Catch a Deuteronomy reference? Another #ChurchToo case emerges in Tacoma

Most everyone has heard of the imbroglio that drove famed Willow Creek Church pastor Bill Hybels from his Chicago-area pulpit in recent months -- because that received tons of mainstream news coverage.

Fewer news readers have heard how the #ChurchToo movement has filtered down to lesser-known clerics.

Thanks to former GetReligionista Mark Kellner who alerted me to the story, I’ve been following recent revelations in the Tacoma News Tribune about a local Assembly of God pastor who’s been forced from his pulpit after similar complaints: Sexually suggestive remarks, a relationship with another woman that allegedly turned physical and a prior investigation that cleared him of all wrong. He leads a 4,500-member congregation, which is megachurch level here in the religion-parched Pacific Northwest.

The bottom line? This is a story that really needed attention from a religion-beat pro.

The Trib first came out with this story on July 2, updated it a day later here, then filled in various holes and updated it again this past Sunday with the following: 

Revelations surrounding Tacoma megachurch pastor Dean Curry have reached the crisis stage.
Last week, Curry stepped down as leader of Life Center Tacoma in response to a complaint of physical misconduct with an ex-employee. This week, a former church board member filed formal complaints with federal and state agencies, alleging prior instances of sexual misconduct by Curry with female church employees and congregation members.
The complaints to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the state Human Rights Commission come from Julee Dilley, who was elected to the Life Center Board in 2014. She said she and her husband left the church in 2016 over concerns about Curry’s conduct and the church’s response to it.
The allegations described in Dilley's complaint appear to be distinct from the more recent misconduct charge brought to the Northwest Ministry Network by the former church employee. That record is confidential, and the employee has not been identified publicly.

What so often happens in these instances is a reporter publishes a few facts he can prove. Others, reading about this in the paper, chime in with more details or file a legal complaint, the contents of which are public record.

Dilley’s complaint sheds new light on prior incidents allegedly involving Curry, referenced obliquely in public statements by church leaders, but not described in detail. The complaint describes three incidents involving three women:
▪ An ongoing relationship with a married church member that turned physical.
▪ An incident involving another married church member being visited by Curry late at night, discovered by the woman’s husband.
▪ A female administrative employee who spoke of uncomfortable conversations with Curry that included comments on her appearance and discussions of his intimate relations with his wife.

So, the state Assemblies of God headquarters were the ones pushing the pastor out.

The Northwest Ministry Network, based in Snoqualmie, is a larger organization that holds administrative authority over Assemblies of God churches in the Northwest. The network recently decided to recommend Curry’s dismissal after hearing new complaints of physical misconduct involving female employees.
Leaders of the network said they relied on the testimony of “two or more witnesses” before unanimously recommending Curry’s dismissal.

I clicked on the “two or more witnesses” link only to find it leading to an earlier story. But nowhere does it explain what that means. I am guessing the reporter himself doesn’t know, as it would have been easy to add that it comes from a list of regulations in Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:5 about capital punishment. One cannot be put to death on just one person’s charges alone. At least two or three people must agree on the details of the crime.

Then again, maybe it refers to a passage in Matthew 18:16 about confronting people about their sins. Either way, it needs clarification. 

The News Tribune is the paper that Steve Maynard, a former Religion News Association president and my one-time co-worker at the Houston Chronicle, used to work for. He has since left, which is why this story is being handled by the paper’s police, crime and courts reporter, which may explain the puzzlement over the “two witnesses” quote.

Such he-said, she-said, the pastor-said, stories are tough for any reporter to follow, much less someone who is not a religion specialist and isn’t aware of the multiple pastor/sex scandals the national Assemblies of God weathered in 1987-1988 thanks to Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker.

The article continues with a stab at telling the pastor’s side of things:

Curry, 50, denied the accusation in a July 1 speech to the congregation, and said he had been “falsely and wrongly accused” of actions that would amount to adultery. He denied being unfaithful to his wife, Anne. He is appealing his dismissal to the national Assemblies of God organization, a confidential process expected to take months.
Since his departure, multiple church members have spoken to The News Tribune. Some defend Curry wholeheartedly. Others say concerns about his conduct with women have simmered for years.

The July 2 version did include more of Curry’s defense and quotes from a speech he gave to church members. So there were some prior complaints, an internal investigation that exonerated the pastor and then new charges this year.

As the newspaper continues its coverage on this matter, it would do well to assign either this reporter or a feature writer to a wide-ranging piece on where the #ChurchToo movement has gone nationally; why women seem to be popping out of the woodwork to accuse their pastors and how a pastor’s reputation cannot survive these accusations, even if he is innocent. 

I also noticed in the first article that church board members weren’t taking questions about the pastor during an open forum but they could submit them on the church’s web site. That sounds pretty fishy to me and I’d like an update as to whatever happened to those questions. There’s got to be a bunch out there.  

The News Tribune is covering this matter single-handedly, as the Seattle Times hasn't jumped in, even though the region is heavily populated with Assemblies of God churches. The Times doesn't have a religion reporter, either, so I am not holding my breath. 

So if the Tribune has the will and the space, it can draw this story out for many weeks. Believe me, the material to do so is there.

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