It took months to establish trust with those involved.
Unlike the hierarchical Catholic Church, evangelical churches often function independently.But their influence is widespread—as Stanley points out, Wayne Grudem, an evangelical theologian at Phoenix Seminary, once described Sovereign Grace Ministries “as an example of the way churches ought to work.” In response to the investigation, executive director of Sovereign Grace Churches Mark Prater pointed TIME to a lengthy statement he made in 2014 denying that Sovereign Grace leaders “conspired to cover up” sexual abuse.From just the past year, I’m thinking of reports about Josh Duggar of The sad reality is that sexual abuse is widespread everywhere, not just in religious communities.The statistics I saw were one-in-four girls and one-in-six boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18.The experts I spoke to didn’t say these statistics are worse in evangelical churches, but they did say that abusers could prey on trusting religious communities, which give them access to children.
That’s why churches need policies in place to protect children and handle abuse when it happens.
We will continue to work hard to ensure our church is a place of safety for children and a place of healing for victims.” Stanley shares some insights from her investigation with TIME.
Her reporting was subsidized in part by a Fund for Investigative Journalism grant.
I talked to the churches in Maryland and Virginia very early on in my reporting process, letting them know I was doing the story, and I kept in touch with them about my progress until the very end, giving them chances to respond to my findings.
Some church leaders expressed that they wanted the story to go away, so the community could move on. On one level, I understood that, but I was also talking to victims who had their lives irrevocably changed—they couldn’t just move on.
(Covenant Life is no longer a part of the Sovereign Grace network.) Her investigation, “The Sex Scandal that Devastated a Suburban Megachurch,” chronicles the inside story of crimes against children in D.