An Atlanta pastor is tired of hearing of sexual abuse within the denomination he was raised, and he's on a mission to help expose what he believes is a surging problem.
While growing up in a Church of God in Christ (COGIC) congregation, D.L. Foster experienced sexual abuse firsthand when a fellow teenager molested him. The incident—and its ugly aftermath, which included a lack of support from church leaders—caused Foster to spend years living a gay lifestyle. He eventually left this and launched a ministry to individuals wanting to abandon their homosexual lifestyle, yet the pastor soon began hearing more stories of similar abuse within COGIC. In September, Foster launched a Web site, ReportCOGICAbuse.com, to expose what he believes is a growing problem of sexual misconduct among ministers of the 6 million-member denomination.
"The pattern I saw was to deny that victims existed, to deny that the church had a culpable role in dealing with the situations," said Foster, who to date has tracked at least 30 cases of sexual abuse. "In many of the cases, church members went first to their denominational leaders, reported these actions and nothing was done."
Although COGIC leaders don't deny instances of pastoral abuse, they disagree with Foster's claim that the denomination is doing little to address the issue. Elder Derrick W. Hutchins, chairman of COGIC's General Council of Pastors and Elders, said his denomination does not take allegations of sexual abuse lightly. "That's the part that I really find offensive," Hutchins said. "Because sometimes it's written like all we want to do is save ourselves from liability, we don't really care about people—and that's not true at all. Our first concern is the parishioners, not just pastors. We do not tolerate pastors in the pulpit who are found guilty of these improprieties."
COGIC's constitution calls for ministers accused of egregious sexual misconduct such as rape or pedophilia to be immediately suspended while the claims are being investigated, Hutchins said. A pastor-led jurisdictional council investigates other kinds of allegations, such as sexual immorality among consenting adults, before taking action against a pastor. Bishops who don't follow the procedures can themselves be brought up on charges.
“I want to believe that every bishop is committed to carrying out the constitution as it relates to these grievous acts,” Hutchins said. “Anybody who can find where it’s not being carried out and can prove it, I’m sure that charges will be brought against that bishop who did not carry out his responsibility."
With its influence growing worldwide, COGIC can set an example for addressing clergy abuse, Foster believes: "If you continue to deny you have a problem for the sake of your image, name and assets, then my fear is what God allowed [COGIC founder] Bishop Mason to build will be destroyed by evil men—and I do not use that term lightly—whose intention is not the integrity of the house of God but rather to cover for their own sins and the sins of others who perhaps know what they've been doing." [charismamag.com, 10/15/09]
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