With the news that disgraced and disqualified pastor and teacher Dr. Arturo G. Azurdia III (Art Azurdia) is returning to ministry, the woman with whom he had an inappropriate sexual relationship with has spoken out about her involvement with the man, painting their relationship not as an adulterous affair between equals, but rather as the result of years of alleged grooming, manipulation, and predation on his part that ended up with her sexual abuse, in a bid to sound the alarm about the malicious motivations of his dark, dark heart.
Art Azurdia, you’ll remember, was the brilliant expositor and homiletics master at Trinity Church in Portland. Many thousands were blessed by his preaching, especially in circles that are considered to be more theologically sound. He even preached at John MacArthur’s 2018 Shepherd’s conference, a pulpit not easily attained.
Then a few months after that conference, it was revealed that he jumped into a bed of sexual immorality and was consequently released from his position as pastor. In a confession statement on his website, he would write:
Several years ago, prior to the inception of Trinity Church, I strayed from my wedding vows, breaking the covenantal bond I made to my dear wife thirty-six years ago. More recently, I again violated my marriage commitment. In both instances I engaged in adulterous relationships that were nothing less than acts of defiance to the will of my God and Father, as well as expressions of profound ingratitude for the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ that I prize so dearly.
With two years now come and gone, Azurdia has decided to return to teaching and preaching, despite previously saying in that same statement, “Because of my sin I have disqualified myself from the office of elder. Furthermore, I have no desire to pursue a ministry of any kind.”
In the light of his seeking positions of preaching prominence again, as well as starting to teach and get involved in the ministry again, Katie Roberts released a statement to “bring to light the spiritual, psychological, and sexual abuse that I suffered at the hands of my professor, Dr. Art Azurdia, when I was a student at Western Seminary in Portland, OR from 2013–2018.”
In the post, the married mother of three and former director of Women’s Training Network for The Gospel Coalition (TGC) who resigned in 2018 after her involvement came to light, recounts how she was singled out and paid special attention while in his homiletics class from day one. Within a month, he was requesting brief, private phone calls with her, began to confide in her about his life and struggles, and began to call her “sweetheart” while asking if he could call her “my Katherine” while detailing how she made “his heart race.” She writes:
He encouraged me to open up to him, vowing to never take advantage of me in my vulnerability. Because of his positions as a seminary professor and pastor, and because he embodied a kind authoritativeness for which I longed, I trusted him…Dr. Azurdia took me to lunch and pressed me to share my experiences of suffering. I told him about the pain of losing my father in a car accident at the age of four, my childhood sexual abuse by a non-family member, and the struggles in my marriage.
He did not merely provide a listening ear but offered to be the father figure for whom I yearned. He regularly called me ‘Little Girl’ and ‘Baby Girl.’ The best way I can describe it is to say that he felt like home to me – a safe refuge. Over the course of multiple conversations, Dr. Azurdia gained access to the deepest, most tender places in my soul.
Mere weeks passed before Azurdia told Roberts private details of his own marriage, that his wife rejected him years ago and that they were essentially roommates. Conversely, he told her he had fallen in love with her and wanted to know how she felt. When she pressed back that she was married and loved her husband, he assured her that he saw her as a daughter, and “just wanted to share” how he felt.
Two more months passed in similar condition, with Azurdia continually pulling, poking, and prodding her mind, assessing what her limits were and what he could get away with. He told her he’d “reached the point of arousal” that he wanted a romantic relationship “without sexual contact” from her, complimenting her on how beautiful she was. Roberts recounts how he continuously twisted the scriptures in order to confuse her.
When I told him that I did not think he should say that to me, he told me that I was ‘gnostic’ and ‘spiritually undeveloped’ because I didn’t understand that God made our physical bodies and therefore it was godly for him to comment on mine. He called me by the nickname ‘Gnostic Princess.’
Things got too intense after that, and they cut off ties for nearly a year – her choice – with Aziurdia asking Roberts not to forget him and to continue to hold onto him in her heart. They reconnected after a year through happenchance and started talking. Through deepening private conversations with him, something started to dawn on her.
I also began to suspect that Dr. Azurdia had been in a similar situation with another woman under his spiritual authority before he knew me, and that he had had sexual contact with her. I felt guilty for suspecting him since he said I was the first woman he’d told about his wife’s rejection, as well as the first woman with whom he was ‘in love.’ However, I couldn’t get the thought out of my head, so I asked him about it. He admitted that he had had long-term sexual contact with her. He said that if his family found out he would either shoot himself in the head or drive his car off a cliff.
Once introduced, he would hang the specter of his demise over her head if anyone found out, but their time together didn’t last long after his recent confession. They again parted ways for another year, until he initiated contact again for “ministry purposes.”
He told me that he was still in love with me. I told him that I was emotionally attached to him, which I had never shared with him before. He wanted us to stop trying to define our relationship and to have regular personal contact. He reassured me that he knew any sexual component would be wrong…
…Dr. Azurdia also pressured me to admit that I was in love with him, saying my denial was self-deception. The combination of helpful input and pressure to have a romantic relationship was disorienting and confusing. I was convinced that I was in love with him, and he taught me that my feelings were not wrong. He explained that there were grey areas in Christian ethics, that life was ‘complicated,’ and that sometimes people just ‘fell in love.’
…At that point, he still told me we shouldn’t act our feelings sexually. He gave me jewelry and other gifts, sent me love songs, and suggested romantic movies for us to watch. He told me that the purpose of those things was for me to remember him and think of him all the time. One song said, ‘I want you to need me like the air you breathe.’ He also initiated inappropriate physical contact with me, like snuggling, tickling, and rubbing my feet.
During the summer of June 2017, nearly 4 years after they had met, he initiated sexual contact with her. He asked if he could touch her breasts. She said “no,” and he did it anyway.
Dr. Azurdia reassured me that we were not committing adultery; he said that the Bible relegates adultery to sexual intercourse alone, so it was okay as long as we did not cross that line (which we never did).
Believing that his opinion on God’s Word was more authoritative than mine, I doubted myself instead of him. Dr. Azurdia’s initial act was the first in a pattern of increasingly worse sexual abuse that lasted through June 2018. His actions continued to violate more boundaries, to which I responded with initial resistance and then submission.
I told Dr. Azurdia that I felt guilty and wanted to stop many times that summer and fall. Before the overt sexual abuse had initially begun, he had always reassured me that we would only do things with which I was comfortable. However, his responses later showed me that was not true. When I told him that I did not want to engage in sexual acts anymore, he was furious and accused me of being someone who ‘damaged people’ and ‘got my jollies by teasing him.’
I cowered at his anger and felt paralyzed again. When I got up to leave, he changed. He fell to his knees crying and said that it would be psychologically damaging to lose sexual intimacy again. I believed him to be emotionally fragile from previous rejection, and I did not want to damage him further. His words caused me to feel obligated to give him sexual gratification.
Mercifully, it was all about to end. Six months after they had begun doing sexual things, she cried out in confusion and Googled, “I feel like I’m losing my mind and I’m doing things I would never do.”
She began reading about how she was probably being manipulated and found a website by a cult expert who described the ways that cult leaders break down their followers, and she concluded, “I was in a cult of one and Dr. Azurdia was the leader.” Through reading and research, she started to break free from his grip, waxing and waning over a period of months, but gaining more and more clarity.
And then the husband found out about it.
He contacted the elders at Trinity Church and Art Azurdia was eventually removed from his position, but the place that gave him the axe and made statements shared only the briefest of details and didn’t fully communicate the extent and seriousness of his manipulations, grooming and abusive tactics.
Furthermore, Roberts has since come to take exception to the framing of the statements as “an adulterous affair.” Instead, she believes that because she was groomed and indoctrinated, she is a victim of sexual abuse, rather than a willing or knowing participant in it, explaining:
We ourselves are learning through this process. At first, we tried to fit what happened with Dr. Azurdia into the framework of both ‘adultery’ and ‘abuse.’ Over time, we realized that those categories are mutually exclusive. We stopped using the term adultery because it is only accurate when both parties fully consent. Full consent is not possible when one of the two people is in a position of authority. On top of that, Dr. Azurdia’s deception and manipulation also rendered me incapable of making a truly free choice.
Art Azurdia is back on the circuit as we reported months ago. He was scheduled to speak alongside TGC member H.B. Charles Jr. at the aforementioned conference, but Charles has since dropped out. Azurdia has taken a job at Vector Academy – ministry of Grace City Church in Wenatchee, WA, where one of his former students is the pastor. He has also apparently started teaching young adult classes in the church.
As far as why she has gone on public record, Roberts is contemplative but determined; fearing that the true picture of his character was never properly communicated and that anyone wanting to do ministry with him ought to know how depraved his mind really is.
I feel compelled to warn others about a man who has proven himself to be a wolf in shepherd’s clothing. The damage done to me and to our lives by Dr. Azurdia is extensive. I still struggle with shame. I still struggle with the effects of trauma, such as panic, flashbacks, nightmares, mental fog, dizziness, and headaches.
In addition to false teaching, he also accurately taught me many beautiful truths about Jesus, so when I meditate on them, I hear Dr. Azurdia’s voice in my head. Again and again I go through the painful process of having to separate the two. I do not want this to happen to anyone else.
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