Raising Cain Over Christine Caine
When I first heard Christine Caine—abuse survivor, pastor, and founder of the anti-human trafficking organization A21—it was during the launch of her new organization Propel Women at Liberty University in 2015. I was beginning my journey toward Egalitarianism, embracing a theology of equality for both men and women, and her Wednesday night sermon was the tipping point for finally accepting women as pastors.
In an open letter to Christine after hearing her preach I wrote:
“Dear Christine Caine,
We have never met but I wanted to tell you: you changed my life... This was the very first time I had ever heard a woman preach and you did so with a passion, fervor, and humility that was truly stunning… All of the doubts in my mind that God could use a woman to lead and preach were laid to rest as the Spirit moved through your bold, feminine voice. I felt like the Holy Spirit whispered to me that night, ‘this is for you.’”
Christine’s example of egalitarianism and unapologetic preaching—especially her preaching on her experiences of childhood abuse—was truly an undeniable factor in gaining the courage to follow God’s call on my life to become an ordained minister myself.
In those early years of recovering and developing my voice, I listened to her sermons many times over and shared her interview “It is Possible to have Ministry and Marriage” on Facebook over and over again, along with dozens of her empowering Facebook quotes.
Even as my theology evolved and I became more progressive than Ms. Caine in some areas, I could not help but name her has one of my heroes when asked during an interview earlier this year.
Even my book The Courage Coach was not complete without a page being dedicated to a Christine Caine quote:
"Courage, after all, is not the absence of fear. It's the will to persevere even in the face of fear." —Christine Caine
So it is with a broken and crushed heart that I feel obligated to write what I am writing today. Christine Caine was my hero, my inspiration, and a large contributor to my sense of calling as both an ordained minister and advocate for the abused.
On November 18th I read an article from 9News: “60 Minutes: Hillsong Church founder under police investigation over handling of father's sex crimes” which stated,
“In 2014, [Hillsong senior pastor] Brian Houston gave evidence before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, which later found he had failed to take the matter to the police and had a conflict of interest in dealing with the complaints against his father.”
For those who are not familiar, Christine Caine is deeply connected to Hillsong Church and its founder, Brian Houston. It is my understanding that Hillsong was the church that ordained Ms. Caine and gave her the platform she holds today.
Christine Caine has used her platform as a survivor and advocate for years and is slated to speak as an expert on the subject at the GC2 Summit on Responding to Sexual Violence, an initiative of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in partnership with the Wheaton College School of Psychology, Counseling, & Family Therapy.
Initially, when I saw her name on the list for GC2 speakers I was happy to see a survivor, advocate, woman, person of color, and woman preacher be included. It was upon understanding the depth of the problem at Hillsong—and how Brian Houston and many around him covered up Frank Houston’s abuse by failing to report these crimes to the police—that I was deeply concerned by Caine’s ongoing silence. To my knowledge she has not released a statement condemning Brian Houston’s inaction and ongoing deflection.
It was with this concern that I made a polite request through a direct Tweet:
I believe that integrity would call a public figure, such as Ms. Caine—who’s brand centers around justice for victims of abuse—to publicly decry the gross failures of a close colleague, in this case, Brian Houston, who failed to respond properly to child sexual abuse and reportedly told the victim “it’s your fault all this happened, you tempted my father.”
I waited. I hoped beyond hope that Christine Caine, my long-time hero, would speak up and publish a statement condemning the abuse coverup. The GC2 #ChurchToo conference she is scheduled to speak at this month is supposed to be directly addressing the issues of abuse and cover-ups in the Church, and her silence on Houston’s behavior matters.
Days went by and I did not hear back from Ms. Caine or see her release a public statement regarding Brian Houston.
On November 30th, my friend and fellow advocate, pastor Jimmy Hinton, released a must-read piece about Brian Houstin’s cover up, juxtaposing his own experiences turning in his pedophile pastor father with Brian Houston’s failures. I tweeted:
My pastor friend @JimmyHinton12 reported his own pastor-father's sexual abuse to the police. Read as he weighs in on @hillsong Pastor @BrianCHouston choosing not to report his pastor-father who sexually abused and then allowed him to remain in the church. https://t.co/vdU3qTARNY— Ashley Easter (@ashleymeaster) November 30, 2018
As I began typing my second Tweet encouraging Caine, again, to make a public statement addressing Houston's dangerous behavior I realized that she had blocked me on Twitter.
Brian Houston himself commented on my Tweet and then blocked me as well. Jimmy Hinton replied graciously:
My heart stopped for a second. My fear had come true. Not only has Christine Caine failed to speak up about an important matter—abuse cover-up—but her silence involving her friend, colleague and leader of her sending church is now enabling that behavior. As someone whose platform was established as a survivor and advocate, her silence speaks volumes. When she chose to block someone encouraging her to speak up on behalf of victims of abuse, the very people she is supposed to be serving as a pastor and founder of an anti-human trafficking organization are being told—explicitly—that they don’t matter as much as a high-profile pastor. To do all of this, with impunity, while being a speaker at a conference about abuse in the church, is immensely concerning.
I sincerely didn’t want to write this post because I’m still grieving over what is happening. To be clear, nothing I am writing is out of anger for being blocked, though her response to block me for asking reasonable questions has left me devastated.
Whether or not Ms. Caine unblocks me is beside the point. Her choice to silence critics and questions is indicative of a larger cultural issue within the Hillsong inner-circle. If reasonable questions of integrity and accountability are not welcomed or answered, then it is no wonder abuse was covered up for as long as it was by Brian Houston and his collaborators. How can Christine Caine, with credibility, speak at the GC2 conference or claim to be an advocate so long as she is silent and enables the culture of coverup within Hillsong?
As it turns out, this is not the only matter Christine Caine has been silent on.
Recent reports indicate that Ms. Caine was sued for plagiarizing abuse survivor Carey Scott, in her book Unashamed. It was a book I bought, read, and enjoyed when it initially came out. The case has been settled in the Fall of 2018, but Caine has yet to release a public apology to the abuse victim, who is now also a victim of plagiarism by a Christian celebrity.
The silence speaks volumes of an impunity Christine Caine appears to believe she has. Yet no one is above being held accountable.
I chose to write this post for a few reasons.
First, if I speak out against cover-ups in patriarchal churches but fail to speak up against it in egalitarian churches, I have no integrity. If I speak up about celebrity pastors abusing and covering for abusers but I don’t speak up about pastors who I like, I have no integrity. If I fail to address abuse coverups in my own circles, I have no integrity and am the definition of a hypocrite. That is not the type of person I am or ever want to be.
Secondly, I speak up with the hope that Christine Caine will choose to do the right thing. Acknowledge her plagiarizing. Acknowledge her silence about the cover-up culture of Hillsong. Apologize. Make things right. It’s very simple and our common faith makes room for restoration.
Christine, if you read this I want you to know I am calling you to do this not because I am a trolling dissenter who never cared for you or your ministry. I am speaking to you as a fellow pastor, one who became ordained because of your example, as a fellow woman, as a fellow survivor of abuse, as a fellow victim advocate, as a fellow Christian, as a woman who has loved and spoken positively about your ministry for years. I speak as a friend.
Please, for the sake of survivors, for the sake of your integrity and your ministry, release a statement acknowledging your concern over the evidence of Pastor Brian Houston's failure to respond to abuse properly. Share how pastors should respond to abuse, even when the perpetrators are their own family members. Explain how the Church should handle these situations. Don’t be silent anymore—the very thing churches and faith-based organizations too often decide to be when faced with a truth they dislike.
I know this is scary. I know you stand to lose a lot… but Jesus is more important than Brian Houston. Integrity is more important than ministry connections. Believe me, I’ve lost significantly since speaking up about abuse situations. But you taught me, "Courage, after all, is not the absence of fear. It's the will to persevere even in the face of fear."
Please do the right thing. Please.
Lastly, I write this as a plea to Wheaton College School of Psychology, Counseling, & Family Therapy. Your event has already received criticism and concerns from many, including abuse survivors, who believe it will be protectionist of the Church rather than focused on preventing abuse. In light of Christine Caine’s failure to not only speak out about a situation in her own camp but her efforts to silence those who are concerned by her enabling a cover-up culture within Hillsong, I respectfully request you evaluate whether Christine Caine is an appropriate speaker for your event. If she does not amend her ways, acknowledge her failures, and apologize, is Christine Caine’s presence the right choice for your conference?
Ask yourselves if your speakers have been consistent in standing against abuse coverups, especially when their friends were involved. Have your speaker's plagiarized abuse victims and refused to apologize? Please evaluate whether your speakers are credible voices to address the urgent and important problem of sexual abuse in the Church.
As an advocate and founder of a national conference on church abuse—The Courage Conference—I strive to support and protect survivors and those who love them. I partner with professionals and advocates who have been in the trenches with abuse survivors for years, I’ve had to make hard decisions to remove speakers on occasion when issues of integrity arose. I risk losing connections with high-profile Christians all the time because of the stands I make. My involvement in conferences and in the advocacy community spans years, and it is not easy to make these decisions. But if we are going to start doing the right thing for survivors in our midst, we need to start holding each other accountable for the abuses that have occurred under our watch.
Whatever we lose in holding the powerful to account is worth it. Because, survivors are worth it.