The church is failing to protect our kids and we must remedy it

2018 was a year to remember. Unless you were asleep under a rock somewhere, you will have an awareness that the faith community and beyond was rocked by sex abuse scandals. January began with the Larry Nassar sentencing in Lansing, MI where an unprecedented over 150 victims gave impact statements on record. In the same month Jules Woodson came public with her story of abuse from her former youth minister Andy Savage of HighPoint Church in Memphis. Both Any Savage and Chris Conlee have since resigned. Bill Hybels of Willow Creek had multiple victims come forward and accuse him of sexual misconduct. Hybels took an “early retirement,” all the elders resigned, along with pastor Heather Larson.  

In August the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report was published, exposing over 300 predator priests and over 1,000 victims of child sexual abuse. That sparked a nation-wide probe into the Catholic church and its cover-up of abuse. Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was fired in 2018 for failing to report a rape and for repeatedly bragging about telling women in abusive marriages to endure the physical abuse. Sarah Smith at the Star-Telegram released a bombshell investigative report into the Independent Fundamental Baptist Church that spanned 40 states and Canada. It revealed reports of over 200 victims–412 allegations in 187 churches. Of the 168 leaders accused or convicted, at least 45 of them remained in ministry after credible allegations arose. 75 year old Creation Fest co-founder and minister Harry Thomas was sentenced to 18 years in prison for sex with minors. 

And of course Bill Cosby was sentenced 3-10 years to a Pennsylvania state prison. There were many more scandals that rocked both mega churches and small churches alike. I had the high honor of meeting many of the Catholic abuse survivors from the PA Grand jury report. I marched with them on our state’s capital, met with Senators, and was sitting with survivors in the House galley when it passed the Window to Justice Bill. I’ve met so many friends the past year and all share a sacred bond. All of the people I met were either sexually, physically, or spiritually abused or were family members of abuse victims. Almost all of them were rejected by the church. Jules Woodson has become a friend. She shared her story on my podcast. Shaun Dougherty shared his story with me about how his coming forward opened the door to the sate wide investigation into the Catholic church here in Pennsylvania. I’ve met incredible survivors and have been blessed to be able to hear them tell their stories. Kelly Haines is another brave survivor whom I’ve become friends with. 

I’ve listened to hundreds of stories in 2018 and met so, so many incredible survivors and advocates. But what keeps haunting me is how badly the church still is failing to care for and protect the innocent and the wounded. I wrote an article last week called Our “Jesus accepts all” theology is empowers abusers, big time. I write about this a lot–how our theology is embarrassingly protective of abusers and dangerously antagonistic toward their victims. It’s not just my imagination, either. After consulting with churches, personally speaking with hundreds of survivors and dozens of church leaders, I’ve learned that many church leaders radically defend abusers and survivors are feeling the sting. The number of survivors who’ve told me that they attempted suicide after talking with their church leaders about their abuse is breathtaking.

One survey was posted a couple weeks ago that asked if survivors of abuse were helped or felt worse after speaking with church leaders. A staggering 98% said they actually felt worse after meeting with church leaders. Rachael Denholander was interviewed by Morgan Lee at Christianity Today in an article called, My Larry Nassar Testimony Went Viral. But There’s More to the Gospel Than Forgiveness. Rachael bemoaned the fact that religious leaders gushed over her one-liner about forgiveness when almost the entire 37 minute testimony was about God’s justice and the need to repent. But what really caught my attention was Rachael’s feelings about how the church responds to abuse survivors: 

Church is one of the least safe places to acknowledge abuse because the way it is counseled is, more often than not, damaging to the victim. There is an abhorrent lack of knowledge for the damage and devastation that sexual assault brings. It is with deep regret that I say the church is one of the worst places to go for help. That’s a hard thing to say, because I am a very conservative evangelical, but that is the truth. There are very, very few who have ever found true help in the church.

There are a number of reasons why the church continues to fail (another post for another day!). But rather than focus on that for now, I’ll just say that we need to steer our sinking ships back to the harbor of Jesus’ mission. Jesus couldn’t have been more clear: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19 ESV). 

This month’s theme is resources for the kingdom. There are good resources for churches that are out there for preventing abuse and for walking a church through the aftermath of it. Step one is to become aware of the most valuable resources that are out there. Step two is having the humility to tap into those resources. In the next post I will list different resources and what each person/organization specializes in. As a church leader myself, I have a heart for helping them. I was lost when an allegation of abuse came to me about my own father. I don’t want others to be lost like I was. There is good help out there now. Abuse is incredibly common. In seven years, I have yet to speak at a congregation where there are no victims of abuse. Many of them who tell me about their abuse have never told anyone before. Church, we’ve got to make it safer for victims to come forward and get healing. They should not be terrified of their leaders. We have work to do, but it can be done! 

Fighting Pedophilia in the Church: A Special Ops Ministry

As I sat in college Bible classes, I daydreamed of what I’d be doing in ministry.  I heard professors tell us students cool stories of being missionaries overseas.  For the first time in my life, I was in the heart of the Bible Belt where the church was thriving.  And it was awesome!  I logged many hours at the feet of amazing, passionate men of God who have influenced and inspired so many–men like Jimmy Allen, Jack Lewis, Jerry Rushford, and so many others.   I had dreams of being a church leader who, through the Holy Spirit, would experience God breathing life into his anemic church in the Northeast where I grew up.  Then in 2011, just barely 2 years into my role as the preacher at my childhood congregation, those dreams were shattered when a victim disclosed to me that she had been molested for years by my father.

My world came crashing in on me. I had no idea the burden that God was about to place on my shoulders and the radical shift I was about to take in ministry.  Nor would I know the price my family would pay for the sins of my father.  My mother and I reported my childhood hero to the police.  We both trembled in fear, not knowing what would happen next.  My father, who ministered for decades at the church where I still preach to this day, is serving a 30-60 year sentence for sex crimes against very young children.

I still preach full time at the Somerset Church of Christ in Pennsylvania, about 15 miles from where hijacked United 93 nose dived into the ground on 9/11 and 5 miles from the Quecreek Mine where 9 trapped coal miners were rescued the following year.  In 2015, I co-founded Church Protect, Inc.  It is a non profit ministry that provides specialized training in the prevention and detection of child sexual abuse within churches.  We also routinely consult with churches where allegations of abuse have surfaced and we walk those church leaders through the process of ministering their churches though it.  It’s not as simple as suspecting abuse, reporting it, and going back to life as it was before.  Once a report is made, lives and the course of the church are changed forever.  Because I am wading through the carnage left behind by my father, we have a vested interest in helping churches and families prepare for the impact.

Abusers are incredibly skilled at grooming and molesting children, are tedious at covering their tracks, and are often the people we respect and admire the most.  In fact, almost every church we’ve consulted with have had as their abusers the most trusted and well liked church leaders–preachers, elders, deacons, youth ministers, missionaries, Sunday school teachers, and leaders of Christian camps.  While there’s never an excuse for protecting an abuser, I understand why most people deny that someone they know is raping children even when we repeat the facts back to them.  This is the biggest reason we suggest churches hire professionals to consult with.  Since my colleague and I usually don’t know the perpetrator personally, we can be far more objective and we have zero interest in protecting or covering for the abuser.  The temptation to defend the offender is far too great when church leaders are forced to report their best friend.  It creates a major conflict of interest for most people and it’s just good practice to have fresh eyes from an outsider.  As a good friend recently said, “Justice is no longer blind if a judge is giving a sentence to a good friend of his.”  Walking a church through the aftermath of abuse, especially when there are victims within the congregation, is an incredibly delicate process and must be handled with extreme care.  There are so, so many variables that need to be considered.

Church Protect has a growing online Survivor’s Support section, where churches can send people who were once victims of child sexual abuse.  These services are 100% free and confidential.  The majority of abuse victims we speak with have either been ignored, excluded, disfellowshipped, forced to forgive their abuser, or were verbally (and sometimes sexually) abused by church leaders.  This is revictimization at its worst and, sadly, it happens far more often than not.  We felt that survivors needed a safe place to share with one another, so it was a natural progression to develop survivor support for survivors of child sexual abuse that is led solely by survivors.

In recent months, it is rare that a week passes without several congregations contacting us about allegations of abuse.   I had another call just yesterday concerning a child rapist in a local church.  Today there was another.  Predators have enthusiastically infiltrated the church and are destroying the souls of our children in mass numbers.  Peter was exactly right about wicked men who prey on the innocence of others: “Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord.  But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed. . . They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime.  They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you.  They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin.  They entice unsteady souls.

They have hearts trained in greed.  Accused children!” (2 Peter 2:10-14 ESV).  There are an estimated 42 million people in the United States alone who have horrific stories of adults repeatedly molesting them when they were young children.  Abuse doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it happens in our churches and homes.  And it’s happening a lot.

In order to be effective at what we do, we have to know exactly how predators think, plan, and manipulate everyone around them.  Because victims are young, are threatened if they tell, and have no vocabulary to describe what has been done to them, very few ever tell anyone.  Gathering enough information to even make a report to police is incredibly difficult to accomplish.  Most investigators, in our experience, shrug off reports of abuse even though most states mandate that church leaders report reasonable suspicion of abuse.  It’s not that investigators don’t care, it’s that they are overworked.  Sadly, investigators wear out from uncooperative reporters who give the bare minimum amount of information.

We work hard to help churches gather enough information to make a solid report but we work even harder to keep children safe from abusers.  We can’t rely exclusively on the justice system.  People often say that we need tougher laws to help the abuse epidemic.  My response is that child sexual abuse is a felony in all 50 states.  We can’t make it any more illegal to abuse a child.  We don’t need more laws, we need more trained protectors.  In the end, it takes all of us working together to keep our children safe.

I routinely enter into the “underworld” of the church–the place where predators reside, think, plan, and molest children.  We call this our “special ops” ministry because few have the stomach for it.  The conventional wisdom has been to teach churches to look for “signs of abuse.”  We flip that completely on its head and teach churches not to look for abusers, but to look at ourselves through the eyes of a child predator.  When we are able to do so, the wolves no longer look like sheep.  Their cover has been blown and we can prevent abuse before it ever happens.

I recently developed a powerful 30-60 minute walk-through tool that I use when I train church staff and parents.  The purpose is to get into role and demonstrate how predators are looking for opportunity to abuse children and what specific methods they use when they are abusing children in the churches.  I will walk through the building and identify the most vulnerable areas and follow up with a report detailing how the church can improve those areas.  I’ve visited churches that have incredible protection policies and I still, without exception, identify lots of vulnerable areas.  The reason is that people underestimate how bold, willful, and persistent abusers are.  Most people don’t believe that abusers are molesting children in the church building during worship (especially if we implement policies) and they falsely believe that we would be able to recognize abuse if it were going on.  But our experience is that abusers intentionally abuse children during church services, they do it often, and unless we think like perpetrators we will almost never recognize abuse.  We are shifting the culture in this area and our mission is simple–prevent abuse before it happens and put people in prison who have already abused children.

Children should not have to live in perpetual fear because of being repeatedly molested, threatened, and made to believe they are worthless.  The irony is that abusers are most fearless once they’ve entered into the life of the church.  It is, hands down, the safest place for abusers to molest children.  We believe it’s time to turn the tables and have child rapists lose sleep because of the real threat of being caught.  We are committed to work tirelessly to convince churches to lead the way in showing the world that children are the planet’s most precious resource.  Children deserve to have a community of adults who love, respect, and protect them.  Let’s be that community for them.

Freedom From Sin!

waterI grew up in a congregation where baptisms felt more like examination day than a celebratory ceremony. Prior to being baptized, we were asked a series of questions to make sure that we were being baptized “for the right reasons.” If we passed the oral exam, our baptism was followed by one or two awkward claps and (it felt like) a series of yawns.

After my baptism I thought, “Is this what the Bible is talking about when it describes being set free from sin?” For years, my experience didn’t match the celebratory theology of baptism in Scripture. We make a big celebration out of a lot of things in life but baptism wasn’t one of them. I thought about graduations—we spend a lot of time and money on graduations and celebration is at the epicenter of the ceremony. I have yet to experience a graduation ceremony that is dull or emotionless. There is something powerful, beautiful, and meaningful about ceremony.

When God rescued the Israelites from over 400 years of hardcore slavery, it was done in a dramatic way. God could have chosen a million different ways to free the Israelites from bondage, but he chose 10 plagues followed by the parting of an ocean! Then he followed it up with a command for an annual celebration feast to remember that event! The more I read the Bible, the more I realize that baptism is a dramatic rescuing of God’s people who have lived as slaves to sin. When Peter was rescued from jail, he was overwhelmed at the experience of being rescued by God and thought he was seeing a vision (Acts 12:9). “When Peter came to himself, he said, ‘Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting’” (Acts 12:11 ESV). It was a dramatic rescue mission orchestrated by God himself! Rhoda was so overwhelmed with excitement that she forgot to open the gate when Peter knocked! When she insisted that Peter really was at the gate, the Christians kept saying, “It is his angel!”

God, the author of life, always rescues his people in dramatic ways, and baptism is no different. Romans 6 always gets me pumped up! It’s a crazy description of God’s passionate rescue mission to rescue the sinner from the bondage of sin, bury the old person, and raise him up a new creature! When we read Romans 6 the way Paul wrote it, we can no longer be indifferent to a person’s coming to Christ and being rescued by God.

We should make baptism a big deal. We should clap, cheer, and spend the rest of the day together as a community of encouraging believers.

There is power in ceremony. It shows people that we care enough to plan an event to specifically celebrate them! There is a steel cross that sits on the hill across from my house. I like to take people there and reflect. One time, I took a dear friend there who was struggling to let the reality of God’s rescue mission take hold of her. Sometimes we find ourselves lost in the wilderness after being rescued and we daydream of going back to the land of slavery. I believe in ceremony and could not accept that her baptism was for naught. So we went to the cross and at the foot of the cross I handed a copy of this poem that I had penned a few days before. It was written as a reflection of the day I was rescued by God at baptism. I now give it as a gift to every person who is baptized.

I’m Free!

I’m free, I’m free,

From the person that I used to be

Our Father’s ultimate love,

Hanging there at Calvary

His blood and his tears,

I clearly could see

Were flowing down the cross,

They were flowing to me

With tears in his eyes,

Christ gently called to me,

“I love you, my child,

And give my last breath for thee.”

With guilt, shame, and love,

All rushing to me,

The burden of my sins,

Dropped me to my knees

I repented of my sins that day,

Thinking of that scene

My old self was buried,

In the watery grave, you see

I was raised by grace,

Made new, pure, and free

“An easy life,” I thought,

From now on would be

Seeing him lose his life,

How was I so naïve?

An easy life?

Love, service, and death,

Those are the keys

The great Shepherd,

With a word calmed the sea,

His voice calling out,

“Deny yourself, take up your cross,

and follow me.”

With tears in my eyes,

This is my everlasting plea,

“I love you, my Lord,

And give my last breath for thee.”

If amazing grace can save a wretch like me,

I promise to let go,

Of the person that I used to be

So I cling to the cross,

And I still can’t believe

I’m free, I’m free

From the person that I used to be

– Jimmy Hinton

Romans 6:7 “For one who has died has been set free from sin.”

Pornified Church

Warning: The contents of this post are of an adult nature. Our goal in posting this is to raise awareness of a very dark side of humanity that may be closer to us than we think so that it can be addressed and combated more intentionally in our churches.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”—Jesus

“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among the saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Eph. 5:3-5 ESV).

It was not until the discovery that my father, a former preacher, was a pedophile that I realized how diseased the hearts of Christians are. He is currently serving a 30-60 year prison sentence, sentenced in 2012 after my mom and I reported him to police following an allegation of sexual abuse. I have since gone on a quest not many have undertaken—to enter the mind of a pedophile. Until we are willing to see the world from behind their eyes, we will never be able to understand how they so easily become perverted, rob the innocence and destroy the lives of our children, fool us, and so forth. And what I discovered was more shocking than I ever would have imagined—the church is full of closet sex perverts, pedophiles included. I can’t help myself, I’ve got to quote a line from my dad in his most recent letter to me: “But I know that I know in running through my mind in my past conversations and observations with preacher friends down through the years—show most any of them T&A and they turn into tongue-draggin’ hounds.”

I wish I could say that he is a delusional inmate who has no sense of reality, but my experience tells me that he is being conservative in his thoughts. Unless you experience the volume of pleas for help from churches experiencing carnage from sexual abuse, you will choose to believe that there is not an epidemic of perversion within the church. A good preacher friend of mine called me up and shared his discovery of a 6 year old boy who was raped in the church building during worship. My friend discovered it after seeing the boy limping down the church hall with a huge blood stain on the back of his pants. The perpetrator was acquitted and still attends church there, after the perp’s attorney threatened my friend and the church with a lawsuit. These stories are not rare. I hear stories just like this DAY AFTER DAY. It’s going on in the church, and it’s going on a lot. Pornography has taken over the church, and it has poisoned the hearts of Christians, old and young alike.

We cannot talk about healthy sexuality until we first address the disease and know how to treat it. This, in my opinion, is why the Bible talks about sexuality so much in terms of restrictions and harsh judgment. We have drunk the devil’s Kool-Aid of “exploration” and “sexual freedom,” and in doing so the church has become fully pornified.

In my field of work, I can assure you that there is no shortage of perverts in the church, even among church leaders. And it’s getting worse. We sanitize the Bible and describe sexual sin in soft terms that detach our emotions and free the sexual sinner of any real responsibility. We say that porn addicts and sexual abusers are “struggling,” have “issues of lust,” just “went down a wrong path,” etc. Contrast that with Jesus talking about gouging out eyes, cutting off hands, tying millstones around necks, and Paul’s haunting words, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things (sexual sins) the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 5:6). Why?

It’s because God understands supply and demand better than we ever will, and he knows that our perverted fantasies increase supply while harming actual people. Strangely, maybe Jesus was serious when he said that any man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. I could fill dozens of pages with statistics showing that sex trafficking and child sexual abuse are the fastest growing industries on the planet. And, pornography is the common denominator every single time. In dad’s last letter (where I asked him what we can do to keep people like him from harming our children), he said: “Gotta think like perps to catch them or dissuade them. You sure aren’t gonna keep them out of churches, scouts, youth sports, schools, etc. They are your family, best friend, preacher, teacher, judge, attorney, etc. . . . I can name you 3 preachers in ­­­­___________ who are porn addicts. They’ll act out somewhere, sometime with someone guaranteed. I talked with a prison psychologist who told me that of the thousands of sex offenders who he’s counseled, he has yet to meet one who was not fully entrenched in pornography. Will every porn addict abuse someone? No, but rest assured perversion of God’s biblical intention of mutual sex, caring for, and compassion is driving the masses to act out in unhealthy ways. As I type this, there are Christian women reading this whose husbands are forcing them to act out fantasies in the bedroom that they see played out in porn. The most common of these are dressing as teenagers, anal sex, and submission while the husband ejaculates onto their bodies (see Pamela Paul’s book Pornified: How Pornography is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families). In the words of a friend of mine, “I cannot get aroused by my wife anymore unless I am watching a porn video while having sex with her.” How romantic.

The 7 most common genres of pornography in the US are, in order, Girl on Girl, Man on Man, Hentai (Japanese animated porn), MILF (women usually age 25-50, an acronym for “Mother I’d Like to $@#&”), Shemale Porn (transsexuals, watched almost exclusively by straight men), BBW (big, beautiful women), and BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism) Who are the biggest consumers of this filth? It turns out that a study monitoring paid subscriptions to porn (with the availability of free pornography, paid subscribers are deeper entrenched in porn and have moved beyond being “casual” users) “revealed that online subscriptions are ‘more prevalent in states where surveys indicate conservative positions on religion, gender roles and sexuality.’” Check out the lists for yourself. Turns out that folk in the Bible belt are studying more than their Bibles. Utah ranked the #1 state for paid porn subscriptions per capita. Not surprisingly, Utah, a state that has the lowest percentage of its population in prison, ranks as the #1 state with the highest percentage of its prison population as sex offenders.

While some experts argue that tougher laws and longer sentences for sex offenders are what’s driving that population up, I disagree. It is extremely rare for sex offenders to get caught in the first place, no matter how tough the laws are. The vast majority (90+%) of sex offenders will never get caught. So how are so many getting caught in UT, unless there are a plethora of them within that state?

All of this to say, we’ve got an epidemic on our hands and we have got to get more serious and aggressive about it. Porn use and sex abuse are at epidemic levels within the church and statistics show that it is getting worse, not better. Are church leaders willing to preach about sex, oppression, and abuse? Are they willing to stand with victims? Are they willing to call each other to a higher standard of moral living and demand transparency? Are we adults willing to create a safe place for our kids and sniff out abusers who are hiding within our churches? Are we willing to preach hard against sexual sin for the oppressors while understanding that victims of child sex abuse may be caught up in promiscuity because of their abuse? Will we demonstrate through our own sexual lives that our spouses have worth and value and they are not reduced to perverted fantasies? It is a complex problem that cannot be remedied in this short article. But my prayer is that we boldly begin the dialogue and restore God’s original intent for compassion, care, and sexuality. We churches are sick and in need of radical healing. Lord, please heal us by means of painful operations. Cut the cancer of sexual perversion and oppression from your Body. Cut us to the core and make us whole again. Amen.

Shepherds Network Northeast August 1st-3rd at OVU



The Shepherds Network, which was created in 2011, is an outreach of Harding School of Theology.  Their goal is to encourage church leaders and their wives, while providing additional resources to enhance their service to the local church and the Kingdom of God.  Shepherds Networks have been hosted in Memphis, with the exception of a northwest connection that was hosted in Belgrade, MT in 2012.  The next Shepherds Network will be hosted in Vienna, WV on the campus of OVU from August 1-3.

I first attended a Shepherds Network in Memphis in the fall of 2012 and instantly became a believer in this ministry.  Though HST is my alma mater, that is not specifically what drew me to the event.  Rather, it was the excitement of knowing that there was an event with resources that could help equip us to appoint elders and deacons.  I live in Pennsylvania, where the church situation is generally dire.  Many of the churches don’t have elders or deacons and the decline in attendance is symptomatic of a deeper problem.  We were no exception.  By 2012, our congregation had been 102 years with no elders and the last record of any deacons was in 1916.  Our attendance was plateaued and we weren’t reaching the lost.

We wanted to sit at the feet of experienced shepherds and adopt a healthy biblical method of selecting and appointing shepherds and servants.  If we were going to appoint shepherds and deacons, it was going to be done in a healthy manner.  The result?  In October of 2012 I presented to the congregation an outline for walking the congregation through a healthy process of selecting, testing, and appointing elders and deacons.  In October of 2013 we appointed our very first shepherds along with our first deacons since 1916!  They are godly men and we all joyfully share our ministries together.  The church is growing as a result of healthy leadership and we have a much deeper focus and vision on evangelism and restoring sinners.

Shepherds Network is a great opportunity for church leaders to be enriched and encouraged by spending time with other leaders.  One of the exciting things about ministry is that we are seeing an increase in resources for elders and deacons.  Their ministries are vital to the health of the church, so resources to encourage and equip them are essential.  When Paul had his emotional meeting with the Ephesian elders in Miletus, he equipped and encouraged them when he said, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28 ESV).

You can check out more details, the full schedule, or register for the next Shepherds Network at Somerset Church of Christ’s website or at Harding School of Theology.