What do you do when you realize you’ve been abused by your church? Do you appeal to the denomination? Do you speak up publicly to seek justice, even if you suspect the majority won’t listen?
In this second of a two-part podcast, Lori Harding tells what she did in this situation. She recounts returning to her former church—the well-known Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida—and asking the church to right past wrongs. In this podcast, you’ll hear how her church responded. And you’ll hear part of an interview I conducted with current Coral Ridge Senior Pastor Rob Pacienza.
You’ll also hear what happened when Lori asked for help from her denomination, A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO). I’ll read an email Lori received from the senior executive with ECO, after she told him details of how a church in his denomination treated her.
Though Lori didn’t get the responses she’d hoped for, she says she has experienced freedom simply by refusing to be silenced. And that in itself has been helpful.
Because this interview brings Lori’s story full circle, you may want to start with part one. This is an extremely eye-opening podcast, with insights on celebrity church leaders, NDAs, and spiritual abuse.
Lori Harding is an MDiv graduate of Knox Theological Seminary, an ordained pastor, and former Associate Pastor and Executive Director at Grace Community Church in Boca Raton, FL. Working in ministry for the past fourteen years has given Lori ample opportunity to see firsthand the devastating effects of patriarchy, narcissism, and abuse within the church. She currently advocates for abuse victims and works to expose the realities of church abuse. Lori resides in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with her husband and enjoys spending time with her family.
DEBBIE VIVEROS, JULIE ROYS, ROB PACIENZA, LORI HARDING, ATTORNEY DAVID GIBBS
JULIE ROYS 00:03
What do you do when you realize you’ve been abused by your church? Do you appeal to the denomination? Do you go back to the church seeking justice? Do you speak up publicly? Even if you suspect the majority won’t listen? Welcome to the Roys report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. And in this podcast, I continue my interview with Lori Harding, someone who faced these difficult questions following alleged spiritual abuse at two Presbyterian churches. The first is Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. This is the church where Dr. D. James Kennedy pastored for decades before his death, and it’s where Billy Graham’s grandson Tullian Tchividjian pastored for several years before news broke of Tchividjian’s sexual misconduct. Harding served under Tchvidjian and says she was wrongly fired and ostracized by the church for simply questioning Tchividjian and raising financial questions. She also served at another church where she says she was fired for noting a vast wage disparity between her and the senior pastor. If you missed our first podcast, I encourage you to go back and listen to the first one before continuing with this episode. That said, this is an extremely eye opening podcast. And you’ll hear what happened to Lori when she declared freedom from the forces that sought to silence her. And you’ll find out what happened when she went back to Coral Ridge, urging the church to right its past wrongs. We’ll get into all that in a moment. But first, I’d like to thank the sponsors of this podcast, Judson University, and Marquardt of Barrington.** Judson University is a top ranked Christian University providing a caring community and an excellent college experience. Plus the school offers more than 60 majors, great leadership opportunities and strong financial aid. Judson University is shaping lives that shape 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 our men of character. To check them out, just go to BuyACar123.com.** Well, again, you’re about to hear part two of my interview with Lori Harding. Lori is the former women’s ministry director at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She also formerly served as the associate pastor and Executive Director at Grace Community Church in Boca Raton, Florida. We pick up our interview after Lori has described why she believes she was spiritually abused by both Coral Ridge and Grace Community Church. So Lori reached out to her denomination the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians or ECO. And she heard back from the senior executive with the CEO Dana Allin. And as you’ll hear, Allin didn’t deny Lori had been wronged. But he didn’t offer any help, either. I have that email from Dana Allin, who’s the executive with the CEO. And he wrote you on August 10, 2021. My guess, but again, just a guess, is that an attorney advised the session not to engage. “On the surface, it seems wrong, and I understand your frustration,” because you had reached out and, and told him what your experience was. “But there are a lot of times in disputes when parties engage with each other, it only makes matters worse, more messy and more complicated, especially in employment issues. I’m good friends with an employment attorney in the church. Certainly it seems right and biblical to want to work it out. It can often create more complexity and liability by having a bunch of back and forth between the parties involved.” And then he says, “as this lawyer explained it, I understood why sometimes it’s better just to let the attorneys for each party handle the disagreements.” So you’re going to your denomination and saying this is what happened. “Is this okay with you?” You know, “Is it okay that they gave me an NDA? Is it okay that they presented things this way? And Dana, saying, ‘You know what? Maybe it’s just best you let it go.'”
LORI HARDING 04:19
JULIE ROYS 04:20
Let it go.
LORI HARDING 04:21
I mean, he’s saying, you know, “On the surface, from everything I can see, it looks like it was wrong. It was handaled wrong. But I can’t do anything.”
JULIE ROYS 04:30
So, you had a day, which you call your declaration of Freedom Day. One of the letters you wrote was to your denomination. What did you tell your denomination?
LORI HARDING 04:44
There’s a technical term for it, but basically I renounced my ordination. One of my highest values is integrity. And I think you and I talked about this. And its, integrity is not just a matter of morality, although that’s what a lot of people think of when they think of integrity. But integrity is really referring to wholeness. And that’s a huge value for me. So living on the outside in congruency with who I am on the inside. When I signed that NDA, the reason I immediately regretted it and felt crushed by it was because I was out of congruency, if you want to say. I felt in my soul, that I was not a person of integrity anymore. And because that is such a high value for me, every minute of every day, I felt the weight of that.
JULIE ROYS 05:39
NDAs to me, they’re soul crushing, because it puts a, I mean, this is part of the reason we have a First Amendment. It’s part of the reason I’m a journalist. I believe so strongly in people being able to use their voice. And it completely shuts down their voice so that they can get a severance that they already earned.
LORI HARDING 05:57
JULIE ROYS 05:58
If you’re gonna give them something extra, that’d be one thing. But it’s just to get what you already earned. And that’s what’s so frustrating. And I’ve been on that side. Thank God, you know, as a journalist, I saw that and I was just like, mm-mm, there’s no way I’m signing that. But had I not been, might it have been different? Yeah. And you don’t know on which side how you’re gonna respond. Declaration of Freedom Day. So one letter goes to the ECO. One letter went to Grace, because you’re saying you violated the NDA in what you’ve said, in what that email that Rob had sent the pastor. And then you also wrote an email to Rob Pacienza. Would you be willing to read that email that you sent Rob?
LORI HARDING 06:46
Sure. I wrote this in August. I said, “Good evening, Rob. I hope this note finds you well. I’m sure you recall the evening Peter and I agreed to meet with you at your request. It was a brave thing for you to do, to ask for my forgiveness with no excuses or defense. I remember vividly being physically shaken by the deep trauma I’ve been holding over the course of the prior year following that horrific meeting on March 13, 2014, in Tullian’s office. When I say physically shaken, you may have noticed my entire body shaking as you talked. You offered to answer questions, but I could barely speak. I asked nothing. The single most transformative word you gave me was, ‘there was nothing wrong with you. You were well.’ Fast forward. It has been seven years. You apologized for your part. And I’m grateful for that. But the church and session was responsible for the out of control behavior of the pastor and at least two elders stood by and watched. The week after I was fired. I had to walk into a seminary class at Knox, not knowing who knew what. Clark Cochran sat at the front of the class. Ashamed and humiliated, I chose a seat in the back row. I never sat in the front section of a seminary class again. My family lost every relationship we had built over the years. We were shunned by everyone except four of my closest friends. My extended community abandoned me, Kim Crandall, Lauren Larkin and the Droping Keys community. No one believed me. No one listened. Peter has never been to church again, and will never go back to a church as a result of how we were treated. You might recall he was a deacon at the time. No one called him or reached out to him. I could go on, but I won’t. My purpose for writing this letter is to make a request of you as a senior leader at CRPC. I have never had closure on what took place. What happened to me was public. The Women’s Bible study group was told I was not well. That was public. Staff was told I was not well. That was public. I faced an onslaught of judgment from a group of 20 plus devout liberate fans who deserted me. That was public. In light of those wrongs, I humbly request an apology from CRPC in word and a monetary demonstration of repentance. Please do not hear this as a demand. I make no demands whatsoever. Far from the demand, this is a call for closure to something very painful in my life that was wrought at the hands of the church I loved and served. In a church that now has the ability to make things right and do what is good. The reason for the request for repentance in the form of a monetary amount is to signal a demonstration of the words of repentance. You could call it a lived theology, a sign of goodness, a demonstration of the gospel. Sidenote, you might recall that an NDA was presented and Peter and I made the decision to forego the monetary settlement offer and not sign the original agreement. I will close with these words from Scot McKnight and his recent work, “A Church Called Tov.” He says, ‘The church can only witness to the truth of Jesus by seeking justice, serving with humility, operating transparently and confessing and lamenting failures. In a healthy Tov culture, leaders will avoid denial and spin in favor of finding and telling the truth even when the truth is painful.’ This request presents an opportunity for the church community of CRPC to serve with humility, confess and lament failure and bind up the brokenhearted. My hope is that she rises to meet it.”
JULIE ROYS 10:20
Rob did respond. You had a phone conversation. And how did that go?
LORI HARDING 10:28
I have to say I had zero expectation, honestly of anything happening. I was honestly surprised that he responded. But he did pretty quickly in a text. We’d set up a phone conversation. We had that phone call. At the beginning of the call, I let him know that I had someone with me, and that he was on speakerphone. And the purpose was to be a witness of this conversation, and to take notes for me. And so it was about a 45 minute conversation. He was very gracious. He was kind. I mean, after the call, my friend and I were commenting just how struck we were by how gracious he seemed and how caring he seemed. And he was asking good questions. So, you know, we we did a little chitchat, and then we jumped into it. And he asked me specifically, “what were you thinking in terms of an apology? What would that look like?” And honestly, Julie, I had not even gotten that far in terms of what I was thinking for an apology, or the monetary demonstration, I just really was not expecting anything. And, and I was going to be okay with that. And so he kind of caught me off guard when he asked that question. So I just, you know, kind of off the cuff was talking, you know, through some things out of what that might look like, you know, again, for me, because it was public, it had to be some kind of public apology. So would that be social media on the website, from the pulpit, or maybe directly to those communities that were most affected by the news by what they said about me? I just listed those as options. We talked about them, I threw them out. And so you know, I think he was taking notes. I don’t know. But then he asked about the monetary part of it. And again, I just, you know, I think he was the one that mentioned the, my original NDA, and, you know, maybe that was a starting place. And I said, Okay, that would be a good starting place. I said, and he said, “are there other things?” And so that’s when I began to list the other things. So healthcare premiums, my, I was receiving a scholarship through Coral Ridge and Knox partnership. So a part of my seminary was being paid by Coral Ridge. So their portion I had I said, you know, that could be covered. He had shared with me that he and his wife had received counseling after the Tullian situation became, you know, got exposed. And so he and his wife received some counseling. He said they were in counseling for a year. So I put a modest amount, not even like a full counselor’s fee, but our copay, you know, so it was a small amount really.
JULIE ROYS 13:00
That was around September, and then you don’t hear anything for a month. And so you you sent an email in September, following this conversation. And you did list two months severance, which was, you know, $6,700. Two months of continuation of insurance of Cobra, which would be $2,000. Loss of salary when unemployed for five months: $17,000. Cobra premiums for five months $5,000. $800 for your Knox scholarship, because the church had been paying And then counseling you at $3.400. So it was a total of $34,752. Then you don’t you don’t hear for a month. And then when you do hear you got an email from Rob’s assistant. Correct?
LORI HARDING 13:51
JULIE ROYS 13:52
Essentially, he’s offering you what, because there were there were two documents that were attached to this email.
LORI HARDING 14:01
JULIE ROYS 14:01
What were those documents?
LORI HARDING 14:03
Right, Andrew Nichols, his executive director responded and said that they had the session met and this was what they decided. “If you agree, sign the two documents attached.” It was a very cold email. And then his closing was, “All further communication about this matter will go through me. Do not speak to Rob anymore.” That was interesting. But anyway, so the two documents that were attached was an an NDA, for exactly the same amount as the original NDA from 2014 and a W-9 form.
JULIE ROYS 14:39
So basically, they’re giving you the same thing Tullian gave you in 2014
LORI HARDING 14:44
JULIE ROYS 14:45
The exact same amount
LORI HARDING 14:46
JULIE ROYS 14:47
And tied to an NDA.
LORI HARDING 14:49
JULIE ROYS 14:50
Okay. Well, as I said at the beginning of the podcast, I did reach out to Rob Pacienza to get his side of the story. And he did agree to an interview. And sitting in on the interview is Attorney David Gibbs. And in the clip that I’m about to play, Rob argues that you were fired for bad performance, that the church never defamed or maligned you. And he takes exception to the idea that you were a victim. In fact, he says the church was generous with you, and gave you time off, as you referenced earlier in this podcast for a personal issue and gave you that time off with pay. So here’s Rob Pacienza, again, explaining why it is that you were fired.
ROB PACIENZA 15:36
She just wasn’t a good employee. I don’t think it was anything personal. You know, I never because the way it ended the way it did. And she never really gave us a chance to reconnect until you know, most recently when she wanted to collect her severance last year, I think there was just a lot going on in her life that just didn’t allow her to focus. It was hard for her to connect with other employees. And it became more of a distraction than anything else. Even though like I had said back in 2012, we had given her time off, which is, in my recollection, I don’t know if we’ve done that for any other employee, give them you know, time off and continue to pay them. So in my opinion, I felt like we were more than generous with her and it just just wasn’t a good fit for her at Coral Ridge.** And, you know, I hope the best for her. And, you know, Julie, you might not know this, but I filled out a reference for her for future employment. I actually talked to her future boss that she was eventually later terminated at that church as well. I don’t know the reasons for why she was terminated from that church. But I got on the phone with that pastor for a good 30 minutes and gave her as glowing a report as I possibly could. I wanted her to really end well. So I know you had mentioned in your I know, you had mentioned to David that she was somehow publicly defamed. That’s terribly inconsistent with me reaching out to her former to her former boss but future boss at the time and giving her a recommendation and giving her an endorsement. And she had even reached out to me said, “would you be willing to talk to you know, this pastor?” So, terribly inconsistent that we were publicly defaming her but then willing to get on the phone with her, you know, for future employer and an endorser and give her a glowing recommendation.** Obviously, as you know, she came back in 2021, wanting to collect her severance, but then it was interesting, it turns into way more than that, and that’s really where I struggle with the victimhood here. You know, you look at 2012, giving her time, paid off to deal with her personal family issues, writing references for her giving her endorsements, and then claiming now in 2021, that somehow she was a victim. She not only asked for severance and money for counseling, she asked for us to pay her and you might not know that she asked for us to pay for her master’s degree. And that really just didn’t sit well with me. I go, a victim wanting to collect severance and money for counseling, I get that. But wanting us to pay for your master’s of divinity degree? I just went, “I don’t know where the victimhood is in that.” But I could be wrong. Maybe that’s something true victims do ask for, for further education. I just to me, that was always a head scratcher to me and just didn’t sit well with me.** Like I said, the severance, the counseling money I get if she truly was a victim, which I don’t believe she was, would request that. But if somebody’s claiming victimhood, asking for us to pay for a graduate degree, I just didn’t get.** Anyway. I told Lori, I said, “I’m a man under authority. I’m Presbyterian. I can’t just make this decision on myself, by myself. I need to go to our session.” I brought her entire request, everything, I think it was like $40,000 to $50,000 to the session. The session, our elders said, “No. We will give her the severance that we offered her back in 2014. But nothing more.” She like every other employee that is terminated from Coral Ridge will have to still sign the, the severance agreement. As you know Lori was very upset that not only did she not get the full financial amount that she requested but that she would still have to sign the Separation Agreement, severance agreement. And that’s kind of where we are today. So,
ATTORNEY DAVID GIBBS 19:59
And Rob, ane more thing, just ‘cuz I talked to you briefly, you had some civil conversation with her where you apologized or had a conversation in say 2015, 2016. Maybe let Julie kind of hear your recollection of what that was all about.
ROB PACIENZA 20:15
Yeah, no, that’s good. I appreciate that. David. Yeah, I think we were at like a meeting with other ministry leaders in South Florida. And I forget exactly what I said to her, but just apologized for how things ended. I know Lori’s using that as some admission of guilt. At the end of the day, I’m a I’m a I’m a pastor, I’m a Christian. I think I have apologized to every single employee that I’ve had to let go. Was it right to let the employee go? Yes. Is it justified? Yes. But does my heart still break that things ended the way they did? So that’s unfortunate she’s using that as some kind of admission of guilt or that apology should now turn into a public apology. That had more to do as one human being to another human being or in this context, one Christian to another Christian, just saying, “Sorry, how things ended.” I never want to see employees end in that way. I wish it weren’t the case. But it is what it is.
JULIE ROYS 21:16
The other voice that you heard on, there was David Gibbs. That’s the attorney for Rob and the church. A couple of things. I mean, there are some inaccuracies in what he said. You did not request $40,000 to $50,000. You requested $35,000. You didn’t ask for the church to pay for a master’s degree. Just $800 for this scholarship, correct?
LORI HARDING 21:40
JULIE ROYS 21:42
Okay. But the key issues are whether or not they had just cause to fire you. And whether it was a performance issue. I mean, were you surprised that that that’s what he said?
LORI HARDING 21:56
So surprised. I mean, that first comment, “Lori wasn’t a good employee.” And that is so hurtful hearing that. I mean, that’s the first time I’ve heard it. So you’re getting like my, like gut reaction. I’m shocked by that, quite honestly, I never had an employee evaluation at Coral Ridge. I was there almost six years–never had an evaluation. But I was promoted three times. So I guess that says something. Never, I just never had heard that before. So that’s brand new information to me. That I, “had a hard time connecting with other employees.” I mean, that is so astonishing to me. If, I don’t know, people that know me, I think that that’s what they would say if they had, you know, one of the words would be like, just Uber relational. That’s just who I am, which explains why I was in ministry positions. I mean, if you can’t connect with others, why are you in a ministry position? Why would somebody place you in a ministry position? So that just for me, that does not add up? I never I’ve never heard that before. You know, he, he contradicted himself when he said that he gave me a glowing report with the pastor for a new position. That was actually Jason Whitener. And I remember Jason told me he did speak with Rob by phone. But according to Rob, in that clip, he gave me a glowing report. But yeah, he just said I wasn’t a good employee. So he’s saying that he spoke to you know, Jason Whitener for 30 minutes and gave a glowing report. But yeah, “I wasn’t a good employee.” So I don’t understand. That, that’s confusing. Yeah, I mean, paying for the master’s degree. Oh my gosh, I would, I wouldn’t have had the nerve to ask asked for that. I would never have expected that. I mean, that’s, that’s interesting to me.
JULIE ROYS 23:42
Well, and I should mention the documents that I’ve referred to and your email with with your requests, it’s all listed in that email which you’ve shared with us. I’m going to post all of those to our website so if you just go to JulieRoys.com, podcast tab right there, you can see all of this documentation. But it does seem like the two main things again are whether you just had bad performance and they had just cause. It is interesting, I did get, you forwarded me an email from Kim Crandall who was that friend who had that conversation with Tullian that seemed to have precipitated the firing or at least came very close to when it happened. She wrote wrote you after things came out with Tullian, “There are so many things that I want to say that I’ve wanted to say for a long time.” And she says, “First I want to start with I’m sorry. While I thought I was doing the right thing with the whole DK,” which was the name of the the ministry. What was that called? The Dropping Keys ministry, which was the ministry that you were involved in. “I realize now how I allowed myself to listen too much to others instead of using my own wisdom. Over the past year before Tullian’s fall, while I was able to start seeing some things more clearly. I am sorry that I did more listening to him than I did to you. I regret allowing him to have that kind of influence over me. It was wrong and destructive in so many ways. I’m sorry, you were hurt so badly. Please forgive me for throwing away our friendship the way I did.” And and you included your response, which was, “I forgive you without reservations.” And, “Let yourself off the hook. Jesus did.” Very gracious interaction between the two of you. I did ask Rob, “Do you have any HR reports showing that there was poor performance?” And he said they didn’t do any. And I did ask for specific examples in our conversation. And he said he could not remember a specific example other than kind of the the general description he gave.** There was this claim that there was no defamation. And this is always a very difficult thing, right? Because you hear rumors, you don’t necessarily hear things directly from people. But I did reach out to a name you’d given me Debbie Viveros, who was serving as a Bible Study leader I guess there at Coral Ridge, and had sat under you and your leadership. And she described for me, and I’m going to play a clip from our conversation, how she found out when she asked somebody, a staff person about what had happened to you and why you were leaving. So I will let her speak for herself on that. And also about you and your performance there.
LORI HARDING 24:48
DEBBIE VIVEROS 26:37
I don’t remember what day of the week Lori got fired. It was like I think aThursday or a Friday, and then there was Bible study that next Tuesday. And so I came to Coral Ridge and ended up parking next to Dwayne Mellor, who was the outreach Pastor, I believe. And I saw him in the parking lot. And we chatted on the way in. And he made the comment to me that, you know, “Lori wasn’t well.” They were going to take care of her. And I think I commented that it was difficult and confusing. And then I went into a leaders meeting because we had a meeting, prior to the Bible study, actually, starting every week. There was a pastor there, Adam, and then the new worship leader’s wife had come into that meeting. And she previously had been in no women’s ministry meetings. And what was expressed was that Lori was, you know, no longer there. I don’t really I don’t really remember, but, “she wasn’t there.” And it had, “it was nothing immoral, and nothing illegal.” I was just wondering, it’s not illegal, it’s not immoral. What is it? Like what what else is there that you would remove somebody from ministry that was very well loved?
JULIE ROYS 27:46
No indication from your vantage point, because what I’ve been told by Rob Pacienza is that Lori was, just couldn’t get things done and really wasn’t good at herjob.
DEBBIE VIVEROS 27:56
From my vantage point, Lori got things done. And I mean, I felt cared for, for sure. I felt cared for in the ministry. And I feel like everybody loved her.
JULIE ROYS 28:07
So when she was fired,
DEBBIE VIVEROS 28:10
I was shocked. I was shocked. I think a lot of us were shocked. I had no indication at all that she wasn’t competent at her job. And there was no clear like replacement or anything. It was all kind of in limbo. And it was, remained in limbo for several years, I think, in terms of a women’s ministry leader.
JULIE ROYS 28:30
So it seemed unplanned, from your perspective,
DEBBIE VIVEROS 28:33
it seemed completely unplanned. From my, it was, right, like it was in the middle of a Bible study. Like, I don’t remember what week and I don’t remember what study but it was in the middle. Like, it was in, like the middle of this Bible study semester. I mean, it was hard. It was hard.
JULIE ROYS 28:51
Again, that’s Debbie Viveros, describing how it was communicated to her what had happened. A lot of questions, obviously, surrounding your firing there. But also saying that she thought you you did a a pretty great job, And people loved you. You wrote Rob an email after you got basically the same deal that you had gotten from Kellyanne and wanting you to sign NDA. You said, “no way. Not going to sign it.” But then you sent Rob an email. Would you read that email that you sent to him?
LORI HARDING 29:26
Yeah. So this is the email that I wrote to rob after I got that NDA and W-9. I said, “Rob, I am both stunned and saddened by an email I received from your executive director on Friday. I am stunned at the sterile tone of the email. I am stunned at your intent to silence me. I am stunned at the lack of pastoral care given in response to my original appeal where I admitted vulnerability regarding how all of this has affected me and my family. I am stunned that I did not hear back from you directly, regardless of the outcome. I am stunned at the insensitive way you passed me off to your executive director. I am stunned that your executive director made no mention of an apology. I am stunned that although you shared with me how you and Jen received 12 months of counseling for the trauma you both experienced, you chose to offer me $0 for counselling. I’m stunned at your assumption that I would sign an NDA. As I said in my reply to the email from your executive director, I will not sign an NDA. I am saddened that an appeal to Coral Ridge for goodness landed on deaf ears. I am saddened that like so many other churches today Coral Ridge sought legal protection, not gospel reconciliation. I am saddened that given the opportunity to rise up in the name of goodness and on behalf of the gospel, Coral Ridge chose darkness, not light. Chose position and power, not people. And chose unkindness, not love. I am saddened that the elders of Coral Ridge have forfeited an opportunity to extend mercy and grace through this situation. It is the same mercy and grace each of you have received. I am saddened that you assumed I was more interested in the money. It was never about money. It has always been about seeking justice, telling the truth and healing from the trauma inflicted upon me and my family, by the leadership of Coral Ridge. Hear me when I say I could have at any point sued Coral Ridge for slander. That was never my intent. And it’s not my intent now. It will never be my intent. I will be closing the door to this chapter of my life, not through any help on the part of Coral Ridge, but through your rejection of goodness and truth. Clearly, your clarion call to be culture shaping Christians did not inform your decision.
JULIE ROYS 31:43
LORI HARDING 31:44
JULIE ROYS 31:46
I know, obviously, from that email, but also from our conversations that this has profoundly affected you emotionally, spiritually. How have you processed what has happened within the church?
LORI HARDING 32:07
Well, I have sought counseling. And so that has been very helpful. And also pursued some other forms of, you know, healing that have really, really helped me. And I do feel like I’m in a much stronger place now and have great clarity, not just about what happened, but about who I am, who I want to be in the world going forward. A lot of really good clarity about that. So, I’m really grateful for the place that I’m in right now. But in large part, that really came from, like I said, a couple of resources. I mean, you know, kudos to Laura Barringer and Scot McKnight on their book, “A Church Called Tov,” giving a picture of not only the reality of what’s going on, but a picture of what could be. And that was really the appeal that I was making toCoral Ridge, this picture of goodness, of kindness. That it really is possible. This is not like, you know, a fairy tale. It really is possible that you can do good and be kind and exhibit “Tov.” And rather than the world looking and saying, “You’re a horrible church. You’re horrible leaders,” what would actually happen is people would say, “Thank you. Thank you for in the real world, giving us an example of what Tov looks like, of what kindness and justice looks like.” We see it so rarely in the church these days. It almost never happens. So, very appreciative of that. And then I just wanted to read something, if you would permit me from Wade Mullen’s book called, “Something’s Not Right.” That book has been so instrumental. And I read this right before my kind of declaration of Freedom Day. And he writes, “An action that might surprise everyone would be to open all the windows of the darkened house until every nook and cranny is covered in light, so that all the damage can be seen. It is to surrender to that light, even if it means there will be no possibility of retaining or regaining legitimacy. It is to put every possible contributing factor on the table for inspection, even the system itself, and to be willing to recognize that perhaps it cannot be fixed, and that something new must be created in its place.” I just think that’s such a powerful, you know, a powerful quote because we’re certainly talking about you know, a church. But I’m when I read that, I put myself in there. That being willing to put everything out there and expose it to the light, which is why I’m, you know, one of the reasons why I’m doing this podcast, to expose truth and light and some form of justice. Will I experienced justice from either of these churches? No. I don’t expect that. But it is what should be. Right? It is what should be based on truth and light. You know, it’s difficult reliving all of this. But I feel very, I guess proud, which not in a non-humble way, but proud of the work that I’ve done getting to that day where I was able to take back my voice, to give myself back agency, and to choose how I am going to be in this world, you know, a person of integrity, a person that stands for justice and truth, not just for myself, but for others. I mean, how else can you live?
JULIE ROYS 35:46
I want to thank you for the courage that you’ve exhibited, your willingness to speak out, to try for justice. I mean, I have names in my head right now, just thinking of people who have tried for justice and not gotten it. It’s hard to watch people who have already been hurt, and it always falls on the victim.
LORI HARDING 36:11
This is the fallout from this kind of spiritual abuse. The connection to God is strong. And so, questions arise and when you can’t get answers, or when you can’t see past. And I just have to say, through no fault of mine, or through no fault of anybody else’s, if they’re in that place, if they find them in that themselves in that place, “It’s okay.” I want to say like I raise that flag and say, “It is okay. Ask away. Do whatever you have to do to find your peace and your healing. And don’t let anybody tell you, ‘you’re not doing it right.'”
JULIE ROYS 36:53
Well, thank you. Those are powerful words. I appreciate it. And I appreciate you being willing to speak out and to speak with me. So thanks again, Lori,
LORI HARDING 37:01
Of course, thank you for the opportunity to talk with you.
JULIE ROYS 37:04
And thanks so much for listening to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. If you’d like to connect with me online, just go to JulieRoys.com. Also just a quick reminder to subscribe to the Roys Report on Apple podcast, Google podcast, Spotify or YouTube. 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 this 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 have a great day and God bless.
Email from Dana Allin to Julie Roys – Aug. 10, 2021
Email from Lori Harding to Rob Pacienza – Aug. 17, 2021
Email from Lori Harding to Rob Pacienza – Sept. 2, 2021
Email from Lori Harding to Rob Pacienza – Oct. 2, 2021
Email from Kimm Crandall to Lori Harding – Nov. 15, 2015
7 thoughts on “Survivor Claims Spiritual Abuse at Coral Ridge Presbyterian, Part 2”
I find commonality between: what Lori reports of her experience; and what I experienced, when supporting autistic young people in care & education settings, and again when advocating for colleagues in such settings. Essentially, the voice and report of the individual reporting harming by the collective process (be they student, resident or staff), tended to receive rejection (which became progressively more aggressive if the individual voice continued to press).
Where the Church is taken to be the representation of Christ, I can then see and accept that this secondary harming (as the collective response to report of primary harming) ends designated “spiritual abuse”. Where a different meaning informs a setting, as it tends to in education and care (in the UK): the designation of “abuse” might be applied; while the “spiritual” designation might be displaced by an emphasis on social-psychological process and various ‘rights’.
The destructive effect on the individual, plays out similarly. Likewise the all-consuming aspect of taking a case further and forward. Likewise the need to develop new perspectives and language and alliances to shine light on what is playing out.
That was really interesting. I can’t help thinking how differently this could have gone in a normal employment situation, in which, for example, Ms. Harding would have had regular performance evaluations from her supervisor and department manager, eliminating the possibility of a long-after-the-fact assertion that she was “not a good employee.” There would have been a standard HR process, with documentation, if she were going to be fired, rather than a sudden, secret meeting designed to shock and paralyze her.
There would have been up-front salary negotiations when she took the new position, rather than a direction to “have faith” that the organization would look after her.
I understand that standard employment law doesn’t always apply to ministers of different kinds, but that doesn’t mean ministers can’t insist, before accepting a job, on real world employment practices.
Cynthia, well said. Attempts to institute best practices at a church are sometimes met with comments such as “we’re a ministry, not a business.” That’s a poor excuse for not implementing good HR policies and procedures.
Also, churches are often exempt from paying state and federal unemployment taxes, so terminated employees cannot collect benefits while seeking other work. This may explain why Harding included lost wages in her compensation request. Being fired is thus made worse by an immediate lack of income.
Excellent point about unemployment benefits. That crossed my mind while I was listening to the podcast.
It is amazing to hear the similarities to what we experienced at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale where Tullian’s brother Stephan was on the board. Incredible spiritual abuse, sexual abuse, threats, NDAs and so much more.
Sadly, this podcast was too similar to my own experience to my own that I couldn’t even finish listening. It was too painful to hear a repeat of my story. Thank you so much to the Roys Report for sharing stories like this one, which are validating, honest, eye-opening, and unfortunately so many people can relate to.
I re-listened just beginning at CEO Rob’s statement. Even if I hadn’t heard from Lori, I’d wonder: 1: Why frame it as only a request for severance pay when there was also a request for a public apology? 2: Why repeat about giving her time off for personal issues? Irrelevant. 3: Why repeat the word “victimhood” and pretend he doesn’t know whether “true victims” ask for their graduate degrees to be funded? 4. Why would any CEO in his right mind give a glowing recommendation to a bad employee’s prospective new employer? (Did he do this for TT to help him be hired by another Presbyterian church?) 5: How much of the giving units’ hard-earned tithes and offerings went to the lawyer to help the CEO craft his statement? They’ll never know. (If you’re a current employee, don’t ask, or you’ll find yourself unemployed for poor performance.)
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