“Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come.” Henri Nouwen
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A couple of years ago, I received a call from a pastor in the United Kingdom who said some well-known leaders in the Anglican Church had nude massage sessions with younger pastors and seminary students. Although he named names, I can’t reveal them since this pastor fears for his career in the UK. I can assure you that this type of massage was not just some “locker room” humor as my former Baptist church called such actions.
Grooming of teens in the American church
Many parents are thrilled when a youth leader or celebrity pays attention to their teen. Most parents used to look for role models for their teens within the supposedly “safe” church setting. If you had asked me if I would have wanted such a relationship for my kids back in the 90s and OOs, I would have been inclined to say, “It sounds lovely.” Around about 2005, Dee grew up and began to be aware of the number of pedophiles and molesters who had invaded the Protestant evangelical church.
Read the following post as a warning. It’s time we all got smart. The lives of children, teens, and UK Anglican seminary students are at risk.
Brad Waller and Tates Creek Presbyterian Church (TCPC)
I have commended this church in the past for how they dealt with this situation in 2018.
Addressing Our Past: A Letter from Robert Cunningham: Sunday, June 24, 2018
Brad Waller was a minister at Tates Creek Presbyterian Church (TCPC) from 1995 to 2006, where his primary responsibilities included directing the youth and college ministries. Since his departure, TCPC has grown and changed in many ways, and the vast majority of our congregation has never known or heard of Brad. But there are still some in our congregation, along with others in the Lexington community and beyond, who knew him as a beloved pastor and mentor.
After leaving TCPC 12 years ago, he served for a very brief time at Twin Oaks Presbyterian in St. Louis, and then moved to Savannah, GA, where he was an Assistant Pastor at Independent Presbyterian Church and then Senior Pastor at Grace Church of the Islands.
Earlier this year, a student at Savannah College of Arts and Design (SCAD) informed his campus minister of an experience he’d had with Brad that left him feeling very uncomfortable. This campus minister followed up with other SCAD students and discovered that they too had similar experiences. It was reported to the Savannah River Presbytery (in the Presbyterian Church, a “presbytery” is the governing body over local churches), and this began a process of investigation and discipline that culminated in a meeting of the Presbytery on April 17.
As you will see, Brad got sexually stimulated by rubbing the feet of young people.
At the presbytery meeting, Brad made the following confession that has since been made public record: “I, Brad Waller, confess to the sin of abuse of authority in my role as a pastor. I have been rubbing the feet of men and youth in my care. There was a sexual element to this, however, physically it never went past foot-rubbing.”
The Presbytery voted at the same meeting to immediately depose him from his office (remove his ordination) as a minister. The Presbytery’s statement reads:
“At the April Stated Meeting of Presbytery at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Martinez, on Tuesday April 17, the Savannah River Presbytery voted to depose Brad Waller from Gospel ministry, for the abuse of power against minors and young men under his care, for the purpose of auto-erotic stimulation derived from foot rubbing, to which he confessed before the court [presbytery].”
Brad was removed from ministry, and more stories of his predilections arose. You can read about the careful response of this church by reading the entire letter. They also reported this to the police.
GRACE was invited to do an investigation on Chris Rice, the well-known singer.
This is where the story of Brad Waller and Chris Rice intersect.
In a statement in 2020, the church said the singer’s friendship with Waller allowed Rice to develop close relationships with several students at Tates Creek. The Waller investigation led a former student to come forward with allegations against Rice, and the church launched another inquiry.
This church responded incredibly well in this situation, which should serve as an example to other churches of how to respond in a godly and caring fashion.
Here is one recommendation by GRACE to note since it will come up again.
GRACE recommends that consideration also be given to guarding those of the college age/young adults from one-on-one situations with those in leadership when on TCPC property as well as when away from TCPC property. While these individuals are adults, they are still at a vulnerable age when it comes to being under the mentorship or leadership of older adults. This investigation revealed this population was also being taken advantage of because of the position of authority held over them. Some felt uncomfortable in reporting or doubted their instincts because of Brad Waller’s position of prominence. Mirroring the “One on One” contact policy for TCPC property similarly to that proposed for underage individuals may provide a safeguard for the college age/young adults and for the workers who meet with them. Policy for the college age individuals could exclude the requirement of parental consent or notification, but could reflect the practice of open doors or uncovered windows. Off property meetings could also be enhanced by requiring “two deep leadership” or the requirement of public meeting places.”TCPC
TCPC, Brad Waller, Chris Rice, and another GRACE investigation
Christianity Today posted Report Backs Abuse Allegations Against Chris Rice.
Three men reported that Christian musician Chris Rice took advantage of a youth ministry culture that normalized massages and sleepovers to groom them as teenagers more than 20 years ago.
Where did this happen? TCPC during the time that Brad Waller was there.
Rice first landed on the CCM scene with the Christmas song “Welcome to Our World” and was nominated for six Dove awards for his 1997 debut album Deep Enough to Dream. He was close friends with Brad Waller, a former Tates Creek pastor who was the subject of a 2018–2019 investigation by GRACE.
Here is a link to this GRACE report which was released on June 21, 2022.
Waller had a habit of massaging students’ feet and admitted there was a sexual element to his behavior. In a statement in 2020, the church said the singer’s friendship with Waller allowed Rice to develop close relationships with several students at Tates Creek. The Waller investigation led a former student to come forward with allegations against Rice, and the church launched another inquiry.
Folks, pay attention to Chris Rice’s alleged behavior. It will show you how these guys get to our children and teens.
Chris Rice was invited to help with retreats, functioning as a spiritual and worship leader. The teens deeply admired him. Most of us now recognize the power differential in this situation. It appears that Rice used this to his advantage.
Victim # 1:
The former student described how Rice—who was in his late 30s at the time—would have them give each other back massages. He said he and Rice shared a bed during church retreats and his solo visits to Rice’s home in Nashville. The teen disclosed to Rice about his struggles with porn. By the time the former student was 17 or 18, Rice also began massaging his thighs, touching his crotch, and putting his hand down the student’s boxer shorts on multiple occasions.
Another student stayed overnight for a week in Rice’s home after graduating high school, and the two both slept in a tent indoors. He said Rice asked to see his back muscles and would grab his thighs in a way that made him uncomfortable.
Rice sought him out for one-on-one conversations and time together. When Rice fell asleep lying on him on a bus ride, the student saw their interactions as a “bromance,” but now, in hindsight, he views the behaviors as grooming.
Once again, Richard Cunningham, Current pastor of TCPC (He was not there during the Waller and Rice time), needed to make a statement. Reporting for the Roys Report, Josh Shepherd wrote GRACE Finds Sex Abuse Allegations Against Chris Rice’ Credible.’
In October 2020, when the allegations involving Rice surfaced, Cunningham commissioned the GRACE investigation and contacted Kentucky State Police.
The report states police aren’t investigating “due to the current preference of . . . Alan Doe and the expectation that the appropriate jurisdiction for further reporting and prosecution would be in Tennessee.”
Cunningham praised the alleged victims of grooming or abuse who participated in the GRACE investigation.
“Your courage to share has been the prophetic rebuke we needed to repent,” Cunningham wrote in his statement. “I do hope you will accept our apology for the failures I have confessed.”
GRACE had a number of recommendations.
The steps include conducting a policy audit of how “grooming behaviors” may have been facilitated; holding church contractors to the same safeguards as TCPC staff and volunteers; and offering “additional training … on effects of abuse” for all church staff.
GRACE also recommended that “any teaching” to youth about sexuality include “information on consent and the impact of age and power differentials.”
TCPC’s Pastor Cunningham released another statement.
Robert Cunningham, senior pastor of Tates Creek, released a 1,500-word statement, confessing the church’s “institutional” and “cultural” failures revealed by the report.
“We are ashamed that it took a public scandal for us to seriously revisit policies and procedures, but unfortunately that is the case,” Cunningham wrote. “We are deeply sorry and ask forgiveness, especially from the survivors who were hurt.”
GRACE said this about the church staff.
They have not attempted to cover sins,” GRACE wrote about the church. It also noted that no one on staff at the church knew about the allegations before fall 2020.
Some parting observations and advice.
- Chris Rice refused to speak to GRACE.
- Brad Waller refused to speak to GRACE (p.14)
- Chris Rice seems to be somewhat of a loner. He does not mention family, friends, etc. Claims that he is an introvert.
- Rice walked away from music in 2018 for a short while. Interesting timing.
- Massages/back rubs, etc., can be sexual. (See Ravi Zacharias’ life)
- Massages can be a tricky way to engage in sexual activity- plausible deniability
- Do not let teens go to sleepovers with any ministry “leader.”
- Do not let teens be alone in cars or vans with just one ministry leader. Always have others around.
- Molesters can infiltrate churches easier since people tend to be trusting. Become more suspicious.
- Read up on what grooming behavior is all about.
- Dee wishes someone would have given her this advice years ago.
- I think there may be more controversy surrounding Rice in the coming years- just a hunch.