Confronting Abusive Pastors, Part 3: Private or Public Sin?

How should we react to an unrepentant pastor who’s used his position of trust and power to prey on women – often after turning to him for spiritual counsel and support during vulnerable times in their lives?

All the theory in the world is great. But one thing I’ve learned from experience is this: Those who want to help these women find justice and closure, and protect others, need an unflinching resolve to stand toe to toe against these predators.

Typically, a predatory pastor is not accustomed to being questioned or challenged by anyone. He often will try to deflect accountability either through intimidation or a charm offensive – or both! He may claim that his misconduct was merely a personal failing; that he was the victim; that it was a private sin between only him, the woman and God and thus no one else’s concern; or otherwise try to minimize his abuse and the harm he caused.

These men are master manipulators, and it takes a God-given strength of will to stand firm, force answers, stop the abuse, and expose their evil as a warning to others.

The Salacious Six

The case I’m now investigating has turned up confirming evidence, from multiple sources, of massive sexual misconduct and exploitation by around six men who’ve served on the pastoral and ministerial staff of Christ Chapel – a large Assembly of God church in Woodbridge, Virginia. Many of the victims were further abused by the senior pastor and his minions if they dared to timidly reveal what happened to them. They then would be typically shunned, ostracized, punished and shamed into silence – and sometimes even pressured to sign legal releases absolving the church of all responsibility.

Christ Chapel in Woodbridge, Virginia

Others, who had not been abused themselves but reported what they had seen, suffered the same treatment. Christ Chapel’s leadership tried to also drive them away and silence them, while continuing its conspiracy of hostility toward all who they perceived as a threat – both the victims, and those who dared expose abusive conduct, alike.

Only when Rev. Bill Roberts, the senior pastor, faced the risk of public exposure did he act, and even then his main goal seems to have been to make the problem – including the victims themselves – “go away.” Rather than reaching out with care and compassion to the women, he would act quickly to hush things up. Sometimes, he even allowed the sex abusers to find new positions at other churches and ministries – where they could repeat the cycle of predation all over again. Towards their victims, however, he showed no such tolerance.

As a result, the women were deeply scarred and some even became suicidal.

The scale of the abuse we’ve uncovered exceeds anything that’s been exposed, to the best of my knowledge, in any single “mainstream” church in the United States – Protestant or Catholic – over the last century.

What is particularly disturbing about this newest case, however, is how Bill Roberts knew that men under him used their pastoral positions to prey on women, yet as long as he apparently felt he could keep a lid on any public exposure, he failed to stop them. In fact, with at least three of the men – despite knowing how they used their positions in the church to sexually exploit and harass women – he actually gave them new responsibilities or allowed them to tale new positions where they had even greater access to potential victims.

Not surprisingly, these serial predators used the cover and authority provided by the senior pastor to continue exploiting yet more victims – many of whom were young women less than half their age and barely out of high school.

Despite repeated pleas for confession and repentance, and to bring restitution and healing to the many women who’ve been abused, Christ Chapel’s leadership has refused. Instead, they have engaged in legal bullying, threats, denials and spreading lies against their victims.

How Should We React?

Where there is an unrepentant culture of abuse in a church, a history of not just isolated but serial predation, and every reason to believe that the exploitation will continue and more innocent women will be harmed, what should be done?

Where the church closes ranks around its abusive pastors and continues its pattern of indifference, and where it then demonizes the victims, what should be done?

As a pastoring elder, in addition to being an attorney, I really struggled with this.

If a church leader’s sin is private or involves only a personal dispute with another person, and does not impact the whole church or entail an abuse of his position, I strongly believe that he is to be quietly confronted in private. If he privately confesses, repents and makes restitution, then that’s the end of the matter. All is forgiven, and all is resolved. Matthew 18 teaches this.

If a church leader with a history of abusing his position of power and trust openly confesses and repents and openly submits to appropriate sanctions and controls – such that others can be on guard and avoid becoming victims – I also have no problem with that outcome.

But what if there is no open confession, repentance or local church discipline? Then he must be openly reprimanded as a public warning to all. 1 Timothy 5 teaches this.

Next, how to apply 1 Tim. 5 …

(c) Copyright 2011, James Wright. All Rights Reserved.


Part 1 of this series: Speaking Truth to Power

Part 2 of this series: My Personal Angst

Part 4 of this series: Mandatory Public Reprimand

Part 5 of this series: Civil and Criminal Law

Part 6 of this series: The Need for Restitution

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  1. Christ Chapel: Bearing Witness Against Pastoral Sex Abuse | Crossroad Junction - December 2, 2011

    […] the victims, or if you want more details on the alleged abuse that occurred at Christ Chapel, see Nathan’s Voice.  All inquiries will be kept strictly confidential. EmailPrintFacebookTwitter Abusive Pastor, […]