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Sexual Abuse Claims Rock Ohio Church

Steve Rabey

Tom Randall, who stands 6’ 5” tall and has a disarming gap-toothed smile, sure could tell a good story.

Like the story he repeatedly told about how he had been recruited by the NBA’s New Orleans Jazz, but turned down their lucrative offer so he could continue serving God as a roving sports evangelist. The Jazz story was a complete fabrication.

He told even more dramatic stories about the horrors he allegedly suffered in a gang-filled Filipino prison.  Randall claimed he experienced beatings and faced mortal danger throughout his three weeks in an overcrowded cell full of murderers, gang members, and a Muslim terrorist bomber.  He claimed that he had been unjustly detained, based only on false claims by a rival evangelist who had been a close friend for 30 years before turning on him.  He claimed he was the real victim, and warned that unless American officials quickly came to his aid, he would likely die a martyr for Christ.

These stories were fabrications, too, but they helped him become a social media celebrity, and gained the attention of U. S. Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, who intervened to bring Randall home.

But the Akron Beacon Journal and the weekly newspaper Cleveland Scene told a different story.  In early 2014, officials in the Philippines arrested Randall, the founder of World Harvest Ministries, which operated the Sankey Samaritan Orphanage. Also arrested were the Filipino father and son who managed the orphanage and were charged with repeated sexual abuse of orphanage children.

Randall’s biggest supporter was Pastor Joe Coffey of Christ Community Chapel, an independent church in northern Ohio, where Randall had joined the staff a few months before the arrests.

Coffey, who said Randall was “more like Jesus than anyone I’ve ever been close to,” repeatedly dismissed the sex abuse charges as “gossip and slander.” Coffey also overlooked claims of financial mismanagement at World Harvest, which officially merged with CCC, bringing more than $3 million of additional income to the church.

Fast forward to the summer of 2019. Randall, who still maintains he did nothing wrong, resigns from Christ Community Chapel and told supporters he would start a new ministry called Revelation 12:11.

Meanwhile, Christ Community Chapel is trying to pick up the pieces.

The church turned over its files to the FBI and released a 27-page report on its own internal investigation, which can be downloaded from the “Sankey Review” page on its website.

The investigation was conducted by Suzanne Lewis-Johnson, a former FBI agent whose independence has been questioned. She is not only a member of CCC, but she also runs a nonprofit that has received funds from CCC.

Lewis-Johnson’s report acknowledges that the church believed Randall’s stories while  discounting victims’ claims. “For too long, church leadership’s belief in Randall was almost blind, save for the fruit they saw when they accompanied him on ministry missions opportunities,” Lewis-Johnson wrote.

The report absolves pastor Coffey of any wrongdoing or lack of oversight, as does a separate portion of an FAQ page about the matter.  In a statement also posted on the church’s website, the church said, “The investigation revealed Tom Randall gave incomplete and inaccurate information to CCC regarding events at the Sankey orphanage. In hindsight, all allegations should have been taken seriously, which is why we are now pursuing a path of reconciliation.”

Lewis-Johnson’s report also claims the church took “a closer look” at victims’ claims after listening to complaints by justice advocates within the congregation, insisting that CCC’s  change of heart had nothing to do with detailed and damning reporting by Sam Allard of the Cleveland Scene, an independent weekly that has covered the story since 2014, and Amanda Garrett of the Akron Beacon Journal, a local daily.

According to Lewis-Johnson’s report:  “What has been different at CCC than in other places is that it did not take a mass media expose to prompt self-scrutiny by the church. A small minority of voices persisting and asking questions, and church leadership whose allegiance to Christ, the one who is Truth, was higher than their allegiance to their own reputations, resulted in the church taking a closer look.”

These claims came as a surprise to justice advocates, who have battled the church for years, standing outside of Sunday services holding signs demanding “Justice for Sankey,” and carrying on their crusade through websites (www.justiceforsankey.com) and blogs (Truth Seeker and Wartburg Watch).

These advocates have long claimed that Christ Community Chapel has repeatedly belittled, vilified, and spiritually harmed those that spoke out about Randall, and they have dismissed Lewis-Johnson’s report as a “PR stunt.”

These advocates have repeatedly asked CCC to authorize an independent, third-party investigation by GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment).

Christ Community Church’s response has been to say that the church is “growing in a relationship with a trusted third party and making progress in assessing the avenues of healing and support for the young adults affected.”

 

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Steve Rabey
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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