Last week, one of those male students called to inform me of allegations that Mr. Rice had sexually assaulted him on multiple occasions. While these remain allegations at this point, we are treating them as credible because of the source of the allegations and corroborating evidence we have discovered. Immediately, I informed the police and called a meeting of our church elders. At that meeting, the elders unanimously voted to once again contract with GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) to conduct another independent investigation into these new discoveries. We are determined to uncover the extent of the alleged abuse, along with any way our church and the leadership at that time may have been complicit.
A Public Statement from Pastor Robert Cunningham
Thursday, October 15, 2020
In 2019, our church submitted to an independent investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by a former pastor of our church, Brad Waller. The findings of that investigation tragically revealed that, indeed, multiple students in our youth ministry were abused during Waller’s tenure at TCPC.
In response to these findings, I preached a sermon on June 23, 2019, where I said the following to our congregation:
I fear a growing weariness within our congregation with this. “This happened over a decade ago. The pastor is long gone. We’ve been dealing with this for a year. Can’t we just move on?” My gentle yet firm answer to that is no, we will not just move on from it, because the survivors are not afforded that luxury. We will, of course, get back to the normal rhythms of church life, but we will never “move on” from this. It will remain a historical failure of this institution, and if decades from now another survivor or new allegations come forward, then our church will be ready and eager to go right back into it with them.
We are deeply heartbroken to inform the public that new allegations of abuse have indeed come to us, but we are committed to our promise to address them with the severity they deserve.
On multiple occasions between 1995 and 2003, a musician named Chris Rice was hired to lead worship at our youth and college retreats. Mr. Rice was not an employee or member of our congregation, but was close friends with the previously-investigated Brad Waller. Through his involvement in our ministry, Mr. Rice developed close relationships with multiple students.
Last week, one of those male students called to inform me of allegations that Mr. Rice had sexually assaulted him on multiple occasions. While these remain allegations at this point, we are treating them as credible because of the source of the allegations and corroborating evidence we have discovered.
Immediately, I informed the police and called a meeting of our church elders. At that meeting, the elders unanimously voted to once again contract with GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) to conduct another independent investigation into these new discoveries. We are determined to uncover the extent of the alleged abuse, along with any way our church and the leadership at that time may have been complicit.
Moving forward, allow us to answer some anticipated questions:
Is this necessary if Chris Rice was not an official employee or member of our church?
Yes. First, Mr. Rice was paid to lead music at our retreats, and therefore technically was a hired independent contractor providing services for TCPC. But regardless, if this individual had not been involved in our youth ministry, he would not have been exposed to Mr. Rice. Therefore, it is our responsibility to do an investigation, and to institutionally repent of what is uncovered.
Was anyone in leadership aware this was taking place?
We currently have no knowledge that any staff members or church officers of our congregation knew of this alleged abuse. If any leaders knew or were complicit, we trust that will be discovered in the investigation.
Is there more than one victim of this alleged abuse?
At this point, only one survivor has come to us with allegations. That said, if there are others, we urge you to come to us with that information (please email me at [email protected]). I assure you that you will find a safe, loving, and confidential place to share your story. If you are uncomfortable with coming forward, but want to help in the investigation, GRACE will once again be creating an anonymous way for you to share your story that only they will see.
Being that Chris Rice is a well-known Christian artist, with wide-ranging exposure to many churches and ministries, will this investigation cover any and all allegations that may potentially surface?
The focus of our investigation will be limited exclusively to our church. However, we do want other churches and ministries where Mr. Rice has been involved to know that we view this allegation as credible, and urge you to look into your own unique situation for any potential harm.
Those questions aside, I would like to offer a closing word to four groups of people:
To the survivor, or any potential survivors of this alleged abuse:
My deepest apology is reserved for you. I have wept at the thought of a high school student being exposed to this alleged abuse because of their involvement at the church I love and pastor. I am so sorry. I want you to know that all of this transparency, urgency, and energy is for you, and I pray that it will bring some measure of healing to your story. We also understand that this process might be painful for survivors of sexual abuse unrelated to these allegations. So I want to say, to any and all victims of any and all sexual abuse, we grieve with you, and pray that you will not hold the sins of those who claim to follow Jesus against Jesus.
To the outside community:
I’m sorry that once again a local church in your community finds itself investigating what should never happen at a church. While this allegedly took place over a decade ago, this is still our past and our institutional sin to own. And so we own it. Our vision statement is “We exist for the glory of Christ and the good of the Bluegrass,” and sexual abuse is the very antithesis of that vision. It dishonors Christ, and is horrible for the Bluegrass, and so we ask your forgiveness. You deserve local churches that are safe places for the vulnerable and intolerant places for predators, and we pledge to continue to make every effort to be that for our community.
To the TCPC community:
I know you will receive this news the same way I did, heartbroken and devastated. And it’s understandable that you will worry what it will mean for the reputation of our church. But I want to encourage you, as I did before, to resist that fear. The theme of our last investigation was “Righteousness Over Reputation,” and that needs to be our priority once again. Above all, remember that our God is faithful to bring beauty from ashes, redeeming what sin has laid waste. I could share countless stories of His faithfulness from our last investigation, and I fully trust Him to do the same with this one.
To the Media:
We understand that because Chris Rice is a well-known Christian figure, this investigation could receive a lot of attention. Our leadership has decided to name me as the exclusive point person for all media correspondence, so I am the only one free to comment. Please know that we are trying to be as honest and forthright as possible from the beginning, and there’s nothing more that I’m free to say than what is already in this statement. That being said, we are committed to public transparency, so please feel free to reach out, and I’ll do my best to accommodate. You can do so by sending an email to [email protected].
That is all we know to share at this time. Once the investigation is complete, we will follow up with the findings and further public communications.
Once again, I am very sorry. This is but another reminder that no church can commend its own faithfulness, but only the faithfulness of our Savior.
Robert H. Cunningham
Email: [email protected]