Calvary Gospel Church in Madison, Wisconsin has been around for 75 years old. And according to Katelyn Ferral of The Capital Times, the Pentecostal church has been covering up sexual assault allegations for more than 30 years. Even beyond that, former members say that the leaders “perpetuate a culture of fear and control that fosters abuse.”
The women who say they were assaulted as children — Debbie McNulty, Rachel Capacio, Rachel Huff and Rebecca Martin Byrd, all of whom agreed to publication of their names for this story — say they were groomed at a young age to accept sexual abuse from men in the church as other adults at the time looked the other way.
Their alleged perpetrators, often seen as service-oriented “men of God” in their 20s and 30s, sexually pursued them when they were girls. All of the women were under 18 at the time of the alleged assaults — and one was as young as 11.
The allegations are as recent as 2005. Because of the age of the victims and the kind of abuse that occurred, some of their stories fall outside the state’s statute of limitations. But the bigger takeaway isn’t the legal battle but why this church in particular harbored such abuse.
Pentecostal churches, almost by definition, are more insulated from the world. That makes it harder for people to know what’s happening on the inside, and more unlikely that members will report abuse to the outside. It also doesn’t help that women who are abused may well be blamed for it in these kinds of cultures — there’s a very strong “Well, what were you wearing?” mentality.
Part of the problem, the women say, was John Grant, the state’s “district superintendent” for the United Pentecostal International churches. Even when he was told about the abuse, he did nothing.
“I feel like John Grant could get in front of the congregation, shoot a child in the head and 95 percent of that congregation would say, ‘Well, it was God’s will,’” Byrd said. “That was the mentality. You just don’t question it.
After the man allegedly tried to rape her when she was 12, McNulty went to her pastor, John Grant, and told him what was happening. He recorded the conversation and told her he would get back to her. He never did, she said.
Pentecostal beliefs also helped the abusers keep their victims’ mouths shut.
Children were told the end of the world was always near — that Jesus would soon return and choose who to send to heaven and hell. They were taught that they would go to hell and send others there, too, for dishonoring the church and its leaders — which some believe are divinely appointed by God — by reporting abuse outside the church.
It’s not just the stories of these women. Another UPCI minister who heard about allegations (in general, though not these specific ones) said he allowed Grant to handle them without digging any deeper into the stories. When Grant did nothing, he just assumed everything was handled appropriately. He left the church more than a decade ago, leaving his family without much of a social safety net, and it was only in the past couple of years, after one woman shared the story of her assault online, that “things made sense.”
This isn’t a problem limited to a single church or even a single denomination. It’s widespread among the Christian faith — among Catholics, Southern Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, non-denominational evangelicals, etc. That’s largely due to the way they subjugate women, keep things in-house, and have no desire to learn how to handle these allegations with the seriousness they deserve. That’s only starting to change now, and it’s because women like the ones in this story are courageously speaking out and sharing the most traumatic moments of their lives.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Richard for the link)