What do these fifty pastors have in common? They were all considered to be “men of God” by their congregations right until the moment police arrived and they made the local news in the month of May for horrific crimes against children – most of whom were members of their own churches. Many of the crimes took place on church property with several victims over the course of many years.
OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER: This post is not about making generalizations in order to shame an entire faith, but to raise awareness in an effort to protect children. However, this is a very sensitive subject that brings out strong emotions for many reasons. So, in an attempt to avoid the expected dismissive denial and distancing, I will begin by conceding all of the following – once; No, of course not all pastors are predators. Yes, a couple of these crimes were against handicapped adults, not kids. Yes, predators can be found in any population, but I think most would agree that pastors should be held to a much higher standard. And, finally, yes – innocent until proven guilty, etc…
Last May two fans messaged me about local pastors in their area being arrested for sex crimes. They were surprised the stories weren’t making national headlines at the same time the Pope was speaking so strongly against pedophile priests. Given my own experiences in church leadership over the years, I wasn’t surprised at all. However, being aware of my own assumptions and the possibility of succumbing to confirmation bias, I took a few minutes to do a quick search on Google News. Sadly, I found more than enough evidence to confirm my gut instinct. As a result, I put together a post about 25 Protestant pastors who made the news that month for sex crimes against children. Last week the topic came up again thanks to the Josh Duggar situation, so I took a little time to put together this new list for May 2015 (based only on the few local new stories that make their way into Google News). The results were even more startling than before, and I’d like to share my thoughts on a situation I’m afraid will only get much worse before it has any hope of getting better.
In short, it seems that Protestants have an even larger problem than Catholics with predatory pastors in their flocks and nobody is talking about it.
Why? Because hardly anybody knows that it’s a problem to begin with.The reasons for this naivety are both complex and obvious at the same time:
No National Coverage: With one exception, all of the stories below made only the local news without any national media attention. While this may give local viewers an uncomfortable feeling of, “I can’t believe this seemingly rare thing happened in our town,” they would have no idea that it also happened twice that month in the next county or state. The truth of the matter is, this is a national problem (international, actually), with cases occurring equally from the conservative Bible Belt, to the liberal Northwest, to the urban Northeast. Just because the reported cases only make the local news doesn’t mean that it’s only a local problem.
No Single Enemy: When the Catholic sex scandals broke out, it was easy for everyone to point to a single organization as the root of all evil. There was a single outlet of information for the media to focus on, and one branch of Christianity for Protestants to demonize and distance themselves from. “Thank God that would never happen in our church,” I would hear my friends say. Unfortunately, as you scroll through the list below, you’ll see that the problem is found in every sort of denomination and church imaginable. As a result, it instills the false sense of security, “Oh, that’s a problem in that denomination, not ours.” I think it is worth noting that among the thousands of Protestant denominations, there are many more Protestant pastors than Catholic priests in our country today.
It seemed so easy for many Protestant Christians to generalize and point fingers at “those filthy celibate pedophile Catholic priests,” – making it about “them” not “us.” But what about the prevalence of predatory pastors spread across different denominations all over the country? Where do people point the finger now? Suddenly, “their” problem is “our” problem and the most natural response is denial. (But, what good does this do?)
Not Good For Business: Local news agencies can get away with sharing the seemingly rare local story of a pastor gone astray and are often thanked by the community for doing so. But, can you imagine if NBC Nightly News had a daily Predator Pastors segment? In an era of escalating cries of persecution of Christians, it’s not hard to imagine the religious majority taking each story as a “vicious attack” on their faith and forming angry boycotts aimed at the networks and their advertisers. No advertisers, no networks. (Don’t believe me? Read the comment threads on the very sparse stories that are critical of Christianity on major news sites. Then, imagine if every single one of these stories below were covered by the same national news organization.) Heck, even I am uncomfortable posting more than one of these stories every couple of weeks out of fear of being labeled as a “hateful bigot who has nothing better to do than attack Christianity.” Nobody wants to see and hear these stories on a regular basis, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem.
Secrecy and Cover-Ups: Churches have a lot to lose when news leaks of any scandal. Unlike the monstrous wealth and organizational power of the Catholic church, the vast majority of small Protestant churches are fairly independent, far removed from any oversight and authority of an originating denominational body. Each local pastor is essentially the Pope as far as a local congregation is concerned. As a result, when local church elders are notified of a scandal, they are intimately aware that if the news goes public, it will mean certain death to the church, employees, and assets. As such, it is no surprise that some denominations go as far as to document policies to protect the church from scandals.
“In some cases, the elders will form a judicial committee to handle the alleged wrongdoing that may also constitute a violation of criminal law (e.g., murder, rape, child abuse, fraud, theft, assault). Generally, the elders should not delay the judicial committee process, but strict confidentiality must be maintained to avoid unnecessary entanglement with secular authorities who may be conducting a criminal investigation of the matter.”– Official Jehovah’s Witness Memo, 2014
* Yes, of course most Christians would argue that Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t “real Christians,” but don’t think for a second that “mainstream” churches aren’t just as protective of their reputations (they are just smart enough to never put it in writing).
Social Suicide: For most families involved in a church, the church is their entire community. Tuesday morning with other moms in women’s Bible study groups, Wednesday night with other couples in a discipleship service, Friday night with the kids having fun with friends at youth groups while you have a worship rehearsal, Saturday church picnic with families you have known for years, before Sunday services filled with volunteering and worshiping with lifelong friends.
Now, imagine coming forward and pointing a finger at the leader of your church, the head and even founder of your entire community and social structure. Reporting these crimes suddenly isn’t just about seeking justice for your children, there are other consequences – social suicide, banishment, even direct blame for causing trouble in the church. Some churches will even go as far as to discipline a wife for wanting to divorce a husband who admits to being a pedophile.
Trust and Forgiveness: A number of these pastors were registered sex offenders in previous states, but nobody thought to do background checks before putting them in positions of power and leaving them alone with their children. Or, in a couple of cases, the elders knew about their previous cases, but blamed the victims in the previous cases for making trouble. Likewise, in many of these cases, you will see that the congregation’s conditioned response is to publicly forgive the pastor, reminding the outside world that “all sins are equal.” It should be no surprise that many of these pastors take no responsibiluty for their own actions, either blaming “the devil” or claiming that they are at peace because “God has already forgiven” them for their sins.
As Dr. Ronnie Floyd says, “I’m thankful, whether it’s [Josh Duggar] or any other one, that I serve a God who can forgive everything.”
Target Rich Environment: I think it’s important to point out that like any predator hunting a herd, these men are often specifically drawn to the pulpit by the promise of easy prey – naive children and trusting parents who grant them carte blanche because of their godly authority over their flocks. Playing God.
Coercion, Blaming & Shaming: It’s obvious that any pastor in a position of authority has tremendous psychological power over their victims while the attacks are carried out. However, almost more troubling is the culture of blame and shame that appear once a child overcomes a culture of submission and has the courage to speak out. For example, to the right is a copy of the “Counseling Sexual Abuse” course for parents using Bill Gothard’s very popular “Advanced Training Institute” Christian homsechooling materials. Pay special attention to #2, 4, 6, & 8 from a young victim’s perspective.)
Likewise, consider this common sentiment coming from the pastors to their victims, “If they are unwilling to forgive me, then God can’t forgive them. It’s in the Bible,” pastor Mack Davis told the court after being sentenced with 15 counts of sexual abuse of members of his own youth group. The mind game of blame and shame just never end.
Tip Of The Iceberg: One very important thing to remember is that according to the latest major study by the National Research Council, over 80 percent of sexual assaults go unreported. Now, if you think that is a big number, please consider that the study only considers the national average of the “general population” – not of children raised in the church to believe that their pastor is as close to God as a human can get, and that God’s laws are above man’s laws, and that the church is handling the situation, and that you shouldn’t do anything to embarrass the church or your family, and that you need to forgive in order to be forgiven, etc… It’s no surprise that very few of these cases are ever actually reported. (And when they eventually are – why more and more victims have the courage to come out of hiding and face their attackers in numbers.)
One important point to remember as you browse the stories below is that many of these news sites will use language like “former pastor” in their headlines in order to avoid libel and defamation lawsuits from the churches involved. This is technically correct because most of the pastors were secretly let go months before authorities were eventually made aware of the crimes that had occurred (rarely reported by the churches, as you’ll see). Again, these are only a few of the stories that made local news that have feeds into Google News. Within minutes of sharing this post on our Facebook page, commenters were quickly pointing out stories in their areas that haven’t made the news at all.
Nathaniel Hull Jr.
First Baptist Church | West Helena, Arkansas
– Rape of 13 year-old girl (DNA confirms baby is his)
Michael George Sperou
North Clackamas Bible Community | Portland, OR
– Convicted of three counts of raping children under the age of 12
Simpson United Methodist | Rio Grande, OH
– 15 charges of of sex with minors from two area churches
Faith Baptist Church | Idaville, IN
– Charged with sexual abuse of two boys
Corey D. Butler
Jesus Is The Way Christian Center | DeKalb, IL
– Charged with possession and distribution of child pornography
The Crossing Church | Mena, AR
– Charged with sexual assault of a minor (church member)
Peter James Bass
Assembly of God Church | Brooks, OR
– 15 counts of rape and sodomy of minor (church member)
Multiple Churches | Stockton, CA
– Arrested for sexual abuse of at least three boys (victims 8-15)
Geronimo “Pastor G” Aguilar
Richmond Outreach Center (ROC) | Richmond, VA
– Sex with minors (also, abortions and STD’s)
Multiple Churches | Daly City, CA
– Charged with multiple sexual assaults of 9 year-old girl
Darrell Best (pastor and police officer)
God Of A Second Chance Ministry & Metro P.D. | Washington, D.C.
– Charged with raping minors in church and police HQ
Church of God | Shippensburg, PA
– Pleads guilty to child pornography
Jesus Is Father Church | Macon, GA
– Charged with rape and aggravated sexual assault of minor
First Assembly of God | Jonesborough, AR
– Charged with *massive* amounts of child pornography
Blessed Sacrament | Hibbing, MN
– Molestation of three girls under the age of 13 (church members)
Traveling Preacher | Cheyenne, WY
– Charged with nine counts of rape under the age of 13
Vanceburg Christian Church | Vanceburg, KY
– Nine counts of sodomy and sexual abuse of children under 12
Faith Impact Fellowship | Bastrop, TX
– Charged with sexual assault of minor (church member)
Trinity Lutheran | New Sweden, ME
– Pleads “no contest” to sexual assault on girl under 12
Oak Island Baptist Church | Chambers County,
– Pleads guilty to sexual assault of minor
New Life Community Church | Woodland, CA
– Voyeurism and exploitation of minors, hidden camera in restroom
Gaining Ground Community Church | Sparta, WI
– Charged with three counts of raping a minor (church member)
First Christian Church | St. Louis, MO
– Seven counts of sodomy and molestation of minors
Christopher Douglas Ross
Unnamed Church | Lebanon, TN
– Charged with 10 counts of sex with a minor under his authority
Grandview Baptist | Belton, MO
– Four counts of child molestation (church members under 12)
Lifegate Church | Papillon, NE
– Convicted of sexual exploitation of minor, hired by new church
Mack Allen Davis
Shocco Springs Baptist Camp | Talladega, AL
– Sentenced for 15 counts of child sexual abuse in two states
Catalyst Church | Truth or Consequences
– Charged with raping two children from congregation
Iglesia Metodista Libre | Bronx, NY
– Pastor/Cop charged with rape and endangerment of a minor
(Update: Charges dropped on statutory technicality.)
Online Pastor | Lawrenceville, GA
– Murder of 3 year-old neice
Pleasant Valley Assembly of God | Altoona, PA
– Sexual assault with member of his youth group
John Derek Haffner
First United Methodist Church | Pierce, CO
– Soliciting prostitutes (no, not kiddos, but still…)
Jose David Rivera
Casa De Oracion | Pasadena, TX
– On the run after raping 13 year-old girl (during “choir” practice)
Bethel United Pentecostal Church | Hillsboro, OR
– Pleads guilty to sexual abuse of two boys
David ‘Scott’ Lemley
Bethel United Pentecostal Church | Baton Rouge, LA
– Charged with rape of disabled girl with father’s consent
Calvary Way Church | Kilgore, TX
– Charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child
Itinerant Preacher | Henderson County, NC
– Repeated sexual assault of three girls (6, 11, and 15)
Victory Apostolic Church | Kingsport, TN
– Having sex with man in church van when arrested for embezzling
First Congregational Church | Dundee, IL
– Explicit sexting and rape of a minor (church member)
Walker’s Chapel Free Will Baptist Church | McComb, MS
– Sex with prison inmates (with 4 police officers).
Pentecostal Holiness Church | Wallace NC
– Charged with multiple sexual assaults on teenage girls
Church of God | Peoria, IL
– Sexual abuse of a child under 12 and child pornography
Bethel Assembly of God Church| Oakdale, CA
– Sentenced for multiple counts of child pornography
Jules Anderson Jr.
Divine Spiritual Church of Christ II | Four Corners, LA
– Lured young boy into sugar cane fields for sex
St Francis Episcopal | Wilmington Island, GA
– Charged with sexual exploitation of children and child pornography
Jason Michael Hankins
Shades Crest Baptist Church | Hoover, AL
-22 counts of rape and sodomy of 7 year-old girl (and child pornography)
Rudolph Walls (previously a registered sex offender)
Friendly Chapel | Dillon, SC
– Criminal sexual conduct with two minors in congregation
Derrick Duke Hampsch
First Baptist Church | Vincennes, IN
– Pleads guilty to multiple sex acts with members of youth group
Smithville Baptist Church | Smithville, NY
– Pleads guilty to sexually assaulting 9 year-old girl, gets probation
BONUS: Josh Duggar
Family Research Council | Washington D.C.
– Repeated child molestation of girls as young a 5 (including sisters)
(Not a pastor? No, just the head of a major Christian ministry.)
Not Perfect, Just Forgiven: These pastors put Christians in an interesting dilemma. When we shared a similar story last year, I was surprised by how much of a split there was among Christian responses with very different ideas.
Which is it? You can’t have it both ways, folks. By my reading of the Bible, as long as these pastors repent and accept Jesus, these child rapists will all be welcomed into heaven with open arms. According to Jesus, there is only ONE unforgivable sin;
“I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. This is a sin with eternal consequences.” – Jesus (Mark 3:28-29 NLT)
Meanwhile, if the most perfectly pious person accidentally shouts “God damn it!” when they stub their toe, they will be destined to burn in hellfire for eternity. Don’t like this inequality of Biblical justice? Don’t blame me – it’s in the Bible…
The Moral of The Story: To most Christians, the title of “pastor” comes with a massive amount of automatic trust, authority, and reverence (thus the title of Reverend). However, with great power comes great responsibility and families need to be aware of the unfortunate reality that behind some pulpits stand truly evil predators who use their positions of power (and cultures of secrecy) to prey on innocent and trusting children and parents who have been conditioned in the name of God to obey religious authority figures at all costs. In short, I just hope this article will help parents wake up, speak out, and protect their children.
Unfortunately, in pushing for more transparency and accountability among churches, there is a bit of a Catch-22 at play. The more diligent parents, kids, and leaders become in reporting crimes to authorities, the worse the problem will appear from the outside – more cases in the media creating a scandalous crisis of independent church closures, etc… Some might be tempted to use this as an opportunity to gloat and attack the faith through lazy generalizations when what everybody really needs is a helping hand – training, resources, and support in counseling victims and creating program for prevention.
From a practical perspective of protecting our loved ones, instead of completely avoiding the subject of sexuality and/or teaching children the insane Gothard curriculum of submission, blame, and shame – we should be teaching our kids how to protect themselves from any predator. We should be teaching them about inappropriate touching. We should be teaching them how to protect themselves when we aren’t with them. I’m not an expert, but I’ve always used the following three steps with my own kids.
- YELL – Scream “NO!” (or “Fire!” or “Help!”) at the top of your lungs! Make all the noise you can to alert everyone in the area that you are in danger. If your mouth is covered, knock things over, break windows, whatever you have to do to get attention. Predators don’t like attention!
- RUN – Keep yelling and do whatever it takes to get away and find a safe place where there are lots of people who can help you. Hit, kick, bite, spit, and scratch. Go for the eyes, groin, throat – anywhere that will cause the most pain. Just do whatever it takes to get away!
- TELL – Tell your parents, tell your teachers, tell your bus drive, call 911! Tell, tell, tell! You and your friends might not be safe until the predator is caught!
Be smart and stay safe, my friends,
– Horus Gilgamesh
Personal Note: As I mentioned earlier in this post, this is not an attempt to make blanket generalizations and accusations about an entire religion because of a “few bad apples,” but simply to raise awareness of a problem that is largely ignored in Protestant circles. One of the reasons I eventually left Christian ministry was my concern over the psychological effects of new forms of early childhood evangelism through indoctrination of fear and worthlessness. To ignore these horrific crimes after leaving the church would be hypocritical, to turn my back on the very children I came to understand needed more protection from many forms of harm under the banner of “religious freedom.” As I hope I’ve illustrated, these children rarely have a voice in these matters. Somebody else has to speak out on their behalf. (Please join me and consider sharing this article to raise awareness and help protect your loved ones from harm.)