First things first: I believe Taylor Peyton.
Peyton, now 20, began abusing drugs at the age of 14. By the fall of 2013, she was estranged from her Ohio family, had been through multiple rehabs, and had a record for drug possession. After a trip to a San Diego hospital for alcohol poisoning, Peyton ended up on David Powers’ doorstep — literally. Powers (54) and his wife Tina owned ABC Sober Living, with several homes in San Diego. The women’s recovery house was full, so Powers invited Peyton to move in with him and his wife. According to the complaint, almost immediately he asked her if she could feel the “sexual tension” between them. Over the next four months, Powers escalated his attacks. In January, in the backyard of one of his properties, he sexually assaulted her.
Now Peyton and five other ABC Sober Living clients or staffers have filed a lawsuit against David and Tina Powers, ABC Sober Living — and The Rock Church, one of the nation’s fastest-growing evangelical megachurches. (June 13 update: seven more women have joined the lawsuit, bringing the victim total to 13). You see, until this story broke, David Powers had been the leader of the Rock Recovery Ministry. The Rock Church often referred its members to Powers’ treatment facilities; they offered scholarships to help people attend Powers’ programs; in 2009 they honored David and Tina Powers as “Rock Heroes.” Powers required all of his residential clients to attend the 90-minute Sunday worship service at The Rock. David Powers was not a pastor, but it’s hard to imagine that these women didn’t see him as a Rock Church spiritual leader and even a kind of savior. The lawsuit spells it out: each of these women “has suffered and continues to suffer spiritually.”
The story, which Buzzfeed broke four days ago (trigger warning for predatory grooming and sexual abuse), is making news around the world, but it is happening right here in my town. David Powers’ office is less than a mile from my home. When sexual/spiritual abuse happens practically in my front yard, I can’t stay on the sidelines. Since The Rock Church’s staff directory doesn’t include an email address for their celebrity pastor, I’m publishing my thoughts as…
An Open Letter to Pastor Miles McPherson
Dear Pastor Miles,
I am glad The Rock Church is temporarily removing David Powers from leadership of the Rock Recovery Ministry. Even if this is a defensive posture in response to the recent lawsuit, the church’s decision sends a message to potential abusers: The Rock Church will not protect or defend sexual predators.
Regardless of the outcome in this case, I hope The Rock Church will go a step further. When a ministry leader is accused of sexual misconduct, it’s not enough to remove that person from leadership. The church also needs to make sure the abuse doesn’t happen again. To protect your congregation from abuse and your church from legal risk, The Rock should:
1. Thoroughly review all ministries that serve children or vulnerable adults, whether inside or outside church walls. Ensure that all ministries follow safe church practices to minimize the risk of abuse.
2. Establish a reporting mechanism for sexual misconduct. Publish regular notices that define sexual misconduct and abuse, and tell church and ministry attendees how and to whom they can report concerns.
3. Establish a process for responding to claims of sexual misconduct. The process should minimize trauma to complainants, hold offenders accountable, and protect the congregation from further harm.
4. Educate The Rock’s congregations about sexual abuse in a spiritual environment: what it is, what it does to victims, and how The Rock Church’s ministers are working to prevent it.
5. Require all ministry leaders to attend training in healthy boundaries and sexual ethics. Many ministers may believe that it is okay to pursue a romantic relationship with a ministry member. They may not understand how damaging those relationships are to all parties.
The Rock Church may find these resources helpful.
The FaithTrust Institute offers training and educational materials to help churches respond to and prevent sexual abuse in all environments.
The Hope of Survivors offers training and educational materials on clergy sexual abuse/misconduct, and ministers directly to victims and survivors.
As a survivor of sexual misconduct in a church environment, I now work with national leaders to make churches safer. I am very familiar with this issue and with the best resources for churches. I would be glad to answer questions or offer any support as The Rock Church responds to these events.
With best regards,