Five women in California have filed a lawsuit against the International Churches of Christ (ICOC) claiming they covered up child sexual abuse and put financial pressure on members leading ‘some to take their own lives.’
The lawsuit filed Dec 30 at the US District Court for the Central District of California names the five plaintiffs as sisters Darleen Diaz, 33, and Bernice Perez 31, as well as naming Ashley Ruiz, 31, Salud Gonzelez, 30, and Elena Peltola, 23.
The women claim that ICOC and affiliated organization including Hope Worldwide, Mercy Worldwide, the International Christian Church and the City of Angels International Christian Church ‘indoctrinated,’ isolated and sexually exploited them while manipulating them through a strict belief system.
The lawsuit, obtained by Rolling Stone, names leaders Thomas Wayne ‘Kip’ McKean the founder of the church and the estate of the late Charles ‘Chuck’ Lucas as defendants. The women also allege that the church leaders established a system of exploitation extracting ‘any and all value it can from members.’
Five women in California have filed a lawsuit against the International Churches of Christ (ICOC) claiming they covered up child sexual abuse and put financial pressure on members leading ‘some to take their own lives’ naming Thomas Wayne ‘Kip’ McKean (pictured) the founder of the church and the estate of the late Charles ‘Chuck’ Lucas as defendants
Founded in 1979 in Boston by the evangelist McKean, the International Churches of Christ, then known as the Boston Movement, soon became one of the fastest-growing Christian movements of its time
Founded in 1979 in Boston by the evangelist McKean, the International Churches of Christ, then known as the Boston Movement, soon became one of the fastest-growing Christian movements of its time.
Today, the ICOC, by its own estimates, has more than 120,000 members across 144 countries, according to the lawsuit. The plaintiffs claim Lucas co-led the church from its founding.
‘It is commonly understood that McKean was acutely aware of the physical, psychological, and sexual abuses Lucas and other church members wrought upon both children and adult parishioners of the church,’ the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit further claims that church members were pressured to fund special mission trips twice per year and tithe 10 percent of their income to the church to the point that some were driven to depression and suicide.
‘If the tithing budget was not satisfied, leaders or ‘disciplers’ were forced to contribute the financial shortfall themselves, or members were required to locate the offending member who failed to tithe and sit on their porch until they arrived home in an attempt to obtain their tithe funds before Sunday evening was over,’ the lawsuit claimed.
‘The pressure to comply with the church’s rigid demands was a source of anxiety and depression for many members. So much so that several ex-members committed suicide.’
Church members were also reportedly given a quota for bringing more members into the organization, seemingly for the sake of raking in more contributions.
Sisters Diaz and Perez named convicted pedophile David Saracino as their abuser and claimed the church did not adequately protect them from him. Diaz said she attempted suicide when she was a teenager.
Sisters Diaz and Perez named convicted pedophile David Saracino (pictured) as their abuser and claimed the church did not adequately protect them from him
In a letter to staff and members of the Los Angeles International Church of Christ the leadership council and administration commented on the lawsuit
His alleged offenses include inviting children to his house to go swimming and once they’d undressed, telling the girls that ‘they needed a bath’ using the opportunity to ‘heavily fondle their naked bodies while they were bathing,’ the lawsuit states.
Ruiz claimed he performed oral sex on her. The sisters claim their mother reported Saracino to the church leaders, but, they allege, the church ‘tipped off’ Saracino, who fled town before the police could arrest him.
‘Even though the sexual abuse happened to me in the ICOC at around age five and robbed me of my childhood, the trauma also followed me into my adulthood, where I feel like I am always in survival mode,’ Ruiz told Rolling Stone.
‘Having some sort of legal closure and acknowledgment about what happened to me as a child will… be tremendously helpful.’
In 2012, Saracino was given the maximum sentence of 40 years for ‘forcible rape of a four-year-old girl’ in 2004 according to a report from KPLCTV at the time.
Prosecutor Cynthia Guillory told the judge during his sentencing that he is among the ‘worst of the worst’ – a predator who ‘sought our single women with financial problems to gain access to their small children.’
Gonzelez claimed that she was sexually assaulted by a Sunday School teacher for a period of five years beginning when she was 4 years old. She also alleged that she was abused again in a rehab program connected to the church when she was 15, and again when she was 17. According to Gonzelez, the abuses she experienced drove her to a suicide attempt because she lacked support from the church.
Peltola also reported being raped in 2012 during a mission trip to Honduras by an ICOC member when she was only 13 years old. She alleged that when she reported the rape, ICOC and Hope Worldwide leaders ‘victim-blamed’ her and called her a ‘slut’ for several months before ultimately expelling her, claiming she was a ‘liability.’
‘For decades, members of the ICOC/ICC and its affiliates groomed and sexually abused children as young as three years old,’ said Bobby Samini, an attorney for the plaintiffs, in a statement to Rolling Stone.
Charles ‘Chuck’ Lucas (pictured) was best known for his work with the Crossroads Church of Christ in Gainesville Florida from 1967 to 1985. The discipling methods he helped develop became part of the Crossroads Movement, later called the Boston Movement, now the International Churches of Christ
In the early 1990s, the ICOC formally split from the mainline Churches of Christ as the movement’s top-down hierarchy and discipling techniques drew criticism. Lucas (pictured with his wife Ann) died Aug 9 2018 age 79
‘Instead of reporting the sexual abuse to law enforcement, ‘church’ leaders shamelessly targeted and blamed the survivors, admonishing them that they ‘risked losing their salvation’ unless they forgave their abusers,’ Samini said.
‘The lawsuit … will expose the perpetrators at the ICOC/ICC and its affiliates who claim piety, all the while enabling the sexual abuse of children.’
In a video explanation of how the ICOC is structured posted to YouTube on Sep 6 last year it claims the nondenominational Christian organization is made up of 731 churches in 147 countries with a 15.5 percent expected growth over the next 10 years.
The Churches are organized into ‘families’ with the video explaining that there are 34 families of churches.
‘Each of these regions has a chair couple to organize and facilitate as they work to meet global and local needs,’ the video explains.
‘Each family of churches also has delegates that are involved in leadership meetings, decision making and creating proposals to better and further the church and unity and missions guided and aided by the catalyst team.
‘The various teams and taskforces exist to serve specific needs of the churches and disciples each culture and country can organize how they see fit – different regions are organized differently.’
A member of the New York City branch of the church told the Christian Post that churches in the ICOC are joined only by their beliefs and are not governed by a central authority.
Meanwhile, in a letter to staff and members of the Los Angeles International Church of Christ the leadership council and administration commented on the lawsuit.
‘Sadly, some of these complaints contain allegations that leaders in the LA church mishandled reports received many years ago of child abuse perpetrated by former members,’ it reads.
In a video explanation of how the ICOC is structured posted to YouTube on Sep 6 last year it claims the nondenominational Christian organization is made up of 731 churches in 147 countries with a 15.5 percent expected growth over the next 10 years
The Churches are organized into ‘families’ with the video explaining that there are 34 families of churches
‘Our hearts go out to anyone who has been affected by child abuse. We have no tolerance for predators and believe we have a responsibility to protect everyone in our community.
The statement goes on to claim that there are ‘stringent policies requiring background checks and screenings of all members who serve with children.’
It also claims there is a mandate that ‘no adult is to be alone with a child during services and Children’s ministry events.’
‘If you are aware or become aware of any incident of abuse or of anyone who has covered up such abuse, we encourage you to inform your local ministry leaders and/or contact our administration,’ the statement reads.
The statements also explains while there ‘may have been common roots’ there is ‘no affiliation with Kip McKean, Crossroads Church, City of Angels Church, International Christian Church – ICC, and Mercy International.’
‘We vehemently renounce the coercive and controlling practices alleged in these lawsuits and have publicly and have strongly repudiated practices of this kind,’ the statement reads.
‘We will continue to do everything possible to provide a safe, Godly place for everyone in our community.
‘Additionally, we will be looking into the specifics of the allegations more deeply and will update the church as the matter proceeds.’
The lawsuit is not the first time the church has attracted national attention.
When ICOC’s membership numbers were growing in the early Nineties, national news outlets began raising concerns from former members that the church was a ‘cult’ that manipulated people into joining, tithing large amounts of money, and cutting ties with their families outside the organization.
In 1993, a 20/20 investigated claimed instances of ‘coercion, brainwashing, and scare tactics’ after several viewers wrote into the network about the organization.
The Central Christian Church in Singapore, which is a part of the ICOC family of churches, won a court case where the judge ruled against a newspaper that had accused the Church of being a cult.
An expert on religious studies testified that the Central Christian Church’s practices were ‘neither strange, unnatural or harmful,’ according to reports at the time.
In a video posted to online by Stacey Aviva Flint (pictured) Jun 27, 2019, Flint explains why she left the church including how it ‘quickly became controlling’
Flint claimed that people would be ‘shunned’ if you married someone outside of the church, that she ‘nearly starved her daughter’ on advice from ICOC members and was ‘chastised’ for not recruiting high caliber members
In a video posted to online by Stacey Aviva Flint Jun 27, 2019, Flint explains why she left the church including how it ‘quickly became controlling.’
‘When I first got in it was 1986, I was from a troubled home, but I was college bound,’ she said.
‘Once they asked me to go into leadership, that’s how they lure you deeper into the church.’
She goes on to claim that in this role she was asked to recruit people who are ‘wealthy, single businesspeople, or people in the entertainment industry.’
‘If I didn’t bring someone that was of that caliber I was chastised,’ she said.
‘They would say ‘you need to be bringing in people who are smart and who are rich, you know, these kinds of people’ so you would be critiqued on the kind of people you brought in.’
She also claimed that people would be ‘shunned’ if you married someone outside of the church.
‘They sexually kind of neutralize you and then expect you, all of a sudden, when you get married, be this very intimate [person],’ Flint explained.
When Flint had her first child, she claims she was given a book which led her to almost ‘starve her daughter to death.’
‘She had intestinal and eating challenges all her life and I think it stems back to the book [I was given],’ she said.
Flint said that she really believed that the ICOC was an organization that was ‘saving people.’
‘Kip McKean is an egomaniac and I think he’s probably a bit delusional because I’ve heard that he’s said to people that he’s a modern-day apostle,’ she said.
‘He was very charismatic, and no one could ever check him,’ she said.
DailyMail has contacted the ICOC for comment but did not hear back in time of publication.