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Black Collar Crime: So Many Crimes, So Little Time Issue


The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Daycare Director Allegedly Beats Child With Paint Stirrer

Shannon Jacobs, daycare director for Trinity Freewill Baptist Church and School in Greenville, North Carolina stands accused of beating a child with a paint stirrer. The school released the following statement:

As a ministry, when an allegation is made against an employee, our organization immediately removes that individual from any contact with children pending the outcome of the criminal matter, and we fully cooperate with parents, state officials, and law enforcement. We believe that if children are safe anywhere, they should be safe at church. As a matter of policy, Trinity reports all suspicions of potential child abuse to the authorities. We carefully interview and screen our employees and volunteers, and our leadership team works to maintain child protection policies based on best practices nationally and North Carolina State law. We believe that transparency, child safety, and accountability are essential for successful ministry, and we are fully committed to ministering to our students in a safe and responsible manner. As this matter involves the staff member administering a spanking, upon the advice of legal counsel and after prayerful deliberation, the Pastor and Deacon Board have decided to immediately discontinue any corporal discipline at the school and rely on other disciplinary measures for the students. Please understand that we have asked our staff to not discuss this matter while it is pending before the courts. This is our official statement.

Gary Bradley Allegedly Stole $20,000 From Mayfair Church of Christ’s Sunday Collections

Gary “Tripp” Bradley stands accused of stealing $20,000 from Mayfair Church of Christ in Huntsville, Alabama. Bradley is the grandson of a man who pastored Mayfair Church for more than thirty years.

Youth Pastor’s Computers Seized in Search for Child Pornography

An unnamed youth director in Prague, Oklahoma had his computers seized by Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agents as part of a child pornography investigation. At this time, no charges have been filed.

First Baptist Church in Modesto, California Has a Sexual Abuse Problem

In February 2018, The Modesto Bee released a scathing report about pastor Brad Tebbutt sexually abusing several church teens in the 1980s. Last Saturday, The Bee published a story about megachurch (Highlands Church, Scottsdale, Arizona) pastor Les Hughey admitting he had sex with church teenagers in the 1970s. Both Tebbutt and Hughey were youth pastors at First Baptist Church (now CrossPoint Community Church) when they committed their crimes.

Hughey released the following statement:

Over 40 years ago, as a church intern in California, I sinned and harmed the most important relationships in my life. I was unfaithful to my God, my wife, and the ministry, and was rightly removed from that church. I engaged in consensual relations with fellow college-aged staff. With God’s help, my wife’s forgiveness, and discipline and counseling from church authority, I sincerely repented and we put our lives back in order. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to undo what happened, so I instead accept and live with the consequences, even now so many years later. My family and the authority over me at my church are aware of this history. I thank God for his forgiveness and grace.

Garth Stapley, a reporter for The Modesto Bee, writes:

Hughey’s statement to The Bee characterizes his infidelity as “consensual relations with fellow college-aged staff.”

They clearly were victims, two of the girls, now in their 50s, told The Bee.

“I was a good little girl and he was a powerful youth pastor,” said Tracy Epler, whose maiden name was Looney. “I knew I had to comply. And I knew it was wrong and I felt terrible but I didn’t know what to do about it.”

Epler, 59, now lives in San Luis Obispo County. Back then, she was a 17-year-old virgin, “very timid, quiet, very submissive,” she said, when Hughey, 23 and married two years, first had sexual relations with her. She felt alone, frightened and confused, and was terrified that anyone would find out, especially her parents, she said. “I was in an emotional prison that I didn’t know how to get out of,” she said.

“I always cried after (sex),” Epler said. “I cried afterwards in the bathroom because I’m cleaning myself and I don’t know what it is. (Crying) was my only release of being scared and sad and not knowing what was happening or why, and knowing it was terribly wrong. There was a huge sense of shame and guilt.”

Four women described Hughey as a handsome, charismatic young man in his mid-20s who made girls go weak in the knees and wowed huge worship crowds as he sang and played guitar. Ceres High School students felt particularly lucky that Hughey was in charge of activities at their campus, said Epler and Jane Berryhill, who ran programs with Hughey as Ceres High co-coordinator for First Baptist.

The four women, interviewed separately, all said Hughey and his wife would host youth staff meetings in their Modesto home to plan activities. As attendees left, his wife would go to bed and Hughey would encourage shoulder rubs with a remaining girl, all said.

“It was very subtle. It would become full back rubs, then closer to private parts,” said Berryhill, 62.

She would not let him fondle her, she said.

“The sexual involvement was a means to an end,” said another woman, now 59. “It was something I felt like I had to do to have (alone) time with him. I remember feeling used and guilty.”

She asked to remain anonymous because “I made peace with this long ago,” but granted a lengthy interview to corroborate the pattern cited by other victims.

A fourth woman said she engaged in full-body massages and was “ashamed and embarrassed” even though Hughey didn’t have sex with her. “The bulk of the responsibility falls on Les,” said the woman, asking not to be named. “He used his position and power to manipulate the vulnerable. I was a naive kid and he was a narcissistic ass.”

Epler said sex with Hughey went on about monthly for two years, until she was 19 and studying at Modesto Junior College. She often wished it would end, she said.

“I didn’t want to come over, but he would always say, ‘I won’t hurt you, I promise; let’s just talk,’ and I fell for that every time. It was about obedience and submissiveness. You had to. It was being obedient to God.”


Bill Hybels, Pastor of Willow Creek Church, Faces New Accusations of Sexual Misconduct

Bill Hybels, who recently resigned as pastor of Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, Illinois, faces new allegations of sexual misconduct. Willow Creek’s board released the following statement:

Dear Willow Family,

We have been diligently praying and processing how to best respond to recent events. Last night, we had another productive and encouraging Elder Meeting. We are unified and seeking God’s direction on next steps, and we felt it was important to communicate with you.

This has been such a difficult time. Our church has been facing one of the most challenging seasons in our history. In the midst of this time, you have been responding with love, grace, and an openness to engage in dialogue. We are so proud of you. You are living the Gospel. We are also especially proud of the staff. Not only have you gracefully demonstrated strength, you have also joyfully assumed additional responsibilities due to an accelerated transition of leadership.

Over the last several weeks, we have been in a process of deep learning, seeking clarity, and building a path toward reconciliation. Even though Bill is no longer in his role, our work to resolve any shadow of doubt in the trustworthiness of Willow Creek Community Church and its Elders is not done.

With the benefit of hindsight, we see several aspects of our past work that we would have handled differently, and we have identified several areas of learning. Moving forward, we have a renewed commitment to engaging well, listening deeply, and further developing a culture of transparency and accountability.

As a board, we unanimously agree there are several areas where we could have served you better:

We have at times communicated without a posture of deep listening and understanding. We are sorry that at times our process appeared to diminish the deep compassion we have for all those involved in these matters. We will do better in the future.

Bill acknowledged that he placed himself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid. We agree, and now recognize that we didn’t hold him accountable to specific boundaries. We commit to strengthening the relationship of accountability with our church leaders in the future.

In hindsight, we wish we would have worked harder to collaborate with all parties that were impacted to bring clarity and reconciliation when accusations were first made. While attempts were made, we could have done more.

Additionally, we recognize that our board structure sometimes causes us to be slow in decision making. Our mandate as an elder board is to speak with a unified voice. Accordingly, we are not at liberty to release information publicly until we have everyone’s consent. As we continue to navigate this season, we are committed to providing regular updates to you that are transparent and informative.

Our desire is to serve you in the highest degree and humbly ask for your grace, patience, feedback, and prayer.

In the next 45 days we will intentionally pursue the following next steps:

We will fully support the new leadership team. We have great confidence in Heather and Steve and will further develop relationships with both leaders allowing for greater connectivity, transparency, and accountability.

We will examine allegations against Bill that have not been previously investigated by the Elder Board. We will respectfully reach out to each woman who has made an accusation, even if she has not brought her concerns directly to the Board. We commit that each woman willing to speak with us will be heard, and that we will respect her story. We commit that making steps toward understanding and toward restoring relationship will be our primary goals. We will seek wise counsel and work with experts, developing a collaborative process. We are identifying ways to ensure a safe environment for constructive dialogue tailored to each individual.

We will continue to methodically examine our church culture, enhancing policies and informal practices that support healthy and valuable working relationships between men and women. We will also examine our policies about how concerns are raised about senior leaders and make any necessary improvements.

We will review and modify Willow email retention policies to reflect the best practices of organizations that deal with sensitive data.

We will ensure that the Elders will be more available in person to answer questions and we commit to communicate as needed with the church.

We will walk alongside Bill in stewarding his season of reflection well and are committed to working together on appropriate next steps with him.

Finally, we commit to pray fervently for all involved. We humbly ask for your prayer and your grace as we move forward.

With you, we will continue to be focused on the mission of this church. We will continue to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength and mind.

Youth Pastor Ronald Starkey Found Guilty of Sexual Assault

Ronald Starkey, youth pastor at Perrin Baptist Church, was found guilty of sexually assaulting his then three-year-old adopted daughter. Starkey’s attorney asked for probation, but the court sentenced him, instead, to fifty years in prison.

Catholic Priest Kevin Wallin Sentenced to Sixty-Five Months for Drug Dealing

CT Post story

Baptist Pastor Joseph Marshall Charged With Assaulting a Police Officer

WEAR-TV report

Toledo Pastor and Family Found Guilty of Misdemeanors in Assault of Sunday School Teacher

Toledo Blade report

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar

    Wow! Thanks for the digging you do.

    Bruce, in looking at the transgressions listed above I have a hypothesis. Perhaps repressing and forcing sexuality into predetermined moulds isn’t the best way to control bad behavior. Based on current results perhaps new behaviors should be adopted.

    Ok – I’m giggling here because I know evangelicals believe their holy book cannot fail no matter what evidence exists to the contrary.

  2. Avatar

    Jeez, the same old, same old… In 1991, I had kids in a fundie baptist daycare cuz it seemed the daycate staff truly cared about them. One day, I was called into the pastors office cuz my then 3 year old didn’t want to listen to the pastor’s “message” to the daycare class. Jesus on a cracker! Who preaches to 3 yr olds? I had no idea he was even visiting the daycare! They wanted to paddle her for willful disobedience. I said, you lay a finger on her and I will sue you here until doomsday. They backed off and apologised until a few months later I was present for a cute Thanksgiving daycare play where afterwards the pastor preached a lake of fire sermon to us parents with the kids sitting captive on the stage behind him. Assholes.

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