Two recent incidents in the Evangelical Free Church of America brought about this post. In 2013, D.A. Carson a professor at the denomination’s flagship seminary attacked and went after someone who was raped when they were 13. He did this all to defend C.J. Mahaney who is drowning in allegations of corruption and criminal activity. Meanwhile in 2014 Community Evangelical Free Church outside Philadelphia excommunicated an alleged rape victim. Outraged a number of people appealed for help to the Eastern District, and ultimately Minneapolis who refused to get involved. Is the Evangelical Free Church of America a safe denomination for sexual assault victims? I would categorically say no.
“I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.”
Khaled Hosseini The Kite Runner
“In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure no one listens.”
Judith Lewis Herman
“Hurit, I would consider that rape…”
Community Evangelical Free Church Youth Pastor Matt Carter December 3, 2014 Bakers Table
“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
Matthew 25:40 NLT
The Sovereign Grace denomination bleeds corruption and a host of issues that plague the organization. Many of those issues came out in a blog called SGM Survivors. At SGM Survivors details on C.J. Mahaney’s alleged blackmail, and criminal activity poured out on the internet. You can read the transcript of his alleged blackmail here. A man known for his “humility” turned out to be deeply seedy and corrupt. One of the issues that poured out at SGM Survivors is story after story of child sex abuse and the attempted cover up of at places like Covenant life Church and Sovereign Grace Fairfax.
On February 4, 2013 a person called “Anon” wrote about how she was raped when she was 13 at a Super Bowl party at a Sovereign Grace event, and how that rape affected her. She wrote about how she wanted to see the organization be held accountable. Here is the comment that “Anon” left at SGM Survivors.
I’m just going to share a little story and some minor commentary at the end.
One Superbowl Sunday, I was at a prominent SGM (then PDI) member’s house . There were dozens of others in attendance, lots of teens and younger adults. Remote controlling and commercial censoring were in full effect, snacks in abundance, and everything was so biblical…as biblical as recently invented sports events centered around electronic devices can be. During a commercial break I was sexually assaulted against an exterior wall of that house.
I was thirteen
Not a single one of those appointed to watch over anything, much less my soul, noticed a thing when I and the perpetrator went back inside the house. I doubt it would have mattered anyway. My family was in the outer circle, despite decades of $$$ and attendance. I started “rebelling” thereafter and refused to attend any church functions, and my parents surprisingly didn’t seem to mind (despite them not knowing the reasons for my rebellion). They severed ties with PDI/SGM 2 years later.
Why bring this up? I think it’s telling that despite the micromanagement of ‘biblical living,’ horrible things have not only slipped under the radar of those ‘caring for our souls’ (barf) but have been actively hidden, squashed, silenced. The pending lawsuit is long-deserved. I hope it ruins the entire organization financially and every single perpetrator and co-conspirator financially, mentally, and physically.
You can read the original comment and the post plus people’s reactions to the story of a 13 year old being raped.
A lawsuit commenced against SGM on October 17, 2012 by several former members alleging the cover up of child sexual abuse, forcing young toddlers to forgive their molester, and giving free legal advice to the sexual abusers themselves and helping them flee from the law. This lawsuit would grow and expand again on January 14, 2013, with deeply disturbing revelations about additional child sex abuse and domestic abuse. Included in these revelations was a claim that an adult woman was physically spanked by a then SGM pastor. This lawsuit was spearheaded by Susan Burke, an attorney who cut her teeth on military rape cases. This lawsuit would also grow to be the biggest evangelical sex scandal to date. Even with the lawsuit against the ministry Bill Gothard established, Basic Life Principles, I don’t think anything has surpassed it.
On May 17, 2013 most of the lawsuit against SGM was thrown out on a technicality. The problem was the statute to limitations had expired. It didn’t mean the sexual abuse claims never happened, it meant that the legal avenue had run its course. In SGM culture members were discouraged from reporting child sex abuse to the local law authorities, so many of the law authorities were unaware of the abuse having occurred. Then in an act of brazen corruption which made one wonder why the Protestant Reformation even occurred on May 24, both T4G and The Gospel Coalition “The Neo Calvinists Rome” released a statement in support of CJ Mahaney. In this post I will just focus on The Gospel Coalition’s statement as I am writing about the Evangelical Free Church of America.
D.A. Carson is a prominent professor at the Evangelical Free’s flagship seminary Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. Carson has been on staff at Trinity since 1978 and he is a Research Professor in New Testament. He is one of the darlings of the Neo-Calvinist movement so should we honestly be surprised to see corruption out of him? What happened next was unbelievable. On May 24, 2013 Carson as a 67 year old man lashed out and attacked someone who was raped when they were 13. Why did he do this? All to defend his
friend whoops I meant business partner C.J. Mahaney.
In a statement by D.A. Carson, Justin Taylor, and Kevin DeYoung that was called “Why We Have Been Silent About the SGM Lawsuit” the TGC stated the following, and in the process verbally attacked and went after a SGM rape victim in the process:
Reports on the lawsuit from Christianity Today and World Magazine (among others) explicitly and repeatedly drew attention to C. J., connecting the suit to recent changes within SGM. He has also been the object of libel and even a Javert-like obsession by some. One of the so-called discernment blogs—often trafficking more in speculation and gossip than edifying discernment—reprinted a comment from a woman who issued this ominous wish, “I hope [this lawsuit] ruins the entire organization [of SGM] and every single perpetrator and co-conspirator financially, mentally and physically.”
We are not ashamed to call C. J. a friend. Our relationship with C. J. is like that with any good friend—full of laughter and sober reflection, encouragement and mutual correction. He has regularly invited—even pursued—correction, and we have given him our perspective when it is warranted. While the admission of friendship may render this entire statement tainted in the eyes of some, we hope most Christians will understand that while friends should never cover for each others’ sins, neither do friends quickly accept the accusations of others when they run counter to everything they have come to see and know about their friend. We are grateful for C. J.’s friendship and his fruitful ministry of the gospel over many decades.
And with that Carson went after someone who told their story at SGM Survivors. I have a lot to say about this, but before I do let me get into another situation in the Evangelical Free Church of America that deals with an alleged rape.
Steve Estes of Community Evangelical Free Church Orchestrates Church Discipline Against an Alleged Rape Victim
Community Evangelical Free Church is in the Evangelical Free denomination and is about an hour outside Philadelphia. The Senior Pastor is Steve Estes who also teaches at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I’ve talked about Community a lot in these posts here and here. Plus I also wrote an open letter to Steve Estes here. Steve’s son Brock David Estes went into a marriage with a lot of issues but one of the darkest nights in that marriage was he allegedly sexually assaulted his wife (Hurit). In this case the sexual assault is linked to alcohol abuse, but let me re-tell part of the story for context. In the community of Elverson, Brock Estes had a reputation for being a hard drinker since his teenage years. Some in the community viewed Brock as an alcoholic. In the marriage, the drinking of alcohol got worse as time passed. The drinking which took place on the weekends started to occur during the week. Sometimes Brock would come home and take hard shots and ignore Hurit. Brock also has a sleeping disorder. He claimed the alcohol was to help him sleep, but as he medicated himself more with alcohol the sleeping disorder continued to get worse over the course of time. The alcohol problem is linked to one of the more disturbing incidents of Hurit’s marriage. It started out with Brock drinking while he played golf. He came home and drank more and forced himself sexually upon his wife. Hurit didn’t consent to the sexual activity and on that night Brock sexually assaulted his wife with verbal abuse being intense. Hurit considers this the worst night of her marriage. When Matt Carter a Pastor at Community Evangelical Free Church heard about Brock’s behavior in regards to the sexual assault he stated that he considered this to be rape. In the same incident Brock had consumed so much alcohol that he was passed out in bed for two days. Another incident included the Senior Pastors son Brock Estes allegedly pointing a loaded weapon at his wife. Hurit who was trapped in this situation knew very well that she could be dead.
When Hurit who was married to the Senior Pastor’s son rejected Steve Estes ultimatum to return to Brock she filed for divorce. Steve Estes then planned, and orchestrated the excommunication of his former daughter-in-law. Steve was determined that Hurit was going down, and that she was going to be dragged through the mud to demonstrate his authority. Meanwhile Steve Estes declared his son, Brock David Estes who allegedly raped his wife while intoxicated “the most repentant man he had ever seen in 30 years of ministry.” Over the 2014 time frame the Senior Pastor dangled the threat of church discipline over his daughter-in-law who was also a sexual assault victim as a result of his son. Over the course of a year in a seedy, Chicago style political game the Senior Pastor craftily arranged the Elder board to discipline his daughter-in-law. The Youth Pastor of Community Evangelical Free Church Matt Carter in January 2014 believed there was no basis for the charges and that they would be dismissed. In early December 2014 in a restaurant in Lancaster, Pennsylvania Matt Carter told Hurit that he would consider what happened to her to be rape. His exact wording is as follows, “Hurit I would consider that rape.” Despite that in a little over 10 days Matt Carter went from admitting Hurit was the victim of a sexual crime to leading the excommunication service where she was declared a non-Christian. Matt Carter wasn’t the only one who did this, Al Kimball who is the Pastor of Pastoral Care was livid when he heard the Senior Pastor’s son pointed a loaded gun at his wife. Al went from being incensed to eventually supporting an alleged rape victim’s excommunication. During a trial that was in reality a “kangaroo court” Hurit was tried on her divorce. Her alleged sexual assault could not even be brought up, and dismissed. When Hurit was excommunicated on December 14, 2014 in a public service and declared that she is not a Christian a number of people were upset. With that many people started to contact the Eastern District of the Evangelical Free Church of America. Steve Musser eventually disengaged and left one family hanging. Others who contacted Steve Musser were basically ignored, as I understand. When many people realized that the Eastern District was not going to do anything they went to the national headquarters in Minneapolis. Minneapolis knew that one of its churches had excommunicated a domestic abuse victim. A number of people had called and in the end they were fine with it as well. In the movie Spotlight it is said that if it takes a village to raise a child it takes a village to abuse a child as well. In the case of Hurit it took a system…it took a Senior Pastor, an Elder Board, a District Superintendent who chose to walk away from the situation, and the national Evangelical Free in Minneapolis who were apathic about the situation. All played a role in the end either through a sin of commission or a sin of omission.
The Evangelical Free Church of America and Sexual Assault
In both stories above the Evangelical Free Church of America was silent on how a rape victim was treated. One of their prominent professors at Trinity Evangelical Divinity (TED) school attacked someone who was raped at 13. No one rebuked Don Carson, no one said anything at all. The response was silence. That silence speaks volumes about the health of the Evangelical Free movement. That silence indicates why the denomination is struggling with sexual assault and how it fails to address it. The fact that the Evangelical Free had no qualm or concern with the behavior of Don Carson should alarm and disturb many people in the denomination. My own personal theory as to why this happened is the following. C.J. Mahaney who led Sovereign Grace for years and is dogged by allegations of covering up child sex abuse and criminal activity gave $200,000 to Al Mohler at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This has been documented at the blog The Wartburg Watch. In addition C.J. Mahaney also gave money to Wayne Grudem who translated the ESV, and he also gave money to Mark Dever at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. In the parlance of Neo-Calvinism I guess we could call this “Gospel Centered Bribery.” But with this strong track record of money being used to influence people it begs the question. Plus I think its well within reason to ask the following…did Don Carson receive money from C.J. Mahaney? If he did take money how much was he given? Was money given to a pet project or program that means a lot to Don Carson? Time will tell if Don Carson received any money, after all the truth bubbles up eventually. But is that why Don Carson went after and attacked someone who was raped at 13? By the way…the Neo-Calvinist movement is all about being a man, but I must ask this as well…what kind of man attacks a rape victim?
In the story of Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania the denomination let the excommunication service proceed. There was no serious attempt to intervene. There was no effort by Steve Musser to put together a fact finding board. There was no effort to reach up to Minneapolis and get help and back up. No the denomination just washed their hands pushed back from their desk and were okay with the outcome. The Evangelical Free was more concerned with supporting a building campaign at the Elverson church. The denomination’s behavior communicated the following…buildings matter more than people. This was confirmed when several members contacted the Evangelical Free in Minneapolis who choose to do nothing. The Evangelical Free was okay with what happened to Hurit. They were okay with a domestic abuse victim who could have been killed facing church discipline.
I think the following question needs to be asked…in order for the above two situations to occur does the Evangelical Free denomination foster a culture that encourages and tolerates rape? Do they have the proper training to deal with sexual abuse? Are people held to a higher standard and can the denomination move and act quickly to stem a problem from snowballing?
My take is no….
Let me take the Community Evangelical Free Church of America situation. A number of former members hit a brick wall when they tried to get help. They were dismissed, ignored and found themselves not being heard. That was how the Evangelical Free movement responded. A year and a half later when it started to spill out on the internet and me and other blogs started writing about it then that grabbed the denomination’s attention. The Evangelical Free is concerned with their image. They want a spit and polish image without any blemish. This situation threatened to tarnish that image. I am eagerly awaiting to see what happens and to write about it as the situation unfolds. But there is one thing that the Evangelical Free denomination should be disgusted about. They should be ashamed that it took a blogger or two to write about this and jar them into action. The Evangelical Free if they cared about the Gospel should have intervened and done something immediately at the time, nearly a couple of years ago. Had they done the right thing at the time this would not be where it is today. I mean consider….the sixth president of the Evangelical Free Church of America, Kevin Kompelien, issued a statement in response to the United States Supreme Court decision on gay marriage within hours of it being released. Yet its took the Evangelical Free Church of America over year and a half to intervene in the situation in Elverson, Pennsylvania where the Senior Pastor’s son allegedly raped his wife, and allegedly pointed a loaded gun at Hurit? Is the Evangelical Free Church of America a safe place for sexual assault victims?
I would have to say no. At this blog I am eager and willing to write about systematic issues, and deep corruption in the Evangelical Free denomination. That could be at an individual church, District or Trinity Evangelical Divinity school or another component of the denomination. If you ran into a problem or issue I will gladly give you a platform to tell your story.
Why the Evangelical Free and TED Should have Similar Rape Training to the U.S. Military
One aspect that should help alleviate the cultural problems in the EFCA and TED is if they had proper rape training. In the U.S. military they have annual rape training and awareness as I understand. Mandatory rape training should take place among all faculty and staff at Trinity Evangelical Divinity school. I would suggest that D.A. Carson be the first person who goes through rape training awareness. This should be an annual requirement that happens every year. In the Department of Defense the hotline to report problems is handled by Rape, Abuse, Incest, National Network (RAINN). I would encourage RAINN to handle all rape training inside the Evangelical Free Church of America. Additional help can be offered by Boz Tchividjian. Each District Superintendent in all 17 Districts staff, pastors and church staff should have rape training. If Community Evangelical Free leadership starting with Steve Estes and others had proper rape training would things have gone differently? Would an alleged rape victim been disciplined before the entire church? That is something to consider. The fact that this post is being written highlights deep systematic issues in the Evangelical Free denomination. As always I love you guys and welcome your comments below.