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‘The devil is smart,’ says minister working to protect churches from child predators

Pennsylvania preacher Jimmy Hinton says the stories he's heard have 'taken an emotional toll on me.'

The sex, lies and videotapes don’t surprise Jimmy Hinton anymore.

“No surprise at all,” the Pennsylvania preacher said of the latest case to make headlines — this one involving an Oklahoma youth minister.

“The devil is smart,” said Hinton, minister for the Somerset Church of Christ and co-founder of the nonprofit Church Protect Inc. “We assume that the church is safe, that nobody could fathom abusing a child if they are a Christian. Child predators know this and take advantage of this false assumption.”

The Christian Chronicle first profiled Hinton in a January 2015 story headlined “A child molester’s son shines a light.”

That story detailed how Hinton learned that his preacher father, John Hinton, was a longtime child molester who had sexually abused young girls and escaped discovery for decades. The younger Hinton reported his father to police, and John Hinton is now serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence.

Recently, John Clayton, a former atheist known for his “Does God Exist?” ministry, made his Michigan studio available for Jimmy Hinton to record a five-part video series on child abuse specifically geared toward churches.

Clayton, whose apologetics ministry is sponsored by the Dowagiac Church of Christ, met Jimmy Hinton at Ohio Valley University in Vienna, W.Va., where both spoke on a Bible lectureship program.

John Clayton says Jimmy Hinton is shining a light on “a dark secret area.” (PHOTO BY ROLAND EARNST)“He knows personally what is being kept a dark secret area in the Church of Christ, especially among youth leaders but also among some of our preachers,” Clayton said of Jimmy Hinton. “Like our Catholic friends, this is being kept under cover, and our elders and church leaders don’t understand how common it is, how to recognize it or how to deal with it. I have personally run into this repeatedly in my travels and work with congregations.”

Jimmy Hinton responded to questions from the Chronicle about the video series and his ongoing fight against child sexual abuse:

Question: Tell us about the video series and how it came about.

Hinton: John and I were both speaking at a lectureship at OVU, and he sat in on one of my sessions. He was gripped by the message and urged me to make the message available to more people. John is aware that we have a large percentage of Christians sitting in our pews who have been sexually abused, but few people are talking about real solutions to minister to them and to prevent it from happening to more children. A few months later, I was recording a series in John’s studio. I am grateful that he was so generous in allowing me to record these lessons.

Preacher Jimmy Hinton, left, visits with church member David Swain after a Sunday morning assembly. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)

The series was recorded specifically to be used in an adult Bible study as an introductory overview of child sexual abuse in the church. There are five videos and five corresponding study guides that are in question-and-answer format. The idea behind it was to have a more standard way for people within the Churches of Christ to access quality material that speaks to such a common problem in our churches. I rarely go a week without being notified from church leaders who are dealing with the aftermath of abuse. I cringe every time because these calls are from churches where abuse has already happened.

Ironically, churches are generally very resistant to hosting workshops on abuse or making policy changes to help prevent it. We have a lot of work to do to tear these barriers down, and a video series is a more efficient way to begin.

Q: You’re now juggling full-time ministry and Church Protect. What is Church Protect?

Hinton: Church Protect is a 501(c)3 organization that I co-founded last year. It was birthed out of the high demand that I saw within the church regarding a response to abuse. My co-founder, Jon Uhler, is a therapist who has counseled many victims of child sexual abuse but has also counseled thousands of sex offenders in prison.

I am a researcher who lived with my father, a pedophile, for decades. I also am a minister who reported my own father and had to figure out how to navigate one of the worst situations with my family while still leading a church. Several of my father’s victims disclosed the abuse to me once they found out that I had reported him.

All of the research that we currently have on pedophiles has come from people who observe them in prison. I am familiar with the best research that there is in the field of child sexual abuse and yet I remained very unsatisfied. There are gaping holes in research because nobody really knows exactly how pedophiles interact in real life, outside prison walls. I wanted to take my horrible experiences and equip churches to do their best at preventing abuse.

Q: Why did you choose the name Church Protect?

Hinton: Right now churches are the safest place for abusers to abuse and remain hidden. We chose Church Protect because we truly want to protect the most vulnerable souls in the place where we find the largest numfber of predators. Right now the faith community is way behind the secular world when it comes to protecting children. When we know God, we cannot be OK with that.

The faith community needs to be the first line of defense against this degree of wickedness, and it needs to be the best spiritual hospital for survivors of abuse. Our mission is “Protecting, equipping and supporting churches to prevent and report abuse while meaningfully helping those who have been impacted by the trauma of sexual abuse.” Our long-term vision is to build the first Christian therapeutic retreat center for survivors of abuse.

Jimmy Hinton with his wife, Natalie, and their three children. (PHOTO VIA SOMERSETCHURCHOFCHRIST.COM)

Q: How do you balance the various demands on your time?

Hinton: Is that a trick question? Sometimes I hear multiple stories each day of children (who are sexually abused). … Did I mention that I only consult with churches? The fact that this goes on at all has taken an emotional toll on me. The fact that this routinely goes on in the church has aged me several years.

In a strange way, it is more difficult to preach than it is to do the work with Church Protect. People who have been abused and their families are raw and real. They are desperate for healing. They long for Jesus. Preaching is much tougher because the issues people have pale in comparison. I find that I am less patient with my church family than I am with survivors of abuse, and I don’t like that about myself.

My elders have been wonderful, and we are all really transparent. I say that Church Protect is my night job. Ninety-five percent of the work I do with Church Protect is done in the evenings because I still have a congregation to minister to, and I take that very seriously.

It’s a nightmare to hear these stories right before bed each night. It’s tough to balance preaching, Church Protect and family, but it’s a deep calling and I am honored to do it.

Filed under: #ChurchToo Jimmy Hinton National sexual assault

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