Ben Courson Jon Courson
On June 17, 2021, pastor Ben Courson (left) and his dad, pastor emeritus Jon Courson, shared in an evening service at Applegate Christian Fellowship in Jacksonville, Oregon. (Photo: Screengrab / YouTube)

Like Father, Like Son? Allegations Surface Against Father of Accused Oregon Megachurch Pastor

By Rebecca Hopkins

Ben Courson, pastor of an Oregon megachurch, recently stepped down amid allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct. Now, witnesses have come forward with allegations that Ben’s father, Jon Courson—founder of Applegate Christian Fellowship near Medford, Oregon—had an inappropriate relationship with a woman in the 1980s.

Also, like Applegate reportedly handled the recent allegations against Ben Courson, witnesses say church leaders in the 1980s covered up Jon Courson’s misconduct, as well.

Plus, several former church members, including a former elder and staff pastor, are accusing Applegate of a pattern of bullying and lack of transparency. They say the church regularly did whatever Jon Courson wanted, even if it meant violating the law or overworking staff to the point of illness.

Courson, who was mentored by Calvary Chapel founder Chuck Smith, founded Applegate Christian Fellowship in the late 1970s. The church grew to include as many as 7,000 members, but due to COVID and the recent scandal currently has an attendance of a few hundred, former elder Paul Sandu said.

Courson retired in 2020, but still maintains a radio ministry called Searchlight. Jon’s son, Ben Courson, was appointed to replace his father at Applegate. But in August, Ben stepped down after allegations of sexual misconduct by numerous women were made public.

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The Roys Report reached out to Jon Courson, Ben Courson, and Applegate for comment, but no one responded.

An inappropriate romantic relationship

According to Western seminary adjunct professor Guy Gray, Applegate leaders knew of “an inappropriate romantic relationship” between Jon Courson and a female staff member in the 1980s. Yet, Gray told The Roys Report that Applegate refused to discipline Courson, and instead kept his sin private.

Gray got involved with the issue in the 80s because the woman left Applegate and began attending Medford Christian Fellowship, where Gray pastored at the time. Gray said the woman told him about a months-long relationship with Courson, which involved kissing in the church office and at least one encounter in a hotel room.

Gray said the woman didn’t want others to be “hurt.” So, he arranged a meeting between the woman, himself, another area pastor, and an Applegate elder in which the woman shared her story. Gray said the Applegate elder told the woman at the meeting that he believed her story, involving “lots of private meetings” with Courson.

Gray and the elder then met separately with the rest of Applegate’s leaders and told them the woman’s story, Gray said.

When confronted, Courson admitted to an “emotional affair” but nothing more, Gray said. Applegate didn’t enact any discipline against Courson, according to Gray. Courson simply went away for a time and then returned to the pulpit without any official restoration or safeguarding.

Gray said he urged Applegate leaders to follow I Timothy 5:19-20, which instructs church leaders to expose sinning elders. But instead, church leaders reportedly cited Genesis 9 as their guideline, noting that Noah’s sons covered up Noah’s nakedness.

The leaders also said they had “prayed against” the “spirit of sensuality” that had descended on the church, Gray said, and believed this would take care of the problem.

“The response was essentially to ignore all of it and to move on,” Gray said.

Gray’s church, which at the time had ministry connections to Applegate, “disassociated” with Applegate because of Applegate’s response. Gray said he’s coming forward now because he’s concerned about a pattern of spiritual abuse and abuse of power he sees in the evangelical church in America.

“(P)eople are getting hurt in the process and the church deserves something better,” he said.

Former Applegate member Charleen Trimmer confirmed Gray’s story about Courson.

She said that in the 1980s, Courson admitted in a Bible study meeting to an “indiscretion” with a female staff member but said the staffer “misunderstood” the relationship.

Yet Trimmer said she had “walked in on” Courson “kissing and embracing” the woman in the church office. Trimmer said she also heard Courson preparing for a Bible retreat in Hawaii that coincided with the woman staffer’s vacation there. 

At the time, Courson was married to his first wife, who later died in a car accident.

“(Jon Courson) whitewashed the level of involvement and implied it was only a slight indiscretion, but I knew it was not true,” Trimmer said.

She added that at the time, Courson said he’d go away to Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa for a few weeks for “his time of repentance.” He returned to pastoral ministry at Applegate after that, Trimmer said.

“My heart is to see true repentance where there has been a long history of denial, cover-up and destruction of women’s lives in order to bring restoration, healing and true accountability to all involved,” Trimmer said. “Many women have been harmed by the Coursons’ indiscretions throughout the years and families have been destroyed.”

The Roys Report has reached out to the woman who reportedly had an inappropriate relationship with Courson through her daughter, but the woman declined our request for an interview.

‘It’s what Jon says’

Several former Applegate members have also come forward with concerns spanning decades that centered on Jon Courson’s control of staff, church members, and church finances.

“It didn’t make any difference if it’s right or wrong, it’s what Jon says,” said Ken Skeen, a former deacon and elder, who was at Applegate from 1989 to 1999.

Skeen said he raised concerns in the late 1990s about Applegate’s building projects, such as the Bus Barn—a church property that was used to house people for ministry training. Yet despite noting illegalities in the building plans, Skeen said he was rebuffed.

“There are no stamps, no fire exit. There’s no way of putting 24 people up here,” Skeen said he told Applegate’s leaders. “It would be highly illegal.”

Yet Skeen said the leaders responded that it didn’t make any difference because “that’s what (Jon) wanted.”  As a result, Skeen quit his involvement with the church.

Jon Courson Applegate
Jon Courson, founder of Applegate Christian Fellowship near Medford, Oregon, had an inappropriate relationship with a woman in the 1980s that was covered up by church leaders, according to multiple sources. (source: Pinterest)

The Daily News has similarly reported issues with Applegate’s buildings, including building without permits, building on a neighbor’s property, and the alteration of a floodplain.

Joshua Jordan, a longtime Applegate member and pastor for five years, said church staff often weren’t told how ministries were doing, where the finances went, or even who the elders were.

Once, in 2005, his family was asked to move to Mexico to help with a church ministry. But after they’d sold most of their belongings, the Jordans were told they weren’t going after all; Jon Courson was going instead.

At the time, Jordan said he and his wife, Teresa, “rolled with it” and kept working for the church in other capacities. But last year, the Jordans began raising concerns when Jon Courson promoted Ben to be lead pastor.

Now Jordan looks back with skepticism at how the pastors handled past criticism.

“We always heard the lines that basically inferred that ‘this is just a character attack on our family, on the Coursons, so we must be doing something right,’ ” Jordan said.

Collecting the wounded

Another dedicated Applegate member and daughter of a pastor, Heidi Smith, said she worked for church camps for long hours and little pay, which was typical of Applegate camp staff. But the work came with a cost: a bout of shingles at 19.

“We were doing it for Jesus,” she said. “Any kind of suffering, any kind of personal conflict—that’s the rug we slipped it under, because we would do anything for the expansion of the Gospel.”

Applegate culture and sermons tended to be works-based mixed with a lot of end-time prophecies, she said.

When Smith discovered a grace-based Gospel, she was excited and started talking about it at church. But that conversation reportedly wasn’t welcome. Smith walked away from Applegate in 2010.

“I felt like I was a daughter of the church,” she said. “Shouldn’t somebody from the church that I had given my entire life to, shouldn’t they have come after me to help? But they never did.”

Similarly, another former member, Paul Coughlin, said Jon Courson would make prophecies and predictions, often at New Year’s Eve. Even though these didn’t pan out, Coughlin said Courson wouldn’t apologize.

 “That’s how these guys operate,” Coughilin said. “They don’t have to give an explanation. No one ever really holds them accountable for really bad things they say.”

Last year, around the release of Ben Courson’s latest book, Flirting with Darkness: Building Hope in the Face of Depression, Smith started contacting others the church had wounded. Now, 53 people have joined a Facebook group Smith started, called Applegate Christian Survivors.

Applegate’s response

Despite the allegations against both Jon and Ben Courson, church pastors haven’t responded to The Roys Report’s multiple requests for comment. However, the church recently removed Applegate Administrative Pastor Joe Stroble from its website.

As reported previously on The Roys Report, two former Applegate elders say that earlier this summer, Stroble covered up multiple allegations of sexual misconduct by Ben Courson.

When asked for comment, Stroble told The Roys Report to “save the dime and not call me back anymore.”

Both last Wednesday’s sermon at Applegate, and this Sunday’s sermon posted online, make no reference to Stroble or any allegations against Ben Courson. On the Aug. 25 Wednesday night service, Pastor Alex Heater preached out of I Corinthians 3, urging the congregation not to judge others.

“The Lord says, when they come to church, it’s a place to be open, to be real, not to judge one another, not to look down on one another, not to say, ‘I can’t believe what this person did,’” Heater preached.

Heater also warned his congregation against division and warned that God would come against anyone who would come “against His church.”

The Roys Report reached out to Heater for further comment, but he didn’t respond.

Rebecca Hopkins is a journalist based in Colorado.

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25 thoughts on “Like Father, Like Son? Allegations Surface Against Father of Accused Oregon Megachurch Pastor”

  1. The Voice of God is not to the wolves and hirelings but rather to the sheep !

    My sheep know my voice and because they know me they will not follow or be misled to another

    When He comes back will he find us in pastures where wolves and hirelings lead blind undiscerning sheep ?

    Are we really ready for His Return? He is testing us and showing us a test so we can see ourselves moreso than the wolves we allowed to lead us with hearts set upon Pastoral IDOL a worship

    He shows us because He loves us and His heart is grieved when He see’s His blood bought sheep especially His precious daughters dearest to His heart in the blood filled mouths of the wolves !

    Test all things ! Especially your leaders as the Bereans tested the greatest apostle ever lived!

    Note; if your church leaders are incorporating Hillsong music in worship , RUN for the leaders are blind ! Ask questions later

    1. I think this verse goes well on another thing with that:
      1 Corinthians 11:19 For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.

  2. I went to a Calvary Chapel in Phoenix for 10 years. The leader passed the church on to his son and last I knew was planting franchises in England. He had invited KP Yohannan, the billion dollar conman, to his church where I saw him. When the scandal broke his wife was promoting KP’s wife there on the big island. I wrote him and his son a warning about what was going on. His son responded, but he never did. His name is Bob Claycamp.

  3. This is what happens when a church institution doesn’t have a sexual misconduct policy in place. It has to be a policy that is strong and pushed from the Board and Elders down to the senior pastor all volunteers or anyone such as staff working with congregants. Its more than defining what improper relationships are . Its training on how to best protect everyone including staff. That kind of policy includes reporting procedures. That is the point where most abuse reporting falls apart….the person hearing what happened. Without a policy the person hearing might say, “I’m sure you misunderstood. Pastor so and so would never do that. Let talks about your problems. Don’t you know what forgiveness is.” Its all manipulation to shame and silence the person. Its to get all parties to forget or minimize the incident. Without a comprehensive policy in place a church is basically sending the message that what one has to report is not welcome. Its why so much goes unreported and stories like this eventually work their way up to the surface where then its too late.

    1. Mike, a policy which tells people to report to the government is NOT the answer. It is what has destroyed a number of innocent families and missionaries. Follow the policy…the “well-trained experts” will be able to figure this out, is what you are trained. I know. I bought it all.
      Then a friend told lies about my husband, my daughter, my son, and eventually me. Following the “well-researched” policy which included “believing the victim who comes forward with their allegations of abuse” and “reporting to ‘authorities’ within 24 hours no matter what you might think you know about the person accused of abuse”, our longtime church, school, and mission threw us to the wolves, and the christian community of our city was thrown into complete fear and disarray.
      But for God’s grace the males in our family would all be dead, not sure about my daughter and me.
      Our accuser was the wolf in sheep’s clothing…abusing her own daughter and pointing at those who truly loved her.
      The sage continues in the country in which we used to serve, which really does have a serious problem with abuse of children and women. But to this point, numerous people who were truly loving and caring for the under trodden there have been fired from their organizations, traumatized, and one was thrown in jail and has been fighting within the justice system (all the way to the supreme court of the country). It is still in process.
      If you believe that here in the US a falsely accused person (especially straight male who loves Jesus and is talented as a pastor) will get a fair chance and due diligence done, you are sadly mistaken. This is the WORST tool I’ve ever seen for the church to use…unless, of course, you happen to be Satan. Then you are thanking the church for handing you such an excellent tool to destroy pastors, families, and churches.

      1. A sexual prevention/misconduct policy is written by churches for churches. It does work when it covers all the bases. I was a victim of sexual abuse in my own church. I was up against a senior pastor, 9 associate pastors, 39 elders and a church membership of nearly 5000. I was told to leave the church and take other victims with me. The perpertrator (associate pastor) eventually resigned. There was no court system involved and that was ok with me. I wanted everyone to know and they did. Leadership was not happy. But the senior pastor also resigned. I went to an organization that wrote sexual misconduct policies for churches and businesses. I had a clergy person who does flown in from New York. I had help, but it took two years of my life and much heartache. I demanded a comprehensive policy for that church and I got it. Again church leadership was not happy with that as I went over their heads and went to the head of the denomination (Presbyterian). During the whole time I was a lightning rod. I took a lot of heat and it was absolutely exhausting. I got counseling in the end and made the church pay for it. Though I eventually left it did not make me bitter. I pursued change so that this church (and others in the system) could not ignore or dismiss victims in the future. I will never be thanked for it but that is ok. Pursuing the legal system wasn’t the answer for me. But change within was. I do feel bad for what you went through. I just chose for things to be done differently, but it felt right. The future needs of others was more important than what happened to me and that is what kept me going.

    2. Do we really think another policy, law or regulation will solve the problem of sexual sin, bullying, financial fraud or any of the other possible land mines?

      These abhorrent behaviors are a result of non-discipleship. The only cure is Christlike character. Discipleship. Becoming apprentices to Jesus. Learning to live my life in the way Jesus would if He was me. In the marketplace. In my neighborhood. At work. On the highways and byways.
      More policies and rules will not change our inner character. The failure is a failure of discipleship.

      “Go and make disciples. Teach them to do what I do and speak as I speak.” Jesus

      1. A bit of saying ‘no’ would help. Don’t get involved with a married man might be a good place for the first ‘no’. Then a second attempt by the man possibly constitutes an offense. Call the cops.

      2. Caren,

        you said, “These abhorrent behaviors are a result of non-discipleship. The only cure is Christlike character. Discipleship. Becoming apprentices to Jesus. Learning to live my life in the way Jesus would if He was me.”
        ————-

        the fact of the matter is that my friends and family who are agnostic, atheist, muslim, hindu, and buddhist have higher personal integrity standards for themselves than many christians.

        It is beneath them to betray their relationship commitments, to lie, to take advantage of other human beings, and to exploit others and systems for selfish gain.

        That’s not saying it strong enough — these behaviors are abhorrent to them. They don’t tolerate such things in their alliances with people.

        For some reason, christian culture produces sloppy morals & integrity that are inferior to “the world” which christians look down on in superiority.

        I think part of it is a misunderstanding and misapplication of “grace”, and an end-justifies-the-means happy-go-lucky attitude.

        Part of it is an agenda of fear which leaders have cultivated– fear of judging, fear of gossip, fear of being divisive, fear of this, fear of that…. all that’s left is passive compliance & lax accountability. christians tolerate all kinds of rotten behavior, being too timid and afraid to take a stand on anything (except abortion and homosexuality).

        christian culture produces people who are more concerned about their own ‘sinlessness’ & ‘advancing the gospel’ than they are about taking a stand on right and wrong and the consequences that bring harm to others.

        it’s horrendously embarrassing, whether people immersed in christian culture feel it or not. The ‘evil world’ sees it all and shakes their head is astonishment & well-deserved disgust.

        1. I’ve been in similar heartbreaking discussions. It’s embarrassing. What has become of the name of “Christian”?

  4. “Heater also warned his congregation against division and warned that God would come against anyone who would come “against His church.””

    Another classic example of spiritual abuse. Do these “pastors” take a class at seminary on how best to gaslight congregants and misuse scriptures to cover their sins??

    It’s like they read the same exact same script.
    Unbelievable.

  5. I attended ACF from Nov 1999 until a little after Ben took over the fellowship. I had a problem with his divorce and how it was handled at the congregation, then I was a little concerned with some of his teachings and I finally left when Ben preached his support of BLM and the protesting, which when brought up in an email to Ben I was ignored. So I am not a fan of what is happening and I have lost my home church and fellowship of 20 years. I however think that accuracy and honesty is more important than feelings based statements. “Applegate culture and sermons tended to be works-based mixed with a lot of end-time prophecies” Jon did teach about Prophesy, esp. around New Years; I appreciated those teaching a lot; however, Jon did not teach a works based salvation in any way for the 20 + years I was under his teaching – it was always by the grace of God.
    “Paul Coughlin, said Jon Courson would make prophecies and predictions, often at New Year’s Eve. Even though these didn’t pan out, Coughlin said Courson wouldn’t apologize.” This is not true in my 20+ years of following Jon’s teaching; I never heard him set dates or claim to be making a prophesy. He taught how societal trends lined up with scripture and prophesies of the end times, he discussed how new technologies might play a role or be heading toward those prophesies, but I never heard anything that “didn’t pan out” and would require any apology. I was at least two times a week in attendance and often listened on the radio during the rest of the week, so I doubt I missed very much.
    It is my understanding that Joe Stroble resigned.

  6. In ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece, priesthood was a heredity, government position, a heritable civil service job. It didn’t matter if a guy didn’t believe in Amun, Marduk, or Apollo, and it didn’t matter if he was a total creep. Just show up and follow the book and do the rituals and collect the donations.

  7. Passing your pulpit along to your sons seems to have become fairly common in prosperous megachurches over the last 30-40 years. Was it always so?
    Somehow it lacks the signs of divine leading, IMHO.

    1. No, it wasn’t always so because the mega-church is a fairly recent phenomenon though Metropolitan Tabernacle in UK where Charles Spurgeon preached would be considered mega. The “recent” – think Robert Schuler Crystal Cathedral, helped pioneer the mega church movement (along with the “church growth”) methodology. He attempted to pass it on to his family which has been a disaster. Many of the mega church founders are reaching retirement age so we are beginning to see transitions in many of these churches. Church government which allows for the pastor to appoint his successor often leads to this kind of situation. Not all mega churches have this church government. Also, the issue of succession to children is not limited to mega churches. It does occur in smaller churches, again where church government invests most of the decision making with just the pastor who chooses his own successor.

  8. The leaders used “Genesis 9 as their guideline”? This is not even remotely a text about how to choose pastors or elders. Apparently context does not matter. Cherry-picking and twisting scripture will lead you far… away!

  9. Goodness, uncovering sin from the 1980’s is a bit nuts. I got saved in the 80’s, and that’s a long time ago. People repent, change, grow.

    Love does not keep a list of wrongs.

    Yes, I understand exposing unrepentant sin, but sins from decades ago?

    1. Cindy Hinkel

      The in-depth reporting of Jon Courson’s sin and the umbilical handling of it decades ago is to give the context of the unbiblical way the sin of Jon’s son, Ben, is being handled now. Sin not dealt with will ALWAYS be repeated and in bigger ways. This is the tip of only one iceberg.
      Genesis 4:7, Numbers 32:23

    2. @Cindy, A “pastor” who sexually abuses someone in his congregation is disqualified from being a pastor, no matter how long ago it was. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t forgiveness and some other ministry opportunity, but they can’t be pastors. They have violated a sacred trust – and they have harmed a sheep that belongs to the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:1-4, see also 1 Tim. 3 & Titus 1 for pastoral qualifications). I know an individual who embezzled money from a bank. He received probation before judgment, but he is not allowed in the banking industry the remainder of his life. He has gone on to be successful in another business.

  10. I used to listen to Christian radio a lot for a time decades ago. Jon Courson rubbed me the wrong way. This was also true of an ad for Searchlight: both the promotion and a sample of him speaking.

    A major red flag in one of his messages was excessive self praise of his own preaching, followed by “and that’s why you’re here”. The statement reminded me of the abusively controlling church that I had been involved with earlier.

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