There are at least three different characterizations of the wrongdoing that has left The Meeting House megachurch without its Teaching Pastors.
A three-month third-party investigation into the allegations of sexual misconduct against pastor Bruxy Cavey has determined that he is guilty of abusing his pastoral power and authority and this misconduct amounted to sexual harassment. The results of the investigation were released to the congregation through an online “Town Hall” meeting for the church on the evening of March 8.
On that same day, Cavey posted a confession on his blog, carefully stating that “at the core of the allegations there is truth.” The way he sees it, the relationship was “an extramarital affair” that took place years ago for which he takes “full responsibility” and he is “sorry upon sorry” that his cowardice prevented him from coming forward earlier.
This official report was pre-empted on Twitter by the other Teaching Pastor at The Meeting House – Danielle Strickland. She tweeted on March 7 that she was resigning from TMH “in solidarity with the victim of abuse” and that she would be releasing a statement from the victim at the same time as the originally slated release of the official report.
The victim’s statement was read on Instagram March 9th and it maintains that the proper description of the relationship was “clergy sexual abuse” because it took place in the context of a pastoral encounter. She was aged 23 at the time (Cavey was 46) and she had come to him for crisis counseling. “This for me was *NOT* an extra marital relationship or affair,” she declared, and she is coming forward to speak of how such abuse can be prevented in the future.
TMH board (called “overseers”) asked Cavey to resign from his pastoral role and he submitted his resignation back on March 3. The Be in Christ denomination has removed his ministerial credentials.
Thousands of church members are distraught and bewildered, suddenly bereft of their Teaching Pastors. Social media is inundated with strong feelings – including anger, forgiveness and sorrow. Some say they feel “punched in the gut.” Others ask why a teaching pastor was doing crisis counselling. Others say that since the victim declares in her statement “I did not, nor could I, consent to a sexual relationship” that stronger terminology (i.e. rape) is the proper language, even though that word isn’t used in the victim’s own testimony. Yet others are forlorn that TMH is pulling down all videos of Cavey’s teaching: “those sermons saved my faith and I would like the ability to access them.”
There is more to the story and it will take time to see how TMH and the BIC denomination manage the logistical and pastoral issues that remain. CC has written before about abuse in the church, including Reformed churches; most recently there was my review of the podcast The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, the story of the monumental success and the humiliating failure of hyper-masculinist pastor Mark Driscoll. Cavey was a gentle and winsome Anabaptist foil to Driscoll’s Reformed in-your-face bully pulpit, but both shared connections to pop culture, the emergent church, and a sprawling multi-site structure with centralized leadership. While the charismatic styles of these two pastors couldn’t be more different, the way that charisma was celebrated and extended – especially through electronic media – was similar.
It’s worth noting that all the announcements described above took place online – a tweet, a virtual confession, a church Zoom meeting. Public digital platforms bring a wider, more distant, public into these heartbreaking and intense church family conversations. Face-to-face encounters were limited, and a war of words and competition for hits and likes ensued. This is a travesty of megachurch multi-site life, exacerbated by COVID.
Not Just Megachurches
Abuse is not just a large church problem. Angela Bick has written about giving special attention to the experience of survivors, as discussed in the Addressing Abuse of Power Report from the Christian Reformed Church. According to the report, allegations of abuse in the church are typically denied, downplayed or dismissed. The #MeToo movement (and now #ChurchToo) has been a gift to the church in this way: survivors of abuse are no longer willing to be silent. The report offers recommendations for life-affirming and faith-affirming responses, as well as training towards prevention.
Some have given TMH leadership good grades on their response to the report of abuse. The victim came forward on November 30th, Cavey was put on leave by Dec. 6th and a third-party investigation began soon after. They offered to finance the counselling of the victim and any church members who were distraught. But this contentiousness around how to name what actually happened is significant, and it is divisive.
In November 2021, Cavey perhaps had premonitions of what was coming. In a sermon entitled “Mending Our Nets” he asked, “Where is the church fractured? Where am I fractured, damaged from the past? Who is hurting because of things done to them and how have I participated in that?” He talks about the Christian faith as a project of mending what is broken. In fact, he calls Christianity a “repentance movement.”
The stories of abuse in our churches are stacking up. There are always multiple victims in an event like this, and so we should imagine our congregations as oversupplied with victims. Both John the Baptist and Jesus proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” This was first preached to God’s people, not to the pagan outsiders. In this cultural season, we are being called to a more earnest reckoning as a church. Something is wrong, something is unravelling and we must be changed.