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#ChurchToo Opinion Uncategorized

EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: The Salvation Army, Acts 29, and Covering Sex Crime Stories Responsibly

Editor’s Note:  Most Saturdays we will feature this “Editor’s Notebook” column. MinistryWatch President Warren Smith will comment on one or more stories in the week’s news, adding an additional perspective or, sometimes, a behind-the-scenes look at how the story came to be. 

What’s Going On At The Salvation Army?  The Salvation Army is a huge organization that does much good in the world. A quick Google search revealed that The Salvation Army was providing essential supplies to the homeless and others during a snowstorm in Detroit. It was providing assistance to tornado victims in Texas.  And it launched three preschools to help deal with a child care crisis in Cleveland.  And that was just this week.

But I also couldn’t help but notice a troubling coincidence, and that coincidence is the nearly simultaneous incidence of sexual abuse allegations happening at different places in the Salvation Army organization.

A California woman is suing the Salvation Army and its Pomona Corps, alleging she was sexually abused by a youth group leader when she was a minor. The woman, identified in the lawsuit only as Jane Doe, is suing for negligence, claiming those in authority failed to prevent or protect her and other children from the abuse.

This is the second time in as many weeks that sexual abuse allegations include a Salvation Army leader. As MinistryWatch reported last week, a Salvation Army pastor in Chicago now faces three felony charges of sexual abuse of a minor.

That’s not all: In November, Ministry Watch also reported on Jeffery Williams, a youth pastor under the Intermountain Division of the Salvation Army was being investigated for inappropriate communication between himself and a minor attending his youth group.

Again, the Salvation Army does much good in the world.  But if I were in the leadership of the organization and I had this many sexual abuse stories going public at once, I’d want to know what was going on.

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Acts 29:  Déjà vu All Over Again? We reported on the podcast and on the website that last week, Coram Deo Church in Bremerton, Wash., published a letter explaining why the congregation would be leaving the church-planting Acts 29 Network chaired by mega-church pastor Matt Chandler.

The church cited several reasons, including theological and cultural issues such as LGBTQ issues and critical race theory about which he said Acts 29 has not provided clarity. It also cited concern about a “lack of financial and organizational transparency.”

Garden City Church, located in the Silicon Valley, also announced recently that it has left the Acts 29 Network. Justin Buzzard, Garden City Church’s pastor, wrote a lengthy blog entry citing 10 reasons why the church had made its decision. Among them were financial and organizational concerns similar to those noted by Needham.

MinistryWatch got the same treatment when we asked for the financial statements of Acts 29.  We were told they were “internal documents.”  What caught my attention in our interaction with Acts 29 was the fact that one of the senior leaders there, vice president, is Dave Bruskas.

For those of you who weren’t following the implosion of Mars Hill Church in Seattle a decade ago, Dave Bruskas was a key player.  He was one of the pastors and executive elders at Mars Hill Church, and a member of the Board of Advisors and Accountability that failed spectacularly in its mission to provide transparency and accountability at Mars Hill Church.  To be fair, Bruskas has publicly apologized for his role in the Mars Hill debacle.  That said, it’s fascinating to find him in a leadership role in an organization Mark Driscoll co-founded, which is now showing some of the same pathologies that brought down Mars Hill.

Reporting On Sexual Abuse Cases Responsibly. Reporting on sex crimes involving pastors and ministry leaders is a sensitive matter. Though these stories are often difficult to face, we feel they’re important for the church to face the reality of what is going in in our midst.  To use an imperfect metaphor:  If you have a headache, a misdiagnosis can be fatal.  You don’t want to take an aspirin when brain surgery is required.  On the other hand, you don’t want to jump to brain surgery until you’ve tried the aspirin.

So when it comes to sexual abuse in the church, we must ask ourselves:  Is a particular incident a tragic anomaly, or the indication of a systemic failure?  It is impossible to know the answer to that question until these stories are brought into the open, and we can see plainly what we are dealing with.

I have written more about why and how MinistryWatch covers sexual abuse cases here. Though I wrote it a couple of years ago, the number of sex crime stories involving pastors suggest to me that it’s worth mentioning again.  I commend this article to you.

Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.