“No one is going to be powerful in their ministry if they are hiding something that they are afraid people will find out at any moment.” David Jeremiah
Although the news on sex abuse and the church currently centers on the Southern Baptist Convention, it is essential not to forget that smaller denominations are experiencing abuse accusations and not dealing well with the matter.
The Foursquare Church
This was started by the flamboyant and controversial Aimee Semple McPherson. According to Wikipedia:
…The church has its origins in a vision of “Foursquare Gospel” (or “Full Gospel“) during a sermon in October 1922 in Oakland, California by the evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. According to chapter 1 of Book of Ezekiel, Ezekiel had a vision of God as revealed to be four different aspects: a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle. It also represents the four aspects of the Department of Christ; Savior, Baptizer with the Holy Spirit, Healer and Soon-coming King. This was the vision and name she gave at Foursquare Church, founded in 1923 in Los Angeles. Despite some affinities with Pentecostals, her beliefs are interdenominational.  She opened the Angelus Temple in Echo Park in 1923, seating 5,300 people. The attendance has become a megachurch with 10,000 people. McPherson was a flamboyant celebrity in her day, participating in publicity events, such as weekly Sunday parades through the streets of Los Angeles, along with the mayor and movie stars, directly to Angelus Temple. She built the temple, as well as what is now known as Life Pacific Universityadjacent to it, on the northwest corner of land that she owned in the middle of the city.
McPherson’s celebrity status continued after her death, with biopics such as the 1976 Hallmark Hall of Fame drama The Disappearance of Aimee depicting her life, as well as the 2006 independent film Aimee Semple McPherson, which particularly focused on her month-long disappearance in May–June 1926 and the legal controversy that followed.
…The church believes in the verbal inspiration of the Bible, the doctrine of the Trinity, and the deity of Jesus Christ. It believes that human beings were created in the image of God but, because of the Fall, are naturally depraved and sinful. It believes in the substitutionary atonement accomplished by the death of Christ. The church teaches that salvation is by gracethrough faith and not by good works. Believers are justified by faith and born again upon repentance and acceptance of Christ as Lord and king. Consistent with its belief in human free will, the Foursquare Church also teaches that it is possible for a believer to backslide or commit apostasy.
The Foursquare Church teaches that sanctification is a continual process of spiritual growth. Christian perfection and holiness can be attained through surrender and consecration to God. This spiritual growth is believed to be promoted by Bible study and prayer. The Foursquare Church believes in the baptism with the Holy Spirit as an event separate from conversion that empowers the individual and the wider church to fulfill the church’s mission of evangelization. The Foursquare Church expects Spirit baptism to be received in the same manner as recorded in the Book of Acts, namely that the believer will receive spiritual gifts, including speaking in tongues.
Here is a link to the Foursquare statements of distinctive and beliefs. The following is a video from the Foursquare Church which explains their views.
Those of you who love mystery, especially mysterious behavior on the part of church leaders, might find reading about McPherson’s disappearance and reappearance interesting. According to Wikipedia:
On May 18, 1926, Christian evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson disappeared from Venice Beach, California, after going for a swim. She reappeared in Mexico five weeks later, stating she had escaped from kidnappers there. Her disappearance, reappearance, and subsequent court inquiries regarding the allegation that the kidnapping story was a hoax carried out to conceal a tryst with a lover precipitated a media frenzy that changed the course of McPherson’s career.
Also, she was married three times and divorced two times. In 2013, the Smithsonian wrote a fascinating article: The Incredible Disappearing Evangelist. I love stuff like this. It starts like this.
Along the Los Angeles beach between Venice and Ocean Park, a small group of mourners wandered aimlessly, occasionally dropping to the sand to pray—unable to stop their tears. “Aimee is with Jesus; pray for her,” they chanted. A Coast Guard cutter patrolled just offshore as deep-sea divers plunged into the water. Aimee Semple McPherson, evangelist, faith-healer, founder of the Foursquare Gospel Church and builder of the Angelus Temple, was believed to have disappeared during a swim on May 18, 1926. In the hours that followed, rescuers were sparing no effort to find her.
God wouldn’t let her die,” one of her believers told a reporter. “She was too noble. Her work was too great. Her mission was not ended. She can’t be dead.”
Already, one young church member had drowned herself in her grief. Soon after that, a diver died while trying to find McPherson’s body.
In the coming days, her followers would dynamite the waters of Santa Monica bay, hoping to raise her body from the depths. Yet the blasts surfaced only dead fish, and the passing time merely gave rise to countless rumors. She’d disappeared to have an abortion. Or plastic surgery. Or an affair. As the days turned to weeks, McPherson’s body, much to the chagrin of police and the California Fish and Game Commission, remained missing. Soon, witnesses were coming forward to contradict the report, given by McPherson’s secretary, Emma Shaeffer, that the evangelist had vanished shortly after entering the water.
Have I fried your brain yet?
Is there abuse in this denomination that believes in Christian perfection? It sure looks like perfection has not been attained by the leaders.
Short answer: Yes. GRACE did an investigation on behalf of the Foursquare church. Christianity Today posted Foursquare Abuse Response Ignites Fight over Transparency and subtitled “An investigation found a “culture of unchecked power” at a Virginia college. Denominational leadership has declined to speak about it publicly.”
(GRACE) found that Mike Larkin, president of Ignite Life Pacific University, misused his authority and that Foursquare failed to set up adequate structures of oversight and accountability.
Then Larkin turned his attention to discipleship and education. He launched Ignite at the flagship Foursquare school in Southern California in 2008. He called it a “reproducible, hands-on ministry where discipleship, academics, global ministry and local community outreach are all synchronized together.”
In 2011, the program moved to Christiansburg, Virginia, and became Ignite Academy. It later became Ignite Life Pacific College, then Ignite Life Pacific University and, today, Life Pacific University-Virginia, a satellite campus for the California school.
The longtime president of Life Pacific University-Virginia, formerly known as Ignite Academy in Christiansburg, is stepping down. Dr. Michael Larkin made the announcement on Sunday. His resignation is effective December 15.
Life Pacific (LPU) officials praised Larkin for his work in establishing an east coast campus 11 years ago that was initially associated with the Foursquare Church.
LPU President Angie Richey said that Michael had been “an integral part of Foursquare education,” who had made valuable contributions as a faculty member and extension site director. “His catalytic leadership relaunched Foursquare education in the east and we are grateful.”
Enter a new problem. A safeguarding team was established to help students who believed they were bullied. According to CT:
They criticized board members for not taking abuse seriously enough and voted to recommend the 11-member safeguarding team be given more power and freedom from board interference. In late July, the board informed the team their work would be put on pause.
The response of the board was not what was expected. The board suspended the safeguarding team. There is no doubt in my mind that the board was naive to think this problem would go away.
The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel has suspended a safeguarding team that was working with students who accused a former college president of manipulation, bullying, and harassment.
And the next new problem…a GRACE report is not being distributed. It was finished in 2021
Members of the team—along with Foursquare ministers and former students at the affiliated school in Christiansburg, Virginia—were raising questions about how the Pentecostal denomination handled a third-party investigation into the allegations. Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) found that Mike Larkin, president of Ignite Life Pacific University, misused his authority and that Foursquare failed to set up adequate structures of oversight and accountability.
At this point, the board was in real trouble, but perhaps they didn’t know it yet. CT says:
No. 1 on its list of recommendations: Foursquare should “respond to this report transparently and in a way that honors victims.”
Umm, it looks like that Number 1 is being deep-sixed. It seems like Mike Larkin was a golden boy and many members of the denomination are not pleased that he is no longer around.
There was a problem. Guess what the leaders did? They pulled a Baptist show and got down on their knees to beg forgiveness.
As we know from covering the SBC abuse mess, crocodile tears don’t work
And in one public session, recorded and posted online, the president and board members got on their knees on stage to ask God’s forgiveness.
Then there was the denominational statement about being super sorry, but it appears to be lip service.
But they still were not saying anything about Larkin, who appears to be “he whose name must not be spoken.”
The Foursquare Church board also released a statement of corporate repentance, saying, among other things, that the denomination “will not allow leaders to leave uncontested when there is clear evidence of abusive leadership.”
The denomination suspended the team, claimed they have a deep affection for the students and invited them to apply to meet with the board.
It looks like they are taking cues from the SBC. This is crazy-making.
Then in July 2022, the denomination’s board suddenly suspended the safeguarding team and sent former students an email inviting them to submit a request for a meeting with a board committee. The email said, “We hope that this serves as a tangible expression of our deep affection and genuine regard for the health and wellbeing of every person who lived, studied, or worked on the school campus.”
For the former students who spoke to CT, it did not seem like tangible evidence of genuine regard. It seemed like a new hurdle in an impossible process to get the denomination to care.
Students have allegedly been notifying the board of their problems with Larkin but have never received responses.
They have, over the years, reported Larkin’s behavior to Life Pacific University faculty and administrators, Ignite board members, Foursquare pastors, district supervisors, and national leaders. They never got anyone to open an investigation.
Here are some of the allegations the former students have alleged. I believe them, by the way.
Read the entire CT article to see the extent of the problem.
At the start of school, former students said, the president would pull new students into his office for a private conversation. He asked female students about their relationship with their fathers, their dating history, and whether or not they had had sex.
“He would always ask about your relationships, your history,” one woman said. “And he asked, ‘How far would you go?’ I remember thinking, I guess this is normal?”
Another, asked whether she was a virgin by the college president, recalled wondering, Is he allowed to have that information?
Larkin, in addition to his responsibilities running the school, also involved himself in students’ current romantic relationships, former students said. He would tell them whether he thought they should break up or get married, and when they got married, how quickly they should have children. He told several female students he understood why their boyfriends were attracted to them and made suggestions for how they could be more attractive to him.
He urged some women to dye their hair blond so they would look like Foursquare founder Aimee Semple McPherson.
Transparency will not be happening soon.
I would imagine that the board believes that they are protecting the reputation of Foursquare. They will eventually understand the error of their ways.
In a letter to the Coopers obtained by CT, the board said it would have to “agree to disagree” with Foursquare ministers who believed transparency was an important part of fixing a culture of abuse.
“Publicly making a statement about specific people or situations is not the way forward for Foursquare,” the letter said.
In the meantime, former students and pastors are taking matters into their own hands. They have set up a website to tell their sexual harassment and bullying stories. I highly urge you to visit their site. In the meantime, here is a link to the first episode: Heidi’s story.
I predict that the Foursquare denomination will regret its lack of action in this situation. They must stop with the silly steps of getting down on their knees and suspending the safeguarding team. Do they realize how foolish they seem?
Until they change their actions, I believe the Foursquare denomination is dangerous for women and children.