Pastor trying to deal with the sins of his father
It was July 29, 2011, a Friday. The Rev. Jimmy Hinton of the Somerset Church of Christ got a phone call that morning from a woman who had gone to his church. She asked if she could come up and talk. He scheduled an appointment for 3 p.m.
She came into the room and handed him a piece of paper, sat down and began to cry.
Hinton read the paper. It was an email between her and another female, both of whom were sexually abused on the same night by Hinton’s father, a retired minister. The correspondence described the encounters in detail.
“I remember very clearly what I told her,” Hinton said. “The first thing I said was, ‘I believe you.’”
In his mind he questioned whether the church would ask him to step down.
He didn’t know if he and his wife were going to have to move. They had bought their home two years earlier.
“I told the young woman, ‘I don’t know what the future holds, but none of that matters; what does matter is, it stops now,’” Hinton said as he sat in his office behind the nave of his church seven years later.
There was a broken person in front of him, but he could not understand how all of it happened. There had never been an allegation against his father. He had never seen his father act in an inappropriate way.
“I went into ministry because of my dad,” he said.
An emotional roller coaster
He felt the heat and the raw hurt inside as he looked at the woman across from him that day.
He remembered it was a warm and sunny day and that she was devastated by this past abuse, he said.
In a flash, looking at the aftermath of one of his father’s acts, Hinton felt sorrow, anger, confusion and rage. He felt the love he had for his father begin to shatter with the pieces piercing his heart.
After the young woman left, Hinton had a 30-minute window to go home and talk to his wife before attending a wedding rehearsal for a parishioner.
Hinton went from experiencing the lowest point in his life to an hour later having to officiate a wedding rehearsal for a happy couple. The wedding was the next day. At the reception dinner, Hinton looked around at those sitting with him at a round table — to his left was his wife, to his right was the woman and across the table was his father, John Hinton. His father did not know at that point that the three of them sitting at the table knew of his abuse.
“There he was just yucking it up with everyone at the wedding and going around and talking and trying to engage with me, joking around, just being himself, and I was completely faking everything. I was just dying inside,” Hinton said.
The following Sunday, the son did what ministers do. “I preached.”
He looked out on the congregation and saw his dad. One row up was his father’s victim.
“How do you process all that?” he asked.
At some point that weekend, he and his mother decided they needed to report the sexual abuse to law enforcement.
“I didn’t know anything at that time about mandated reporting laws. This was pre-Jerry Sandusky. And we just didn’t talk about it. Nobody trained church leaders for this kind of abuse or its aftermath,” he said.
“I reported because it was the right thing to do. It never was an option not to report.”
Sliding into the belly of the beast
Reporting sex abuse allegations to the police was one of the hardest things he has ever had to do, next to telling his congregation and individual families about his father’s pervasive sexual abuse of minors over 30 years.
“It was absolutely horrible. In a very weird way, my mother and I felt we were betraying my dad somehow,” he said. “But looking back we realize how foolish that was. But, it felt that way.”
At the time, Hinton did not know about abuse.
“I didn’t know that an average abuser (of children) usually has 150 victims by the time they get caught, if they ever get caught,” he said. “I don’t think they have much regard for human life. When you can do that to a child and leave them crying and begging you to stop, but you do it anyway, you have no regard for human life.”
The words are there though, he said. He heard his father during several sermons preach that children must be protected from being sexually abused. He called such acts “the worst evil in the world.”
“Words mean nothing unless they are matched with the appropriate action,” Hinton said.
Hinton’s father eventually confessed to sexually abusing 23 children, but his son knows there were more, maybe hundreds. His father is serving a 30- to 60-year state prison sentence. At his sentencing, the elder Hinton blamed his actions on a lifelong rebellion against authority.
Crawling out, reaching for new heights
Hinton remembers sobbing when he told his congregation about his father. He said he will never forget how the congregation came up and surrounded his wife and him and prayed over them. The church members told the young couple that whatever they needed they would be there.
“And they have been true to that,” he said. “That is as true today as it was seven years ago. They have been fantastic.”
The group’s reaction was soothing to his frayed soul, Hinton said.
But, he still had more to deal with.
Early on in the investigation of his father, Hinton and his wife discovered that sisters from a family in his congregation were among the 23 victims his father had confessed to abusing. He and his wife tried to put themselves in the shoes of that family.
“If this were us, the first knock on the door when we found out our daughters were raped by a trusted friend, a former minister, we would want that first knock on the door to be our minister. We had to go. We didn’t want that first knock to be from the police,” he said.
He and his wife drove to the family’s home to tell them.
“I drove truck and I’ve logged over a million miles, but the short drive from my house to theirs was the longest couple of miles that I’ve ever driven in my life,” he said.
Soaring with tattered wings
Now, Hinton is on a mission to figure out how to stop abuse before it begins.
A combination of heavy guilt and curiosity drives his research.
“How did we miss it? What is it about us that made us miss it?” he asked.
It is a humbling thing to realize that the abuser could have been stopped if the signs were caught, he said.
Hinton believes there are always signs, but many people do not know what they are or wear blinders because of a relationship with the offender.
He believes that just as valuable as getting into the mind of a pedophile is getting into the heads of those who surround the pedophile.
“A lot of abuse was done right before our eyes and we missed it,” he said.
He is open about his father’s actions and how they affected his life and those he loves. He still writes his father and visits him in prison, although less each year.
His wife asked him once why he wants to see his father, and Hinton said he did not have a good answer for that.
“I can say he is my dad, but so what? He is also a rapist,” he said. “He is a person who destroyed many lives. By the grace of God, all his victims are still alive.”
He said he probably contacts his father more out of curiosity than love.