Moody Bible Institute (MBI) Provost Dwight Perry, who is supervising an investigation into alleged mismanagement of sexual abuse cases at MBI, today said he regrets “any confusion” caused by his endorsement of a pastor who sexually abused a relative.
The pastor, Charles Lyons, resigned from Armitage Baptist Church in Chicago in November 2019, after admitting the abuse, which occurred decades ago.
Lyons had pastored Armitage Baptist for 45 years, and the news of his abuse and resignation was covered in the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times. It also was covered by local TV news stations, as well as the New York Post, Baptist Press, and Associated Press.
In a letter Perry wrote in July 2020, eight months after Lyons’ resignation, Perry called Pastor Lyons “an outstanding pastor and leader and adds: “I highly recommend him for ministry to the glory and honor of our Lord.”
In his letter released today on the Moody website, Perry says he wrote the 2020 recommendation for Lyons because at the time, Perry “did not know of allegations of past sexual abuse by Mr. Lyons while he was an adolescent.”
Give a gift of any amount to The Roys Report and receive a copy of “Have we lost our Head?: Reconnecting churches with Jesus” To donate, click here.
Perry said he “recently learned of this alleged sexual abuse, and promptly retracted my recommendation.” He added, “I regret any confusion my letter may have caused.”
Today’s letter by Perry comes in response to allegations from alleged victims of sexual abuse at MBI and their allies who say Perry’s endorsement of Lyons shows a lack of concern for sex abuse victims.
Emily Joy, a spoken word poet and advocate for sex abuse victims, today tweeted: “So let me get this straight… Dwight Perry knew Charles Lyons for many years, enough to write him a letter of recommendation, but didn’t know he had recently resigned in disgrace in a very public way? Are you lying or incompetent?”
Today, @Moody_Bible provost Dwight Perry claimed he didn't know about Charles Lyons' status as a sexual predator when he wrote him a letter of recommendation last summer. But Mr. Lyons PUBLICLY admitted to sexual abuse & resigned in 2019: https://t.co/4jI0BtPtqI #ChurchToo pic.twitter.com/kLyzEgild0
— Emily Joy (@emilyjoypoetry) February 23, 2021
A group of survivors of abuse at MBI, called MBI Survivors, also said in a statement to The Roys Report: “[Perry’s support of Lyons] communicates that Perry doesn’t understand the severity of sexual abuse and that he will stand by an abuser, even after being found out.”
Yet Perry said in an email to The Roys Report, “I do not and would not knowingly endorse someone who is under a cloud of sexual abuse.”
When asked if he had spoken to Lyons’ victim, Perry said, “I did not know he had done this. How could I speak to any victims if I did not know? Allow me to reiterate one more time, I would not write a letter of recommendation for anyone who is under the cloud of sexual abuse.”
Allegations & Investigation
In response, Moody hired Grand River Solutions to interview survivors and investigate their cases. Also, Dean Tim Arens, who was accused of mishandling many of the cases, announced he would take an early retirement and Title IX Coordinator Rachel Puentes, who also was the target of allegations, was put on administrative leave.
The investigation hasn’t satisfied MBI Survivors.
They say Moody leaders cut off communication with the group on Nov. 5, 2020, and did not openly communicate a way for former Moody students to contact Grand River Solutions (GRS). The group adds that the few people who got interviews received them because students on Moody email lists forwarded GRS contact information.
“Moody put out a statement via email to their database on how to email Grand River Solutions, but we were not included in that database,” MBI Survivors told The Roys Report by email. “We had current students send it to us and that is the only way we knew what was happening and how to contact them. It’s insufficient because they stated that they would let us know how/when to get in contact with the investigators when they chose a firm, but they stopped communicating with us before then.”
After MBI Survivors raised these concerns on Twitter, Moody extended the investigation’s fact-gathering phase to Feb. 28. However, school administrators still did not send this information to MBI Survivors leaders, the group said.
MBI Survivors representatives said it is unlikely that the extension will provide enough time to gather all the evidence.
The group also noted that President Mark Jobe recently blocked MBI Survivors on Twitter, adding insult to injury.
— mbisurvivors (@mbisurvivors) February 22, 2021
Lyons Re-launches ministry
Lyons has now started his own ministry, City Hope International, which trains Christian leaders to serve in urban environments.
Lyons launched a website for City of Hope and has posted numerous letters from Christian leaders endorsing him. For a time, Perry’s letter appeared on the website with the others.
Others who have letters of endorsement posted at the site include: Pastor Anselmo Macolor of Life Connection Church, Pastor David Gipson of Naples Family Church, Together Chicago founder Michael N. Allen, Bible Mission Global Field Director Paul Hagelgans, Skokie Valley Baptist Church office manager Lillian Mante, Pastor Dave Collings of Christ Church Ohio, Pastor Andy Zivojinovic of New Hope Bible Church, Lighthouse Baptist Church Children’s director Mrs. Jamy Smith, Pastor Michael L. Gregory of Tower Grove Church, and Pastor Charles M. Butler of Hope Church Chicago.
The Roys Report reached out to all these leaders and institutions for comment. Mante refused an interview. The other leaders did not respond by the time of publication.
Tom Lyons, Charles Lyons’ brother, spoke with The Roys Report and expressed concern that Christian leaders like Perry have endorsed Lyons.
Lyons said the abuse wasn’t confined to when Charles was an adolescent. He said his brother’s abuse continued into Charles’ first year of college when Charles was 20. He added that Charles Lyons kept his abuse secret from the church for decades and made “inappropriate and ineffective attempts” to reconcile with the family member he abused.
“He doesn’t see that as something that would make him disqualified in relation to how he’s interacted with the family member over the years. He doesn’t see how hurtful it was,” Tom Lyons said.
The Roys Report reached out to Charles Lyons for comment, but he did not respond.
*This article has been updated to better characterize Tom Lyons concerns.
Jackson Elliott is a Christian journalist trained at Northwestern University. He has worked at The Daily Signal, The Inlander, and The Christian Post, covering topics ranging from D.C. politics to prison ministry. His interests include the Bible, philosophy, theology, Russian literature, and Irish music.