In 2020, Moriah Smothers thought her emotional and physical relationship with her pastor, Patrick Garcia, was an affair. She blamed herself and was ostracized by many in her church. Yet now, Moriah realizes she was the victim of adult clergy sexual abuse. And since Garcia has returned to preaching—and was recently featured in an article as a repentant and reformed pastor—Moriah is speaking out.
In this exclusive podcast interview, Moriah and her husband, Jack, speak publicly for the first time since Patrick Garcia resigned from The Hills Church in Evansville, Indiana.
At the time, Garcia confessed to engaging in an “inappropriate relationship, both physically and emotionally.” And he pledged to undergo a “season of restoration so that the root of my brokenness and dysfunction can be addressed.”
Almost three years later, that season is apparently nearing a close. Garcia said recently that he’s been able to determine what caused his crash. And, with the backing of mentoring pastor Bob Russell—pastor emeritus of one of the largest churches in the U.S.—Garcia is starting to minister again.
This comes as a shock to Moriah, who says Garcia groomed and abused her, using his power as a pastor to keep her in a relationship she repeatedly tried to escape. And, in this podcast, Moriah and her husband, Jack, explain why they don’t think Garcia should ever be allowed back into ministry.
This podcast includes an interview with a pastor who served under Garcia at Crossroads Christian Church, where Garcia served until 2018, when he was fired. The Crossroads pastor says Garcia wasn’t fired for mere “philosophical differences,” as previously announced, but for profound character issues.
Also offering perspective is Jim Burgen, lead pastor of Flatirons Community Church in Colorado. Like Pastor Russell, Jim is a close friend and mentor for Garcia.
Is Garcia a restored pastor, whose gifts shouldn’t be withheld from the church? Or, is he a predator, who continues to deceive and manipulate, and shouldn’t be allowed in ministry again? Multiple voices engage with these questions and provide understanding on adult clergy sexual abuse.
Dr. Moriah Smothers
JULIE ROYS, MORIAH SMOTHERS, JACK SMOTHERS, JIM BURGEN, PAUL LINGE
JULIE ROYS 0:00
For a year, Moriah Smothers thought her emotional and physical relationship with her pastor Patrick Garcia was an affair. She blamed herself and was ostracized by many in her congregation. But Moriah says she now believes she was a victim of clergy sexual abuse. And now that Garcia is returning the ministry, she’s speaking out in this exclusive podcast. Welcome to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys and joining me on this episode is Moriah Smothers and her husband Jack Smothers. Moriah has not spoken publicly since 2020 when Patrick Garcia resigned from the Hills Church in Evansville, Indiana. At that time, Garcia confessed to engaging in an “inappropriate relationship both physically and emotionally.” He added, no one is to blame for this repeated wicked behavior but me and he pledged to undergo a “season of restoration so that the root of my brokenness and dysfunction can be addressed.” Now almost three years later, that season is apparently nearing a close. In a Christian Post article last month, Garcia says he’s been able to determine what caused his crash. And now with the help of mentoring Pastor Bob Russell, Pastor Emeritus of one of the largest churches in the country, Garcia is starting to minister again. He’s also speaking out claiming the relationship he had with the other woman was an emotional affair, but the church forced him to say it was physical. He also claims the church didn’t know how to handle his struggle with anxiety and depression, contributing to what happened. All this has come as a shock to Moriah, who says Garcia isn’t telling the truth. She says Garcia groomed and abused her using his power as a pastor to keep her in a relationship she repeatedly tried to escape. She also says she’s reached out to Russell and leaders at the Hills, trying to get them to acknowledge the abuse, but they’ve refused. On this podcast, you’ll hear her story. You’ll also hear from a pastor at Crossroads Christian Church, where Garcia served from 2016 to 2018. That’s when he was fired for alleged philosophical differences. And you’ll hear from a pastor who like Bob Russell, is a close friend and mentor for Garcia. You won’t hear from Patrick Garcia. We reached out to him to hear his side of the story. He responded via email saying and I quote, “enough has been said about that part of my story. I’m in the season of accepting the Lord’s forgiveness and moving on.” We’ll get to this important podcast in a moment. But first, I’d like to thank the sponsors of this podcast, Judson University, and Marquardt of Barrington. If you’re looking for a top ranked Christian University, providing a caring community and an excellent college experience, Judson University is for you. Judson is located on 90 acres just 40 miles west of Chicago in Elgin, Illinois. The school offers more than 60 majors, great leadership opportunities and strong financial aid. Plus you can take classes online as well as in person. Judson University is shaping lives that shaped the world. For more information, just go to JUDSONU.EDU. Also, if you’re looking for a quality new or used car, I highly recommend my friends at Marquardt of Barrington. Marquardt is a Buick GMC dealership where you can expect honesty, integrity and transparency. That’s because the owners there Dan and Kurt Marquardt are men of integrity. To check them out, just go to BUYACAR123.COM. Well, joining me now is Moriah Smothers, who is speaking publicly for the first time about what she claims was clergy sexual abuse by Patrick Garcia, former pastor of the Hills Church in Evansville, Indiana. Also joining her is her husband Jack Smothers, who has stood by Moriah throughout the turmoil and devastation of the past several years. So Jack, and Moriah, thank you so much for being willing to talk about what I know is just a really painful and difficult situation.
MORIAH SMOTHERS 04:11
Thank you for having us Julie.
JACK SMOTHERS 04:12
Thank you, Julie.
JULIE ROYS 04:14
So as I mentioned in the open, Patrick Garcia resigned from the Hills Church in 2020, confessing to what the media called an affair. In the past three years you haven’t said anything publicly about what happened. And now you are speaking publicly for the first time. So what led you to want to speak out now about this situation?
MORIAH SMOTHERS 04:37
Julie, Jack and I have never wanted to, felt the need or the call to be public about any of this. Our heart was basically to disappear and heal up, figure out what happened, why it happened. And we have taken a few opportunities these past three years to for some educational reasons with some local church leaders, but really, we were very happy healing up in private on our own with some supporters as well. The reason that we’re talking to you now is because of the Christian Post article that was recently released. We had no prior knowledge of that article, completely caught off guard by it. But after we both read it, we were deeply troubled by the fact that there was no mention of adult clergy sexual abuse in that write up. And even then I still didn’t feel the need to say anything different than Patrick Garcia’s story. But what really pushed us to reach out and say something and be public for the first time is I was so devastated and insulted for the survivor community, for other women that are your friends, and in a support group with now. I just felt the article was deeply disrespectful and tone death of everything happening in the evangelical church, between Ravi Zacharias and Hillsong, and the SBC, the Christian Post can do better and should do better. And so I felt like, I didn’t want this opportunity. Jack didn’t want this opportunity. But here it is. And we’re really here to tell our story for survivors, and hopefully, for church leaders to know better and do better.
JULIE ROYS 06:12
And so Leo Blair, who wrote that article. I know, Leo, he’s a colleague, someone that I’ve talked to on numerous occasions, and has been helpful to me in stories. And he’s done some excellent work. But in this case, sounds like he did not attempt to reach out to you, correct?
MORIAH SMOTHERS 06:29
No, there was no attempt at all. Nobody involved in that story reached out to us or notified us at all. We were very surprised by it.
JULIE ROYS 06:36
Okay. And I think he did reach out to the Hills’ elders who did not respond to him. I guess they could have put him in touch with you. But that didn’t happen. And I’m not sure that that was asked for even but a very regrettable situation. And so I’m glad that you’re going to be able to tell your side of the story. Let’s back up to when both of you met Patrick Garcia. As I understand, both of you were volunteers at Crossroads Christian Church in Evansville, Indiana. And that’s where Patrick pastored from roughly 2016 to 2018. Would you describe your relationship with Patrick at the time?
MORIAH SMOTHERS 07:16
Yeah, sure. Basically, Julie, there was no relationship. We started attending that church when Ken Idleman was pastoring it. We had a lot of respect for his preaching and teaching. And it would be classified technically, as a mega church; it was very large. We were serving and attending but the pastoral transition did happen while we were there, but there was no relationship of any sort. Our children are about the same age. So we might have walked past each other in a hallway but no kind of communication, no, no relationship of any sort, except he was the pastor. And that was it.
JULIE ROYS 07:49
Okay, and I’m guessing you had impressions of him, though. He was your pastor. Jack, was there ever did you have any conversations with him at this point, or he was just the man up on stage/
JACK SMOTHERS 08:02
We had passing conversations. And I do remember, one time at Crossroads when Patrick was still a pastor there. I did say to Moriah, I have a bad feeling about him. I didn’t have any evidence of anything, I just got a bad impression and asked her to keep her distance from it. That was the extent of our interactions.
JULIE ROYS 08:23
So then, in 2020, Crossroads fired Patrick Garcia, and another Pastor Rick Kyle, over in this is what the statement said, at least initially was philosophical differences. That was the reason given. I’ve also spoken with Paul Linge who was and still is a pastor at Crossroads. And we’ll get his take in a minute about what really was happening behind the scenes. But from your vantage point at the time, what did you think had happened and why Patrick Garcia was being fired by the church?
At that point in time, we were just congregation members very far removed from that inner circle with any sort of connection to Patrick or the elders. And I think that’s an interesting question. It’s something that churches should really consider deeply because for your average congregant, especially in a megachurch, that pastor, that teaching individual is going to be the person who your congregants feel more connected to. And we had a personal relationship, a friendship with another pastor by the name of Dave Bowersox, he was a friend. We love him and his family and he chose to resign from the church as a result of all that. And that, at the time, spoke volumes to us and we trusted him we trusted his friendship and I chose to side with them in moving to the Hills, which at that point in time, Patrick was not a part of, it had nothing to do with Patrick moving to the Hills. He didn’t come on to staff at the Hills until later on. But at that point in time, it was really because of our friendship with Dave.
JULIE ROYS 10:04
Was there a narrative though? That was because I know that this cause major turmoil. In fact, it spawned, I know, an article in Christian Post back then, because I went back and read a lot of these articles. I wasn’t aware of it at the time. I wasn’t covering this sort of news, or I think my nose was probably in other stories at the time. But it sounds like it caused a lot of turmoil at Crossroads, several pastors resigned when Patrick was fired, there was a petition circulating. This was a major deal. And I’m guessing there had to have been trying to figure out which side is telling the truth, am I right?
MORIAH SMOTHERS 10:40
Yeah, there was definitely it was highly contentious. The narrative I remember hearing, believing, understanding was that the elders wanted to lead in a more traditional way. And that the pastors that were being fired and or resigned and left wanted to be more progressive. And so there was truly what we believe the statement about philosophical differences in leadership. And again, at the time, we also believe that maybe Crossroads was wanting to be a bit more of a country club feel, then really reaching out to the needy, the vulnerable. So that was the narrative that was being put out there for people that were asking questions. That’s what i remember.
JACK SMOTHERS 11:22
You don’t realize how gullible you are until after the fact until hindsight is available. But there was evidence that we could have looked into and chose not to, because of those connections and those relationships that we had those trusted relationships. And so those just exerted a profound influence over us. And then we regret that.
JULIE ROYS 11:43
As I mentioned, I talked to Paul Linge, who currently oversees the counseling ministry there at Crossroads, but he served as executive pastor under Patrick Garcia. And this is what he told me about why Patrick was fired.
PAUL LINGE 11:58
There were some fundamental character fissures in the makeup of his heart, his mind, his belief system, and those would leak out on a fairly regular basis. And while I never saw him act, to my knowledge, inappropriately toward a female, okay, that’s too much that’s inappropriate, that’s wrong. But he would laugh at it just crude things. And unless they like for nudity, not that I saw but like pictures of like a shadow of It’s a little embarrassing to talk about, shadows of a man’s penis, and, and this was like early on, and he would laugh about it. And I was like, yikes, okay, something is a little off here. And I would confront him on it. And sometimes he would receive it. But it was dismissive as well. Basically, he was unteachable, he was young, he was still in his late 20s. I saw the way that he would posture himself in elder meetings, he was unteachable, he would not listen to men who are leaders in their areas of business and industry and are men of God. He had his own his official group of Crossroads elders that he was technically under the authority of, but he had his own private board outside of that. It was composed of guys who would tell him what he wanted to hear. And some of these are the Bob Russell’s, and others, some of whom have had what appears to be great success in ministry. But they didn’t have the nuts and bolts of the character of Patrick Garcia. And so I think it could be said that he came with what looked like a good pedigree; graduate of Cincinnati Christian University, the son in law of Dave Stone, who at that time was the lead pastor at Southeast Christian Church. And so it looked like good pedigree, but I don’t know that the proper due diligence was done in tossing him the keys, so to speak, of Crossroads Christian Church. It felt like the keys were tossed to a reckless teenager rather than a mature man of God, who had in mind things of God.
JULIE ROYS 14:02
That’s Crossroads Pastor Paul Linge, expressing a perspective that it sounds like neither, you know, you, Jack or Moriah had at the time. I’m just curious, as you listen to that, what kind of thoughts do you have and feelings about what you just heard?
JACK SMOTHERS 14:20
Gosh, it’s hard to go back in time and put yourself in that place. Of all the information that we were ignorant of. What we know now is Paul Linge is a man of God like that guy that is truly the real deal. He is a committed Christian and I don’t have insider information because I was not a member of the elder board. But I am not surprised by anything. Any comment that he made in that clip.
MORIAH SMOTHERS 14:46
There was a lot too. Jack and I kind of were looking at each other like we’ve heard this before. There was a lot of weight put on Patrick’s pedigree, and the people that he had surrounding him in ministry support. And again we didn’t know, but we thought that must mean something because it was consistently put out there. A phrase we heard a lot was ‘he comes from good stock’. I bet we’ve heard that hundreds of times. And knowing now that he was going a lot on reputation, and I think we’ve heard a lot for different organizations. But it seems like we’re looking at charisma more than character is something I’ve heard in other churches. And yeah, nothing Paul said was surprising to us knowing what we know now. But, Julie, you’re correct. We did not have any of that information, when this split was happening. And we were trying to make a decision; we didn’t know.
JACK SMOTHERS 15:38
And I think that’s important for churches to keep in mind when they are, I think Crossroads did as good as they possibly could have with handling that situation. But as a congregant, I think we probably needed more information to truly assess their rationale, their justification for letting Patrick go, because we essentially put ourselves into a dangerous situation.
JULIE ROYS 16:04
Well, it does sound like some of the elders did try to speak up and they were pretty strongly censored by people for doing that. So I know it can be a very difficult situation. And I’ve often said when I’m reporting, it’s like saying something bad about somebody’s grandmother. Like, it may be true, but people just don’t want to hear it. They want to believe what they want to believe. And it can be a very difficult situation. But as you guys mentioned, Paul Linge mentioned one of the difficulties that Crossroads had was dealing with these outside advisors. And like you said, this stock that he came from, he had this close relationship with Bob Russell, retired pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, one of the biggest churches in the country, very influential church. At the time, Patrick was also married to the daughter of Dave Stone, who was the pastor of Southeast Christian Church at the time, and Patrick, and Dave Stone’s daughter has since divorced, but at the time again, he was Dave Stone’s son-in-law. I reached out to Bob Russell for comments about the role that he’s been playing in Patrick’s life, as well as the role that he was playing at the time. He did not respond to me. However, one of Patrick’s other advisors is Jim Burgen, and he’s the lead pastor of Flat Irons Community Church in Colorado. And Jim was kind enough to grant me an interview. And here’s what Jim said, regarding his understanding, at the time of why Crossroads fired Patrick.
JIM BURGEN 17:31
My understanding is that he was trying to be very transparent, trying to be very real and authentic, admitting that he wasn’t perfect and admitting he dealt with depression, things like that. And I do remember him telling me that the I don’t want to be a gossip because I wasn’t there, alright? So I know that Patrick was telling me that they didn’t really want that image of their pastor. They wanted their pastor to be somebody who, because he had faith, and because he had the word of God, these things weren’t really problems in their life anymore. They want him to stand on a pedestal and be an example, that you can overcome anything, which is a lot of pressure, but it also is, it’s just not integrity. And so I read the same stuff you’ve read, but I’ve heard from Patrick, they didn’t want that. They didn’t want that. And then they parted ways over the I don’t believe they parted ways over one thing, though, like, is just the overall, you have a different philosophy of ministry than we do.
JULIE ROYS 18:28
So like then, or since you haven’t really talked to any of the leaders at Crossroads?
JIM BURGEN 18:34
No, not once. Or Hills. I’ve not talked to any of those leadership.
JULIE ROYS 18:39
Again, that’s pastor Jim Bergen who served as an advisor, I think he still is a mentor to Patrick. I like Jim, he was very gracious to grant me an interview. And we talked a long time. But I have to say when I heard him say that he hasn’t talked to the leadership of Crossroads or the Hills, not once, that was concerning to me. Especially I know, he had Patrick come speak at his church in 2019. So this was after Patrick was fired from Crossroads. And it just doesn’t seem from my vantage point, that there was respect for the local elders; enough respect to say, hey, what happened? But it seemed more like Patrick was, he’s our prodigy. He’s our guy. And so if he says this, I’m going with it. And if there’s one thing in this story that even we’ve seen so far, nobody reached out to you to get your side of the story. Nobody reached out to these elders between these advisors to get their side of the story. I’m guessing you’re feeling some similar things there. But do you have anything to add that you thought when you heard this from Jim?
JACK SMOTHERS 19:50
I don’t know if Jim is willfully and intentionally ignorant, or if Jim is confused, perhaps, or maybe I’m wrong, right? But in my opinion, that’s the only thing that I can say. His statement about Patrick trying to be very transparent and real and authentic. What Patrick was actually doing is trying to manipulate other people into getting what he wanted. So my reaction to pastor Bergen is, I guess I should have gracious assumptions and say he did not apparently know the real Patrick Garcia.
MORIAH SMOTHERS 20:28
My concern with his statement too Julie is, I think, a lot of times when these situations occur, the person where the blame should fall is excellent at isolating individuals so they can control the narrative. And I think that when that happens, it’s really easy to spin the story that is in your favor. And so I think it was a real leadership failure to not have broken out of that vacuum, and have talked to other stakeholders like the Hills and Crossroads and other people involved in that.
JACK SMOTHERS 21:03
Do you feel that the language he was using, the language that Patrick would use about being so real and authentic was really a way to justify his sin and normalize his behavior?
MORIAH SMOTHERS 21:17
Yeah, I think the closest thing I’ve ever read that accounts for that is that Chuck DeGroat. He wrote When Narcissism Comes to Church. I came across the term I think he’s the one who coined it, it could have been someone else, but called fauxnerability. That term exactly represented the culture of the Hills, and the culture that I believe Patrick wanted to create; that I’m going to be very open, vulnerable, transparent, but it’s more transactional. And then I’m not really going to live that privately, which was a lot of the interaction he and I had together was horrible.
JULIE ROYS 21:52
So within months of Patrick leaving Crossroads, he joined this new church that two former pastors at Crossroads started Dave Bowersox and Darrell Marin. Both of you decided to become part of this new church. What motivated you to do that?
JACK SMOTHERS 22:11
Really was our relationship with Dave, we barely knew Darrell. But we were in a small group of Dave and his wife, Sandy, and really trusted them and loved their family a lot. And we also had kids about their kids age and Dave and I had a meeting at the university where Moriah and I are employed. And he mentioned, they were creating an elder board and said, I would be a great fit for that. That never really came to fruition while we were there. They created an advisory team and invited Moriah to be on that. I wasn’t invited. We were involved with a discipleship ministry while we were at the Hills. But anyway, our relationship with Dave is what drew us there.
JULIE ROYS 22:54
The not having an elder board, and having an advisory board with I’m guessing really had no teeth or accountability. Am I right?
MORIAH SMOTHERS 23:02
That’s exactly right. And so this advisory board they created had men and women that were all in with the church. Which I thought at the time, like what a wonderful demonstration like representation of the church. It was made very clear to the board multiple times that there was no accountability that pastors had to us. And we were never to be a decision making body. At the time I was there, it was very much, so we’re gonna read you our stats, tell you the good things we’re doing and you brag on us. And so it was a Yes-man and woman situation, let’s cheer and say, rah. But no, there was no authority with that position.
JULIE ROYS 23:41
And I will just say right now, and I do get asked this all the time. But people say like, how can you evaluate a church? And it’s step one, look at the elder board. Are they truly independent or are they beholden to the pastor in some way? Are they staff members of the church? In other words, is the pastor their boss, so of course they’re not going to buck him? Are they family members? This is another one that nepotism that runs in these. All of these things need to be looked at but what can they really do look at the bylaws. Do you have bylaws? If you do have bylaws, how is a pastor senior pastor going to be removed? Is that spelled out in your bylaws? Finances – do you know how much your senior pastor makes? And I don’t care if you’re at a small church or a large church, whatever. To me the fact that religious nonprofits and churches don’t have to reveal what their top wage earners make, but secular nonprofits do, to me is appalling. Why should the church be less accountable to the people that give it money than the world right? than the secular nonprofits? It’s these kinds of red flags that before I got into doing what I do today, I wouldn’t have thought of either so I don’t fault people for it. But I think we’re in a season or a time in the church right now that’s really somewhat of a crisis, with scandal after scandal coming out. And if people, if the church individuals, congregants, if we don’t wise up, we’re never going to see a change, because it’s not going to come from the top, it’s going to come from the bottom up. So, Moriah, it’s my understanding that about a year later, so it was about October 2018, that you began on the advisory board at the Hills church. But then Patrick started communicating with you on an individual basis. And this is what you would say, is the early stages of what you believe is grooming you. Would you describe why you believe that this was a grooming situation and the beginning of abuse?
MORIAH SMOTHERS 25:48
Before I get into that, Julia, and I will, is that one of the things that was revealing in the Christian Post article is that Patrick actually told on himself and said that he’d had a crush on me for three years. We had no interaction, we didn’t know each other and knowing what I know now, I absolutely believe that I was targeted well in advance. I think he had been taking notes on me the times we had interacted. Jack and I lead a Bible study group with the pastors for a new curriculum, there were some things from that were a little unusual, but I just didn’t think much of. So that communication initially, I would have considered very innocuous. It was really about the ministry Jack and I were helping run and so a lot of those emails early on, like I would have to discuss with Jack and things like that. But eventually, they turned into more texting, still some emails, but more texting. And I didn’t loop Jack in on those, which was a huge error on my part. But it really a lot of it was just like joking and silly things that if someone had picked up my phone and read, they would have thought, that’s odd, her husband sat on a bit, it wouldn’t have been anything. So it wouldn’t have been an obvious red flag. And so I let a lot of that go, even though I’m sure I had a gut check at the time, but it’s my pastor, like, I’ve always had healthy, safe relationships with my pastor. So I didn’t think anything about it. it fairly quickly turned into joking though. His demeanor is very polling. He described it like a very silly kind of teenager, he just joking. The first thing that really caught my attention, though, was like, that doesn’t seem quite normal is he sent a gift to my work. And so he put a different name on it a pseudonym. And it was an inside joke about a logo from Flat Irons. I made the joke our son was into Pokémon, and I asked him, I said, Well, Patrick, you’re wearing a Pokémon shirt. Matt, our son would love bat, like I didn’t know you were a fan. And so he sent this to my office. And then that was the first time it caught my attention, texting, communication. And honestly, a lot of times it was about church. And so it was intermixed between what was happening at church and fake life, and then personal and personal questions and things like that. I didn’t have any of this language then. But all of this was really heavily infused with love bombing, which I know now I didn’t know at the time that just this excessive praise, this endearment that, honestly, it really ingratiates someone with you, you feel so valued and seen. But the intention there is for manipulative purposes. And so I really believed a lot of that. The more we communicated, the more he sought out my opinion on church issues. And I did I just felt flattered that he thought my perspective was valuable in that context, because I’ve never, that’s never happened before within that kind of inner circle church group. Also, the thing that very quickly happened is he started depending on me for things. He would just often say, like how overwhelming his work is, and he’s so far behind, and he’s shepherding and writing sermons and doing all these things, and I’m a former Special Ed teacher, like teachers are helpers by nature. It’s what we do. It’s what we’re good at. And so I thought, like, oh, my gosh, I have the skill set, I can help you out. Do you need me to proofread something? Pretty quickly, he said, You just take over doing all my emails for work. And I thought, well, I can respond to some of them, I guess, because it’s what my pastor needed. And so that’s really where it started. It clearly escalated into much worse, but I would say those are some of the initial grooming stages is the joking silly conversations, personal questions, and then it started creating that need of I need you to help me be successful in ministry. The other piece that I would feel maybe goes between if we’re looking at severity or intensity of grooming, this one kind of straddles the line is he very quickly started sharing personal information with me about himself and about his colleagues and about the church. He told me some things about Crossroads. I mean, just things that I had no business knowing as a congregant, confidential information that he never should have shared with me about himself and others. And so at the time, I was giving advice and input, but I felt flattered that he wanted to share that with me as well.
JULIE ROYS 30:14
And I’m sure as you know, now, your story is not an isolated incident. This is a pattern that plays out over and over again. And at least from sitting in my seat, the one characteristic that I see that makes people vulnerable is it’s the ones that are really sincere, and helper type people. And it’s so awful because it’s actually such a virtuous thing that the victim possesses as a character quality that predators seem to be able to just sniff out and just be able to exploit. And I know that’s how you feel, and what you feel Patrick did to you. When did you first realize, Oh, my goodness, this is a dangerous relationship?
MORIAH SMOTHERS 30:59
Yeah, it was fairly early on, really. I don’t know that I would have said dangerous, but I recognize that I was looking forward to him communicating with me. And so it was even small, but I thought, Man, that’s not healthy. And I think a common belief is that anyone who is targeted , they’re struggling in their marriage. Jack and I have a wonderful marriage. We did before I was groomed we were doing well during and praise the Lord, we have a wonderful marriage now. And so I’d like to debunk that, that it’s only broken people or broken marriages that are targeted, because that’s not true. But it was pretty early on, I realized I’m looking forward to him texting, and that was messed up. And this is the other spot that man, if I could do anything and go back, this is the spot I would go back and redo this is I thought I could handle it. Because I really again believed that my pastor would honor his fiduciary duty of putting me and my family’s best interest above his own. And so I said, Hey, I need to talk to you about something, let’s FaceTime. And so we hopped on a FaceTime. And I tell him, I said, This is so humiliating, I’m humiliated, and I know you’re going to be embarrassed. But I’m looking forward to you contacting me, I think I’m attracted to you. And so we need to cut communication. And he reported this in the Christian Post very differently than what had happened. I think he said, I hooked him. But what really happened is that I asked him, I said, this is again, I didn’t understand, I thought it was my fault. I said, we need to stop all communication totally like this has to be done and over. And he said your family is too important to our church, to the ministry. I love your family, we need to be in contact still. So do you trust me to pray about it? Absolutely. I’ll trust my pastor at that time to pray about it for me. And I said, Sure, I understand that. I didn’t want to lose our community. And that I trusted him to pray about it. And Julie the part I would go back and do is that was my moment in time to tell Jack, but I did not tell Jack about what was going on. Because Jack is a man of character and integrity, we would have been out of that church so fast. I didn’t want to lose our people in our community group. And what I didn’t realize is Patrick came back and I basically just opened the doors for full on grooming and abuse. And he said, Moriah, you know, I never do this. I never say this when I preach from the stage. But God has told me that if we stay above reproach, then he wants us to be together. And it was a strong implication of like, for ministry purposes. And I was floored by that. But Jack and I are happily married and we’re doing great. I had no desire to be out of my marriage ever. And so I was really confused by that. But he was very convincing that this was a word from the Lord. So things accelerated from there in a really tragic way.
JULIE ROYS 34:03
And this is spiritual abuse 101. It doesn’t get much more blatant than God told me. And this should be a red flag for anyone. But again, we’re not trained in how to identify these red flags. But when somebody says God told me, I mean, how do you argue with that, right? I mean, it’s just really manipulative language that somebody would use.
MORIAH SMOTHERS 34:28
He’s my pastor, I trusted pastors, healthy relationships. My dad was a pastor, like, I had no reason to think there would be any kind of predatory behavior. Like none at the time. I clearly know better now, but.
JULIE ROYS 34:43
So about this time is when the relationship progressed to you and Patrick meeting in public parking lots, which is kind of a next step. Would you describe the frequency of these meetings and the nature of them?
MORIAH SMOTHERS 35:02
So I remember the first one he asked to me. So we could figure out this is a common phrase of how to manage the tension of being in communication, but it not being romantic. That was the first time we met. I vividly remember how sweaty my hands were. I knew I shouldn’t be in this situation. But I also, truthfully, I still trusted him that, okay, if I meet with him, then we can figure out a way for this to be over. That didn’t happen. And so we did on and off continue to meet. I would say it was, I honestly don’t remember a number. I would say maybe once every couple weeks or so. It was almost always surrounding the situation of I tried to end it, he would say, let me figure this out, figure out a plan so you don’t have to leave the church. And then let’s meet as our last time. And so when we would meet honestly, like, we talk about church, we would talk about our personal lives. It was a lot about how he was struggling just being a pastor managing everything difficult relationships. I felt like I was his counselor most of the time, it was a lot of that. Sadly, it did progress. The abuse never became fully sexual, but there was hand holding and hugging things of that nature that happened. Yeah.
JULIE ROYS 36:23
And he said, in the Christian Post article that at one point, you tried to kiss him, but he put the brakes on. True? Not true?
MORIAH SMOTHERS 36:32
I don’t remember that happening. There was embracing that happened. So I could see him thinking that’s where it was going.
JULIE ROYS 36:40
So you wrote in your timeline that you sent me that during this period, you felt like, quote, an addict living two lives. Would you explain that?
MORIAH SMOTHERS 36:49
So the timeline I sent you I wrote in 2020, when things were very fresh. I had no language surrounding abuse, trauma, ACSA. And so that feeling was still is still correct of how I felt. What I know now, though, is what that is was trauma- bonding. That happens in a cycle of abuse of feeling like very affirmed, valued the love bombing, and then trying to end it. And it’s like this very toxic cycle. And so that’s what it was, is I, frankly, I hated who I was becoming. I love being a wife and a mom, and I love my job. So there were so many beautiful parts of my life. I loved the church I was serving, we were super engaged. So I felt like there were all these beautiful parts of my life. And then there was this really toxic, ugly thing that I didn’t know how to get out of. Even as a grown woman educated, I didn’t know how to get out of this. And so that’s where I just felt so painfully torn. Because at this point, I knew things were bad. Like I knew they were very bad, because we were communicating every single day, multiple times a day, even when I would end the relationship, he would still use phrases from the stage to communicate with me that were like inside praises. He’d post on social media photos, but he put little photos like emojis in the corner that were messages to me, and the communication was all the time. So I now know it was trauma bonding, but the truth is, at the time, I saw no way out without imploding our life. And so I stayed in it, because I didn’t know how not to.
JULIE ROYS 38:30
And it’s interesting. And I hear this all the time, the minimizing of the devastation that a relationship that didn’t go there was no sexual intercourse, but had obviously a sexual component to it had this kind of grooming involved in this kind of trauma-bonding, love-bonding, I mean, all of these things, the devastation is massive, isn’t it?
MORIAH SMOTHERS 39:00
Yeah. And I think what’s really hard to account for and if I’m just being really honest, I don’t expect for anyone who hasn’t experienced this or walked with someone to understand this. But physically, what happened was minimal compared to the emotional and the spiritual wreckage of feeling like your pastor should be doing the right thing, and he’s not. I would say I ended this relationship. I use that term very loosely, it was abuse, but I ended it two or three times every single month. It was ongoing. That was most of our conversations with me trying to figure out how to get out of this. And there was a lot of communication in between as well but yeah, I think what’s not accounted for when these situations come out, is just the emotional spiritual psychological damage that’s left in its wake and it’s horrific.
JULIE ROYS 39:57
And Jack during this whole time, are you seeing red flags or things that are making you go, what’s going on? Or was this pretty much hidden from your sight?
JACK SMOTHERS 40:06
I had no evidence if that’s what you mean. But what I did see was Moriah’s natural demeanor is very light hearted, very life giving just a joy to be around. And that was stolen. She became darker she became her humor became vulgar, her language in terms of profanity that started to occur. And so I remember asking her one time, like, hey, something is changing about you, and I don’t know what it is. Is it something that’s wrong with our relationship? Or what can I do to get us back on track? But something is off, and I don’t know what it is. And she couldn’t answer because she was in a cycle of abuse at the time.
MORIAH SMOTHERS 40:51
And Julie, so horribly as well that I would sometimes bring this home to Jack. Like I was so torn up about what was happening privately that I would put that on our marriage and say, but if you treated me like this, when it had nothing to do with Jack. Towards the end, I even started saying, let’s move, let’s apply for jobs, let’s go somewhere else, because I thought that’s my only way out of this. And so was pushing so hard to escape, but I made life pretty hard for Jack for a while, because I was not me anymore.
JULIE ROYS 41:24
Moriah, eventually, your relationship with Patrick included sexting. In fact, that was the title of the Christian Post article, basically, How Sexting Brought This Pastor Down. Would you describe the nature, the frequency, who initiated the sexting? How did that happen?
MORIAH SMOTHERS 41:46
But that also had a grooming process to it. I’ve never been a selfie person, I think I’m just old enough that I missed that kind of way. Patrick would send dozens of photos a day. And so I think there was a grooming process with getting me to that place. But the sexting did occur, it is incredibly painful to talk about still. I don’t remember the frequency, it wasn’t truthfully, many times what I would consider overt sexting. But the ongoing dialogue for us was highly flirtatious and inappropriate. What I would say was over happened, I don’t know probably less than 10 times, and it was always followed by like, guilt, shame, that can’t happen again. And then we were back there.
JULIE ROYS 42:33
All of this did remain secret until May of 2020. And that’s when this police report came to the attention of pastors at the Hills church. How was there a police report that made this apparent to them?
MORIAH SMOTHERS 42:47
I honestly I still don’t have all the information. Because when everything did eventually come out, we were very much so left in the dark. So I don’t fully understand all the details to this. But my knowledge, what I do know is that there was a time we were meeting in a public parking lot. We’d met there several times, the people working in that location had noticed it. And so after so many times of meeting there they called the police to check because they thought it was odd that two cars were parked there. I think we were there after hours even. And so a policeman came out just said, Hey, what’s going on? Nothing was going on. And so, it wasn’t any kind of like, charges or anything. It was just documentation that we had been there. And so I don’t know the process of how that actually got to the Hills, but it did. Once that happened, I didn’t know anything about that. I think we were on vacation as a family. And what I’ve been told not being involved in that is that Dave and Daryl, the other pastors, met with Patrick, confronted him with what was in the police report, which wasn’t much information, just that we’d met there several times, and it was documented. Patrick spun a story that there was nothing going on, that he and I had only met there once. And Jack and I haven’t seen this report. So we’re not really sure what’s in it. That he said we had only met there once, and that we were handing off a binder or a book or something. And so he had been there before, but I hadn’t. And so very shortly after that, Patrick was also instructed not to contact me because they wanted to verify his story. Patrick got in contact with me immediately said this is exactly what happened. I remember he said, I took a bullet for us. And so you’re gonna get called into a meeting with Dave and an elder, and this is what you need to say to backup my story. And so I knew what was going on. We got home from our vacation. Dave called and asked me to a meeting, and I asked if Jack could go with me, and he said no, he cannot. And so I think again, I was still I was not in a good place mentally and emotionally. I think I was hoping that if Jack was there, it would come out and maybe I could be free from this, but Jack wasn’t allowed there. And so I remember sitting in the parking lot of where I was going to meet the pastor and the elder. And Patrick called me and he said, these are the exact lies I told. If you want to save your family, my family, the church, and also they were fundraising for a new building at the time. And that money he indicated to me was associated with him, because he had raised those funds. He said, If you want to save all these things, then you need to backup my story. And I consented, or I agreed to backup his story. And so I think in the Christian Post article, it read very much so like I eagerly and enthusiastically agreed to lie. But I felt very much if I’m gonna lose my family and my church, then I’ll lie. And so I did lie. I sat down with the pastor and the elder. They very much so wanted to hear the version of the situation, I told them, so I didn’t have to lie much, because they wanted to believe it. And so I did lie in that situation.
JULIE ROYS 46:03
And did you volunteer to step down from the advisory board at this time?
MORIAH SMOTHERS 46:08
I did. Yeah, that was the primary way Patrick had access to me just individually without Jack around. Otherwise, Jack and I did ministry together, we were pretty much always together. So I said, I’m happy to step down from that. I guess that’s appropriate. And they didn’t want to raise any red flags about why I was stepping down. So they told me no, please don’t do that.
JULIE ROYS 46:28
Wow. And you secretly were trying to get out.
MORIAH SMOTHERS 46:33
I was trying to get out in a lot of ways. But except being fully truthful with Jack, which would have got me out.
JULIE ROYS 46:42
So Jack, what was your response when you heard the rendition of the story that Moriah told you?
JACK SMOTHERS 46:50
The story that I received was, she made a silly mistake and met Patrick in a parking lot to receive a binder about church. Sounds pretty innocent when you are in a loving relationship with someone who has, over a long period of time, established a firm foundation of trust, you’re raised in a family where people treat you in a trustworthy way. It builds a lot of gullibility in a way and so I didn’t really second guess it. I just said, Oh, man, that was silly. Let’s just learn from it and move on. And in retrospect, that was maybe not the most loving thing to do. The most loving thing to do would have been to ask more questions, if I felt uneasy about it. Yeah.
JULIE ROYS 47:33
Yeah. It’s tough, though. You don’t want to be the jealous husband, who doesn’t believe. It’s a very difficult situation to be in. At this point, Moriah, you asked Patrick to basically get some outside help, right? Like, I mean, you knew he had this outside Advisory Council board, whatever you want to call it, mentors that he looked up to. How did he respond when you asked him to get this help?
MORIAH SMOTHERS 48:02
Yeah. So all the previous times I’d ended it, it was really just between the two of us and I just want it to be done. But this time, I said, clearly, I felt like this was, again, I was spiritually very twisted. But I feel like this is God telling us like this has to be done. This was our chance to end it. And he didn’t feel like he could end it, that he needed me. And so I asked him to just, I begged him, I’d said, like, please just talk to somebody tell somebody what is going on. Because this entire time, I had some real questions like even like I said, this an affair, isn’t it? Nice to no, because it’s not physical like that it’s not. And I asked him, I said, please just talk to somebody get their input. And so he told me, he did talk to a couple people. One of them was a former colleague and friend that was in his previous church in Texas. And then also he communicated that he talked to Jim Burgen about it. I didn’t know either of these people at all. But he told me that he was advised by both of them to not share any of this information with people at the Hills, the other pastors, they just didn’t need to know the details, and it would cause a difficult situation. And so I thought he had been advised by wise counselors, which is what I asked him to do.
JULIE ROYS 49:19
And of course, you have no way of knowing whether that actually happened or not. But I did reach out to Jim Burgen, and asked him specifically about this, about whether or not he ever encouraged Patrick not to confess the details of his relationship with you to the church. And this is what Jim Burger said.
JIM BURGEN 49:37
I knew they were having struggles. I didn’t know he was meeting in cars with women. Not at all. And if I had known that, I would have absolutely done the opposite of what you’re hearing; cover it up, don’t disclose. It would have been the opposite of that is you’ve got to cut this relationship. You need to go to Savannah, you need to go to your leaders. I was fresh off the heels of sabbatical. I was on a sabbatical for six months at the end of 2019, dealing just with a lot of exhaustion. So at that point, I would have been really raw and open because I was in such a tremendous, intimate relationship with my elders. They knew the inside out of my heart. I would have pointed in that direction too. Whether he had that or not, I don’t know. But that’s what my advice would have been. I never, never ever in a million years would say, cover this up, keep it a secret, don’t give details because basically what I’ve been counseling this keep going just don’t get caught, which would be absolutely the opposite of what I would ever have counseled anybody.
JULIE ROYS 50:36
Again, Jim Burgen weighing in on his perspective of what happened. It didn’t take a long time after this whole police report surfaced for the truth to come out. So apparently, the church sends Patrick off on, I’m sorry, this study break. I’ve seen so many study breaks. For pastors, they get caught with things like this, you wish they would just be upfront with what’s going on. But instead, it’s covered up from the church. And I guess he needs to do more study about something. But during that study break what was happening between the two of you?
MORIAH SMOTHERS 51:15
Yeah, so during the study break, keep in mind, I was still on the advisory board, because they hadn’t taken me off. This was also not disclosed to the advisory board at all about what was really going on, their concerns. We were still in communication. I think there were attempts to slow the communication down, that it was frequent. There was also up until this point, things had been bad. But again, most of our communication was just like silly, everyday things, light hearted. Things got dark after this and really heavy in a way that it hadn’t been. There was a lot of like power reversals. And I remember Patrick being very clear that like, I have control of this situation. And he would want me to like verbalize consent at that. There was a situation where some pastor I have no clue who it was, it was just in the news that he had probably an affair, which is the language they use, which would have been abuse. And I said something to Patrick about it. And I said, “Hey, I read this story. Did you read that?” He had. And I said, “Doesn’t that sound like what’s happening here?” And he like, forced me to verbally agree that’s not what’s happening here. This is consensual, and so it just got really heavy. He also started pushing to blame. He was like, let’s reassess when we’re gonna be together. And I mean, I remember the clearest time again, only in hindsight of being gaslit was, I was just feeling very convicted. And I said something like Patrick, I’m not leaving Jack, I have no desire to end my marriage. I’m not doing that. And he somehow flipped it around, and I ended up apologizing to him, that I would even think he might ask me to do that. And so just really, really sick, twisted. But the communication was still often.
JULIE ROYS 54:07
And how old was he at this point?
MORIAH SMOTHERS 54:09
So if this was in 2020, he was probably 32 ish?
JULIE ROYS 54:13
Thiry-two. It’s a lot of responsibility for someone extremely young, really. And he’s in his late 20s and pastoring a church of 7000 previous to this. It’s just a little bit stunning that someone so young would be given that kind of responsibility. In September 2020, then I’m guessing he comes back from his summer break. And you met in person a few times. Would you describe what happened in those meetings?
MORIAH SMOTHERS 54:45
Yeah, so all of those were to wrap things up to end things like again, there was this kind of mounting pressure. It just has to be that and frankly, I was starting to be a mess. Like I had been able to keep my life together pretty much. He would actually say, I know this is hard for you. But just let me shoulder the pressure of keeping this together. I was not doing well at that point in time. And so we met in a parking lot. And again, naively thought, like this is the last time, but that was, every time I was nervous and felt like oh my gosh, would have foreseen and it was, it was scary. That was the first time that he scared me, at the way he was behaving, and I actually had the thought, like, I hope I’m able to get out of this car. And it was just, it felt like things were moving really fast. And so again, I was hopeful that maybe that was the last time. But communication just continued, even though there’s so many last times that communication continued still.
JULIE ROYS 55:46
So the following month, October 2020, Patrick’s wife, Savannah, she discovered some of the messages between the two of you the sexting, I’m guessing she saw?
MORIAH SMOTHERS 55:57
Yeah. I don’t know exactly what was seen. You read those? Yeah. Yeah, it was a lot of it was just silliness. But then there were things that absolutely indicated that there was sexting and it was highly inappropriate.
JULIE ROYS 56:10
You found out about this from Patrick, right, when Savannah found out what was his demeanor and reaction?
MORIAH SMOTHERS 56:19
Well, I knew something was a little wrong. We had been communicating. And Julie, I don’t think I mentioned this, but early on through the grooming, it was mainly text, emails, and then it switched through social media platforms. And so he was always very thorough, reminding me like, hey, delete our messages, delete our conversations. And we were communicating with an app Words with Friends. We were playing a game on there, and there’s a chat feature. And so we’d been communicating, I gotten distracted with something, and had just left our conversation because something happened quickly. And when I came back, I messaged him again, and there was never a response. And so I knew something seemed different because he always responded. But he didn’t that time. And so it was all through the evening. I never got a response. I knew something was going on. I think that was I shared maybe a little bit with you at that time. I’ve minimized I heavily minimized what was going on to Jack. But I did disclose a little bit to him. And it was sometime in the middle of the night, I got an email from a random email address. But the email address and how it was worded was like a lot of inside jokes between us. And the phrasing was really strange. It didn’t the email it was from Patrick. We know now he had all this like technology taken. So I don’t know how he did this. But he basically said that Savannah found messages. And then he included a bulleted list to say like, these are the lies we’ve told remember them and back them up about what it was. But the email sounded like silly, like almost joking. It was not like, devastated. It wasn’t angry. It was a very strange message. When I knew that this had been discovered, I freaked out. And so I deleted the email, I never responded and I like permanently deleted it from my Gmail. And the next day, he sent another one from the same email and it was just, sorry, with a crying emoji and I deleted that one as well. I did end up telling Jack eventually that he had sent that. So I did know something was coming. But I didn’t know the fallout that was about to happen.
JULIE ROYS 58:30
Jack, how did you find out?
JACK SMOTHERS 58:32
Moriah disclosed a little bit of what was going on. But really it was Dave Bowersox who called and shared the communication, the sexting conversations that had occurred, and in a PDF document. And so I read through those, and yeah, that’s how I found out. Of course I was devastated at the time. But my really, I think God was very gracious over me at that point in time because all I could think about was our kids. Sorry. Two wonderful and amazing children that they deserve a safe home. They deserve to feel protected. And this was an attack on our family. We have a great example in scripture of Christ protects his bride, how Christ dies to himself to protect his family. So that’s where we at. Sometimes protecting your family looks like getting on your knees and praying. Sometimes protecting your family looks like asking a lot of questions. listening intently. I was thankful that in our job, so in higher education, we are required to go through training. I believe it’s every year, we’re required to complete these modules just on what is Title IX, sexual harassment, all these things. There’s one thing that stuck out to me. And it was where there’s a power imbalance, there’s no such thing as consent. And so I thought, okay, professors, student, doctor, patient, Pastor, congregant. These are all similar relationships where there’s a direct power imbalance, there could not have been consent, and I’m smashing all this together. This was not all at one time, this was weeks or maybe months of reflecting and trying to absorb the information that we have. It wasn’t until probably a year after it all came out that we really understood ACSA and that entire framework.
MORIAH SMOTHERS 1:00:48
But Jack was the first person to raise this piece of information, like how is there consent there as your pastor? And some of the contextual things that I’d never recommend this for anybody, but we were quarantined at the time, with COVID. So we couldn’t be with anybody. And so we can laugh about it now a little bit, but it was at the time, just heartbreaking. I was so broken and devastated and confused. It looked like I was coming out of a cult. Like there’s this like trauma fog that descends. I didn’t know what to do. I followed Jack everywhere in our house. I couldn’t be away from him. And so he’s grieving and mourning, and I’m following him around and we’re quarantined and have little children that were trying to – it was a mess. So everything we did was over Zoom about all the disclosures.
JULIE ROYS 1:01:41
So how did you feel the church responded to you, Moriah?
MORIAH SMOTHERS 1:01:45
I don’t want to over exaggerate this. And I can share details. The abuse from my pastor was horrible. The way the church responded was ten times more traumatizing than the abuse.
JULIE ROYS 1:02:04
That concludes part one of my interview with Moriah and Jack Smothers, and we’re ending on a bit of a cliffhanger. But this is something that I’ve heard over and over again from victims. The original abuse is horrific, for sure. But it’s easier to understand that the church can have one bad apple than to realize that it’s not just one bad apple. There’s a whole system protecting and managing that one bad apple, often at the expense of the victim. And you’ll hear that part of Moriah and Jack’s story in part two, and it’s such an important story. So I hope you’ll be watching for that to release in just a few days. But thank you so much for listening to The Roys Report. And if you’ve appreciated this podcast and our investigative work, would you please consider giving a gift to support us? As I’ve said before, we don’t have big corporate sponsors or large donors. We have you, the survivors, advocates, allies and church leaders who care about ridding the church of predators and making it a safer place. Also, this month if you give a gift of $30 or more, we’ll send you Christy Boulware’s book, Nervous Breakthrough; Finding Freedom From Fear and Anxiety in a World That Feeds It. This is such a great resource for anyone struggling with anxiety and panic attacks, or really any mental health issue. So to get the book and support the Roys report, just go to JULIEROYS.COM/DONATE. Also, just a quick reminder to subscribe to The Roys Report on Apple podcast, Google podcasts or Spotify. That way you’ll never miss an episode. And while you’re at it, I’d really appreciate it if you’d help us spread the word about the podcast by leaving a review. And then please share the podcast on social media so more people can hear about this great content. Again, thanks so much for joining me today. Hope you are blessed and encouraged.