This is my response to the Abuse of Faith series published by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express News. They did an exceptional job investigating and reporting on a job the church should have done. Although bloggers have been investigating and reporting abusers to church leadership for years; while repeatedly ignored or slandered; I’m grateful for someone who had access to a corporate bank account, the time, intellect and leg work of multiple journalists , the determination to go after this and see it through to the end, and a large enough audience to capture the nations attention with one publication.
How do these serial offenders continue on in ministry?
- They are master liars.
- People don’t want to be inconvenienced with the burden of time it requires to pass on information, go to interviews with law enforcement, or keep track of records.
- Not all victims tell of their abuse.
- People who have heard the truth continue to be character or professional references for the abuser/criminal.
- Their ordaining church refuses to revoke the abusers ordination certificate.
- In many cases denominational leadership lies to cover for their own.
- Christians are notorious for treating crime as sin. All crime is sin, but not all sin is criminal. Crimes must be reported to law enforcement.
- Churches misapply, “When one of you has a dispute with another believer, how dare you file a lawsuit and ask a secular court to decide the matter instead of taking it to other believers!” I Corinthians 6:1 (NLT). This does not apply to domestic abuse and criminal actions.
- Churches and colleges are afraid of being sued for slander/liability
- When a new church calls an old ministry for employment verification the old ministry doesn’t tell about the allegations or charges; or references aren’t ever checked.
I get how some people find victimization hard to imagine. As time passes the human condition is to forget, minimize, or think we surely are remembering incorrectly.
If I had not journaled my history of abuse and journaled about my ex-husband, Steve’s, criminal issues I think I would believe I had over reacted. Much of this is due to what a fabulous job he did gas-lighting me; lying to me through the years. To this day, if you left me alone in a room with him for an hour I have no doubt that by the time he finished spinning his story of arrest, trial, conviction, and prison time; I would believe he is innocent and was set-up by an angry and vindictive individual or family from his church. Most likely, set-up over something as simple as they didn’t like the style of music he was using, they didn’t like that he had moved the communion table, they were mad that he didn’t take their side during a church business meeting, or they didn’t like his lesson on the plan of salvation.
Here is a response I received from a friend who was a willing accountability partner for my ex-husband when we were still married and I was trying to save my marriage. This man had flown to town to confront my husband about his mental state, sin issues, and need for professional help. He had asked to be kept updated on doctor appointments, progress and prayer needs but the pedophilia information I received from Steve’s psychiatrist proved to be, unbeknownst to me, the last straw. I kept him updated through email. Here is the reply I received via email:
I understand that life has been difficult for you. But please don’t make it more so by continually pleading your case in the court of public opinion. Whenever I hear from you it is a constant stream of bashing Steve. I’ve not said anything before, but now I must. Steve is my friend. I know he is not perfect, but then again neither are you or I. It’s almost as if you’ve been building a case against him ever since the first hint of problems last year. Your husband has always been different. Always. He was when we were in college. He was when you fell in love with him and married him. He is now. He could make us laugh like no one else. His nice guy looks and golden vocal cords along with his love for God and the church made him a joy to be around. All he ever wanted was to succeed for God. That dream appears to be a long shot now. But give him some dignity. Stop confessing his sins for him. You said in the email that you have been able to help some women whose husbands have left them, as if that is your situation. Carolyn…he didn’t leave you.
If you made a mistake marrying Steve, say, “I made a mistake. I left him because I couldn’t take him.” Don’t write husband bashing emails. What good is that doing??? Are people lining ups saying, “Poor Carolyn,” and that’s helping you? If so, then something’s wrong there.
In love (for all three of you), Tim
I’m including this as an example of how offenders slip through the cracks. This friend, Tim Liston, is a pastor at a mega-church in Pearland, Texas. (I considered him a friend, and his wife was one of my dearest friends, but after the above email we never contacted each other again). I was told after my ex-husband was arrested that this friend, and other friends we attended Ozark Christian College with in Joplin, Missouri, including David Rutherford another mega-church pastor in Fresno, California were references listed on Steve’s most recent resumes. I understand that Tim didn’t believe me, but he knew Steve was seeing a psychiatrist for serious mental health problems. Tim should have disclosed this to prospective churches or told them to ask for full medical disclosures before hiring him.
Steve’s ordaining church, mega-church, Johnson Country Christian Church/Legacy Christian Church in Kansas never contacted me and never revoked Steve’s ordination certificate. The Independence, Kansas, newspaper published that Legacy staff member Reggie Epps appeared at a pre-trial as a character witness for Steve. Founding pastor Ronnie Epps and his wife Darlene were at the trial supporting Steve and were available as character witnesses should the defense need them. They also never attempted to contact me and ask why I left Steve or had his parental rights revoked.
Churches across the nation are failing to protect children.
Another friend from ministry who was also attempting to help Steve to recover his integrity and mental health, and to save our marriage called Ozark Christian College to disclose the psychiatric problems and the marital problems so they would keep Steve off of the listing of available pastors looking for jobs or weekend supply preaching opportunities. Again, Steve fell through the cracks and managed to find more weekend preaching jobs and two full time senior pastor staff positions through Ozark Christian College, both of which led to victimizations of young children.
Civil cases were recently won against Steve and Community Christian Church in Independence, Kansas, for the abuse that happened to 3 year old and 5 year old boys. Steve was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years, under the guidelines of Jessica’s Law.
Here is a letter from an organization who invited Steve to travel internationally as an evangelist working in orphanages. I knew Reggie Thomas and his wife Esther when I was in my early to mid-twenties and spent time with them at North American Christian Conventions. I was surprised they never looked into why Steve and I were divorced or why he never saw his own biological child. Here is a letter Reggie wrote to their supporters. I find it interesting that he didn’t disclose the type of charges for which Steve was arrested. He knew…but didn’t share…
In past years you have read of Evangelist Steve Butler in White Fields newsletters. Steve joined White Fields as an Overseas Evangelist several years back and served honorably and successfully winning many souls to Christ. Steve was not full time, he was part time. His full time service was as the Minister of the Christian Church in Independence , Kansas , where he preached and was loved by that congregation for over 6 years.
One year and a half ago Steve was suddenly arrested and jailed in Independence and he has remained in jail ever since. Many of us are grieved because we believe Steve is 100% innocent of the charge that has been made against him.
We are asking all Christians to pray for Evangelist Steve Butler. He is your brother in Christ. He was baptized as a boy by Ronnie Epps at the Johnson County Christian Church in Overland Park , Kansas , where his father and mother were among the founding members of that church. Steve was also ordained to the ministry by the Elders of the Johnson County Christian Church after graduating from Ozark Bible College in Joplin, Mo.
Steve’s trial will take place at the courthouse in Independence, Kansas, the first week of August. Several of us who live in Joplin and surrounding towns plan to be present for the trial and will be in constant prayer that God will lead the Defense Attorney to accurately present Steve’s side of the story. Please pray for Steve, pray for his wife Cheryl, pray for the Judge and for each member of the jury. Pray that Steve may be acquitted so he can continue his effective work as an overseas evangelist.
During Steve’s incarceration I have often written to him and he has written many letters to me. Receiving a letter from Steve in jail is very similar to reading Paul’s Prison Epistles in the New Testament. I want to share with you one of Steve’s letters:
“Dear Reggie and Esther, Thank you for the wonderful and encouraging letter I received from you. I so much appreciate the news of our White Fields evangelists’ work around the world. I am keeping these in my thoughts and prayers—and hope to join you in the work again soon.
How could I possibly express how thankful I am to both of you for watching out for, comforting, and encouraging Cheryl through these terribly difficult times? May an abundance of grace be credited to your account. (Philippians 4:16-18).
Jail has exposed me to men who have engaged in the worst of all behaviors. Many brag about their addictions to drugs and sex—the most lewd descriptions I have been forced to hear. It is sickening to hear it day after day. The word to best describe it is TORTURE!
The good news is that one-by-one, they have come to me and asked questions about the Bible. There are moments of shame and despair. I pray throughout the day for all of them—for the Lord to reach their hearts.
One man, convinced that “all men are equal,” (not believing that anyone was better than him) _ he reacted violently toward me when I said, “Yes, I believe there are some who are better than others.” I used examples like Noah and Job and Enoch and Elijah. He nearly hit me he was so angry; he said that I was Satanic. Then after telling him that I loved him, I left the room. Later that day, I handed him a Bible reference…”Consider others more important than yourselves…” (Philippians 3:2). It amazes me how so many do not esteem others beyond themselves. Needless to say, there is little to no respect for authority.
I have always had “heroes in the faith”. These men refuse to consider anyone as being better than themselves. While I understand that “all have sinned” and “all need the Savior”, there are many who are “walking in a manner worthy of their calling.” We are to “Give honor to whom honor is due.” These are foreign concepts; they demand respect, but often forget to give it.
In the case of the SBC; It will take years to know if there is sincerity. Their actions will tell; not words alone.
So, in the meantime, I appreciate the writings of men like SBC’s 62nd president J.D. Greear and Dr. Moore president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. I will remain hopeful yet it will take years to know if this is sincere. They are saying right things, but it doesn’t make up for the decades of cover-ups, lies, and inaction.
Will there be an apology to investigative blogger Dee from Wartburg Watch, or to Rachel Denhollander? The SBC assassinated their character when they brought up C.J. Mahaney and asked you to confront him and deal with the Sovereign Grace Ministries abuse cover-ups. It saddens me that it took the national media to force you to deal with all of this. Have you considered how your previous denial and inaction have retraumatized already victimized children and could contribute to them not coming to faith and keep them from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?
I wish you well and I will pray for meaningful success for the SBC, which needs to include an international and inter-denominational sexual abuser and clergy discipline data base; as well as, mandatory training for all church, seminary, and parachurch organizations. I also pray for long-term healing for the survivors, which needs to include apologies and restitution from the church.
Representatives of For Such A Time As This Rally will be in Birmingham for the 2019 SBC Annual Meeting, June 11-12, 2019.