What do David Powlison, Cecilia Bernhardt and Christian Counseling and Education Foundation Believe on Domestic Abuse? Why is Julie Lowe and CCEF Holding an Abuse Event at a Church that Excommunicated an Alleged Rape and Domestic Abuse Victim?

This post looks at Christian Counseling and Education Foundation and asks…what is their policy on domestic abuse, especially in situations where a person’s life is threatened? What is the business relationship between David Powlison and Steve Estes? Plus where does Kathy Eberly stand in this situation? Community Evangelical Free is holding an event on abuse on May 6, 2016 which is going to be led by Julie Lowe. I find it sickening and perverse that a church that disciplined an alleged rape victim who was almost killed is holding a conference on abuse.

“Expressing repentance for a crime without voluntarily submitting to the civil authorities is manipulation not repentance.”

Boz Tchividjian

“I care about suffering—especially the suffering of the vulnerable. That encompasses more than child advocacy. I want to care about the things that God cares about—the orphan, the widow, those who can not stand up or speak for themselves. I do a great deal of counseling with adults who have experienced abuse as well. Often much of their suffering could have been avoided or lessened had someone intervened sooner in their lives. Preventing abuse is key. That requires educating the church and its families to take action sooner with the goal of wisely and compassionately advocating for those who do experience abuse. It can change the course of people’s lives in powerful ways.”

Julie Lowe from Any Given Day

Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent — the Lord detests them both.

Proverbs 17:15 NIV


Hurit married Brock Estes who was the son of Senior Pastor Steve Estes. Their marriage was filled with problems including Brocks’ alleged pornography addiction. Other situations that were more serious included Brocks’ alleged rape of his wife while intoxicated, and allegedly pointing a loaded gun at Hurit. Today Hurit knows she could be dead. She filed for divorce due to the alleged domestic abuse allegations. For those of you who read this I want to be crystal clear that I believe Hurit. I use the word alleged frequently for legal purposes, but I believe Hurit’s word. Also it should be noted that when I started to write about the situation at Community Evangelical Free Church I leaned upon a lot of former members of Community Evangelical Free Church.

Many months after Hurit filed for divorce she agreed to go to counseling at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF).  A member of the church who is a close friend picked her up and drove her to CCEF in Philadelphia for counseling. Hurit going to CCEF had been approved by one of the counselors. After checking in and completing the paperwork the Director of Counseling Cecilia Bernhardt came and asked to speak to Hurit. Next the Director of Counseling asked to speak to Hurit’s friend stating that Hurit could not get the proper counseling at CCEF due to her relationship with Steve Estes.  Since Steve Estes is on the board of the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, it would be a conflict of interest to see Hurit. They also asked Hurit if they could call Steve Estes and get his permission for her to be seen at CCEF. Did that violate HIPAA laws? Hurit’s friend begged and pleaded for them to reconsider their refusal to help Hurit. After all why did CCEF want to turn away Hurit? Were they concerned about the illegal activity and the cover up of allegations especially with Steve Estes being on the board? Did someone from Community Evangelical Free Church reach out and tell CCEF to deny Hurit treatment? Hurit’s friend  was taken to Hurit who had been left crying in a room by herself.  This happened in the office that David Powlison is responsible for running.  Again the person who broke the news to Hurit that couldn’t receive counseling  was Cecilia Bernhardt who is the Director of Counseling.  Hurit’s friend asked for CCEF to intervene due to the issues of domestic abuse, and that it would get Steve Estes elders to back off from church discipline of an alleged domestic abuse victim.

On July 25, 2014 this same couple who had previously sought counsel regarding the situation had a phone conversation with Barbara Allis who is on the board of CCEF.   When she heard of the situation in Hurit’s marriage she was stunned. She explained and gave two examples of an excommunication that occurred at her church stating that it was a “black and white” situation. Barbara then acknowledged that this situation, “was not black and white.” Interestingly however, Steve Estes, had also contacted Barbara Allis previously and according to him, Barbara did not believe that there were any issues and that Steve Estes was handling the situation well.


My Efforts to Get a Statement from CCEF on the Situation with Hurit

When I started to write this story I tried to get comments or statements from many people involved. Since CCEF is central to this story I reached out to them several times for a statement. I tweeted David Powlison on Twitter who refused to respond. I also contacted CCEF in Glenside and spoke with the receptionist on March 8, March 17, and March 18, 2016. All my requests for a comment have been denied. Since Dave Harvey sits on the Council of Trustees I sent him 2 emails at his Evangelical Free address at Four Oakes in Tallahassee, Florida. This is the second email I sent Dave Harvey:

My name is Dave Bonner I write a blog called The Wondering Eagle. This is the second time I have tried contacting you. I recently wrote about a situation with Steve Estes the Senior Pastor of Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania. Steve is on the board of CCEF. Steve’s son Brock allegedly raped his wife while under the influence of alcohol and allegedly pointed a loaded gun at her. Brock’s former wife knows she could be dead. When she filed for divorce in the abusive marriage Steve Estes had his daughter-in-law who could have been killed excommunicated and declared not a Christian. I broke the story at my blog and Dee Parsons at The Wartburg Watch has also written about it.
This is my second time in asking. Does the CCEF have a statement on Steve Estes behavior?
David Bonner


Dave Harvey never responded to my emails. On March 20, 2016 I called up CCEF and spoke with Debbie and gave one final chance for CCEF to respond. I explained to Debbie that CCEF has not responded to my prior contacts. I therefore explained to Debbie that since I have not heard from David Powlison, or Cecilia Bernhardt I will write a post at my blog that it is David Powlison’s and Cecilia Bernhardt’s belief and thus CCEF policy to send a woman in a life threatening domestic abuse condition back into a dangerous situation knowing that she could be killed. I told Debbie that CCEF had 48 hours to provide a statement, if they wanted one.  Debbie after a long pause finally transferred me to Scott Alexander.  Scott Alexander is the Counseling Services Administrator.  You can see his role in this link, he’s the first person in the staff section.  I explained the situation to Scott, and what happened to Hurit to include her alleged rape and Brock pointing a loaded gun at her. I explained to Scott that Hurit knows she could be dead.  I then explained that CCEF is having an event at Steve Estes’s church on May 6, 2016. I said all this in trying to get a statement on the situation. Scott said he couldn’t comment due to HIPAA laws. He said that law prevents comment unless a full disclosure is signed by both parities. I told Scott as the son of a physician I am familiar with HIPAA laws. I asked Scott if CCEF had a protocol or policy in regards to domestic abuse when a person’s life is threatened. He refused to comment and said to check their website for material that has been written. I pressed and asked if they would like to write a statement saying we can’t say anything due to HIPAA laws. Scott told me that they will not put anything in writing. I asked if they wanted to say anything about domestic abuse and he said they won’t issue any statement. With that I said goodbye and hung up. I have a lot to say about this situation in the analysis at the end of this article.


CCEF Event on Abuse at Community Evangelical Free on May 6, 2016 by Julie Lowe

Julie Lowe from CCEF is leading an event at Community Evangelical Free Church on May 6, 2016. Yes you read that correctly. Here is how Julie’s biography is listed on the CCEF website as part of the faculty:

Julie is a faculty member at CCEF. She holds an MA in counseling from Biblical Theological Seminary. She is a licensed professional counselor with over fifteen years of counseling experience. She has extensive experience with women’s issues, sexual abuse, body image issues, parenting, and child maltreatment issues, and regularly speaks at events on these topics. Julie is also a registered play therapist and has developed a play therapy office at CCEF to better serve families, teens and children. She is a trained facilitator for Stewards of Children, a non-profit organization that provides trainings on child sexual abuse. Julie has trained a therapy dog that she works with both professionally and on a volunteer basis. Julie and her husband, Greg, have five children and serve as foster and adoptive parents. 

Julie Lowe has written a lot of material about child abuse, abuse and women’s issues. In April 2014 Julie Lowe published “Pastoral Wisdom and the Mandate to Report Abuse.” In that article Julie speaks about mandatory reporting issues. She talks about the legal and Biblical reasons why mandatory reporting needs to occur. She also speaks about why some people don’t report and the ongoing issue of pastoral care. She then closes out the article by saying mandatory reporting is pastoral care.

In January 2016 Julie Lowe started to teach a new course called “Abuse In the Church.” While this course mainly focuses allegedly on child sex abuse consider what Julie Lowe says in an interview on the CCEF website. “The first is that abuse has been infiltrating the church. Christians are often unaware or unwilling to admit how common abuse really is. Second, churches are sometimes ill equipped to handle instances of abuse. And being ill equipped can cause additional harm to all parties involved. A growing awareness of what the warning signs are and how to respond will help the church protect children.” While the article deals mainly with child sex abuse it talks about other people who are vulnerable. In another article from CCEF called “Any Given Day” Julie Lowe when asked about why she is in child advocacy says the following. “I care about suffering—especially the suffering of the vulnerable. That encompasses more than child advocacy. I want to care about the things that God cares about—the orphan, the widow, those who can not stand up or speak for themselves. I do a great deal of counseling with adults who have experienced abuse as well. Often much of their suffering could have been avoided or lessened had someone intervened sooner in their lives. Preventing abuse is key. That requires educating the church and its families to take action sooner with the goal of wisely and compassionately advocating for those who do experience abuse. It can change the course of people’s lives in powerful ways.” There is a lot more I could add but that is the basis of a few articles that Julie has on the CCEF website.

Julie Lowe will be speaking about the following topic. Talking to Kids about Sex and Personal Safety. Here’s a quick observation…maybe Julie should speak about rape as well?


Where is Kathy Eberly on Hurit’s Excommunication and Alleged Domestic Abuse?

Kathy Eberly is another key person in this domestic abuse situation that I think warrants some questioning. Kathy has been with Community Evangelical Free Church since October of 2000. Kathy has completed training at CCEF and her purpose at CEFC is to provide women’s counseling. I have heard that Kathy is very passionate about domestic abuse issues since she has suffered from abuse as well. She has spoken about the topic on women’s retreats. In the situation with Hurit, Kathy was kept out of the situation by Steve Estes allegedly from the beginning. Why has she been kept out especially given her role? Hurit allegedly faced severe domestic abuse and she knows she can be dead. Why has Kathy been kept out of the situation? I honestly would like to know where does Kathy Eberly stand in this situation? Does she believe its sound policy to excommunicate an alleged rape and domestic abuse victim who could have been killed? There are many questions that need to be asked in this issue and I hope in the course of time that I can flush those answers out.

Analysis of the Situation

There is a lot to say in this situation that needs examination. First I would like to start by examining the reaction I got from CCEF. I was disappointed but not surprised by CCEF’s response. However, they made one key flaw that deserves to be discussed here. Scott Alexander told me that they couldn’t comment in the situation due to HIPAA. HIPAA is quite important in health care and medicine. I am the son of a physician and am familiar with many aspects of health care. However, HIPAA doesn’t apply here because CCEF turned Hurit away from them in 2014. The person who sent Hurit running was Cecilia Bernhardt. Since Cecilia and CCEF denied Hurit treatment they are not bound by HIPAA laws as nothing was allegedly signed. The organization basically kicked Hurit to the curb.

Here’s the question that needs asking….what is CCEF’s protocol involving life threatening domestic abuse situations? I honestly l gave Scott Alexander a lot of room to respond. He could have said, “Dave we abhor domestic abuse and encourage people to contact law enforcement,” but Scott didn’t do that at all. He actually even refused to put together a statement explaining why they couldn’t give a statement! I offered that to him as well. Scott Alexander’s behavior raises deep concerns about CCEF in the end. This actually raises a number of issues that I would like to pursue. It’s my understanding before Sovereign Grace imploded in 2011 that CCEF got the bulk of its business from SGM. Deb Martin over at The Wartburg Watch wrote about David Powlison’s connections to C.J. Mahaney in this article called, “Connecting the Dots…SGM, CCEF and Peacemaker Ministries.” There is a lot of money to be made in organizations and ministries today. Money is the driving factor in many situations, as book deals and conference fees generate incredible income. CCEF is a key part of the Reformed Industrial Complex in many ways due its business dealings. From what I understand C.J. Mahaney had a lot of sway on CCEF and this begs the question, if Dave Harvey is on the Counsel of Trustees how did Steve Estes get on the Council of Trustees? Did C.J. Mahaney who is being dogged by allegations of child sex abuse cover up use his influence to get Steve Estes on the council? C.J. Mahaney and Steve Estes…man that would make quite a team! The corrupt company would compliment each other….one allegedly engaged in blackmail and other allegations of criminal activity;  and the other ran his daughter-in-law out of town as the quarterback (according to Mike Culbert) and had to cover up for his son who allegedly raped his rape and pointed a loaded gun at her. Steve Estes being on the Council of Trustees reveals that CCEF doesn’t have any understanding of situational ethics. Having someone who allegedly engaged in such abusive power of his position would warrant an investigation in many healthy organizations. The fact that Steve still is in his position reveals how troubled CCEF is as an organization, and why it should be avoided. Here is another question I have as well…what is the business relationship between David Powlison and Steve Estes? Does each other refer business and books to each other in an attempt to pad each other’s checking accounts? I honestly would love to look into the relationship between David Powlison and Steve Estes as that is on my radar.

When CCEF is holding an event about abuse at a church that ran an alleged rape and domestic abuse victim out of town while protecting the alleged abuser it begs the following questions. How serious do David Powlison and Cecilia Bernhardt take the  topic of domestic abuse? I understand some have reached out to CCEF and even gave them Hurit’s letter which is posted in this post right here. Yet, is the reason CCEF refuses to acknowledge this issue because the organization has been corrupted by money and lucrative publishing deals? These are legitimate questions that need to be asked. Does Julie Lowe know about these issues at CEFC and what transpired in a shady and questionable church discipline process? How can CCEF hold an event at CEFC given what the church did to an alleged sexual assault and domestic abuse victim? After all Julie has written an article I quoted from above that dealt with mandatory reporting. When is Steve Estes going to report his son to Pennsylvania Law Enforcement for alleged criminal activity?  CEFC is doing this event to try and show they are “serious” about abuse. They are trying to deflect from the situation with Hurit. However, this shows how corrupt Community Evangelical Free Church is in the end. Many people will see right through this incredible corruption. What I am going to do after publishing this post is seek a response from Julie Lowe and find out if she knows that CEFC excommunicated an alleged rape and domestic abuse victim. These are questions that should make us all toss and turn in our bed. The fact that its the 21st century and we are witnessing processes and policies that seem to come out of the Middle Ages should disturb many people. If there are any people who attend who can ask these questions to Julie Lowe I would be grateful. Well if this conference on abuse is going to be held can I suggest that Steve Estes be the first person who signs up? As always I love you guys!


11 thoughts on “What do David Powlison, Cecilia Bernhardt and Christian Counseling and Education Foundation Believe on Domestic Abuse? Why is Julie Lowe and CCEF Holding an Abuse Event at a Church that Excommunicated an Alleged Rape and Domestic Abuse Victim?

  1. Hello Sister: Thank you for sharing. That article is very interesting. This part is especially interesting to me.

    “The first thing I did this summer was pick up an amazing book by Eric Metaxas, entitled “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.”  It does inspire me to read of heroes of the faith who have paid a heavy price at the hands of men – for telling the truth and for holding tightly to the Word of God.  Yet, I’m continually amazed when I encounter men who do not appear to be concerned with the truth.  I have often observed quietly that the pastors of my former church, Covenant Fellowship, seemed more concerned with “damage control” than with the truth.  I never told anyone this before, but in my eyes, it was brutally apparent on numerous occasions.”


    Liked by 1 person

  2. A couple of questions jumped out at me:

    Why would Hurit seek help from an organization that has a board member (Estes) who was the source of her problem? Kind of like a hen going to the wolf to look over her chicks? It just doesn’t make sense. Or did she not realize at the time that Estes was part of that organization? Why not go to a more reputable place for help?

    What does the EFCA (both the Eastern District & National) think about all of this?

    Would love for the members & former members of that church to show up to that event on May 6 & ask Ms. Lowe directly in front of everyone about the situation w/Hurit & how such a situation should be handled, in light of her writings on her web site.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ejj…here’s what happened.

      One of the “charges” brought against Hurit at the trial was that she sought outside counsel.

      The elders were asked over and over to get CCEF involved since the church approved of them for many of its members, but did not act on the request.

      CCEF is the “go to” place for counsel at Community Evangelical Free.

      When Hurit was denied counsel, the elders turned it around and told Hurit that if she would return (to the proven unsafe place for counseling) then they would take discipline off of the table. Ironic that they would not get Dave Powlison’s office involved, but when they denied Hurit, they were willing to take discipline off of the table.

      Also, a counselor at Dave Powlison’s office agreed to see Hurit and advocate for her knowing she was a relative of Steve Estes’s, but it was shut down the day of her appointment.

      CCEF offered another counselor a few weeks later, but Hurit did not feel safe there knowing her father-in-law had to give the approval.


      • Ah, so they wanted control at every level, and even the “outside” help, wasn’t even truly *outside*. That’s transparently pathetic on their part.

        So poor Hurit is damned no matter what she does or doesn’t decide to do. Even if she plays their game, she’s playing a rigged game where one is 10 games out of 1st place with 2 games left in the season.

        So seeking outside council is… a “charge”? A sin? Since… when? Where’s the bible verse for *that* one?

        And the EFCA (Eastern district & national) is totally cool with all of this?
        If so, they’re ineffectual & feckless & need to be called out.
        I sincerely hope they intervene soon.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Wondering Eagle. It appears that CCEF have now scrubbed the page on their site which advertised the Event on 6 May at which Julie Lowe was speaking at C E C F.

    (aargh, those two acronyms are so similar I’m writing the second one with spaces)

    Why do I say this? Because when I clicked on the link in your sentence
    “Julie Lowe from CCEF is leading an event at Community Evangelical Free Church on May 6, 2016.” I got PAGE NOT FOUND.


    • Welcome Barbara! Why am I not surprised that CCEF would act this way? Such transparency is how questionable organizations and entities operate. Cover up and run. I wonder what happened at CEFC today.


  4. Barbara,
    Just read your article on domestic abuse:

    Great stuff. I think in this situation (according to David’s articles), the victim was also dealing with nepotism at the highest levels. Sounds like she didn’t have a chance. Her abuser’s father was the pastor, and the two uncles on the elder board. She didn’t have a chance.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: A Primer on Repentance: What are Indicators that Repentance Has Occurred? | Wondering Eagle

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