the pot?” (Micah 3:1-3)
It’s an appalling sight, and it’s exactly what happens when those with spiritual authority take advantage of, deceive, manipulate, and use up those God has given to them to care for and protect. Did you ever consider why God sent Nathan to confront David about Bathsheba and Uriah with a parable of him stealing and eating another man’s beloved sheep? Seeing it in the light of the metaphor given in Ezekiel 34 was incredibly eye-opening to me.
In case you’re wondering, God is extremely angry about his sheep being treated this way. He does not condone what was done to you, even if it was done in his name and justified with Scripture. He reserves his harshest words for these evil shepherds.
This is what he says to them, “Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves . . . . I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves.” (34:2, 10). Woe. Judgment. Impending doom. Accountable. Against them. Removed. Gone. No longer in charge of God’s people.
But what about the sheep who have been so terribly damaged? God himself – the sovereign ruler of the universe, the creator of everything that exists – promises to come to our rescue. He hinted at it earlier in the passage, “I will rescue my flock.” (Ezek. 34:10). His flock because he’s our true shepherd.
And this is what he says he’ll do. “I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. . . . I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. . . . I will tend them in a good pasture. . . . I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. . . . I will shepherd the flock with justice.” (Ezek. 34:11-16). Do you see how God takes his power – and he has it ALL – and uses it, not to feed himself, but to tenderly care for the sheep at his own expense? He sees you, he hates what was done to you, and he cares deeply about you.
He also fulfilled his promise. He came to your rescue in the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is promised right here in Ezekiel 34:29. God says, “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them.” Yes, God is talking about that David (the one who consumed Bathsheba). But he’d ruled hundreds of years before Ezekiel was written and was already dead. Instead, this verse references the one to whom David pointed – the better, the perfect shepherd – Jesus. He is both God (who promised that he himself would come to shepherd his sheep) and man (the literal descendant of David).
Here’s what Jesus says about himself, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” (John 10:11) Such simple words, but they are bursting with hope. There is a good shepherd. There is a good shepherd who does not feed himself. There is a good shepherd who does not consume the sheep. Instead, he uses his power to feed the sheep. To serve the sheep. And, as we see clearly here, to sacrifice his own life for the sheep. The polar opposite of those evil shepherds who devour the sheep.
Jesus was true to his word. He metaphorically laid down his life for the sheep in everything he did, and then literally when he died on the cross to forgive our sin. But he didn’t stay dead. He is alive, he is reigning, and he is here with us. He promised that he would not leave us as orphans, but would come to us. He is still our good shepherd today.
As I ponder my story, I can now see both the forest and the trees. I still have work to do to process it all. But now that I have the right paradigm – spiritual abuse – it finally makes sense. And although I am aware of the evil done to me and the lasting damage the wicked shepherd caused, I see something else even more clearly.
The risen, reigning Lord, Jesus Christ himself, came to my rescue. He took me out of the mouth of that shepherd. And he is even now feeding me, healing me, and caring for me. He’s promised that he’s willing to do the same for you. He truly is the good shepherd.
For more on this topic, see this week’s podcast with Dr. Diane Langberg: Understanding Adult Clergy Abuse.
Katie Roberts, who is married to Richard and has three children, is a speaker, writer, and teacher. She has a Masters of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies from Western Seminary and teaches the Bible to women in her local church. She wants the Lord to use the insight and hope she gained through her experience of God’s rescue from adult clergy abuse to help others. You can find her at katieroberts.org.