Assemblies of God pastors say denomination’s leaders should resign over Chi Alpha scandal

J.R. Armstrong is the senior pastor of MAG Church in Orange, Texas.
J.R. Armstrong is the senior pastor of MAG Church in Orange, Texas. | YouTube/ XA Lion's Den

At least three Assemblies of God pastors have called on denominational leaders to repent and, where appropriate, resign after organizers of the Chi Alpha Campus Ministries were accused of allowing Daniel Savala, a 67-year-old itinerant minister and convicted sex offender, to prey on scores of young males for more than two decades.

The Assemblies of God claimed on Friday, however, that it had warned local Chi Alpha leaders about Savala and is already taking steps to dismiss leaders who failed to protect participants in the ministry as they continue to investigate the scandal.

The latest call for accountability has come from Pastor J.R. Armstrong of MAG Church in Orange, Texas, who recently criticized Assemblies of God General Superintendent Doug Clay for making comments that he believes appear to minimize the abuse Savala is accused of perpetuating in the wake of his recent arrest. 

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Savala was arrested in Waco in June for allegedly sexually abusing the minor sons of one of his protégés in the ministry.

"On Friday, Aug. 4, on the closing session of business at the General Counsel of the Assemblies of God, General Superintendent Doug Clay went on record with a statement concerning Chi Alpha Ministries. In his statement, Rev. Clay called attention to the ministry of Chi Alpha without presenting the dozens, if not hundreds, of victims of sexual and spiritual abuse as a spectrum in ministry lines, which in and of itself, [is] moral relativism at its worst," Armstrong said in an impassioned address from the pulpit of his church on Aug. 13.

He played a video clip of Clay making comments that he said minimized Savala's abuse to "hiccups."

"Hundreds of victims of sexual abuse is not a spot on a spectrum," Armstrong said.

"I, as an ordained minister in good standing with the Assemblies of God, call on Doug Clay, Donna Barrett, E. Scott Martin, Tim Barker, Don Wiehe, Gaylan Claunch, and others to speak up, take responsibility, and where necessary, to resign. And with some, that will be necessary."

Chi Alpha is a campus ministry located on around 300 campuses globally with the support of the Assemblies of God. In recent months, whistleblowers have alleged Savala was allowed by some leaders in the ministry to prey on young men and boys for years.

Christopher Hundl (L) and Daniel Savala (R).
Christopher Hundl (L) and Daniel Savala (R). | Police photos

Savala, according to KWTX, was identified as the "spiritual mentor" of Christopher Hundl, 38, the former leader of Chi Alpha's ministry at Baylor University, who was charged with allowing the itinerant leader to sexually abuse two of his family members later revealed to be his sons.

According to the arrest warrant, Hundl allegedly brought the two boys to Savala's Houston home several times between the summer of 2021 and March 2022. Texas' sex offender registry records show that Savala was charged in 2012 for sexual abuse of a minor, a third-degree felony, which he committed in Alaska between 1995 and 1997.

While in a sauna with Hundl and the boys, who were younger than 14 when the abuse happened, Savala allegedly instructed the boys to masturbate in front of the adult men. It is alleged that similar activity also took place in Hundl's home. The arrest records state that Savala also touched the boys inappropriately in Hundl's presence.

Hundl, who is married, told officers that he met Savala while in college and was involved in a sexual relationship. Savala, he told police, acted as a "grandfather" to the two boys.

Earlier this month, a McLennan County grand jury indicted Hundl and Savala on one count each of continuous trafficking of persons, a first-degree felony punishable by a minimum of 25 years in prison without parole.

Armstrong argued in his address to his church that, as far as he knew, the denomination offered no relief to Savala's victims and seemed more focused on limiting its liability.

"To date, there has been no relief offered to the victims of these decades-long failure more than a three-paragraph statement that's buried on the AG website," he said.

"Missionaries have been arrested. A handful of others have been removed from the pulpit. All the while, the leaders of the districts and national office leaders have remained silent. These leaders have had knowledge of the abuse of this sexual offender working in the organization since at least 2018, many as far back as 2013. Church, that's a decade," he argued.

"When we are guarding the liabilities over the people, we have lost our way. We've lost our way! Church, the liabilities are coming. So why not have the human decency to be who we are called to be and say, 'We love you, and we're sorry this happened to you,'" he added. "'We are doing everything in our power to make sure it never happens again. And Because this happened under my watch and whether it fell through the cracks, or whatever the case may be, because this egregious thing happened on my watch, for the good of the fellowship, I will step aside.'"

The Assemblies of God headquarters in Springfield, Mo.
The Assemblies of God headquarters in Springfield, Mo. | Assemblies of God

Armstrong told The Christian Post in an interview Thursday that he has heard "nothing" from the denomination since his address last month. 

"I haven't heard from anybody in any official capacity of leadership," Armstrong said. "I've heard nothing."

He said his call for Assemblies of God leaders to be held accountable for Savala's enabling in one of the denomination's major ministries reflects a minority opinion because the denomination's leaders are not treating the scandal as a failure of leadership.

"I think that the vast majority of them (Assemblies of God leaders) would rather people like me just be quiet. Let it play out and see some lower-level missionaries" held accountable.

"I think as far as what Daniel Savala did, everybody should be appalled. Most do not, in my opinion, most do not see it as a leadership issue or ... a problem [that] elevates to district or national level," he said.

Armstrong says that, for the most part, his church will not be funding missionaries to work with Chi Alpha until the Assemblies of God conducts a proper investigation and holds everyone responsible for the leadership failures.

The Christian Post reached out to the Assemblies for God for comment on Armstrong's criticism and was pointed in the direction of an updated statement that said the national office had warned local leaders about Savala as far back as 2018.

"When a report first surfaced to the General Council and National Chi Alpha in 2018 of Mr. Savala's proximity to certain local Texas Chi Alpha groups, the appropriate districts with which these campuses are affiliated were notified," the statement said.

"National Chi Alpha, which serves as a resource for locally operated chapters, made relevant Chi Alpha leaders aware of his status and warned them to cease contact and not permit students or leaders to be around him."

The Assemblies of God further noted that denominational leaders were unaware that Savala was sexually involved with college students in Texas until April 2023, and investigations have been ongoing since then. The Pentecostal denomination says it has limited public comments on the matter to protect the integrity of the investigation.

"The General Council and National Chi Alpha first became aware of reports of sexual contact with college students at certain Chi Alpha campuses in Texas in April 2023. This triggered district and local investigations into the various allegations," the denomination leaders said.

"These processes begin at the district level where investigations into the validity of an accusation may result in the filing of charges against a minister's credential. Once charges are filed, a district hearing occurs by the district credentials committee. Action is then referred to the General Council Credentials Committee to consider the recommendation of the district," they added.

"During this period of time, public comment on cases under investigation remains limited to protect the privacy of victims, witnesses, and the accused. An additional period of time must elapse prior to the publication of a dismissed minister's name, in print or electronically, pursuant to bylaw provisions."

However, the Assemblies of God officials confirmed that ministers are already being appropriately dismissed "in response to the investigative findings."

The denomination assured in its June statement that it was "heartbroken" and planned to do everything it could to help the victims.

 "We are heartbroken to hear allegations related to Daniel Savala and the pain his reported actions caused. The Assemblies of God strongly opposes the teachings and practices he seems to have endorsed," the denomination said. "While he [Savala] did not hold credentials with the Assemblies of God and was never on staff within Chi Alpha Campus Ministries, The General Council of the Assemblies of God takes matters of this nature seriously and will do everything we can to help."

Pastor Jeff Gravis leads Central Assembly Church in Haughton, La.
Pastor Jeff Gravis leads Central Assembly Church in Haughton, La. | YouTube/ XA Lion's Den

At least two other Assemblies of God pastors previously spoke from their pulpits about the Chi Alpha scandal after Savala's arrest: Pastor Albert Cortez Stern of Family Life Assembly of God in Katy, Texas; and Armstrong's good friend, Pastor Jeff Gravis of Central Assembly Church in Haughton, Louisiana.

Through tears, Gravis told his congregation in June that both he and his wife had been involved with Chi Alpha in the past and had a positive experience, so he was shocked to hear how Savala was allowed to prey on students.

"This man had been a sexual deviant for decades. In 2012, he was convicted in the State of Alaska and placed on a registered sex offender list. At that moment, all involvement with Chi Alpha should have ended. Sadly, it was Chi Alpha leaders who asked for leniency, Chi Alpha leaders who signed off to supervise him back in Texas and Chi Alpha leaders who continued to take groups of students to this man's home without disclosing his criminal background, all the while telling students that this was the holiest man alive," Gravis said.

"This particular individual had apparently been sexually grooming and assaulting young men for decades. Not only that, his pernicious, perverted teachings found a haven to flourish in the young men who went to his home and sat in the sauna of his home. He groomed them, and, as a result, those he molested turned out to be molesters themselves."

Doug Clay, General Superintendent of the Assembly of God.
Doug Clay, General Superintendent of the Assembly of God. | YouTube/ XA Lion's Den

"It's been revealed that two of those he mentored and had campus ministries molested their own children. One of the campus pastors even took two of his sons to this man's house where both boys were molested by their father and this wicked individual," he said. "They're things so terrible that one can almost hear the pleading of the Apostle Paul speaking through the ages. It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles."

Gravis said that as former Chi Alpha leaders at Lamar University and Sam Houston State University, respectively, he and his wife, along with their church, have continued to promote and give money to support the ministry.

"To say that my heart is broken over what is going on is an understatement," he said.

The independent investigations underway have impacted friends in the ministry Gravis has known for more than 20 years. He called on Chi Alpha leaders who have not been implicated in the scandal to hold those responsible accountable.

"I know that you are being found guilty by association with people who committed these crimes. I beg you to hold leadership accountable," he said.

"This could have been avoided had leadership stepped up and called some people to account. It's my prayer that your ministry will survive this storm and that you will not lose the support you so desperately need. If ever there was a time that we needed ministries such as yours to the secular university campus, it is today. And I want you to know that at Central Assembly of God, we are with you. We are for you. And we are praying with you," Gravis declared.

"To those in leadership in the Assemblies of God national offices, South Texas district offices, North Texas district offices, any district office, any other people in positions of authority. If the investigations reveal that you were warned and did nothing but pass the buck and kick the can down the road, repentance and resignations are appropriate," he added. "You have failed in your duties, put people at risk and have been grossly negligent in the offices you were placed in to serve."

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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