The Rev. John Lowe II ended Sunday’s church service with a confession to his congregation.
“I sinned. I need to say that, and you deserve to hear it.”
Lowe, 65, got a standing ovation for coming clean. But moments later, a woman came to the lectern, took the microphone and told her side of the story, starting with a correction: It happened 27 years ago, not 20, she said.
The woman, now in her 40s, also added an important detail.
“I was just 16 when you took my virginity on your office floor. Do you remember that? I know you do,” she told her longtime pastor, describing herself as “a victim.”
The exchange between Lowe and one of his congregants was captured in a 14-minute video posted that morning on Facebook. Church leaders at New Life later released a statement saying that, before Sunday’s service, an unidentified woman “who has lovingly attended and served in the church for many years” had recently informed them about Lowe’s “improper sexual conduct” that started “many years ago” when she was 16. When those leaders confronted Lowe, he admitted to what the church described as “adultery.” On Sunday, the pastor took to the pulpit to confess publicly and announce he was resigning.
Neither the church nor Lowe immediately responded to a request for comment from The Washington Post late Monday.
Local prosecutors told WANE that they are investigating what happened decades ago between Lowe and the teenager. A spokesperson with the Kosciusko County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office told The Washington Post that the state’s judiciary rules prohibit the release of “information regarding alleged misconduct.”
When the woman took the microphone Sunday, she started by saying she had been living in “a prison of lies and shame” for nearly three decades. For years, she said, she blamed herself for the sexual relationship her pastor had initiated. She thought she was a horrible person and considered suicide. She lied to protect Lowe and his family, she said, and so did others: “People knew but were too afraid to come forward.”
“No one ever came to me. No one ever helped me. No one ever got me counseling,” she added.
New Life church said in its statement that it has been preaching a “Cross-driven message of repentance, forgiveness and restoration” for 42 years. The woman told congregants “this church has been built on lies, but no more.”
“The lies and manipulation have to stop,” she said.
That process started several weeks ago when she said her brother came to her to say that, even decades later, he was still bothered by what he had seen as a teenager: his pastor in bed with his younger sister. His concern led the woman to tell New Life’s church leaders about what Lowe had done.
“You did things to my teenage body that had never and should have never been done,” she said to him as they stood onstage at the end of the church service, adding that “the church deserves to know the truth.”
“I could give story after story after story to what you did to me.”
Then, she turned to Lowe’s adult son.
“Your dad is not the victim here. A partial truth is not true.”
She eventually walked offstage with her husband, who briefly addressed the crowd to say that Lowe’s sexual relationship with his wife went on for nine years. Lowe again took the microphone. The congregants who had given their pastor a standing ovation just minutes earlier now heckled him and shouted out questions.
“If you did it, you need to admit it!” one said.
“Did you do it?” another shouted.
Yes, Lowe told them, he had had a sexual relationship with one of his congregants starting when she was 16.
“It was wrong,” he said, adding, “I can’t do anything about that except to tell you that if I could go back and redo it all, I would. I can’t, and all I can do is ask you to forgive me.”
Then, Lowe gave the microphone to a man who led the church in prayer as Lowe walked down to the space between the stage and the church pews. As he stood at the front, one congregant approached and hugged him. Several more came up to form a prayer circle with Lowe, putting their hands on each others’ shoulders. One by one, more flocked to the front, and soon dozens surrounded the disgraced pastor.
“God, I pray for this body that has been wounded, that you begin to heal us, Lord,” the man at the lectern said, later adding, “All sin has consequences.”
Not everyone was ready to join the prayer circle and forgive Lowe.
“I’m not watching,” a man off camera said.
Then the video ended.