After 18 months, an investigation into alleged sex abuse by the Christian musician Chris Rice has found that the accusations against him are “credible.” It’s a remarkable fall for the singer, songwriter, and youth pastor.
Rice’s history in the world of contemporary Christian music (CCM) is a fairly successful one. In 1998, he was nominated for six Dove Awards (i.e. the Christian Grammys); in 1999, he won that award for Male Vocalist of the Year. He received even more nominations in 2000 and 2002. During this period, several of his songs were recorded by more popular Christian artists and his songs were widely played on Christian radio stations.
As it turned out, Rice was good friends with a youth pastor named Brad Waller, and Waller used that connection to bring Rice to his events at Tates Creek Presbyterian Church (TCPC) in Kentucky. Rice, as a popular Christian singer, was the draw, and the events also gave both men access to young people. Rice ended up working with the church between 1995 and 2003.
A couple of years ago, sex abuse allegations surfaced against Waller. He was eventually found to have “engaged in multiple [acts of] sexual misconduct with young men.” During the course of that investigation, conducted by the group Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), victims also brought up Rice’s name… and the church eventually asked GRACE to investigate him as well.
That led to a 29-page report made public this week which finds that separate allegations of sex abuse against Chris Rice were also damning. Here’s how Christianity Today puts it:
Young men looking for a mentor in the music industry say they found the singer was more interested in touching them than talking about songwriting…
… By the time [one] former student was 17 or 18, Rice also began massaging his thighs, touching his crotch, and putting his hand down the student’s boxer shorts on multiple occasions.
Another student stayed overnight for a week in Rice’s home after graduating high school, and the two both slept in a tent indoors. He said Rice asked to see his back muscles and would grab his thighs in a way that made him uncomfortable.
A third said Rice sought him out for one-on-one conversations and time together. When Rice fell asleep lying on him on a bus ride, the student saw their interactions as a “bromance,” but now, in hindsight, he views the behaviors as grooming.
GRACE concluded that the student ministry culture “blurred many boundaries” with so much prolonged physical touch and unaccompanied overnight trips…
To be clear, this goes well beyond discomfort. This is, in some cases, sexual assault. It’s undoubtedly sexual misconduct. The grooming began when the kids were underage. And this isn’t just one rogue guy. The church clear provided no helpful oversight; this investigation only occurred because GRACE was investigating a different guy employed by the church.
TCPC Senior Pastor Robert Cunningham acknowledged the church’s complicity in all this earlier this week, saying they failed to have formal policies in place that could have prevented these encounters, nor did they create a “culture of awareness” so that young people knew what abuse really looked like (which is vital when it comes to reporting it).
… We believe that if our people understood the nature of grooming behavior, particularly from those with spiritual authority, it could have been identified and prevented. Unfortunately, that was not the culture of our church at the time, which allowed grooming and inappropriate actions to take place.
Cunningham vowed to respond with “utmost transparency,” saying all of GRACE’s 15 recommendations would be looked at “with the seriousness they deserve.” (Many of them, he added, were already implemented in the wake of the Waller investigation.) He also said that, while this investigation only involved his own church, Rice may have worked with other ones as well, and those church leaders needed to examine their own history with him.
As far as a response goes, it’s hard to ask for anything more. This church did exactly what it needed to do once confronted with allegations of bad behavior. They investigated it by trusting an outside party (a Christian one with ample credibility) to look into the matter. They took ownership of their faults along the way. They made the investigation transparent and kept lines of communication open for anyone with questions or more information. They sincerely apologized to the victims, church members, and outsiders. Any frustration lies far more with their past actions—or lack thereof.
They appear to have made the same mistake that so many other church leaders have made (and continue to make). They assumed that someone professing Christianity was inherently virtuous and deserving of everyone’s trust. They gave Waller and Rice easy access to children who were led to believe the same lies, and the men took advantage of it.
Christianity is not synonymous with goodness. It shouldn’t take allegations of sex abuse against Chris Rice for church leaders to realize that.
For now, Rice himself hasn’t said anything publicly about the report. His social media accounts are no longer up and he has not responded to reporters’ questions.