Questions remain after pastor’s departure at Hudson megachurch

By Amanda Garrett
September 07, 2019

Tom Randall — a former pastor at Christ Community Chapel who departed amid scandal — is trying to move on.

He and his wife put their ranch home in Stow on the market last month for $289,900 and sent a letter to their international following. In the letter, Randall said he was leaving behind his nonprofit — worth more than $3 million — with the Hudson megachurch and planned to launch a new nonprofit to independently continue his 43-year-old ministry.

But moving on may not be that simple for Randall, who was asked to resign from Christ Community Chapel (CCC) in June amid an internal review that concluded child abuse likely happened at an orphanage his ministry supported in the Philippines.

CCC — with a main campus in Hudson, and satellites in Akron’s Highland Square neighborhood and Aurora — has since told the Beacon Journal/ that it turned over “information and documentation relevant to this situation” from its review to the FBI.

And last week, a local group that’s been pushing the church for an outside investigation into what happened at Sankey Samaritan orphanage in the Philippines appealed to U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, for help.

The group, Justice for Sankey, sent a letter to Portman on Sept. 3 asking him to request a federal investigation into Randall and his former nonprofit, World Harvest Ministries.

The group also wants Portman to have the appropriate federal agency request that Filipino authorities reopen their human trafficking and sex abuse investigation involving the now-defunct orphanage and the people who ran it.

Randall, in an email response to the Beacon Journal, maintains he has done nothing wrong. He pointed out that two Filipino government agencies and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in the Philippines have already investigated.

“During that period, 2 Filipino staff members from the Sankey Orphanage endured a 3 year trial that eventually led to the dismissal of all charges by the Filipino judge,” Randall wrote in an email.

“At the time of the trial and continuing to the present, we have been falsely accused of many serious things by those who remain unhappy with the Philippine court’s decision,” Randall wrote in the email. He declined to answer questions until he met with his attorney.

Church review

Last month, leaders at Christ Community Chapel released the findings of an internal review that contradicted much of what lead pastor Joe Coffey had told them over the past five years.

The review determined, among other things, that children at Sankey orphanage were most likely sexually abused by staff and that Randall — who was not charged with sex crimes himself — for years misled Coffey, who has said he blindly believed everything Randall told him.

The review also determined that Randall brought more than $3 million to CCC through his World Harvest Ministries and that CCC administered that money to pay the legal defense of Randall and two men who ran Sankey orphanage.

Now, in the wake of the review, CCC leadership is trying to move on, too.

But that journey could be complicated by broken trust, what some are calling a historic lack of transparency and lingering questions.

CCC cut ties with Randall even before the review was finished when leaders discovered he had faked an email, writing it in the name of a church member, to support his version of what happened in the Philippines.

Since then, CCC has launched an independent audit of the millions of dollars World Harvest Ministries brought to the church. CCC leaders haven’t yet decided how the money should be spent, said Stacey DiNardo, a church spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, she said CCC is trying to fix broken relationships and “reaching out to these young adults in the Philippines in order to seek forgiveness and reconciliation.”

The church is also talking with “outside groups who deal specifically with these types of issues to assist CCC in determining the best ways to provide help and support going forward,” DiNardo said.

Questions remain

But for some, CCC is moving on too quickly.

Some close to the church said members still have unanswered questions. Some are withholding tithes — about 10 percent of their annual incomes donated to the church — until they have answers.

“There are too many questions and loose ends that need addressed,” said Sarah Klingler, who is part of Justice for Sankey, a group whose members have pushed church leadership for an investigation for years. “It’s putting the cart before the horse.”

CCC is governed by a group of elders, 10 men including Coffey.

Until recent months, many members of the church didn’t know their names, Klingler said. In the wake of the review, the elders now have a group email:

Likewise, she said, the church has not been clear about how much money is coming in and how it is being spent.

Until the church review of Sankey, few knew that Randall brought more than $3 million into CCC through his nonprofit ministry, which is now dissolved. Yet even now, Klingler said, the church has provided conflicting accounts about how Randall’s money has been handled and spent.

Meanwhile, she said CCC has hired a Christian conciliation expert to help it make peace with her and others involved with Justice for Sankey. Advocates of such conciliation say the process can encourage honest communication and cooperation instead of contention, resolving disputes out of court in a biblical manner.

“But sometimes, you just want an apology,” Klingler said. “You just want someone to say ‘I’m sorry for what I’ve done. How can I make this right?’ ”

Church transparency

Chuck Zech, founding director of the Center for Church Management and Business Ethics at Villanova University’s School of Business, said churches across the U.S. operate with different levels of transparency.

Unlike other nonprofits — like the Red Cross or Akron Zoo — churches are not required by law to fill out annual federal IRS 990 forms, which are publicly available and provide basic information about an organization’s finances, the names of its leaders and how much it pays its top-earning employees.

It’s entirely up to churches how much of that information, if any, they share with members or the public.

“If I was a church, I would want that changed. I would want the 990s to be reported for full financial transparency,” Zech said.

Church attendance nationwide is on the decline.

“In general, studies show younger Americans are more interested in transparency than their parents and grandparents,” he said. “They’re generally suspicious of institutions, all institutions including the church.”

Churches without a history of transparency sometimes open up only after a financial or sexual abuse crisis, particularly if their attendance and donations drop, he said.

At CCC, the church has established a special section on its website tagged “Sankey Review.”

It includes a copy of the review, an email link to ask questions and a list of frequently asked questions and answers.

Meanwhile, more than a month after the church released the Sankey review, leaders continue to meet with members about moving on and making sure nothing like this ever happens again.

Coffey told membership Aug. 25 that he’s also looking inward, assessing the damage done to the victims in the Philippines, to those he ignored or criticized while protecting Randall and to the relationship between CCC and its congregation and the community.

“Because I know this has fractured the trust that you have had in our church and that I have wanted you to have in me, and that needs to be healed as well,” Coffey told members. “I don’t know the answers of how to heal all these. I just know that this is where my thoughts have gone. And this is what has broken my heart.”



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