Garth Stapley, a reporter for the Modesto Bee, details the story of Jennifer (Graves) Roach’s sexual abuse in the 1980s at the hands of Brad Tebbutt, youth pastor at First Baptist Church in Modesto, California. (The church is now called Crosspoint Community Church) Tebbutt was never charged for his crimes, and he is still actively involved in the ministry today at Mike Bickle’s International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Missouri.
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The 27-year-old married youth pastor in Modesto consoled the troubled girl, whose father had just died. Eventually, he kissed her. Then he fondled her.
She was 14.
Over the next 2 1/2 years, Brad Tebbutt sexually abused Jennifer Graves in his office at First Baptist Church, a prominent Modesto congregation, and in his car. After school, before his wife returned from work, he would have sex with her in his home, she said.
At the end of her junior year at Beyer High School, in 1988, Tebbutt and his wife moved away. A recent publication boasts of his 30-year career as a youth pastor, and he now works in a seniors ministry for the International House of Prayer of Kansas City.
How Tebbutt kept his jobs at churches and religious schools, in Oregon and Missouri, is unknown. Interview requests submitted to several known employers and former employers mostly have gone unanswered.
It’s clear that soon after the abuse ended, First Baptist leaders knew.
A few months after Tebbutt left town, the girl confided in another youth pastor, who told then-high school pastor Marvin Jacobo, who has led a long and distinguished ministry both at the church and at a respected religious nonprofit group in Modesto.
Jacobo recently confirmed that he had called Tebbutt after the girl came forward all those years ago, and said Tebbutt confessed to him. Jacobo then contacted Tebbutt’s wife and his boss at the time, he said.
Tebbutt refused multiple interview requests made via telephone and email, and Jacobo would respond only in writing, sidestepping some questions.
The current lead pastor at First Baptist – which changed to CrossPoint Community Church in 2010 – arrived long after church leaders were rocked in private by this sex scandal, as well as two others where adult volunteers molested several boys, in the 1980s.
Enough boys shared their stories with authorities to convict the two men, although a delay in reporting allowed one to prey on more boys at another church down the road, court documents say.
But Tebbutt’s victim – still a teenager, when she finally came forward – was told to forgive and forget.
Church leaders never informed her mother. They never went to police. They termed it an affair, she said.
“They gave me specific directions to never speak of the events to anyone, because it would damage the reputation of the church, and of Jesus himself,” she said. “The abuse was swept under the rug.”
Two friends from those days who also attended First Baptist, Deborah Jules Vilmur and Jennifer Vanderpol Tracz, recently confirmed that she had confided in them about the abuse not long after it happened.
Jennifer Graves Roach turned 47 on Feb. 25. She lives in the Seattle area with her husband and teenage son. Since those days in Modesto, Roach has been ordained in the Anglican Church, she’s earned college degrees and she now counsels sexual abuse victims, among other clients, in a religious therapy group near her home.
And she’s become a silence breaker.
In the late 1970s and early ’80s, First Baptist Church was “my whole world, in a lot of ways,” recalled Roach, who attended Sunday services, midweek youth activities and summer camp. “I loved it. It was a second family to me.”
When her father died in a car accident, her mother had trouble coping with three teen children. Roach often was depressed as well, she said, and thought about harming herself. She brightened when the youth pastor in charge of Beyer High paid her attention. She thought her prayers had been answered when Tebbutt and his wife invited her to stay in their apartment, at first overnight, then indefinitely.
“They saved me from a difficult situation at home,” Roach said. “There was lots of affirmation; ‘You’re a special case,’ he would tell me. ‘You’re the prettiest, the smartest, the funniest’ – things you would tell someone to get them to trust you. I absolutely was groomed for abuse.”
Sexual encounters went on for 2 1/2 years, she said. “He became my entire emotional support, and I was this vulnerable, depressed, anxious girl who had just lost her dad and couldn’t get along with her mom and had no other options. At that age, I didn’t feel I had other choices, and he took advantage of that.”
Roach wondered why she didn’t become pregnant. After marrying, she didn’t conceive for five years. “Fertility doesn’t come easy to me,” she said.
When Tebbutt left town, she remained silent for six months. Reading Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” in her senior year at Beyer, a dark work about terrible secrets, prompted her to confide in another youth pastor during a youth activity at the former Roller King.
“I knew she was sad a lot. I could tell she was carrying something heavy. So I just asked her what was going on,” said Scott Mills. “I imagine she was at the point of having to tell somebody or implode. You have to get that out somehow.”
Mills later started and pastored his own church in Modesto, Three Rivers Christian Fellowship, for 14 years before leaving in 2013 for a career in marketing.
“Knowing what I do about life and kids and parents and peer influence and hurt and pain and damage, it grieves me greatly,” Mills said. “Not only what happened to her, but that she didn’t feel she had the support she needed. Looking back, I’m pained by the lack of appropriate response.”
“They completely and entirely mishandled the situation,” Roach said. “At first, they didn’t believe me. At subsequent meetings they kept asking me if I wanted to take my story back. They asked if I was just doing this for attention.
“At one point they put me in a room with four or five adult men and they asked me to describe with specific words what had happened. And I was a 17-year-old girl.
“They failed to tell my mom. I was a minor and they kept it from my family. They should have reported it to police and they didn’t. They told me never to speak about this again.”
A year before Tebbutt left Modesto, Bob Chapman, then 53, pleaded guilty to molesting 13-year-old boys he met at First Baptist.
Chapman, a church organist, was entrusted to hold meetings of groups of boys in his Modesto home, said one of them, Larry Spencer. One time, Chapman hosted a sleepover. The evening discussion was about puberty and masturbation, Spencer said. Then they watched movies and drifted off to sleep.
“I woke up in the middle of the night with him (Chapman) touching me,” Spencer said. “I freaked out. I didn’t know if I should tell anybody, so of course I didn’t. I really can’t tell you why, if it was out of shame or something. How do you tell somebody, ‘Hey, this guy was touching me’?”
Chapman and his family were good friends with and lived close to Spencer’s foster family, he said. Chapman continued molesting him, in the car while giving him rides home from church, and in the swimming pool during youth activities, Spencer said. In all, he was abused maybe 10 times over a couple of years, he said.
One day, Spencer was in the attic installing the top end of a ceiling fan. He peered through the ceiling hole into a room and saw Chapman grab another boy, he said.
“I said, ‘Enough’s enough. This guy’s going to screw somebody else up,’” Spencer said, and the story came out. His foster parents were “mad as hell at me, for exposing it and bringing them some sort of shame,” he said.
“I was not very happy with First Baptist, either,” Spencer said. “They kind of pushed me aside as well. I had been extremely involved, at every activity. After I talked about Bob, I was kind of an outcast.”
Boys in the group were questioned, and Chapman was charged in Stanislaus County Superior Court with abusing Spencer and two others. “We were all saying, ‘Fry him; give him as much time as you can,’” Spencer said. A negotiated deal ended with Chapman pleading guilty to two counts of child molestation in return for a 300-day term in County Jail.
About the time of Chapman’s conviction, George Austin, a retired California Highway Patrol officer and Sunday School teacher at First Baptist, was molesting boys as well. Court documents indicate that someone got the idea something was going on.
“When (Austin) became suspected of molest at the First Baptist Church and was sent on his way, he then went to the Orangeburg Baptist Church, where he was a youth leader and where he then molested” two brothers multiple times, said then-prosecutor John Goulart, according to a court transcript. The brothers were 7 and 11, a charging document said.
Goulart, now on Modesto City Hall’s legal team, doesn’t remember specifics. “Most likely, it would have been the parents of victims who would have told me that the First Baptist Church discovered the molests, (dismissed) Austin and allowed him to move on to another church where he was in a position to commit more molests,” Goulart said in a recent email.
Austin had taken boys on trips to his former patrol office, to Santa Cruz, to Great America, and camping in the mountains. “These boys were looking up to this man as a father figure, a youth leader, a retired CHP officer, someone they trusted,” Goulart said in the transcript. “He put himself in a position where he could molest the boys.”
Court documents suggest Austin had about 10 victims in all. One spoke when he was sentenced for 12 counts of child molestation, including oral copulation.
“It’s a lot to live with, knowing you’re molested,” the young man said, according to a transcript. “It’s a hell of a lot. He was like a father figure to me. For a long time there I called him ‘Dad,’ even though he was molesting me. He was still the only father figure I ever had in my life.
“He left a very damaging scar. I just wanted to say that I feel he has damaged all of our lives, and I trust you to decide. Amen.”
The judge gave Austin a 28-year sentence. Now 80, he lives in a care home for the elderly in Modesto.
In his recent letter to The Bee, Jacobo, now executive director of City Ministry Network in Modesto, said he didn’t go to Modesto police about Tebbutt 30 years ago because Roach “did not want to press charges. We wanted to honor her wishes in that and begin her process of healing.”
Like teachers, child care workers and others, clergy are mandated reporters, required to tell law enforcement when they come across or suspect abuse. But clergy weren’t added to the list of occupations, now 46 long, until 1997, eight years after Roach exposed Tebbutt to church leaders.
At the time, Roach accepted Tebbutt’s “direct apology,” Jacobo said, and “seemed satisfied with the process and the results. I feel like we did everything we knew to do in addressing it. If she now feels this was insufficient, then we sincerely apologize.”
Roach called that “a ‘sorry-she-got-her-feelings-hurt’ apology.”
It’s true that church leaders scripted an arranged meeting a few years after the abuse ended, where Tebbutt said he was sorry and she was pressured to accept the apology, she said.
The fallout for Tebbutt, if any, is unclear.
“There were no allegations of sexual misconduct against Brad that we were aware of at the time he was hired,” said Randy Shaw, field director with the Christian and Missionary Alliance Northwest in Oregon, where Tebbutt worked from 1999 to 2004.
At some point, Tebbutt went through an “18-month repentance and restoration process” with a psychologist, according to a note recently sent to Roach from his church in Missouri, Forerunner Christian Fellowship. He “continues to express deep sadness and sorrow over his actions,” wrote Dale Anderson, the church’s director of pastoral support.
Tebbutt’s other known employers over the years, having been informed of Roach’s story, failed to respond to multiple requests for information. They include Horizon Community Church and Horizon Christian School, near Portland, where he was a chaplain and teacher, and the International House of Prayer of Kansas City, where Tebbutt now works; a spokesman referred The Bee’s sister company, The Kansas City Star, to IHOPKC’s media policy, which reads: “We will not give out sensitive information.”
A few months ago, the publishing arm of MorningStar Ministries released a DVD of a conference featuring several presenters, including Tebbutt, called “Motivated by Love.” The company’s founder and executive director, Rick Joyner, declined to comment.
Tebbutt’s latest position is director of the Simeon Internship, a three-month training program for people 50 and older at the International House of Prayer of Kansas City. Multiple calls to his office went unanswered; in an email, Tebbutt asked if he should submit a statement, then went silent for three weeks.
Tebbutt did reach out to Roach in 2005 with a lengthy letter, apparently as an exercise in repentance; it arrived in an envelope bearing the name of a Christian therapy group in Oregon. The Bee obtained a copy.
“Let me state clearly that regardless of how this has been treated in the past, I understand that I sexually abused you,” one part reads. “There are hurts that you should have never experienced, and they were not yours to own. I grieve over this.”
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