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Website Documenting History of Sexual Abuse at Kanakuk Kamps Goes Live

By Warren Cole Smith
Kanakuk Camp
Photo of campers and staff praying at Kanakuk Kamps.

Kanakuk Kamps is one of the largest Christian camps in the nation.  Each summer, more than 20,000 kids from age 7-17 pay thousands of dollars each to stay at the camp in southwestern Missouri.  Some of the most prominent leaders in the evangelical world have worked with the camp and its leaders, Joe and Debbie-Jo White.

But a new website, called claims that “Kanakuk’s reputation  and reach conceals a dark secret.  For decades, Joe White and other camp leaders knew about and facilitated sexual abuse against scores of children.”

The website, which went live on Saturday, includes links to court documents for six lawsuits in which Kanakuk and senior staff members, including Joe White, were names as defendants.  The website maintains that “non-disclosure agreements and significant financial settlements have concealed the truth in order to preserve a ministry brand and economic engine.”

Kanakuk Kamps and related non-profit organizations brought in about $35-million in 2018, the most recent year available.  It had a profit (revenue over expenses) of more than $8-million.  According to an analysis of Form 990s from 2014-2018 by MinistryWatch, Joe and Debbie-Jo White receive payments from Kanakuk – payments that include salary, rent payments for real estate they own, and other compensation – that usually top $500,000 per year, and some years top $700,000.

The FactsAboutKanakuk website also has a petition demanding that individuals and families who have settled with the camp be released from any non-disclosure agreements or “similar clauses.” MinistryWatch is on record opposing the use of non-disclosure agreements in ministry settings.

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One of the lawsuits filed by “John Doe IX” against Kanakuk and a senior staff member, Peter Newman, resulted in a judgment for the plaintiff for nearly $20-million in 2018.  According to the Springfield News Leader, “The judgment ranked as the largest reported plaintiff’s judgment in Missouri in 2018.”  However, it is not clear that the settlement has actually been paid by either Kanakuk or Peter Newman, who is now serving a life sentence for multiple counts of sexual abuse perpetrated when he was a senior member of Kanakuk’s staff.

Repeated calls by MinistryWatch to Douglas, Haun, and Heidemann, the law firm that represented the plaintiff, to determine if either Peter Newman or Kanakuk had paid the plaintiff, “John Doe IX,” have gone unanswered.

Kanakuk Kamps told MinistryWatch that, in part in response to past troubles, it has adopted new youth protection policies.  Current seasonal staff undergo two days of training on sexual abuse and youth protection policies.  Their current policies are outlined here and here.

warren cole smithWarren Cole Smith is the president of MinistryWatch.



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17 thoughts on “Website Documenting History of Sexual Abuse at Kanakuk Kamps Goes Live”

  1. Any ministry that needs to use a non-disclosure agreement of any type… run from it! Every ministry should be 100% transparent. Period.

    1. Has anyone ever considered that NDA’s could have been asked for by the victim, and actually there to protect the victims identity not silence the victim.

  2. The story is missing basic information like the location of the camp, background on the camp, what is the Whites’ relationship to the camp, who are the prominent Evangelical leaders associated with the camp, titles of the camp employees mentioned, what is the ultimate authority for the camp? “Decades” is a vague description of the timeframe for these alleged abuses; can you be more specific? Other than Peter Newman, have there been any other criminal charges filed?

      1. Thanks, Ben. That article is eye-opening, appalling and heart-breaking all at the same time.

        So many of stories Julie covers follow the same pattern: sexual sin by the individual, yes, but perhaps worse, lies, cover-ups, spiritual intimidation, proffered bribes, and character assassinations by the supposedly Christian organizations they led or worked for.

        Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

    1. Not to mention that the FactsAboutKanakuk website is a complete hoax.
      Not one single name is given as the site’s author or researcher or blogger.
      It’s as phony as the phony HBC site Roys eagerly shared against James MacDonald, the “Harvest Class Action Lawsuit”.
      BS. Plain and simple bs.

      1. It doesn’t look like BS to me. It looks like a lot of verifiable information. Surely you are not suggesting that Peter Newman didn’t sexually abuse dozens of children?

  3. After looking at this article and the Dispatch article, it’s clear to me that Newman is a Snake in a Suit. Read the book “Snakes in Suits”. These “snakes” are in our churches as much as they are in our businesses.

  4. Warren–
    When you talk about the self-dealing, don’t neglect the high-dollar trips, meals, boats, etc. Moreover, it is noteworthy that the story by Nancy and David French delves a bit into Joe White’s court defense of his sexual predator pilot, but it is financially significant that they even HAVE a private jet requiring a pilot. Years ago, I had heard that Joe had even pressured the wife of the molesting pilot (Robert John Morgan) to forgive the husband and take him back!?! Having worked at Kuk, I didn’t want to believe this (and knowing the ridiculously small amount we were paid for working 24/7 with only 2 days off per month, I didn’t want to believe that Joe was flying around in his own multi-million dollar jet)! Initially skeptical of the internet post I had viewed, I checked out the tail number of the jet…sure enough, it was registered to Kanakuk! Pretty sure it got transferred into the non-profit corporation when Joe strategically moved to have all the for-profit company assets shifted to a new non-profit to avoid judgments in the Newman cases.


    $700K will go a long way when the Kamp (sic) pays for your travel by private plane, toys, meals, etc!

  5. in 2018 I submitted an overture requesting my denomination address detrimental NDAs and executive sessions… even though my denoms response has been slow and weak so far, I’m very thankful to see that there has been an increased awareness over the last several years of the negative impact of NDAs on victims and justice, both in the Church and in culture… these types of agreements/executive sessions/etc covering up abuse behavior at the expense of victims (past, current and potential future) have got to go in the Church… NDAs are actually additionally abusive as well as ungodly when dealing with silencing someone regarding abuse they experienced, serving the enemy’s purposes to keep things in the dark, which is not God’s way! Expose! bring everything into the light! again thankful this discussion is going on considerably more now than when I started drafting the overture request back on Oct 1 2017! It is an answer to prayer!

    keep up the independent investigative research!

  6. Most professing Christians do not believe in the depravity of man. Then they don’t like conflict. Then they don’t want to obey God’s commandments to confront sin. Lev.19:17. In short, they lack discernment to divide truth from error.

  7. David French’s discussion of this camp was excruciating to read: I cannot imagine the thoughts of all parents who sent children there and then had to deal with the sudden death of their child’s innocence at the purposeful, studied, and malevolent actions of a “star” staff member. The camp should be closed and its name stricken. There must be a consortium of “Christian” camps which should peer review and advise Kanakuk to close. The name alone is a probable trigger for the multiple young men ravaged by the actions of the perpetrator and INACTION of the camp directors/board who chose to ignore very red flags.

  8. I have questions.

    Why did American Association of Christian Counselors have Joe White speak at their national or global conference in 2019. Maybe 2018? I knew of his covering up by then and thought it a tone deaf move among many others by an organization with leaders and members who should have been fit to be tied by the #churchtoo revelations that were being exposed.

    In fact, if you can find the information still, AACC has platformed some strange choices to speak in the last decade.

    Also, Dr Rick Amato, Tim Clinton’s AACC czar of abuse recovery and personal friend, has an illogical resume. Studying his image management and marketing maneuvers is fascinating unless one cares about integrity and truth.

    “Dr.” Rick Amato had a colorful ministry website which has now been carefully updated to be quite different than earlier iterations that were in the WayBack archives,

    Rick’s fabulous claims of helping vulnerable children around the world through his humanitarian ministry arm of Rick Amato Ministries, Kidscare, vanished in the last year.

    How does this tie in? Maybe it doesn’t.

    But Joe White was an Invited speaker by Tim Clinton, owner of AACC. Clinton is a Liberty U man. Strangely, an early 2000s article about angel investors Tim”s AACC in a financial publication with projected market share disappeared even from the Way Back archives.

    Just like 990’s from Rick Amato Ministries disappeared not long ago. The fact that Fallwell JR was on the board of directors for several years, was interesting.

    White, Clinton, Amato, Falwell Jr,…how do they remember all the digital footprints that must be erased?

    Clinton also plagiarized. Ravi taught us we must not minimize or ignore lies and deception.

    So many things in celebrity greased Evangelicali$m don’t add up. Too bad so much publicly available documentation has been removed. People with integrity don’t need to rewrite or delete history. I suspect this is just the tip of a large sewageberg with many more devastated victims and their loved ones yet unknown.

    A final thought: I know people mean well when they tell victims ‘I’m sorry that happened to you.”

    Sounds like an unfortunate accident or something more benign than evil being intentionally perpetrated against the victim.

    Those who enabled, colluded and benefitted by their complicity in the evil is nearly unbearable.

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