"> GRACE Report Finds Allegations of Sexual Grooming and Abuse by Dove-Winning Musician Chris Rice to be Credible – Ministry Watch

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GRACE Report Finds Allegations of Sexual Grooming and Abuse by Dove-Winning Musician Chris Rice to be Credible

A report on an 18-month investigation by the independent group Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) details how Dove Award-winning Christian musician Chris Rice groomed and sexually abused a teen boy at Tates Creek Presbyterian Church, a Presbyterian Church in America congregation in Lexington, Kentucky. Rice declined to speak with GRACE investigators.

The report says the grooming and abuse went on for eight years, but the teen victim didn’t realize it constituted abuse or report it until Tates Creek launched a GRACE investigation in 2019 that looked into Brad Waller, one of its former pastors. That investigation concluded that Waller, who introduced Rice to the congregation, had engaged in misconduct through inappropriate touching. 

In a public statement about the 2022 GRACE report, Senior Pastor Robert Cunningham was contrite. “I want to begin by publicly confessing our institutional failures that surfaced,” he wrote.

Cunningham wrote that to honor the wishes of the victim and to prevent Rice from victimizing others, he was responding with “utmost transparency” in making both the report and his statement available to the public on the home page of the church’s website.

Report Says Rice Exploited Lax Culture and Absence of Protective Policies 

The report says Rice’s inappropriate touching and sexual abuse happened between 1995 and 2003, a period that saw his national musical career take off. He released his first album of songs he had written for Christian “camp kids” in 1997 and won a Dove Award for Male Vocalist of the Year in 1999. Church promotional materials often referred to his successful career.

Though never on staff, Rice was involved in events at Tates Creek both on the church campus and at off-site events, where he played music at Sunday worship services, performed at a missions conference and at youth and college retreats. 

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He developed an intimate relationship with the 13-year-old victim, referred to as Alan Doe, rooming with him at church events, inviting him to stay at his Nashville home and sleep in bed with him, gradually escalating the touching, and eventually putting his hand in the victim’s boxer shorts and touching his penis. During a camping trip, Rice suggested he and the boy sleep naked together in a sleeping bag. The abuse continued until the victim was 19.

Both GRACE and Tates Creek say the church’s culture and policies made the abuse possible.

“It is clear from the report that there was a pervasive feeling of something being ‘off’ with Rice’s behavior,” said Cunningham, who cited Rice’s reputation for engaging in regular back rubs and other touching with students. “The culture of our church at the time… allowed grooming and inappropriate actions to take place,” he wrote.

As for policies, Cunningham confessed, “We have no record of protective policies in place while Chris Rice was involved in our ministries. This is unacceptable, and we are heartbroken at the thought that formalized policies and procedures could have prevented what has been alleged.”

GRACE surveyed 110 people and interviewed eight individuals before recommending that the church make 15 changes. “We receive GRACE’s recommendations with the seriousness they deserve and will respond accordingly,” Cunningham wrote.

Cunningham also apologized to:

  • Survivors (“Both in policy and culture, our church failed to protect you…but all we can do is move forward in repentance.”)
  • The local community (“I want to apologize to the city of Lexington that this happened at our church, and we hope our actions demonstrate to you how serious we are about ensuring this never happens again.”)
  • And the media (“Thank you for being patient with us in our silence throughout the investigation.”)

Cunningham urged other groups that work with Rice to be careful:

We want to urge any church or ministry that has had past dealings with Chris Rice to take seriously the allegations found in our report and investigate for any potential misconduct within your church or ministry. We are not suggesting in any way that there are allegations beyond our church. We hope and pray that is not the case. But…we strongly suggest other churches and ministries with past or present contact with Rice create a safe and confidential way for potential survivors to reach out.

Through his attorney, Rice declined to speak with GRACE investigators.

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Steve Rabey

Steve Rabey is a veteran author and journalist who has published more than 50 books and 2,000 articles about religion, spirituality, and culture. He was an instructor at Fuller and Denver seminaries and the U.S. Air Force Academy. He and his wife Lois live in Colorado.

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