January 18, 2014
Some of you know that we have serious concerns regarding how Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) and related problems of immorality have been handled in our fellowship, both in the past and presently. Five months ago we sent the attached letter to world‐wide overseers – as many as we could obtain addresses for. The purpose of the letter was hopefully to move those in places of responsibility and authority to start dealing with these issues in a more appropriate and transparent way. The purpose was also to receive assurance that would reaffirm our trust in the ministry and fellowship.
Our letter was addressed not only to workers, but also to elders. It has been our intention to send it to you as well if it is not clear that the ministry will take concrete steps to address these concerns. A worker we know and trust has encouraged us to voice our concerns to elders in our field. Another worker has told us that these problems among us will not be resolved “until the friends demand it”. In fact it was at the suggestion of a different worker that we wrote to overseers.
We believe that as elders you have a scriptural role of responsibility to be vigilant in such matters as these (as in Acts 20:28ff). We believe that both the ministry and the local eldership stand accountable for ensuring the ministers of questionable moral character are not sent into unsuspecting homes. Also, you may have better occasion or opportunity to be aware of potential issues and to know the background of those in your meeting. Clearly you are ethically responsible if known CSA offenders in your meeting are allowed around children without restrictions and vigilance. Further, Texas law states that any person who suspects child abuse is a mandatory reporter and that it is an offence to knowingly fail to report. There are weaker reporting requirements in some jurisdictions, but we should uphold the highest standard rather than merely comply with the lowest legal requirement.
We are unable to conclude that there is uniform consensus in the ministry regarding these issues. We know for a fact that some workers still do not understand that CSA must be reported. Ray Hoffman has told us that he “received a lot of flak” for removing Ira Hobbs from the work ‐ even for horrific CSA allegations. An elder confirmed to us that it required great effort against much resistance in order to address Ira’s status. Also, some who have engaged in immoral behavior are being allowed to remain in the work. We believe that it is necessary that there be a uniform and public church‐wide commitment to purity in the ministry and safety of the flock ‐ especially children, and to deal with these issues legally and scripturally. We personally feel that CSA allegations cannot be handled appropriately by the ministry if it remains compromised by immorality in its ranks.
The nature and extent of these problems have been confirmed to us directly and personally by friends, elders and workers in Texas, the US and overseas. We ourselves now know that known CSA perpetrators and immoral men were sent to our home both in the US and in Europe without our knowledge or approval. When we professed 15 years ago, we did not dream that we would be opening our home to gospel ministers who have a known history of CSA allegations and/or immorality. Some of you were present when Ray Hoffman told us that Ira Hobbs would “probably” still be in the work were it not for the internet exposure and pressure on the ministry to remove him. As another example, before being removed from the work, Americo Quispe was sent on special meeting rounds to unsuspecting homes even as CSA allegations against him were known.
This is all clearly unacceptable and it points to a troubling lack or failure of oversight at some level in our fellowship. If the ministry is unable or unwilling to ensure safety of children and integrity of the ministry and fellowship ‐ in an accountable and transparent manner, then the church and elders in particular must take on this responsibility.
We are including the email we sent to Barry Barkley, Ray Hoffman and Lyle regarding Leslie White, whose current situation reflects on the state of affairs in the fellowship. We had a visit with Lyle about this. We did not receive a reply from Barry or Ray in the two months since we wrote to them. We are left with the following conclusion as to why Leslie and others like him are not removed from the ministry promptly: sexual immorality is not seen as a spiritual failure nor as a symptom or evidence of deeper spiritual problems; consequently, the offender remains to be held in high spiritual esteem by other workers and is considered worthy of remaining in the ministry in spite of having engaged in immoral and inappropriate behaviors. We encourage you to talk to overseers yourselves and ask them why someone like Leslie, who had a long history of allegations against him, was allowed to remain in the work, was transferred to the staff of different states and even now is allowed to remain in the fellowship without public confession and repentance. If you receive an answer that is different from what we have concluded, please let us know. We acknowledge that we may have misunderstood something, in spite of effort to clarify things in writing.
So, we need to ask you, as our elders, the following questions:
1. Do you consider sexual immorality to be a sign of spiritual failure?
2. Do you believe that those who have engaged in immorality, abuse or harassment while in the ministry should be removed from the ministry?
3. Do you wish to open your homes to workers who have engaged in the above mentioned behaviors?
4. Can you in good conscience tell others to open their homes to such workers?
5. Can you in good conscience tell others to open their homes to workers as long as immoral individuals are known to remain at large in the work, and as long as the ministry is not taking an open stand on these issues?
6. Do you believe that those who have been mistreated (shunned, criticized and even re‐victimized through defamation and exclusion) for asking that the immoral and abusers be openly rebuked and removed need to receive open apology from the ministry?
7. Do you believe that we who have been sent known abusers and immoral to our homes should receive an open apology for violation of our trust and the sanctity of our homes?
8. Do you believe that saints and elders should be actively engaged with the workers in positive steps to raise awareness of CSA and to ensure the safety of children?
We desperately need to have these answers from you, as from the ones who hold the place of responsibility for their local church ‐ we need to know what you believe and hold as truth. We now realize that in these 15 years of professing, we held some assumptions that may be wrong. We assumed that it was a basic and common understanding that the immoral would not be tolerated in the ministry, especially in a ministry that openly espouses celibacy. We assumed that the safety of children would be held in utmost regard, especially by a ministry that relies on the brotherly and trusting hospitality of the flock. Were our assumptions wrong? We need to know what your understanding is about these things. And, we need to know that you have let Lyle and other overseers know what your understanding of these issues is and what your expectations for the ministry and the fellowship are.
Your brother and sister in Christ,
A and M M.
Willis, Texas, USA