“You can recognize survivors of abuse by their courage. When silence is so very inviting, they step forward and share their truth so others know they aren’t alone.” ― Jeanne McElvaney, Healing Insights: Effects of Abuse for Adults Abused as Children
This purpose of this post is to help other churches and parachurch groups figure out how not to screw up an investigation into sex abuse. I am going to focus on what I believe were the missteps on the part of the leadership of Christ Community Chapel as they dealt with the accusations surrounding one of their pastors, Tom Randall, and Sankey Residence in the Philippines.
The SBC has begun to understand the need for third party, independent investigation.
Many of you have been following the devastating revelations of the large numbers of child sex abuse reports coming out of the Southern Baptist Convention. Not only did the Houston Chronicle report on the abuse of over 700 kids but they also listed the number of pastor predators (220) as well as pastors and churches who covered up their knowledge of ongoing abuse.
In May 2018, Al Mohler, the head of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the de fact ohead of all things Reformed in the SBC, wrote The Wrath of God Poured Out — The Humiliation of the Southern Baptist Convention. I am going to take a leap of faith here and surmise that Mohler was aware that an investigation on SBC child sex abuse was underfoot.
A church, denomination, or Christian ministry must look outside of itself when confronted with a pattern of mishandling such responsibilities, or merely of being charged with such a pattern. We cannot vindicate ourselves.
I believe that any public accusation concerning such a pattern requires an independent, third-party investigation.
SBC Voices wrote What Does Al Mohler Mean by “Independent, Third-Party Investigation”? The author admits that third party investigations are the way to go.
Mohler covers a lot of ground in that piece about clergy abuse of women, including both practical and theological aspects of the issues but the quote above is interesting and the call for “any public accusation” to demand an “independent, third party investigation” is new ground in some ways.
On the individual church level, independent, third-party investigations have been employed sporadically but regularly in SBC. But what does Mohler mean when he writes that a denomination…must look outside of itself? I don’t want to parse every word of Mohler’s piece but I assume when he writes of a “pattern” he isn’t excluding individual acts that should require an independent, third party investigation.
Why is a third party, independent investigation considered the gold standard?
Am I saying that a person close to a situation would never be able to give an unbiased review. No, but I do claim that it is much harder to do so. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 KJV tells us to avoid the appearance of evil. I liked this definition of what this means.
We need not become legalistic regarding what others may perceive to be evil. But we do need to remain cognizant of our witness to the world and of our duty to support fellow believers. We should also be aware of our own tendencies toward sin.
I will revisit this momentarily as I look at Suzanne’s letter to CCC,
CCC appears to have given inaccurate information on several occasions about the *investigation* into the Sankey Orphanage.
Let’s take a look at how the church described the investigation at various times.
11/4/18: Joe Coffey addresses a meeting of members and says *the case is finished”according to witnesses.
According to witnesses, he says that people are protesting the Live Boldly event in Aurora on Nov 4 (?) evening. He had gotten word that there might be protesting. They are likely protesting because there had been charges against Tom and two employees in the Philippines in 2014. Joe explains the legal fees saying that in the Philippines, the state is not required to provide an attorney if a person can not afford one. So we paid for the legal fees. The case finished and a group of people are not happy about the outcome of the case. He uses the words “time and truth” and says that the church would not walk in fear. This meeting was not recorded that we know of, and this is a summary from the memory of witnesses.
12/14/18 CCC Meeting wit responses from Stacey DiNardo appears to say there is an outside investigation ongoing by multiple people, only one of whom has a CCC *loose connection.
Read this dialog carefully. Stacey claims:
- They (meaning more than one)
- They are not funded or supported by CCC.
- One individual has a *loose” association.
- The rest have zero affiliation.
- Stacey appears to say that the church is not doing this for the members and that Stacey has no obligation to answer Taylor’s question. I guess church members who pay their tithes and support the church have absolutely nothing to say about a serious investigation being conducted by the church.
- The Mauks reached out to GRACE which seems to indicate that they are disqualified But, did CCC actually get someone who never heard anything about anybody at CCC?
- Multiple people conducting the investigation apparently have superior qualifications to GRACE. Hmmmm
Now to the meeting:
Julie: now you told me [referring to Stacey] that there was an outside investigation going on. But we, I mean I haven’t heard anything nobody’s contacted me
Stacey: Well, I think I emailed you about that and that is just that at this point there’s a lot so the stack of things that I know I have received just from all of the lawyers and court documents that we handed over to them was about this tall (signals with hands somewhere between 3 to 8 inches–guess). So that at this point they are continuing to go through that. And I think I emailed you and said you know they just shared with me they’re like you can let them know that we are just not ready to reach out to them at this point. But it still is under, go–, you know, it still is taking place, still moving on. And that’s something I mean I know I see written because I have shared that with you and April maybe as well is that they feel there’s no need for our, first of all, again, in many regards we don’t feel an obligation to, our elders our church we feel you know we want to make sure we do our due diligence.
Taylor: so I had a question.
Taylor: the third party group you have. Are they in any way affiliated with CCC, um funded by CCC, supported by CCC.
Stacey: Um they are um not at all funded or supported by CCC. They are independent and they are still even in the works, some of it is even continuing to develop and grow as far as the actual group. Um There is a loose association with one individual that even honestly reached out to us that is in correlation with it. But that is why they are continuing to have other individuals as a part of this group that have absolutely zero association.
Taylor: so my question is then, what was the reasoning um to have any association when GRACE exists as a completely neutral organization who has been demonstrated to be one of the best in the country. Why did the church pick anyone that was even slightly associated loosely or otherwise?
Stacey: so again, I don’t feel an obligation to uncover, and we’re doing this for our benefit, not for the benefit of you um because our elders and feel that let’s just make sure that there is no rock left unturned in this. Um there are as I shared with a of couple of you, with with GRACE number one, we do know like that the Mauks have reached out to them. Number two the actual qualifications of the people that I know of that are currently involved in this are actually superior to the qualifications that we researched of the mainly prosecutors that are part of the team at GRACE.
Last Friday, in an attempt to help folks wade through these odd and conflicting responses by the church leadership, I decided to track down answers to my questions.
- Was the FBI involved in this matter? As you will see, the answer is “No.”
- Are there a number of people involved on the investigative team-all of whom who have qualifications which are far superior to GRACE? The answer is “No.”
- Is there a person who has only a loose association with CCC and receives no funds or support from CCC? The answer is “No.”. As you will see in the following letter from Joe Coffey, Suzanne Lewis-Johnson is the only one named by Joe Coffey as investigating this situation. She is a member of CCC and she receives monetary support from CCC and the Sankey Foundation.
So, where does that leave me? It appears the church has been paying games with CCC members about who is involved in this investigation. It’s just one person and she is definitely not a third party, independent investigator. I’m sure she is a really nice person but her niceness is not the subject of this post.
So why did the church leadership decide not to tell the truth? Do they understand that this puts one big question mark on the proceedings?
Joe Coffey/Stacy Di Nardo’s letter to CCC (after my post from last week.)
I highlighted portions that jumped out at me. They finally admit that the *team* is made up of only Lewis-Johnson.
Dear CCC Family,
The following is a brief update regarding the 2013 allegations of abuse at Sankey Samaritan Orphanage in the Philippines and the current action that we are taking. We wanted you to receive this directly from me, and to know that we are available for any questions or concerns.
Seeking to make Jesus famous,
In September 2018, Christ Community Chapel’s leadership team and board of elders initiated a review into the 2013 allegations of abuse at Sankey Samaritan Orphanage in Lucena City, Philippines in addition to the organizational response to the allegations.
Sankey Samaritan was funded by World Harvest Ministries, which became a ministry of CCC in 2014. As the legal process proceeded in the Philippines and even after the last of the charges were provisionally dismissed in 2016, CCC continued to receive questions from concerned individuals regarding the case which prompted the initiation of this review. CCC desires transparency and truth in addition to our commitment to pursuing justice and mercy, especially for society’s most vulnerable. Also, CCC desires to know if there are ways in which we could have better-pursued justice in this situation to determine responsibility and seek to best honor Christ through our organizational conduct.
The person conducting the review is Suzanne Lewis-Johnson. Suzanne is a member of CCC who has served ten years as a federal investigator of child exploitation and human trafficking cases before her involvement with RAHAB Ministries. RAHAB is a ministry that works to fight against human trafficking in Akron and the surrounding areas. Her review is being conducted without influence or involvement by any CCC staff member or elder. If you have firsthand information or documentation that is pertinent to this situation, we encourage you to contact Suzanne at email@example.com.
We are grateful to Attorney Martinez, the attorney involved in the criminal case in the Philippines, for graciously allowing Suzanne access to legal documentation connected to the case, including affidavits, investigative reports, and court documents. We are also profoundly grateful to those both here in Northeast Ohio and around the world who continue to fight tirelessly for justice and mercy for the vulnerable. When Suzanne completes her review, her findings will be released. Until that time we do not plan to speak publicly regarding this situation. In the meantime, if you have questions or concerns, we encourage you to ask them, and we welcome the opportunity for conversation. Please contact
Stacey.DiNardo@ccchapel.comwith any questions or concerns.
A letter to CCC from Suzanne Lewis-Johnson
Suzanne did not return my call to her on 3/8/19 which did not surprise me. I had a feeling I knew what was happening at this point.
I left the FBI in May 2018 because I believed I could do more to protect freedom by leading RAHAB than I could by conducting investigations.
During ten years of investigating human trafficking and child exploitation matters, I saw that human trafficking truly is the modern-day slavery it’s often called. It’s the manifestation in the physical realm of the spiritual slavery introduced in the garden, when evil took all of humanity into captivity.
Those who traffic and exploit use the snake’s weapon–deception–to conceal their actions with false narratives and to physically enslave women, children and even men.
I realized through my investigations, and by reading my Bible from cover to cover, that Love and Truth in the flesh is the antidote to the physical and spiritual slavery brought by the snake’s venom.
From parting the Red Sea to Calvary, God is in the business of setting people free through Love and Truth in the flesh.
We’re called to let Love and Truth live through us to continue that story.
As an FBI Agent, that meant finding facts, so they could be placed on the record in the judicial system. It meant loving my neighbor by treating victims, witnesses and even subjects with compassion, so they could be safe to tell their stories.
As an investigator I wrestled with having too few resources. I wrestled with the lack of accessible corroborating evidence for dark deeds done in secret, with judges who downward departed from sentencing guidelines, with prosecutors who weren’t allowed to pursue cases they might lose and with defense attorneys who worked to get guilty clients off on technicalities.
I saw from a unique perspective that law enforcement alone isn’t the answer, although it’s important and can be a deterrent to some extent. But sadly, prosecuted cases are only the very tip of the iceberg.
As much as I wrestled with the system’s imperfect reflection of divine justice yet to come, I wrestled more with the collective Church’s failure to live what it said it believed.
I saw women and children dying in slavery in my own backyard, while RAHAB seemed too slow to open more safe housing and grow services. At times, law enforcement operations to identify victims seemed almost futile, when victims couldn’t be moved out of traffickers’ clutches to safe, trauma-informed places.
As an FBI Agent I couldn’t publicly ask where the American Church was in supporting this work to a greater degree, but I could communicate with my own pastor. I fired off an email to Joe Coffey. Instead of telling me to get rid of the plank in my own eye, he connected me with leadership who oversaw local outreach, so I could get on my soapbox some more.
When I realized I needed to live what I believed by investing more in RAHAB personally, I left the FBI to lead RAHAB in fulfilling a vision of growing RAHAB locally and replicating RAHAB broadly. With completion of that vision, no one will be trafficked for lack of safe places or people to live the Love and Truth that counteracts enslaving lies.
After I left the FBI, Christ Community Chapel asked me to review the church’s response to allegations of abuse at Sankey Samaritan Orphanage in the Philippines.
I rejected that role as a distraction from what I’d been called to do at RAHAB.
I recommended CCC entrust the work to a different former law enforcement officer and attempted to identify one with the following qualifications, to ensure recognition of critical context and to ensure competence compiling facts in non-argumentative written form:
• Extensive experience interviewing child victims.
• Extensive experience interrogating child abuse subjects.
• Familiarity with judicial systems and criminal proceedings.
• Experience drafting affidavits presented for a Judge’s consideration.
• Familiarity with Evangelical worldview and Biblical ministry.
When neither CCC nor I were able to identify an available former law enforcement officer who met the criteria, I reluctantly committed to review records on a volunteer basis.
I asked CCC not to disclose my identity during initial stages to avoid confusion with my role at RAHAB. At first, I committed only to organizing facts, with original sources attached, to equip church leaders and others to independently judge and interpret based on their own scrutiny of the evidence.
When some asked for feedback and an assessment of conduct, I said that wasn’t my role. But eventually, I realized I had landed in this place for a reason, and those asking for candid feedback about their actions deserved to receive it.
When I shared where preliminary information could be leading, based on emergence of familiar patterns, CCC leadership encouraged me to be bold in speaking what I saw, and to document any areas of concern I encountered.
Rather than disparaging me, as I’ve heard of in other churches, or targeting me for retribution, as I’ve encountered elsewhere, CCC encouraged me to pursue Truth, regardless of what it illuminated. In fact, Joe Coffey told me he trusted me precisely because of the “ferocity” with which I had advocated to him for exploited children in the past. Any of us willing to scrutinize our own actions or decisions will likely find what we could have done differently, and I hope those calling for account in this instance will invite accountability of their own conduct to the same degree.
While I’ve reviewed material from several perspectives, important pieces still need to be pursued and processed. I look forward to others responding with the same humility I’ve encountered until this juncture.
During this review of around a thousand pages to date, some have publicly claimed a role in pertinent events and indicated they possess evidence outside the scope of what I’ve seen. I encourage anyone with information connected to CCC’s conduct to provide it to the church.
First-hand information relevant to the review may also be provided directly to me via email at . Any such communication should fully identify the sender and how and when each piece of information was obtained, so that sources and authenticity may be verified.
Argumentative messages attempting to persuade of the righteousness of a particular position will be ignored as attempts to sway the outcome. No response will be provided to questions or requests for comment for the duration of the review. RAHAB staff have been instructed not to forward communications related to this matter, so please use the above email to ensure all important information reaches me.
Some have described this situation as having two contingents or perspectives—CCC’s and that of a group of advocates. Each supposed side has been accused of bias for being too close to the situation, blinded by affection or connection–with the church alleged to be unable to admit sin among their own and the advocates alleged to be projecting their own history of abuse or that of someone close to them onto the situation.
If concerns that no one from one supposed side could see the other were valid, I would be blind to both of them.
Not only am I a member of CCC, but the stories coming from the children of Sankey and my own share a common thread.
Not just from my experience in the FBI, not just from my work with RAHAB, but from some of my own earliest recollections I know the shame that silences, the fear of being returned to that place and the betrayal by someone I expected to be a protector.
That bias or blindness is inevitable is false.
It helps to conduct a self-assessment of the experiences we bring. They can be a hinderance or a benefit. Personal experience can help us understand nuances we might not otherwise see and give us insight to ask better questions.
It can also lead us to make logical leaps and assumptions. Even if we’ve seen or experienced something many times before, we need to question how we know it’s the same in this instance.
After benefitting from the insight and knowledge personal experiences bring, good investigators step outside of their own perspective. This is imperative in every investigation of any kind, because everyone views life through a lens.
Real factfinders identify critical questions to examine their own suppositions, and every piece of information presented. For every “fact”, they ask, “How do I know it’s True?”
That would be a valuable practice for anyone living in a culture polarized by politics, posts and tweets. Too often we determine in our own minds what is True and then shift information to support a position. When spin takes Truth even a tiny bit off track, Truth isn’t Truth at all.
If any of us believe we have the perfect corner on Truth, or that a particular group does, we’ve been deceived again into the slavery of the original prideful sin. We’ve placed ourselves or that entity in the place of God. We will only know complete and perfect Truth when the One who is Truth reveals it at the end of time.
In the meantime, although we all see through a filter, in this fallen world, we can know Truth to some degree, and the objective of this review is to present what can be known to CCC.
To be transparent, there is a bias I struggle to move beyond– frustration with the American Church. In my mind, the support for efforts to end exploitation don’t come close to being enough, and it will never be enough until there are no more stories to be told like those coming from the Philippines, like those I hear at RAHAB, or like mine.
Since taking on this review, I’ve been reluctant for RAHAB to continue conversations with CCC or supporters we’ve had in common with the Philippines orphanage; however, I was wrong to let fear of potential critics’ conflation slow our progress. Questions about conduct in one place should not cause withdrawl of life-saving support to end exploitation in another location.
Despite CCC’s knowledge of what could be perceived as my having bias against them, I’ve been asked to finish this review. As a result, absent identification of a willing former law enforcement officer meeting the identified criteria, I will stay the course until completion.
Thoughts on the Lewis-Johnsons’ letter
- Her ability to Ignore the potential for bias is also a false premise.
- By ignoring potential bias, church leaders offer little hope that this investigation will finalize answers to the questions. There will always be concerns that bias affected the outcome. Be prepared for years and years of questions about what happened. I know. My former church did an internal investigation on a similar situation 10 years ago and people are still asking questions.
- GRACE has investigated missions agencies involved in abuse. Here is a link to their investigation of New Tribes MIssion. It appears that they are far more skilled in this area than just about anyone.I’m surprised that their excellent service has been overlooked by Lewis-Johnson and the church leaders. It seems to me that there might be some sort of prideful turf war going on here.
- Lewis-Johnson did not mention the friendship between Joe Coffey and Tom Randall.
- She implies that she also wants accountability for those raising questions. Ummm-no. They did not abuse anyone. They did not place themselves in the position of investigating the mess. She did. Sorry- but this is what you get when you decide to tout your FBI credentials and take charge of an investigation.
- She does get money from CCC and the Sankey Family. She should have acknowledged this.
- Her stated bias against the American church does not translate into anyone at CCC believing that she has a bias against that church. She is a member there, after all, and gets money from them. I don’t think they are too worried about her *bias.
I’ve seen a number of pictures of Tom Randall visiting the Sankey Residence in January. I have been told that he brought wonderful electronic gifts that will help in the education of the residents. However, it seems a bit odd that he would schedule such a visit after being told that an independent investigation was underway. I wonder if anyone told him how such a visit at this time that might appear?
I also plan to submit a photo that I have obtained to Suzanne Lewis-Johnson to aid in her internal, non-independent investigation.