“Some people think that the truth can be hidden with a little cover-up and decoration. But as time goes by, what is true is revealed, and what is fake fades away.” Ismail Haniyeh
In more ways than one, this story reminds me of something I wrote about Ravi Zacharias in 2015. I had seen this post: Press Release: Has Evangelist Ravi Zacharias Misrepresented His Academic Credential and noted it in a post here. It appeared to me that Ravi was lying about his credentials, and we now know that is an understatement. At the time, I said:
My question is simple. If he lies about this, what else does he lie about?
When someone lies frequently, one can assume that he is lying about all sorts of things. Zacharias sure did.
Let me take this into another situation. If a person is credibly accused of sexual harassment regularly over time, I wonder what else that person has done. That seems to me to be a prudent concern. However, it appears that the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) hierarchy has some catching up to do in this area.
Ravi Zacharias was credentialed through the CMA. The CMA strongly defended Zacharias when Lori Anne Thompson came forward with her story.
C&MA had previously staunchly defended Zacharias against allegations of inappropriate behavior that MinistryWatch and other news outlets reported as early as 2017.
This was a hard lesson for the embarrassed denomination, which apparently did not ask questions of their star apologist. But did they learn their lesson?
Trinity Christian Chapel (TCC) gets a new pastor: Jim Ammerman.
The following information was shared with me by “Ashe,” an active member of Trinity Christian Chapel (TCC) in Sewell, NJ, a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA.) I called the Metropolitan District Office of the CMA and was told by a representative for Kelvin Walker that they may comment after seeing the article. I also spoke with TCC’s Assistant Pastor Nelson Houston who said he might get back to me but did not wish to comment.
In the CMA (some use C&MA), churches consult their uplines in the denomination when searching for a pastor.
Under the previous pastor’s 10+ year tenure at TCC, the church grew from roughly 75 congregants to nearly 500 in 2017. The church was thriving, healthy, and growing at his departure. Finding a new pastor began in Spring 2018, involving the C&MA Metropolitan District and the church elders. The elders were provided only three candidates for the Senior Pastor position by the (former) Assistant District Superintendent (ADS) of the Metro District. (B. Riconda) Sadly, the man the church wanted accepted another position. The elders then discussed candidate Jim Ammerman but felt he was not a fit for TCC and went back to the C&MA requesting more candidates. The ADS told them that Ammerman was their only option and for the elders to “walk through the hiring process” with Ammerman.
The reason for their hesitation was understandable. It seemed he was unable to hold a pastoral position for more than two years. TCC would end up being his 5th church in the span of 8 years. There seemed to have been some issues, but nothing specific was mentioned. However, the CMA appeared to push Ammerman. At the time, he was still credentialed.
Not surprisingly, within a few short months, problems arose.
The children’s ministry leader accused him of sexual harassment which is an abusive environment for women.
In the first two months of his tenure, the elders had to conduct an in-house investigation into sexual harassment involving the pastor and the children’s ministry leader (CML). While their investigation did not produce enough substantive evidence to warrant discipline, the executive elder of the church communicated in the church investigative report and to the congregation that the children’s ministry leader misinterpreted Ammerman’s comments and actions with her. There was nothing sexual about them, and it was all just a “misunderstanding.” She resigned from the church shortly after that. This would come back to bite them on the nose.
It is very difficult for a woman to come forward to complain about sexual harassment. To blow off such a complaint as a simple misunderstanding shows a dangerous misunderstanding of what constitutes sexual harassment.
It was an allegedly uncomfortable or, some might say, abusive work environment for the pastor’s administrative assistant.
The assistant resigned shortly afterward. The pastor’s wife got hired for the position…interesting.
Ammerman allegedly made uncomfortable jokes about the youth pastor.
One Sunday, Ammerman allegedly asked the youth pastor to close the blinds because the sun was getting into his eyes. After the youth pastor sat down, Ammerman stated, “With the (youth pastor) on that side of the sanctuary, there shouldn’t be any sun glare issues.”
The youth pastor resigned shortly after that.
The elders then met to discuss the issues with Ammerman.
There was allegedly disagreement amongst the elders, so they put Ammerman in a 90-day Pastoral Improvement Program. This was allegedly not shared with the congregation. After much discussion and debate, they decided to keep Amerman as pastor.
Elder Campise remained unsure and concerned about Ammerman’s calling at TCC as pastor and continued to question and address it over the next year. On April 18, 2019, he sounded the alarm in a letter he sent (titled “Think About It”) to elders Wenner, Houston, Robert McChesney, and Jack McIntyre.
There were 3 points to the letter. I have seen the entire letter.
- The elders had neglected in caring for the sheep because they had become so preoccupied with putting out the continuous fires of Ammerman and trying to teach, train and mold him into a pastor while ignoring his character concerns.
- Ammerman lacked certain qualities and the character necessary to be a senior pastor. The elders were doing both Ammerman- and the church- a disservice by trying to make it work.
- Campise called out the elders and how their pride was keeping them from admitting they may have made a mistake in hiring Ammerman,
There were continuing problems:
- In April 2019, the Head Deaconess resigned from her position after difficult interactions with the pastor.
- Ashe asked Pastor Ammerman not to discuss his wife’s diagnosis of cancer. He did it anyway, making sure Ammerman’s wife was visiting her even though Ashe asked them not to do so.
- Within Ammerman’s first 15 months, the church lost over 75% of its congregation, including most of its ministry leaders, deacons, deaconesses, and every single staff member- aside from the pastor and assistant pastor.
“Ashe” was concerned about the pastor and went to the District Office of the CMA. Shortly after that, TCC allegedly discussed “disciplining” him, and one elder resigned.
On December 11th, 2020, Ashe went forward to the Assistant District Superintendent of the Metro District C&MA (Bortner) to voice concerns that the TCC elders and assistant pastor had not adequately addressed. According to the C&MA Polity on Church Discipline and Restoration, allegations made against an official worker of the C&MA are to be taken OUT of the hands of the local church leadership and investigated and addressed by the C&MA. The TCC church leadership was given clear instructions to NOT take actions against nor respond to Ashe and turn the matter over to the C&MA.
Less than a week later, the Trinity elders, pastor, and assistant pastor came together for an elders meeting to tend to routine church matters, finances, and business. As the elders were going through their meeting minutes, Elder Campise was caught off guard when the pastor and other elders began preparing a statement on how they (the elders and pastor) were going to try and “Biblically Discipline” Ashe for going forward to the C&MA and speaking up about the church leadership and their failures to protect the flock’. Elder Campise announced his resignation from the elder board and membership in the church. Another elder would resign in a few months. Merry Christmas, y’all!
The C&MA finally decided to investigate what was going on.
Multiple statements were submitted from former staff, ministry leaders, and congregants, including Ashe, which were reviewed by the C&MA, which they deemed warranted an investigation. An independent investigative team was assembled to review the charges, conduct interviews, and report their finding between April 2021 and July 2021.
Upon completion of the interviews, the team came back with a final report of “inconclusive with recommendations,” which was disappointing to many.
An explosion: the former children’s ministry leader (CML) files a police report alleging multiple incidents of sexual harassment by Ammerman.
On October 19, 2018, at the beginning of Ammerman’s tenure at TCC, the CML filed a police incident report with the Washington Township Police Department to document the multiple incidents of harassment by Pastor Ammerman. This was a new document that was forwarded to the inquiry team. A subsequent Zoom meeting was scheduled for July 21, 2021, with the CML and the C&MA Inquiry team. She was visibly pained when she recounted the inappropriate and disrespectful behaviors by Pastor Ammerman that involved sexual innuendos and unwanted physical contact, which continued even when asked to stop.
She had reported this to the elders, who didn’t give her concerns much credence. The elders told her to “keep silent” about her concerns and allegedly terminated her for speaking about it to others. Apparently, she was terminated as opposed to having “resigned.” This was allegedly NOT shared with the congregation.
Reportedly, Detective Longfellow contacted Pastor Ammermanat in 2018 regarding the inappropriate sexual innuendos and touch- which he did not deny- only relating that he was not trying to be inappropriate. He stated that the church had completed an investigation and report on the incident and to contact elder Jeff Wenner as the TCC representative for further inquiries. Detective Longfellow contacted elder Wenner regarding the incidents and was told that their investigation revealed no wrongdoing on the part of Pastor Ammerman. Elder Wenner did not deny that all of the inappropriate sexual statements were made and surmised that there was a misunderstanding. The police report allegedly states Detective Longfellow as saying, “I then related that I didn’t see how these were appropriate comments to make to a female co-worker, and he (Elder Jeff Wenner) had no explanation.” Detective Longfellow allegedly informed the CML that she could pursue both civil litigation and criminal litigation based on his objective investigation of Pastor Ammerman.
It was also discovered that Ammerman lied about the following. On page 10 of that report, he stated the following:
“During our prior candidate interview with Pastor Ammerman there was an incident in his past (prior to him coming on staff at TCC) where he was once accused of harassment by church staff members. As we dug into this matter we learned it was staff who took a comment out of context. He was then accused of sexual harassment by staff members. The matter got so out of hand that Pastor Jim asked for an investigation by the C&MA as this was not being handled properly from a biblical or legal standpoint. Following the investigation, Ammerman was fully exonerated. He then had an opportunity to take legal action against the staff (defamation of character) but chose not to.
In August 2021, the truth came out. It appears that he had pled guilty to his former church of sexual harassment. This allegedly has still not been communicated to the members of TCC.
From the TCC investigation:
What did the CMA know about this? Had they carefully informed the church of Ammerman’s past? Given the mishandling of Lori Thomspon’s reports on Zacharias, it appears that the CMA has some work to do…
Eventually, the CMA found Ammerman guilty of the following
- Regarding the charge E-8-E.3- MORAL FAILURE, INCLUDING SEXUAL MISCONDUCT; SPECIFICALLY, SEXUAL HARASSMENT THAT CAME ABOUT THROUGH UNWANTED TOUCH, JOKING, COMMENTS THAT ARE SEXUAL AND/OR QUESTIONABLE IN NATURE. THE COMMITTEE RULED GUILTY
- Regarding the charge E-8.E.4: MORAL OR ETHICAL FAILURE OTHER THAN SEXUAL MISCONDUCT; SPECIFICALLY, CREATING A HOSTILE LEADERSHIP AND WORK ENVIRONMENT THAT WAS CONDUCIVE TO SPIRITUAL ABUSE.
THE COMMITTEE ALSO RULED GUILTY
Reverend Ammerman was given until October 1st, 2021, to respond to the ruling in one of the following ways:
- Choose to work with the committee immediately to begin the restoration process. (could be a pastorxv
- Choose to appeal the decision of the committee to the National Office, where a review of all documents and testimonies will be made.
- Choose to surrender his credentials and resign accreditation, licensing, and ordination with the C&MA.
- Choose not to respond at all, in which case we would have no choice but to assume that he was surrendering his credentials.
Ammerman attempted to appeal. Eventually, he was removed as pastor at TCC and chose to give up his CMA credentials. Yes, he could have worked to have been restored, which I believe would be a mistake. I’m not sure why that was offered… Yes, he could still start a church, but it would not be part of the CMA.
In the meantime, “Ashe” was harassed by those who apparently don’t understand that exposing sexual harassment in the church is a godly pursuit. Maybe the elders at TCC or the CMA could do a sermon series on how to reflect Christ on social media?
The unanswered question: “Why did the CMA circulate the CV of a pastoral candidate who had been accused of sexual harassment ”
This makes no sense to me. Perhaps the CMA might be willing to answer this? It’s time to take a hard look at what they really believe about sex abuse and harassment. It is highly unlikely he would have been hired by TCC if this had been known. This appears to have resulted in so much pain and conflict at the church.
In keeping with something I said about Zacharias, let me leave you with this question.
If he is guilty of sexual harrassment when he knows people are commenting and also might be watching, I wonder what he does when no one is watching…