This is the first of a several part series.
It appears that one of the greatest temptations facing the ministry is sex. How does sexual purity relate to God’s requirements? Sexual immorality is clearly excluded by the requirements of ‘blameless, good report, good behaviour, just, holy, and husband of one wife.’ Again, a sexual sin is an obvious disqualification in light of all the Scriptures. ‘But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul. A wound and dishonour shall he get; and his reproach shall not be wiped away’ (Proverbs 6:32-33). Even our sinful society acknowledges the truth in this verse to some degree, as exemplified by the public reaction to the Gary Hart and Jim Bakker scandals. Even people guilty of sexual sins often expect their leaders to uphold moral standards publicly, particularly religious leaders who claim to be morally pure. – David Bernard, January-March 1988 Forward (an exclusive magazine for UPCI licensed ministers)
I am saddened once again as I continue to discover instances of wrongful sexual actions, committed against children and adults, by people in the United Pentecostal Church and elsewhere. My heart is grieved upon learning how some pastors failed to report cases to the police. In their attempts to handle these ‘in house’ and muzzle the victims, it has allowed people to continue molesting, causing untold damage and anguish to others. (One case in California, involving two UPC ministers who are still licensed with one now serving as a General Executive Presbyter, prompted legislative changes.) Through the years I have also heard stories of children of preachers never facing the consequences of sexual sins as their parent(s) covered it up and some were even later awarded ministerial license in the United Pentecostal Church. There have been ministers who have had affairs, leaving their spouse and children in their wake, trying to pick up the pieces of their once normal lives. There have been men and women who have suffered agonizing horror and shame as it is discovered that a spouse is a pedophile. Church members have had their faith shaken when light is shone upon a pastor’s sexual crimes, while others refuse to believe what they did. There have been victims of sexual violence who have been shamed, avoided, blamed and even kicked out of their church by fellow UPC members. They are told to forgive and to keep their mouths shut. Should they muster the courage to speak out, they are sometimes disbelieved and their character assassinated. It is all so very heartbreaking.
According to I Corinthians 6:15-18, sexual sins are against one’s own body. God has ordained that husband and wife become one flesh. Marriage is a holy institution and a type of Christ and the church. Sexual infidelity is a violation of the most basic, sacred, and intimate covenant that two people can make. Far from being a temporary lapse or indiscretion, it signals a fundamental breakdown of spirituality, character, and integrity- in relation to God, one’s closest loved ones, and oneself. The offender has broken faith and trust in the most important stewardship he has. This is doubly true when this sin has been committed repeatedly, as it often is. – David Bernard, January-March 1988 Forward
Before someone shouts that the United Pentecostal Church isn’t the only religious group where sexual abuse occurs or is covered up, I would have to have my head in the sand to be unaware of this. I also realize that their offenses are less in number than the Catholic church. I know that there are some ministers and churches that properly handle instances of sexual abuse. These facts, however, should never preclude the matter from being exposed and addressed. These facts can never diminish the devastation and life-long effects that the victims endure.
There is a focus on this particular organization as it is the one in which I used to belong. I personally know four men from the United Pentecostal Church, two of whom were licensed ministers, who were convicted of sexual related charges. In addition, there hasn’t been as much written about this group, or other Oneness Pentecostals, as has been with some other groups when it comes to sexual abuse. When some cases do hit the news, it isn’t always shown or openly known that someone in the UPCI is involved, even though their Manual stipulates any of their churches are to be clearly marked as such. (Article XVIII, Section 4:1 Identification “Each church that is either affiliated with the United Pentecostal Church International or is pastored by a minister who holds license or credentials with the United Pentecostal Church International shall identify by sign or otherwise on the outside of its church building that it is associated with the United Pentecostal Church International.” 2018 UPCI Manual)
A preacher may fall into sin, be forgiven by God, be restored to the church, and even be restored to many areas of service, but this does not automatically entitle him to his former position of leadership. He must once again meet the qualifications of being blameless, having a good report, and so on. This takes much time, and in some cases total restoration may never be possible. As an analogy, God will forgive a church treasurer who embezzles, but it may never be wise for him to fill that office again, for his sake and for others’ sake. The same is true of a Boy Scout leader who falls into homosexuality or a youth teacher who divorces his wife and marries one of his students. Moreover, some sins-such as child molestation, incest, and rape-may indicate deep personality problems that would permanently disqualify someone from many leadership positions. – David Bernard, January-March 1988 Forward
You may be surprised to realize that there is a very good chance that there are people in your church who have been molested at some point in their lives. Your closest friend, a co-worker, even your spouse or child may have never shared and could be suffering in silence. Some have been told by pastors to never speak about it and they feel they must be obedient. One must protect the church’s reputation. Some remain silent as they have seen how mistreated another was when they disclosed what happened. Due to how they were raised and/or what they were taught in church, they may at least partially blame themselves. They may have relationship, marital or sexual issues. And all this time they fight, struggle and suffer alone, right beside others, while most are oblivious to their pain. Sometimes they push through and openly share what happened. To me, that takes strength and courage, especially since there will always be those who dismiss or attempt to discredit the accounts, make excuses for the perpetrators, or make ignorant statements, such as questioning why they took so long to speak up.
Just as the church has authority to examine and approve ministerial candidates, so it has authority to remove someone from a ministerial position if he no longer meets God’s requirements. Actually the person disqualifies himself by his actions, and the church simply recognizes this fact. Solomon permanently removed Abiathar from the high priesthood, a hereditary role explicitly ordained by God, because of his rebellion (I Kings 2:26-27). – David Bernard, January-March 1988 Forward
There are questions in all of this that cry out to be addressed. If what David Bernard wrote is the official position of the United Pentecostal Church (and it should be as he has since become their General Superintendent), then why have certain things happened in some of their churches and ministers have obtained or retained their licenses? How has anyone convicted of sexual crimes been allowed to participate in certain church activities and leadership has not informed the church members? Why would any church that operates a school or daycare not tell the parents when one of their workers, past or present, has been arrested on charges of having thousands of images and videos of child pornography? Why have pastors made the decision to handle any of these ‘in house’, failed to report them to police, told church members not to go to the police, or covered them up? Why have some pastors and District Superintendents not taken proper action when informed of such things? Shouldn’t a minister who fails to report sexual abuse lose their license as their actions allow a perpetrator to continue- are they not complicit in future assaults? When a church has an atmosphere where some of the men had inappropriate interest in much younger female children, how could this have continued for years and why have these children who were sexually assaulted received no justice?
Some may argue argue that Bernard didn’t say anything about taking church matters to the police or the courts. There is a mindset with many of these churches/ministers that believes these matters should be handled ‘in house’ – we don’t want to make the church look bad and we need to protect ‘the truth’. The mission of the United Pentecostal Church in part is to carry “the whole gospel to the whole world”. They truly believe they have ‘the truth’ and that the vast majority of Christians do not have it and are not saved. So I pose this thought: Shouldn’t an organization that believes they have the ‘whole gospel’ and ‘the truth’ conduct themselves better than other church groups? Shouldn’t they hold themselves to a higher standard than others? Shouldn’t they do whatever they can to protect and bring justice to those who have been sexually assaulted?
Part One: The United Pentecostal Church and Sexual Abuse
Part Two: A UPC Minister’s Sexual Fantasy
Part Three: A UPC Church Responds To Sexual Abuse
Part Four: A Pastor Who Should Not Have Been Part 1
Part Five: A Pastor Who Should Not Have Been Part 2
Part Six: A Pastor Who Should Not Have Been Part 3