Have you noticed that when many big-name, megachurch pastors and not-so-big name pastors get themselves in trouble that they often resign, disappear for a while, and then show up in a new town, claiming that “God” is leading them to start a new church? Or sometimes, they squirrel themselves away for a year or so, and then the next thing you read is that they are the new pastor of such-and-such church. No matter what the crime or misbehavior, “fallen” pastors almost always find a path back to the ministry.
The main reason, of course, is that these men tend to be charismatic, winsome leaders who easily attract followers, followers who are willing to let the past be the past, followers who are willing to grant them redemption and forgiveness, followers who are far more interested in the “man” than they are his behavior. (Please see The Evangelical Cult of Personality.) Big-name preachers, in particular, become demigods. People flock to them, hanging on every word, regardless of who they might have had an affair with or sexually molested in the past. Sadly, way too many Evangelicals are stupid and gullible, willing to sacrifice reason and moral decency for the attention of a soiled big-name preacher.
In virtually every other setting, you commit a crime or have an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate, and your career is over. Not so for “fallen” Evangelical preachers. No matter what a preacher does, there is nothing that stands in his way if he wants to go to a new city and start a church. The Internet has changed this dynamic somewhat, but before the Internet, it wasn’t uncommon to hear of preachers who “fell” (or ran) into sin, resigned, and then moved a few thousand miles away to start a new church. (Please see How to Start an Independent Baptist Church.) Anyone can start a new church. If I were so inclined, I could start a new church by Sunday. Why, if all my children and their spouses and my grandchildren showed up, I would have more than twenty-five people in attendance for the first service at First Church of Bruce Almighty. By default, First Church would be tax-exempt, and attendance-wise would be larger than several “real” churches nearby. There’s no secular or religious authority that could stop me from doing so. That’s the beauty (and the danger) of the separation of church and state. Pastor so-and-so can fuck his way through the congregation, get caught and resign, and then pack up, move five states away, and start a new church. Felon Jack Schaap, the disgraced pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, will be out of federal prison in a couple of years. Does anyone doubt that once out of jail, Schaap will try to return to the ministry? Remember all the bad shit Jim Bakker did? After he got out of prison, he wrote a book titled, I Was Wrong. Not too wrong, however. Bakker is back on TV, preaching the “gospel” and fleecing anyone and everyone who comes his way. Ted Haggard? Jimmy Swaggart? Perry Noble? Mark Driscoll? The list goes on and on. All of these men made a mockery of their calling, and in some instances committed crimes. Yet, today all of them are still in the ministry. Granted, they haven’t reached the levels of notoriety they once had, but thousands of people have flocked to their new churches, seemingly oblivious to their past sins, “indiscretions,” failures, and crimes.
Why don’t these “fallen” preachers move on to other jobs or careers? Why do they return to the ministry, drawn to it like a moth to the light? With few exceptions, every disgraced preacher I know later reentered the ministry. Sure, some of them labor in obscurity, often doing little more than preaching at nursing homes or jails. However, most of them find a path back to the ministry, often in the same capacity as before. Yesterday, I posted a story about Pastor Donald Foose. Foose confessed to and was convicted of sexually molesting a teenage girl. After serving nine months of a two-year prison sentence, Foose moved down the road to a new church. After several years at this church, he became its pastor. The former pastor and other church leaders knew about Foose’s criminal past, yet they uncritically believed him when he said, “I didn’t do it.” Worse yet, several men who should have been some sort of check and balance chose, instead, to give Foose a pass, believing that everyone deserves redemption and a new start. I wonder if these men would be as understanding if it were their daughters whom Foose sexually assaulted? I doubt it.
Why can’t these preachers move on to new jobs, employment that’s not connected to their religious past? One pastor I know quite well had an affair with his secretary. While there were extenuating circumstances — his wife was a lesbian who hadn’t had sex with him in 20 years — he left the ministry and started working a secular job. He never pastored a church again. Why is it so many disgraced pastors don’t do the same? Oh, they will get a secular job for a year or two until the heat dies down and people move on, but more often than not, back to the ministry they go.
I am convinced that many of these men are addicted to the ministry. They spent years being the center of attention. People looked up to them, fawned over them, and treated them as if they were gods. I left the ministry in 2005. I miss the constant adulation and praise of others. I miss being the hub around which everything turned. I miss having the respect of others. I miss, to put it bluntly, being DA MAN! Pastors who read this blog know what I am talking about. The close connection preachers have with congregants is fulfilling and satisfying. It is almost impossible to find similar feelings in the “world.” Much like drug addicts craving hits of methamphetamine, preachers crave the attention, flattery, and admiration they received from congregants. Live off this high long enough, and you can’t imagine not having it. That’s why many pastors with crimes/indiscretions in their pasts end up rebooting their ministries somewhere else. These “men of God” are much like King David as he looked over the rooftops and saw Bathsheba naked, taking a bath. “I have got to have her,” David thought. And have her, he did. So it is with the preachers I have talked about in this post. Their Bathsheba is the ministry.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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In 2000, Donald Foose, a principal of a Christian school, was convicted of sexually molesting a teenage girl. He was sentenced to two years in prison. USA Today reports:
The court records from Foose’s criminal case, obtained by USA TODAY, detail the sexual abuse that led to his conviction and the loss of his teaching license. Foose’s accuser, who is now an adult, did not respond to interview requests for this story.
In 1999, according to the records, she told Pennsylvania state police that Foose had repeatedly fondled her breasts, often over her clothing and twice underneath them. She said he once told her he wanted to see “what you got,” before groping beneath her shirt. Foose had once rubbed his genitals against hers when they were both fully clothed, she also told the police. When he asked to see her breasts, she refused.
A state trooper documented Foose’s limited response: Whatever his accuser alleged was true, he said. “He advised that he did put his hand under her clothing touching her breast,” the trooper wrote.
Police charged Foose with corruption of minors and indecent assault, both misdemeanors. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced in March 2000 to a maximum of two years in county prison and sex offender counseling. He served nine months and was released in December of that year on parole. He has no other known convictions.
Conrad, the head pastor whose father had preached at Oakwood for three decades before him, was initially unaware that Foose had been a longtime minister and a principal about 15 miles away at Harrisburg Christian School. When Conrad learned that he had a fellow preacher in his congregation, he wondered whether God had given Oakwood a gift. So in 2006, he asked Foose to join him in ministry.
Conrad, in an interview, said Foose paused at the suggestion.
“He said, ‘I have something in my past. I can’t pass a background check,’” Conrad recalled.
Foose told him that he had been falsely accused of molesting a teenage girl but decided he would not fight the charges to spare his family the pain of a trial, Conrad said.
In the letter he wrote after leaving Oakwood, Conrad said Foose’s secret had been shared under pastor-member confidentiality, so he did not tell the congregation before it voted to approve Foose’s move to leadership. The two men also had agreed, he said, that Foose would not become involved with Oakwood’s school.
Foose resigned from Oakwood in May 2018. Soon after, the beloved pastor who had left Oakwood months before, Bob Conrad, acknowledged in a five-page letter to his former church that he and other leaders had known Foose could not pass a background check. Foose claimed to have been falsely accused, Conrad wrote, and church leaders took him at his word, failing to prevent him from having access to children even as school employees complained about his overly familiar behavior with the students.
“I pray,” Conrad wrote, “that you will find it in your hearts to forgive me for my lack in leadership and judgment.”
On Foose’s final Sunday at Oakwood, he confessed to his congregation: He had been accused of abuse by a teenage girl, convicted and jailed. He told them he had touched her inappropriately above the waist, according to several people in attendance who added that they were left with the impression it had been a single incident.
After Conrad left the church, Foose became its pastor. Conrad, along with other leaders in the church knew about Foose’s past crime and conviction, but kept silent. Foose said he was innocent, so he must have been, right? As far as Conrad’s plea for forgiveness, I hope the folks at Oakwood Baptist will tell him to fuck off. I also hope the church has, by now, excommunicated every church leader who knew about Foose’s past and did nothing about it. Such cowardly behavior is inexcusable.
Days later, Conrad sent his letter to Oakwood’s board of deacons, unburdening himself with the same words: please forgive me, I need to ask for forgiveness, I pray that you will find it in your hearts to forgive me.
The letter’s contents were explosive. Staff at the school had complained about Foose, a red flag every few weeks during one period, Conrad wrote. Foose hugged the children during class time, especially the little girls, and let them climb on his lap; pushed them on the swings by their bottoms, not the metal chains or their backs; and lifted kids onto his knee so their legs straddled his.
Conrad wrote that he warned Foose to keep his distance but didn’t share the complaints with the board of deacons, thinking he could manage on his own.
He wrote that Foose had pushed two women – a cook, and the school’s director – out of jobs at the school after they complained about his behavior. The director had grown so concerned that she had Foose work in a classroom where she could keep an eye on him, according to Conrad.
Conrad mentioned a third woman who worked at the school as a classroom aide. Her parents complained to the church about Foose’s behavior with their daughter, who has an intellectual disability. Conrad wrote that it was a “common occurrence for (Foose) to hug her in the pastor office while no one else was there” and that Foose once hugged her from behind and rested his head on her shoulder.
Conrad wrote that he had also seen Foose hug her.
In an interview, Conrad said Karlsen and Foose had by that time largely taken over leadership of the church, overruling him on his concerns. He said he argued that the congregation should be told about the parents’ complaint. Instead, he said, at a meeting with Conrad, Foose, Karlsen, and the woman’s father, the situation was explained as a misunderstanding and smoothed over.
Karlsen, in an email, denied that Foose ever hugged the woman. He said he spoke to the parents because Conrad “could not handle confrontation.”
Conrad wrote that by 2017, he had come to recognize that what was happening at Oakwood was wrong. But the other leaders, he said, took Foose’s side. Conrad said he was called a bully, forced to take a sabbatical from preaching and ordered to seek counseling. Matthew 18, the scripture that prescribes how to reconcile with someone who has wronged you, was pushed in his face. But he saw no path to making peace.
So Conrad left, only revealing the truth behind his decision in a letter months later.
“It was hard to write,” Conrad said, after sliding into the booth at a pizza shop near his new church in Harrisburg. “I was hoping that if I said, ‘These are things that I did wrong,’ other people would. But that never happened.”
Still think Donald Foose is an innocent man? I suspect there are still people at Oakwood Baptist who think Foose is just a good man wrongly accused (and convicted) of criminal and inappropriate behavior. These kinds of stories sicken me. Here’s a sex offender hiding in plain sight, but because he looks and acts like a “nice” Christian man who really, really, really loves Jesus, the church ignores not only his criminal past but also current allegations of inappropriate behavior.
The same month that Higgins closed his investigation, Foose preached in front of the congregation at Carlisle Baptist Church, not 20 miles from Oakwood. Megan posted about her concerns on Facebook and heard from a mother at Carlisle who confirmed the congregation was unaware of Foose’s record before he took the pulpit.
The mother, Mary Weigel, said the senior pastor at Carlisle later told her that he had known about Foose’s conviction when he invited him to fill in that Sunday but did not think he posed a danger. Weigel has since left the church.
“I’m angry. I’m so angry,” Weigel said. “That puts my children in a position of trusting someone that could potentially groom them and hurt them. And I would have never guessed. I would have never known.”
Ed Roman, Carlisle Baptist Church’s senior pastor, said he let Foose preach because he believes in redemption. “But we also take seriously our responsibility to protect our children and our families,” he said. “So over the years Carlisle Baptist has been very diligent in implementing safeguards that protect families and children so they can worship safely.”
“I wish I would have handled things better,” Roman added. “I did not fully consider how it would affect other people. I didn’t.”
In September, Foose preached again, in Virginia, according to a video briefly posted on the Facebook page of Fredericksburg International Christian Church. The pastor there said he was unaware of Foose’s record when he invited him to the pulpit.
I love Pastor Roman’s statement that he and his church take the protection of families and children seriously. Yet, the good pastor allowed to Foose to preach for him? Why? Because Roman believes in “redemption.”
Worse yet, both the Oakwood and Carlisle churches are part of the same Southern Baptist Association. Its director, Larry Theisen, knew of Foose’s past sex crime conviction and the allegations of inappropriate behavior. Instead of protecting the members of the Oakwood and Carlisle churches, Theisen took the “neutral” route and remained silent. USA Today reports:
The fact that Foose preached at Carlisle Baptist was all the more stunning to the Benningers because the congregation is a member of the Keystone Baptist Association, a network of central Pennsylvania churches that includes Oakwood. Larry Theisen, then the association’s director of missions, knew that Foose’s secret had torn Oakwood apart because he had served as interim pastor after the last of Oakwood’s leaders resigned.
Theisen retired in December after 24 years in the job. Before leaving, he served on a national committee for SBC association leaders that drafted guidelines for preventing sexual abuse of minors in the church.
In an interview, Theisen said he tried to remain neutral at Oakwood but that it was a challenge because Foose is a friend.
Theisen said he learned of Foose’s conviction about 10 years ago from one of Oakwood’s pastors and did not ask for more details beyond what Foose later told him – that he had inappropriately touched a teen girl above the waist. Theisen said he has never been interested in reading through the court records to fully understand what had occurred.
“Everything that goes into our mind affects our mind. … I don’t like to fill my mind with things that are unnecessary,” Theisen said.
Theisen said it wasn’t his place to question Oakwood’s decision to make Foose pastor, because of the autonomy of Southern Baptist churches. He equated it to a congregation deciding whether to accept as pastor a man who had been divorced.
“I’ve had, oh, just about everything you can name over the 45 years of ministry I’ve had to deal with,” he said. “And so my question would simply be, is this a sin that’s basically a Scarlet Letter that they would never find redemption in?”
Foose and Theisen were “friends,” so Theisen kept his mouth shut. Theisen nauseatingly justifies Foose’s crime when he says, “And so my question would simply be, is this a sin that’s basically a Scarlet Letter that they would never find redemption in?” Sorry, Pastor Theisen, but people who molest children — and do you really think Foose was one and done? — should never, ever be given access to children. And they sure as hell shouldn’t be pastors or guest preachers. Come on, man, most of the atheists I know have better morals and ethics than the justifiers of Foose’s behavior.
Please take the time to read the entire USA Today story. Its description of Foose’s preaching is that of a man with something to hide.
Pastor Donald R. Foose was born in Harrisburg, PA. His hometown is Marysville, Perry County, Pennsylvania. He is the third oldest of eight children. He was greatly influenced by godly grandparents who lived in the house next door and was always seen travelling with and helping his grandfather. Pastor Don was made alive in Christ at the age of eight when God called him by grace and granted him repentance and faith while attending a summer church camp. God has been faithful in preparing and sustaining him for service in his Kingdom and Church since 1958. He was given a strong Christian foundation by his family and church.
By God’s grace, Pastor Don has been used in starting and leading Christian schools as well as serving as pastor in several churches in Ohio and Pennsylvania. His education includes a B. S. in Education from Shippensburg University, a Masters in Christian Education from Pensacola Christian College, and pastoral studies from Harrisburg School of the Bible.
Pastor Don has served in ministry for over 40 years. God has been gracious in counting him faithful to proclaim His marvelous grace. His passion is to preach and teach the word of God so that the church will grow in love, knowledge, and service of God, while at the same time grow in love for others. Pastor Don’s goal is to glorify God in all things at Oakwood Baptist Church. He shares preaching time with the other pastors/elders of Oakwood. He also teaches small group Bible studies in the homes of church members. Pastor Don is also active in training pastors and church leaders in Ecuador, the Philippines, and in sister churches in the Keystone Baptist Association. He is chairman of the elders/pastors of Oakwood Baptist Church. He has served as a pastor at Oakwood since 2006.
Pastor Don has been married to Terry Ann Foose since 1972 and has five grown children and ten grandchildren. He resides in Silver Spring Township. He is a serious baseball fan who has followed the New York Yankee since his childhood days of admiring Mickey Mantle. He is also an avid golfer who plays every week in the warm months of the year.