It is a story with overtones of the child sex scandals that rocked the Catholic Church, but this time it is a Protestant group which is being rocked by new revelations about some of its most prominent pastors.

The revelations that have blown the lid off an effort to keep the details secret has to do with Bob Coy, who was the most famous pastor in South Florida until his sudden resignation in 2014.

Over two decades, Coy had built the Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale from a small storefront church into a megachurch with over 25,000 members that filled Dolphin Stadium for an Easter service, and over the years featured high profile guests including George W. Bush and Isreali President Benjamin Netanyahu.

“With a sitcom dad’s wholesome looks,” reports the Miami News Times, which broke the story, “a standup comedian’s snappy timing, and an unlikely redemption tale of ditching a career managing Vegas strip clubs to find Jesus, Coy had become a Christian TV and radio superstar.”

The fuse was lit on this explosive case in 2015 when a woman called the Coral Springs Police Department (near Ft. Lauderdale) and said she had learned that Coy had molested her daughter from the time she was four years old until she was a teenager.

The police then contacted the girl, who confirmed the story. She said Coy had “forced her to perform oral sex,” reports the Miami New Times, adding: “He would regularly ‘finger and fondle her’ genitals, make her touch his penis, and ‘dirty talk’ to her.”

The girl never told her family what was going on until recently.

The Coral Springs police sat on the charges for months, never interviewed Coy,  and then killed the entire investigation without ever taking it to the district attorney.

While he was the spiritual leader of a megachurch with a big following on TV and radio, Coy shared his opinions on many subjects. He supported Geoge W. Bush and the Iraq War, once calling Sadam Hussain a “rabid dog.”

He called adultery “the ultimate betrayal of trust in human relationships,” and said “repentance is not just being sorry about being caught.”

He fought against LGBT rights and ran groups to convert gay people into heterosexuals and preached that non-believers in his church would surely go to hell.

In 1996, Coy led the church to pay $21 million for a 75-acre campus just off the Florida Turnpike. In 2006, he raised over $100 million in donations. 

When Coy suddenly quit as pastor in 2014, his life was spinning out of control. He divorced from his wife, but the explosive contents of the divorce case were kept under seal by a judge convinced by Coy’s attorney not to make it public for fear of potential ramifications for the Calvary Chapel Church.

There are about 1,800 churches that are or have been affiliated with Calvary Chapel, which began in California in the 1960s, offering a spiritual sanctuary to former hippies and others who wanted a place to worship but felt alienated from traditional churches.

Calvary was founded by Bob Smith, who wore Hawaiian shirts and preached old-school fire and brimstone religion.

“Smith was among the first pastors to make a startling discovery,” reports Miami New Times. “Many of the hippies and disaffected youth who’d come for the Summer of Love had realized psychedelic drugs and the Grateful Dead weren’t filling the holes in their lives. They wanted spirituality but could never go back to their parents’ churches.”

Unlike traditional churches which have a board of elders who help keep an eye on the pastor and finances, the philosophy at Calvary was to use the “Moses” concept, which means the pastor of each church was seen a kind of Moses from the bible leading his flock, with tremendous power over operations, budget, and the spiritual messages, with no oversight by anyone else at each location. 

At least eight pastors at Calvary Chapel’s churches around the U.S. have been charged with abusing children since 2010, reports the Miami New Times. 

“In one case,” writes the Miami New Times, “victims claimed the church knowingly moved a pedophile to another city without warning parents.”

Smith died a few years ago and the Calvary Chapel church movement was rocked by lawsuits and in-fighting. It has now splintered into two and is experiencing more havoc.

What Calvary did was echo the kind of charges that rocked the Catholic church over the past decade, where parishes and dioceses were accused of knowingly moving pedophile priests to other locations to avoid legal problems, allowing more molestations and other problems.

Coy had a compelling story. He had been in the record business where he abused cocaine and alcohol. He went on to manage a Las Vegas strip club before finding religious revelation after his brother gave him a bible to read.

Coy was recently tracked down living in South Florida helping manage the Funky Biscuit club in Boca Raton. He refused to discuss the child molestation charges but did say he had taken and passed a lie detector test, but would not provide results.

Coy and Calvary Chapel sided with conservative Republicans on political issues and supported many of their candidates; but beneath the surface, the operation was more sin than redemption, more a con job than a healing of the needy, and more about money than faith. 

Even today many of these churches have a powerful influence over their members and in their community, but there is a lack of accountability, and an ability to influence the local government and police with their power.

This is why the constitution demands a separation of church and state because these people and groups operate on growing a flock and leading it with a demand for total obedience, but blind faith turns out to be a poor operating philosophy.

These churches have tax exemptions, but they do not have to answer to anyone most of the time. As Coy demonstrates, there is a need to reign them in and demand that these preachers live as they want others to live, and not as they wish. /

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