Did the swift justice of the #metoo movement strike again this week, hastening the downfall of another powerful man in Tacoma accused of inappropriate behavior toward a female subordinate?
It’s a natural question to ask after news spread that the Rev. Dean Curry, pastor at Tacoma’s Life Center church, has been defrocked. Curry told a packed church Sunday evening that he was falsely accused by a former employee and is appealing to the national Assemblies of God headquarters.
Many parts of the Tacoma establishment were shaken up in the past year — from a state legislative seat to a local college to City Hall. It was probably just a matter of time before misconduct charges engulfed a high-profile male religious figure.
Profiles don’t get much higher than Curry’s. Over the last dozen years, he’s not only been a spiritual shepherd to thousands who attend the Union Avenue megachurch, he’s arguably the most recognizable evangelical leader in the Tacoma area.
He’s been out front in good times and bad, whether presiding over Life Center’s annual 24-hour parade of free wedding ceremonies or while leading a community memorial service for Charlie and Braden Powell, young brothers murdered by their father in 2012.
Curry has shared his testimony of growing up in a broken household in South Tacoma; the 50-year-old pastor tells of abandonment by his biological father and sexual abuse by a male who wasn’t part of the immediate family. He says being welcomed into the faith family at Life Center as an at-risk boy turned his life around.
Allegations that he abused his pastoral office at the church that helped raise him are doubly troubling. Multiple sources told a TNT reporter that Curry’s been accused of misconduct with women in the past.
#Metoo is an overdue force bringing dignity and justice to those who’ve suffered in silence too long, mostly women. The problem is that claims often come down to he said/she said, and they vary by degree. Whether Curry is a casualty of the movement may never be known. What we do know is that pastors, like other public officials, are rightly held to an exacting standard.
Most Christian denominations set a high bar, affirming biblical doctrine that pastors be paragons of morality and self-control. Few churches take it more seriously than the Pentecostals, especially in the wake of the Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker sex scandals of the late 1980s.
But pastors ought to be given due process, as well. Curry says he didn’t have a chance to defend himself before he was dismissed. We hope he’s afforded a full and fair opportunity to make his case on appeal.
We also hope Life Center is always known as a space of grace — a “Jesus Place,” as church officials like to say — regardless of who the pastor is.
During his short speech Sunday, Curry gave his blessing for the church to move on without him. "Pastors come and go, and this one is going, and you have to keep doing your Jesus thing," he said.
Even so, the transition won’t be easy for a faith community that’s had only two figureheads over the last half century: the Rev. Fulton Buntain, who arrived at Life Center in 1965 and built it into a megachurch, and Curry, who worked with Buntain for 20 years and inherited the pastor mantle in 2006.
Now’s the time to raise up a new generation of religious leaders in Tacoma who can balance accountability with reconciliation. They’re needed to care for the lost and oppressed, to advocate for orphans, widows, immigrants, prisoners and those experiencing untreated illness or homelessness — in short, to model the biblical command “to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8).
Today more than ever, in churches of all sizes and traditions led by pastors from all walks of life, that command must be honored.