“The whole purpose of spiritual direction is to penetrate beneath the surface of a man’s life, to get behind the façade of conventional gestures and attitudes which he presents to the world, and to bring out his inner spiritual freedom, his inmost truth, which is what we call the likeness of Christ in his soul. ” Thomas Merton
I believe that Linaja’s observations and actions in the following story are amazing. She has an incredible ability to understand and communicate the evident (to me) sexual grooming by Asa Crow. I will refer to Linaja’s words many times in blog posts to come. I am so grateful that she so clearly understood what was happening, got support from her pastor, and went on to report what happened to the authorities. I believe she saved others from being abused in a similar manner. Thank you for being so brave, Linaja.
The following occurred to Linaja who wished to pursue spiritual direction. As the following events unfolded, she confided in Kyle McMahon who is her pastor at Gateway Church. I was privileged to speak with Kyle about what happened. Kyle expressed a deep interest in what we do at TWW and offered to be a listening ear in the future. I found him to be a most pleasant and kind individual. He confirmed that Linaja had confided in him about the events that follow in this post.
Linaja was directed to Hope Lutheran Church in Des Moines, Iowa, which is an ELCA church. At the time of these incidents, her soon-to-be director, Asa Crow, was apparently a part-time pastor at the church. He also supposedly had a website called Immersion Direction in which he offered to help with spiritual direction. That website has been removed and he reportedly no longer works at Hope Lutheran. I have also been told by Linajaj that they were going to do an investigation into what happened. I left a message that I would like to speak with someone but have not received an answer as of yet. I will update the website if I hear from them.
What is spiritual direction?
I went to Richard Foster’s website, Renovaré, because I have been made aware of this ministry’s interest in spiritual direction amongst other practices of the faith. Foster, himself, addresses What Is Spiritual Direction. I have highlighted some areas that have particular relevance to Linaja’s concerning experience. The entire article is worth the read. Foster is known as a pastor who has written about his thinking of spiritual formation in the well-known book Celebration of Discipline.
1. Spiritual direction is an interpersonal relationship in which we learn how to grow, live, and love in the spiritual life.
2. Spiritual direction involves a process through which one person helps another person understand what God is doing and saying.
3. Discernment is a crucial gift in the work of spiritual direction.
4. In spiritual direction there is absolutely no domination or control.
5. The spiritual director/mentor/pastor guides another in spiritual things through the spiritual world by spiritual means.
6. God has ordained that there be spiritual directors/mentors/pastors among his people. This is the structure of love in practice.
7. Supremely, spiritual directors/mentors/pastors are persons who have a sense of being “established” in God. Otherwise they are too dangerous to be allowed into the soul space of others.
Linaja’s disturbing experience with Asa Crow
Linaja is an attorney and her expertise is evident in the following carefully constructed letter to the Attorney General of Iowa. Here is a screenshot of the first part of the letter. As you will see, she reported Asa to the authorities.
From this point forward, I will use Linaja’s own words. I will label any of my comments with (ed.) All of the bolded titles are written by the editor.
Apparent grooming/sexual abuse
(ed.) Linaja continued to carefully the events that transpired. I have highlighted some actions on the part of Crow that disturb me greatly.
March 18, 2021
On or about March 18, 2021, Asa and I met for our first official session of in-person counseling. We met at the garden in front of the World Food Prize Building located at 100 Locust Street, Des Moines, IA 50309. It was during this initial in-person meeting that sexual content became a part of our conversation. Asa described “whole body” wellness which he described as eating healthily, sleeping sufficiently, and “orgasming regularly” from “masturbation.” I now observe this early conduct as grooming and voyeuristic in nature.
April 18, 2021
On or about April 18, 2021, we met for our second session of in-person counseling. I suggested we keep meeting in public. We met at Gravitate, a “coworking” office space located at 500 Locust Street, Des Moines, IA 50309. During this meeting, Asa shared that his “love language” is“physical touch.” He shared that he often cuddles with a woman—who is not his wife, but who also lives with him—along with his wife as a threesome.
During this meeting, he also shared that he engages in unusual physical practices with his spiritual director, a woman. The two have sat on each other’s laps, straddling each other, he explained while pressing their hearts together during counseling. He also shared that he had shared a bed with his spiritual director while they were both naked, but did not have sex. I expressed shock and asked what his wife thought about this. He shared that they “have boundaries” in place. Asa’s conduct made me uncomfortable. When sharing it with friends, they commented that this sounded like early stages of sexual abuse.
Those who are sexually exploitative target those who are vulnerable.
May 2, 2021
On or about May 2, 2021, prior to meeting with Asa Crow for the third—and final time—I asked my pastor, Kyle McMahon—who had referred me to Asa for counseling—if Asa had shared his practice of pressing his heart to his spiritual director’s chest while she sat on his lap. Kyle expressed he was not even aware Asa had a spiritual director, which worried me because it meant I was privy to “secret” information; sharing secrets is a common practice by those engaging in sexual exploitation and grooming.
During my final meeting with Asa on May 2, 2021, we met at Gravitate’s coworking space located at 500 Locust Street, Des Moines, IA 50309 again. During this meeting, I asked Asa how he and his spiritual director came to their unusual physical practices. He explained that he’d sought spiritual direction in part because his mother had suffered from a borderline personality disorder and was not physically expressive of her love toward him. Asa’s spiritual director instructed him to “go home and write down everything you want me to do to you physically.”
Asa reported complying with this and reading his list to her during the following session. Asa shared that she remarked “we cannot do any of those things today because we are too horny,” but that she would consider what she would feel comfortable doing in future sessions. Subsequently, they engaged in numerous physical activities until she married and her new spouse forbid the contact.
I asked Asa whether he believed his spiritual director sexually abused him. I shared that I believed this was sexual exploitation for a counselor to offer to engage in sexual activities with someone who is emotionally dependent and seeking advice. He shared details about the “boundaries” he and his wife had in place. These boundaries permitted each of them to engage in all sexual activity except vaginal intercourse with other partners.
Linaja stated she did not want any physical contact with Asa
Understanding Asa’s conduct and conversation to impliedly be a part of a scheme of conduct to engage in sexual activities with me, I unequivocally stated that I did not want physical contact of any form to play a part in my spiritual direction.
She then decided to end the “spiritual direction” relationship and met with Pastor Kyle and his wife.
(ed.) Linaja was very wise to discuss what was happening to her with her pastor and his wife. They are witnesses to her narrative.
On or about May 3, 2021,
I emailed Asa to end our director-directee relationship (see “Exhibit A” enclosed herein). I copied my pastor, Kyle McMahon, on that email. I met with Kyle and his wife, Jessica, by video conference later in the day to share additional details of Asa’s conduct. Asa responded to my email on May 4, 2021 (see “Exhibit B” enclosed herein). He refunded all funds I had paid for counseling. I have not spoken to Asa or heard from him since his May 4, 2021 email.
Linaja decided to report Asa Crow to the authorities and follow up with Hope Lutheran which reported receiving additional reports.
On or about August 22, 2021,
I left a telephone message on the Attorney General Hotline for Clergy Abuse. My telephone call was not returned.
On or about August 30, 2021,
I emailed the President of Hope Lutheran’s “Counsel” to report the misconduct. My email was not substantively responded to. (I learned on October 20, 2021, that Hope Lutheran had a technical glitch that resulted in emails not being properly transmitted to the president.)
On or about October 15, 2021,
I had a telephone call with Chris Gunnare, Chief Operating Officer of Hope Lutheran, during which I detailed my experience with Asa. During this call, I learned that Hope Lutheran had received additional reports from a person using the name/pseudonym of D. Swinson regarding reports of Asa’s misconduct in Texas and Colorado in the first week of May 2021. Shortly after confronting Asa about these allegations, Hope Lutheran reported that Asa resigned from his staff position at their church. Recently, I learned that Asa is employed at “Developing Great Relationships,” which promotes itself as being a “biblically-based ministry” in Pella, Iowa. I am concerned that Asa will continue to move from place to place and engaging in sexually motivated schemes that abuse women and girls.
(ed.-This is a must-read. She also reported this to the police.)
Being an emotionally dependent subordinate in a director-directee relationship with a spiritual leader who was exposed me to sexually explicit conversations about masturbation, sexual arousal, orgasms, and manual/oral feels violating. I trusted Asa and his counseling. He violated this trust and should not be trusted to provide counseling to others. I have reported these instances of unwanted sexual contact to the Des Moines Police Department. I would like the Office of the Attorney General to investigate this as a part of its gathering information regarding sexual abuse by spiritual leaders and clergy in Iowa. I am available to provide further information upon request.
Exhibit A- ( ed. Sent to Asa and Pastor Kyle McMahon)
I’m writing to end our spiritual director/directee relationship. I have thought about the content of our conversations. I have prayed for discernment. I have discussed your conduct with those whom I trust to protect me. In doing these things, I have come to the conclusion that it is improper for us to continue meeting. I understand this may be shocking as it is not what I communicated yesterday afternoon. Discussions with others led me to understand the wrongness of your conduct within the nature of our relationship.
While your (and Meredith’s) conclusions regarding sexuality are irreproachable logically, they do not comport to the Christian sex ethic as I understand it. That what is “not sex” prior to marriage with one’s future spouse remains “not sex” with others after marital vows are taken follows logically, but it disregards what I understand to be the so-called “spirit of the law.” I fear that your conduct has the potential to break hearts, destroy marriages, and lead people away from Christ. It could wreak havoc in the lives of children.
Sexual energies are perhaps the most destructive of all energies when handled irreverently.
In the context of a mentor/mentee relationship – between a man and a woman – it is wholly inappropriate to discuss being “horny,” masturbation, and orgasm. It is an act of voyeurism. It borders on spiritual abuse and is potentially predatory behavior. I do not believe your intent was to harm me and I cannot say whether your director intended to harm you. Intent aside, I feel violated. Boundaries were crossed. It feels particularly hurtful that I disclosed my abuse history to you and then you engaged in this sort of rhetoric… under the guise of spiritual direction and godly friendship, no less!
I intend to speak with Kyle and Jessica about these things. I plan to request that Kyle stop advising women to meet with you for spiritual direction. I understand this may feel like a betrayal of confidences. I am sorry. I do not intend to gossip, betray your trust, or add sexual shame here. I do intend to drag things done in darkness to light. Healthy integration of the whole soul (integrity) is the aim of a disciplined life. What we do in private can be shared publicly when we are well integrated because our private self is our public self. We are after all, in the language of recovery programs, as sick as our sickest secrets.
I wish you goodness, moral excellence, and marital health. I pray blessings upon your life, your marriage, and your children’s lives. This letter is sent with sisterly love. I hope that it is received that way. I will be allocating the funds I set aside for “spiritual direction” this month toward therapy.
Exhibit B: Asa Crow responds.
Ed. I challenge our readers to parse Asa’s response. I see a number of problems and have little hope that he will stop these alleged actions.
From: Immersion Direction email@example.com
Subject: Re: Ending Director/Directee Relationship
Date: May 4, 2021 at 3:39 PM
To: Linaja Duncan firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for this message.
I am broken to have caused pain, and it grieves me abundantly that you feel violated. I am so very sorry.
I fully respect your decision and appreciate your explanation; which I am not owed. Thank you for sharing it and wishing me goodness.
I see now how my attempt to relate by disclosing my own experience created discomfort, pain, and crossed boundaries. That was wrong, and I am sorry to have caused you harm.
It is a painful lesson to learn, and a mistake I will not repeat. Your reflections are inviting me to reflect again on my own experiences
and reconsider them in a new light.
I will speak with Kyle as well, as I trust him. I’ll also be returning your contribution last month, and commit to referring all females in the future.
This is a sad and sorrowful error, and I trust this will prevent any similar mistake in the future. I never want to cause harm.
I hope I have received your letter as you intended. I will also be praying for blessings upon your life.
(ed. Asa spoke with Kyle in March. But, as Linaja mentioned, he is onto a new ministry.)
Message from Linaja to Detective Follett
On 10/26/21 Linaja wrote this message to the police who apparently declined to investigate.
Hello Detective Follett,I really appreciate your time. Thank you for the work that you do in Des Moines.I understand the department’s position, though I do believe Asa was a member of the clergy engaging in counseling who enacted a “scheme of conduct to engage” in “sexual conduct with an emotionally dependent [client] for the purpose of arousing or satisfying the sexual desires of the counselor” in violation of § 709.15:<Screen Shot 2021-10-26 at 3.17.15 PM.png>While he did not engage in the “practice” of kissing or touching me in the areas enumerated in 709.15(2)(a)(2)(b), he did engage in a “scheme of conduct” (i.e. grooming) for the purpose of “arousing or satisfying” his “sexual desires” which violates the code.In a similar case in Northern Iowa, a pastor was found guilty of similar grooming patterns when he (Grimes) “engaged in a pattern, practice or scheme of conduct to engage in sexual conduct with three emotionally dependent clients for the purpose of arousing or satisfying the sexual desires of the counselor. Grimes became a friend and counselor to the three individuals with whom he developed sexual arousals stemming from his work as a counselor. Grimes followed a pattern of grooming the three individuals by initiating jokes and conversations which were sexual in nature…” While in that case, there were allegations of Grimes touching a woman’s waistline and upper thigh, it’s quite clear that “grooming” with words by a pastor is sufficient to meet the 709.15 bar of “scheme of conduct.” Asa, like Grimes, initiated conversations that were sexual in nature and intended for his sexual arousal.Though it’s unlikely that your mind will be changed by this, I do implore you to reconsider.Linaja