Many of Christian Courier’s readers will know Bruxy Cavey – the larger-than-life hippie pastor of Oakville’s The Meeting House megachurch – and they may even have family and friends who attend one of the 20 different remote sites in Southern Ontario (with 90 worldwide venues in 33 countries, as of December 2021). The disappointing news is that he is facing allegations of sexual misconduct, as his chair of overseers publicly announced on Dec. 6. A woman approached the overseers board just a week earlier and now Cavey has been placed on a leave of absence while an independent third-party investigation takes place.
This is not the sort of publicity any church wants, and it will feed the easy cynicism that already mars the Christian public witness in our secular age. The news was almost immediately in the Toronto Citynews, The Washington Post and a Dutch church paper Nederlands Dagblad.
What is to be gained by drawing attention to this here?
Shaping a conversation. This news repeats a dreadful pattern, and such bad news is not just in large churches. There are 1,800 megachurches in North America, and we only hear about the relatively small sample that have been scandalized. The media select what they report and the unscrupulous evangelist stereotype becomes an easy go-to reference point. But really, sexual indiscretions, abuses of power and dastardly fraud disrupt all sizes of church, all religions, and all cultural sectors. Don’t be fooled. There are no statistics that show megachurch pastors are more prone to such sin. Wherever two or three are gathered, it seems, there will be trouble. We know comedians, doctors, radio hosts and movie directors have been implicated in similar abuses. That it happens in a church, however, seems worse, and so we need to talk.
We need to talk about relationships at work, and the roles of perpetrators, victims, by-standers and managers. We need to talk about the courage to speak up, accountability, board responses, legal liabilities, and how best to communicate and when. We need to talk about charisma, desire, power, leadership and character. We need to talk about the role of the church in preventing, perpetuating and addressing these tragedies. We need to talk about congregation members who feel betrayed, disillusioned and possibly faith-bruised. We can speculate about megachurches, celebrity status and the influence of the media and the internet, too. But we should remember that it’s something that also happens in our communities.
We don’t want to sensationalize such announcements, especially at this point. But keeping quiet about these failures has its own liabilities.
The news especially smarts because Pastor Cavey and his tattoos promised us that he was not going to be like those other pastors. His whole persona and branding was based on the vision of a church that was more like a counter-culture’s Jesus and less like the now-defamed evangelical trope of prosperity, politics and emotional hype. So it feels like there is a lot riding on the facts of this sad case.
Towards the hard conversations
I spent four years studying his ironic posture as a leader and wrote a book on his “irreligious” spirituality. I vouched that his spiritual vision was ripe for our times, and was directly addressing some of the ambivalence Canadians have for the Christian faith. This is not hyper-masculine Mars Hill, Seattle. I met many former Reformed folks in The Meeting House who were hoping to try on a fresh expression of faith in pacifist Anabaptist garb.
Certainly, I have some critical distance from The Meeting House. I’ve heard both the best and the worst of it. Still, this news hits close to home.
I am reminded that what we have here are allegations. No police are involved, no crime has been named. The investigation may take months. In the meantime, The Meeting House has offered professional counselling to the woman who came forward with allegations and they have ready funds to do the same for any of its distraught membership, which numbers in the thousands.
People will speculate, prejudge and gossip. But we can direct our speech in more edifying ways, towards the hard conversations that need to take place in our own communities. Can these scenarios ever resolve with a mixture of justice and redemption? History suggests some sobriety. The consequences may be substantial. Our core gospel virtues may not be fully realized on this side of heaven. But they can at least be part of the conversation.
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