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Monthly Lists

MinistryWatch’s Top 10 Stories for the Month of December

Hillsong, Philadelphia's 10th Pres, and IHOP KC among the newsmakers

Editor’s Note:  The following stories had the most page views at the MinistryWatch website during the month of December. We present them here in a “countdown” format, from 10 to 1. The first few sentences of each story are reproduced below. To read the entire story, click on the link. To read the Top 25 stories of 2023, click here.

  1. Election Deniers Face Defamation Charges

By Steve Rabey. On Dec. 15, a jury ordered Rudy Giuliani to pay $148 million for defaming two Georgia election workers he repeatedly and falsely claimed had engaged in election fraud to help Joe Biden defeat Donald Trump. The decision comes eight months after Fox News paid $787 million to settle a defamation lawsuit about election falsehoods brought by Dominion Voting Systems. Meanwhile, defamation cases against Christian influencers who used their platforms to undermine the 2020 election results continue to work their way through the courts. Here’s an update on these ongoing cases.

  1. Missouri Pastor Charged With Child Molestation

By Brittany Smith. The pastor of a church in Independence, Missouri, has been charged with multiple counts of child molestation involving two underaged girls who attended his church between 2011 and 2018. Virgil L. Marsh, 72, was arrested outside of his home on Dec. 5 after a months-long investigation into sexual abuse accusations against him. The following day he was charged with one count of first-degree statutory sodomy and two counts of first-degree child molestation.

  1. Abilene Christian University to Review Sexuality Policy After ‘Holy Sexuality Week’

By Kathryn Post. Abilene Christian University is revisiting its sexuality policy after over 2,000 students, alumni and friends of the university voiced concerns about Holy Sexuality Week, a school event on relationships and sexuality.

  1. IHOPKC Founder Mike Bickle Confesses to Some Past Misconduct

By Bob Smietana. Mike Bickle, founder of the international around-the-clock prayer movement and charismatic minister, apologized Dec. 12 for past misconduct that caused “pain, confusion, and division in the body of Christ.” “With a very heavy heart I want to express how deeply grieved I am that my past sins have led to so much pain, confusion, and division in the body of Christ in this hour,” Bickle said in an online statement. “I sadly admit that 20+ years ago, I sinned by engaging in inappropriate behavior—my moral failures were real,” he wrote.

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  1. South Carolina Pastor Sentenced to 40 Years for Sexually Abusing His Daughters

By Daniel Ritchie. A former South Carolina pastor has been sentenced to 40 years in prison after being convicted of sexually assaulting his two daughters over a period that exceeded 10 years. The former pastor of Dunn’s Chapel in West Columbia, William Oswald, 62, was convicted on Dec. 1 on three counts of criminal sexual conduct of a minor in the first degree for sexually assaulting his two daughters from a period that began in the early 1990s and stretched into the early 2000s, according to a statement released by Bryan Gipson of the Fifth Judicial Circuit Solicitor’s Office.

  1. IHOPKC Cuts Ties With Mike Bickle Over ‘Inappropriate Behavior’

By Bob Smietana. Leaders of the International House of Prayer, an influential charismatic evangelical prayer and mission group based in Kansas City, announced Dec. 22 that they have cut ties with founder Mike Bickle. In late October a group of former IHOPKC leaders accused Bickle of a pattern of alleged clergy sexual misconduct. Earlier in December, Bickle admitted some past misconduct but said that many of the allegations against him were false.

  1. Editor’s Notebook: Three Evangelical Institutions Worth Saving

By Warren Cole Smith. MinistryWatch has reported on leadership changes at three high-profile evangelical institutions in recent months: Liberty University, Museum of the Bible, and David C. Cook. These leadership changes are a sign of things to come in the Christian ministry space. MinistryWatch’s recent survey of ministry executives indicates that a majority of large ministry leaders are in their 60s and have been in their current role for eight years or more. We will see the leaders of hundreds of the largest Christian ministries in the nation retire over the next few years. For Liberty, Museum of the Bible, and David C. Cook, this changing of the guard is not hypothetical. These venerable institutions are different. They have uniquely gifted leaders and specific challenges, but these three institutions also have one thing in common: they are all in trouble, and they are all worth saving.

  1. Former Hillsong Pastors Trade Infidelity and Abuse Allegations

By Brittany Smith. On Dec. 1, prominent Atlanta pastor and former Hillsong leader Sam Collier announced he and his wife, Toni, are getting a divorce in the midst of abuse and infidelity allegations. The news comes less than two years after Sam resigned as Hillsong Atlanta’s lead pastor in attempts to distance himself from the global Hillsong network, and the scandals and infidelity accusations its founder Brian Houston and others were embroiled in.

  1. Texas Pastor Convicted of Theft, Money Laundering

By Kim Roberts. Charles Randall “Randy” Free, former pastor of Cedar Cross Country Church in Alvarado, Texas, was convicted of four first-degree felonies and sentenced to 7 years and 6 months in prison and 10 years of probation, to be served concurrently. According to Johnson County Assistant District Attorney Tim Good, on Dec. 1 the jury found Free guilty of theft, two counts of money laundering, and one count of misappropriation of fiduciary property, all related to amounts over $300,000.

  1. Pastor of Philadelphia’s Historic Tenth Presbyterian Church Resigns

By Steve Rabey. Liam Goligher is out as pastor at Philadelphia’s historic Tenth Presbyterian Church, an historic and influential congregation in the Presbyterian Church in America, but critics are asking what took so long. Goligher, who arrived at Tenth in 2011, pleaded guilty in July 2014 to “personal conduct” charges in a city park in Lancaster, Penn., with Susan Elzey. The Lancaster Parks and Recreation Department confirmed to MinistryWatch that “personal conduct” is language often used to identify lewd or sexual behavior. Though the incident took place nearly a decade ago, it was made public in December by a watchdog group called Anglican Watch.