On March 12, 2019, Christ Community Chapel lead pastor Joe Coffey sent an email to church members regarding Sankey. Coffey shared the following information:
- CCC had begun a review into the sexual abuse allegations at Sankey and CCC’s organizational response in September 2018.
- The person conducting the review was Suzanne Lewis-Johnson, a member of CCC.
- The findings from the review would be released upon completion, and until then CCC did not plan to speak about Sankey publicly. No expected completion date was given.
Coffey’s email raises key questions: why wasn’t the review announced when it began in September 2018, and what had Lewis-Johnson been doing for the past six months? The email doesn’t say. What we do know is:
- None of the local church members/attenders who had reached out to CCC were contacted by Lewis-Johnson at the time of the email.
- None of the whistleblowers in the Philippines had been contacted by Lewis-Johnson. (One received a message from CCC Communications Director Stacey DiNardo in September 2018 announcing that an investigation was beginning, but no further contact.)
- Neither of the two victims who made public statements in November 2018 were contacted either.
Meanwhile, Tom Randall actually went to the Philippines and met with the Sankey youth. It’s hard to imagine an independent investigation allowing Randall, a person under scrutiny, to meet and provide gifts to key witnesses during the investigation.
Coffey wrote that Lewis-Johnson’s review was being conducted “without influence or involvement by any CCC staff member or elder.” But later the same day, Suzanne Lewis-Johnson published a statement on CCC’s website describing her involvement and clearly showing her ties with CCC and its leadership. Note the following:
Lewis-Johnson discloses a prior friendship/relationship with Joe Coffey. When she had wanted the church to become more involved in anti-human-trafficking efforts, Coffey had encouraged her: “Instead of telling me to get rid of the plank in my own eye, [Joe Coffey] connected me with leadership who oversaw local outreach, so I could get on my soapbox some more.”
Lewis-Johnson claims that CCC approached her and asked her to review the Sankey case. She says she initially refused. (Interestingly, CCC spokesperson Stacey DiNardo described the relationship differently: “There is a loose association with one individual that even honestly reached out to us that is in correlation with it.“)
Lewis-Johnson claims she and CCC were both unable to find anyone else qualified to do the review. Yet the organization GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) had been suggested and would have met all the requested qualifications. CCC spokesperson Stacey DiNardo claimed that GRACE was disqualified because the Mauks had reached out to them, which is both irrelevant and inaccurate–the Mauks did not contact GRACE. In any case, Lewis-Johnson says she eventually agreed to conduct the review on a volunteer basis. She asked CCC not to disclose her identity at first.
Lewis-Johnson again discloses a trusting relationship with CCC leadership and Joe Coffey. She says she shared preliminary findings with CCC leadership and she was pleased with their response, which “encouraged” her to be bold and “pursue Truth.” Joe Coffey told her he trusted her because of her previous advocacy for exploited children.
As a former FBI agent, Lewis-Johnson should be aware that even one of these connections (church member, financial ties through RAHAB Ministries, prior relationship with church leadership) would require her to recuse herself from this investigation. Yet she continued to insist she could and would be objective despite her association with CCC. She even claimed that her bias, if anything, would be against CCC. Unfortunately, while Ms. Johnson’s claims may be well-intentioned and her character may be one of integrity, her involvement does not pass the basic requirements for an independent and unbiased investigation.
The full text of the statements can be viewed below.
Mar 12, 2019 email from Joe Coffey
From: Joe Coffey <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Tue, Mar 12, 2019, 10:29 AM
Subject: CCC Family Update
Dear CCC Family,
The following is a brief update regarding the 2013 allegations of abuse at Sankey Samaritan Orphanage in the Philippines and the current action that we are taking. We wanted you to receive this directly from me, and to know that we are available for any questions or concerns.
Seeking to make Jesus famous,
In September 2018, Christ Community Chapel’s leadership team and board of elders initiated a review into the 2013 allegations of abuse at Sankey Samaritan Orphanage in Lucena City, Philippines in addition to the organizational response to the allegations.
Sankey Samaritan was funded by World Harvest Ministries, which became a ministry of CCC in 2014. As the legal process proceeded in the Philippines and even after the last of the charges were provisionally dismissed in 2016, CCC continued to receive questions from concerned individuals regarding the case which prompted the initiation of this review. CCC desires transparency and truth in addition to our commitment to pursuing justice and mercy, especially for society’s most vulnerable. Also, CCC desires to know if there are ways in which we could have better-pursued justice in this situation to determine responsibility and seek to best honor Christ through our organizational conduct.
The person conducting the review is Suzanne Lewis-Johnson. Suzanne is a member of CCC who has served ten years as a federal investigator of child exploitation and human trafficking cases before her involvement with RAHAB Ministries. RAHAB is a ministry that works to fight against human trafficking in Akron and the surrounding areas. Her review is being conducted without influence or involvement by any CCC staff member or elder. If you have firsthand information or documentation that is pertinent to this situation, we encourage you to contact Suzanne at email@example.com.
We are grateful to Attorney Martinez, the attorney involved in the criminal case in the Philippines, for graciously allowing Suzanne access to legal documentation connected to the case, including affidavits, investigative reports, and court documents. We are also profoundly grateful to those both here in Northeast Ohio and around the world who continue to fight tirelessly for justice and mercy for the vulnerable. When Suzanne completes her review, her findings will be released. Until that time we do not plan to speak publicly regarding this situation. In the meantime, if you have questions or concerns, we encourage you to ask them, and we welcome the opportunity for conversation. Please contact Stacey.DiNardo@ccchapel.com with any questions or concerns.
Mar 12, 2019 email from Stacey DiNardo
From: Stacey DiNardo <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Tue, Mar 12, 2019, 10:44 AM
Subject: CCC Family Update **Correction
We apologize, but there is a small correction to our recent family update email. If you have firsthand information or documentation that is pertinent to this situation, we encourage you to contact Suzanne at email@example.com.
Mar 12, 2019 statement from Suzanne Lewis-Johnson
I left the FBI in May 2018 because I believed I could do more to protect freedom by leading RAHAB than I could by conducting investigations.
During ten years of investigating human trafficking and child exploitation matters, I saw that human trafficking truly is the modern-day slavery it’s often called. It’s the manifestation in the physical realm of the spiritual slavery introduced in the garden when evil took all of humanity into captivity.
Those who traffic and exploit use the snake’s weapon–deception–to conceal their actions with false narratives and to physically enslave women, children and even men.
I realized through my investigations, and by reading my Bible from cover to cover, that Love and Truth in the flesh is the antidote to the physical and spiritual slavery brought by the snake’s venom.
From parting the Red Sea to Calvary, God is in the business of setting people free through Love and Truth in the flesh.
We’re called to let Love and Truth live through us to continue that story.
As an FBI Agent, that meant finding facts, so they could be placed on the record in the judicial system. It meant loving my neighbor by treating victims, witnesses and even subjects with compassion, so they could be safe to tell their stories.
As an investigator, I wrestled with having too few resources. I wrestled with the lack of accessible corroborating evidence for dark deeds done in secret, with judges who downward departed from sentencing guidelines, with prosecutors who weren’t allowed to pursue cases they might lose and with defense attorneys who worked to get guilty clients off on technicalities.
I saw from a unique perspective that law enforcement alone isn’t the answer, although it’s important and can be a deterrent to some extent. But sadly, prosecuted cases are only the very tip of the iceberg.
As much as I wrestled with the system’s imperfect reflection of divine justice yet to come, I wrestled more with the collective Church’s failure to live what it said it believed.
I saw women and children dying in slavery in my own backyard, while RAHAB seemed too slow to open more safe housing and grow services. At times, law enforcement operations to identify victims seemed almost futile, when victims couldn’t be moved out of traffickers’ clutches to safe, trauma-informed places.
As an FBI Agent, I couldn’t publicly ask where the American Church was in supporting this work to a greater degree, but I could communicate with my own pastor. I fired off an email to Joe Coffey. Instead of telling me to get rid of the plank in my own eye, he connected me with leadership who oversaw local outreach, so I could get on my soapbox some more.
When I realized I needed to live what I believed by investing more in RAHAB personally, I left the FBI to lead RAHAB in fulfilling a vision of growing RAHAB locally and replicating RAHAB broadly. With completion of that vision, no one will be trafficked for lack of safe places or people to live the Love and Truth that counteracts enslaving lies.
After I left the FBI, Christ Community Chapel asked me to review the church’s response to allegations of abuse at Sankey Samaritan Orphanage in the Philippines.
I rejected that role as a distraction from what I’d been called to do at RAHAB.
I recommended CCC entrust the work to a different former law enforcement officer and attempted to identify one with the following qualifications, to ensure recognition of critical context and to ensure competence compiling facts in non-argumentative written form:
- Extensive experience interviewing child victims.
- Extensive experience interrogating child abuse subjects.
- Familiarity with judicial systems and criminal proceedings.
- Experience drafting affidavits presented for a Judge’s consideration.
- Familiarity with Evangelical worldview and Biblical ministry.
When neither CCC nor I were able to identify an available former law enforcement officer who met the criteria, I reluctantly committed to review records on a volunteer basis.
I asked CCC not to disclose my identity during initial stages to avoid confusion with my role at RAHAB. At first, I committed only to organizing facts, with original sources attached, to equip church leaders and others to independently judge and interpret based on their own scrutiny of the evidence.
When some asked for feedback and an assessment of conduct, I said that wasn’t my role. But eventually, I realized I had landed in this place for a reason, and those asking for candid feedback about their actions deserved to receive it.
When I shared where preliminary information could be leading, based on emergence of familiar patterns, CCC leadership encouraged me to be bold in speaking what I saw and to document any areas of concern I encountered.
Rather than disparaging me, as I’ve heard of in other churches, or targeting me for retribution, as I’ve encountered elsewhere, CCC encouraged me to pursue Truth, regardless of what it illuminated. In fact, Joe Coffey told me he trusted me precisely because of the “ferocity” with which I had advocated to him for exploited children in the past.
Any of us willing to scrutinize our own actions or decisions will likely find what we could have done differently, and I hope those calling for account in this instance will invite accountability of their own conduct to the same degree.
While I’ve reviewed material from several perspectives, important pieces still need to be pursued and processed. I look forward to others responding with the same humility I’ve encountered until this juncture.
During this review of around a thousand pages to date, some have publicly claimed a role in pertinent events and indicated they possess evidence outside the scope of what I’ve seen. I encourage anyone with information connected to CCC’s conduct to provide it to the church.
First-hand information relevant to the review may also be provided directly to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any such communication should fully identify the sender and how and when each piece of information was obtained, so that sources and authenticity may be verified.
Argumentative messages attempting to persuade of the righteousness of a particular position will be ignored as attempts to sway the outcome. No response will be provided to questions or requests for comment for the duration of the review. RAHAB staff have been instructed not to forward communications related to this matter, so please use the above email to ensure all important information reaches me.
Some have described this situation as having two contingents or perspectives—CCC’s and that of a group of advocates. Each supposed side has been accused of bias for being too close to the situation, blinded by affection or connection–with the church alleged to be unable to admit sin among their own and the advocates alleged to be projecting their own history of abuse or that of someone close to them onto the situation.
If concerns that no one from one supposed side could see the other were valid, I would be blind to both of them.
Not only am I a member of CCC, but the stories coming from the children of Sankey and my own share a common thread.
Not just from my experience in the FBI, not just from my work with RAHAB, but from some of my own earliest recollections I know the shame that silences, the fear of being returned to that place and the betrayal by someone I expected to be a protector.
That bias or blindness is inevitable is false.
It helps to conduct a self-assessment of the experiences we bring. They can be a hindrance or a benefit.
Personal experience can help us understand nuances we might not otherwise see and give us insight to ask better questions.
It can also lead us to make logical leaps and assumptions. Even if we’ve seen or experienced something many times before, we need to question how we know it’s the same in this instance.
After benefitting from the insight and knowledge personal experiences bring, good investigators step outside of their own perspective. This is imperative in every investigation of any kind because everyone views life through a lens.
Real factfinders identify critical questions to examine their own suppositions, and every piece of information presented. For every “fact,” they ask, “How do I know it’s True?”
That would be a valuable practice for anyone living in a culture polarized by politics, posts, and tweets. Too often we determine in our own minds what is True and then shift information to support a position. When spin takes Truth even a tiny bit off track, Truth isn’t Truth at all.
If any of us believe we have the perfect corner on Truth, or that a particular group does, we’ve been deceived again into the slavery of the original prideful sin. We’ve placed ourselves or that entity in the place of God. We will only know complete and perfect Truth when the One who is Truth reveals it at the end of time.
In the meantime, although we all see through a filter, in this fallen world, we can know Truth to some degree, and the objective of this review is to present what can be known to CCC.
To be transparent, there is a bias I struggle to move beyond– frustration with the American Church. In my mind, the support for efforts to end exploitation don’t come close to being enough, and it will never be enough until there are no more stories to be told like those coming from the Philippines, like those I hear at RAHAB, or like mine.
Since taking on this review, I’ve been reluctant for RAHAB to continue conversations with CCC or supporters we’ve had in common with the Philippines orphanage; however, I was wrong to let fear of potential critics’ conflation slow our progress. Questions about conduct in one place should not cause withdrawal of life-saving support to end exploitation in another location.
Despite CCC’s knowledge of what could be perceived as my having bias against them, I’ve been asked to finish this review. As a result, absent identification of a willing former law enforcement officer meeting the identified criteria, I will stay the course until completion.