We Need to Talk about the Marstons

Vico Whitmore
5 min readApr 15, 2023

Around the time I was thirteen, my family was active in the closest thing to a mega church my small town had to offer. It was a First Baptist, one of dozens in the area, and was led by a pastor who had been Baptist when he was hired by the church, but by then had drifted toward Evangelism. As a result, my pastor was actively engaged in the work of growing our church at blistering speeds, adding TV cameras for local access viewing, sermons with music for the old and the young as well as a service in Spanish, and half a dozen weekly events for people of all ages.

Still, by mega church standards, First Baptist was pretty small. I knew most of the kids within two or three years of my own age, and while that list of people was certainly growing, it wasn’t happening so fast that I had any trouble keeping up. That being the case, I knew all of the Marstons at least well enough to say hello in the hallway. I was in band with the two older kids and had been introduced to the younger two at concerts and basketball games. We weren’t friends, but we were friendly. What’s more, despite my mom being the band director at the time, and despite her constantly telling me about every troubled student, every annoying parent, and every issue she faced as a teacher, she never said much to me about the Marstons, at least not until after. I knew the Marstons, but I wasn’t close enough to see it, and in retrospect, I wish I’d seen any of the red flags I’m sure they were waving just like I was. I wish we could have commiserated, given each other some kind of solace. But this isn’t that kind of story, and we’ll have to move on.

One Sunday, well into my pastor’s turn toward TV camera’s and big name guest revival sermons, the Marstons were all in the front pew. This wasn’t entirely uncommon in my church when a family had an illness, a loss, a birth, or a wedding to announce, and so while I thought they probably had something to say, I didn’t think terribly much of it. I was sitting on the left side of the balcony and could see all six of them in profile as the sermon ended and the pastor called them up to the pulpit.

There was a pause after the whole family was standing, their arms around each other, only the father standing outside the line of comfort they were providing each other. A moment passed, the congregation grew tense. I remember our preacher saying something, vamping to give the father Marston more time. Finally, he spoke. He admitted to having molested all of his children and asked for the church’s and his family’s forgiveness. I don’t remember precisely how he phrased it. I do remember that he said every word slowly and that whatever turn of phrase he used for rape took me a few seconds to understand. His wife spoke after him and quickly said she forgave him without looking up at him at all. The pastor said it was our duty to forgive him. I don’t remember the kids saying much of anything.

My tongue felt thick and salty in my mouth as the pastor wrapped up the sermon. My own sexual abuser was just a few rows ahead of me and had made use of the time between sermons to corner me in the unused church attic less than an hour before. For the first time I realized that even if what he was doing was wrong, even if I was incredibly honest about what he had done, this was the most my church community could offer me. He didn’t look at me as he left the sanctuary that day and steered clear of me and my parents in the lobby. I converted to Paganism less than a year later.

My mom and I talked about it later. She told me that the eldest daughter had confided in her and told my mother that her father had warned every single child that if they spoke up he would simply do the same to their other siblings. They stayed quiet to protect each other. The mother presumably didn’t know, or else didn’t want to know. After the confession to the congregation, the father Marston left town. He wasn’t turned over to the police. There were no consequences. His name wasn’t even in the list of Baptist church leaders known to be sex offenders, although as I recall he had been fairly involved in the church. Nothing happened to him. He simply got to walk away. I don’t remember my mother voicing an opinion about that or about how the church responded. She also never asked if anything like that had ever happened to me. I don’t know that I would have told her.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been indirectly called a pedophile this year. Meanwhile, the churches the right swears are the bastion of moral truth and the rock beneath their conviction that all queer people are sexual abusers houses more rapists than any other institution I know of save for maybe the Boy Scouts. I know I’m not saying anything new here. I understand that pointing out hypocrisy in people who don’t experience shame isn’t a useful exercise.

Still, there’s something claustrophobic and nauseating about being pointed to as a risk to children while my own childhood reeks of sperm, vomit, and communion grape juice. I am exhausted of defending myself, and I am exhausted of being reminded that the same church that offered me salvation also harbored not only my sexual abuser, but at least one other I know of. There is no moral high ground to be had off the backs of survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Using the specter of abuse to justify genocidal legislation while doing nothing to get rapist priests and parishioners out of churches is incredibly transparent fear mongering.

I know that these people aren’t capable of shame. I know that this isn’t a useful reprimand. But dear god, I am so, so tired.



Vico Whitmore

Trans CSA survivor leaving a trail as I stumble my way toward healing. Support me on ko-fi! https://ko-fi.com/vicowhitmore