Right-wing pastor Perry Stone appears to be under investigation by the FBI over sexual misconduct allegations as well as his ties to local law enforcement officials in Cleveland, Tennessee.
That’s the takeaway from a damning investigation from Wyatt Massey of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Massey spoke with several people associated with Stone’s Voice of Evangelism ministry who say they’ve already been questioned by the FBI; they include alleged victims along with others who are simply concerned about Stone’s lack of accountability.
That’s because the allegations first arose last year — and it looks like nothing changed as a result. The ministry hasn’t taken their claims seriously and the local sheriff’s office (which says it hasn’t received any formal complaints) isn’t looking into the matter either.
Who is Perry Stone?
Let’s back up for a bit. If the name Perry Stone sounds familiar to you, it may be because he’s something of a laughingstock outside his Christian bubble.
In 2019, he went viral for all the wrong reasons when he was caught checking his phone while speaking in tongues:
Another time, he was speaking in tongues and then told his crowd that he had actually spoken in four languages, including an Asian one.
And once, shortly after COVID forced even conservative churches like his to shut down in April of 2020, he delivered a sermon to an audience of puppets.
More seriously, he also blamed COVID on abortion and LGBTQ rights and said we could ignore climate change because Jesus was coming back.
That April, his ministry announced out of nowhere that Stone was taking a short “sabbatical.” But Massey obtained a recording of a speech in which Stone told a small group of church members that he was actually stepping away from the pulpit because he had “acted inappropriately” with female employees.
“I confess at times I’ve been inappropriate in all this weariness of just non-stop ministry,” Stone said in the message. “I let my guard down and I’ve asked, of course, God to forgive me for that. I sat down with my family, with my beautiful, precious wife Pam, the love of my life. I asked her to forgive me. And I very humbly and very sincerely ask those who have been hurt or offended by my actions to, please, also forgive me for those things.”
Stone, 61, did not say specifically what occurred but said he “acted inappropriately with them, and with words and sometimes actions.”
In other words, that recording suggested a different reason for the “sabbatical” than what Stone told a much larger crowd around the same time, which is that he was taking time to be with his family and working on a project about a “great treasure” that will soon be discovered.
The Voice of Evangelism’s Board of Directors suggested in a statement that, whatever Stone did, it may have been unethical — they said he “has sincerely repented” — but it wasn’t criminal. That statement is vague as hell, but at the very least, it suggested that the ministry was going to look into the matter and take action if needed.
That sabbatical didn’t last very long. Within a matter of months, Stone was back in the pulpit at his Omega Center International building and there was virtually no mention of the allegations against him — at least not publicly.
The Allegations Against Perry Stone
It’s worth pointing out what Stone was actually accused of doing. Massey got ahold of the letters several victims sent to ministry officials last year and it’s all extremely disturbing:
In April 2020, the all-male Voice of Evangelism board of directors each received copies of 11 letters, nine of which were from women either employed by or connected to the Stone’s ministries, which include Voice of Evangelism, Omega Center International and the International School of the Word.
The letters — some of which were given to the Times Free Press and others described to a reporter — detailed allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Stone, including groping, showing that he was aroused while fully clothed and rubbing himself, asking women in his ministry about their breasts, kissing the women on the neck and lips, asking them to kiss him in similar ways, messaging them to send him pictures and asking them to massage him. At least one letter obtained by the Times Free Press said Stone would lock office doors to be alone with women.
Several of the women alleging misconduct told the Times Free Press that Stone told them he had a dream in which something bad was going to happen to his wife, Pam, and God told him he should be with the other woman. Several women said Stone would tell them he was lonely and his wife was not pleasing him sexually.
Massey says two of those letters came from ministry employees who had previous knowledge of the misconduct. And yet when the ministry announced Stone’s “sabbatical” to other staffers, they didn’t elaborate. They just said Stone needed time to recover from something that could easily have been interpreted as more of a personal demon like addiction.
Two weeks later, he was back at work.
He wasn’t preaching between May and December of 2020, but you would never know it from his videos posted on YouTube, where pre-recorded sermons and person-to-camera statements were still going up on a regular basis.
How could that happen? How could none of the other leaders in his ministry take these allegations seriously enough to remove the guy from power?
It might be because Stone had ways of making sure people were loyal to him:
Nine people either connected to or employed by Stone’s ministry, some of whom were with the ministry for more than a decade, said he would hand out cash to those close to him. The former employees said Stone would also buy vehicles for women and pay for their housing.
Four people with connections to the ministry said Stone would threaten the employment of loved ones or remove opportunities in his ministry if women rebuffed his advances.
The Board of Directors for the ministry said it investigated the matter thoroughly and “completely refuted” some of the allegations… though they didn’t explain which ones were dismissed or why they were so confident in dismissing them.
Perry Stone’s Current Preaching
This past year, Stone has just continued preaching as usual — though in August, he stopped uploading regular sermons to his YouTube channel. Instead, he shifted to only posting pre-recorded messages or hot takes on current events that don’t involve an audience of any kind. The actual sermons are, however, still posted to Facebook or on a separate YouTube channel.
Earlier this month, Massey attended a service in person and heard a rather shocking claim from Stone (which was live-streamed but promptly removed from social media):
… God told him Satan was trying to hurt his reputation and stop him from delivering a revelation that would save entire nations. He told the crowd demons use slander and accusations, and people who talk to news reporters but do not want their name used should not be trusted.
It is “demonic,” “perverted” and a sin to talk about sins of the past, Stone said.
It’s part of the standard Christian playbook for sexual abuse allegations: Just blame Satan and make sure everyone treats the accusers as Satan’s minions.
We know why Stone said that, though.
Just a week earlier, he had been heckled during an in-person service. Stone had mentioned how more people are leaving organized religion and, according to Massey, a woman yelled out from the crowd, “Probably because you keep touching them, you nasty perv.”
Stone shouted her down from the stage, got security to remove her, and told the congregation about how lies were being spread against him.
Shortly after that outburst, one of Stone’s ministry colleagues, Bryan Cutshall, got up on stage and did the dirty work for his boss:
“What you just witnessed happened at the trial of Jesus the day before he was crucified,” Cutshall said. “This is Satan and his plan against Jesus and those who support him. You’ve just come into the trial of Jesus.”
Stone himself chimed in with his own disturbing Andrew Cuomo-like response:
“I am not a perfect man,” Stone said. “People have taken me hugging and kissing them on the cheek wrong. I quit that. I’m Italian. My whole family holds hands, rubs backs. I didn’t know you can look at somebody and say, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ and they can take it wrong.”
Stone then told the crowd that God has told him that the people who have accused him will have to answer for it when they die.
Of course, no one was accusing him of sexual misconduct over a hug or kiss on the cheek. They accused him of kissing them on the lips without consent, showing them that he was aroused, and groping them, among other things.
The Current Investigation
All of this makes the FBI investigation into Stone all the more serious. They’ve apparently obtained internal documents from the ministry and spoken to various employees and alleged victims.
You may wonder: Why is the FBI involved at all? There are allegations that the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office can’t be trusted to investigate the matter because Stone’s ministry has been donating large amounts of money to them, giving them use of his buildings for training purposes, and hiring them to provide security at his church. In essence, the fear is that Stone is paying them off so that they won’t investigate him.
Considering that Tennessee now has a law making it illegal for religious leaders to make sexual advances on someone in their care in a professional setting — punishable with a fine of up to $3,000 and a 1-6 year prison sentence — it’s imperative that local law enforcement officials take any allegations of this problem seriously. If the sheriff’s office is part of the problem, though, then the FBI would need to step in to investigate. That seems to be what they’re doing, though obviously no one at the FBI will confirm that. We won’t know until there’s a resolution, and it’s possible we won’t hear anything at all.
For now, the FBI hasn’t taken any action. The sheriff’s office hasn’t taken any action. Stone is still preaching. All the allegations made by several victims have only resulted in a mild slap on the wrist, and that was a long time ago.
But thanks to careful reporting, it’s clear that there’s a lot more happening behind the scenes and it could all expand into something far more serious before long.
Interesting enough, this morning, Stone posted a video on YouTube called “The Truth Behind Today’s Media.” Without addressing any of the specifics about his case, he treated shady televangelists as victims of a mainstream media out to make money off of them.
… the more sensational a report comes, or if a person’s name is known, it sells them more papers. It sells them more, uh, advertising dollars. It’s really about marketing and advertising dollars all the way around…
He also suggests that any report using the word “alleged” should be ignored, as should any report that uses unnamed sources. Both of those things appear in the Free Press article about him.
Of course, as anyone familiar with quality journalism understands, they’re not making things up for the hell of it, “alleged” is the accurate way to describe what’s going on here, and the unnamed sources are known to the reporter and editors — but they’re not published because there may be legal or social repercussions for it. The way to get people close to Perry Stone to speak out about him is to promise them anonymity.
Stone also claims some local journalists are trying to get “to the next big job, to the next big city… [and] working on self-promotion.” As if Massey’s article is all made up as part of an elaborate scheme to get a job at a national newspaper.
Keep in mind that there are audio recordings of things Stone said and did — and that Stone didn’t bother to refute any of the things said about him.
Anyway, I’ll keep a recording of this video in my own files because it’s going to be a hell of a thing to look at if the investigation leads to any arrests.