I know I have been posting a lot lately on sex abuse by church “leaders” – like author and “apostolic worker” Frank Viola, Sovereign Grace Ministry’s head C.J. Mahaney, and the recent case we helped wrap up at Christ Chapel Assemblies of God involving allegations of abuse by several pastors.
I know I have also been posting a lot about those – like Jon Zens, Bart Breen and even otherwise respected leaders like Felicity Dale – who condone such abuse by seeking to excuse or cover it up through threats, lies, slander and intimidation.
These are not issues with which I ever wanted to become involved.
A ministry Marianne and I are part of, through our churches, is Nathan’s Voice. It has helped many victims of sexual abuse by church leaders, and hardly a week goes by that we are not assisting or counseling yet another survivor – both men and women.
This is a widespread problem, involving leaders in the church who use their position of trust to sexually prey upon men and women seeking their help.
It effects all kinds of churches, from highly structured traditional churches to loosely organized organic fellowships – and all kinds of church leaders, from local “pastors” to so-called apostolic “workers”.
Most people are surprised to learn that in the United States, this is not illegal in most jurisdictions unless it involves some other misconduct – such as a direct physical assault, a minor, or maybe employment discrimination (i.e., sexual harassment in the workplace against an employee of the church).
Is Janet Mefferd Being Intimidated by the “Gospel” Mafia to Shut Up About SGM? ~ The Wartburg Watch
Finally, the truth is coming out!
For several years, Marianne and I have been deeply involved behind the scenes in helping victims of the Sovereign Grace Ministries sex abuse scandal. We’ve seen its impact on close friends, while also counseling survivors and their families through Nathan’s Voice.
I also know Boz Tchividjian, who is publicly confronting SGM about its history of sexual abuse and is mentioned in this article.
Although we can’t directly talk about all the underlying facts regarding SGM due to confidentiality, we believe that this exposé by The Wartburg Watch is spot on.
What’s happening in that case is very similar to what’s also happening in the ongoing scandal involving author Frank Viola and his team of self-appointed apostolic “workers” and his additional “accountability team” of other organic church “leaders”.
A sure sign of a cult: It personally attacks through unsubstantiated innuendo all who raise legitimate concerns about their untouchable “leader”, rather than address the specific merits of those concerns.
Until they stop excusing a history of sexual predation within their ranks, their blogs and books on sexual equality by self-professed leaders in the organic/simple church community ring hollow.
And until they accept local church accountability and warnings about that abuse, their blogs and books on how to be the church likewise ring hollow.
The latest edition of HopeSpeak, a periodical by The Hope of Survivors (a international support network for victims of church sexual abuse), published an article by me on how to deal with leadership sins – including sexual abuse – in the church. It’s titled Leadership Abuses: Private and Public Sins.
I’ve just learned that another international magazine also wants to re-publish it.
Lately, Marianne and I have become involved in more and more church abuse cases – including local private cases and also very public national scandals.
Sometimes our involvement is very confidential, while other times it involves publicly confronting the abuser and warning others under the dictates of 1 Tim. 5:19-21 where there has been no repentance.
Finally… Someone is saying what needs to be said in the ongoing sex abuse scandals involving Frank Viola within the organic church community, C.J. Mahaney within Sovereign Grace Ministries, and others – and those who support them.
Like Marianne and me, licensed mental health counselor Carl Austin (the author of this piece) has ministered to many “perps” and seen amazing grace and redemption, but never without full and open confession and repentance. This is why we remain so resolute in opposing the proud abusers who never come clean. Unlike those who openly confess and repent, they are a blight on the church and remain a threat to others.
Originally posted on Diospsytrek's Blog:
Part of the Christian life is being loving and forgiving. These are qualities I pray for daily because they are so much not a natural part of me. In my effort to distill down doctrine and make sense of it for me personally I go with the statement from First John 4: “God is love.” Likewise, I understand that if we don’t forgive others (Mt. 6:14-15) then we are not forgiven. For me, these are two basic tenets of the faith that I have to remind myself of daily. Keeping statements like this utmost in my thoughts simplifies things for me. However I wonder if one can go overboard in trying to live out certain important aspects of the gospel like love and forgiveness, and are there some situations where those qualities were not meant to be applied?
I haven’t read the recent Rob Bell book Love Wins but I know it’s sparked a whole lot of commentary and controversy. I have read the some of the blogs and commentary about the book. I gather he’s been charged with preaching “universalism”–the “heresy” that in the end everybody will be saved–even folks like Hitler. The idea that individuals who have caused millions to suffer could somehow be redeemed in the end offends my sense of justice–and that of most folks.
One of the client populations I currently work with is juvenile sex offenders. I see them in groups and individually, and in the past I’ve counseled adult sex offenders as well. Most of the juveniles are just sad, needy kids from lousy families who did something dumb–horny, powerless young boys who committed a crime of opportunity like fondling their younger sister, cousin or neighbor. With one or two notable exceptions they are not likely to become dangerous, serial adult predators. But the whole going to court and going to treatment rigmarole is definitely something they need to have happen to convince them of the seriousness and consequences of what they’ve done. In some cases I think the punishment is truly restorative.
Part of the Statement – and a warning to “leaders” who continue to promote and affirm fellow “leaders” with a history of sexual exploitation just because they’re your friends and part of your mutual promotion network:
“To be told that wolves are devouring our lambs and fail to protect those lambs is to be a shepherd who sides with the wolves who hinder those same little ones from coming to Jesus. To fail to grasp the massive web of deception entangling an abuser and set him or her loose among the sheep is to be naïve about the very nature and power of sin. To be told a child is being or has been abused and to make excuses for failing to act is a diabolical misrepresentation of God. To know a woman is being raped or battered in hidden places and silence her or send her back is to align with those who live as enemies of our God. Protecting an institution or organization rather than a living, breathing lamb is to love ministry more than God and to value a human name or institution more than the peerless name of Jesus.”
C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries, Frank Viola and his fellow apostolic “workers”, Bill Gothard and ILBP, and on and on…
It’s time to take a stand.
We’ve seen the carnage – and the cover ups – up close.
We’ve had enough. We choose to speak out.
Join us in bearing witness against sexual predation and abuse by so-called leaders in the Body of Christ – and those who try to cover it up through lies, threats and intimidation.
I’m recovering from a heart operation, so I’m taking it slow right now.
In the meantime, here are two blogs with timely insight on two very different but important issues – but both with broader implications:
Depreciating Humanity: The Importance of Being Best at Being Right, by Thad Norvell
Despite multiple witnesses who’ve confirm a history of sex abuse and exploitation within Sovereign Grace Ministries under C.J. Mahaney, several of his friends and national leaders came out supporting him.
By way of disclosure, Nathan’s Voice (a ministry of our fellowships) – and Marianne and I – know and have been involved in helping some of the victims of leadership abuse at SGM, so we’ve seen the carnage up close and personal.
In his blog about the SGM scandal, Norvell says:
I fear those public statements [of support for C.J. Mahaney] reflect the private thoughts of men who, whether by will or ignorance, are clustering around the spoils of the proud when their calling is to be of a lowly spirit with the poor and oppressed. Even if Mahaney is a victim of some false accusations, his rush back to the platform and the efforts of his friends to protect his place at the head table ought to prompt some deep, Gospel-driven questions about how insulated some of these men seem to be from the thousands of sincere, Gospel-loving followers of Jesus they lead, formally and informally.
As our own fellowships have confronted the history of sex abuse by Frank Viola in the organic church community, and watched the desperate efforts by those who are “clustering around the spoils of the proud” by defending him to protect their “movement” and their own status, we see the same thing happening.
I wept as I read Norvell’s blog. Change the names, but the story’s the same. I’ve seen it time and time again.
When will we ever learn?
It’s sad. Very, very sad…
Why do Word of Faith Christians Become Jaded?, by Eric Hyde
“After years of involvement with [Word of Faith] thinking this is often what the believer is left with – a unidirectional love affair with God where God does all the active-loving (i.e. ‘works’) and the believer does all the receiving. The trouble, of course, is this simply doesn’t work (and, it’s incredibly boring). God is not in the unidirectional love business.”
Ditto, it seems to me, with the faddish hyper-grace movement.
Elitism and racism in the Body of Christ are very ugly things. Lately, they’ve reared their ugly heads in some very nasty ways that hit close to home.
Over the last several months, we’ve been promoting Crossroad Junction through some very limited, non-targeted ads by Facebook on Facebook.
During the same period, we also have received a high percentage of new followers from the Philippines and other overseas places. Whether it’s due to those ads or not, we don’t know.
Regardless, this heightened overseas interest is not due to any directed or targeted effort on our part, and Marianne and I are thrilled to connect with other believers from across the globe.
Now, however, our increasing readership is provoking a very elitist and racist series of attacks – directed against us, our fellowships, and our new Filipino followers.
Some of our Filipino brothers and sisters have seen those attacks, and have been deeply offended.
In the face of those attacks, I want welcome to you to our blog – and offer my apologies for the ugly efforts by some of my countrymen to discredit you by questioning your motives and capacity to follow the somewhat intellectual and substantive articles found here.
I deeply regret bothering you all with this, and I don’t really care about my own “reputation”. But as an elder involved with a network of fellowships in our area, I do care about protecting those fellowships and the folks in them – and also protecting victims of sexual abuse.
I tried to post the following comment on Bart Breen’s latest blog which makes all sorts of crazy allegations against me and our fellowships (like running illegal “scripts” on Facebook and setting up bogus organizations), but he blocked it and then posted a mis-characterization of what I tried to say. So I’m posting below my banned response to Mr. Breen.
May 15, 2013 (updated)
Re: Author and “Apostolic Worker” Frank Viola
Dear Mr. Zens:
I am providing this preliminary response, both personally and on behalf of our fellowships, to your letter of May 10th and to your many related statements on Facebook. I thus write for myself and as an elder within those fellowships.
Your letter was co-signed by Bart Breen and sent on behalf of Christian author and “apostolic worker” Frank Viola and his mutual promotion network of other so-called “apostolic workers” who – like you – enjoy his repeated public endorsements, including Milt Rodriquez and Felicity Dale.
The context of your letter, and this response, is our ongoing belief that the facts and public warnings asserted against Frank Viola for abuse and sexual exploitation by his former church were properly issued.
Furthermore, those warnings have not been factually refuted and thus warrant an open response by Mr. Viola. Any such response should be at least as public as his own public claims of being a leader in, and to, the Body of Christ.
A good article that provides much needed perspective on sexually exploitive church leaders. In Marianne and my experience with Nathan’s Voice, a ministry of our fellowships which has helped literally hundreds of abuse survivors over the years, this is spot on. It describes the typical personality, motives and means of predation by those who use their emotional and spiritual position of trust to sexually exploit others.
It is always painful when we learn that a beloved church leader has used his position of trust to sexually exploit those under his care. The recent disclosures about Frank Viola are no exception. But when it’s confirmed by multiple witnesses, how should we react? Fortunately, the New Testament provides clear instructions.
Sexual Predation by Christian Author and “Apostle” Frank Viola, by Nathan’s Voice
After months of investigation, Nathan’s Voice has confirmed through multiple witnesses a history of abuse, sexual predation and cover up involving Christian author and self-proclaimed “apostolic worker” Frank Viola.
Create a fractured persona. Falsely project empathy, expertise and success as a trusted church leader – while covering up a pattern of infidelity, sexual predation and exploitation, persistent detachment from any accountable local fellowship, and failed churches. Appeal to unity and loyalty, personalize everything as hateful attacks against you by spiteful people, and turn on your well-rehearsed charm (and if that doesn’t work, fall back on lies, threats and intimidation) to silence those who dare ask troubling questions. Work behind the scenes and through others to purge all dissenting voices and any contrary information – both in your churches and on public forums like the Internet. As you then bamboozle folks with your enticing but fraudulent persona and fictitious history, they’ll became compliant pawns to your narcissistic deceptions.
- One Church’s Original Public Warnings and Multiple Witness Statements About Frank Viola (Internet Archive)
The pattern outlined above is something I have seen time and again with inflated church leaders who learn to manipulate people and then cross the line into sexual exploitation and predation with what eventually becomes a personality cult – which they sustain through outward charm and behind-the-scenes intimidation. The documents found at this site are yet another example, involving Frank Viola.
I often have people send me links to articles and blogs, and here are several that deal with different aspects of sexuality in the Church.
Being Gay at Jerry Falwell’s University, by Brandon Ambrosino
A very candid personal story of a man who struggled over his homosexuality, yet found friendship as the Christian community at a leading conservative university expressed love and grace while remaining faithful to their Biblical convictions.
You Cannot Heal What You Cannot Talk About, by Survivor Girl
Survivor Girl is a frequent commenter here, and this is her very personal story about sexual predation in the church. Please, read this. When a leader uses his position and spiritual gifts to prey on women in the church, it is not an affair, it is sexual abuse. This article will help you understand how sexual predators groom their victims, and also provides links to good resources for dealing with these issues.
Predators in the Pulpit, by Susan McKenzie
Another first person account of sexual predation and grooming in our churches. This too provides good background on how this happens, so we can be on guard and protect others.
Sexual Sin is a Corporate Affair, by Harry Schaumburg
“When we take the gospel seriously we not only correctly understand the nature of sexual immorality, we must become proactive in taking corporate responsibility for the sexual maturity and sexual problems within our local church.”
I have been involved in dealing with a number of cases involving sexual predation and exploitation by church leaders – in all kinds of churches (including “organic” or “simple” churches which naively think they are immune from this kind of abuse).
My wife and I have also done pastoral counseling, over the years, with literally hundreds of sex abuse survivors – as well as many abusers who seek help after truly confessing and openly repenting.
One thing I see over and over – especially by predatory church leaders – is the same kind of initial “grooming” behavior. It is amazing how sexually exploitive men in “ministry” all seem to use the same methods.
Leaders who stand conveniently silent – or willfully ignorant – regarding the abuse and exploitation of God’s people by another leader, are idolaters.
They sacrifice innocent men, women and children on the altar of their own ease and self interest, which they often justify by their own warped concept of unity and misguided sense of friendship.
Understand that eventually you will be forced to give an account of your silence – not only to God, but in the “here and now” to His people whom you profess to serve.
When that happens, don’t get mad at me for doing what you were unwilling – but obligated – to do as one entrusted to protect His people.
Into the Light: A Series on Abuse and the Church looks like it will be a good series by Rachel Evans on the need to expose abusive church leaders and those who hide the abuse. We need more such voices of courage and resolve.
The recent situation with Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) illustrates this need. Over the years, Marianne and I have seen lives destroyed by one of their churches near us. We tried to raise warnings locally, but they were lost among the outward images of “success” by that church and the charisma of its leading “apostle” and popular author and conference speaker.
Yet behind the scenes, the arrogance of leadership there, and their attitude of being untouchable, was astounding. Fortunately, however, God has a way of protecting His people by eventually exposing such sin, after all opportunities to first confess and repent have been ignored.
I’ve been involved in way too many of these kinds of cases – as a friend, a counselor, a church leader, and even as an attorney. Each one has deeply affected me as I had to come beside the victims and be strong for them, while also unflinchingly standing up to some narcissistic – but always charming yet manipulative – exploitive church leader.
Sorry, but when your “revelation” of Jesus looks a lot like you, I’m not impressed.
And when “deeper life” is merely reinforcing your own postmodern proclivities and sensibilities, I’m likewise not impressed.
Nor do I find a persistent inability to be part of a healthy, local fellowship to be a virtue.
Really, didn’t you get the memo? Postmodern angst just ain’t that compelling or counter-cultural anymore.
Last Friday, a Federal judge rejected Christ Chapel’s claim that under the First Amendment its pastors could, in essence, sexually abuse others with legal impunity – and no court had authority to stop them.
As a result, the court ruled that a Federal lawsuit may proceed against Christ Chapel, which alleges a pervasive pattern of sex abuse at the church.
That suit was filed on behalf of one victim and her husband, and alleges employment discrimination through sexual abuse, exploitation, harassment and a hostile work environment directed against women in general and victims of abuse in particular.
Although many victims of abuse, at the hands of several men on staff at Christ Chapel, are alleged in the lawsuit, Virginia has a two year statute of limitations. Thus, not all of the victims could actually join in the lawsuit (some of the abuse happened as long a six years ago) as actual plaintiffs asserting claims against all of the alleged abusers.
Nonetheless, the one named plaintiff and her husband were able to set forth in the complaint the history of abuse against multiple women by multiple men on staff at Christ Chapel – based on an alleged overall pattern of sexual exploitation and overall hostile environment at the church – on behalf of all the victims.
After failing to get the sex abuse allegations dismissed, Christ Chapel Assembly of God – a large church in Woodbridge, Virginia – agreed to come to satisfactory terms with the plaintiffs and settled the lawsuit.
The factual case against Christ Chapel primarily was investigated and assembled by Nathan’s Voice, a ministry created several years by our local fellowships to help church abuse victims.
I want to personally thank and acknowledge the help of countless people, as well as the courage of the many victims, in helping with the investigation and eventual successful outcome of this case. I believe that because of this case, it is highly unlikely that sexual abuse will ever be tolerated again at Christ Chapel.
There were times I was moved to tears as I got to know many of the victims and their families, and witnessed their compassion and resolve. It gave me the strength needed to devote over a year to this case before finally handing it over to a litigation law firm for final prosecution.
If any further issues or questions surface regarding Christ Chapel, the complaint (Todd v. Christ Chapel, with all the factual background) and related documents are a matter of pubic record and can be obtained from the Federal District Court in Alexandria, Virginia. You also can open the full complaint here.
See Christ Chapel: Pastoral Sex Abuse for more information.
~ Jim Wright