Lawsuit Accuses Church Planting Group of Allowing Florida Pastor to ‘Sexually Prey’ on Employee

By Julie Roys
Joshua Mauney ARC
Joshua Mauney, former national director of church planting for the Association of Related Churches (ARC), is being accused in a lawsuit of raping and sexually assaulting a female staff member at his former church in Florida, Newsound Church. The lawsuit names ARC and Newsound as defendants, accusing both of negligence and cover-up.

A Florida lawsuit accuses the Association of Related Churches (ARC)—one of America’s largest church planting organizations—of negligence and coverup concerning a pastor who allegedly raped a female staff member.

The lawsuit is being brought by a woman identified as “Jane Doe,” and alleges that ARC knew that Joshua Mauney, ARC’s former national director of church planting, had a history of sexual misconduct. Yet, ARC allowed Mauney to plant and lead Newsound Church (now Sound Church), a former ARC member church in Royal Palm Beach, Florida. And during his time there, the suit alleges, Mauney raped and sexually assaulted Doe, his female assistant, on numerous occasions.

The suit is the second lawsuit naming either ARC or its executives to recently come to light. Just last week, media reported that a lawsuit filed in Mississippi named ARC Executive Director and Church of the Highlands pastor, Dino Rizzo, as a defendant. That suit claimed Rizzo failed to protect an intern after learning she was sexually harassed by a pastor at Vibrant Church, an ARC member church in Columbus, Mississippi.

Dino Rizzo ARC
Dino Rizzo, ARC Executive Director & pastor at Church of the Highlands. (Source: dinorizzo.com)

While speaking with Corky Smith—the lawyer representing the plaintiff in the Vibrant Church case—The Roys Report learned of the Florida lawsuit, which was filed last March.

The Florida suit names both ARC and Newsound Church as defendants. And it accuses two members of ARC’s Lead Team of being responsible for allowing Mauney’s abuse—Rizzo and ARC President Greg Surratt, who’s also founding pastor of Seacoast Church, an ARC member megachurch in North and South Carolina.

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Also accused are three other pastors of ARC member megachurches—Justin Dailey, pastor of Action Church, in Orlando, Florida; Dave Sumrall, pastor of ITown Church, in Fishers, Indiana; and Shaun Nepstad pastor of Fellowship Church, in Antioch, California.

All five men served as “overseers” of Newsound Church and were appointed by ARC, the suit says.

The Roys Report reached out to all five men for comment, but only Surratt responded.

Surratt denied any wrongdoing by ARC with either Newsound or Vibrant Church, claiming ARC has no “ecclesiastical or legal authority” over member churches.

Lawsuit against ARC & Newsound

The lawsuit against ARC and Newsound was filed March 17, 2021, in Florida’s 15th Judicial Court. According to the suit, Mauney hired Doe as his assistant at Newsound in 2019, and then groomed and exploited her to have sexual relations with him. This allegedly included placing Doe’s desk in his office, and exchanging emails, text messages, and phone calls with Doe during all hours of the day and night.

Between December 2019 and March 7, 2020, Mauney raped and sexually assaulted Doe on 12 separate occasions at various locations, including Mauney’s office at Newsound, according to the suit.

Joshua Mauney ARC
Joshua Mauney appears in video announcement on Facebook for Newsound Church on March 13, 2020. (Source: Video screengrab)

During this time, “Mauney’s employment and retention as senior pastor of Newsound Church was approved and authorized by ARC,” the suit claims.

Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that ARC had “knowledge of other instances” where Mauney “had engaged in inappropriate sexual contact and/or attempted to do so.” It adds, “ARC failed to report this information to the church community or to the proper authorities . . . ARC continued to allow Mauney to be in a position where he could sexually prey on female parishioners and employees of Newsound Church, including Doe.”

When Doe reported that Mauney “had been inappropriate” with her, the church told Doe to contact Rizzo, the suit alleges.

Rizzo has a history of sexual misconduct himself. In 2012, while pastoring The Healing Place—an ARC member church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana—Rizzo admitted an “inappropriate affair” and stepped down. He was restored to ministry at Church of the Highlands, an ARC member church, about a year later.

The lawsuit claims that Rizzo interrogated Doe and asked her “if she wanted to be devious and make the church close down.” The suit says Rizzo also connected Doe with Justin Dailey of Action Church to whom she divulged the “whole story.”

About four days later, Dailey sent a letter to Newsound’s congregation, telling them Mauney had resigned but not mentioning why, the suit says.

It adds that Dailey then sent Doe a form to sign, stating that she would not sue Newsound nor speak to anyone about her abuse, and offering her $21,000 in severance. The suit claims Newsound and ARC also “gifted or paid” Mauney $70,000 after he resigned.

“Newsound Church’s and ARC’s conduct was extreme and outrageous in that Newsound Church and ARC never reported the sexual abuse, misrepresented the reason for Mauney’s resignation to the entire congregation, and failed to render reasonably spiritual or psychological aid to Doe known to have endured abuse,” the suit claims.

ARC denies culpability

The Roys Report reached out to Dailey and Rizzo for comment, but neither responded.

Surratt, however, told The Roys Report that ARC has no culpability regarding its member churches because ARC has “no ecclesiastical or legal authority” over the churches it plants. Additionally, Surratt said he chose to be an overseer for NewSound Church, “but it was apart from my duties as (ARC) president.”

Similarly, Surratt claimed that neither Rizzo nor pastors Dailey, Sumrall, and Nepstad were not acting in any official capacity with ARC while overseeing NewSound. 

Greg Surratt
ARC President Greg Surratt (Source: The Pastor’s Collective)

However, the Florida lawsuit quotes ARC’s constitution, which reportedly states that the “final authority in vision, direction and doctrine shall be vested in the Leadership Team of the ARC . . . Each member church shall have self-governing privileges in harmony with the authority and vision of the Leadership of ARC.”

The lawsuit also provides a link to ARC’s constitution, but that page apparently has been removed.

When read the portion of ARC’s Constitution quoted in the lawsuit, Surratt said, “That’s not true.”

When asked if the lawsuit misquoted ARC’s bylaws, Surratt said, “I don’t know anything about that.”

Surratt also denied having any knowledge of misconduct by Mauney, prior to the allegations by Doe. He added that Mauney was removed from NewSound as soon as Surratt learned of the allegations.

Yet, prior to launching Newsound, Mauney was pastor of another ARC member church in Lexington, KY, called TurningPoint Church. In 2017, Joshua Mauney, his wife Kimberly Mauney, and Stephen Mauney (possibly Mauney’s father) were removed as directors from TurningPoint, official documents show.

Replacing the Mauneys as directors of TurningPoint were Jason Doran, who assumed the pastorate of the church, and three other men. In 2020, TurningPoint changed its name to Motion Church, which remains an ARC member.

The Roys Report reached out to Jason Doran and Motion Church for clarity about what happened with Mauney at TurningPoint, but no one responded.

We also asked Surratt about what happened at TurningPoint. Surratt said he knows of no reports of abuse by Mauney from TurningPoint staff. But Surratt added that Mauney’s transition was “not something I was involved in.”

When asked about Mauney’s severance, Surratt claimed he didn’t know about the severance because he resigned as an overseer of Newsound shortly after Mauney resigned.

Lawsuit against Vibrant and Rizzo

The other lawsuit involving ARC claims that a former intern at Vibrant Church, Laura Ashley Eagan, was sexually harassed by former Vibrant Church Pastor Jason Delgado. The suit claims that both Vibrant and Rizzo “knew or reasonably should have known of Jason Delgado’s conduct,” and failed to take appropriate action.

Jason Delgado Vibrant
Jason Delgado, former pastor of Vibrant Church in Columbus, MS.

According to the suit, Easley began interning at Vibrant in the fall of 2020, when Delgado was serving as Vibrant senior pastor. During this internship, Delgado sent Easley “disgusting, graphic communications of a sexual nature,” the suit says.

According to Eagan’s lawyer, Corky Smith, Delgado’s sexually inappropriate communications were given to various Vibrant employees and Rizzo, who served as overseer for Vibrant. This led to an internal investigation, which concluded by February 2021, Smith said. 

Smith added that he’s also spoken to two other victims of  Delgado’s, who say they reported Delgado’s sexual harassment toward them in 2016 and in 2018-2019.

Yet, Delgado didn’t resign from Vibrant until mid-April 2021—shortly after allegations of Delgado’s misconduct involving Easley and others were published in a local newspaper.

“It really is sad because everything that is in this lawsuit was 100-perecent preventable if somebody would have done something—or anything,” Smith said. “But nobody did.”

The Roys Report reached out to Vibrant for comment, but no one responded.

A Pattern of Covering for Abusive Pastors?

According to Smith, the recent lawsuits and other incidents at ARC churches reveal a pattern of covering for pastors guilty of sexual misconduct.

Micahn Carter Church of the Highlands
Micahn Carter, former pastor at Church of the Highlands

In addition to what happened with Mauney, Delgado, and Rizzo, an ARC member church—Church of the Highlands (COTH)—has also been embroiled in a scandal involving Micahn Carter.

In 2019, Carter left Together Church—a now-shuttered ARC member megachurch in Yakima, Washington—for undisclosed reasons. Soon after, Carter joined the staff at COTH. This past July, when allegations that Carter had sexually assaulted a woman at Together Church became public, COTH cut ties with him.

Reflecting on how ARC has allegedly protected, and in some cases redeployed abusive pastors, Smith said: “It looks like this is the pattern and practice that ARC and Dino (Rizzo) are engaged in . . . It’s almost like this is a script on how they operate.”

Smith said his firm is investigating ARC’s relationship with Vibrant Church and may add more organizations to its suit.

Smith, who’s a Southern Baptist, said he expects more victims of Delgado’s to come forward and said he’s passionate about arguing the victims’ case in court.

“The church is the refuge and the Body of Christ,” he said. “This is the last thing that should ever happen at a church. And so we’re just hopeful—if anything comes out of this, it’s that (abuse) has no place in the church. And the people that do these things, they will be held to account.”

“Jane Doe” lawsuit vs. Newsound Church & ARC:

FILED Complaint – Jane Doe-37560_Newsound Church with Highlights

UPDATE: After this story published, Jason Doran, lead pastor of Motion Church, sent the following statement to The Roys Report: “In January of 2016, Joshua left TurningPoint to go work in church planting which is when I took over the church as pastor.  Since then neither he or his wife have had any association with the church.  His father remained on the board for several months after I took over before moving to FL. In 2017, we updated our bylaws with the IRS and with that the directors of the organization were updated. “

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21 thoughts on “Lawsuit Accuses Church Planting Group of Allowing Florida Pastor to ‘Sexually Prey’ on Employee”

    1. Update: No longer on staff at CBG. I went to my campus pastor LAST December with this information and he went to main campus leadership, nothing was done. So for those triggered by my word “harbored” even if it was a moral failing (which it was not, this was sexual and spiritual abuse) leadership knew if not when they originally hired him then since last December. But he continued to be employed and given more and more access and responsibilities. As far as I know no one from CBG reached out to the victim or the church he abandoned for answers, investigation, or input.

      My goal wasn’t and isn’t division. I did not make a ruckus last year I followed the chain of command, I poured my heart out. I told every staff member I had access too.

  1. These stories are excruciating. I am so sad and so very sorry for the victims that did nothing to deserve this, and I am so very thankful for those willing to stand up for truth in spite of the agony. These men are criminals and should be incarcerated.

  2. Only one of Seacoast’s 14 locations is in NC (Asheville), all the rest including the flagship church are in SC.

  3. A lot of us down here in Birmingham, Alabama would like for you to look into and report on the fact that Chris Hodges and Church of the Highlands have decided to spend millions of tithe money to build “The Lodge,” a facility to rehabilitate pastors who have had moral failings. Many church members are mortified and wondering why the victims are being ignored, while morally bankrupt “pastors” are being given a red carpet restoration facility. It is so disturbing.

    1. Easy problem to solve. STOP GIVING MONEY TO THE evangelical industrial complex. It’s about job security not Jesus. I’ll bet most of the rehabilitation is via prayer (oh yeah that works) vs criminal prosecution. Church’s and school districts have one thing in common. Hide the facts so the narrative is one of peace and caring. In VA. A tranny kid rapes a girl. He/she moved to another school. No cops no nothing. He/she doses it again. Dad of first victim is the one arrested for demanding action. Schools and churches. All the same types of people running the show. Disgusting.

  4. Jane Doe alleges that Mauney raped her 12 times over a period of months but she never reported being raped to the police? Has the definition of rape changed? It sounds more like she was seduced. Obviously, Mauney should be dismissed and disqualified from ministry, but how is ARC responsible?

    1. Vicki R,

      Was she being threatened or coerced in someway? Were her family/friends being threatened if she did not submit? Is she lying? Why? Was there a coverup? Do we disregard her claims because it happened more than once? Just because she did not report it at the time does not mean it did or did not happen, we have to look at the totality of circumstances to determine whether a crime was committed.

      “Rizzo has a history of sexual misconduct himself. In 2012, while pastoring The Healing Place—an ARC member church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana—Rizzo admitted an “inappropriate affair” and stepped down. He was restored to ministry at Church of the Highlands, an ARC member church, about a year later.”

      We call that a clue, that shows what type of moral character is allowed in the organization and should give us some guidance on who to believe.

      1. Andrew Thomas, an adult woman claims she was raped 12 times over a period of months and you do not think to ask why she didn’t report it nor why she kept returning to work? Calling this rape doesn’t make sense. She doesn’t mention being threatened. She calls what Mauney did, “grooming” . And isn’t her suit a civil suit, not a criminal one? If he did seduce her, that is a sin, but not a crime. If she didn’t report this until now, how is ARC to blame for not knowing?

        1. “an adult woman claims she was raped 12 times over a period of months and you do not think to ask why she didn’t report it nor why she kept returning to work?”

          Why do any adult women that are raped by their husbands/boyfriends/bosses/fathers not speak up and continue to live/work/stay with them?

          “She doesn’t mention being threatened.”

          She doesn’t mention not being threatened. We have to look at the totality of circumstances to determine whether a crime was committed, or if she is bearing false witness for monetary gain.

          “She calls what Mauney did, “grooming””

          If anyone is groomed into sexual act(s) that they would not normally engage in, have they acted with free will? or have they been manipulated/forced into a situation? Did she go along with it because that is what she wanted?, did she feel she had no other choice?, is she prone to victim narrative?, does she want money or justice?, or was she that naive not to see what he was doing?

          “If she didn’t report this until now, how is ARC to blame for not knowing?”

          She did according to the article:

          “When Doe reported that Mauney “had been inappropriate” with her, the church told Doe to contact Rizzo, the suit alleges.”

          “And isn’t her suit a civil suit, not a criminal one?”

          I do not know, but a civil case is easier to win than a criminal one.

          1. Andrew T., concerning your comments about grooming adult women- a woman can be deceived, but that doesn’t mean that she has lost her free will. To say she was groomed does not translate into rape.

    2. You read the entirety of this article of how many victims have been abused by pastors who are “safe harbored” and redeployed, only to groom and rape their assistants time and time again. Yet, your sole comment is “BUT she never reported being raped to the police?” You clearly know nothing about abuse and have never been a victim. Regardless, I will try by best to briefly explain why victims don’t come forward; although, in the first story of Jane Doe, she did go to the proper authorities and nothing happened- case in point with your remark. As psychology reveals, predators are able to identify those with low self esteem, most likely individuals who have experienced trauma before, usually younger than them and in a less position of authority. Therefore, when a victim is preyed upon, they are typically triggered, causing them to regress and not think as clearly because they are right back where they were in their previous victimization. When that happens, the nervous system experiences a variety of responses but the term most frequently understood is “fight, flight or freeze.” You don’t get to choose how you respond, it’s a biochemical response. Most people do not have the fight response and if so, people aren’t screaming and ecstatic to share their experience of rape and/or sexual harassment, thrilled to relive their horrific trauma. When a powerful person like a pastor is harassing someone much lower on the totem pole, like an assistant, they experience powerlessness and shame.

  5. Regarding the ARC constitution, it appears Surrat is mistaken, and it did in fact say:
    “The final authority in vision, direction and doctrine shall be vested in the Leadership Team of the ARC. This Team will be made of the International Director, and at least four and not more than seven National Directors. The Leadership Team may appoint Regional Directors on a unanimous basis, with no opposing votes. The function of the Leadership Team is for governing the ARC, assisting its member churches, and mentoring of its pastoral membership.”

    That’s per a Sep 2019 snapshot on the Internet Archive. https://web.archive.org/web/*/https://www.arcchurches.com/about/constitution-bylaws

  6. I suspect a common reason behind this increasing phenomenon to either favor the pastor or rubber stamp a positive investigation is a goal to – protect the ministry. Although not as despicable as the actual behaviors and lack of accountability, this also reveals an attitude that might be more prevalent than we want, that church leadership believes they are The ministry. Yet what about the ministry of the victims? I’m certain the abuse has harmful impacts on their ministry. And the lack of accountability is multiplying this ministry impact when it becomes more than one victim. What increase in ministry is missed out on because PR is more important? Church leaders, do you really believe ministry is to be shared (like you have preached) and equally protected or will you still be slaves to PR and favoritism? Let’s get real about protecting the ministry and put PR in its place.

  7. It seems the ARC way is a boys club and fraternity that takes care of “the boys” through “overseers” (also known as friends, mentors, etc) and keeping secrets through intimidation and non disclosure agreements. Disgusting, despicable human beings…not pastors.

  8. The “leadership” who turned a blind eye and tried to pay-off the victim are just as guilty as the rapist. ARC churches are all taught the same tactics of psychological abuse/brainwashing – so even if she was raped multiple times and didn’t file a police report DOES NOT mean it wasn’t rape.

    1. If I was raped I would not go back for more.Sounds more like a affair.Please they are both to blame.This women was not a child.

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