The attorney representing the main alleged victim of Mike Bickle and an advocate group said his clients will not participate in the new investigation announced Sunday by the International House of Prayer Kansas City (IHOPKC).
The attorney, Boz Tchividjian, told The Roys Report (TRR) that the firm IHOPKC had hired for the investigation—the Lathrop Group in Kansas City, Mo.—boasts about its successes defending church groups against sex abuse allegations.
As a result, Tchividjian said he did not believe Lathrop would conduct an independent investigation.
The development comes as the 24/7 prayer ministry is struggling to deal with allegations that surfaced in October that Bickle sexually abused multiple women over several decades. Today, Bickle released a statement, confessing to “inappropriate behavior” 20+ years ago, but denying “more intense sexual activities that some are suggesting.”
On Lathrop Group’s website, the firm states that it obtained a “complete dismissal of a Texas lawsuit against a California diocese and its bishop” for alleged sexual abuse of a minor by a seminary student.
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The firm also boasts that it obtained another “complete dismissal” of a church-affiliated school where a coach sexually assaulted a member of the girls’ softball team. And Lathrop says it represented a Catholic diocese in a group settlement that resulted in “per-claimant awards of less than one-third the national average.”
“Why would reported victims of sexual abuse and misconduct sit down with an attorney from a law firm who represents churches and then brags about their successes?” Tchividjian wrote in a statement to TRR.
“I have no doubt this firm well-represents organizational defendants in sexual abuse litigation. However, it cannot be all things to all people. It cannot represent and defend institutional clients in such cases and then turn around and invite reported sexual abuse victims to meet with you and trust you. It simply doesn’t work that way.”
However, on Sunday at IHOPKC’s Forerunner Church, IHOPKC’s new spokesman, Eric Volz, argued that the firm IHOPKC had engaged would conduct an “independent and impartial investigation.”
He added that IHOPKC would “not control the investigation, meaning it has no ability to dictate the process or the outcome” and “investigators will operate completely independently.”
Volz also claimed the firm was “trauma-informed.” And he said the firm’s attorneys have “extensive experience” conducting investigations, “including cases of clergy abuse allegations.”
Volz did not specify, however, whether the firm’s clergy sex abuse investigations were conducted on behalf of alleged abusers or on behalf of alleged victims.
Volz also would not name the firm IHOPKC had hired “to avoid any interference with their ability to conduct the investigation.”
However, in a video posted online Monday night, Volz said someone associated with the advocate group had “leaked” the name and phone number of the lead investigator to the public. “(T)o avoid confusion,” Volz confirmed on Monday that Rosalee McNamara of the Lathrop Group is the lead investigator.
IHOPKC’s hiring of Lathrop marks the second time IHOPKC has commissioned an allegedly “independent” investigation into the allegations against Bickle.
In November, IHOPKC hired Stinson LLC to conduct an investigation. But less than a week later, IHOPKC decided not to continue with Stinson and hired a lawyer who attends IHOPKC, Audrey Manito, to interview alleged victims.
On Sunday, Volz blamed an “ill-informed” social media post, claiming Stinson was a “threat to the alleged victims,” for dooming the Stinson investigation.
“One social media post had that effect,” Volz said. “Stinson is a national law firm who’s recognized for their work representing victims of sexual abuse. But that fact seemed to be overlooked.”
The objections raised when IHOPKC first hired Stinson focused not just on IHOPKC’s selection of a particular law firm but on the fact that law firms have a fiduciary responsibility to their clients.
“An investigator who has a fiduciary duty to the institution being investigated is also not independent,” Tchividjian wrote in an article posted on the website of GRACE, an organization he founded to empower Christian groups to respond to abuse. “A fiduciary duty is a legal duty to act solely in another party’s interests.”
A petition posted online last month by former staff, students, and “dedicated members” of IHOPKC urged IHOPKC to “cease the use of a law firm and instead invite an organization like GUIDEPOSTS to conduct a true third-party investigation.” The petition also asked IHOPKC to allow the investigating firm to publish its findings “without restriction by IHOPKC or its leadership.”
That petition has more than 3,700 signatures. And it was emailed last Thursday to top IHOPKC leaders.
Volz has not stated whether IHOPKC plans to publish the final report of Lathrop’s investigation should it go forward.
TRR reached out to IHOPKC for clarity on this and other issues. The Executive Leadership Team (ELT) responded that TRR should contact Lathrop directly, adding, “I am sure they will be happy to talk with you.”
TRR contacted Attorney McNamara at Lathrop for more information but did not receive a response.
“Civil war” rages
In the video posted Monday, Volz blamed the advocate group for the current stalemate between IHOPKC and alleged victims.
“This is the third time that IHOPKC has introduced a third party to investigate,” Volz said, presumably counting not just IHOPKC’s hiring of Stinson and Lathrop, but also its hiring of Attorney Manito. “And this is the third time that the advocate group has rejected the investigation. We sincerely appeal to them to reconsider. These investigators are professional. They are honest. And they are bound by ethics.”
Volz added that IHOPKC is at a “crossroads until the advocate group either presents evidence, or alleged victims are willing to participate.” Volz said any “further delays are on the advocate group.”
But Allen Hood, a member of the advocate group who served on IHOPKC’s leadership team from its inception until 2020, blames IHOPKC’s current leadership for what he termed a “civil war.” He also called Volz’s video announcement Monday night a “PR move” that was not “sincere” or “quite honest.”
“The advocacy group is not the resister,” Hood told TRR. “It’s not rocket science what they need to do to get a neutral third-party investigation. You can look it up on any website: What should a church do when their founder is accused of clergy sex abuse?”
Hood said IHOPKC should have contacted the main alleged victim so both parties could agree on who should conduct the investigation. Instead, IHOPKC has not even talked the alleged victim, Hood said.
“Let’s get an independent, neutral third party with the right scope and the right transparency that the survivor agrees on,” Hood said. “And then, let’s let them do their job. And as brothers and sisters, we can sit at a table and discuss what we need to discuss in the spirit of love and repentance and contrition.”
Hood also criticized IHOPKC’s lack of transparency about the firm it hired, saying, “No one should have had to leak it.”
Who’s on the board?
Complicating matters between IHOPKC, the advocacy group, and the public is uncertainty about who is providing oversight at the 24/7 prayer ministry.
On Sunday, Greaves announced that he’s handing over management of the current crisis “to the executive committee of our board . . . which we do have, by the way.”
Greaves said the new arrangement would free up the Executive Leadership Team (ELT), which includes himself, IHOP University President David Sliker, Forerunner Church Pastor Isaac Bennett, and Vice President of Ministries Lenny LaGuardia, to focus on pastoring.
However, Greaves did not identify who’s on IHOPKC’s board.
IHOPKC does not list its board members on its website. But according to its latest registration filing with the state of Missouri in May, IHOPKC has four directors—Stuart Greaves, Cindy Dodd, Anne House, and Ed Hackett.
Yet on Sunday, Greaves introduced Kurt Fuller to Forerunner’s congregation as the vice-chairman of IHOPKC’s board. Fuller is not named anywhere on IHOPKC’s May filing.
TRR reached out to IHOPKC for clarification about who’s on the board and who’s on the executive committee but did not receive answers to these questions.
According to Elizabeth Herder, a member of the advocate team who served on IHOPKC’s board from 2012—2015, IHOPKC has been operating without a functional board for several years.
Herder said Dodd, Hackett, and House are beautiful people, but lack the qualifications one would expect of a board member for a multi-million-dollar, worldwide ministry.
For all practical purposes, the ELT runs IHOPKC, said Herder, who now owns a consulting business for nonprofit organizations.
According to Allen Hood, who served on IHOPKC’s board for decades, the board essentially disbanded in 2020 when all the board members resigned. Hood said Bickle wanted IHOPKC to function more like a church led by local elders (the ELT) than a nonprofit group led by a board of trustees. So, the board members complied by resigning.
Yet, Hood noted that IHOPKC gets the majority of its funding from outside sources, not from local members. This reality is what motivated IHOPKC to become a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) in 2016, Hood said.
According to a 2016 financial statement posted on ECFA’s website, IHOPKC had a total revenue that year of $23 million.
Since 2015, IHOPKC has been classified as a church by the IRS, Hood said. This means IHOPKC doesn’t have to comply with certain IRS requirements, like filing an annual 990 form, which includes names of board members and salaries of top employees.
After moving to the new ELT-led governance model in 2020, IHOPKC withdrew its membership from ECFA.
ECFA requires that at least 50% of the board of its member organizations be independent, meaning they can’t be employees of the organization, or related to any of the board members.
Hood said he’s concerned that IHOPKC may have no functional accountability and is suffering from “founderism”—an unhealthy reverence for its founder.
“When powerful founders found an organization, there usually is a consolidation of power,” Hood said. “And there is a fear, that if the chairman becomes somebody (other than the founder), and the outside board is predominantly governing, then that founder can be removed.”
Hood said there have been scenarios where founders have been removed unjustly. But he said the opposite is also true, “which seems to be the Lord shining the light on the misuse of power. Who makes the decisions? What are the appeal processes? Who can fire who(m) when somebody has a moral issue?”
Hood said that as he reflects on his time at IHOPKC, he thinks a weakness of the 24/7 model is that leaders were so busy, they didn’t take the time to think deeply about governance issues.
“Hopefully this crisis will cause every leader . . . past and present, to ask the question, ‘Were we godly in our government? Were we accountable? Were we open and transparent, or did we Lord our authority?’”
Note: This article has been changed to note that Bickle did not disband the board in 2020. Rather, the board members resigned to comply with Bickle’s desire to change IHOPKC’s governance.
Julie Roys is a veteran investigative reporter and founder of The Roys Report. She also previously hosted a national talk show on the Moody Radio Network, called Up for Debate, and has worked as a TV reporter for a CBS affiliate. Her articles have appeared in numerous periodicals.