MAG Church disaffiliates from Assemblies of God over Chi Alpha abuse scandal

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

Former Assemblies of God pastor J.R. Armstrong of MAG Church in Orange, Texas, announced that his congregation recently voted to follow in his footsteps to disaffiliate from the world's largest Pentecostal denomination in response to a sexual abuse scandal impacting its Chi Alpha Campus Ministries.

Assemblies of God leaders have been accused of knowingly allowing 67-year-old itinerant minister and convicted sex offender Daniel Savala to prey on young males for years through the Chi Alpha Campus Ministries. 

"We wish to be on record as acting ethically and graciously in our response after discussing the options given to us by the South Texas Assembly of God network," Armstrong announced during a March 17 special business meeting.

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"And considering the current crisis being faced by this district and fellowship, the board decided that recommending disaffiliation was in our best interest because systematic sexual abuse within this district and others was known dating back to at least 2018."

In a 79-2 tally, the congregation voted to leave the Assemblies of God. 

Armstrong elected not to renew his credentials with the Assemblies of God months after criticizing Assemblies of God General Superintendent Doug Clay for making comments that he believes minimized the abuse Savala is accused of perpetuating on young men through Chi Alpha.

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

Daniel Savala, 67.
Daniel Savala, 67. | Police photo

Earlier this month, a legally blind Sam Houston State University student who was part of Chi Alpha filed a $1 million lawsuit alleging he was sexually abused by Savala while in the ministry.

The lawsuit names several groups as defendants, including the General Council of the Assemblies of God, South Texas District Council Assemblies of God, Inc., also known as South Texas District Council Assemblies of God, Chi Alpha Campus Ministries, USA, and Chi Alpha Campus Ministries Huntsville.

The student listed as John Doe alleges that even though some ministry leaders witnessed Savala engaging in sexual assaults, they still brought youth from religious groups across the state to Savala's house for "mission work."

Doe alleges that he began making mission trips to Savala's home with members of Chi Alpha Huntsville, a group on the SHSU campus, in the fall of 2017. He contends that Savala lured him into a sense of goodwill as other leaders called him a "savior and angel." Doe maintains that Savala forced him to start performing sexual acts, which grew worse over time until 2022.

Using information from Assemblies of God training and policies, Armstrong argues that ministry and denomination leaders were grossly negligent in their handling of Savala's abuse in the ministry because they were warned repeatedly that he was a predator from at least 2018.

"In the time between 2018 and April of 2023, it's undeniable that at least three minor children were molested by him. These three boys were allegedly victimized as a direct result of the inaction of elected leadership of the Assemblies of God to follow through on the knowledge that they admit they had at the time. Two of them were sons of an active Chi Alpha missionary. One of them who filed suit in north Texas a few weeks ago was actually 13 at the time," Armstrong said.

"All of them were molested since 2018. We are not in any way insinuating that these leaders were predators. It's just a failure and breakdown of communication and leadership. That's all. I don't say that's all dismissively. It's big."

Calling the accommodation of Savala's predation in Chi Alpha a "sex cult," Armstrong says the Assemblies of God did not take the allegations about Savala seriously until they began receiving legal demand letters concerning his behavior.

"Then and only then was any scrutiny given to the sex cult. And that's what it is, that was operating within the ministries of the Assemblies of God. I know that's strong language, but I'm going to add to this language," he said.

"When the Catholic church was doing this, everybody could see it. When the Southern Baptist Church Convention was going through this, everybody could see it. And I'm telling the district officials and this body that everybody can see this and the only people struggling over what to do and that it happened are Assemblies of God ministers and leadership," Armstrong said. "Everybody else sees it very clearly. The language of the lawsuits that are coming, are language of sex trafficking."

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

In earlier comments to The Christian Post on the allegations, the Assemblies for God pointed to an updated statement that the national office confirmed officials 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 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 an ongoing investigation.

The denomination confirmed, however, 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.

"As of today multiple Chi Alpha missionaries, six or more, have been dismissed, multiple arrests have been made, one leader in Springfield was allowed to resign, God knows why. Yet none of the elected leadership have stepped down after a catastrophic failure to supervise the ministries under its charge," argued Armstrong. "And there seems to be no intention of releasing the results of the independent investigation commissioned by the district and paid at our expense."

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

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