As more facts come out about the ongoing campaign of coverup and intimidation, we have updated our letter which responds to the specific threats made against us and others.
May 15, 2013 (updated May 18, 2013)
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 on behalf of Christian author and “apostolic worker” Frank Viola and your fellow “worker” Milt Rodriquez, and was co-signed by Bart Breen.
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.
Nathan’s Voice is a ministry created two years ago by a network of fellowships in Virginia to help stop abuse by church leaders and to aid victims.
They have issued a public warning so other churches that might consider relating to Frank Viola – as they had been, thus prompting them to do some background checking – need to know about his history of leadership abuse, sexual predation, and misleading claims about his church involvement and church “planting” expertise.
Nathan’s Voice has worked with and helped hundreds of abuse victims over the years, and successfully taken on some high visibility church abuse cases. It has learned through experience that where a leader has violated his position of trust by willfully abusing those under his care, then absent open confession and repentance – which is at least as public as the influence and leadership he continues to seek – there is no assurance of adequate safeguards to protect against additional deception and victims.
- Jon Zens and Frank Viola – A Public Response (crossroadjunction.com)
- Leadership Abuses: Private and Public Sins (crossroadjunction.com)
As Nathan’s Voice states on its web site, it is a ministry run by a number of churches I am affiliated with here in Virginia. I – along with others – helped found Nathan’s Voice on behalf of those churches several years ago. Over the years I have worked with Nathan’s Voice to help many victims, and to deal with abusive church leaders, in various roles – including as an attorney, a pastoral counselor and an elder in the Body of Christ. ~ Jim Wright
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.
After failing to get the sex abuse allegations dismissed, Christ Chapel Assembly of God – a large church near us in Woodbridge, Virginia – shortly after agreed to come to satisfactory terms with the defendants and settled the lawsuit.
The factual case against Christ Chapel primarily was investigated and assembled by Nathan’s Voice, a ministry created 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 (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.
See Christ Chapel: Pastoral Sex Abuse for more information.
Jesus comforted the afflicted, and afflicted the comfortable.
When, through your silence or denial, the afflicted pay the price to maintain your comfort zones – in your personal life, your church, your community or your nation – watch out!
Justice, in its most basic terms, is making sure that evildoers – rather than their victims – bear the cost of their evil.
Injustice is when we impose those costs on the victims, often because we are unwilling to be discomforted by admitting to – or dealing with – the evil among us.
Jesus, because He is love, is also about justice.
And so, even today, He comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.
Eventually, the truth comes out as people see with their own eyes see the arrogance, victim-blaming and lies that surface when a church and its senior leadership desperately try to deny responsibility for repeated instances of clergy sexual abuse.
Eventually, people – who may have been hesitant before – become very motivated to step forward and bear witness against the evil that occurred.
Eventually, tyrants through their own arrogance dig their own graves.
Just like what we’re seeing in the sports world and in the political world – where sexual predators and the institutions that supported them are becoming exposed despite initial denials – so it’s starting to happen with Christ Chapel Assembly of God, a large local church in Woodbridge, Virginia.