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Presbyter Blasts Assemblies of God Leaders for ‘Gross Negligence’ in Response to Chi Alpha Sex Abuse Scandal

Por Josh Pastor
scoma assemblies of God AG
On Jan. 7, 2024, Assemblies of God pastor Anthony Scoma preaches at Southwest Family Fellowship in Austin, Texas. The background features a detail view of a Bible verse inscribed on the University of Texas at Austin Main Building. (Image: XA and the Lions Den)

A longtime central Texas pastor is blasting Assemblies of God (AG) leaders for “gross negligence” in responding to concerns about sex offender Daniel Savala having access to students in the denomination’s Chi Alpha Campus Ministries. The pastor has since resigned his role as a presbyter in the AG North Texas District, after months of what he called “belligerent and defensive” responses from AG leaders. 

The pastor, Anthony Scoma, spoke out in a entrevista de podcast released on Feb. 16. Scoma, who served nine years as a presbyter, co-founded Southwest Family Fellowship in Austin, Texas, 20 years ago. But he recently took a pastorate at Full Life Christian Center in San Francisco, hoping for a “fresh start.”

Last February, Scoma made an initial report to AG leaders about Savala, who fue detenido last June on child sex abuse charges.

An alum of the AG’s college outreach program Chi Alpha Campus Ministries, Scoma raised concerns about Savala’s role as a “mentor” at multiple Chi Alpha chapters. But the leaders failed to respond, he said.

“Our three Executive Leaders are experiencing a crisis of competency or a crisis of integrity,” Scoma escribió in an email on April 29, 2023, ten weeks after his initial report to the district. 

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savala
For decades, Daniel Savala was a volunteer teacher and mentor with Chi Alpha Campus Ministries, the official college ministry of the AG. (Image: XA & The Lions Den)

In the hour-long podcast, Scoma recounts how he learned about Savala’s influence and questioned then-Chi Alpha district leader and Texas pastor Eli Stewart last February.

“Stewart was a false shepherd, and he led a lot of sheep astray,” said Scoma. “You’re going to have those. But when the council of the elders doesn’t discipline the false shepherd, that’s the real tragedy.”

Stewart, who had been mentored as a student by Savala and defended him for decades, fue despedido from Chi Alpha and as lead pastor of Mountain Valley Fellowship in College Station last May.

But media outlets primero reportado Savala’s alleged rape and abuse of college student weeks earlier, precipitated by a group of whistleblowers led by Ron Bloomingkemper who set-up a website called “XA and the Lions Den” to expose Savala.

Speaking to Bloomingkemper on the podcast, Scoma noted that he reported Savala, and Stewart’s covering for Savala, to district leaders months before the media.

“The Holy Spirit gave us a two and a half (month) head start as the North Texas District, before your website went up and before the attorneys sent out those letters,” Scoma said. “And we did nothing.”

The North Texas District is the largest of the AG’s 66 districts, overseeing more than 1,800 credentialed ministers and at least 600 churches, according to its sitio web.

gaylan claunch
AG North Texas District Superintendent Gaylan Claunch (Courtesy Photo)

In fall 2017, Gaylan Claunch era elected as superintendent of the AG’s North Texas District. 

In response to an inquiry to Claunch from El Informe Roys (TRR), a PR firm emailed a statement “from the North Texas District Council of the Assemblies of God.” 

“We are aware of the recent podcast,” the statement read. “We want everyone to know that the safety of the people we serve is our number one priority, and we take seriously any allegations of threats to that safety. We are confident that our current accountability structure, policies, and procedures are effective however, we commit to learning from this situation and reviewing our processes and communication to help keep our congregations and communities safe.”

However, Scoma stated on the podcast that the North Texas district leaders “clearly weren’t doing the right thing. They were letting fear drive them. They were covering up for their own, who ignored this report. And not only that, they were shooting the messenger.”

En un comunicado a TRR, Bloomingkemper said that only four of the AG’s 433,263 credentialed ministers have publicly called out Savala and called for “true reform of the entire system.”

“What Anthony Scoma did in stepping up to share his story has shown there are adults in the room who have the moral courage to speak truth to power, no matter the cost,” Bloomingkemper added.

Red flags and changed timelines

In the podcast, which fue lanzado with several supporting documents, Scoma recounted how he met with Stewart on Feb. 10, 2023, and questioned the pastor about a report he’d heard regarding Savala. 

Three days later, Scoma enviado por correo electrónico Kermit Bell, assistant superintendent of the AG’s North Texas District, summarizing that meeting. Scoma stated in an email copied to Stewart that Stewart’s response left him with “two red flags.” 

First, Stewart immediately dismissed Scoma’s concerns because he thought the report came from Bloomingkemper.

“Disparaging an accuser—even (especially?) an imperfect one—can be a sign of toxic behavior (and) can come from the ‘circle the wagons’ playbook,” wrote Scoma. 

Secondly, Scoma said he “came away from our meeting with the impression that perhaps Eli does not think the criminal charges and conviction against his friend, Savala, are legitimate. (But) innocent men do not agree to be placed on a sex offender registry for the rest of their lives for altruistic motives.” 

eli stewart savala
On May 21, 2023, the board and elders of Mountain Valley Fellowship in College Station, Tex., dismissed Eli Stewart as lead pastor. (Photo via Facebook)

For months, Scoma said he received no response from AG leaders. So, on Apr. 24, 2023, Scoma texted Superintendent Claunch and AG North District Treasurer Gregg Headley about his earlier report. Claunch replied hours later, saying in a text to Scoma that the email from February “did not get forwarded to Gregg or me.” 

Three days later, Claunch and the executive leaders hosted a Zoom call of the North Texas District presbyters, and Scoma brought up his report from February.

“(Assistant Superintendent Bell) got very belligerent and doubled down,” Scoma said on the podcast. “I said, ‘It’s not about me and not getting responded to. It’s about that you did not send this report to these guys.’” 

Yet, two days after that Zoom meeting, District Executive Administrator Corrie Harlan enviado por correo electrónico all North Texas presbyters with a completely different narrative about Scoma’s report. The email stated that Scoma’s report was presented by Bell on February 27, 2023 at a meeting of the Executive Action Team, which refers to the three executive officers.

When Scoma received Harlan’s email, he sidelined his preparations for Sunday services to reply to the entire North Texas AG presbytery. Scoma escribió he was “shocked” and detailed how the district’s story had changed about his February report.

Scoma said the district’s email reflected either a “crisis of competency or a crisis of integrity” and called for a special session to vote on a recall of the executive leaders. 

Required to sign NDA to attend church meeting 

The district executive team responded by calling their own special session, set for May 9. But, two days prior to the meeting, the Texas AG leaders required anyone present to sign a Acuerdo de no divulgación (NDA), Scoma said.

In a copy of the document publicado en línea, the agreement notes that presbyters—most of them local pastors—were not allowed to have cell phones or any electronics in the meeting. They also could not discuss details of that meeting for 10 years. 

AG logo
Logo for Assemblies of God (Courtesy image)

Scoma said the meeting began with an hour-long devotional about “being in the right spirit,” which Scoma considered to be “passive aggressive.” 

“There’s about three points of the devotion that I felt like were directly against me,” he said on the podcast. “And I’m like, do I get to do a devotional and talk about truth?” 

Scoma said he and the leaders then debated the rules for about two hours. In a point of order, he noted that presbyters carry the authority in AG polity, rather than executive leaders. And he introduced a motion for the NDA requirement to be denied and for the lawyer present to leave the room.

“About a third of the group were with me,” said Scoma. “But in the end, nobody wanted to go against the leadership.” 

Since Scoma signed the NDA, he said is not able to disclose further details from that meeting. But Scoma said he believes the district leaders were complicit with Eli Stewart and that’s why they failed to act. 

“Legally, what Eli did is negligence—and negligence is bad,” said Scoma. “Rogue guys happen (and) that’s going to cost you some shekels in a court of law. But gross negligence is when you knew, and you didn’t do anything. And gross negligence is when the jury backs the truck up.” 

Scandal fallout expands

Scoma resigned as a presbyter on Sept. 11, 2023, giving up money, authority, and relationships. “They put you out in the wilderness,” he said on the podcast. “But God showed me, it’s nothing.”

anthony scoma
Pastor Anthony Scoma (Courtesy Photo)

En un comunicado a TRR, Olivia Wolf, a moderator at XA and The Lions Den and family member of an alleged victim of Savala, praised Scoma’s “bravery and character.”

“Pastor Scoma coming forward stands as a stark show of integrity against the backdrop of an accountability-resistant, low integrity organization,” she said. “Had even one of top AG/XA leadership displayed this kind of honor, integrity, and initiative, a number of victims might have been spared.”

Two months later, the national director of Chi Alpha, E. Scott Martin, renunciar his position providing oversight to over 300 chapters of the AG’s college outreach program. 

Weeks ago, the father of a teenage boy demandado the AG, the North Texas District, and other parties for multiple counts of negligence, saying that Chi Alpha (XA) gave his son’s alleged abusers “positions which engendered trust.”

The next court hearings for Savala and two of his former protégés also facing child sex abuse charges—Chris Hundl y Will Robinson—are expected in the coming weeks. 

Correction: This article has been updated to accurately state details of the AG North Texas District meeting on May 9, 2023. 

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.

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4 Respuestas

  1. It certainly is hard to see the imprint of Divine Guidance in the actions, attitude and behavior of the AG leadership.
    This is the result of their new birth in Christ?

  2. There are 37,773 US AG ministers, and only 4 have stood up to speak since April 2023. With those odds, it wouldn’t hurt to add in the world numbers, hoping there are more than 4 adults in the room with the moral courage to stand with the survivors and demand total accountability. Anthony hit the nail on the head, “The AG is experiencing a crisis in morality and competence.” Statistically, the AG and Chi Alpha should have gotten something right by now.

    Plus, the PR statement was so bad. I’m embarrassed for them. To date, not one person in leadership has taken responsibility for allowing a known registered sex offender access to groom and abuse whomever he wants. Daniel Savala started as a camp instructor in the Assemblies of God in 1980 and then worked as one in 1992. Then moved on to work in Chi Alpha in Louisiana in the late 80s and Eli Gautreaux in the 90s. Eli Stewart knew that Daniel abused multiple boys in Alaska in the mid-1990s and yet went on to protect and promote Savala for decades.

    This is a tragedy, but the way it’s being handled has made it way worse.

    My friend, what we have in the Texas branches is a homoerotic sex cult with a leadership class that has no discernment. Sadly, most of these campus pastors and interns were talked into going into the ministry without having the call of God, and it’s coming back to haunt them. The entire AG and Chi Alpha system needs to be reformed from top to bottom.

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Your tax-deductible gift helps our journalists report the truth and hold Christian leaders and organizations accountable. Give a gift of $30 or more to The Roys Report this month, and you will receive a copy of “Hurt and Healed by the Church” by Ryan George.