The Roys Report [Chicago IL]
July 6, 2023
By Josh Shepherd
Five years ago, charismatic teacher Jonathan Welton’s misconduct caught up to him, imploding his multinational ministry. Now, Welton is staging a ministry comeback, backed by prominent Christian author Danny Silk, who claims Welton is “completely transformed.”
But the women who say Welton groomed and abused them, and some of his former board members, say Welton hasn’t changed or apologized. And they fear he’ll continue his predatory ways.
Welton is best known for his books and his now-defunct online teaching ministry, Welton Academy. The ministry crashed in 2018 after several women alleged Welton had a pattern of unwanted physical advances, sexually explicit remarks in texts and social posts, and sexual misconduct.
Renee Bosco, former chief operations officer at Welton Academy, told The Roys Report (TRR) that Welton suggested via text that she repay a debt to him by “giving blowjobs.” Another former staff member, Dawn Weaver, claimed in an article posted online that Welton would give female staffers “strangely long” back rubs.
One female staffer, who wished to remain anonymous, told TRR that Welton forcibly groped and kissed her while the two were on a ministry trip. (She said she did not consider criminal charges because her immigration status was unclear at the time.)
Whistleblowers persistently raised concerns about Welton’s behavior to Welton Academy’s advisory board. In September 2018, the board shuttered Welton Academy. Welton then submitted to a probation process overseen by a new board of advisers, led by marriage-and-parenting author Danny Silk, who’s also a senior leader at the controversial Bethel Church in Redding, California.
In a September 18, 2018, letter announcing the closure of Welton Academy, Silk stated: “Jon is not fit to be a leader, nor is he safe to have access to other people’s vulnerability.”
Yet Silk — who told TRR that his “area of expertise” is working with people who have an “anointing and calling from God” but then “blow up their lives” — said he wanted Welton to “find restoration.”
Now, five years later, Silk claims that restoration has happened. He fully supports Welton’s return to ministry, which is rapidly moving forward.
Welton is co-leading an online coaching group for The Bulletproof Husband, a secular program helping men rebuild their marriages, and he’s slated to publish a book by that name.
Welton also has started an online coaching group called Indestructible Leaders. And on May 28, Welton emailed supporters that “a fully edited and updated version of all the Welton Academy school videos is being created.” His website states that “Better Covenant Academy” is coming soon.
Yet several of Welton’s alleged victims claim Welton has not changed, nor has he ever offered them a specific apology.
Similarly, a former member of Welton’s board, Bible teacher Eric Gregson, describes Welton as an unrepentant narcissist. Gregson warns that Welton’s return to ministry will give the teacher access to offend and harm again.
Welton’s ‘transformation’ journey
In 2018, just after he was removed from ministry, Welton and his wife separated for three months. While separated, his wife gave birth to the couple’s third child.
Welton was reunited with his family on Christmas 2018, but admits he hadn’t yet changed. “If I had been restored at that time, I guarantee I would have repeated my patterns and hurt the Body of Christ again,” Welton said on a podcast released in June 2022.
In October 2019, Danny Silk released his latest book, titled Unpunishable: Ending Our Love Affair with Punishment. The last three chapters recounted Welton’s restoration story up to that point. It stated that Welton was “halfway to recovery” and implied that Welton would soon be fully restored to ministry.
Welton’s presumed return set off alarms for several whistleblowers, and Silk’s book compelled Weaver and Bosco to go public with their stories on a blog. “The voice of any of Jon’s victims is completely absent from the book,” Weaver told TRR.
Similarly, Gregson, a member of the probationary board for Welton, was shocked. “To recount a ‘healing process’ that wasn’t even complete: it was wrong,” Gregson said. “Danny in his ministry has handled many scenarios well, but he underestimated Jon.”
Silk told TRR he has no regrets about the content of Unpunishable, which is still in print and available widely. “That book is not a court case,” Silk said. “I’m not trying to defend Jonathan or ignore his victims. I’m trying to present: here is how you work with fallen, broken leaders.”
However, in a letter released publicly five months after the book’s release, Silk wrote on the probationary board’s behalf that they wanted to acknowledge “those who were victimized by Jon’s actions.” The letter from March 2020 adds: “The victims who have shared their story should not be discredited or silenced.”
In 2020, Welton joined The Bulletproof Husband, based in Ontario, Canada. According to Silk, the Bulletproof Husband is not faith-based but has valid methods. “It’s like Alcoholics Anonymous on steroids,” Silk said. “You’re paying these guys to strip you down, hold you accountable, and own your stuff.”
Welton “walked through all six stages of The Bulletproof Husband in four months,” Welton’s website states. It adds that Welton’s wife, her psychologist, and Silk “were witness to (Welton’s) transformation.”
Silk said he worked in tandem with the coaching that Welton received, addressing alleged abuse perpetrated against Welton during his childhood. “I have a special set of skills,” Silk said. “It took probably three and a half years for Jon to finally get to the particular broken spot in his character and his heart.”
In June 2021, Welton posted a statement online signed by Silk, which touted Welton’s “transformation.” When TRR asked about the timing — two years and nine months after the probationary board’s work began — Silk did not respond.
Silk also announced in that statement that Welton’s board of advisers had dissolved and that the “limitations that were implemented in the beginning of this process are no longer in place.”
At the time, Silk said Welton “has no plans to re-enter any positions of ministry” and “has agreed to include me in any conversations about any movement in that direction in the future.”
Welton resumed frequent social media posts on his public Facebook page after a nearly three-year hiatus. One of his first posts was to promote Silk’s just-released online course for Unpunishable. Welton also let his fans know that a popular book of his would soon be available on Amazon and that he felt his books were still helpful.
Alleged victims say Welton is serial sexual predator who hasn’t changed
Welton’s alleged victims and former board members remain skeptical of Welton and Silk’s claims of transformation. They say his pattern of predation stretches back more than a decade. And this isn’t the first time Welton has claimed to be a changed man, they add.
In 2011, Welton was fired from charismatic ministry Global Awakening in Pennsylvania, after admitting to sexual misconduct with a female ministry intern. Speaking on his podcast in June 2022, Welton admitted to what he called “a physical affair with an intern.” He said he “spent a year off of ministry and went through a restoration process.”
In 2012, Welton published a book titled Eyes of Honor, and claimed in an interview that he had a “Saul to Paul transformation” in his view of women. That year, Welton also restarted speaking in charismatic churches and conferences and began promoting his nascent online school.
According to Bosco, the former Welton Academy chief operations officer, Welton also began using the ministry as a means of attracting women to abuse.
As online students signed up, Welton recruited staff members from that pool, Bosco said. “He picked out women that matched his preferred look and type,” she added.
At its height in 2016, the multinational online teaching ministry had 11 staff members — nine of them women, mostly in their 20s. Welton’s staff worked remotely in a half-dozen U.S. states and two foreign countries, and were called upon monthly to join Welton on ministry trips and twice annually for large events in upstate New York.
Several of those women say Welton used his position to groom and then abuse them.
Bosco recalled that Welton once taught in a staff meeting “how valuable 20-second hugs were to human physiology, like our hormones.”
“We were so naïve, it’s embarrassing,” she said.
Similarly, Gregson, a Bible teacher in California and former member of Welton Academy’s “Fivefold Ministry Council” of advisers, told TRR that grooming was a feature of the theology Welton taught. “The way he positioned himself with the young women was that he was a spiritual father,” said Gregson. “And fathers show affection to their children.”
Bosco said that, upon being named chief operations officer, numerous female staffers told her of Welton’s sexual harassment: “They came to me and said, ‘Hey, Jonathan sends me messages with kissing emojis then tells me to delete them. What should I do?’”
Bosco added that Welton set up a private Facebook group for a select number of female staffers. One alleged victim told TRR that Welton asked the group to “send him a selfie every day for 21 days.” Welton also used that private group to share sexually suggestive memes.
One former staff member, Dawn Weaver, told TRR that Welton repeatedly initiated lengthy hugs, back rubs and hand-holding, which she has written about publicly for years. Weaver left the ministry in August 2016, after an epiphany in prayer.
But she said she was pulled back into Welton’s orbit in January 2017, when she says he touched her in a public setting. Weaver described the encounter in an online article as “psychological and spiritual manipulation.”
These women told TRR that Welton has never substantively apologized to them.
“When he is supposedly apologizing, Jonathan doesn’t mention any of the things that he’s sorry for or the things of which he’s taking ownership,” Weaver said. “It just comes across as very hollow and self-serving.”
Another woman who asked to remain anonymous, “Jane Doe,” was a student from South America in Welton’s online school who was then recruited to be a staff member. The woman told TRR how Welton made sexual advances towards her and touched her repeatedly.
When she questioned his touching, Welton allegedly said she was being too religious. “He was the man of God, the apostle, the seer — so I trusted him,” Doe said.
On a ministry trip in July 2018, Doe claimed, Welton trapped her in an Airbnb room, pulled her close to him on the bed, and kissed her neck as he pressed his body against her. When she resisted, she says Welton told her, “You are my daughter and I love you as a father,” before he let her leave.
Doe said she never pressed charges against Welton because her immigration status was uncertain at the time. But within six weeks, she left the ministry and moved several states away. Bosco told TRR that Doe’s life was “really torn apart by Jonathan.”
Doe said Welton has never owned or apologized for what he did.
In a statement to TRR, Welton disputed the account. “On this (trip), I invited a staff member to come hang out in my room where we laid on the bed together and cuddled and talked for about 15 minutes,” said Welton. “This was wrong and completely inappropriate of me, and I own that. But there was zero sexual contact or conduct. And in no way was she compelled by force.”
When asked about this incident, Silk said he is “familiar with it.” He added: “I think there’s probably some ‘he said, she said’ going on there.”
Former board member claims Welton’s ministry reboot violates prior agreement
Gregson, who served on the Welton Academy advisory board and the probationary board headed up by Silk, told TRR he thinks Welton is unrepentant.
“He admits to being an abusive narcissist, but his behavior patterns haven’t changed,” Gregson said. “Not only is Jon not better. Now he has been armed with more information that this guy is going to use to manipulate people.”
Welton’s ministry reboot as Better Covenant Academy, using newly rebranded Welton Academy videos as a launchpad, particularly concerns Gregson. Gregson said it violates a verbal agreement Welton made with the probation board of advisers, which has since disbanded.
“Part of the agreement with the board was that Jonathan was not allowed to have access to the Welton Academy group or members or any of the assets,” Gregson said. “We understood that he was never going to build his empire again.”
In an apology video posted in June 2021, Welton made a similar statement. “Welton Academy is dead. It’s gone. It’s never coming back,” said Welton.
However, now Welton disputes Gregson’s claim and told TRR that he and “several members of the board of advisers” with whom he checked did not recall any such agreement. Welton added that “all stipulations from that time period” expired when the board dissolved.
In a spring 2020 statement on behalf of the probationary board, Silk referred to an outside expert and clinical psychologist, Dr. Ron Young of Trove Global Impact Foundation, as “available to help” and advising the board. Young had “donated hundreds of hours to women who have reached out to him about their experience with Jonathan,” Silk wrote.
However, in an email obtained by TRR dated May 11, 2021, Young stated: “After talking with Jonathan, I resigned from the new board that Danny Silk was creating because I believe he had not changed.”
One month later, Silk released a statement dissolving the probationary board.
Welton: ‘God built me to lead’
In a statement to TRR, Welton admitted he “manipulated and used others as my narcissistic supply through unwanted physical advances.” He added that he “said countless horrible things, which I deeply regret” and “hurt and destroyed the hearts of wonderful people that I loved dearly.”
But in his podcast recounting recent years, Welton seems to absolve himself of past actions. “I was living completely controlled by the pain,” he said. “My pain and behaviors were not me, but the real me was so buried and imprisoned within me that I didn’t even know who that was.”
In a Facebook post in February, Welton claimed that “God built me to lead” and “to not be a leader is for me to be inauthentic.”
Weeks ago, Welton shared his testimony at The Gate Church in Charlotte, N.C., and then shared the video online. John Matthews, pastor of The Gate, noted in his remarks that well-known author Silk had endorsed Welton being “restored.”
TRR asked author Wade Mullen about Welton’s apologies and statements. “An apology, or confession, in its purest form, will surrender the offender’s reasons for destructive behavior,” said Mullen, who developed the SCORE method of defining apologies. “It will center the story of the wronged parties, who alone should have the power to extend forgiveness.”
When TRR asked Silk about the alleged victims and Welton’s critics, Silk responded, “They’re back there in history. They’ve not been walking with (Welton and his wife). I was on Zoom calls once or twice a month for years. None of these other players stayed. And I watched the evolution of a transformed life.”
Silk added: “The Bible tells me it is possible that people can be literally transformed, and that’s what I am sticking to.”