Abusive Church Leaders (Part 2) – How Should We React?

How should we react to an unrepentant pastor who’s used his position of trust and power to prey on women – often after turning to him for spiritual counsel and support during vulnerable times in their lives?

All the theory in the world is great. But one thing I’ve learned from experience is this: Those who want to help these women find justice and closure, and protect others, need an unflinching resolve to stand toe to toe against these predators.

Typically, a predatory pastor is not accustomed to being questioned or challenged by anyone. He often will try to deflect accountability either through intimidation or a charm offensive – or both! These men are master manipulators, and it takes a God-given strength of will to stand firm, force answers, stop the abuse, and expose their evil as a warning to others.

The Salacious Six

The case I’m now investigating has turned up confirming evidence, from multiple sources, of massive sexual misconduct and exploitation by around six men who’ve served on the pastoral and ministerial staff of Christ Chapel – a large Assembly of God church in Woodbridge, Virginia. Many of the victims were further abused by the senior pastor and his minions if they dared to timidly reveal what happened to them. They then would be typically shunned, ostracized, punished and shamed into silence – and sometimes even pressured to sign legal releases absolving the church of all responsibility.

Christ Chapel Assembly of God

Others, who had not been abused themselves but reported what they had seen, suffered the same treatment. Christ Chapel’s leadership tried to also drive them away and silence them, while continuing its conspiracy of hostility toward all who they perceived as a threat – both the victims, and those who dared expose abusive conduct, alike.

Only when Bill Roberts, the senior pastor, faced the risk of public exposure did he act, and even then his main goal seems to have been to make the problem – including the victims themselves – “go away.” Rather than reaching out with care and compassion to the women, he would act quickly to hush things up. Sometimes, he even allowed the sex abusers to find new positions at other churches and ministries – where they could repeat the cycle of predation all over again. Towards their victims, however, he showed no such tolerance.

As a result, the women were deeply scarred and some even became suicidal.

The scale of the abuse we’ve uncovered exceeds anything that’s been exposed, to the best of my knowledge, in any single “mainstream” church in the United States – Protestant or Catholic – over the last century.

What is particularly disturbing about this newest case, however, is how Rev. Roberts knew that men under him had been using their pastoral positions to prey on women, yet as long as he apparently felt he could keep a lid on any public exposure, he failed to stop them. In fact, with at least three of the men – despite knowing how they used their positions in the church to sexually exploit and harass women – he actually gave them new responsibilities or allowed them to take new positions where they had even greater access to potential victims

Not surprisingly, these serial predators used the cover and authority provided by the senior pastor to continue exploiting yet more victims – many of whom were young women less than half their age and barely out of high school.

Despite repeated pleas for confession and repentance, and to bring restitution and healing to the many women who’ve been abused, Christ Chapel’s leadership has refused. Instead, they have engaged in legal bullying, threats, denials and spreading lies against their victims.

How Should We React?

Where there is an unrepentant culture of abuse in a church, a history of not just isolated but serial predation, and every reason to believe that the exploitation will continue and more innocent women will be harmed, what should be done?

Where the church closes ranks around its abusive pastors and continues its pattern of indifference, and where it then demonizes the victims, what should be done?

As a pastoring elder, in addition to being an attorney, I really struggled with this.

If a church leader’s sin is private or involves only a personal dispute with another person, and does not impact the whole church or entail an abuse of his position, I strongly believe that he is to be quietly confronted in private. If he privately confesses, repents and makes restitution, then that’s the end of the matter. All is forgiven, and all is resolved. Matthew 18 teaches this.

If a church leader with a history of abusing his position of power and trust openly repents and openly submits to appropriate sanctions and controls – such that others can be on guard and avoid becoming victims – I also have no problem with that outcome.

But what if a leader’s sin is public and brings reproach on the church, or is an abuse of his position in the church, and there is no open confession and repentance? Then his misconduct must be dealt with before the entire church and he must be openly rebuked as a public warning to all. 1 Timothy 5 teaches this.

~ Jim Wright

Next, how to apply 1 Tim. 5 …


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15 responses

  1. Jim,

    Thank you for, How Should We React? We also need to address another issue and that is, “Should Sexually Abusive Pastors Be Put Back In The Pulpit?”

    All church leaders, both protestant and catholic alike, should make sure that these sexually abusive pastors are not put back into the pulpit once they have abused their position. A ‘code of ethics’ needs to be set up in churches and if these ethics are broken and sacred boundary lines are crossed they should automatically lose their pastoral/priest license. Bottom line. No ‘leave of absence’ for a time, no ‘sabbatical’ for six months or a year. No, they should lose their license, never to be reinstated again. No matter if he has openly repented and submits, no one should have to ‘be on guard’ of their pastor.

    I do not believe pastors “fall into temptation” with clergy sexual abuse, the term so many people like to use. It is almost never a ‘one time’ mistake and even if it were, there was no ‘mistake’ about it. There has been a ‘grooming’ process involved in order for these predatory pastors to prey on their victims. It is a preplanned, master manipulative, controlling, calculated ‘decision’. Therefore, I do not believe that any sexually abusive pastor should be put back into a position of power and trust, no matter what level that abuse was at.

    I like to use this analogy: Would we put a teller of a bank, who has just robbed this same bank one time, or every week over the last couple of years, back into his teller position to handle our money? Why then, would we put a pastor, who is to have a MORAL standard and be above reproach, back in a pulpit and counseling office to handle our women and children’s (or men) souls/spirits? I say zero tolerance.

    Repentance and forgiveness is one thing, but “Do Not Put A Sexually Abusive Pastor Back In The Pulpit”. They have proven themselves untrustworthy to be in that position of power and trust. They can sit in the third row of the church.


    • Even with public repentance and forgiveness, there still need to be consequences. Some sins have the consequence of being disqualifying sins, and so I agree with you 100% – as I think you’ll see in Part 3 of my series.

      The irony is that I have done extensive pastoral counseling with many men who sexually abused others, but only if I sensed they were willing to openly confess, seek forgiveness from their victims (so long as it would not further traumatize their victims) and then from God, and truly repent. Even though God fully forgives them when they confess, repent and ask for forgiveness, and God can redeem the wreckage they made of their lives, I would never ever think it appropriate to place them in positions where they could access other women, children or whomever they previously targeted. Grace, mercy and even redemption are always available from the Lord. I see that all the time. But that doesn’t mean we, or the Lord, would allow a man with a history of abuse back into the same circumstances. After all, it makes no sense to hire a repentant, recovering alcoholic as a bar tender! Likewise, a sexual predator, even with repentance and forgiveness, should not be returned to positions where he can abuse again. This is all the more true when you realize that a pastor who exploited women or children once, will almost always have a history of other victims and is a serial predator. Studies, and my own observations, confirm this.

      No truly repentant ex-pastor who preyed on others would want to be returned to a position where he’d be tempted to do so again.


  2. I appreciate your clarification on this. Especially for any church leader who may read your article and be looking for any small “loophole” in order to justify themselves for keeping any predator pastor (with a past history of abuse) in the pulpit.

    Hopefully we will see more truly repentant ex-pastors in the future, as well as church leaders, who are true men of God, that will put the victim before their ‘saving of face’, money, or church.

    May God give you great strength and wisdom to deal with these hard cases.


  3. I am a victim. I gathered the courage to turn him in and he was fired. The church continues to treat me like an evil woman who brought their pastor down. The district superintendent told me they would take care of my counselling, then changed his mind. There are no attorney around in Indiana who can take my case. I don’t think the abuse emotionally will ever end. I am a Christian and love the Lord, but I hate church anymore and Christians are among the worse. I feel bad for feeling this way, but I am hoping someday the pain and anger will leave.


    • Jo, in response to my blog I hear daily from women like you who are suffering from the lingering effects of pastoral sexual predation. Here’s an article I recommend from a local organization here in northern Virginia called Nathan’s Voice that I’m helping to get off the ground to help and to minister to survivors in our area. The article is on True Healing at http://nathansvoice.org/2011/06/14/healing/. There is healing available.

      Over the years, my wife and I – either together or separately – have ministered to literally hundreds of abuse survivors and without exception we have seen the Lord bring wonderful freedom to those willing to open their hurts to Him.

      Take a look at the article. If you want to find someone in your area who can help you find true healing, feel free to contact us at Nathan’s Voice, http://nathansvoice.org/contact/.

      You don’t need to let this cripple you for life. The Lord heals the brokenhearted – and that’s not just some abstract promise. However, you need someone who knows how to walk with you to those places at the core of who you are, where the Lord is patiently and lovingly waiting to heal those hurts and the deep wounds you have suffered.


  4. Thank you. I appreciate your responding to me. I will read the article as you suggested. It’s been almost a year now, and it still seems so fresh. I guess I continue to blame myself for allowing something like this to happen to me. I don’t want to stay the way I am, but to find true healing. I am just not sure I am worthy enough for God to want to do that for me anymore. I appreciate your help and the article.



  5. I am glad to run across this blog, and thank you Mr. Wright (& Mrs!) for the work you are doing.

    I had clergy abuse while a young woman (though not a minor) and believe that this may have affected what kind of man I married, who was also extremely violent and “justified” it from the Bible. It took years to get free, and I had to resort to the courts; but before going to the courts, we were continually in front of one pastor or another, NONE of who reported, referred me to any legal rights that I might enforce, or of course confronted the man. Had I not left, there would be a family of four probably awaiting the resurrection, because this was the direction things were going in. I remember 10 years of nightmare — and we had children.

    After I was out, the same pastor (that had married us) came by again and I heard that he was coaching my husband to “take control” of me again, although the courts had had him evicted for the physical attacks, threats, and all kinds of abuse in front of our kids. I was able to figure out who this same pastor was now reporting to, and requested that he tell this person (who by now lived a continent away, but was in touch with my ex-husband by phone) to stop “meddling” in my life, that it had gotten me to the point of looking at shelters again, because it was inciting a man who’d already threatened to kill me and/or himself (and whose father had in the interim committed suicide).

    Please explain to me why pastors are not listening to and adhering to the concept that they are mandated reporters of certain things, and that they need to report? Whether or not it removes a paying customer from their congregation — who are they serving? Their wallets (the church corporation) or the Lord?

    I’m with “jo” above, I’m a Christian (in fact have a B.Th.) and have dedicated my life to the Lord Jesus Christ, but I do NOT practice my faith anywhere around a church building, and there are plenty in this neighborhood.

    After separation, I had my kids literally kidnapped (that’s stolen in violation of a court order) and all kinds of horrors — this was tolerated and encouraged by the other woman’s church. Thereafter, either this woman (a mistress) kicked him out and kept our (children) — illegally — or he abandoned that household. I could not come down there for safety reasons (regarding my ex) and being totally distraught in my own geographic area; so my daughters first saw their father thrown out (after years of violence, with church people tolerant and silent — and they DID know and witness enough) — then lived with their mother for several years, were suddenly ripped out of my custody into a woman committing adultery with my ex (who’d not completed the divorce) and dragging our children as trophies to the church week after week. They were sent to Mexico on a church trip during time they were supposed to be with me, their mother; communication was completely cut off. Three generations of my family line have been affected.

    During some of these years, my ex actually visited a third church and ingratiated himself to a 3rd divorced woman, a single mother, and in my neighborhood, and then used that relationship to keep the girlfriend (with whom he was committing adultery in front of our kids) at bay — and while he had a stay away from my house, apparently used this woman to keep me in check. I felt as if the man was multiplying!

    Do not kid yourself that there are men who come to recovery groups, churches, etc. looking for submissive lonely middle-aged women; they drag their kids if they are divorced, and then with the new woman, boot out the former one, resulting in “latchkey” kids.

    No gov’t entitites around here would help (i tried) because there was no financial reward in it for them. however, if they could’ve gotten my kids into foster care, there would’ve been.

    I considered passing the bar to start to handle some of these situations, but it’s not my calling, it’s just not in my heart. However, I do report.

    For fellowship, I pray. I pray God to send people my way who want to serve Him, are hungry for the word of God, and are good people. Since I quit attending the church BUILDINGS, life has been immeasurably better and prayers are getting answered.

    I do believe that when Christ returns, judgment WILL begin at the house of God (so-called) because they have no excuse; they say “we are the way!” – but they have become, overall, a disgrace, and I know God sees this. I do not think that what we see now is what God had in mind when He called people to the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (I Corinthians 1:9). Jesus said it’s the Gentiles that love to exercise authority over each other, but it shall not be so among his disciples (feet-washing before the crucifixion).

    Speaking of which — it is refreshing to read this blog and thank you. I’ll be back. I looked up a certain phrase when someone was threatening another woman I know of on-line, and it was intimidating — they were sending “subliminal” messages to her in public. I hope she takes legal action soon. It appears that what had threatened the person was something about “pastors supporting abusive men” which was how I found out about fulcrum ministries.

    There has to come a point: We can fear God, or we can fear man. We can serve God, or we can serve mammon. In the wilderness, Jesus was tempted to worship the god of this world — and turned it back with “it is written.” If we follow him, there should be NO worshipping the world and serving the world in us, or there should be less and less as time goes on. It just ain’t worth it. There are so many promises in scripture that if we stick to it, He will help us (Philippians 3 comes to mind) and even when we fall.

    My ex-husband did not want to repent, to stop, to acknowledge anything. For years I was a buffer and when I was just about worn out and down (and hadn’t found help, or safety, but was still functional thankfully), I found out my legal rights and exercised them.

    My family (atheists) have never forgiven me for this, and it’s been another 10 years of hell, including no contact with my children for sometimes years at a time (while they were minors). Yet the father wanted back in my life against my will.

    Any church that is existing in this country, does so under the First Amendment privileges that other countries did not have. If it is incorporated as a nonprofit in addition, it is taking tax exemption on the presumption that it is providing useful social services. If that’s not enough, we also have now a White House Office designed to encourage and promote more churches (and synogagues and mosques, etc.) receiving federal grants to help promote federal programs.

    ALL church members and people who come there should understand that, given these things, there should be no question what are the laws of the land regarding wife-beating, child molestation or other abuse, and child-stealing. How nice if they also took some sort of stand on adultery, even when a second woman brings * * someone else’s kids * * *into the congregation, swelling the ranks and prestige.

    Instead, people come and learn Bible (presumably) but their leaders neither know, practice, nor post the basic family codes of the state which prohibit assault and battery, so neither the followers nor the leaders seem to “register” that when they hear of that, your brother (or sister) has just committed misdemeanor domestic violence, OR felony domestic violence, and properly ought to be arrested! Did the apostle Paul go around breaking laws, or assaulting people AFTER he converted to Christ? Then what about the people who say “Jesus” and “Christ” in certain company, and then put themselves above the law, and as a god in their own home, when there are no witnesses but the children?

    Then when women continue to participate in that group (if they do) they, the mothers, have to put on a front, a fake smile — or else. And this is what the kids learn growing up too, prepping them for the next generation of keeping such things in the closet.

    By the grace of God, if some of this can be cleaned up in the churches, perhaps there is hope for this country. If not, I just don’t know. However, I’ve done my years –and will not be back in the meantime.


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  8. Hi,

    I went through this roughly 18 years ago when I went to my pastor for counseling. I was struggling with being married at such a young age, a newborn, the loss of my wonderful Christian grandmother, an eating disorder as well as a history of sexual abuse. I did not ask my pastor for counseling, only for a referral to a christian based therapist. But he said “we handle these matters in the church and I have training in counseling”. At first he was kind. But then he started having me come in every day. On Sundays he would “accidentally” brush up against me and touch me. I asked him about this and he would either deny it, or say that if he did he was sooo sorry, and how embarrassed he was.That he would not have intentionally done anything like that. He began asking for detailed questions about my sexual abuse.
    One day he hugged me. I felt a little uncomfortable but I just thought it was due to my issues..But the next day, he placed my hand on his… and then he began touching me inappropriately.Speaking very sexually. This lead me to a very suicidal state. My husband, who is an I.T guru became suspicious. I didn’t want to go to church anymore. I would cry hysterically. So he tapped our phone line and recorded the pastor talking to me about a certain kind of dream he had about me, and how he wanted to act it out. Again, I was 18. He was in his 40’s. I was not attracted to him. But I had been raised in an environment of ” you never question your pastor”. So I became very confused. This went on for three months before my husband found out. And every day was worse than before. When my husband confronted the pastor and board with the tapes, they said I had seduced him on purpose. And the pastor called me one day on the phone to tell me I was a ” bi*ch and a wh*re..” He stood up in front of the congregation and shed a few crocodile tears. His actions were excused, and my family was asked to leave the church. Only one family stood by us. ONE, our of a few hundred people. 😦 18 years later and I am still devastated even after seeing a moral ethical therapist. He says it’s due to the secondary trauma my pastor caused, and the extreme PTSD issues it set off for me. The pastor paid for $2000. of my therapy bill. Not even near what it ended up costing me. I can’t stay in church now. I have panic attacks if the male pastor gets anywhere near me. I am afraid of men in general. This was a church of God in Georgia. They gave im a slap on the wrist. He has been in trouble since. But he is still counseling and pastoring. And they don’t care one bit about how much this has devastated me spiritually.Or the fact that I nearly took my life due to it. The church even told me I wasn’t allowed to drive down the street they were located on after it all happened. It was the main road in the city we lived in. I had no other road I could drive on. 18 years later and they are still protecting him. What about me> Wh is protecting me? Who is comforting me the nights I have nightmares about what happened in his office?? I will never be the same.
    My heart hurts everyday.
    Broken in Ga.


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