An Ohio megachurch is facing criticism for failing to follow through on promises of reconciliation after a scandal involving sexual and financial irregularities and Christian celebrity, Tom Randall.
The affair has some asking how a church can recover from a scandal that divided members and put leaders under pressure. What kind of housecleaning is required to return to normalcy?
Taking the high road requires a thorough, independent investigation of all charges, a commitment to calling out and rooting out evil doers, and a program of healing and reconciliation for victims and others who have been hurt.
But in the case of Christ Community Chapel (CCC), a multi-campus church of some 5,000 people in Northeast Ohio led by Pastor Joe Coffey, the church chose an easier route that satisfied some while leaving others crying for truth and justice.
A group of former members is now renewing their call for the church to make good on its earlier promises. “We have not seen follow-through on your initial apologies and stated goal of reconciliation,” wrote the group in a Jan. 14 letter.
I contacted CCC to get its response to the group’s claim, but the church has not responded.
Tom Randall is a tall evangelist who could tell tall tales, like the completely fictional claim that he had been recruited by the NBA’s New Orleans Jazz.
After Randall and two Filipinos that managed his Sankey Samaritan Orphanage in the Philippines were arrested in 2014 over charges of repeated sexual abuse of orphans, he told even more tall tales: About how he was being unjustly detained due to false claims by a rival evangelist. About how he had been jailed with murderers, gang members, and a Muslim terrorist bomber. About how he would likely die a martyr for Christ.
The stories were ridiculous, but convinced an Ohio senator to intervene and bring Randall back to America, and back to CCC, where he had been hired just before his arrest.
Pastor Coffey claimed Randall was “more like Jesus than anyone I’ve ever been close to,” repeatedly dismissed the sex abuse charges as “gossip and slander,” and overlooked claims of financial mismanagement at Randall’s World Harvest ministry, which officially merged with CCC, bringing more than $3 million of additional income to the church.
After the scandal hit the news media, CCC launched an investigation. But instead of seeking an independent investigator, it chose a church member to do the job, one whose ministry received a quarter-million dollars from the church.
Not surprisingly, the investigation largely absolved pastor Coffey of any wrongdoing. While acknowledging that “church leadership’s belief in Randall was almost blind,” it put the blame on Randall, who “gave incomplete and inaccurate information to CCC.”
“In hindsight, all allegations should have been taken seriously, which is why we are now pursuing a path of reconciliation,” the church’s report said.
Where’s the reconciliation?
Justice for Sankey, a group made up largely of former CCC members, is asking, what path of reconciliation?
“We write to you now to renew a call to institutional courage that should have been answered seven years ago when allegations of abuse at Sankey Orphanage first came to light,” wrote the group, which operates a detailed website about the scandal.
The church says it had no knowledge of Randall’s behavior until a month before it launched its investigation.
The group’s charges raise questions about the seriousness of CCC’s response. Examples:
- We have not seen follow-through on your initial apologies and stated goal of reconciliation.
- We have not seen the necessary action to support the Sankey victims.
- We have seen a lack of clarity as well as a conflict of interest in your accounting of World Harvest funds.
- We have not seen your stated desire to be a safe organization evidenced in practice.
- We have not seen accountability applied to Tom Randall.
The group is also renewing its call for CCC to commission an independent investigation into the church’s handling of Sankey by G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) and to perform an assessment of the trauma inflicted upon the Sankey victims.
Meanwhile, Randall’s new ministry, Revelation 12:11, is seeking donations and standing by Randall and his wife, claiming, “we have found nothing to disqualify Tom and Karen from ministry.”
Steve Rabey is a veteran author and journalist who has published more than 50 books and 2,000 articles about religion, spirituality, and culture. He was an instructor at Fuller and Denver seminaries and the U.S. Air Force Academy. He and his wife Lois live in Colorado.