Here we go again. Much like the last time I responded to a Julie Roys hit on John MacArthur, I hesitate to lend legitimacy to her attacks by offering a response. Yet given the volume of questions we’ve been asked about her article, the number of Christians blessed by John MacArthur’s ministry who are now apparently questioning the man’s lifetime of good and faithful service to the Lord, and the pile on from many online Christian personalities, I am compelled to respond.
It should be mentioned (lest any readers think we are automatic MacArthur apologists) that we do not hesitate to criticize/critique our elder brother when we believe it is warranted. Frankly, we love and respect him too much to do otherwise. This article is intended to help those who may not be fully aware of the underlying tactics used by Julie Roys, her history of attacking John MacArthur, and what can and cannot be known about this nearly 20-year-old situation.
This is Hardly the First Time
Readers aware of Julie Roys’ history of attempted MacArthur takedowns were likely not surprised to see another one posted on her website a few days ago. Yet this one is different. While the issue she is “exposing” has been publicly known for nearly twenty years, the case is rife with conflicting and unverifiable personal testimony, and the emotional nature of the subject matter primes modern readers to fill in the gaps in order to reach emotionally satisfying conclusions. This makes determining the truth extremely difficult.
Julie Roys spends her investigative time demanding from MacArthur and Company a standard of perfection reserved for Christ Himself. Any evidence of humanity displayed by a person near MacArthur is another chance to destroy him, and opponents of the true Church have been happy to leverage Roys’ articles to attack both MacArthur and Christian faithfulness displayed in the larger culture. For example, Julie Roys’ “reporting” was used by Los Angeles County to attack the religious liberty of Grace Community Church, as Roys sided with the civil magistrate’s usurpation of Christ’s headship over Christian worship. Roys rebuked MacArthur and the church for failing to report the personal medical information of church members, and later the Master’s Seminary for reportedly “violating and mocking” COVID restrictions and “shaming” a mask-wearing student. The church eventually won their battle with Los Angeles, and the county and state of California were forced to pay $800,000 to settle the case.
Whether it’s the gift of an expensive watch, the value of MacArthur’s long-owned family home in Los Angeles County, or the church refusing to disclose the minutes of their prayer meetings to government COVID chasers, Roys’ attempts at so-called journalism rely on the reader’s ignorance of biblical application towards complicated issues, worldly caricatures of Christian ministers, and the emotional fog created by her 38 previous smear attempts. Much like CNN or MSNBC, Roys is skilled at presenting selectively-framed facts that encourage partially-informed readers to fill in the blanks with judgmental leaps of logic (more on this at the end of this article).
This latest “exposé” is no exception.
Roys’ article centers around the church’s involvement in the marriage of Eileen and David Gray, the abuse perpetrated by David in their marriage, and the subsequent discovery that David had reportedly been sexually abusing their three adopted children. Roys focuses on the involvement of Grace Community Church elders, including a video of a communion service where MacArthur reports the church discipline of Eileen for apparently being unwilling to reconcile with her husband.
Important things to remember when approaching this story:
- This article addresses what can be discerned from one side of the story, reported by someone who has a clear bias against John MacArthur. As of this publishing, Grace Community Church has not officially responded.
- All church members (including elders) are sinners. They do not have omniscient knowledge over church members or issues they are addressing in ministry.
- Churches can only act on the information they have, in concert with what scripture instructs the church to do in response to disputes between church members. A husband and wife who are members of the church have (through voluntary submission to the membership covenant) agreed to submit to church discipline when necessary.
- While pastors are mandatory reporters in California, communications between pastors and church members are notably exempt from reporting requirements. Roys’ article ignores this. While pastors are not prohibited from reporting suspected instances of child abuse to civil authorities, they break no law by not reporting. Please see the bottom of the article for an explaination.
- Churches do not have investigation teams for serious crimes like sexual abuse (or really anything that happens outside the church). This is the responsibility of the civil magistrate, and even then the civil magistrate can only act in response to probable cause.
Roys turns the true timeline of events into a damning narrative, beginning the article with an uncritical recounting of MacArthur revealing Eileen’s church discipline to the congregation. The title of Roys’ article creates the impression that MacArthur knew David Gray was continuing to abuse his children at the time Eileen was being disciplined, but the evidence presented does not support this conclusion. Not to be deterred, Roys continues to create the impression that the elders at the church were acting out of malice rather than simple ignorance, yet this conclusion relies on confabulation (the reader filling in gaps). The following timeline of events (including what can be presumed from court documents) is based on what we can either factually verify (by admission) or reasonably ascertain from court documents:
- 1982: David and Eileen are married.
- 1994-1998: The couple adopts three children.
- 1998: David begins displaying abusive behavior in his discipline of the children.
- 1998-2001: David continues abusive treatment of children, including not being appropriately dressed when around the kids (walking around in his underwear).
- June 2001: Children reportedly tell Eileen they think David was trying to kill them (due to one particularly abusive instance of “disipline”). Eileen files a restraining order against David. Church members house her and the kids until the order takes effect and they can return home without David there.
- September 2001: Eileen and David begin marital counseling at the church with elder Carey Hardy. These sessions were taped, with the exact context of statements made during the sessions being disputed in statements from Eileen Gray and Carey Hardy.
- November 2001: Eileen requests to be removed from the church’s membership. The church denies this request in accordance with their bylaws, reporting that they believe they are dealing with a marital reconciliation issue that is within the disiplinary purview of the church.
- April 2002: The church continues to insist that Eileen reconcile with David, revealing their belief that there is no longer any biblical reason Eileen should continue to refuse reconciliation.
- May 2002: Believing that they are dealing with Eileen’s unsubstantiated refusal to reconcile, pastor MacArthur brings the issue before the church in a communion service.
- August 2002: The church elders reiterates their belief that it is Eileen who is refusing a proper reconciliation, and concludes that Eileen has no desire to reconcile the marriage.
- September 2002: The family court grants Eileen sole custody of the children and a legal separation, and she moves north with the kids to be closer to family, who were helping care for them as she fought cancer. David is still granted monitored visitation as Eileen still wanted the kids to see their father and in fact wanted them to have more time with him.
- February 2003: The children begin counseling with psychologist Melinda Adams.
- February-May 2003: The children begin to demonstrate negative reactions to David during visitations, and reportedly begin describing to Eileen instances of David sexually abusing them. Eileen reports thinking they were mistaken at first, but upon believing them she ceases David’s visitations.
- Late 2003: Eileen reports the children’s accusations to the police. She reportedly tells police that she recalls smelling semen on the children in 2001, but upon examination found nothing. There is no evidence that this was reported to anyone when it happened.
- February 2004: Detectives arrest David Gray on suspicion of 10 felonies, including sexual abuse charges.
- June 2005: David Gray is convicted on 6 out of 10 counts, and sentenced to multiple prison terms resulting in his incarceration for 21 years to life in prison. Gray had pleaded non guilty, insisting that Eileen had been more interested in “building a case” against him rather than reconciling. He testified that prior to December 2002, the kids reacted positively to him during visits, but that this changed in the following months. He denied all allegations of sexual abuse, insisting that Eileen planted these events in the minds of the kids to drive David out of their lives.
- November 2006: David Gray’s appeal is denied. The appeal alleged that the court failed to provide a fair trial by not severing the abuse allegations (which had admission evidence) from the sexual abuse allegations (which were entirely based on the children’s statements), but the court found that connecting them was proper. Gray’s attorneys also argued that it was wrong to admit as evidence an unsubstantiated allegation against Gray of sexual contact from 22 years prior to the trial.
- March 2022: David Gray is reportedly denied parole for another ten years, with the parole board reportedly describing Gray as a “sadistic predator who weaponized religion.” Roys celebrates the decision.
Hindsight is Still Not 20/20
As far as we know, David Gray claims to this day that he is innocent with regard to the sexual abuse allegations, even though he has admitted to being physically abusive in his discipline of the kids and engaging in other inappropriate behavior. He apparently began a prison ministry at Corcoran State Prison, receiving some support from members and elders of Grace Community Church. Neither I nor Julie Roys has any ability to validate the truth of the sex abuse charges, although a jury certainly found the evidence compelling enough to convict him. Similarly, I cannot speak to the authenticity of David Gray’s repentance or his prison ministry. There remains no physical evidence of the crimes, as guilty as Gray may be of committing them.
Most importantly for this article, the evidence I can positively confirm does not prove the Grace elders would have had knowledge of the scale of Gray’s purported abuse at the time they were exercising church discipline in the situation.
Might these elders have misjudged? Sure. Knowing what we know now, would they have done things differently? Of course. But should they be held responsible for not being aware of sex abuse that Eileen herself was not aware of at the time, or for not reporting abuse to the authorities that Eileen was not willing to report? Roys rebukes the church for apparently honoring Eileen’s wishes (not reporting Eileen’s accusations behind her back), then accuses them of not honoring her wishes by continuing the discipline process. The elders seemed to believe they were dealing with the sins of “he said, she said” marital strife, followed by what they believed was the wife shunning reconciliation with a contrite and willing husband.
Eileen was apparently refusing the church’s involvement in reconciliation with David after Hardy’s counseling (despite her church membership committing her to the discipline process), but was not willing to report the apparently continued abuse to the authorities or the church. I am in no position to judge Eileen’s reasoning or her choices (and indeed my heart goes out to her as this painful situation is resurrected), but if the elders indeed believed one spouse was ready and willing to reconcile a marriage while the other was inexplicably unwilling, their actions look much more like ignorance and much less like malice.
Yet Roys’ article creates the worst possible characterization of the events and people involved, as she employs a caricature of John MacArthur the chauvinist, enabler of abuse, and church authoritarian who purposefully attacks abused women and children. This is the narrative the reader is expected to accept against decades of evidence to the contrary.
Roys spins a narrative that leads the reader to ascribe nefarious motives and connect dots that remain disconnected without the underlying presuppositions of modern feminism and the so-called #ChurchToo movement – namely that all accusations from women are to be automatically and uncritically believed while all claims made by men are automatically suspicious if not categorically false. Most tellingly, she uses David Gray’s subsequent conviction as proof of what the church should have known, attacking church discipline as a process that should apparently not take place apart from ministerial omniscience.
Roys claims to be an investigative journalist. Yet true journalistic skepticism should have produced some obvious questions:
How could the church assume reconciliation-preventing abuse was continuing when Eileen herself was encouraging David’s continued (and later increased) presence in the children’s lives? Might the discrepancy between Eileen wanting no part of David while simultaneously wanting the kids to be with him lead elders to believe her animus was personal?
Why was Eileen apparently unwilling to report to the elders the continued abuse that was preventing her from being willing to participate in reconciliation?
Was the church’s apparent unwillingness to report the abuse to the authorities based on Eileen’s unwillingness to report the abuse?
Why did Eileen not question or report the semen she later reported smelling on the kids, or at least not actively seek to increase David’s contact with the kids after this suspicious discovery?
Again, I have no interest in undermining Eileen’s testimony (or that of the kids), nor in devaluing the pain and trauma David’s sin undoubtedly brought to their lives. I am not close enough to any of this to judge any of the most pertinent issues. Neither is Julie Roys, even as her time spent interviewing Eileen and other witnesses has obviously led her to side with Eileen. She has every right (and plenty of reasons) to come to her conclusions on David Gray’s abuse and guilt. Yet her real target is clearly John MacArthur, and she fails to present any real evidence of complicity beyond the unfortunate circumstances and incomplete knowledge that would fool many well-intentioned ministers attempting to follow the biblical prescription for church discipline.
While I pray for truth and justice to prevail, I don’t automatically assume that juries get it right (Ironically, there is at least one other David Gray in the United States who was later exonerated of crimes for which he was initially convicted). I make no claims regarding the truthfulness of any of the claims of Eileen or David in this article, only that the claim that MacArthur is somehow guilty of supporting abuse, reflexively supporting men over women, or abusing the church discipline process is entirely unfounded based on the information Roys presents, no matter how artfully she spins her preferred narrative. I suspect this will not deter her from continuing to attack him.
The Shadow of Scott Peterson
One more interesting note: The trial of David Gray took place in the shadow of the Scott Peterson murder trial, which was a legal and media fiasco taking place just north of the Gray trial. The national media was obsessed with Peterson, and the eventual jury for the Gray trial was undoubtedly aware of the proceedings of the Peterson trial, which took place June-November 2004 (Gray was arrested in February 2004 and convicted in June 2005), including the prevailing characterization of Peterson as a predatory husband committing heinous violent acts against his family.
The trials share eerie similarities: Both defendants committed prior offenses that undermined their character (Gray’s previous physical abuse was charged alongside the more serious sex crimes, while Peterson’s adultery was “charged” against him in the court of public opinion). Both crimes lacked physical evidence, and both suspects continue to claim innocence.
If somehow evidence later reveals that David Gray did not commit these crimes (such things have been known to happen), would we similarly attack Julie Roys for purportedly acting on what she believed was true at the time, finding her guilty of promoting abusive false accusations and prosecution? Should her career and reputation be destroyed like she is attempting to destroy John MacArthur’s? Or would this be categorically impossible because men in power cannot be victims of scurrilous accusations and women cannot victimize?
Julie Roys’ reputation as a journalist is almost entirely based on her work exposing James MacDonald, and her attempt at similarly “taking down” John MacArthur reveals that she is (at the very least) unwilling to distinguish between the faithful and the corrupt. She placed a target on the back of MacArthur when he rightly told the false teacher (and now apparent Anglican) Beth Moore to “go home.” Roys platforms barely-veiled liberals like Karen Swallow Prior and race-baiting trauma clown Kyle J. Howard. She has become an unskeptical hatchet woman for anti-conservative and woke forces in and out of evangelicalism.
With her doctrinal integrity and discernment effectively destroyed, she seems to be burning through whatever journalistic credibility she has left as she attempts to add more trophies to her feminist mantle.
Addendum: Non-exaustive Examples of Julie Roys’ Yellow Journalism
Roys slyly shifts between reporting allegations made in testimony:
Eileen testified that she went to the living room of the family’s home, where she found David holding a belt and one of her children crying with disheveled hair.
and provable facts:
The day after learning these details, Eileen found a lawyer and filed a legal separation and restraining order against David.
Notice how the statement “learning these details” ties the prior allegations to the provable fact of the filing of the restraining order, leading to the easy confusion that both are provable.
Roys relies on reader ignorance of the criminal justice process:
In 2004, two staff pastors at GCC were written up by LAPD for their alleged mishandling of David Gray’s abuse.
“Written up” means nothing in and of itself, but Roys creates the impression that these pastors were charged and prosecuted with crimes. In fact, she follows with “Carey Hardy was charged with two misdemeanors” before revealing the case was “dismissed or not prosecuted,” meaning he wasn’t actually charged with anything prosecutable. She writes that “the reason Hardy’s case was dismissed is not clear.” Perhaps it was because pastors cannot be charged with failing to report abuse as they are not mandatory reporters. The other “written up” pastor was not charged.
Roys obfuscates the source of quotes. For instance, she attributes to Grace elders (by way of Eileen’s testimony) this statement:
…professional counseling is “worldly” and wrong.
But according to a sworn statement from pastor Alvin B. Barber Jr., this statement was something David Gray said he was told by church elders. This qualifies as hearsay.
Perhaps most offensively, Roys implicates God’s Word itself as culpable in the abuse, quoting a letter from Grace elders:
“. . . Though you are ignoring the shepherding role in your life that God requires from our church, we must still choose to follow the mandate of Matthew 18, verse 17, if you persist in preventing the restoration of your family.”
before implicitly condemning the words of Jesus:
Matthew 18:17 says that if someone refuses to repent of his sin, the sin should be told to the church and the person treated like “a pagan or tax collector.”
Roys describes a couple at church visiting Eileen late one night to (according to the couple) encourage Eileen to reconcile with David. Despite the meeting likely being unscheduled, Roys characterizes it as akin to a late-night break-in:
In an account for David Gray’s trial, Eileen wrote that Bonsangue and his wife entered her home at 10:15 p.m.
This list is not every instance of these techniques used in the article. Roys says she is working on a follow-up article, which we suspect will contain much of the same journalistic trickery. Stay tuned.
Update: Mandatory Reporters
Note: The original version of this article mistakenly claimed that pastors were not mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse. They are mandatory reporters, but not when the suspicion arises via communication while in the “course of the discipline or practice of the clergy member’s church, denomination, or organization.” The below section is meant to clarify the issue.
Confusion remains on how California’s mandatory reporter laws applied to what we know about this case.
California Penal Code lists 49 categories of “mandatory reporter” – that is, a person required to report if they have “knowledge of or observes a child whom the mandated reporter knows or reasonably suspects has been the victim of child abuse or neglect.” One of these categories is “clergy member,” described in Section 11165.7:
A clergy member, as specified in subdivision (d) of Section 11166. As used in this article, “clergy member” means a priest, minister, rabbi, religious practitioner, or similar functionary of a church, temple, or recognized denomination or organization.
Yet in section 11166 subsection (d), the code contains an exception (emphasis mine):
(1) A clergy member who acquires knowledge or a reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect during a penitential communication is not subject to subdivision (a). For the purposes of this subdivision, “penitential communication” means a communication, intended to be in confidence, including, but not limited to, a sacramental confession, made to a clergy member who, in the course of the discipline or practice of the clergy member’s church, denomination, or organization, is authorized or accustomed to hear those communications, and under the discipline, tenets, customs, or practices of the clergy member’s church, denomination, or organization, has a duty to keep those communications secret.
As far as the evidence indicates, the church elders’ suspicion of child abuse (they did not have first-hand knowledge) was acquired during a confidential communication (counseling) with Eileen and/or David. An elder (authorized clergy) counseling church members fits the exact definition of the above exception. Again, as far as the evidence indicates, neither Eileen nor David wanted any instances or accusations of abuse reported to the authorities (and evidence indicates the elders believed David was repentant of these sins), so in accordance with the principles of 1 Corinthians 6, the elders actually had a responsibility to not go to the civil magistrate. And California law seems to honor this principle in the interest of the Constitutional freedom of religious practice.
Despite the fact that ministry and church discipline can be exercised improperly, imagine the damage done to church ministry and reconciliation if church members believe that confessing our sins to one another will automatically result in being turned in to the police. The Christian sinned against would similarly want to seek reconciliation within the body of believers, and a mandatory reporting requirement might interfere with this. The clergy exception provides discretion for Christians to exercise church discipline, forgiveness, and reconciliation without involving the “unrighteous” (1 Corinthians 6:1). If the elders believe that the sins described to them are within the scope of the Christian family (sinfully practiced child discipline, for example), they are not sinning by attempting to adjudicate the issues within the church.