Tag Archive: Sexual Assault

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Evangelist Acton Bowen Sentenced to Over 1,000 Years in Prison

acton bowen

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.

(Please read Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Evangelist Acton Bowen Arrested on Child Sex Charges,  Black Collar Crime: Why Did Young Boys Need to be Protected from Evangelist Acton Bowen? Black Collar Crime: Evangelist Acton Bowen Accused of Additional Sex Crimes and Black Collar Crime: District Attorney Says Evangelist Acton Bowen is a ‘Danger to Every Child in This Community’, and Black Collar Crime: Evangelist Acton Bowen Pleads Guilty to Sex Crimes for further information about Acton Bowen.)

In April 2018, Evangelical evangelist Acton Bowen was arrested on child sexual abuse charges.

AL.com reported at the time:

A well-known Alabama evangelist, public speaker and author was arrested in Hoover Tuesday on child sex charges.

Paul Edward Acton Bowen, a 37-year-old Gadsden native who now lives in Etowah County’s Southside community, was taken into custody by Hoover police about 12:35 p.m. The founder of Acton Bowen Outreach Ministries is charged with second-degree sodomy, enticing a child to enter a vehicle or house for immoral purposes, and second-degree sex abuse. The victim was a young male, but police did not release his age except to say he is over 12 and under 16.

Hoover police Capt. Gregg Rector said the department’s Special Victim’s Unit first launched an investigation three weeks ago. The Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office issued the warrants on Monday.

“This is certainly one of the more disturbing cases that we’ve investigated in quite some time,” Rector said. “Mr. Bowen is in a highly-respected position of influence and he is trusted by many. We believe he betrayed that trust in the worst kind of way.”

Bowen was taken into custody in Pelham and transported to the Hoover City Jail. He was moved to the Jefferson County Jail where he was released early Wednesday on $90,300 bond.

Rector said the victim in this case is an underage family acquaintance, “He is currently doing well and has been in a safe environment since police were first notified,” Rector said.

….

Bowen is president and founder of Acton Bowen Outreach. His bio says he served for 12 years in a local church, led a citywide student Bible study in Gadsden and was also the host of xlroads TV, a worldwide broadcast viewed weekly by millions of teens and adults in every city in America and over 170 countries around the world.

The website says Bowen is a cohost of Top3 on the JuceTV Network in New York City.

“Everyone associated with JuceTV was shocked and disheartened to hear of the egregious allegations made against Acton Brown this week. Our prayers go out to those who may have been hurt and victimized,” a JuceTV spokesperson said in a statement to AL.com. “Mr. Brown made four appearances on JuceTV, an affiliate of TBN, the most recent last summer, but there are no on-going ties.”

The outreach website described Bowen as a regular contributor on Fox News as a correspondent on faith and religion. However, network officials say Bowen has never been employed or paid by Fox News.

It goes on to say he speaks up to 20 times a month at churches, disciple-now weekends, citywide crusades, camps, conferences, school assemblies and leadership seminars – giving him a live platform in front of more than 350,000 people.

acton bowen donald trump

Acton Bowen and President Donald Trump were Best Buds. I suspect, if asked about Bowen today, Trump would reply, “Never heard of the guy.”

Bowen was also charged with committing sex crimes in Florida. ABC 33/40 reported:

 The list of sexual abuse accusations against evangelist Acton Bowen has crossed state lines. Bowen was charged with lewd or lascivious battery in Bay County, Florida according to the local sheriff’s office.

The charge was filed on May 23rd. According to Florida state law, a person commits lewd or lascivious battery by engaging in sexual activity with a person 12 years of age or older but less than 16 years of age or encouraging, forcing, or enticing any person less than 16 years of age to engage in sexual activity.

….

After posting the two aforementioned stories, it was reported that, two days after Bowen’s arrest, his wife filed for divorce, stating that she “fears for her immediate safety from (her husband) and any third parties that may attempt to contact (her husband) as a result of the crimes for which he has been alleged to have committed.” Several days later, two of Bowen’s ministry board members, Trenton Garmon and Josh Dodd, resigned. Al.com reported that Bowen was required by his board to install the Covenant Eyes porn-blocking software on his computer. Why? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. A daily report was sent to his accountability partner. No mention is made of how board members ensured Bowen was not accessing pornography on other devices.

What stood out in the AL.com report is the following statement by Garmon:

We requested that he never be alone with any female other than his wife. And we requested that he never be alone with a male minor which I considered to be someone under 16 years old. I was told that these minimums were being followed. Yet, in light of the allegation, it appears that the Guardian Policy was not always honored. This is not to imply criminal guilt by any means, yet our policy was not abided by. As you may be aware he has publicly denied the criminal allegations.

Why did Bowen’s board specifically require him to never be alone with boys under the age of sixteen and never be alone with females regardless of their age, other than his wife?

acton bowen anniversary gift to wife

After his arrest, Bowen said he was completely innocent of all charges:

I have not done what I am accused of and have not acted inappropriately in any way. My family and I trust the legal system and the people who are entrusted with the duty of protection each of our rights. I believe the truth will stand and I will be vindicated of this false accusation. We ask that each of you keep everyone involved in this process in your prayers.

AL.com reported:

In his first public statement, Bowen said he wanted to say “thank you” to the countless number of people who have prayed for his family. “My wife, Ashley, and I along with our incredible family are so grateful for your prayers,” he said.

“I’m also thankful for the countless calls of support from those who have walked a lot of life with me and know me best,” he said. “Your steadfast, unshakable support gives me strength. For almost 20 years (since I was 18) my life has been committed to serving Jesus by serving people.”

“When this accusation was made known to me I was hurt, confused, and heartbroken,” he said. “Prior to the arrest only one side of the story was heard.”

….

On Monday, the “innocent” Acton Bowen pleaded guilty to 28 counts of sexual abuse involving victims between the ages of 13 and 16. I wonder if his praying supporters will now admit that Bowen is a sexual predator; that it is likely Bowen sexually molested other children who have not yet reported their abuse to law enforcement? Is it too much to ask that God’s people, in unison, condemn Bowen for his heinous behavior? I jest. Bowen’s supporters will scurry away in the night like cockroaches when the light is turned on, but few will take to social media or blogs to publicly excoriate Bowen. Forgive, forget, and move on. That’s what Evangelicals do.

AL.com reports:

An Alabama evangelist pleaded guilty this morning in an Etowah County courtroom to 28 counts of sexual abuse involving six victims.

Paul Acton Bowen, charged in both Jefferson County and Etowah counties, was facing criminal charges, including enticing a child for sexual act, sodomy, traveling to meet a child for sexual act and sexual abuse involving six different victims between the ages of 13 and 16.

He was first arrested by Hoover police in April 2018 and has remained jailed since then.

The 39-year-old Bowen is a Gadsden native and founder of Acton Bowen Outreach Ministries.

Bowen entered a blind plea to the Etowah County charges, meaning he could face the maximum for each offense, including up to life in prison. Circuit Judge Debra Jones will set a hearing for sentencing later, during which Bowen’s lawyers could present mitigating evidence toward any sentencing. Jones was hearing the case after several Etowah County judges recused themselves from the case. Bowen’s ex-wife was the daughter of an Etowah County judge.

….

Bowen served for 12 years in a local church, led a citywide student Bible study in Gadsden and was also the host of xlroads TV, a worldwide broadcast viewed weekly by millions of teens and adults in every city in America and over 170 countries around the world.

The Etowah County charges dealt with young boys who told investigators that after they met Bowen through his ministry, they were abused in several ways not only in Etowah County but during trips to different states and abroad.

Bowen remains in jail, awaiting sentencing. He faces up to life in prison for his crimes. Bowen still faces charges in Florida.

Last Friday, Circuit Judge Debra Jones sentenced Bowen to 1,008 years in prison for sexually abusing six teenagers.

AL.com reports:

Circuit Judge Debra Jones presided over the case after several Etowah County judges recused themselves. Bowen’s ex-wife is the daughter of an Etowah County judge.

Moments before being sentenced, Bowen, standing in shackles, looked out on a packed courtroom and apologized in a trembling voice, both to his own family and the victims, for years of sexual abuse. “The shame and guilt I feel is overwhelming and has been for a long time,” he said. “My heart was never wanting to hurt anybody but my mind was not well.”

Family members and victims wept as Jones slowly read out the maximum sentence and fine on every count. Each sentence is to run consecutively – rather than concurrent.

Bowen still faces trial in Jefferson County on three felony charges of traveling to meet a child for sex, enticing a child for a sexual act and sodomy. Trial is set on those charges for April 20, 2020. If Bowen ever should be released from jail on his Etowah County convictions – which prosecutors said was unlikely – he would be considered a “sexually violent predator,” which means he would face a 10-year probationary period.

….

The Etowah County charges dealt with young boys who told investigators that, after they met Bowen through his ministry, they were abused in several ways not only in Etowah County but during trips to different states and abroad. The young male victims told investigators the misconduct lasted months, and sometimes years.

One of the victims, a teen boy over the age of 12 but under the age of 16, said Bowen exposed him to sexual intercourse from 2006 through 2009. Another victim claims the abuse happened from 2014 through 2017, and yet another reported to lawmen that he suffered the abuse in 2018.

In the sentencing hearing, which lasted more than an hour in Etowah County, District Attorney Jody Willoughby read out one victim’s impact statement. That victim, who said his abuse happened from the age of 12 to 15, said he saw Bowen as a “cool guy” who provided him with nice clothes, money and took him on trips, while at the same time, engaging in abuse.

“I could convince myself I was living the good life,” he wrote, “even as I was trying to suppress it.” But the victim said he developed a drinking problem that led to blackouts as he attempted to forget the pain and shame of abuse, seeing himself as “damaged goods.” This led to problems trusting others, difficulty opening up to his wife, and “a divide between me and my God” because of Bowen’s role as a pastor.

“He is a wolf in sheep’s skin,” the man wrote. Another wrote that Bowen “did his best to ruin the lives of other young men.” Another victim was prepared to testify in court, but chose not to, too overcome by emotion. Willoughby said this shows how important Bowen’s guilty plea was, in that victims were not required to relive the abuse on the stand.

….

Police have said the victim in the Jefferson County case is a Hoover boy under the age of 16 and over the age of 12 who is a family acquaintance of Acton Bowen. Court records in the Jefferson County case say Bowen engaged in sexual intercourse with the teen boy, and enticed him into getting into a 2010 Jeep Wrangler for the purpose of sodomy.

Bowen was first arrested by Hoover police in April 2018 on charges involving one male teen and later by Etowah County authorities in the case involving the other six victims.

Authorities have said they believe there are other victims who still have not been heard from. After the hearing, Willoughby said he would prosecute any other cases.

“There’s not a question in my mind,” he said. “If anyone is out there who wants to come forward, please let law enforcement know. We will get justice, justice will be had.”

Just before sentencing, Bowen quoted the book of James, saying “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” He said at church functions, he would often have people tell him they wished they could be like him.

“Inside my heart, I kept saying, ‘I’m the biggest sinner in the room,’” he said. “My pride kept me from asking for help. I’m so sorry.”

Black Collar Crime: IFB Preacher Cameron Giovanelli Pleads Guilty to Sex Crimes

cameron giovanelli

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.

In May 2018, I wrote a post about the sexual assault allegations made against Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher and college president Cameron Giovanelli. (Please see Black Collar Crime: IFB Preacher Cameron Giovanelli Accused of Sexual Assault)  Giovanelli resigned from Golden State Baptist College and did what disgraced IFB preachers often do: moved across the country, joined up with one of his preacher buddies, and continued on in the ministry as if nothing happened.

In May 2019, I received word that Giovanelli was in Florida working as the associate pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida. Giovanelli planned on helping Immanuel Baptist’s pastor, Greg Neal, start a new unaccredited IFB secondary institution called North Florida Baptist College. Neal, himself, was caught up in a sex scandal in 2011 when he was accused of video voyeurism. You can read more about Neal’s brush with the law here and here. Neal, unfortunately, escaped prosecution. (Please see Black Collar Crime: Pastor Cameron Giovanelli Resurrects From the Dead, Found in Florida)

cameron giovanelli charges

In August 2019, Giovanelli was charged by Baltimore, Maryland County police with sexual abuse of a minor and several other sex crimes. If convicted, Giovanelli faced up to thirty-six years in prison. (Case Information)

WBAL-11 reports:

Police charging documents claim Giovanelli initially tried to teach her how to kiss which turned into a daily encounter and eventually sexual assault. Police say an associate pastor at the church became suspicious. The associate said he confronted Giovanelli and told him to stop and the associate got an email later that night from Giovanelli thanking him.

“[Thanks] for saving his life and saving his ministry …. He thought God sent him to stop him from doing something,” said Giovanelli in police charging documents.

An investigation was opened in May 2018 when the victim reported the abuse to police. The completed investigation was submitted to the office of the state’s attorney, at which time the decision was made to charge Giovanelli.

An arrest warrant was obtained and served on Monday. Giovanelli voluntarily turned himself in to police Tuesday. He was released on his own recognizance at an initial bail hearing under the condition that he have no contact with any minor.

Based on information provided by the victim, police believe it is likely there are additional victims who were abused by Giovanelli during his time as pastor at the church [Calvary Baptist Church in Dundalk, Maryland] and school located in the 7300 block of Manchester Road.

Today, Giovanelli pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree sex offense and second-degree assault. Giovanelli will serve a whopping 90-days in the county jail and be on probation for five years. He will not have to register as a sex offender.

Knowing the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement as I do, Giovanelli will likely have a new ministry gig lined up before he even leaves jail. There’s no shame in some IFB circles. I’m sure that Giovanelli will paint himself as an innocent victim who pleaded guilty to avoid a long prison sentence. No shame, indeed.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelist Acton Bowen Pleads Guilty to Sex Crimes

acton bowen

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.

(Please read Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Evangelist Acton Bowen Arrested on Child Sex Charges,  Black Collar Crime: Why Did Young Boys Need to be Protected from Evangelist Acton Bowen? Black Collar Crime: Evangelist Acton Bowen Accused of Additional Sex Crimes and Black Collar Crime: District Attorney Says Evangelist Acton Bowen is a ‘Danger to Every Child in This Community’ for further information about Acton Bowen.)

In April 2018, Evangelical evangelist Acton Bowen was arrested on child sexual abuse charges.

AL.com reported at the time:

A well-known Alabama evangelist, public speaker and author was arrested in Hoover Tuesday on child sex charges.

Paul Edward Acton Bowen, a 37-year-old Gadsden native who now lives in Etowah County’s Southside community, was taken into custody by Hoover police about 12:35 p.m. The founder of Acton Bowen Outreach Ministries is charged with second-degree sodomy, enticing a child to enter a vehicle or house for immoral purposes, and second-degree sex abuse. The victim was a young male, but police did not release his age except to say he is over 12 and under 16.

Hoover police Capt. Gregg Rector said the department’s Special Victim’s Unit first launched an investigation three weeks ago. The Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office issued the warrants on Monday.

“This is certainly one of the more disturbing cases that we’ve investigated in quite some time,” Rector said. “Mr. Bowen is in a highly-respected position of influence and he is trusted by many. We believe he betrayed that trust in the worst kind of way.”

Bowen was taken into custody in Pelham and transported to the Hoover City Jail. He was moved to the Jefferson County Jail where he was released early Wednesday on $90,300 bond.

Rector said the victim in this case is an underage family acquaintance, “He is currently doing well and has been in a safe environment since police were first notified,” Rector said.

….

Bowen is president and founder of Acton Bowen Outreach. His bio says he served for 12 years in a local church, led a citywide student Bible study in Gadsden and was also the host of xlroads TV, a worldwide broadcast viewed weekly by millions of teens and adults in every city in America and over 170 countries around the world.

The website says Bowen is a cohost of Top3 on the JuceTV Network in New York City.

“Everyone associated with JuceTV was shocked and disheartened to hear of the egregious allegations made against Acton Brown this week. Our prayers go out to those who may have been hurt and victimized,” a JuceTV spokesperson said in a statement to AL.com. “Mr. Brown made four appearances on JuceTV, an affiliate of TBN, the most recent last summer, but there are no on-going ties.”

The outreach website described Bowen as a regular contributor on Fox News as a correspondent on faith and religion. However, network officials say Bowen has never been employed or paid by Fox News.

It goes on to say he speaks up to 20 times a month at churches, disciple-now weekends, citywide crusades, camps, conferences, school assemblies and leadership seminars – giving him a live platform in front of more than 350,000 people.

acton bowen donald trump

Acton Bowen and President Donald Trump were Best Buds. I suspect, if asked about Bowen today, Trump would reply, “Never heard of the guy.”

Bowen was also charged with committing sex crimes in Florida. ABC 33/40 reported:

 The list of sexual abuse accusations against evangelist Acton Bowen has crossed state lines. Bowen was charged with lewd or lascivious battery in Bay County, Florida according to the local sheriff’s office.

The charge was filed on May 23rd. According to Florida state law, a person commits lewd or lascivious battery by engaging in sexual activity with a person 12 years of age or older but less than 16 years of age or encouraging, forcing, or enticing any person less than 16 years of age to engage in sexual activity.

….

After posting the two aforementioned stories, it was reported that, two days after Bowen’s arrest, his wife filed for divorce, stating that she “fears for her immediate safety from (her husband) and any third parties that may attempt to contact (her husband) as a result of the crimes for which he has been alleged to have committed.” Several days later, two of Bowen’s ministry board members, Trenton Garmon and Josh Dodd, resigned. Al.com reported that Bowen was required by his board to install the Covenant Eyes porn-blocking software on his computer. Why? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. A daily report was sent to his accountability partner. No mention is made of how board members ensured Bowen was not accessing pornography on other devices.

What stood out in the AL.com report is the following statement by Garmon:

We requested that he never be alone with any female other than his wife. And we requested that he never be alone with a male minor which I considered to be someone under 16 years old. I was told that these minimums were being followed. Yet, in light of the allegation, it appears that the Guardian Policy was not always honored. This is not to imply criminal guilt by any means, yet our policy was not abided by. As you may be aware he has publicly denied the criminal allegations.

Why did Bowen’s board specifically require him to never be alone with boys under the age of sixteen and never be alone with females regardless of their age, other than his wife?

acton bowen anniversary gift to wife

After his arrest, Bowen said he was completely innocent of all charges:

I have not done what I am accused of and have not acted inappropriately in any way. My family and I trust the legal system and the people who are entrusted with the duty of protection each of our rights. I believe the truth will stand and I will be vindicated of this false accusation. We ask that each of you keep everyone involved in this process in your prayers.

AL.com reported:

In his first public statement, Bowen said he wanted to say “thank you” to the countless number of people who have prayed for his family. “My wife, Ashley, and I along with our incredible family are so grateful for your prayers,” he said.

“I’m also thankful for the countless calls of support from those who have walked a lot of life with me and know me best,” he said. “Your steadfast, unshakable support gives me strength. For almost 20 years (since I was 18) my life has been committed to serving Jesus by serving people.”

“When this accusation was made known to me I was hurt, confused, and heartbroken,” he said. “Prior to the arrest only one side of the story was heard.”

….

On Monday, the “innocent” Acton Bowen pleaded guilty to 28 counts of sexual abuse involving victims between the ages of 13 and 16. I wonder if his praying supporters will now admit that Bowen is a sexual predator; that it is likely Bowen sexually molested other children who have not yet reported their abuse to law enforcement? Is it too much to ask that God’s people, in unison, condemn Bowen for his heinous behavior? I jest. Bowen’s supporters will scurry away in the night like cockroaches when the light is turned on, but few will take to social media or blogs to publickly excoriate Bowen. Forgive, forget, and move on. That’s what Evangelicals do.

AL.com reports:

An Alabama evangelist pleaded guilty this morning in an Etowah County courtroom to 28 counts of sexual abuse involving six victims.

Paul Acton Bowen, charged in both Jefferson County and Etowah counties, was facing criminal charges, including enticing a child for sexual act, sodomy, traveling to meet a child for sexual act and sexual abuse involving six different victims between the ages of 13 and 16.

He was first arrested by Hoover police in April 2018 and has remained jailed since then.

The 39-year-old Bowen is a Gadsden native and founder of Acton Bowen Outreach Ministries.

Bowen entered a blind plea to the Etowah County charges, meaning he could face the maximum for each offense, including up to life in prison. Circuit Judge Debra Jones will set a hearing for sentencing later, during which Bowen’s lawyers could present mitigating evidence toward any sentencing. Jones was hearing the case after several Etowah County judges recused themselves from the case. Bowen’s ex-wife was the daughter of an Etowah County judge.

….

Bowen served for 12 years in a local church, led a citywide student Bible study in Gadsden and was also the host of xlroads TV, a worldwide broadcast viewed weekly by millions of teens and adults in every city in America and over 170 countries around the world.

The Etowah County charges dealt with young boys who told investigators that after they met Bowen through his ministry, they were abused in several ways not only in Etowah County but during trips to different states and abroad.

Bowen remains in jail, awaiting sentencing. He faces up to life in prison for his crimes. Bowen still faces charges in Florida.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Youth Pastor Kyle Brown Accused of Child Molestation

black collar crime

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.

Kyle Brown, a youth pastor at Marysville First Assembly Church (which is now called Grove Church) in Marysville, Washington, stands accused of sexually molesting a minor female church member. The victim alleges the abuse began when she was just eleven and continued for three years. Brown is described in a video as a “worshipholic.” Now he can add child molester to his résumé. Brown’s name and visage have been scrubbed from Grove Church’s website. See, he never worked here, Praise Jesus!

Herald Net reports:

Snohomish County prosecutors charged Kyle Brown, 25, in November with second-degree child molestation. The alleged abuse occurred between 2011 and 2015, when Brown was a youth pastor at Marysville First Assembly Church, according to charging papers.

The victim, who’s about six years younger than Brown, told police most of the alleged abuse started when she was 11, just after her father died.

At the time, she attended the church’s youth group almost weekly, where Brown held several leadership positions.

The victim told police the alleged abuse occurred away from the church, except for one instance during a camping trip, according to court documents.

She often tried to stop Brown, but couldn’t because of his size, according to the allegations described in court papers.

The molestation stopped when she was 14 and stopped attending the church, she told authorities. She later decided to tell her mother, a friend and her new pastor about Brown because of his continued work with children, which includes camping trips, she said.

Her new pastor, who is affiliated with a different church, reported Brown to Child Protective Services in April.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Sean Ortiz Accused of Sexual Assault

pastor sean ortiz

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.

Sean Ortiz, pastor of New Beginnings Community Church in Jurupa Valley, California, stands accused of sexually assaulting a minor female church member. New Beginnings is doctrinally Evangelical.

Ortiz was taken into custody on Friday, November 8. He is currently free on a $50,000 bond.

 

What Andy Savage, Mark Driscoll, and Ted Haggard Have in Common

bruce gerencser 2002

Bruce Gerencser, 2002

Andy Savage, Mark Driscoll, and Ted Haggard are all Evangelical pastors who have checkered pasts. Twenty years ago, Andy Savage sexually assaulted a church teenager. While pastor of Highpoint Church in Memphis, Tennessee, Savage admitted his crime. Unfortunately, he was never punished due to the statute of limitations expiring. Savage later left Highpoint. (Please see Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Andy Savage Gets Standing Ovation for Admitting He Sexually Assaulted a Teenager and Black Collar Crime: Dominoes Continue to Fall Over Andy Savage Scandal.) Mark Driscoll was the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. Accused of having an autocratic management style, verbally/emotionally abusing congregants, plagiarism, and “squishy book-promotion ethics,” Driscoll resigned. Three months later, Mars Hill closed its doors. Ted Haggard was the president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and the pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Haggard, a closeted bisexual, used crystal meth, cavorted with a male prostitute, and had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a male congregant. In late 2006, Haggard was fired from New Life and resigned his position with the NAE.

All of these men were married, had children, and pastored multi-million-dollar churches running thousands in attendance. All of these men were Evangelical in doctrine and well respected by congregants and colleagues alike. All of these men traveled the Evangelical conference circuit, speaking to thousands of people. These men were widely considered to be preachers God was mightily using to advance his kingdom. Yet, Savage, Driscoll, and Haggard fell from their lofty perches and were drummed out of their churches.

End of story? Surely you jest! Evangelicals are quite forgiving and love a good comeback story. In 2010, Ted Haggard started a new church, St. James Church, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In 2016, Driscoll birthed a new congregation, The Trinity Church, in Scottsdale, Arizona. And Savage? He is ramping up a new church plant, Grace Valley Church in Eads, Tennessee.

“Bruce, how can these guys do what they did and still be pastors?” Simple. Savage, Driscoll, and Haggard are independent contractors, free to do what they want, including starting new churches. There are no federal or state laws that forbid these men from setting up new non-profit churches (businesses). (Please see How to Start an Independent Baptist Church.) Anyone, including you, can gather a handful of people together and start a church. It’s really that easy. In 2015, comedian John Oliver proved just how easy it is to start a new church, by setting up a non-profit religious organization called Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption. Oliver later closed the church and donated the “offerings” to “Doctors Without Borders.”

Why didn’t Savage, Driscoll, and Haggard admit that they were no longer Biblically qualified to be pastors? 1 Timothy 3 gives the qualifications for pastors, and none of these “men of God” met the Biblical standard. Truth be told, I don’t know of any man who meets the qualifications. The Bible says:

This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

And let’s not forget about Galatians 5:19-21:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

And finally, pastors should be expected to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit, yes? Galatians 5:22,23 says:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Taking these three passages of Scripture together, it’s clear that Savage, Driscoll, and Haggard have no business being pastors. In fact, no man is qualified to be a pastor. What about you, Bruce? Were you qualified? Absolutely not. At best, I was a “two out of three ain’t bad” kind of preacher. I really, really, really wanted to be a pastor, so just like every other man to ever pastor a church, I rationalized my shortcomings, telling myself that I would work hard to become a better man and preacher. All in all, I was a feeble, frail, fallible man who hopefully did more good than harm.

In the fall of 1995, I left the pastorate of Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette, Ohio. I was at Olive Branch for seven months. A quick overview of my ministerial career reveals that I either stayed at churches for a long time or left after a few months — seven months to be exact. That’s right. I left three of the churches I pastored after being there for only seven months — started in the spring, left in the fall. I am sure there is some Freudian shit in there somewhere to unpack.

After leaving Olive Branch, I moved five miles down the road and started Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. I pastored this church for seven years. One day, I received a letter from a ministerial colleague of mine. He and I met when I was pastoring Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. Dick, at the time, was the pastor of an IFB church in nearby New Lexington. The previous pastor had left due to allegations of misconduct. This was Dick’s first and only church. The church had a lot of internal problems. I thought of Dick — a kind, decent man — as a sacrificial lamb. His congregation ripped him to shreds. After a year or so, Dick resigned and returned home to southwest Ohio, never to pastor again.

Dick’s letter was quite pointed. Due to my recent moves from church to church to church, Dick questioned my emotional stability and suggested I reconsider starting a new church. I remember how offended I was by his words. I thought, “Didn’t he know I was a divinely called man of God? Didn’t he know I was just following God’s will?” I never spoke to Dick again, but years later after a size sixty bit of hindsight, I concluded that he was absolutely right. I should have hit the pause button and reevaluated my life. It would be another decade before I stopped thinking that being a pastor was the sum of my life; that not pastoring a church was a betrayal of Jesus and all I held dear. It took me years after that to regain any sense of self. Jesus and the ministry had swallowed up Bruce Gerencser. I lost any sense of personal identity and self-worth. To this day, I see a secular counselor on a regular basis. Therapy is essential to me recovering any sense of mental wellness.

The title of this post is “What Andy Savage, Mark Driscoll, and Ted Haggard Have in Common.” Let me add my name to theirs, and the names of every Evangelical preacher. I am going to admit something here that most preachers will NEVER admit: preachers love the adulation they receive from congregants. They love being the center of attention. They love being the hub around which everything turns. And it is for these reasons fallen, disgraced preachers have a hard time quitting the ministry. Think of all the preachers you know who were drummed out of the ministry, only to start a new church or assume the pastorate of an established church months or years later. I could spend weeks detailing the stories of such men.

“Bruce, why can’t these men quit the ministry?” They are addicts. Standing before fawning congregants on Sundays and being thought of as THE MAN is like crack cocaine. Once you feel the rush, you want more, regardless of what you have to do to get the drug. Preachers need the thrill they feel when doing the work of the ministry. I am not suggesting that all pastors are bad men — they are not. But preachers need to be honest about the emotional and psychological “bump” they get from preaching and ministering to others. It is okay to admit this, preachers. You are human. 

I started blogging in 2007. Come December, this current iteration of my blog will celebrate its fifth anniversary. In many ways, this blog is my “church.” Thousands of people read my writing. I reach far more people now than I ever did as a pastor. When my work is well-received, it pleases me and spurs me on to continue writing. My counselor tells me that I am still a preacher; that I have just changed teams. Perhaps. I will leave it to others to make such judgments. I do know that I find writing emotionally gratifying. Whether one hundred people are reading it or five thousand, I am driven to continue to tell my story. That some people find my writing helpful is all the more reason to keep on preaching the humanist gospel.

That said, there are differences between the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry and being a writer. The Evangelical churches I pastored were captive audiences. I was an authority figure, someone given the power to guide, direct, and correct their lives. Today, I pastor a “church” of thousands, yet I have no authority over anyone. Readers are free to come and go; love me or hate me; praise me or ridicule me. Church members were required to tithe and give offerings. Readers are under no such compulsion. They are free to donate, or not. Either way, the “church” remains open for “whosoever will.”

I hope my honesty has not caused you to think any less of me. I know this post will give my critics more ammunition. There’s nothing I can do about that. It is far more important for me to give an open, honest, pointed accounting of my life. I trust you found my words insightful and helpful.

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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Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Elizandro Montoya-Salazar Accused of Sexual Assault

pastor elizandro montoya-salazar

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.

Elizandro Montoya-Salazar, pastor of Lalgesia Apostolica of the Faith in Jesus Christ Church (no website) in Elgin, Illinois, stands accused of sexually assaulting a minor girl.

The Daily Herald reports:

An Elgin pastor sexually assaulted and abused a teenage girl while giving her a ride home from a church event in November 2018, according to a police affidavit used to obtain a search warrant.

The attack happened some three months after Elizandro Montoya-Salazar, 46, of 0-99 block of North Lord Avenue, Carpentersville, asked the girl if she “liked liked him,” according to the affidavit. Montoya-Salazar was charged recently with criminal sexual assault of a victim 13 to 17 years old and four counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a person in a position of trust and authority, all felonies.

….

He appeared in court Wednesday, where his bond conditions were changed to allow him to have supervised telephone contact and video visits with his children. He is being held at the Kane County jail on $300,000 bail, meaning he must post $30,000 to be released while the case is pending.

According to a police affidavit used to secure a search warrant for Montoya-Salazar’s cellphone and documents at the Lalgesia Apostolica of the Faith in Jesus Christ Church, 37W080 Hopps Road, the victim reached out to a female volunteer at the church in August 2019 regarding the attack.

The girl was upset and didn’t want to say what happened or who did it, but she texted the church volunteer Oct. 5, saying she had told her parents that Montoya-Salazar assaulted her and her parents were filing a report with Elgin police, according to the affidavit.

The volunteer reported to two other pastors at the church that the victim said, via text, that Montoya-Salazar had assaulted her. The volunteer said Montoya-Salazar preached at the church the next day, according to the affidavit.

“He preached at the church the next day.” Need I say more?

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Victor Trevino, Sr. Sentenced for Failing to Report Child Abuse

victor trevino sr

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.

Victor Trevino, Sr, pastor of The Bread House South in Lansing, Michigan, was sentenced to eighty hours of community service for failing to report child abuse allegedly perpetrated by his youth pastor son, Trevino, Jr.

WILX-10 reports:

Victor Trevino Sr. was sentenced Thursday to 80 hours of community service for not reporting the abuse allegedly done by his son.

Trevino Jr. is a youth pastor at the Bread House South church. Prosecutors say he had inappropriate contact with a minor between 13 and 16 years old.

He faces nine charges, including four counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, one count of child sexually abusive activity, one count of accosting a child for immoral purposes and two counts of using a computer to commit a crime.

He’s also charged with five counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a child under 13 years old and one count of second-degree criminal sexual assault in a different case.

Andrea Bitely, a spokeswoman for Trevino said, “Pastor Trevino is committed to performing the community service ordered today and offers prayers of healing and strength for all involved.”

Trevino Sr. pleaded guilty in August to the misdemeanor and must also pay $400 in fines and costs, said Scott Hughes, an Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office spokesman.

The good pastor “offers prayers of healing and strength for all involved.” Really? How about reporting allegations of sexual abuse the moment you hear of them? How about protecting the children in your church? While it is refreshing to see a pastor prosecuted for failing to report, I am not sure a $400 fine and eighty hours of community service fit the crime. Just once, I would like to see an offending pastor do actual jail time for failing to report abuse. In Trevino Sr’s case, once he completes his community service hours and pays his fine, it is likely charges will be dismissed. Can’t do anything to besmirch the character of a man of God, right? I wonder if The Bread House South and its denomination will discipline Trevino, Sr. for his sin? Lest everyone involved forgets, the Bible says in James 4:17:

Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

Trevino, Sr. knew to “do good” and did it not. God calls that sin. I call it a gross abrogation of personal responsibility for church children.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Youth Pastor Victor Trevino, Jr. Accused of Sex Crimes

victor trevino jr

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.

In June 2019, Victor Trevino, Jr, a youth pastor at The Bread House South in Lansing, Michigan, was accused of sexually assaulting two minor girls.

WILX-10 reported at the time:

A youth pastor at a church in Lansing has been charged with sexually assaulting a minor in 2 separate cases. Victor Albert Trevino Jr. has been arraigned on a total of 15 charges between the two cases.

Trevino is a youth pastor at the Bread House South church. Prosecutors say he had inappropriate contact with a minor between 13 and 16 years old. They also say Trevino repeatedly tried to convince her to have sex with him. He’s facing 9 charges in the Lansing case.

In August 2019, Trevino waived his right to a preliminary hearing.

WILX-10 reported:

WILX reported in June, 2019, that a girl younger than 14 came forward with allegations that Trevino repeatedly molested her at his family home in Holt.

She said Trevino often hosted sleepovers for kids from church.

The girls said he touched her inappropriately six times between October, 2018, and March, 2019.

After the girls mother was informed, she took her daughters phone and recorded pictures and videos on Snapchat from Trevino that included images of male genitalia.

Black Collar Crime: Mennonite Aid Worker Jeriah Mast Pleads Guilty to Sexually Abusing Minors

jeriah mast

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.

Earlier this year, Jeriah Mast, a former Mennonite aid worker for Christian Aid Ministries in Berlin, Ohio, was arrested and charged with sexually abusing five minor boys. More charges await him in Haiti.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported at the time:

Jeriah Mast, 37, of Millersburg, Ohio, was indicted Monday by a Holmes County grand jury for offenses that occurred in that county, according to the indictment. Mr. Mast turned himself in to the Holmes County jail on Tuesday evening and is being held on a bond of $250,000 cash surety, according to the jail. He is scheduled for arraignment Wednesday afternoon.

He faces seven felony charges of gross sexual imposition and seven misdemeanor counts of sexual imposition.

He is accused of sexual offenses against five different minors.

he charges of felonies are for alleged offenses against minors under 13, and the charges of misdemeanors are for alleged offenses against minors under 16. The indictment says that the offenses took place between 1999 to 2008.

A Haitian court is seeking Mr. Mast’s return to that country for him to face similar allegations. He left Haiti this spring after allegations arose of his sexually abusing minor boys over a period of years. A Haitian attorney told the Post-Gazette he represents five alleged victims of Mr. Mast.

Christian Aid Ministries of Berlin, Ohio — which is supported by various Mennonite, Amish and related groups — said in an earlier statement it “promptly discharged” Mr. Mast earlier this year when it learned of recent allegations against him in Haiti. He has not yet returned to appear before the Haitian court in the city of Petit-Goave to face the allegations.

Both Christian Aid Ministries and Mr. Mast’s church said he made confessions of sexual offenses.

The ministry placed two of its leading staff members on leave last month after its board learned that they knew as far back as 2013 that Mr. Mast had confessed to “sexual activity with young men that had taken place several years prior,” yet allowed him to remain at work for the ministry until this year.

Did you catch the fact that two Christian Aid Ministries staff members were put on leave for failing to report Mast’s predatory sexual activity with young men? Put on leave? Really? How about firing and excommunicating them for helping to facilitate the ongoing abuse of Haitian children?

Today, Mast pleaded guilty to sexually abusing two Holmes County, Ohio boys. Per the plea agreement, Mast will serve no more than five years in prison for his crimes.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports:

Jeriah Mast, 38, of Millersburg, Ohio, had faced 14 counts alleging he abused five minors between 1999 and 2008. On Wednesday, 12 counts were dismissed as part of a plea agreement. Mr. Mast pleaded guilty to two felony counts of gross sexual imposition in connection with molesting two boys.

One incident happened in late 1999 or early 2000 and involved a 12-year-old boy; the second happened in 2005 or 2006 and involved an 11- or 12-year-old boy, Holmes County Prosecutor Sean Warner said during the hearing at the Holmes County Courthouse.

Mr. Mast denied that he abused the boy in the first incident — in which the boy’s mother said she walked into her son’s bedroom to find Mr. Mast under a blanket with her son — but he nevertheless pleaded guilty.

He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine, although both the prosecution and defense as part of the plea agreement recommended he serve no more than five years in prison.

Holmes County Judge Robert D. Rinfret emphasized in a hearing Wednesday that he was not bound by that sentencing recommendation.

“This is horrendous,” Judge Rinfret said of the crimes. “This is awful.”

Sentencing was set for Nov. 5.

The Ohio charges were filed in July after Mr. Mast confessed to the Holmes County Sheriff’s Office in May that he abused boys over a period of about 15 years in both Ohio and Haiti, where he was working for Christian Aid Ministries, a Berlin, Ohio, organization supported by various Mennonite, Amish and related groups.

Mr. Mast told authorities that he abused four victims in Holmes County; a fifth victim — the one Mr. Mast denies abusing but pleaded guilty to — later came forward.

Mr. Warner, the prosecutor, said Wednesday that the plea agreement was offered in large part because further investigation of Mr. Mast’s May confession showed that all but two of the victims were 13 or older at the time of the abuse. That meant five of the seven felony charges Mr. Mast had faced became misdemeanor charges — and that meant the charges were beyond the statute of limitations to prosecute.

Please see the Post-Gazette series Coverings for complete coverage on Mast’s crimes and sexual abuse within Amish/Mennonite communities.

Black Collar Crime: Baptist Pastor Curtis Brown Accused of Rape

pastor curtis brown

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.

Curtis Brown, pastor of Grace Baptist Chapel (church website has been disabled) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, stands accused of sexually assaulting a five-year-old boy.  Grace is a King James-only Missionary Baptist congregation. Brown resigned after his arrest. According to news reports, Brown pastored Grace Baptist for over eighteen-years.

KRQE reports:

Curtis Ray Brown has been charged with criminal sexual penetration and criminal sexual contact of a minor. The charges stem from an August 23, 2019 incident in which authorities say Brown sexually abused the boy while he stayed at his home overnight.

A criminal complaint states that the boy would spend Tuesday afternoons after school with Brown and details that after staying with Brown, the 5-year-old boy told his father of his “secret.”

According to police, the child’s father then confronted Brown, who allegedly didn’t deny the allegations, and told the child’s father “it just happened,” and “started in the shower one day.”

The child’s father told authorities of a Facebook messenger “group chat” in which the child’s mother, Brown, and other members of his family are a part of, and that Brown had allegedly apologized for his actions.

Screenshots of the chat message were provided to police and were transcribed in the criminal complaint which reads in part:

“I know no amount of words or actions can undo the damage that I have done. I can only express my shame and disgust in what I have done. I am truly sorry for what I am putting our family through. “

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Nicholas Martin Accused of Sexual Assault

nicholas martin

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.

Nicholas Martin, youth pastor and worship leader at North Belmont Church of God (no web presence) in Belmont, North Carolina, stands accused of sexually assaulting a fourteen-year-old girl. Since Martin’s arrest, he has been accused of sexually assaulting three other children.

The Gaston Gazette reports:

Three more accusers have come forward to say a Gaston County preacher already facing child sex crimes also sexually assaulted them, according to prosecutors.

A 14-year-old girl and her parents came to Gaston County Police late last week to say 24-year-old Nicholas Martin had sexually assaulted the child. Police arrested the North Belmont Church of God music and youth pastor on Saturday on four counts of indecent liberties with a child.

He was booked into Gaston County Jail under a $1 million bond.

Since those charges came to light, three more people have contacted police.

On Monday, District Court Judge Pennie Thrower declined to reduce his bond. His attorney had asked for a bond of $50,000, arguing Martin has no prior criminal history and lives at home with his wife.

Some of the new alleged incidents occurred in the home with Martin’s wife present, according to prosecutors.

“When we have allegations involving someone who is connected to the community like this person was an associate pastor, we have to act quickly,” Gaston County Police Capt. Billy Downey said before court.

Officials said Martin committed several crimes involving the 14-year-old accuser from October 2018 until September 2019.

Arrest warrants show he got a 14-year-old drunk before abusing the victim on several occasions.

 

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