Can Churches Handle “Spiritual Character” Problems Without Outside Help?

by Travis Mateer

While today’s court hearing in the case against J.D. Partain is just a small step in a CRIMINAL JUSTICE process directed at an individual, the larger context of sexual abuse within religious institutions–and the response of church leaders when it’s uncovered–is something outsiders can have a hard time understanding.

Despite considering myself a mostly-outsider to the Missoula church scene (in other words, a Christmas-time Presbyterian), an overlapping set of circumstances has put church culture deeply on my radar, and it just keeps getting deeper, with synchronicities and a family connection to Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho emerging last week.

For this post we aren’t going to Idaho, but to Hunter S. Thompson’s adopted home-state of Colorado. That’s where a VERY famous Evangelical preacher got into trouble when was busted in a motel room with meth and a male prostitute. Yes, I’m talking about the Ted Haggard scandal.

Some things you might not know about the controversy that blew up New Life Church in 2006 is that a SECOND staff member had to resign amidst allegations of sexual impropriety, and that man’s name is Christopher Beard (guess where Christopher ended up after leaving Colorado?) From the link (emphasis mine):

Rob Brendle, an associate pastor at New Life Church, could not immediately be reached for comment. The Post quoted Brendle saying Beard’s resignation was tied to a “series of decisions displaying poor judgment, including one incident of sexual misconduct several years ago.” Beard wasn’t married then, but is now.

Since Haggard was fired in early November after admitting to buying meth and getting a massage from a male prostitute, the 14,000-member church has encouraged people to report potential “spiritual character” problems involving others at the church, which has a staff of 200.

Before getting to Beard’s presence in Missoula, I wonder what Ted Haggard is up to? Has he managed to find redemption and to NOT act on his impulses?

Former Colorado megachurch pastor Ted Haggard, who fell from grace in 2006 after a gay sex-and-drug scandal, is now facing some of the same allegations at another church.

Haggard, 66, is being accused of using methamphetamine and behaving inappropriately with young men at St. James Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, a church he founded in 2010, The Denver Gazette reported.

The most recent allegations were made by Kirk “Seth” Sethman, who was ordained as a minister by St. James Church in 2012. Sethman recorded the statements of two young adult men who said Haggard touched them inappropriately on several occasions at the church. One of them was a minor at the time the touching began in 2019.

Sethman said he first approached church elders with allegations about Haggard in 2020.

This article is from July of 2022, so despite new allegations in 2020, it can apparently take YEARS for something to happen. How many potential new victims can that time-frame create? I don’t know, maybe the pastor in Missoula who knowingly hired Christopher Beard can answer that question.

You will no longer find Pastor Matt Reneau at the Christian Life Center here in Missoula because he got run out of town. Did he get run out for hiring someone with a sex abuse scandal in his past and for putting this person in a leaderships position? No, Pastor Matt exited Zoom Town after defrauding his church because MONEY seems to matter more than protecting the flock from the wolves.

To get a better idea of who Pastor Matt knowingly hired, you have to hear from someone with direct knowledge of the “24/7 Program” Christopher Beard helped run in Colorado. I mean, who doesn’t love showering with 18 year old boys after a tough night of placing bags over their heads and simulating a terrorist attack on missionaries in the woods?

Writing this isn’t gratuitous Christian-bashing. People need the hope of redemption, even from the vilest of vices. In fact, I’ve even had a conversation recently about trying to find the balance between still working with someone afflicted by these impulses to exploit others for sexual gratification while NOT being a dupe to their grooming tactics.

Is that possible? Maybe, if the offender is remorseful and WANTS to stop lusting after inappropriate sexual relationships, a balance can be found. As it pertains to Partain, balance is now a question for the courts to decide, and it includes the rights of the victim of his sexual predation. It will be interesting to see how the people who previously supported him position themselves as this case plays out.

If churches want to be serious about addressing sexual abuse within their congregations, the first place to start is NOT HIRING people with proven histories of poor decision making. Then maybe looking at outside resources for members of respective congregations dealing with these issues might be possible.

And, while we’re talking about “looking”…boys, if you’re showering in a public bathroom and someone is starring at you for a little too long, make sure it’s not this guy:

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Thanks for reading!

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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