Image of convicted child molestor Jack Schaap, whose sermons Reformers Unanimous recommends to its students (including Josh Duggar).
Earlier this week Josh Duggar checked into Reformers Unanimous (RU), a Christian residential addiction treatment program in Rockford, Illinois, run by North Love Baptist Church and co-founded by the church’s authoritarian Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor, Paul Kingsbury. Over the past twenty-four-hours, I have spoken with a number of individuals involved with or affected by either North Love or Kingsbury. Of primary importance are allegations that Kingsbury is actively supporting an accused sex offender, Richard DeVall, who is serving as a missionary in Bolivia and is sponsored by North Love Baptist Church. If true, this would seem to disqualify Kingsbury from running a recovery program for individuals suffering from porn addiction and sex addiction*, but Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches seem to run by their own rules.
There are some striking similarities here. After Josh Duggar molested his younger sisters as a teenager, he was sent to one of Bill Gothard’s training centers to take part in a construction program while receiving Christian mentoring. A decade later, Bill Gothard resigned after several dozen women leveled accusations of sexual abuse against him. This time Josh has been sent to Reformers Unanimous, a program founded by a church that has a history of involvement in Gothard’s Institute for Basic Life Principles and which focuses on physical labor and Bible study. Paul Kingsbury, co-founder and chair of Reformers Unanimous, is alleged to be providing financial support through his church to an accused sex offender who has refused to return to the country to face charges. In other words, the Duggars appear to have sent Josh for round two of the same failed treatment.
In this article, I will lay out the case against Kingsbury in four sections. First I will examine Kingsbury’s relationship with Jack Schaap, who was convicted in 2013 of violating the Mann Act by transporting a minor across state lines for sex. Next I will look at Kingsbury’s alleged role in preventing accused sex offender Richard DeVall from coming to justice. Third, I will examine Kingsbury’s alleged history of failing to notify parishioners and others when a known sex offender is in their midst. Finally, I will look at the strict authoritarian manner in which Kingsbury allegedly runs North Love Baptist Church. I will finish by turning back to the Duggars and tying together some of the overarching themes running through this story.
Kingsbury’s Relationship with Convicted Abuser Jack Schaap
According to his bio on the North Love website, Kingsbury “surrendered to serve Christ with his life under the preaching ministry of Dr. Jack Hyles of Hammond, Indiana” and went on to graduate from Hyles-Anderson College. Jack Hyles spent the last decade of his life embroiled in controversy over a child sexual abuse coverup in his church. His son-in-law, Jack Schaap, who succeeded him as pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond after his death in 2001, is currently serving a twelve year prison sentence for violating the Mann Act in connection with a sexual relationship with 16- and 17-year-old parishioner. During the trial, it came to light that Schaap had groomed the minor during counseling sessions and had sex with her in his office.
Kingsbury’s relationship with First Baptist Church of Hamnond and Hyles-Anderson is longstanding. Dan Parsons, who attended a Christian school run by North Love in the late 1970s and taught at the same school in the late 1980s, told me that students from the school were taken annually to youth conferences at Hyles-Anderson. Indeed, Kingsbury appears to maintain a relationship with First Baptist Church of Hammond and Hyles-Anderson to this day—he spoke at a Bible conference at First Baptist Church of Hammond only months after Schaap was sentenced.
Further, First Baptist Church of Hammond operates a chapter of Reformers Unanimous. This program was first brought to the church by now-imprisoned Jack Schaap. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that a sermon by Jack Schaap remains on a list of sermons Reformers Unanimous “recommends heartily” to RU students. According to Chicago magazine, Schaap was “part of what some call a deeply embedded culture of misogyny and sexual and physical abuse.” I was unable to find Kingsbury’s response to Schaap’s conviction, but I did find comments by one of his parishioners condemning those who would condemn Schaap and invoking Kingsbury as her authority for doing so. Kingsbury’s relationship with Schaap—and Schaap’s relationship with Reformer’s Unanimous—raises concerning questions about the culture of Reformers Unanimous.
Kingsbury’s Alleged Support for an Accused Sex Offender
Several years ago, Bob Jones University invited GRACE, an organization run by Billy Graham’s grandson and Liberty University professor Boz Tchividijian, to conduct an investigation of their handling of rape and sexual assault on campus. The final report released by GRACE detailed a situation in the early 1990s where BJU expelled and then readmitted a man accused of sexual assault. According to the GRACE report, “the alleged perpetrator minimized the extent of his crime, but he admitted to touching her inappropriately without her consent while he believed she was sleeping.” The perpetrator was readmitted to BJU after claiming that he had reconciled with his victim, but this was later revealed to be a lie.
This man, identified as Richard DeVall, is currently serving as a missionary in Bolivia. According to the GRACE report, his victim finally went to the authorities in 2012. Shortly after this she received a letter of apology from DeVall. Not satisfied, she contacted DuVall’s missionary agency, Baptist Pioneer Mission (BPM), asking them to remove him from the field “due to potential risks he could pose to others.” They refused, telling her that DeVall “had been repentant to the mission board by confessing his offense and writing a letter of apology.” When she asked whether BPM would encourage DeVall to return to the United States to face charges for his crime, the board responded that they would “use any legal means to protect” DeVall. In spite of claiming in his apology letter that he would “cooperate and work with all those who are involved in the issue,” DeVall insisted that the matter must be handled “in a Biblical way” and, according to GRACE, has refused to return to the United States to face criminal charges.
BMP’s listing of policies and procedures states that “To be eligible for appointment with BPM, the missionary applicant must be a member of and commissioned by his or her New Testament church.” According to my sources, North Love Baptist Church is DeVall’s sending church. Kingsbury, as pastor of North Love, promoted DeVall’s mission work on his blog in February 2012. The month before, in January 2012, DeVall gave a sermon at North Love. BJUGrace, a Facebook group dedicated to seeking “grace and truth, righteousness and peace in the abuse allegations at Bob Jones University,” recently posted regarding the connections between Kingsbury and DeVall as well. According to BPM’s website, “BPM will only serve individuals who are recognized and commissioned by their local church to engage in missionary work (church planting).” While BPM is DeVall’s sending agency, North Love plays a crucial role as his sending church, and as senior pastor, much of the responsibility for this falls on Kingsbury.
One would think that accusations of sexual assault leveled against a missionary would lead a church to have second thoughts about sending them into the field, but it appears that this has not occurred in DeVall’s case in spite of the fact that both my sources and BJUGrace allege that Kingsbury was notified some time ago of the details of DeVall’s crime. Kingsbury may believe DeVall has repented of his past sin and reformed his ways. This would be in keeping with IFB theology and Gothard’s teachings, but it flies in the face of DeVall’s unwillingness to return to the U.S. where he faces the possibility of criminal charges. If it is true that North Love is continuing to sponsor DeVall even with Kingsbury’s knowledge of the allegations against him, and that they have sent him into the field and are keeping him there out of fear that he will face criminal charges if he returns to the U.S., these are serious charges indeed. What impact might such unwillingness to take sexual abuse seriously and such inattention to systems of accountability have on the culture and teachings of Reformers Unanimous?
Kingsbury’s Alleged Failure To Warn Parishioners against Sex Offenders
Working alongside Kingsbury, Pastor Ray Borah served as the Academic Dean of North Love Baptist College, pastor at North Love Baptist Church, and counselor at Reformers Unanimous. Before coming to North Love, Borah was employed as a youth pastor at a church in Florida. While serving as youth pastor, Borah, who had been married for well over a decade, allegedly sexually assaulted a teenage girl and became sexually involved with two other teenagers in his youth group. It is not clear whether Kingsbury knew of these allegations when Borah joined North Love, though the recent GRACE investigation revealed that the allegations had been reported to Bob Jones University some time before Borah joined Kingsbury’s pastoral staff, but were not investigated.
About three years ago, Borah committed another sexual offense, this one at North Love itself. What happened is unclear and has been subject to much rumor. While there is little definitive information, we do know that at this time Borah parted ways with North Love. According to sources I have spoken with, neither Kingsbury nor anyone else at North Love warned either parishioners or others who came in contact with Borah after he left North Love about Borah’s offense. This put additional individuals at risk.
This is not the first time Kingsbury has been involved in a failure to notify parishioners or other relevant parties that they have a sex offender in their midst. According to Parsons, in the late 1970s, when Kingsbury was a youth pastor at North Love, the English teacher and basketball coach at the school attached to the church was “caught peeping into the girls’ locker room.” The man was forced to confess, but the confession was kept extremely vague—”I got away from the Lord”—and no one was notified what he had done. “That was all hush hush,” Parsons told me. “Nobody who knew was permitted to talk about it.” This man was let go from the school, but was not blacklisted in any fashion. As a result, he simply traveled to another state and found a job at a Christian school there.
While Kingsbury was not senior pastor during the situation involving the school’s English teacher and basketball coach, as youth pastor he presumably participated in keeping the matter quiet and learned by example how affairs of this sort should be handled. Indeed, Kingsbury, who became senior pastor in 1982, only a few years after this incident, describes the senior pastor at the time as his “mentor.” In allegedly failing to notify others when they have a sex offender in their midst, Kingsbury has put others at risk and has shown himself to be either unaware of or uncaring about best practices for handling sexual abuse. This does not bode well for the practices of Reformers Unanimous, which Kingsbury co-founded and which continues to operate under his direction as chairman.
“The Authority To Do Whatever He Wanted”
In perhaps the most startling part of our conversation, Parsons described an alternative Halloween activity that Kingsbury put on during the late 1970s as an example of Kingsbury’s abusive and manipulative tactics. As Parsons explained, after the various activities at the alternative Halloween event had drawn to a close, the youth gathered in the gym, expecting to hear a short sermon. Instead, Kingsbury had the church deacons and other leaders enter the room and “stage a mass shooting with guns that shot blanks.” According to Parsons, the men “came in and scared everyone and shot into the crowd” in an effort to “scare all the kids into making a decision to accept Christ.” The experience clearly made a big impression on Parsons. “They’re very big on that fear, that kind of persuasion,” he told me.
Parsons also told me that Kingsbury rules North Love with an iron fist. Speaking of his experience at North Love in the 1970s and 1980s and his discussions with church members in the decades since, Parsons told me that Kingsbury teaches his congregation that the King James Version of the Bible is the only acceptable translation and relies heavily on “The Trail of Blood,” a 1931 pamphlet that purports to reveal that the Baptists are the true heirs of the early church. “That gave him the authority to do whatever he wanted,” Parsons said. “‘If you’re not listening to me, you’re not following the New Testament, period.’” Individual Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches frequently function as their own cults of personality, lacking an authority structure that provides accountability. The senior pastor at an IFB church—a position Kingsbury has held since 1982—often wields a great deal of authority over his parishioners, and in Kingsbury’s case, Parsons told me, that power extended to what church members wore and what Bible edition they used.
Parsons also described North Love as a Gothard church. During the 1970s and 1980s, he told me, teachers at North Love’s Christian school were required to attend Bill Gothard’s seminars annually. These conferences typically took place on a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and were held in nearby Chicago. According to Parsons, the school would shut down on Friday so that the teachers could attend. After Gothard introduced his homeschool curriculum in the 1980s, some families took their children out of North Love’s Christian school to enroll them in Gothard’s program, with the support of the church. Kingsbury echoed Gothard’s teachings about women and gender, barring women from wearing pants (the school’s cheerleaders were required to sign a pledge that they wouldn’t wear pants even at home) and preaching against birth control. “Pastor Kingsbury preached from the pulpit that women were baby machines,” Parsons told me. Gothard resigned from his ministry last year as an increasing number of women accused him of sexually molesting them while they were working for him. While Parsons no longer has close friends at North Love, he told me that his friends who have retained the beliefs they were taught at North Love tend to defend Gothard. “They say that he didn’t do anything wrong,” Parsons noted.
Over the past few years, fundamentalist churches have suffered one sex abuse scandal after another. Fundamentalist colleges and missions agencies have taken a hit as well. Speaking in 2013, Boz Tchividjian shocked many when he stated that evangelicals are “worse” on sexual abuse than Catholics. Tchividjian argued that evangelicals’ individualism makes them wary of transparency and accountability, causing abuse to go unseen, ignored, or unreported. In addition, Tchividjian noted that evangelical pastors and missionaries who are ousted over abuse allegations often simply switch churches or missions agencies, leaving their sordid pasts behind them. Without an overarching hierarchy, a church may never be told of a new pastor or missionary’s past misdeeds. When churches promote strict modesty standards and portray women as temptresses, victim blaming becomes all too common, contributing to the collapse of any attempt at best practices. The cult of personality that frequently develops at IFB churches only exacerbates these problems. When one man holds all the power, that power is easy to abuse.
Kingsbury founded Reformers Unanimous as a ministry of North Love in 1996. Parsons described the early material used by RU as “pretty much just mindless filling in the blanks.” When I asked Parsons whether it would be accurate to say that RU seeks to cure sexual deviance in the church not by addressing the sexual ethics and power structures that so often contribute to it but rather by terming it an addiction and throwing the Bible at it, he laughed and agreed with my analysis. As others have reported already, Reformers Unanimous does not appear to have any licensed counselors on staff, and its residential program appears to be made up entirely of physical labor and Bible study. This is a path Josh Duggar has been down before, but it is the only path his parents seem able to envision. Questioning the beliefs and dynamics that lead to abuse is difficult; solving problems with a larger dose of Bible reading is the familiar default.
The Duggars have made a career out of bottling up their children’s sexual energies, keeping them set on zero until marriage and then unleashing them, but most of what they teach is common in fundamentalist churches. Women are expected to dress modestly so as not to give men the wrong idea, and sexual assault victims are asked what they did to lead their abuser on or cause their assault. When married men have affairs, their wives are blamed for not being sexually available enough to keep them at home. On top of all of this, wives are expected to submit to and obey their husbands (and children are expected to submit to and obey their parents). When taken together, these teachings can be a recipe for disaster. And there’s more, too. Once a man confesses and repents of his sexual offense, his victim must either forgive him or face charges of bitterness. A parent who is loathe to leave her children alone with a man who has molested children in the past may be accused of not believing in God’s capacity to change lives. None of this is conducive to a healthy sexual ethic, healing for abuse survivors, or safety for the community at large.
As of this week, Josh is at Reformers Unanimous, whose chairman and cofounder, Paul Kingsbury, had a longterm working relationship with convicted sexual predator Jack Schaap, is allegedly protecting an accused sex offender from justice, and allegedly has a habit of failing to notify people when a known sexual predator is in their midst. How an individual alleged to have such a troubled relationship with both legal accountability for sex offenses and established best practices for handling cases of sexual abuse can be expected to run an affective and above-board rehab program for individuals who come to him seeking help for addictions to porn or sex is perhaps question of the week.
* There is some disagreement over what porn addiction and sex addiction look like and whether they are properly labeled addictions. However, regardless of where one falls on the question, Reformers Unanimous is out of step with professional opinion in how it understands and approaches both conditions. This is transparently obvious in the simple fact that the RU website states that 50% of Christian men are addicted to pornography. RU appears to see “looks at pornography” as synonymous with “addicted to pornography,” which also calls into question the program’s ability to treat those individuals it admits.