A new report details allegations of sexual misconduct against well-known contemporary Christian music singer and songwriter Chris Rice, who reportedly engaged in "massages" with underage boys and invited them to stay overnight at his home.
Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, a leading Evangelical organization specializing in "empowering Christian communities to recognize, prevent and respond to abuse" within religious organizations, released the results of an investigation into the claims against Rice Monday. The firm found the allegations "credible."
Tates Creek Presbyterian Church in Lexington, Kentucky, hired GRACE to investigate in 2020 after a former male member of the church's youth group alleged that Rice sexually assaulted him while leading worship at youth and college retreats for the church between 1995 and 2003.
Robert H. Cunningham, the senior pastor of Tates Creek Presbyterian Church in Lexington, Kentucky, released a statement reacting to the report:
"These new allegations claimed that Rice participated in grooming behavior among our students and sexually assaulted one student on multiple occasions. It was incredibly brave of this former student to share his story with me. I believed him then, and after reading the findings of the investigation, I still believe him."
The allegations against Rice, known for hits such as "Smile," came after a 2019 report finding that former Tates Creek Presbyterian Church Pastor Brad Waller had engaged in multiple sexual misconduct with young men.
While Rice was not an employee of the church, he was close friends with Waller and was contracted on multiple occasions between 1995 and 2003 to lead worship at youth and college retreats for the church.
While GRACE reached out to Rice through his attorney about the sexual misconduct and abuse allegations, the report indicated that Rice declined to speak with GRACE investigators.
The GRACE investigators interviewed seven individuals for their report and only the original survivor, identified as Alan Doe, "reported instances of explicitly sexual contact." All seven individuals were young men who met Rice during his work for the church.
"Several of the individuals reported being invited by Rice for visits at his home in the Nashville, Tennessee, area wherein they stayed overnight at his request. Other than Waller possibly being present for one or more visits (memories of interviewees were unclear), no other adults stayed at Rice's home during the youths' visits," the report stated. "During the relevant time period, Rice would have been in his late thirties and the individuals were in their mid-to-late teens to early twenties."
According to the report, "Alan Doe first met Rice when he was 13 or 14 years old and Rice initiated exchanging massages with him on TCPC retreats beginning at 14-15 years old."
"Alan Doe began driving to Rice's home at 16 years old, where Rice and he slept in the same bed and exchanged massages each evening. Rice escalated and progressed the physical contact until Alan Doe's early years of college, although it is unclear from Alan Doe's memory which events occurred prior to or after Alan Doe turned eighteen years old," the report said.
"At all of these times, Rice was in his late thirties. After the instances where Rice reached into his boxer shorts, Alan Doe realized that this was a 'strange relationship' and that he didn't understand what to make of it other than it was 'weird' and he stopped visiting thereafter," the report continued. "Alan Doe said that he 'put it in a box.'"
Another student identified as Brent Doe reported that while staying at Rice's home and sleeping in a tent in his room, he felt "on guard" and "on the lookout for something weird."
"And then, it never happened. I don't know if he (Rice) could see that maybe I was on guard, or if he just felt like I wasn't going to be submissive," the report quoted Brent Doe as saying.
While the report acknowledges that no one at the church was aware of the allegations of misconduct against Rice at the time they were happening, the church accepted that leaders did not create a "culture of awareness" about abuse and that there was "no record of protective policies in place while Chris Rice was involved in our ministries."
"This is unacceptable, and we are heartbroken at the thought that formalized policies and procedures could have prevented what has been alleged. We have always had standards of how our staff are to conduct themselves, but these standards were not officially formalized, as they should have been," Cunningham said.
Cunningham pledged to do more to create an environment safe from abusers in the future.
"I am profoundly grateful to those who participated in this investigation, and I do hope you will accept our apology for the failures I have confessed," Cunningham said. "Both in policy and culture, our church failed to protect you. I wish so badly we could go back 20 years and change things, but all we can do is move forward in repentance."
"Please know your courage to share has been the prophetic rebuke we needed to repent," he added. "I also realize there are others who participated confidentially because they were not comfortable sharing their experiences at this point, and I want you to know that we completely understand."
Cunningham assured Rice's victims, "There is no pressure at all to come forward."
"We do want you to know that we are always here, available to listen to every single story and to use our resources to help you find healing," Cunningham stated. "[W]e do not view this as the end, but the beginning of a redemptive journey, and the invitation to help remains open-ended."
GRACE had conducted a previous investigation at the church's request from 2018 to 2019 regarding Waller's misconduct. But after Doe shared his experiences with Rice with Cunningham in 2020, the senior pastor informed Kentucky police and called a meeting of church elders where they unanimously voted to contract with GRACE to conduct another investigation.
According to the GRACE report, no investigation has been undertaken by law enforcement into Rice's actions "due to the current preference of the reporting survivor."