Sexual Abuse Cases In United Pentecostal Churches

by Sterling Hammett & Lois E. Gibson

When religious organizations ignore the sexual abuse in their ranks, the organization must be held accountable along with the offenders. This would call to mind the Catholic Church in the last several years but, as it turns out, they aren't the only group that has hid many of their clergy's sexual abuse.

I am going to present disturbing evidence of both wide scale pastoral sexual abuse and pastoral and organizational cover up of sexual abuse within the United Pentecostal Church. In the many convictions, arrests, charges, and news reports there is a disturbing trend. Not only does the UPC have a poor screening process for its pastors, but even when victims report the abuse it tends to get buried and not reported by higher ups.

The first story comes out of Davie, Florida where Pastor Gary James Harris was charged with 5 counts of indecent assault on a child. This story is dated 1997, and if that is considered old news, then the next component of the story is shocking. The UPC had evidence that this pastor was a pedophile going all the way back to 1982!

A letter the lawyers obtained dated June 9, 1982, relays rumors and discussion at the church that Harris might be sexually molesting teen-aged boys. Signed by 21 parishioners, the letter was addressed to Nathaniel Urshan, general superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church International in Hazelwood, Mo.

"We hope that you, Brother Urshan, will thoroughly investigate this matter," the letter says. "Please do not sweep this under the rug as it once apparently was done."

A second letter, dated Nov. 11, 1982, from Panama City district superintendent Rev. O.C. Crabtree, says he contacted Harris, "who assured us that his morals were above reproach." Complaints from parishioners, Crabtree wrote, "were not filed according to the manual of the United Pentecostal Church International."[1]

If Crabtree's letter was to Urshan, then he received not one but two letters about this man. The response? None. The excuse? Crabtree took the accused's word for it and the parishioners needed to file "in accordance with the manual." Mind boggling is accepting the accused's self-assessment of their morals, closing the case and not turning it over to police to investigate.

Now let me ask, how is one to know this procedure since it is explained in the UPC Manual and yet they only sell that to a licensed minister? Surely that minister you are accusing of wrongdoing is not going to give you a copy. While it can be found online now, one still has to know there is a manual and in that is included a judicial procedure, in order to search for it. In addition, the person has to understand about districts and know who the District Superintendent is and many people attending UPC churches would not know this information or even think it was needed. There are people attending UPC churches that do not even realize their church is part of the organization. To disregard such a serious accusation as sexual improprieties simply because they "were not filed according to the manual of the United Pentecostal Church International" is inexcusable and incredibly asinine.

Because of this, a boy from the age of 12 to 15 was for three years "continually touched, fondled, abused, molested and sexually battered."[1] Harris failed to register as a sex predator in 1998 according to court documents. The fact that letters were sent to warn of this guy and they went virtually ignored, makes it obvious that they didn't feel it was their responsibility. In fact with this case, that is exactly what they said:

Rev. Wayne Rooks, another church leader who, according to the June 1982 letter, had been informed about complaints against Harris, said he did not recall the letter, but he thinks the church cannot be liable for the activities of a pastor.

"There's no way that they can be responsible for 7,000 preachers," Rooks said.[1]

One can only wonder how much is covered up or dismissed by the UPC because "they can't be responsible." Did they know about Rev. Ronald Oree Nation's homosexual proclivities when he was caught in a park by a police sting in 2003?[2] He was the Sunday School director for the UPC. For an organization that focuses on "standards of holiness," it unacceptable that such behavior would reach the top positions.

Along with the trend of covering up sexual abuse, another tactic of some pastors is shaming and labeling the victims. In Beaumont, Texas an 11 year old girl started being molested by her uncle, with the first incident being at a sleepover in the church's parsonage. The uncle, Jeffrey Alan Klem, was the son-in-law of Pastor Lonnie Charles "Buck" Treadway and the girl was his granddaughter. As this man began to molest other girls, one of them came forward in 2003. The first thing the parents of these girls did was go to the UPC pastor. He did nothing. Two years later another young girl from the church came forward with allegations against the pastor's son-in-law. Treadway's reaction at this point was to call these girls (including his granddaughters) "liars and whores".[3] In addition it was said that Treadway called one of the plaintiffs in the civil suit "a prostitute and a drug dealer."[20]

The pastor's son-in-law pleaded guilty to three counts of injury to a child and was literally slapped on the wrist with 10 years probation and a fine and does not have to register as a sex offender. Did I mention he is a doctor? Even though his son-in-law pleaded guilty, the pastor booted the young girls' families from the church. The UPC's reaction: "the United Pentecostal Church International has expressed no interest in investigating whether one of its ministers allowed a child molester to prowl around the church's children for seven years."[3]

Why would a pastor possibly cover up for a pedophile? Could it be because that pedophile was a prestigious member of the community, a doctor, and the kind of person he would like to have at the church to possibly feed his greed?

This was important to Buck because, according to some former church members, Buck liked money. He drove a gold Cadillac paid for by mostly working-class church members who didn't want anyone to think their shepherd led a self-centered flock. In addition to his Beaumont home, he owned a lake house and a bunch of rental properties. Church members contributed to the L.C. Treadway Retirement Fund. He put a premium on tithing, something that became even more apparent when he launched his annual "medical community outreach"[3]

In 2008, Dr. Klem attempted to say "his guilty pleas were unknowing and involuntary" but that was rejected by the court.[21] There was also a civil suit filed, in part because the girls "all suffered severe emotional distress and mental anguish, causing them to engage in behaviors such as self-mutilation, and causing inability to perform schoolwork."[20] Treadway, the church & Klem all settled with the plaintiffs.[16]

To make matters worse, it was discovered that the attorney retained by the church, Kip Lamb, deliberately hid church assets in an attempt to lessen the amount the church might have to pay the victims. "In a subsequent civil action filed against Klem and New Life Tabernacle, the church settled out of court for a confidential dollar amount. But according to testimony in Monday's court, in an attempt to hide assets of the Tabernacle which could be sought by Beaumont attorney Clay Dugas - who represented the young victims- Lamb convinced New Life Tabernacle to transfer approximately $1,094,611.02 into his trust account."[17] In turn, it appears Lamb spent the church's money. In 2013, Lamb was sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to make restitution to the church. Not only did L.C. Treadway do the other things, he and New Life Tabernacle Church in Beaumont, Texas knowingly and deliberately deceived the victims and the courts by hiding and misrepresenting church assets of over a million dollars. The church filed a lawsuit in early 2012. (This article will explain the reference to the Anchor Church in the video below.)[22] As of the 2013 church directory, Lonnie Treadway was still listed as a UPCI ordained minister, though New Life Tabernacle was not listed.

Sadly, in August 2012, one of the victims died in an automobile accident.[18] The same year, the Child Abuse and Forensic Services created the Ashlyn Tilea Treadway Educational Fund, in honor of her.[19] There is more to that story and if one has a strong heart then they can read it.

I have to ask how common is this in the UPC? To date I have heard several personal stories of people both in and that have left the UPC, alleging cover up. Ushers molesting kids, youth pastors molesting under-aged girls, older married men sleeping with teens, and things happening at their Bible colleges. All these stories share the same trend, "the pastor was told or knew about it".

The next story is from Wisconsin and happened at Apostolic Faith Church in the late 90s. The church allowed Timothy Gregory to teach Sunday school at the church even though some members knew he was a convicted sex offender. Gregory discovered the church via the church's prison ministry while he was in prison.[4] After he was released, he went to the church for a few years and the church allowed him to become a Sunday school teacher. Gregory assaulted girls at their homes, his home, and the church basement. When the parents learned of the sexual assaults, they went to church officials. This is a mistake in a UPC church, evidenced by every incident I can find. The church's reaction:

The lawsuit alleges that church officials discouraged the parents from reporting the assaults. The lawsuit says Pastor James Schumacher, who is the head of the church, threatened to excommunicate the family from Apostolic Faith and its larger organization, the United Pentecostal Church International.[4]

Gregory was sentenced to 150 years in prison for sexually assaulting the girls. The pastor and Church believe they are not responsible because "Gregory never was a hired employee".[4] The pastor said "The Bible says we need to forget the past".[4] I don't think the girls that were assaulted because of this pastor's negligence will easily forget what happened to them. James Schumacher is still a licensed UPC minister and pastor of Apostolic Faith Church in Racine. Gregory is still battling this in court.

Using God and the Bible to justify their behavior and justify covering up sexual abuse is par for the course for some pastors. In Salisbury, Maryland, four past members of New Life Apostolic Church sued the church's bishop, Richard C. Lawson, in 2006 because of sexual advances he allegedly made.[5] Two of these ex-members were 18 years old and alleged the bishop used the story that his wife was dying and he needed a new companion. After this man and his son (who was then the current pastor) allegedly had their way with these women (or tried to) they asked them to "leave because they were making comments that were not conducive to a spiritual atmosphere."[5] I suppose not. "It was abuse of trust and position in order to achieve his objectives,"[5] according to the victims. As of 2018, he is still the pastor.

What about the formal complaint system that was mentioned by Crabtree? "Congregants had formally complained about Lawson's behavior in 1998 and 1999, according to the lawsuit, which claims the district governing body never investigated these allegations even though it had a duty to protect female members."[6] The response from headquarters was they "had not been served with the legal papers and would not comment."[6] There was a voluntary dismissal of this case and it is unclear if a settlement was reached out of court. (You will need to agree to the terms of the site when you click on this link. Then either click it on a second time or do a search for case number 22C06001203 and it will take you to the page.)

The next story took place in Texas. In 1999, Jonathan Mark Hart was convicted on three counts of sexual assault of minors. "The female children were 15 and 16 years of age and members of the Youth Group at Eastland United Pentecostal Church."[7] Jonathan was the assistant pastor at the time and he and his wife were Youth Directors. The assaults took place on church property and church related trips. Jonathan's dad, Bobby Hart, was the pastor. That isn't surprising because it is how many become a pastor in the UPC- daddy or uncle was/is. After the pastor learned of the assaults, he still allowed Jonathan to continue working with children.[7] Jonathan doesn't really feel like he did anything wrong even after being convicted.[8] In fact, he blames the victims, society, and the way women dress. He made these statements after seven years of therapy. (This 2006 court document is a must read.)[8]

More concerning about this case, however, is the response of the UPC headquarters:

[The] UPCI sent three representatives to investigate the situation. Representatives for UPCI were Wendell Elms, Kerry Sharp and David Bernard. Victims were told that there was evidence of Ministerial misconduct but the investigative team TOOK NO IMMEDIATE ACTION. Bobby Hart refused to resign and was allowed to continue as pastor. He finally resigned in late November 1998. Bobby and Son, Jonathan Hart, along with their families, have since moved to Athens Texas and are involved in the UPC there. Bobby Hart still holds a license with the UPCI and has never been reprimanded in any way.[7] (Note: Hart still is an ordained UPC minister and pastors at Life Temple United Pentecostal Church in Hobbs, New Mexico. Link no longer works as the Facebook Page was removed. This is the new one and it appears that sometime in 2016 or 2017 he ceased being the pastor.)

David Bernard is now the General Superintendent for the UPCI. Hopefully he doesn't share the same view as N.A. Urshan in this case, who insisted "that UPCI has no duty to protect children in their more than 21,000 churches".[7]

The last two stories from California are connected by a lay pastor and show the snowball effect of ministers being given too much power and taking no accountability. Arthur Hodges III was the pastor at Chula Vista's South Bay Pentecostal Church in the late 80's when Lyn Meche, a lay pastor, pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor counts of molesting a girl (under 18 at the time) for a year.[9] Meche had held license with the UPC for at least several years. Arthur Hodges III and George Nobbs[14] were also arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for failing to report the molestation to authorities after the girl told them about her stepfather's actions over a seven-year period.[9] They fought the charges but were eventually found guilty in 1991 and were given probation. Hodges "counseled the family, stripped Meche of his pastoral duties and had him apologize in front of the congregation" instead of reporting him to police as required by law.[15] Since this time Hodges has served in many official capacities within the United Pentecostal Church. Arthur Hodges III has been the pastor of South Bay Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista since 1984 and George Nobbs is still a minister there as well as the secretary for Christian Service Training Institute. The church operates an academy.

Fast forward to 2014 and Arthur Hodges III is now the District Superintendent for the SoCal district of the UPCI (he was elected in 2008 and still holds the position in 2018). He is an advocate for not sending kids to public schools (22 Aug. 2014 Twitter posts & 21 October 2014 Twitter posts) and would prefer you send them to his district's church schools. On May 28, 2014, Johnny Beserra III, a volunteer at one of these schools, was charged with more counts of sodomy, forced oral sex, child molestation, and lewd acts on five children from younger than 10 to less than 18 than can be listed.[10 11] At least some of the abuse occurred at The United Pentecostal Church of El Monte and/or their school, El Monte Christian Academy) over a four year period. (They have since changed their website to here and the school may be seen here.)Thankfully the leadership at this church did not follow Hodge's actions in the 80s, but reported it to police. Beserra entered a plea of not guilty in June 2014. It is disturbing to see his YouTube account has 80 or more videos of young children and his MySpace account has more than 100 pictures of children just from the academy. It appears his Twitter account was removed or hidden.

Jonathan L. Cupoli is the pastor of The United Pentecostal Church of El Monte and also serves as a Section 4 District Presbyter in Southern California. The school was founded by Pastor Cupoli due to a burden that "stemmed from a provoking thought that their children would be apart of a Godless education system without morals or Christian Family Values." The alleged victims were male and female church attendees or academy students. This sounds reminiscent of the situation at Faith Tabernacle Apostolic Church in Junction City, Kansas, where Jordan Young was able to repeatedly molest boys from the church and school over a period of many years. (See here and other articles linked to on that page.)

First, how can Art criticize public school three months after this incident when a district school appears much worse? It is my opinion that safeguards for the children's protection were lacking, enabling this guy to victimize many kids. Second, why not get on twitter and make a public apology for not protecting those children? That's what should come with all that authority you think you have being District Superintendent. In other organizations your resignation would be expected. But Art works for an organization that appears to have for years buried, ignored, denied, and refused to be responsible for the crimes and other actions they and their members commit. And he had no problem celebrating his 30th pastoral anniversary with all the pomp and praise of his followers within two months of these horrible crimes surfacing (27 July 2014 Twitter posts).

Sadly, there are many more stories that detail sexual abuse and molestation among the clergy and others of the UPC and that some clergy also protect these types of people if it is to their church's benefit. Outside of an organization like the UPC, it is well known that sexual assault is under reported,[12] especially cases involving child molestation.[13] The considerable but fake authority that the average UPC pastor holds over the individual family unit in most UPC churches is worrisome. When they have enough sway to make parents of a little boy or girl be silent on their child's abuse or when parents are fooled by the pastor to believe he is the "man of God" and the last person you want to cross - then I fear, the unreported child sexual abuse in UPC churches must be much higher than the national average. But the UPC's leaders appear to have refused to do anything about it or take responsibility. I cannot find one leadership statement of taking responsibility for anything involving any of these stories and many more I left out.

In conclusion, sexual abuse is a problem for many denominations but the UPC is not a large denomination in North America. Because of its size in comparison to, say, the Catholic Church, one would expect very few public stories in comparison. There seems to be a never ending chain of stories, however, and out of around 4500 churches nationwide & in Canada. When taking in account most stories of sexual abuse go unreported, one must conclude that it is a serious problem. And a problem that the UPC has stated again and again they will not deal with.

* * * * * * * * * *

Additional thoughts from Sterling: When I was composing the paper I posted on the sexual abuse cover ups done by the UPC earlier, I didn't know the ramifications of reflecting on a dozen articles I used as sources. How could people be so evil and so completely uncaring? Just thinking openly, but it seems a small piece of my person was annihilated in the process of exposing some (so many more) of these pulpit pigs. A woman cuts her hair and she is not "holy" enough to teach Sunday school, but a child molester can go unchecked for four years? What fantasy world is this?

These pastors get treated like royalty and and use their sheep for their own purposes, which can be financial, spiritual and sexual.

You may be interested in reading a second article which covers the accusations against former UPCI pastor Mack Charles Andrews. There is also a series of blog articles covering sexual abuse and the United Pentecostal Church. Some have a focus on events in Wisconsin.



This article is the copyright of Sterling Hammett and is posted with his permission.
Additional information was added by Lois E. Gibson.

Page added September 27, 2014 & updated February 17, 2018


August 23, 1997
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