SWORN TO SECRECY
By Andrew L.
SWORN TO SECRECY:
How I was Coerced into Keeping Steve Morgan's ALLEGED Sexual Assault a Secret FOR 12 YEARS
- Author: Andrew L. | Vice-President of Blue Sky Church Board of Overseers and Non-staff Discipleship Community Pastor
- Network Churches attended:
- Vine Church, Carbondale, IL | 2002-2004
- Blue Sky Church, Seattle (Bellevue), WA | 2004-2016
- Vista Church, San Luis Obispo, CA | 2016-2020
- This story was published July, 2022
Disclaimer: All paraphrases represent best recollections.
My wife Torrey and I began attending Vineyard churches starting in 1991. We became part of Vine (previously Vineyard) Community Church in Carbondale starting in 2002 and in the summer of 2004 were part of the Blue Sky Church plant team. Before moving to Seattle, I was asked by Steve Morgan to serve as Vice-President of the Board of Overseers at Blue Sky Church. I also served as a non-staff Discipleship Community (DC) Pastor at Blue Sky for two years. In the summer of 2016, Torrey and I moved to San Luis Obispo, CA as part of the Vista Church plant team. Except for some brief breaks, I also served as a small group leader since 2004. Torrey served as the bookkeeper for Blue Sky from 2004 to 2016 and also at Vista from 2016 to 2020. Her bookkeeping time at Blue Sky also included working with Network funds.
Steve’s Struggles and SELF DISCLOSED ALLEGED Sexual Assault
Starting from almost the moment we landed in Seattle and continuing into the early part of 2007, Steve Morgan was facing an increasing time of personal distress. Many of those close to him, along with some of the overseers, were concerned about his well-being and functioning. It got to the point where church members were asking me about him as they noticed he was not doing well. I had numerous conversations with leaders in Seattle and Carbondale about how to help him through this difficult time and suggested on more than one occasion that professional help might be needed. As a board member/overseer, I was getting ready to ask Steve to take a leave of absence.
As a board member/overseer, I was getting ready to ask Steve to take a leave of absence.
In June 2007, a Network conference was hosted at Blue Sky Church in Seattle. Steve was having an increasingly difficult time during this conference displaying outwards signs of distress and anguish during his teaching and interactions with people. Members of the church noticed, approached me, and once again expressed concern. I continued to be troubled and spoke to James Chidester asking what we should do to help. At that time, James was another overseer and board member at Blue Sky. During one of the conference sessions, I was pulled aside by Larry Anderson and James into an office for a private conversation. At the time, Larry was an overseer at Vine Church and one of the original plant team members at Vine Community Church (formerly Vineyard) in Carbondale, Illinois. They told me that Steve sent them to share information with me as an explanation for his current condition.
Larry and James told me that Steve was distressed and broken over an alleged crime/sin that he committed in the 1980s when he was in his early 20s. They told me that Steve graduated from college in Iowa, was working as a church youth leader, and was arrested for the alleged sexual assault of a male student in the church's youth group. Steve was serving in a leadership capacity for this youth group at the time of the alleged assault. They said the victim was 17 years old and sexual physical contact occurred (I have since learned this was not true and that the alleged victim was 15). I was told this took place at the local Community of Christ Church which is the Reorganized Church of Latter-Day Saints. They said Steve was arrested for this alleged assault, that the case was adjudicated by the court, a psychiatric examination conducted, and some form of probation and/or community service was ordered. They told me that Steve also gave a verbal apology to the parents of the alleged victim.
Larry Anderson and James Chidester told me Steve was arrested for sexual assault on a male high school student in his local church's youth group.
At the time this information was divulged to me, Larry and James told me to keep the information secret and to not to tell anyone including my wife Torrey. During this meeting, Larry and James told me that Steve was forgiven and had changed since becoming a Christian, everything was taken care of, Steve was now fine, and there was nothing for me to do. I remember Larry getting very stern, leaning in, and demanding that I had to trust Steve as my pastor because they did. I did not know what to think or how to react. I was very shaken up as I drove home that evening thinking that everything we had worked for was over. I thought to myself that Steve should resign, we should just shut down Blue Sky Church, and we should go do other things. But I was told to keep the information secret, I couldn’t process this heavy burden with anyone, and I carried it alone for many years.
Larry and James told me to keep the information secret and to not to tell anyone. Larry demanded that I trust Steve as my pastor because he and James trusted him.
At the time of being told this information and continuing for some time afterward, I had numerous questions and experienced profound confusion, and distress as to its potential implications in terms of pastoral qualifications, the impact on the alleged victim, impact to the Network churches, and Steve's wellbeing. Being an overseer at Blue Sky Church at the time also gave me a level of responsibility for Steve and the church. I held these questions to myself as it was communicated by Larry and James that the issue was a closed matter. In addition, the secrecy code to which I was sworn caused me to hold things inside and I was fearful about any repercussions from exposing this issue. My close relationships with Steve, James, and Larry likely also clouded my judgment. I spoke to no one about the issue since being told in 2007. I never spoke with Larry and James about the topic until 2019 when James and I discussed it once again.
In hindsight, it is evident that this was an example of spiritual abuse. This form of communication was wrong and inflicted long term hurt, fear, and anxiety. These statements and demands from other leaders shut down my capacity to process and consider the information that had many serious implications. It seems as though I was told just enough information and warned to keep silent in order to keep from raising additional questions. As a result, my right to choose and think was not respected, I was redirected to rely on Steve, Larry and James and not God. My choices were manipulated through intimidation, and my thoughts were discounted. It also undermined my responsibility at the time as a board member/overseer at Blue Sky Church.
My right to choose and think was not respected, I was redirected to rely on Steve, Larry and James and not God, my choices were manipulated through intimidation, and my thoughts were discounted.
It seemed odd and awkward that James and Larry previously knew this information about Steve’s background and yet I, as an overseer and Vice President of the board, was just now finding out. I wondered why did they know yet I was kept in the dark until Steve’s functioning got so bad that he finally had to tell me? Adding to the oddity of the situation was the fact that James was more than 20 years younger than both Steve and me and it seemed strange that such a young person at 24 years old with little life experience, was let in on Steve’s dark secret prior to me.
Steve talked to me privately about the alleged sex assault case one day when I was in his office for a private meeting. He thanked me for talking to Larry and James about his alleged sex assault. He then stated that he asked Larry Anderson to see if he could obtain the arrest record via online search tools. Larry was unable to secure a record using two search systems and Steve expressed great relief that the records were not publicly available. It was clear he did not want this information to be found out or made public.
Steve Morgan told me he had asked Larry Anderson to see if he could obtain his arrest record. Larry was unable to secure a record and Steve expressed great relief that the records were not publicly available.
BOARD OF OVERSEER RESIGNATION
In 2011, another pastor in the Network asked Steve about whether a spouse of an overseer could serve as a bookkeeper. Blue Sky was working with a local Certified Public Accountant (CPA) who specialized in church bookkeeping. The CPA indicated that this would not be a problem as long as the board member was not a direct supervisor for the bookkeeper. Despite this assurance, Steve came to Torrey and me and stated that one of us would need to resign and for us to decide who that would be. A few days later he came back to us and said he wanted me to step down as an overseer and for Torrey to remain as bookkeeper. We had trouble understanding the changing reasoning and Torrey kept stating that an overseer was a more critical responsibility for the church than her bookkeeper role. She offered to resign as bookkeeper but Steve was insistent that I step down as overseer instead. Reasons for the request were nebulous. I had several conversations with Steve trying to figure out what was happening, why I was being asked to resign, and to discuss the role and terms of an overseer as these were not clearly documented. Steve stated I had done nothing wrong or disqualifying but he still wanted me to resign. I eventually and reluctantly offered my resignation at Steve’s insistence. The resignation was never communicated publicly to the church. Even two years later people assumed I was still an overseer and on the board. In hindsight, this situation seems very odd and difficult to explain. Although there may be other examples, I am not aware of other similar cases like this throughout the Network. I often wondered about the underlying reasons behind Steve wanting me to no longer serve as an overseer.
Steve used to say that you’re in an overseer role until such time that God may call you to other things. Yet, he couldn’t give me a God-based or biblical reason for his request for me to resign. If such a reason was clearly presented, I would have been more than willing to step aside without question. When I asked about this, he simply said that I would keep doing the things I was already doing as an overseer like praying for people and leading small groups. It just didn’t make sense to me. I now wonder if perhaps he sensed on some level that I was still conflicted over the information he, Larry, and James had shared with me.
Regardless, I continued at Blue Sky as a member and small group leader, and in 2016 moved to San Luis Obispo, CA as part of the Vista Church planting team.
RECONSIDERING STEVE'S BACKGROUND
Since the information about Steve’s arrest was communicated to me in 2007, I had no one with whom to process because of being sworn to secrecy by Larry Anderson and James Chidester and being told the issue was already resolved. The burden of carrying this secret information increased even further as the topic of sexual abuse became more public generally, and in the church specifically, over the past few years. I also began to sense a level of God-given responsibility as a former overseer of Blue Sky Church from 2004 to 2011. I had a concern for the churches that no formal action or investigation was ever conducted in order to protect the church from possible abuse or to address any future concerns from others who might find out and jeopardize the legitimacy of the church. I finally began to seek counsel from experts outside the Network, including from a seminary professor whose expertise is sexual ethics, a sex abuse advocate, a journalist, a Vineyard pastor, and an attorney whose expertise is abuse in church contexts. All expressed grave concern about the issue and recommended that leaders needed to know and that I should connect with the non profit organization GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environments) for help. Within five minutes of making initial contact with GRACE via their website form, the Executive Director sent me a personal email, expressed grave concern, and we spoke via phone the next day. This conversation made me realize just how critical this issue was.
I had a concern for the church and no formal action or investigation was ever conducted in order to protect the church from possible abuse or to address any future concerns from others who might find out and jeopardize the legitimacy of the church.
I finally broke down and told Torrey everything I had been holding inside for so many years. It took her some time to comprehend and to process the issues and potential implications. We began to discuss what needed to be done and the impact that exposing Steve’s disclosed alleged crime might have on us. We lived in fear about what might happen as potential whistleblowers. At the minimum, we both agreed with the counsel from all the outsiders. The leaders needed to know about Steve’s background, answer outstanding questions, and act upon recommendations.
CONVERSATIONS WITH TWO NETWORK LEADERSHIP TEAM MEMBERS
MAY / JUNE 2019
I prepared a letter (attached) outlining the alleged crime and related issues. I initially met with Luke Williams to share verbally about the issues since he was my local pastor and was also a Network Leadership Team member. Upon meeting in person, Luke initially refused to hear the story, forcefully stopped me from speaking within the first few minutes before I could tell any details, and indicated that he needed to contact Sándor Paull before proceeding. I told him that was fine but he would eventually need to hear the entire story.
ANDREW LUMPE'S LETTER TO THE NETWORK LEADERSHIP TEAM:
Sándor called me that evening and he told me that he already knew about Steve’s disclosed alleged sex crime. He told me that shortly after I was told about Steve’s alleged sex crime in 2007, a group of pastors and overseers including himself met with Steve for several days to pray and counsel him. Sándor said that during this time Steve asked the group if the alleged crime was disqualifying and he offered to resign as a pastor. Sándor told me that the group of leaders had to forcefully convince him to remain as pastor and Network Leader.
I soon realized that all of these men were appointed to the Network Leadership Team and their pastoral positions by Steve resulting in potential conflicts of interest. I knew it would be an uphill battle to convince this team to carefully consider issues and take any prudent actions.
I immediately sent a draft copy of my letter to Sándor. He also told me that the Network Leadership Team now had oversight authority for the Network Leader - Steve Morgan. He told me the team consisted of Luke Williams, Justin Major, Tony Ranvestal, Aaron Kuhnert, and himself as Vice President. Steve Morgan is President of the Network Leadership Team. Sándor sent me a copy of the new 2018 Network by-laws via email to show me the team’s responsibilities. I soon realized that all of these men were appointed to this team and their pastoral positions by Steve resulting in potential conflicts of interest. I knew it would be an uphill battle to convince this team to carefully consider issues and take any prudent actions.
I proceeded to meet in person with Luke the next day to share the entire story. I also gave him a copy of my draft letter. Luke expressed concern when I told him I had been seeing a local professional counselor because of the stress of the situation and he was worried that the counselor would publicly divulge information about Steve’s alleged crime. I had to assure him that the information shared with my counselor was privileged and that he would not divulge it. But it struck me as strange that Luke was so concerned about divulging Steve’s alleged crime rather than for the alleged crime itself or for the impact the situation had on others.
Luke Williams expressed concern when I told him I had been seeing a professional counselor and he was worried that the counselor would publicly divulge information about Steve’s alleged crime.
I asked both Sándor and Luke to not yet speak with James Chidester because I had reconciliation business with him from the meeting in 2007 when Larry and James told me about Steve’s disclosed allged crime. I asked this because I assumed they would want to talk to James to gather more information because of his close relationship with Steve and his role in the Network as a counselor to pastors. They broke my trust and called James almost immediately. This made me realize that their foremost concern was going to be damage control.
The next week Sándor flew to California to meet with Torrey and me in person under the pretense of having an open discussion about the issues and to make plans for moving forward. It was evident that Sándor and Luke had met the night before for dinner and discussed the matter privately amongst themselves. Sándor started the meeting with us by immediately stating that they discussed the situation, they believed Steve to be forgiven, it happened before he was a Christian, it has been handled within the church, and there were no questions about Steve’s pastoral qualifications. Sándor stated that they would not be taking any actions. Sándor also stated that they would not be contacting outside experts. There was no indication of who “they” were in this context, but I could only assume it was at least Sándor, Luke, and James Chidester. I told Luke and Sándor that the original purpose of Sándor flying to California was usurped and we were taken aback by the immediate shutting down of questions and discussion. It was obvious that they prepared their talking points ahead of time and would not engage in a free discussion. It was a closed matter according to them.
Sándor stated that the Network Leadership Team would not be taking any actions, nor would they be contacting outside experts.
Sándor and Luke said that I spent too much time reading the internet and that experts were biased not knowing the real context of Steve’s situation. I countered that perhaps the converse is true in that Network leaders didn’t have enough information and don't trust experts with years of experience. I said that an inward focus and distrust of others outside the Network is a dangerous spot in which to be.
During this meeting I posed a scenario to Sándor and Luke. I asked if they would hire a youth group leader at their churches if they knew the person had an alleged sex assault crime background like Steve’s. If they said yes, it would make them appear to support a sex offender and potentially put youth in danger. If they answered no, then they could not support Steve in his current position. Sándor hesitated, then answered with a sheepish “maybe”. I further pressed him if he would let his then 17 year old daughter attend a youth group led by a person arrested for sexual assault. He would not answer and Luke said “Man, that’s a tough question.” It was not a tough question and they were trapped between their loyalty to Steve and taking a stand against alleged sex abuse by a church leader.
I asked Sándor Paull if he would let his then 17 year old daughter attend a youth group led by a person arrested for a sexual assault. He would not answer the question.
During this meeting, I spoke with Sándor and Luke about how power of authority issues may be at play in this situation because Steve was allegedly a 22 year old adult serving as a leader for a high school church youth group. Michigan currently has a power of authority law about sexual assault of a person under the age of 18 by an adult authority figure, such as teachers, coaches and other youth leaders. Sándor said that the alleged victim consented to the sex. I countered that for two reasons this may not be the case: 1. Steve said he was arrested and the case was handled by the court system, and 2. Current power of authority laws point out the power dynamics involved in such situations. I reminded Sándor and Luke that sex assault may be more about power than sex. Sándor said that they talked about it and didn’t believe that there were any misuse of power concerns with Steve. Sándor then admitted how he has frequently had to clean up relational messes left by Steve over the years.
At this meeting, I indicated to Sándor and Luke that the entire Network Leadership Team needed to be informed of Steve’s self-disclosed alleged sexual assault since they have a legal obligation per the new Network by-laws. I also told them that I was advised not to inform Steve that we were discussing the issue as that would send him into a defensive posture. Luke and Sándor agreed that they would also not speak with Steve about these conversations. I could only assume this decision was made in order to protect Steve from additional stress
I indicated to Sándor Paull and Luke Williams that the entire Network Leadership Team needed to be informed of Steve’s self disclosed alleged sexual assault since they have a legal obligation per the new Network by laws.
At this in-person meeting, both Sándor and Luke stated that I handled myself rightly and with integrity. They stated that what James and Larry did in 2007 when they told me about Steve’s alleged sex crime was wrong, they could see how it negatively impacted me, and they offered to help with reconciling with them. I thanked them but said that the reconciliation process was between Larry, James and myself and I would reach out to them personally.
Towards the end of the meeting, Sándor asked if we would be able to follow Luke as our local pastor since he is under the authority of Steve as his Network Leader. Torrey and I left the meeting, looked at each other in the parking lot, and wondered if we were just asked to leave the church and Network because that’s how it felt. The next day I mentioned this to Luke and he tried to assure us that was not the intent. I also told Luke and Sándor that by going to James, they betrayed my trust and went against my request to not do so. They also shared the letter for the Network Leadership Team with James that was not addressed to him. I told them there was a reason for my request to not speak with James but by doing so, it impacted my ability to go to him unencumbered and speak freely with him about the way I was treated years earlier. I told them that it was wrong and I was not treated with consideration. They both apologized but then gave excuses for why they ignored my request stating that they were just trying to gather information from James. This made me realize that their priority was protection and not reconciliation.
Sándor asked me to hold off on sending the letter to the rest of the Network Leadership Team for three weeks until the first of July because there was a wedding and then the Network summer conference in Carbondale. I foolishly agreed but now realize it gave them time to meet and further plan.
I sent the prepared letter detailing Steve’s self-disclosed allged sex assault to all Network Leadership Team members via email. I received no response from any of them. Sándor indicated that he would keep me apprised of developments but I never heard from him again. Sándor indicated that he would connect with Boz Tchividjian, the Executive Director from GRACE who offered to help, but a meeting never occurred.
I sent the prepared letter detailing Steve’s self disclosed alleged sex assault to all Network Leadership Team members via email. I received no response from any of them.
I sent a brief email and hard copy of a letter via USPS to both James Chidester and Larry Anderson indicating that their communication with me in 2007 about Steve’s alleged crime was hurtful. James contacted me quickly. He apologized but also qualified that he didn’t even remember the conversation. It felt like an excuse and non apology. I never heard from Larry.
LABELED UNETHICAL BY AN OVERSEER
JULY AND AUGUST 2019
At his initiation, James Chidester and I had a series of three phone calls to discuss the alleged sex assault crime topic. The first two calls were amicable and we exchanged ideas and resources via phone and email. During the second call, James asked me what I thought should happen next. I sent him an email with some references and listed five suggestions for potential next action which included the following:
- Systematically consider all the questions raised in my letter to the Network Leadership Team.
- Connect with GRACE and Boz Tchividjian.
- Loop in all leaders including Joshua Church board members about Steve’s alleged criminal background.
- Provide long term counseling for Steve by an expert in sex abuse.
- Develop and implement detailed policies for how convicted sex abusers should be handled by the church.
I quietly listened to James Chidester's accusations, wrote them down, calmly said I was sorry he felt that way, and mentioned that we were apparently at an impasse. The conversation ended and we never spoke again.
James and I had a third phone conversation and after about 30 minutes, James paused for a moment, changed his voice tone, and then harshly stated the following accusations about me (these are direct quotes):
- You are unethical for quoting experts.
- You are unethical for going outside the network to seek advice.
- You are unethical for asking questions and making recommendations as that is not your place.
- You are unethical for raising the issue of Steve’s sex assault crime.
- You are trying to re-prosecute Steve for a crime committed years ago.
- You are not an expert and have no business making recommendations.
- You have a negative and accusatory tone.
- Your statements are too strong.
- You handled yourself wrong during the process.
I quietly listened to his accusations, carefully wrote them down, calmly said I was sorry he felt that way, and mentioned that we were apparently at an impasse. The conversation ended. A few months later James sent me a text message out of the blue about a benign outdoor activity topic. I figured he was fishing to see how or if I would respond which I did not. We never communicated with each other again.
I had coffee with Luke Williams. He referenced the situation with Steve’s disclosed alleged sexual assault and mentioned that it had been a very hard time for him the past few months with hours-long walks in personal reflection and more time spent on phone calls than he’s ever experienced before. He provided no detail about his reflections, the nature of the phone calls, or any results from the Network Leader Team’s deliberations about the letter I sent. That was the last time we spoke of the situation.
I heard from friends that Larry Anderson was coming to visit Vista Church. I contacted Luke to inform him that it would be very uncomfortable for me to be present at a Sunday service if Larry was there since I never heard back from him in response to my request to reconcile. Luke tried to reassure me and offered to intervene. I declined his invitation because I wanted Larry to initiate contact with me personally rather than at the insistence of Luke. Luke told me that Larry had never brought up the situation and wouldn’t imagine that there was a problem. I told him that Larry’s non response to my reconciliation attempt could mean any number of things most of which I could imagine were not positive. I did not attend the service because the thought of facing Larry in person was too stressful.
DECIDING TO LEAVE THE NETWORK
Torrey and I decided to formally leave Vista Church and the Church Network. We met with Luke Williams to inform him of our decision. We told Luke that Steve would eventually find out about all the conversations about his background going on without his knowledge and that I would eventually reach out to Steve to let him know we left. It was an amicable meeting and we walked out of his office door in positive spirits while hugging, which was witnessed by staff members Landon Nagata and Ineui Yang. COVID lockdowns began the next week and most people didn’t know that we left for many months afterwards.
I sent a letter (attached) to Steve Morgan outlining that we left Vista Church and Network along with an explanation for leaving. In the letter I outlined details of the alleged sexual assault crime as I knew them at the time. Steve sent a reply (attached) within two hours acknowledging that he withheld details from me about the allegedcrime. He did not refute any details in the letter or provide any additional details. He apologized for any hurt he caused by withholding the details.
LETTERS EXCHANGED VIA EMAIL BETWEEN ANDREW LUMPE AND STEVE MORGAN:
THREATENED BY AN OVERSEER
About this time, a long-time member of Blue Sky and Vista churches who was previously in a small group I led, contacted me to indicate his family was considering moving away from Vista to another city with a Network church. Before making that decision, he wanted to know the real reasons we left so he could make an informed decision. He kept pressing and I told him that the main reason we left was because of Steve’s disclosed alleged sexual assault and the non action by leaders. This conversation got back to Luke Williams which set off a chain of events.
The next week, the Network held a pastor retreat in Dallas, Texas. A few days later Torrey and I noticed that pastors, pastor's wives, and worship leaders who were long time close friends unfriended us on social media. On September 19, 2020 I received a text message from Phil Greger, a Board member at Joshua Church, that said,
“You and your wife are carrying Satan’s cigarettes, and this will not end well for you. May God have mercy on your souls.”
I spent several days contemplating the meaning of this message, whether it represented a threat of harm, and whether it should be reported to authorities. I decided not to file a report although I’ve been told by multiple people including legal experts that it represented a potentially illegal threat.
I spent several days contemplating the meaning of Phil Greger's text, whether it represented a threat of harm, and whether it should be reported to authorities.
Don Carlin from Blue Sky Church called me two weeks later and said he was “authorized” to tell me certain things about what happened at the pastor’s retreat. At the time, Don was a small group leader but not an overseer at Blue Sky. Don said he could tell me that Steve confessed before all the Network Lead Pastors to the alleged sex assault crime. It was not clear what level of detail Steve provided to the pastors. I told Don about Phil Greger’s text message and he said he would contact Phil to let him know that it was inappropriate. On September 26 I received a text apology from Phil saying that he reacted in anger, respected my intended motivation, but had a different perspective on the information. Afterwards Don sent me a text message that stated,
“I encourage you to stay on the high road and keep Romans 12:18 front of mind (If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all).”
I interpreted this as a recommendation to remain silent about Steve’s background.
PHIL GREGER'S THREATENING TEXT TO ANDREW LUMPE:
I contacted two former Vineyard USA national board members and a former Area Pastoral Coordinator. All three said they did not know about Steve’s alleged criminal background at the time he was ordained or throughout the time they had contact with him.
BECOMING NETWORK ENEMY #1
JUNE - AUGUST 2021
I spoke with Jeff Irwin around this time after I learned that he also left Vista Church. Jeff was formerly a small group leader at Vista Church. He indicated that at a September 2020 small group leader meeting, Luke Williams suggested that the leaders not speak with me, that I was saying things about Steve Morgan that "are not true." Landon Nagata, a staff pastor at the time, asked if this meant that I was excommunicated. Luke showed discomfort, but responded with "I'm not sure what the difference would be, so yeah, I guess." It appears that Luke made this statement in the spur of the moment. This statement was in direct opposition to the way we left in March 2020, on our own volition, while Landon witnessed us leaving the office on good terms with everyone. Excommunication for someone who never signed a membership form and after we already left months before? This seems nonsensical. Excommunication is a weighty biblical issue and only reserved for the narrowest of circumstances. I find this conversation from Luke to be very offensive and designed to disparage me while protecting Luke, Steve and the Network.
At a small group leader meeting Luke Williams suggested that the leaders not speak with me, that I was saying things about Steve Morgan that "are not true." Luke also openly stated to the small group leaders that The Network was considering legal options to get me to stop.
Jeff Irwin also indicated that Luke openly stated to the small group leaders that they were considering legal options to get me to stop. Hearing this statement brought feelings of fear and intimidation. Were they going to issue a cease and desist order for speaking the truth, file a lawsuit, put me in a precarious financial situation?
Luke told Jeff Irwin that I had no problems with Vista but wanted to hurt it as a way of hurting Steve. He said to Jeff that the reason I had left was due to some "old unresolved stuff from back at Blue Sky" and that they had been discussing it for some time. Jeff asked Mark Guiles, an overseer at Vista, if he should warn a former member of my small group about me. Guiles confirmed to Jeff that this was a good idea. I apparently had become an enemy of the church and Luke concocted lies to support this false narrative.
Torrey and I decided that we would only speak with people if they contacted us and pressed us to tell them the real reasons we left the Network and for many of those conversations, we were vague, simply speaking about long term disagreements on an issue with leadership. However, a person with whom we were very close, who spent much time at our house, and still attended Vista Church, said they wanted to hear the entire story about why we left the church and Network. We told them the story and the person was very understanding, concerned, and supportive during the conversation. Shortly afterwards the person told us that they went to Luke Williams, got a different side of the story from him, and that Luke told them to no longer speak with us. Communication with this long time friend who was like a family member was instantly broken off. Once again, we were treated as pariahs and enemies.
This narrative of me as an enemy has been repeated as evidenced by a few comments on Reddit (here and here) where people indicated that pastors were telling people that there’s a person who has damning information about Steve and is out to take down Steve and the Network. I knew these comments were directed towards me.
One weekend in August, more people including pastors, pastor’s wives, and long time friends across the Network canceled us en masse on social media within the span of 24 hours indicating that they were specifically instructed to do so by a leader. Most of these were long time close friends going back to our time at Vine and Blue Sky. We can only assume that this occurred at a team meeting at Joshua Church because most of the shunning came from a group there.
SPAMMED TO INTIMIDATE
The leavingthenetwork.org site went live. On August 23 I began to receive a series of phone calls from local car dealers. Somebody went to the cars.com website, found car dealers in the town to which I had recently moved, filled out multiple interest forms using my name, used my personal cell phone number, and entered the general contact email from the leavingthenetwork.org site. The owner and webmaster of the Leaving the Network website received inquiry emails and notified me. At the same time, I began to receive a steady stream of phone calls and text messages from car dealers over the next few months. Someone in the Network who knew my personal cell phone number and who knew the town to which I had recently moved, assumed I was running the website. This purposeful spamming action felt intimidating and harassing.
ACTIONS BLAMED ON PHYSICAL ILLNESS
SEPTEMBER - NOVEMBER 2021
We began hearing from long term friends who had left Network churches. They expressed sorrow at the way we had been treated and said they believed and supported us. A few who are still part of Network churches reached out to hear from us and they also expressed grief and support. One insider told us that a long time friend and member of one of my former small groups told them that I created the websites to take down Steve and the Network and insinuated that I was driven by mental instability because of my long term battle with the autoimmune disease rheumatoid arthritis. This statement was cruel, untrue, and discriminatory.
I am truly sorry that I did not take a stand on addressing issues while I was serving as a church overseer, non-staff DC Pastor, and small group leader for many years. I knew about Steve’s alleged background and yet, kept silent. I saw and participated in the Network systems where people were controlled, manipulated, and abused. My relationships with other overseers and pastors likely clouded my judgment at times. I knew the problems but shirked my responsibilities. I deeply regret my part in this and repent for not protecting people and the churches. In the process of my participation and silence, others were spiritually abused. This breaks my heart and I have deep regret for the role I played in this abuse.
If I in any way participated in causing you pain or abuse, please forgive me. I would relish the opportunity to speak with you, ask for forgiveness, and reconcile. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to talk. I pledge to listen to you, believe you, and try to make things right. My personal email is [email protected].
It has been an extremely difficult period of my life as these events unfolded. In summary,
- I was sworn to secrecy.
- I was threatened to follow Steve as my pastor no matter what.
- I was threatened via text by another church overseer.
- I was spammed as a form of veiled intimidation.
- Others were told the Network was considering legal action against me.
- I was labeled as a villain by Network pastors out to take down Steve and the Network.
- I was accused of wrongly trying to resurrect Steve’s past.
- I was labeled unethical multiple times by a church overseer.
- It was insinuated that I was mentally unstable because of a chronic physical disease.
- People were warned to stay away from me and not talk to me.
- People were told to remove me from their phones and social media.
- My agency to make decisions was diminished.
The impact on my family and me has been great. My current licensed counselor, who also formerly served as a pastor, believes that I was traumatized by the spiritual abuses and we began the process of working through negative core beliefs. He told me that coming public with my story is a form of putting repentance into action. He encourages and reminds me that I am not alone, by coming forward I’m protecting the church, and that I should live in God's freedom. I am thankful for my counselor’s wisdom and guidance. Below is a list of impacts I will be working through in the future.
- Spiritual abuse, intimidation, and trauma.
- Loss of personal agency.
- Fear of retribution.
- Loss of long term close relationships.
- My children have been shunned.
- Fear that the Network was going to drive a wedge between my children and me.
- Distorted views of church and leadership.
- Lack of trust of church leaders in general.
- Anxiety and depression.
- Living with regret for years spent in the Network and for not acting sooner.
I call upon all Network pastors, overseers, and leaders to carefully consider the abusive systems, their role in perpetuating the systems, to listen to and have empathy for those who have been abused, to personally and corporately repent, seek outside advice from experts, and do whatever it takes to make things right.
Torrey and I are very thankful for a group of friends who have stuck with us through everything, listened to us, believed us, and stood by us in the face of a constant barrage of attacks over the past few years. We are forever indebted to those who love and support us.
I call upon all Network pastors, overseers, and leaders to carefully consider the serious nature of Steve’s background, the abusive systems, and their role in perpetuating these systems. They need to listen to and have empathy for those who have been abused. I call upon them to personally and corporately repent. I beg the leaders to immediately seek outside advice from experts, allow for an independent investigation, and do whatever it takes to make things right. Now is the time to act for the safety of the church members.
I look forward to moving on from the abuses of the Network and experiencing true freedom like when I first became a Christian many years ago.
“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32 (NLT)