Time to Talk
In the early 1900s, my immigrant, great grandparents joined the fellowship in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. I was raised in the fellowship with my two brothers. I professed at age 11. During my high school years, my parents very much frowned on my brothers and me dating anyone outside of the church. I really had no other friends from my school until I turned 17 and made friends who were on staff at a YMCA summer camp. It was there that I learned to be socialized around people who were not of the faith. This community prepared me to be less clunky in dealing with people whose faith was different than mine. It was quite formative for me.
At age 18, I offered for the work and was baptized. I felt compelled to serve others and was encouraged by the workers because I was sensitive to other people and had pretty good people skills that I had developed at that summer camp.
Then at age 19, after spending a year at university and preparing to go into the work, I began to have some challenges to the certitudes I had that this was the only way to salvation.
Finally, in the spring of my 19th year, everything I had been taught and was certain about was dashed.
I have kept quiet for over 35 years. It’s time to talk.
As a kid, I had watched a male worker come over to our house and eat our last food out of the fridge when my dad was gone. He knew we were poor, and he ate our dinner anyway. What a good shepherd. I also watched as workers came to our family when my uncle died. They had their hand out, wondering if he had left them any money.
I was in junior high, about 12-13 years old, when a new brother worker [Gary Hunt] came into our field, befriended me and called me his little brother.
I offered for the work 45 years ago in June 1978, when I was 18 years old. I felt God’s calling to serve people in this fellowship by sacrificing my career, education, a life partner, sex, money—everything an 18 year old boy would dream of. I spent a year preparing for the work by following the workers around in my field. I walked away from a full-ride scholarship and dreams of following a career in medicine.
Five years later when I was 19, I went to Devon, Montana convention preps where I was to enter the work in Montana. A worker, Gary Hunt, whom I trusted and felt like he really thought I was special and worthwhile was there also. When we were alone in the brother workers’ dorm, THAT brother worker started wrestling with me. I was shocked to see a trusted worker, friend and mentor, trying to hurt me. He became violent. I saw rage in his face as he tried to overpower me, pinning me to the bed, pressing down, I was sure he was trying to rape me. Fortunately, I was a better wrestler, and I managed to get away from him before he raped me. But I will never forget the betrayal of being groomed and seen as an easy mark. That changed everything for me.
The clinicians call it sexual violence for a reason. I got away, but I was one very, very confused farm boy. I couldn’t process what almost happened. I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. Who would believe me? How could this happen? I knew if I told my Dad, that enormous Marine would kill that worker.
A couple months later, I learned from a young man who had just left the work in Montana some shocking news: I heard that this was not the only time this abuse had happened to young brother workers in Montana, I was stunned. I told Howard Mooney that I would not go into the work there or anywhere. So, after a year and a half, I left the preparation for the ministry, in 1980. I left the church in 1986.
It took years of therapy for me to get to this betrayal as the root cause of my mistrust of others. I was betrayed at such a core level—spiritually, emotionally, and put into a victim stance that alienated me for decades. I just kept it all bottled up inside. The guy who befriended me—groomed me—was lying. I wasn’t special. I wasn’t seen as worthy of love. I was a thing a rapist wanted to dominate.
I learned that the Minnesota ministry simply booted out a serial pedophile worker [Richard Schober]. The cops in Washington said he had raped between 150 – 200 kids in Washington and Minnesota. Before he married, no one told his new wife about his past—what a monster he was. He came to my hometown and raped even more kids until his wife caught him molesting their own children. Then she pressed charges! When he was released from prison, guess what? He was allowed to return to and participate in fellowship meetings in Alaska – Sunday morning meetings where kids were in the same room with him.
Fast Forward to March 2023.
After the information came out about Dean Bruer, I got online and started seeing hundreds of people coming forward reporting their sexual abuse within the fellowship. I realized that my experience didn’t need to be held secret by me anymore – and that not reporting it was a disservice to others who had been hurt and future kids who were at risk. So I reported to the hotline for Advocatesforthetruth.com that my attacker had been banished forever. As he should be.
If you’ve been assaulted or abused—speak up to Cynthia and team. They have a database of perpetrators and resources to help you. Please, just know that you aren’t alone. There is a very high probability that you are not the first person to call in to report your abuser’s crime. They can help. I am forever honored to be heard and believed and now, to have some justice served.
Last month, I saw Gary Hunt at a funeral. Rather than do what I wanted to do (punch him in the face), I needed to learn where he was living so we could make sure he was no longer given the opportunity and access to groom and possibly re-offend. I said hello and he thought I was my brother. When I told him who I was, his face went white and jaw dropped. He extended his hand to shake – I wouldn’t. I asked him where he was living and his response was, “If you keep asking me these hard questions, I might have to tell you the truth.” I gave him an incredulous look of disgust and he admitted, “Tri-Cities (Washington state).” I then alerted Cynthia Liles, the Private Investigator for Advocates for the Truth. Hunt is no longer in the work and has been moving around, keeping a low profile. Through the years, he was in the work or living in Alaska, Washington, Idaho and Montana.
Later, Cynthia called and notified me that Hunt had been seen at the Walla Walla, Washington convention. I asked her to have the workers call me. They did, and I told them what Gary had done to me. They called Gary that morning and told him he was no longer allowed on the grounds or in a meeting. Apparently, he had nothing to say other than ‘OK’ and hung up.
Walla Walla, Washington convention: I decided to go to the Walla Walla convention where I met with James Lindsey, a senior worker, and Gary Paul. I went because:
I wanted to make sure the worker who tried to rape me was banished from every church event/meeting forever. I was assured this was done regarding my abuser.
I wanted an agreement re perpetrator handling, survivor care and a database of offenders published worldwide available to EVERYONE IN THE FELLOWSHIP. No more transfers of rapists.
James was stunned when I told him I was the guy who reported Gary Hunt as a criminal. At the time, I believed James was learning and genuinely asking good questions about CSA/SA. I told him they are going to see inquiries, publicity and maybe jail time if they don’t get their system right.
I impressed upon him with salty language, “What the hell, James!! What have you guys been doing? And one of my favorites, “James, when a federal judge looks at what the church has not done, what you guys have been hiding, that judge is gonna FRY your asses! And a follow up: You better hope, James, that you don’t get a female judge cuz she’s gonna absolutely skewer your ass! You just might go to prison, bud! I’m here as your friend to try to help you NOT get a new ‘roommate’ behind bars! Appropriate ass references.
I also hammered James to come up with a database of offenders who have been banished/excommunicated that is to be shared with everyone in the church and with Cynthia Liles/team (sharing is caring, James).
Told him they need to put a couple millions of church money (which he agreed that they have) into the third party company that will screen and provide counseling for abuse survivors inside and OUTSIDE the church. He got twitchy on that one!
He also agreed that the first call upon learning of abuse is to call 911. Bam! (But we have no way of verifying they are really doing this). He said the approach used by John Foster (re: Robert Corfield in Montana) in calling out offenders was excellent. Good job, John!!
James agreed to meet me at the upcoming Post Falls convention to get the document hammered out. I told him that our State’s Attorney General is my next call if James, et al renege on the agreement. That he’d better get busy because the Feds are sniffing around and coming for him and every worker who knew something and did nothing. I think I rattled him.
He also told me, upon my insistence, that the staff of Washington State agreed to ex-communicate and banish alleged sexual abusers from ALL conventions/special meetings and fellowship meetings FOR LIFE. That a new procedure had been established in the previous two weeks.
HOWEVER, I learned weeks later, that this stated policy in fact, was NOT being enforced, but rather, the workers were only doing this if ‘there was a conviction’ or if the alleged sex offender was deemed ‘high risk for re-offence’ by a ‘trained professional’. This is ridiculous as research shows only a 2% conviction for all sexual assault cases. Research also states the rate of pedophile reoffence is in the high 90%. So James Lindsey’s stated strategy is flawed at best for prevention of CSA/SA and it is horrific for re-abusing the victims (average pedophile molests between 50-117 children). Not removing these monsters from all meetings is horrific and heartless.
Follow up findings since May 2023
How does the rest of our society deal with clergy abuse? Check out the documentary of Hillsong Church on FX network. It was brought down by a senior pastor who has allegations of 13 boys he assaulted and the crime of the son of that pastor lying for his dad and not reporting what he knew. One guy. Thirteen kids. Disgusting right?
How about your fellowship (and mine years ago)? To date, 500+ people have been reported to Advocatesforthetruth.com with credible allegations of sexual misconduct—most of it was CSA (child sexual assault) worldwide. ARE YOU SERIOUS???? Credible. Allegations. And many of the “Friends” choose to call this a witch hunt, MeToo hype or, my favorite people jumping on the bandwagon.
Yes, there is a hunt going on. We are hunting down sexual predators in your church FOR YOU. You’re welcome. And if there is a bandwagon that I DON’T want to be on, it’s the, I got sexually assaulted bandwagon! It ain’t a fun, freaking hayride, so shut up!
I’ve had it with the stonewalling of the overseers and the ignorance of those who continue to diminish CSA/SA in the fellowship. The very structure and secrecy of this church lends itself to rape, emotional abuse and financial fraud. I am furious with the leadership of this church. I am outraged by those who would choose secrecy over the health and safety of children. I abhor the patriarchy that has dominated women in so many ways.
FIVE HUNDRED members in your fellowship should be turned into the police. AS SOON AS YOU HEAR THE ACCUSATION. Let the police investigate, not a worker, not an overseer. Workers have no training, education or life experience to deal with trauma. If they did, you wouldn’t have 500 IDENTIFIED alleged sex offenders sitting right there in meeting with you, right?
Less than 16% of CSA is reported. That means 500 of what statistically is likely 3,100 actual sex offenders in your fellowship.
Of the reports, fewer than 2-3% of reports are unfounded. So, stop already with the Oh it’s probably some angry teenager who is mad at a worker crap. Your personal opinion is worthless against published clinical data.
Less than 2% of ALL sexual assault cases conclude with conviction. So enough with the We’ll remove the accused offender if they are convicted. Remove them NOW. Or you’ll be sitting in Sunday morning meeting with a sex offender ogling you and your kids.
Conclusion: The damage done by my fellowship/sexual predator is a blip for me now—getting smaller in my rear view mirror. I am one of the happiest guys you will ever meet. I have a wonderful career in medical management, a great kid, rewarding friendships and have built a community around food, music and the arts.
I love God. I have peace in my life even when things are difficult. I sing worship songs, and I am very happy to know that my eternal salvation has nothing to do with the Two by Twos. I go to church and also find God every day I’m snowboarding or being in nature. I love huge, rage at injustice and live to my values. I am accepted by grace—and the God who made me—He delights in my wild nature and deep love for others. Just so you know—you are not defined by what was done to you. You are worthy of the joy that you feel when you embrace that you are deeply loved by your creator.
And if you read this and say, “Oh, good, he’s OK now – no foul, it’s ‘all good’.” Then I think I need to clarify. I am not OK. I’ve spent thousands of dollars in weekly therapy with a trusted neuropsychologist. I am better but there still remain layers of mistrust of others – anyone – because of the betrayal of a trusted worker, of a ministry who has done nothing to protect its people and the theology that would insist on secrecy over caring for souls.
Survivors—trust me! You are powerful enough to call out your monster. I did. It takes guts and courage. S/he has no power over you. Your truth will make him cower. Call him/her out and watch them freak out! I believe you. I hear you. I support you. Others will too.
For four generations, this church has told me and my family to sit down, fold our hands and shut up. Today I choose to stand, raise my fist in the air, and say “NO MORE”!
Bart “Bo” Cooke
July 1, 2023