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 this response are the facts and public warnings issued against Frank Viola for abuse and sexual exploitation by his former church.
To this day, 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.
Nonetheless, your letter makes explicit threats against me and others if we don’t comply with your long-running campaign to purge from the Internet all references to the facts and warnings issued against Mr. Viola by his former church.
Your threats, as part of the ongoing campaign to silence all who might bear witness against Frank Viola’s history of sexual exploitation, are surprising. You yourself publicly rebuked Frank in the past, before he started promoting your own ministry and books, for having “illicit contact” over at least a six month period with a teenager who had been his high school student and a member of the Brandon church, which he was leading at the time.
As you previously confirmed in a public statement you issued when the Brandon church was trying to confront Frank Viola:
“The truth is that in May of 2000 Frank’s wife received a phone call from a policewoman informing her that Frank was in a motel room with a young lady. This 19-year old girl was a former student of Frank’s in the high school where he taught, and a part of the Brandon assembly.
He had been fooling around with her in the last quarter of 1999. He wrote a book called ‘Forbidden Affection’ in early 2000, and had the gall to dedicate this book (which was in fact describing the struggle connected to his own sexual attraction to this girl) both to the young lady he was having illicit contact with and to his wife. Instead of dealing properly with this sinful behavior in 2000, Gene [Edwards] opted that it be covered up. Frank’s wife was to remain silent about what had happened, and the young lady was whisked off to another of Gene’s assembly, with lies constructed to explain her sudden exit. Frank’s wife was silent until March of 2002.”
Your original statement also confirmed that your own testimony against Frank, at the time, had been “verified by the independent testimony of plural witnesses”.
Now that Frank has started promoting your ministry and books, however, your tune has changed – and you are now aggressively attacking and threatening anyone who also dares mention Frank Viola’s pattern of abuse, exploitation and misconduct in the Body of Christ.
By way of background, our fellowships became involved in these issues after we responded to an offer from Frank Viola for him and his team of apostolic “workers” (which includes you and Milt Rodriquez) to “help” us. We did not know of Mr. Viola’s history of sexual exploitation at that time.
You contacted me, as part of Mr. Viola’s “team”, and we had two lengthy, pleasant conversations at the time as you sought an invitation to come visit us.
Before finalizing a response to Mr. Viola’s offer and your follow-up with us, however, we did some basic due diligence to verify the accuracy of the public resumes, fruit and Biblical credentials of your team of apostolic “workers”. We did this because it is important for local elders to protect the churches they relate to, by insuring the legitimacy of anyone who seeks to visit those churches as an “itinerant” ministry.
As part of our checking, we discovered that none of you had a consistent history of actually being part of a functional local fellowship. Nor did your “team” have a history of much success at helping to start or maintain healthy local fellowships.
In fact, we found a trail of either failed fellowships, or weak and anemic fellowships that were insular and stagnant and frankly very cultish.
We also learned of the devastation some of your doctrines and practices had wrought among the organic church community here in our part of the country.
None of those facts, however, amounted to disqualifying sins. Rather, they are simply evidence of bad fruit borne of inflated resumes, bad doctrines and, we concluded, often weird practices.
Based on our investigations, over the last year I published some blogs which address several of those issues.
Those blogs focused solely on the doctrines, practices and public writings by you and your fellow self-proclaimed itinerant “workers” (including Mr. Viola), which our fellowships saw harming the Body of Christ. However, I never engaged in any personal attack, but remained focused on the relevant issues of doctrine, practice and claims – based on each of your own public claims and writings.
Rather than address the real issues, you and your colleagues consistently reacted in private and in public with great personal anger and denial – as though you are above challenge and question. Never once, however, did any of you retract your actual writings which promoted the very doctrines, practices and claims challenged in my blogs.
Of more immediate concern, as part of our due diligence we learned some disturbing facts about Frank Viola. In essence, Mr. Viola had left a church in Brandon, Florida, rather than deal with their concerns about very significant disqualifying leadership sins he committed while with them. Those concerns generally centered on his very abusive oversight as their apostolic “worker”, including his sexual predation and exploitation of a teenager in the church.
Because he refused to openly confess and repent, and continued to deny and cover up, the Brandon church eventually issued a public rebuke as a warning to all under the Biblical mandate of 1 Tim. 5:19-21.
We also discovered that the warnings of Frank Viola’s former church were silenced when a web site created on their behalf to alert others was removed from the Internet under the duress of numerous legal threats. We then learned of other instances where Mr. Viola, and others on his behalf, had engaged in a campaign of cover up to purge any references on the Internet to his history of abusing those under his care.
Had we known of the facts and warnings issued against Mr. Viola by his former church, and if you and Mr. Viola had been open about them, our fellowships never would have bothered considering or even responding to your invitations to now “help” us.
I want to be clear on this:
It is our collective belief that any married man who uses his position of leadership in a church to engage in a long running relationship of sexual exploitation against a teenager half his age, and who then refuses to address his own sin when confronted by his church but instead flees the church and launches a campaign of denial and cover-up, is unfit to serve as a leader in the Body of Christ.
We therefore concluded that the findings of his former church were very serious, and that their witness statements and public warnings needed to be heard so that others might not be misled or deceived.
Earlier this year we asked Frank Viola, through you in your ongoing role as his intermediary, to provide evidence that he had openly confessed and repented in response to the Brandon warnings.
When we received no substantive response, we publicly summarized and referenced (through our ministry that deals with church abuse cases, called Nathan’s Voice) the facts and warnings issued by his former church.
We did this by linking to numerous witness statements and supporting documents they had published on the Internet. (The original web site created on behalf of the Brandon church had been preserved in an obscure overseas Internet archive, despite its original location having been taken down under the duress of legal threats as part of an ongoing campaign of intimidation, denial and cover-up.)
When confronted once again with his former church’s many witness statements, supporting documents and public warnings, Mr. Viola published a blog on March 25, 2013. In it, he falsely implied that his former church had mistaken him for another man with a similar name. He then posted that man’s picture and identifying information on his blog (thus imputing to another man his own culpability), and generally treated the seriousness of the Brandon church warnings and his own abusive history as a big joke.
Up to then, we had not raised any allegations of our own against Mr. Viola, but merely relied on the warnings properly issued against him by his former church under the mandates of 1 Tim. 5:19-21.
More recently, however, we directly asked Mr. Viola and you (in private and in writing) about new allegations from additional victims and witnesses who confirm that Mr. Viola has sexually abused multiple teenagers. As before, there was no response from him (except to say via email he would get back to us).
In response to Mr. Viola’s promise to get back to us, I received a May 10th letter from you and Bart Breen on Mr. Viola’s behalf. In it, you state that you are now engaged in ongoing “research” about me as part of your efforts to make me and others – rather than the multiple-confirmed warnings about Frank Viola – the issue.
In fact, the co-author of your letter, Bart Breen, has repeatedly boasted on Facebook that he was taking it upon himself to evaluate and judge the legitimacy of the fellowships I relate to here in Virginia – while concurrently posting on Facebook very false statements and innuendos regarding those same fellowships and their ministries.
This was all part of a vicious, coordinated campaign to attack and silence, through lies and intimidation, anyone with new or renewed disclosures about Mr. Viola’s history of predation.
As part of that campaign, both you and Mr. Breen also have falsely characterized other victim support work I (and our fellowships) have done – calling it personal vendettas against various leaders who have exploited people in their churches. That prior work included situations at Christ Chapel Assemblies of God (which we successfully resolved in favor of the victims after a lawsuit was filed), and New Covenant Fellowship in Manassas, Virginia (which has lost over 2,000 members following wave after wave of improprieties by its senior pastor).
In none of those cases – or the many other instances where I and our fellowships have helped victims in additional well-known abuse cases like Sovereign Grace Ministries and Vienna Presbyterian Church – did we ever initiate any investigation or response, or seek out the abuse that surfaced. Rather, I only became involved (either personally or through Nathan’s Voice) after the victims themselves first approached me – on their own initiative – for help as a church leader and attorney.
To try to make those other abusive church leaders the victims, as part of your efforts to now make Mr. Viola the victim, shows your desperation and profound moral bankruptcy.
Rather than deal with their abuse of others, as confirmed by multiple witnesses, you are trying to deflect attention from the abusers by trash their victims and those who have stood firm in supporting them.
Again, consistent with your ongoing campaign of intimidation and cover up, Mr. Breen also has boasted on Facebook of his intent to counter our references to the Brandon church’s warnings against Frank Viola by investigating whether “statements and representations are true about why they [meaning my ex-wife and I] divorced” (Facebook, April 29, 2013).
This time, however, you and Bart Breen have picked the wrong guy and the wrong fellowships to intimidate and threaten. Frank Viola may have succeeded in previously purging all prior references to his history of sexual exploitation from the Internet, but we won’t stand silent now as he continues his cover up through you and others acting on his behalf – while he concurrently continues to promote your ministry and books in return.
I always have been open about the fact that years ago I experienced an unwanted divorce and have since remarried. There is nothing to hide.
I’ve also always been, and remain, faithful to my wedding vows and have walked in integrity – and there has never been even a hint to the contrary. When I remarried, I did so with the unanimous concurrence and full support of my local fellowship and their determination that I had a legitimate, clear Biblical right to remarry based on their independent knowledge of the relevant facts.
Nonetheless, you and Bart Breen have shown utter disdain for the role and authority of the local church, and an arrogant presumption that everyone must now disregard the proper determinations of a local church in lieu of your own, unsubstantiated judgments and personal agendas.
You often write about local “ekklesia” (i.e., local churches), but when a local church properly acts to discipline someone you personally are loyal to – or affirms someone you want to now silence through threats and intimidation – all of a sudden the proper determinations of a local “ekklesia”, rendered under proper Biblical procedures, mean nothing.
You and Bart Breen now have exhibited such glaring hypocrisy twice: In disregarding the determinations of the Brandon church regarding Mr. Viola’s history of abuse, and the concurrence of my local church regarding the circumstances of my unwanted divorce and the legitimate Biblical grounds for my subsequent remarriage.
Bart Breen, over the last several weeks, nonetheless is continuing to carry through on your threats of ongoing “research” about me unless I (and others) agree to stop referencing the warnings and findings of Frank Viola’s former church.
In furtherance of your threats, Bart Breen also has repeatedly posted additional blatantly false attacks regarding our fellowships and some of their ministries – like Nathan’s Voice, which has helped (through private counseling, litigation support, and other confidential resources) literally hundreds of church abuse victims over the last several years.
He’s even demanded that we give him access to all of our fellowships, and the names of the leaders in our various fellowships – so he presumably can “research” and attack them too unless they kowtow to the vindictive campaign of coverup, threats and intimidation that’s explicitly threatened in your letter.
In fact, over the last several weeks both of you have launched a very concerted series of pre-emptive ad hominem attacks on Facebook and elsewhere not only against me and our fellowships, but against others who dare now question, based on the testimony of many witnesses, Frank Viola’s competence to continue promoting himself as a leader in the Body of Christ.
For example, you have used others to purge Viola dissenters from various Facebook groups. You and Mr. Breen then trash their reputations on those same forums, after they were booted and thus have no opportunity to respond. You also have been circulating, behind the scenes, a letter attacking those who might expose Frank Viola’s history of multiple victims, without having once approached them in person to ascertain the true facts.
You and Mr. Breen also have created web sites (often with no named sponsor) devoted to personally attacking anyone who dares expose Mr. Viola’s history of sexual predation in the church – without a single word of factual refutation about the those charges or factually addressing the specific named witness statements previously published by his former church.
Unlike our fellowships, which sought to go to Frank Viola first in private to raise our concerns, you have repeatedly attacked others in cowardly ways – simply because they are potential witnesses to Mr. Viola’s history of abuse – without ever having gone to them in private.
Before our fellowships can determine what, if any, additional response may be warranted to the threats contained in your letter of last week – and the public attacks you and Bart Breen have launched on Facebook and elsewhere – we need the following background information regarding the many insinuations you two have alluded to on behalf of Mr. Viola, without any substantiation:
- Which of the following specific facts established by Frank Viola’s former church do you now specifically claim are false, and (apart from unsubstantiated personal opinions) what have you ever offered – again specifically – to refute them?
- That Frank Viola was involved in abusive conduct while claiming to be an apostolic “worker” over the Brandon church.
- That Frank Viola was romantically involved with a teenage girl in the church over an extended period of time, lasting at least six months.
- She also had been his high school student (he was a public school teacher at the time).
- That it is not clear if he engaged in actual sexual intercourse, but he nonetheless engaged in other forms of sexual misconduct with her.
- The police ultimately found him alone in a motel room with her (by then, she had turned 19).
- At the time he was nearly forty years old, married with three children, and nearly twice her age.
- Within weeks of being confronted by the Brandon church, Frank Viola once again started soliciting young women half his age as he sought “relationship” and “romance” through the Internet and explicitly invited responses from women who were only twenty years old.
- His infidelity contributed to the breakup of his marriage and his first wife divorcing him.
- Frank Viola subsequently relied on accusations blaming and attacking his ex-wife for the breakup of their marriage, which the Brandon church found to be without merit.
- Rather than deal with his own church’s concerns, Frank Viola immediately left the church and to this day has refused to publicly respond to the specific facts, documents and witness statements they published under 1 Tim. 5:19-21, and their associated public warnings.
- What specifically do you allege is false in our summary of, and references to, the multiple witness statements, documents and warnings issued by Frank Viola’s former church in Brandon, Florida?
- What specifically do you allege I have stated which is factually “false”, a “lie”, “slander” or “libel” – beyond theological differences over doctrinal beliefs and practices you and your colleagues Milt Rodriquez, Frank Viola and Jamal Jivanjee have expressed in various public writings?
- Please provide a copy of any document where you “recanted shortly thereafter” your own public warnings against Frank Viola (which you claimed at the time to have confirmed with multiple witnesses). In fact, you confirmed and stated in writing when this first surfaced that Frank Viola had a long running inappropriate involvement with a teenager nearly half his age, that it constituted sexual misconduct, and that the police discovering him with her in a motel room.
- You repeatedly have stated over the last few weeks on Facebook and elsewhere that your prior statements about Frank Viola (i.e., that he had, in essence, sexually exploited a teenager in the Brandon church and engaged in other abusive behavior when he was claiming to be an apostolic “worker” over that church) are not true. Yet when you made them, you explicitly claimed in those original statements to have confirmed your facts with several others who knew what happened. Your facts were also confirmed by the multiple, additional witness statements subsequently published by the Brandon church.
Now you merely say that Frank had not committed “adultery” (by which I understand you to mean actual intercourse). However, your initial statements – and the Brandon church warnings – never claimed there was actual intercourse. Rather, you all at the time claimed he engaged in other forms of sexual misconduct.
To now say your original statements and the Brandon church statements are not true because Frank Viola never consummated his sexual exploitation of that teenager through actual intercourse, when in fact no one (including you) ever said he did, seems disingenuous.
As such, you have not said what specific aspects of your prior statements, in fact, are not true. Please do so.
- Please confirm that over the last three years you have personally confirmed to others the substance of the Brandon church warnings, and also been involved in discussions where Frank has reluctantly done the same in private to others (but without any evidence of repentance) – despite your own public denials of the last several weeks.
- You reference a statement posted by David Leino on Facebook, which is very much in line with your own statements because it provides no refutation of the actual Brandon warnings. Instead, it likewise attacks the motives and character of those who dare reference those warnings. You and he claim he was a member of the Brandon church.
Please confirm that in fact he was not part of the Brandon church when it investigated and issued its warnings regarding Frank Viola and sought to have him address their concerns. Isn’t it true that he was not present, because he had immediately left the church with Mr. Viola when those concerns first surfaced?
- You repeatedly claim that folks in the Brandon church, who bore public witness against Frank Viola, no longer stand by those statements. That is entirely inconsistent with our own research. Disturbingly, like most of your non-specific denials, you provide no citations or support. Each of the witnesses we cite to, however, included their names on their past public statements. Please therefore specifically identify which of them you now claim have revoked their statements, and whom among those many witnesses have not.
- You repeatedly claim that the Brandon church reconciled with Frank Viola. Your claim relies on statements by three people who were not part of the Brandon fellowship during the relevant time, but immediately left with Frank Viola rather than deal with that church’s concerns.
Isn’t it true that the people you cite in fact were not part of the Brandon church when that church was unsuccessfully trying to interact with Frank Viola over his leadership sins?
- You repeatedly claim that you and others have sent me communications which refute the facts and warnings asserted by Frank Viola’s former church.
I am aware of NO such communications. Rather, I am only aware of various communications to me which: (a) make generalized denials based on claims of personal loyalty and friendships with Frank Viola; and (b) make very non-specific claims that Frank somehow has privately “dealt with” the Brandon church’s facts and warnings (but without any explanation or substantiation – and without any explanation as to how that properly overrides his own former church’s public warnings).
As such, we have yet to see any specific denials or any specific assertions regarding any specific facts relevant to the Brandon church’s findings and warnings regarding Frank Viola. Please prove me wrong by providing the communications to which you keep referring.
- In your letter and on Facebook, you accuse another organic church leader of having used a “fake” Facebook account, of having “defamed” others through that account, of having engaged in “dishonest” conduct, of having concocted a “fabricated story” regarding Frank Viola’s history of sexual predation, and of having borne false witness against Frank Viola.
You first made these charges in public on Facebook, in the context of your defense of Frank Viola – even though that other leader (at that time) had not surfaced as having any knowledge of additional Viola victims. How, Jon, did you know to pre-emptively attack him?
Regardless, I have personally confirmed that you have never raised your accusations with that brother. Please justify your public accusations against him by providing substantiation that you have personally raised them with him (i.e., Matt. 18), or alternatively that you properly relied on specific findings of wrongdoing by a local church under proper Biblical procedure (i.e., 1 Tim. 5:19-21).
- Please provide the basis for your expertise in dealing with and evaluating cases involving sexually exploitive church leaders, and for discounting – and in fact viciously attacking – various witnesses, qualified and highly experienced professionals, and even the victims themselves.
- Please provide the basis for your implicit claim of jurisdiction and authority to now insist that the Body of Christ submit to your personal, private and unsubstantiated judgment – and thus suppress and disregard the public rebuke and warnings that Frank Viola’s former church issued under the clear mandate of 1 Tim. 5:19-21.
- Is it your position that the Body of Christ may never reference or rely upon the public warnings and findings of Frank Viola’s former church, based merely on your claim to now “know and endorse” Frank – without having offered a single specific refuting fact beyond your own personal appraisal?
- Please provide evidence – as previously requested multiple times – of Frank Viola’s own public denial or, alternatively, of him having openly confessed and publicly repented of the things his own former church decided were so serious that they needed to publicly warn others.
- Please confirm that Frank Viola intends to continue promoting himself as a “church planter”, an apostolic “worker”, and/or overall leader to the Body of Christ.
- You demand that we take down our references to the warnings issued by Frank Viola’s former church, and make a number of threats against me personally if we don’t – including the threat to continue your “ongoing” investigation into my personal life and the threat to publish a letter to expose me. I remain at a loss as to what “dirt” you think you will dig up.
My life has always been an open book. However, my life is not now the issue when it comes to Frank Viola’s ongoing intimidation (as evidenced by these threats you now make against me on his behalf), lack of repentance, cover-up, denials and hiding behind others to avoid addressing his own leadership sins and disqualifying misconduct.
Nonetheless, you cite Matt. 18 to justify your threat to publish whatever dirt you think you have found, or may find, in order to silence me and our fellowships.
If you in fact rely on that passage, please identify the “ekklesia” – the Greek word translated to mean a local church in that passage – which has jurisdiction and before which I am Biblically entitled to first answer any specific charges you may actually assert against me.
Frank Viola had this right with the Brandon church, as the appropriate local ekklesia with jurisdiction over him – even though he refused to address those charges before them. Do you now presume to deny me the same, based on your recent threats?
Our fellowships and I await your good faith clarifications and substantiation on the many things merely alluded to, without any specificity, in your letter and on Facebook.
Until then, we remain committed to an open process and to everyone openly addressing all valid, specific concerns.
James C. Wright, J.D.
- A Response to Bart Breen (crossroadjunction.com)
- Discombobulating Fellowship (crossroadjunction.com)
- Sexual Predation by Christian Author and “Apostolic Worker” Frank Viola (nathansvoice.org)
With one possible exception, I am not allowing comments.
I am thoroughly disgusted at how the victims and the witnesses involved in this situation have been roundly trashed by Jon Zens and Bart Breen – and others also acting on Mr. Viola’s behalf – in public on Facebook and in private elsewhere.
I will not allow Frank Viola, through them or others, to victimize anyone else here. Those who want to throw mud at the victims – and the decent people who cared enough to come forward and bear witness to the evil that occurred – can take their campaign of smear elsewhere.
Also, Frank Viola has not allowed – and blocked – all questioning or challenging comments on his blog regarding these matters. Likewise, Jon Zens has posted his attacks on private forums, and sent out private emails, which prevented any open response by me and others.
Mr. Breen also has blocked responses to his recklessly – and knowingly – false cover-up attack blogs, where he tries to smear all who have dared mention Mr. Viola’s history of sexual exploitation and predation in the church.
If they wish to respond, they can do so on their own nickel and on their own web sites. I’m not giving them a platform for more of the same here.
My one exception is this: All we are asking is that Frank make a public statement responding to the public warnings by his former church. Either deny those warnings or else openly confess and repent so that the healing process can begin. If he does that, and it is honest and transparent, we will print it here.
How ’bout it Frank? Stop hiding behind others. Stop the cover up and intimidation. Just be honest and transparent for once regarding the warnings of your former church.
Frank, we await your reply.