Multiple Assemblies of God (AG) pastors are calling for the resignation of denominational leaders for what the pastors say has been a “shameful” response to a sex abuse scandal within the AG’s college ministry.
The scandal involves Daniel Savala, a longtime volunteer teacher and mentor with Chi Alpha Campus Ministries, the official college ministry of the AG. Savala is accused of raping or sexually assaulting at least 13 men connected to Chi Alpha over more than two decades.
He also was indicted this month, along with his former protégé Chris Hundl, for sexual abuse of two minors. Hundl, an ordained AG minister, had led Baylor University’s Chi Alpha chapter.
Several other leaders within the Chi Alpha ministry have been removed from leadership over their alleged involvement in sexual misconduct or cover-up. Will Robinson, former Chi Alpha chapter leader at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, fue detenido last July on child sex abuse charges and will soon answer the charges in court. In May, former Chi Alpha North Texas District Director Eli Stewart fue despedido from his College Station church and Eli Gautreaux, Chi Alpha South Texas Director, was suspended from his position.
Speaking from his pulpit on Aug. 13, Pastor J.R. Armstrong of Mauriceville All Gospel Church in Orange, Texas, said, “Missionaries have been arrested. A handful of others have been removed from the pulpit. All the while, the leaders of the districts and national office have remained silent.”
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Armstrong specifically criticized AG General Superintendent Doug Clay, the denomination’s highest official, and played a clip of Clay’s address Aug. 4 at the AG General Council Meeting in Columbus, Ohio.
In the clip, Clay praised the success of Chi Alpha missionaries and referred to the scandal as “hiccups” and “shortcomings” in the ministry. “But the failure of some individuals never trumps the strength and the purpose and the vitality of the particular ministry,” Clay continued. He then asked anyone connected to Chi Alpha (XA) to stand and receive applause.
“Mr. Superintendent, I have no issue with prayer for Chi Alpha Ministries, but it rings hollow,” said Armstrong. “And absent acknowledgment of its victims and prayer and empathy expressed for them, your statement is shameful.”
Albert Cortez of Family Life Assembly of God in Katy, Texas, echoed similar outrage.
“This is like a Netflix series,” Cortez told his congregation over the summer. “Chi Alpha (chapters) in south Texas have allowed a wolf in sheep’s clothing to infiltrate the campuses. I’m not talking 25 months – it was for the past 25 years.”
Cortez added that Chi Alpha leaders would refer students for one-on-one counseling to Savala, “who we find out later on was a sexual predator. (And) we’re finding out there are countless victims. Now you know why I’m angry.”
Similarly, Pastor Jeff Gravis of Central Assembly of God in Haughton, La., said he was grieved by the abuse that went unchecked.
“To say that my heart is broken over what is going on is an understatement,” said Gravis, who noted he had spent years as a Chi Alpha leader and his church often referred students to its chapters. “This could have been avoided had leadership stepped up and called some people to account.”
When asked for comment, AG spokesperson Mark Forrester referred El Informe Roys (TRR) to a three-paragraph declaración on the AG website. The denomination’s leaders “(stand) in strong opposition to the teachings and practices (Daniel Savala) seems to have endorsed,” it states in part.
Previously, AG statements noted that Savala has never formally been on-staff at Chi Alpha and that Hundl’s credentials as an AG minister have been revoked.
However, Olivia Wolf, a spokesperson for whistleblowers who founded the online forum XA & The Lions Den, dicho TRR she was heartened by the pastors’ remarks.
“I applaud these few pastors who have said, ‘Rejection be damned, I’m doing what’s right.’ Christlike leaders take responsibility even when it isn’t their fault. And they mourn with those who mourn.”
Calls for resignations
All three pastors claim that some regional and national AG leaders need to resign over their poor response to the scandal.
Specifically, Armstrong named Clay; Donna Barrett, General Secretary of the AG; Tim Barker, AG’s South Texas District Superintendent; Don Weihe, Secretary of the AG’s South Texas District; Gaylan Claunch, AG’s North Texas District Superintendent; and E. Scott Martin, Senior National Director of Chi Alpha.
“I, as an ordained minister in good standing with the Assemblies of God, call on Doug Clay. . . and others to speak up, take responsibility and, where necessary, to resign,” said Armstrong. “And with some that will be necessary.”
Similarly, Gravis told his Louisiana congregation that AG leaders must be held accountable. He referred to two investigations being conducted by AG’s South Texas District and North Texas District, which have been criticized by XA & The Lion’s Den for their lack of independence.
“If the investigations reveal that you were warned and did nothing but passed the buck and kicked the can down the road, repentance and resignations are appropriate,” Garvis said. “You failed in your duties, put people at risk, and have been grossly negligent in the offices you were placed in to serve.”
The pastors noted that AG churches financially back the itinerant ministers who run Chi Alpha chapters. “That makes it very important to my church to know what’s going on in Chi Alpha and how those funds are being used,” Armstrong told TRR.
Gravis said his church has given Chi Alpha missionaries “upwards of a quarter of a million dollars (over) the past 20 years.”
Armstrong said the time for accountability has come.
“When the institutions become more important than the people, we have a problem,” Armstrong said. “And that seems to be the case today in the Assemblies of God.”
Correction: The date of Armstrong’s sermon addressing Chi Alpha has been corrected.
Periodista independiente Josh Shepherd escribe sobre fe, cultura y políticas públicas para varios medios outlets. He and his family live in the Washington, D.C. area.