They didn’t provide racy details, nor did they name accusers, but leaders of Tacoma’s Life Center church took a methodical procedural walk during a private meeting Thursday, explaining to a crowd of parishioners exactly why lead pastor Dean Curry was fired this summer after 14 years of service.
“The board is in unanimous agreement that Pastor Dean Curry’s removal as senior pastor was the correct decision,” said Nate Angelo, chairman of Life Center’s executive board. “He is disqualified from gospel ministry because of repeat violations of Life Center’s sexual harassment policies. He will not be returning as Life Center’s senior pastor.”
Thursday’s meeting was closed to the public and the media, open only to a select group of church members who had to register beforehand. However, several Life Center members recorded the event and provided the audio to The News Tribune.
The meeting at the megachurch, which has more than 4,500 members, shed new light on the circumstances that led to Curry’s firing this summer. That decision followed allegations of sexual misconduct with a female former employee and other allegations of repeated inappropriate behavior with sexual overtones, stretching back several years.
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“We’re gathered here to talk about things that are difficult,” Angelo said Thursday. “We’re here to be transparent, to inform you, to update you.”
Angelo revealed that the board commissioned an independent investigation this summer of Curry’s conduct, separate from a similar inquiry conducted in the same period by the Northwest Ministry Network, regional overseer of the Assemblies of God denomination. The complaints that led to Curry’s dismissal were filed with the network in May and subsequently shared in part with Life Center leaders.
Life Center’s investigation, conducted by an outside attorney, required interviews with more than two dozen witnesses, Angelo said, including Curry.
“Pastor Dean was given the opportunity to respond to the allegations brought against him,” Angelo said.
It was the second time Curry had faced an investigation regarding possible sexual misconduct. An earlier inquiry dated to 2016, but the board did not find sufficient evidence for dismissal. The Northwest Network also looked into the allegations at the time and reached a similar conclusion.
Curry was not exonerated at the time. Rather, he was put on notice, according to Angelo’s statement, and the board reportedly established new rules to prevent misconduct in the future.
The notice had little effect. Angelo said the misconduct resurfaced and persisted. Results of the 2018 investigation found that Curry used foul language with regularity, made inappropriate sexual comments, continued to commit “boundary crossings” and generally violated church policies forbidding sexual harassment.
Angelo did not disclose the names of Curry’s accusers or exact details of their complaints, citing the need to protect the privacy of the individuals. He said the church was beginning its search for a new lead pastor. He said the church has retained a consultant with expertise in sexual harassment training to improve workplace culture and evaluate existing policies.
“We do not pretend to know, nor can we ever know, the full extent of the pain for those who have been hurt,” he said. “We do know that the pain extended beyond the afflicted, to spouses, parents, to siblings and friends who are suffering alongside these victims. As a board and church, we are very sorry.”
He added that board members recognized that many current and former employees feared retaliation from church leaders and were reluctant to voice their concerns, calling it “an unacceptable culture for any organization, much less a church that bears witness to the power of Jesus to transform lives.”
The second speaker at Thursday’s meeting was Don Ross, leader of the Northwest Network. Citing a “challenging season,” he told the assembled crowd that the network received another set of charges of sexual misconduct from “a different party” than the individuals who had filed complaints in 2016.
Ross said that Curry was interviewed by the network in 2016 and “mostly denied or dismissed” complaints of sexual misconduct. At the time, “there was simply not evidence to impeach his character,” he said.
The newer complaint was different, Ross said. While he offered no detail, he said it provided “sufficiently clear and convincing evidence” to recommend Curry’s dismissal.
The recommendation was forwarded to the Assemblies of God General Council, the denomination’s national overseer. In August, the national organization upheld Curry’s dismissal, meaning he is no longer licensed to preach under the church’s auspices.
Before Thursday’s meeting, Curry criticized the Northwest Network’s process, saying he was given no chance to respond to accusations or defend himself.
Ross told the crowd that wasn’t true.
“Dean Curry has indicated that he hasn’t received responses from the Northwest Network. Those statements, unfortunately, are patently false,” Ross said. “Over the course of this process, Dean has had multiple opportunities. He was fully informed. He also had the opportunity to appeal the General Council’s decision. He declined to appeal the decision. Dean Curry is no longer qualified to serve as an ordained minister of the Assemblies of God.”
Reached Friday, Curry reiterated his previous denials of misconduct and repeated his criticisms of church regional leaders while praising Life Center board members.
“I stand by my denial and I stand by my comments about the Assembly of God — very disappointing,” he said. “My disagreement has to do with mishandling of this process by the Assembly of God. It put Life Center and the board and me in a very awkward situation. I know they were forced into making a decision that was difficult for them. I appreciate their love and kindness to me. They have to make a decision and a statement that is best for Life Center. I totally understand why they want to cut ties.
“Nate and the board, these people have done such a wonderful job and they have been so thorough, fair and kind. I appreciate the process. I have just the utmost respect for them.”
Julee Dilley, a former Life Center board member who left the church in 2016 over concerns about Curry’s conduct, praised church leaders Friday for addressing the issues surrounding the dismissed pastor.
“I greatly appreciate the steps towards transparency and truth from the Life Center Board and feel that what they shared last night was a huge step in the right direction,” she said in a written statement. “I also want to thank the Northwest District for their involvement and commitment to truth in this process as well as for their commitment in protecting the victims and their stories.”
Dilley filed complaints this summer with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the state Human Rights Commission regarding Curry’s behavior. Those inquiries are ongoing. The complaints included the following allegations, all of which Curry has denied:
▪ An ongoing relationship with a married church member that turned physical.
▪ An incident involving another married church member being visited by Curry late at night, discovered by the woman’s husband.
▪ A female administrative employee who spoke of uncomfortable conversations with Curry that included comments on her appearance and discussions of his intimate relations with his wife.
▪ Inappropriate counseling sessions when Curry used vulgar terms when describing intimacy.
▪ Talking to other women about intimate details of his marriage
▪ Talking to women about their appearance, sometimes in crass terms.
▪ Telling women, “You are the only one who gets me.”
▪ Isolating women and spending time alone with them on multiple occasions, to their discomfort.
While she was pleased with the church’s response at Thursday’s meeting, Dilley said that referring to Curry’s conduct solely as sexual harassment was an understatement.
“Dean’s abuse was not consensual,” she wrote. “This isn’t about bad language, lack of boundaries with women or flippant sexual comments. This was abuse, in my opinion. I do feel that there is a duty to warn the public about this type of predatory behavior to help protect from the potential of future victims.”
Members who attended Thursday’s meeting spoke to The News Tribune and asked not to be identified, citing continuing concerns about retaliation. One woman said the board “stepped up — referring to these women as actual victims is a huge change of heart.”
Another long-time member said the board’s actions “went a long way to creating trust in the process ahead” and partially addressed concerns that the board served as a rubber stamp for Curry.
One member who sat near the back of the crowd described sitting next to a long-time church member, an older woman who had taught Sunday school at the church. Her attendance dated to the 1970s.
Before the meeting started, the woman said Curry would never do what he was accused of doing. The member explained that she knew some of the women accusing Curry. They were friends and peers.
The veteran teacher remained doubtful.
“She was adamant that Pastor Dean would never do what they’re saying he did,” the member said. “At the end of the night I was standing up to leave and she tapped me on the shoulder. She had huge tears in her eyes and coming down her face.
“She gave me a big hug and said, ‘If you get a chance to talk to any of the girls, tell them we’re so sorry. Tell them that I’m so sorry.’”