This is a blog post looking at how two different churches handled the issue of sexual abuse. One is Mark Mullery’s Redeeming Grace Church (formerly Sovereign Grace Fairfax) here in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. and the other is the EFCA’s Salem Church in Staten Island, New York as led by John Welborn. Due to how Salem handled a difficult situation well, its this blog’s hope that the EFCA in Minneapolis will study the Salem incident in a white paper to help the greater EFCA organization.
“Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value.”
“My basic principle is that you don’t make decisions because they are easy; you don’t make them because they are cheap; you don’t make them because they’re popular; you make them because they’re right.”
I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I have set my heart on your laws.
Psalm 119:30 NIV
Redeeming Grace Fairfax
Child sex abuse is a serious issue inside evangelical Christianity. This blog encounters the topic on a regular basis. Recently there was a situation at Salem Church in Staten Island, New York, and this blog wants to analyze and compare two churches to see how they responded. Salem Church is an Evangelical Free church in the Eastern District of the EFCA. This church is currently led by John Welborn. I wrote about Salem Church in, “How the EFCA’s Salem Church in Staten Island, New York Handled an Alleged Sexual Abuse Situation.” Here in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. exists Redeeming Grace Church. Located in Fairfax, Virginia this is a former Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) church. This Neo-Calvinist church is led by Mark Mullery. Many SGM churches hemorrhaged sexual abuse stories and Sovereign Grace Fairfax is no different. While there are a number of stories that I could use I am going to select one. Just for clarity it should be noted that after being a part of a lawsuit, Sovereign Grace Fairfax changed its name to Redeeming Grace Church. You can read more about this in, “Sinfully Craving a New Church Name? Sovereign Grace Fairfax Becomes Redeeming Grace Church.”
The Story of Noel and how Sexual Abuse was Handled at Sovereign Grace Fairfax
Noels’ story was told at the blog SGM Survivors, which you can read here. It was also featured in a long, detailed article in the Washingtonian magazine which you can read in, “The Sex-Abuse Scandal That Devastated a Suburban Megachurch.” Noel was a reluctant care group leader with her husband at Sovereign Grace Fairfax and led care groups for 10 years. Noel was struggling with the legalism. One morning Noel was awakened by a phone call by her Sovereign Grace Fairfax pastor and there was going to be a meeting between her, her husband and pastor. Noel was 7 months pregnant and the meeting was moved to their home. The pastor started the “meeting” by saying, “You are going to have an opportunity to forgive today.” Then one of Noel’s closest friends who lived up the street looked nauseous and physically shaking. She told Noel and her husband that her oldest son, a 15 year old boy had been “inappropriate” with her 3 year old daughter. This happened during a Homegroup Leaders and Wives meeting. Noel’s child was having night terrors that we’re violent and resulted to even going to the emergency room. As Noel and her husband were initially dealing with the situation of the child sexual abuse her pastor’s wife said to Noel, “Suffering teaches us to shrink from sin – even from the remotest and most indirect connection with it.” This led Noel to think this happened because she was sinful? In the course of time the 15 year old boy confessed more of the molestation to Lou Gallo. Noel wanted to take her daughter to the doctor to be examined when the 15 year old’s mother showed up at Noel’s house asking her not to go to the doctor. By law her son would be reported by the doctor. The mother of the 15 year old asked why Noel wanted to punish him, and why were they being so mean? In the conversation the mother told Noel, “you know _____ would never hurt her!” Noel’s doctor encouraged it to be reported to social services. The Fairfax County Police investigated and it turned out the 15 year old boy sexually abused the child for 7 months. This couldn’t be talked about at SG Fairfax because it would be construed as “gossip.” Within 7 days of the 15 year old’s confession to child molestation the boy’s maternal uncle who was living in the boy’s home confessed to molesting his nieces, the 15 year old’s sisters. Noel’s child started counseling and there was concern because the counseling was not “Biblical.”
As the investigation continued the detective proceeded to keep Noel informed. Noel struggled with anger during this time and after her child was born the 15 year old had his first court date. Noel didn’t know what the court date was for as they were not pressing charges instead it was the county of Fairfax. Tensions grew between Noel and the 15 year old molester’s mother who made a series of highly offensive comments to Noel that led to SG Fairfax Pastors to have a meeting. The SG Pastor asked Noel, “why are you so interested in the court dates? Do you have a carnal rage to see ______ suffer?” Noel and Grizzly had an unsuccessful meeting with the 15 year old molester’s family. A final court date was coming up and SG Fairfax bullied, maligned and ordered Noel not to come to court. The detective called Noel and said that the 15 year old had his sentence assigned. He would be on the central registry for sex offenders and he would have probation. Noel on hearing the news was full of rage. Noel and her husband had to keep all this information to herself. To speak of it in home group would be to “gossip.” At the one year mark the 15 year old’s father committed suicide on the anniversary of the 15 year old’s confession of molestation. In the course of time the new SG Pastor met with Noel’s husband over lunch and in the conversation asked him to pray about supporting overturning the charges against the boy with a letter to the commonwealth attorney or a signature on a form. Grizzly told him on the spot, “No!” Two weeks later Grizzly told the SG pastor that he and his wife would not support any effort to overturn the charges and if they found out anyone had tried they would stop it immediately and hire an attorney. After more meetings in the course of time the 15 year old’s mother approached Noel and asked her to sign a paper overturning the charges. As Noel said, “No,” “No” and a thousand times “No!” The 15 year old wanted to serve in the military and with the charges he couldn’t serve or be a teacher either. When Noel and Grizzly heard about the final court date they spoke with the commonwealth attorney and scrambled to put together a 6 page document and read it to the commonwealth attorney and asked that the charges not be overturned. Due to how SG Fairfax handled the situation Noel felt like she was no longer part of a church.
On June 6 nearly two years after the incident the court date came around. Noel was pleased to see the commonwealth attorney hand her 6 page paper to the judge, offending family and read it word for word. Noel was pleased, the SG Fairfax pastors livid to the point that they couldn’t even look at Noel. In the 6 page paper Noel outlined 15 year old mom’s denial, boy’s comments, and mom normalizing it. They outlined mom’s history, boy’s adoptive father’s history, the uncle molesting the children, and the boy molesting their child. They outlined how much people thought of boy, how he was honored as scout of the year, how he studied Sin and Temptation by John Own, how boy confronted others on their sexual sin and pornography while he was steeped in it. Finally they outlined his lack of total confession and truthfulness. The judge in the courtroom listened, the SG pastors looked like they were going to blow but someone had heard the story openly and the truth got out. After the court session the teenager who molested Noel’s daughter got in her face and stated, “How dare you upset my mother like that!” The SG Fairfax pastors agreed with the molester and Mark Mullery pulled Noel aside and said, “Now the bridges are burned we may not be able to reconcile now…” Further meetings were frustrating and when Noel wanted the abuse to be referred to as rape the SG pastor said “sin is sin.” Finally the boy confessed a very minimized version of things in the homegroup. While in the kitchen following homegroup not knowing Noel was nearby the boy boasted of his minimized confession “I guess that will shut them up for a while.” Noel decided that they needed to bring in apostolic oversight and Mark Mullery pleaded for Noel not to contact John Loftness. At the next meeting the SG Fairfax pastors had determined that Noel and Grizzly were the problem and now this is a discipline issue. What was the discipline over? The issue was “lying.” Noel lost it and pointed to each SG Fairfax pastor and said, “You are the problem!” When Noel got to the senior pastor Mark Mullery Mark told Grizzley “Get your wife under control” In the course of time Noel finally left SG Fairfax with the molester’s Mom still demanding a meeting wanting to confront her for the 6 page document that was read in court.
The Takeaways in how Sovereign Grace Fairfax Handled Child Sex Abuse in Noel’s Story
This is what can be learned from Noel’s story as I process and contemplate what is reported.
- Child sex abuse is to be dealt internally and not taken to the police.
- Counseling that is done is to be “Biblical.” This counseling dismisses psychology and follows “Biblical” principles and theology – often in the reformed mindset. What are examples of “Biblical” counseling? Well it can be programs like Twelve Stones, Christian Counseling & Education Foundation, etc…
- Sexual abuse should not be reported to the government, law enforcement or medical specialists, doctors, etc…
- Grace means that an alleged perpetrator should not face any legal action or ramifications for one’s abuse. Grace means that a person avoids the consequences of their actions.
- Forgiveness means that the perpetrator should be forgiven even when he does not own his alleged crimes. Forgiveness in this context is warped and manipulative.
- The church is kept in the dark and people are not told that a serious alleged crime took place. The perpetrator is allowed to remain a part of the community and boundaries are loose. This also means other families and people are at risk.
- Anger is viewed as sinful, when in reality anger is a healthy human emotion, especially to psychological pain.
- The church supports the alleged perpetrator and goes to bat for him, while they marginalize the family of the sex abuse victim.
- Appearance must be maintained, in the end Christianity is the brand that must be protected at all cost.
- Facts are gossip and not be be discussed.
- Sin is sin, in reformed/Calvinist theology all sin is rationalized and thus explained away. The rape of a child is no different than stealing a pack of gum from 7-11.
It should also be pointed out that the media talked and discussed how Sovereign Grace Fairfax mishandled the situation. This was done in the Washingtonian which you can read about near the top in this post.
Salem Church in Staten Island
The Story of Angelo Paulino and Salem Church
Angelo Paulino was a 25 year old volunteer who was a part of Salem Church. He volunteered not just at Salem but also the YMCA and the Police Athletic League of New York City. According to the criminal complaint he attempted to abuse a 12 year old boy in the bathroom of Salem Church. The alleged incident occurred on March 2, 2019. This is how the local press described what happened.
Paulino escorted the victim, who was 12 years old at the time, to a bathroom where no other people were present, according to the criminal complaint.
While pointing to the boy’s lower body, the complaint alleges that Paulino asked, “Can I see down there?”
The suspect is quoted in the complaint as then saying, “Can you give me a kiss on the cheek? I would do nothing to hurt you.”
During the encounter, Paulino allegedly was standing in front of the bathroom door.
The incident caused the teen to “fear for his safety,” the complaint states.
The incident was reported on the evening of June 25, 2019. Salem immediately removed Angelo from the community and prevented his access. On June 27, former New York sergeant and current Salem pastor Ed Fieramosca interviewed the family who made the complaint. After the interview Child Protection Services was contacted immediately who then referred the case to the New York Police Department. Angelo came in for questioning it appears and in the process he was arrested. Salem Church then sent out the following note to the entire congregation on Tuesday July 9, 2019 around noon.
The incident has been published about in the local Staten Island media. Its also worth noting that Salem is bringing an outside agency to examine their child safety policy. In addition to taking that action Salem Church also went public on their Facebook page. While this was controversial it was done to let the public know about the situation since Angelo was an active volunteer outside Salem as well. From what I have heard the church has been cooperating with law enforcement. Last Sunday July 14, John Welborn spoke openly about the event. However, when I checked the church sermon resource page as of July 21, 2019 the sermon was not uploaded. So I could not listen to the update that has been given or what was said.
The Takeaways in the Attempted Sex Abuse Story of Angelo Paulino at Salem Church
When you consider the Angelo Paulino story at Salem Church these are the takeaways that can be learned from the situation.
- A removal of Angelo from the Salem Church community immediately.
- An interview with the family by Ed Ficramosca and the quick contact of Child Protection Services.
- The notification of the NYPD by CPS.
- Salem Church notifies the church community of the incident shortly after it was learned and the police being involved.
- Salem Church also names the alleged perpetrator allowing for other people to come forward.
- Salem moved very fast as this allegation came forward.
How Salem Church Can be an Example Inside the EFCA and Why Its Time for Minneapolis to Study Salem and Put Together a White Paper
Part of the reason why I did this post is to highlight how Salem Church handled a difficult situation, and did so well. In the case of Sovereign Grace Fairfax everything was handled internally with an attempt to discourage the family from going to law enforcement. Whereas in the situation at Salem within 48 hours after the church learned of the alleged abuse and after an interview by Ed Ficramosca Salem contacted Child Protection Services. The two situations are very much night and day. Sovereign Grace Fairfax acted the way that it did because it was more concerned with protecting the brand name. Protecting the brand by the controversial church was more important than the protection of children.
This blog believes that the EFCA, like many other religious organizations will have a problem with child sex abuse. And while cases from the 1970’s up to the 2000’s may be an issue for the organization at large this situation in Salem the EFCA can learn from. The way Salem handled this allegation was aggressive, quite impressive and with a lot of transparency. While they may have taken a hit to their name, its this writers belief that is only temporary. In focusing on the person allegedly harmed and realizing that there could be others they took the right course of action. In the bigger picture they also protected their name and the church by taking this action. When you look at the two situations up above…Sovereign Grace Fairfax and Salem Church which organization would you rather be involved in? Which organization as a parent would you want your children involved in? Which leadership model can you trust and respect? Its really quite clear, the answer it Salem Church.
As the EFCA in Minneapolis deals with the topic of sexual abuse as it comes forward this blog is hoping that the denomination can study what took place at Salem Church in Staten Island. The EFCA would be wise to do so, as the organization could learn quite a bit about a healthy way to deal with the topic. In the case of Salem a possible way ahead has emerged that could be a lesson for other EFCA churches in the organization. Its this blog’s hope that Minneapolis could study what happened at Salem and develop a white paper for this difficult topic. But when you think about it one of the most compelling reasons for Minneapolis to study and examine the situation at Salem is the following. We live in an age in which cynicism and distrust of authority and organizations is at its peak. This is happening from across government, to corporations, to sports, and also religious institutions. In this age of cynicism the question remains how do you rebuild trust? How do you get outsiders and other to trust your organization again? The answer is that you become proactive and take bold steps to correct the problem. In this situation what would it mean if the EFCA in a press release or statement or even a blog post by Greg Strand highlighted how the EFCA is studying an incident at a church to find better ways to deal with a difficult problem-set – that of child sex abuse. By taking that course of action the EFCA can also take a step in the right direction of building up trust and helping to re-affirm to people that a religious organization can be trusted.
Remembering When Bill Kynes Preached at Sovereign Grace Fairfax, and When Christians Support a Corrupt Church
So that leaves the question then what do Christians do with churches like Sovereign Grace Fairfax when it has been found that they are covering up alleged misdeeds. Here in the northern Virginia area Sovereign Grace Fairfax/Redeeming Grace Church has the reputation of being a cult. And yet despite all the problems it still is trying to recruit people, do outreaches and more. Its an ongoing problem in the view of this blogger. So how should Christians react to a questionable church? They should really speak out and not support a church that is dealing with questionable baggage and problems. In my research I continue to find incidents where evangelicals continue to support and ignore the issues at hand. Here are two examples.
When I was studying social media of Redeeming Grace Church I noticed that EFCA pastor Bill Kynes preached and taught at this controversial church on November 22, 2015. Bill Kynes who not only leads Cornerstone Church in Annandale, Virginia he also worked with Greg Strand to re-write the EFCA Statement of Faith in 2008. This blogger who respects Bill Kynes was disappointed that he would go and preach and affirm a questionable entity. Bill Kynes actions highlight how evangelicals can perpetuate the problem of child sex abuse by ignoring and supporting a church that has not come clean or dealt with the issues at hand. Theologically since Bill Kynes is reformed/Calvinist in his theology and Mark Mullury is as well, this shows how tribalism among Calvinists is more important than facts or truth. You can read more in, “Cornerstone’s Bill Kynes Preaching at Redeeming Grace Church (Formerly Sovereign Grace Fairfax) Illustrates How Corrupt Churches are Kept Afloat.” But this also shows itself in other ways as well. As an alum form Campus Crusade for Christ I was deeply disappointed to see Crusade at George Mason University promote and encourage their students to get involved in Redeeming Grace Church. This blog had an entanglement with the Crusade leadership over their recommending a questionable and cult like entity known for covering up child sex abuse. Again why would any Christian organization that claims to care about the Gospel encourage people to get involved in an organization that is bringing it much harm? This shows how many evangelicals struggle with discernment and critical thinking skills. You can read more in, “Why Does Cru at George Mason University Recommend Sovereign Grace Fairfax? Is that Wise?”