Churches That Abuse: Why Good People Do Bad Things and Why Bad People Do Bad Things Part 1

elmer gantry

Is Your Pastor an Elmer Gantry? Are You Sure? How Can You Know?

Churches attract all kinds of people with varying motivations for being a part of a particular religion. I spent fifty years in the Independent Baptist/Non-Denominational/Evangelical church. When it comes to other religions, I only know what I read in the media. The experiences and observations I share in this post come from the fifty years I spent in those churches, first as a parishioner, and later as a pastor. I spent twenty-five years in the pastorate, pastoring churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas.

While I am no longer a Christian or a pastor, I do keep myself informed about the Independent Baptist/Non-Denominational/Evangelical church. Just because I no longer believe doesn’t mean that my experiences and observations are now, suddenly, invalid or lack value. Some Christians try to marginalize or invalidate my writing by suggesting that since I am no longer a Christian, or may have never been a Christian (their view), my experiences and observations can safely be ignored or ridiculed. I will leave it to the readers of this blog to decide whether what I write has value. I suspect, knowing my readers as I do, that what follows will resonate with many of them,

The Christian church attracts people with ulterior motives. Generally, Christian people are very trusting. When someone gives a testimony of redemption, most Christians readily embrace the lost sheep that is now found. Tales of addictions, sexual immorality, prison, violence, and the like find a sympathetic ear with most Christians. The worse the sinner, the greater the testimony of God’s wonderful, saving grace.

There is no doubt that many sinful, fallen people have found deliverance through what they believe is the saving work of Jesus Christ. Many vile people now live productive, grace-filled lives as born again Christians. They are to be commended for the change that has taken place in their lives. While I no longer embrace the Christian church and its message of saving grace, I am quite ready to admit that religion transforms and changes multitudes of people.

Because Christian people are trusting and accept people at face value, they are an easy mark for people who have evil intentions. In among the sheep are criminals, thieves, child abusers, and sexual deviants, to name a few. These people make an outward show of Christianity, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves seeking sheep to devour. This is true not only in the local church, but also in Christian camps, group homes, and Christian schools.

Churches make it easy for deceivers to set up camp in their midst. The deceivers quickly embrace the church family, begin to regularly attend services, and even give money to the church. They are soon embraced as brother or sister. Before too long they are given access to places of responsibility within the church. They now have access to the treasures of the church (monetary, physical, spiritual).

Countless churches, after just a short time, readily appoint newcomers to positions of authority within the church. The reason for this is simple. Most churches need a steady supply of new workers. Sadly, many churches practice the four W’s: win them, wet them, work them, waste them. It is not uncommon for Baptist churches to turn over their membership every five or so years. It is just as common to find new church members quickly appointed as deacons, Sunday school teachers, junior church workers, youth workers, nursery workers, etc. Rarely is the past life of the new church member examined, either through an interview or background check. All that matters is that Jesus saved them.

What I have written above also applies to pastors. Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, I candidated at a number of churches. Not one church did a criminal background check. Several churches did check my references, but the references they checked were the references I gave them. Who would ever give a reference of a disgruntled church member or board member?  Every church I candidated at readily accepted the information on my résumé. I found every church to be trusting, and while this is a trait that should be commended, it is this same trait that often results in churches hiring men and women who are deceivers.

Bad people are those who become members of a church for ulterior reasons or those who are pastors with a secret past, who go from church to church preying on unsuspecting churches. Bad people do bad things to trusting children, teens, and adults. They physically and sexually abuse people. They scam people out of their money — sometimes their life savings. They wreak havoc wherever they go. After getting caught, they pack up their wares and go down the road to another church and set up shop. There is no shortage of supply of sincere, trusting, honorable church members.

There are some things that churches can (must) do to keep themselves from being easy marks:

  • Do not allow newcomers to become members of the church for at least one year. Do not allow them to hold any office of authority or responsibility. Time will likely expose them for what they really are.
  • Require federal and state criminal background checks on every person who will be in a place of authority or will have contact with children or teenagers. This must be a “no exceptions” policy. These background checks should be repeated annually.
  • Pastors should have an open-door policy.  Church members should be encouraged to share any concern they might have.
  • When someone reports abuse of any kind, an immediate investigation must be done. This investigation should be performed by someone outside of the church; someone who does not have a vested interest in the church.
  • ALL criminal activity should be reported to the police. ALL abuse should be immediately reported to the police or children services. In Ohio, people in places of authority are REQUIRED to report any abuse they are made aware of. They can be held criminally liable if they do not report it.
  • Churches should thoroughly investigate candidates for the pastorate. State and federal background checks should be done. References should be thoroughly checked. Phone calls should be made to the churches previously pastored. I would even go so far as to send people to the churches he previously pastored or is currently pastoring.
  • Candidates for a church’s open pastorate should be just as diligent,  Churches are notorious for hiding their dirty laundry. Why did the last pastor leave?  Churches, as a whole, can be just as abusive as a pastor or an individual church member.
  • Churches must be diligent in their investigation of new church members and prospective candidates for the pastorate. The unasked question is often the very thing that ends up biting the church in the ass. Personally, I would record all interviews, along with ANY meetings the church has. Recordings put an end to the he-said-she-said fights that are far too common in Christian churches.
  • Every church program or class should have a minimum of two workers who are not related. No person should be permitted to teach a class, work with the teenagers, or handle the nursery alone. If possible, every room should have a window in the door or hall wall. This allows people walking by to look in at any time.

Just because someone is a teenager or a pre-teen doesn’t mean he or she should be exempt from the things mentioned above. Many churches staff their nursery, junior church or vacation bible school with young people from the church (and sometimes from other churches). Churches assume that young people are safe. This assumption can prove to be deadly. Years ago, we had a teenager in our church who was a nice young man. Likeable. Easy going. Oh, and he spent two years in a juvenile detention center for sexual abuse.

The church attracts bad people who do bad things. Unless churches are diligent in protecting themselves, they will continue to be easy targets for abuse. The old adage is true: better safe than sorry. A genuine Christian will not be offended if the church is diligent in its protection of its children and teenagers.

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Series NavigationChurches That Abuse: Why Good People Do Bad Things and Why Bad People Do Bad Things Part 2 >>

7 Comments

  1. Monty

    Hmmmm….very interesting. The ROC had, and still has, people employed who should never be around people…. Period. One of them is in charge of finances and he treats people like shit. He admitted to me on several occasions that he hates people. The pastor loved him so….
    There is also the person in charge of the bus ministry there who is a horrible person. Very very legalistic and uncaring. Again, the pastor loved him so…
    Then there is the lady in charge of the women’s home called The House Of Mercy (Which many call The House Of NO Mercy). Very mean spirited and wonders why many don’t like her. Oddly her love interest was, and is, the person in charge of the finances. Again, the pastor loved her…and was screwing her daughter, who was his secretary (You’ll see her in the news in the upcoming trial)…this “lady” is also very close to the main financial provider for the ROC.
    Gawd what a mess!

    Reply
  2. Sandy

    The only people who object to background checks are those with something to hide. Also a Christian or otherwise honorable person who has skeletons to deal with would want to stay away from situations that “would rattle the bones”. For Josh, this means staying away all children and teens ministries and never be alone with any young person whatsoever. A truly honorable person is honest with his weaknesses and keeps away from situations that causes him to
    stumble and do harm.

    Reply
  3. Marlena

    These are very reasonable precautions. Background checks really are routine unless there is something to hide- every job since I got my undergrad degree has required a background check, and it was easy and quick to complete.

    Reply
  4. Brian

    All wise suggestions, Bruce… My only caveat is that you seem to presume. What is your basis for these suggested safeguards? Do you believe the overall church (I have to address this generally) is there to serve a congregation or to be served a congregation?
    It seems to me that the structure of the church in this world is set up to destroy human freedom, to enhance and support delusional thinking, to strip away human boundaries of decency and especially demean women and children. Do you wish to repair this body of beliefs?
    You laud those multitudes who have had their lives ‘transformed’… I just don’t see that anymore. A drug addict who can stop using hard drugs by replacing that harm with God, may be in a better place, I guess, that is, if the individual is not as actively harming themselves with delusion… The drug addict gives their life to dull the pain. The Christian can be doing the same. There are countless examples of bastards in any church but there are also people who seem decent and try their best to be honest and caring. It seems to be who they are…. Did the big ‘D’ Delusion do that or did they bring their own humanity into the hungry mouth of religion….

    Reply
  5. Angiep

    In our modern age, at the VERY least someone could Google candidates for pastoral or other authoritative positions. A monthly subscription to beenverified.com is also really cheap and reports anything in the public record that could be cause for disqualification for such a position. To not at least make such easy attempts is lazy.

    Reply
  6. Jody

    Hey Bruce. I have spent the better part of my afternoon reading some of your archives on this blog and I am thoroughly impressed by the information. And in some cases, outright shocked/disgusted by the behavior set forth by supposed “men of God.”
    I guess I am what you call a prodigal daughter in the church. I left because of a much milder experience in the IFB than what has been chronicled here and found my way back to church a few years ago in a more progressive, liberal church.
    It has always amazed me the power people give to a man. Reading about Jack Hyles has given me a fresh perspective on things. I have a lot to think about. While my church is pretty awesome and I have no intention of leaving, I feel like I have found a reason to understand why people do leave. Sometimes, they get hurt so bad they can’t come back.
    They say absolute power corrupts absolutely. What they usually fail to mention is that the power is freely given by those that the leader places under himself.
    So thanks for the hours of reading this blog has given me. Unlike a lot of Christians, I feel like I am willing to be open minded and see other perspectives for what they are.

    Reply
  7. deano

    This is the part of Christianity we should all detest, its the “elephant in the room”, it is a highly relevant topic, that everyone just wants to block out. The very thought of Pedophilia leaves many of us feeling sick to the core…….so we change the subject, or sidestep, or whatever to avoid the brutal reality and actual meaning of it.

    Bishop> “Oh…its only a few bad apples…” NO! ” One bad apple ROTS the whole barrel!!!!”

    Like Bruce has pointed out, many of us , just dont ask WHY? How can a man of god, preaching about sin,evil, and eternal damnation in Hell, then go and sodomize some poor young,innocent and vulnerable choirboy?
    Us non-christians soon realize that this preacher obviously doesnt believe in what he is pushing. He obviously has no regard or guilt of a divine judgement, or a purgatory where he should be sent, let alone a hell.
    In recent years, this is all being exposed. The cover-up is enormous, and INCLUDES govt judges . “SPOTLIGHT” gives a hint, and that is just the Boston area….it is GLOBAL, repeat, GLOBAL.
    Yes, many PROTESTant (Anglican/Evangelical/etc) are guilty, but the vast majority is CATHOLIC…..the church that gave us the Bible.
    Seeking answers, I asked “What is the Catholic Church take on it all?”
    I found a book, called “CELIBACY IN CRISIS”, written by a Catholic Priest/Pscyhe counsellor, that actuallly deals with these predators, when they are moved along from their church….either one to a different area(cover-up)…or give them some counselling in a “reclusive mental hospital”(Catholic run).
    Basically, he admits the Catholic church is full of homosexuals and Pedophiles. It is a male only organization, and this problem comes from the hierarchy. He tries to point the finger at “Celibate for the Kingdom”. The Celibacy, being the reason these priests never sexually mature……seek physical love from other members, or vulnerable choirboys, or gender identity problems admitted in the confession booth….many themselves victims when young.

    CELIBATE FOR THE KINGDOM ? My comment on Bruce’s “Why I Hate Jesus” article is what I have found out researching this topic with a rational,open, evidence seeking mind.
    In the words of Jesus “Accept this if you can”…….and the very next verse >”and Jesus lays his hands on the little children”…….Yes, people, its Biblical….

    Reply

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