Like other religious orders, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has come under fire for concealing and downplaying allegations of childhood sexual abuse. Legal action may be possible.
- Sexual assault
- Child molestation
- Physical abuse
If you or a loved one suffered abuse in the Adventist Church, you may be eligible to secure financial compensation. Contact our experienced attorneys to learn more in a free legal consultation.
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Like most religious communities, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has a long and sordid history of child sex abuse. In the early-20th Century, Adventist missionaries in Australia ripped Indigenous children from their parents’ arms and relocated them to isolated communes where physical and sexual abuse were common and unpunished.
In the United States, hundreds of young congregation members have been subjected to the most-hideous sexual abuses imaginable but, as court cases and police records say, are often met by silence and denial.
Child Sexual Abuse Reports & Complaints
To better understand the scope of this problem, our attorneys scoured over two decades of news reporting on civil lawsuits and criminal prosecutions of sex abuse cases linked to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
In our review, the international reach of sex abuse in the Adventist community became clear. While most of the cases hail either from the United States or Australia, we also found sexual abuse complaints scattered across the globe, from Africa, where nearly 8 million people are registered members of the faith, to Finland, with a small Adventist population hovering around 5,000.
Needless to say, our review of media reports and civil court documents is likely to represent only a fraction of the actual sexual abuse cases linked to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Secrecy is a common theme among the myriad allegations covered on this page. In report after report, sexual abuse survivors accuse Church leaders of hiding sexual misconduct from secular authorities. Some cases suggest that Adventist officials may have become aware of sexual abuse years ago, but never told the police or only did so decades later.
In 2004, a group of five men filed suit against the Church claiming they had been abused during the 1980s by teachers at the Monterey Bay Academy, an SDA boarding school in La Selva Beach, California, the Clocktower reports. After trying to report the abuse to other faculty members, the lawsuit says, the boys were punished. The two teachers who were accused of misconduct were successful in having four of the five victims expelled from the school.
In a 2008 lawsuit, a former SDA associate pastor accuses the Southern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists of firing her in retaliation for her report of sexual assault, Courthouse News reports. The plaintiff claims that, for 5 months, she was sexually harassed by a married pastor. The man, named as Howard Small, exposed himself to the woman in a Church office on repeated occasions and “forcibly attempt[ed] to perform oral sex on her,” the lawsuit says. Ultimately, the man showed up at her door, threw her down and raped her, the plaintiff claims. When she reported the assault, the complaint continues, the president of the South California SDA put her on a leave of absence and reduced her pay.
In January 2018, police in San Jose arrested a youth pastor at Iglesia Adventista Del Séptimo Día San José (San Jose Seventh-day Adventist Church) on suspicion of sending a 13-year-old congregant sexually-explicit pictures of himself, the Mercury News reports.
A teacher at Miami Union Academy, an Adventist secondary school in Florida, was charged on 5 counts of sexual battery, along with 15 counts of lewd molestation, for allegedly forcing an eighth grade student to perform oral sex, according to Adventist Today.
A worker at Horeb French Seventh-Day Adventist was convicted for molesting a 9-year-old girl who had been enrolled in a youth program at the Miami church, the Miami New Times reports. The victim’s family has filed a civil lawsuit against the church, saying it was negligent to hire Jerry Ameris, who pleaded guilty to assaulting the girl.
In July 2014, a deacon in Idaho was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison for molesting a 12-year-old girl in a storage room of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Nampa. When he was caught by police, Alexander Gonzalez Garcia told officials that he believed Satan may have taken possession of his body. Garcia pleaded guilty to sexual abuse of a minor and must register as a sex offender, News Radio 1310 says.
In 2013, Joseph Edgar Davis was convicted of sexually molesting 3 young girls in Maryland’s Howard County Circuit Court. Davis worked until 2012 in the audio-visual department at the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. He had been using the facility’s computers, prosecutors found, to store pornographic images of the girls, who were between 5 and 8 years old at the time. Davis was sentenced to 150 years in prison, according to the Baltimore Sun.
A former music professor at Atlantic Union College, an SDA college in South Lancaster, Massachusetts, was accused of sexually abusing four male students in a civil lawsuit filed in January 2008. The case, reported by the Worcester Telegram, claims that officials at the school dismissed the students’ allegations, then expelled them in retaliation.
A 46-year-old member of the Niles Westside Seventh-day Adventist Church in Berrien County, Michigan was sentenced to 15 years in jail, Adventist Today writes, after pleading guilty to molesting a 9-year-old girl. Michigan prosecutors also secured the man’s conviction for failing to register himself as a sex offender, telling a reporter at the South Bend Tribune, “he’s done this before. He said that he couldn’t control himself with children.”
A 2013 civil case filed in the US District Court of Michigan accuses the Peterson-Warren Academy, a private SDA school in Inkster, Michigan, of failing to protect a young student from the predatory intentions of an assistant principal. The man, USA Today reports, began to groom the student when she was 15-years-old, plying her with gifts and expensive horseback riding trips. Grooming soon escalated to inappropriate sexual conduct. The assistant principal sent her texts that read “I love you” and, “sometimes,” USA Today writes, “he would lock the door to the classroom and kiss and touch her inappropriately.” Eventually, they began to have sex, “in his car, hotels, his house and once during a 2009 senior class trip to Disney World.”
In 2002, the Oregon Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists was ordered to pay $2 million in compensation to a young girl who claimed she was molested by the son of Pastor Dennis Pumford, who served as the pastor at the South Salem Seventh-Day Adventist Church. During a trial held in the Marion County Circuit Court, attorneys for the girl demonstrated that officials at the Church knew about the boy’s sexual activity, but failed to adequately supervise his contact with young children. The case was reported by the Statesman Journal in a piece hosted in-full at Jehovahs-Witness.com.
In 2006, Tyler Elliot Lambie, the 28-year-old son of a teach at Oregon’s Milo Adventist Academy, was arrested and charged on misdemeanor counts of sexual abuse for molesting two 17-year-old students, according to the Oregonian.
In 2014, two men from Oregon filed suit against the Seventh-day Adventist Church, accusing the Church of hiring a known pedophile to lead the Veneta-based Pathfinder Group. Both men claim that they were abused in the 1970s by Leslie Bovee, who was hired to run the youth ministry, which takes boys and girls between the ages of 10 and 15 on outdoors trips. Prior to his appointment, the lawsuit claims, Bovee had been imprisoned for molesting 3 young boys. Even so, officials at the SDA Church permitted Bovee to head a program where he would be working with children, the two survivors say. Apparently, Bovee was allowed to run the Pathfinder chapter, despite the Church’s knowledge of his past misconduct, because “he repented and was re-baptised,” Reuters reports.
On March 31, 2016, Donald Mansell, a former basketball coach at the Livingstone Adventist Academy, was arrested and charged on 3 counts of sexual abuse. Police believe that Mansell abused two female students at the K-12 school, which is located in Salem, Oregon, between 2010 and 2014, KGW8 reports.
A family in Texas filed suit in 2014 against the Texas Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, saying their teenage daughter was assaulted by her teacher and basketball coach at the Burton Adventist Academy. The Star-Telegram says that Carlos E. Rodriguez, the teacher, pleaded guilty to charges of sexual abuse of a child under 14. He was sentenced to 30 years in jail without the possibility of parole.
In May 2017, a deacon at the West Houston Seventh-day Adventist Church was arrested for sexually molesting 2 young boys, including a 2-year-old who he allegedly raped in a closet of the Church, according to Click2 Houston. During the course of police investigations, a 7-year-old boy stepped forward to accuse Barry Todd Durrell, the former deacon, of assaulting him at a local mall and in a motel. Durrell is a repeat offender, police say. He was convicted of sexual molestation in California three decades ago, also admitting a later charge in Oregon. Durrell became deacon of the West Houston church in 2003. He was not a registered sex offender; law enforcement officials aren’t sure why not.
In August 2016, Adventist Today reported on a new case of sexual abuse. Douglas Allison, formerly the principal at Mountain View Christian School in Sequim, Washington, pleaded guilty to rape of a child and child molestation. The former principal “admitted to sexual contact and intercourse with the female victims, then 10 and 11 years old starting in September 2015,” reporters for the Sequim Gazette Reporter say. The victims have filed a civil lawsuit against the SDA-affiliated school, demanding $5.25 million in damages.
A lawsuit filed in February 2017 says that teachers and administrators at Miracle Meadows Christian, a boarding school in West Virginia run on Seventh-day Adventist Church principles, concealed years of physical and emotional abuse. Our own attorneys are representing two former students at Miracle Meadows, now adults, who claim they were beaten and raped on numerous occasions during their tenure at the boarding school. To learn more about the case, click here.
A woman in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe stepped forward to accuse Brighton Ndebele, pastor for the City Centre Adventist Church, of sending her sexually-explicit test messages. She went to the secular police, a report from Adventist Today says, because the SDA Church where she is a member “declined to punish the pastor.”
The Seventh-day Adventist Church’s history of abuse begins early in Australia. Throughout the 20th Century, Indigenous Australians were forcibly removed from their homes and taken to live on Christian missions, including the Seventh-day Adventist mission of Mona Mona. Physical, emotional and sexual abuse reigned supreme at the mission, National Indigenous Television reports. The Church started its Mona Mona Mission in 1913 and closed it in 1962. In 2014, over 70 Indigenous Australians were awarded compensation from the state of Queensland’s government for their historical mistreatment at Christian missions.
A former PE teacher at Nunawading Seventh Day Adventist Primary School pleaded guilty to 30 counts of indecent assault and 1 count of rape in 2002, The Age reports. James Paul Dunne, a 46-year-old living in Lilydale, Victoria, Australia, molested a young male student over a period of nearly 4 years.
In October 2004, six men from the Pitcairn Islands, a British territory in the Southern Pacific with a population of residents hovering around 50, were convicted of sexually abusing young girls. The charges included incest, gang rape and indecent assault, the Advertiser, a paper based in Adelaide, Australia, reports. While Seventh-day Adventism isn’t the official religion on the Pitcairn Islands, but nearly everyone on the islands is an Adventist.
In November 2013, an Australian court case against the Seventh-day Adventist Church revealed evidence that an SDA-affiliated school botched its own internal investigation into a series of sexual assaults occurring in the 1970s, according to the Sunraysia Daily. The man’s victims, court documents suggest, were under the age of 9 at the time. At least one victim says she was “labelled a liar” by the Church. The Seventh-day Adventist Church, plaintiffs claim, became aware of the assaults in the 1990s, but only referred the case to police authorities in 2012.
Another 2015 case comes from Australia, where leaders at a Seventh-day Adventist church in Brisbane came out to admit botching an investigation into the abuse of a 15-year-old victim by Daniel Kyei, who worked as a teacher and soccer coach at Brisbane Adventist College. The Australian has more on the story. Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, established in 2012, received more than 6,700 reports of sexual abuse, 59% of which occurred in religious institutions. Over 60 of the cases were linked to a Seventh-day Adventist Church.
On August 21, 2017, a former teacher at Australia’s Bunbury Seventh Day Adventist Primary School was charged for sexually assaulting a young student sometime between 1979 and 1983. The man, whose name was not published by the Melville Times, has also been charged for molesting a second student between 1987 and 1988.
At least 10 boys, most under the age of 16, were molested at an Adventist boarding school in Finland, Finnish investigators announced in 2003. The alleged abuse occurred over the course of 20 years at Toivonlinna, a school in Piikkiö, Finland. “The main suspect,” a pastor at the Church, “resigned” in 2002, Poynter reports, “but police say that a number of other people have also been implicated.”
Elder Steyn Venter of the Bloemfontein SDA Church in South Africa was fired for issuing “improper advice” in his role as a marriage counselor, according to Adventist Today. Newspaper reports from the time suggest that Venter had “encouraged young couples to engage in public nudity.” The pastor kept naked photographs of at least one couple, which could be considered child pornography depending on the couples’ ages.
Alongside these reports of alleged sexual abuse, Adventist Today also noted two cases in which an Adventist-associated teacher had been charged with non-sexual criminal activity. In one report, a fifth grade teacher at an Adventist school on Grenada was charged with murder after a 19-year-old woman’s body was discovered in a trash can. The second report comes from India, where a teacher at the SDA school in Virudhunagar was charged under the country’s Juvenile Justice Act for hitting a 7-year-old girl with a ruler.
A church elder in South Africa has been accused of raping a 10-year-old girl, the New Age reports, but in June 2017, her parents said the Oudtshoorn Seventh-day Adventist Church isn’t honoring its zero-tolerance policy on child abuse. Eight months after the alleged incident, the accused, Areal Haarder, was still “active in the ministry.”
In 2015, the Jamaica Gleaner reported on the case of Dalton Leslie, a police sergeant in St. Andrew, who was accused of sexually molesting a 15-year-old boy. A member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Leslie was chosen to lead a youth group at the Church, a position in which he remained despite the accusations against him.
An elder at a Seventh-day Adventist Church in Jamaica was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a minor in February 2017, according to a report from the Jamaica Observer. A second report says the man was referred to police for allegedly having sex with a 14-year-old girl.
In 2013, a Canadian woman who was first abused by her adoptive father as a toddler filed suit against her mother, the Seventh-day Adventist Church and two SDA schools alleging they failed to protect her as a child. Her lawsuit, reported by the Vancouver Sun, claims that teachers and administrators at Fraser Valley Adventist Academy in Aldergrove and Cariboo Adventist Academy in Williams Blake knew that her now-dead adoptive father was raping her but failed to report it to law enforcement officials.