As I said in a previous post I had never heard of Kanakuk Kamps, Pete Newman or Joe White until recently. However, this cover-up for sodomites, adulterers and pedophiles occurs sadly too often within professing Christian organizations. Pete Newman is one example of a Good Ole Boy within a professing Christian organization! Now we read that ‘The first thing you need to know about Pete Newman is that people loved him. He has olive skin, dark hair, and thick eyebrows that generated good-natured “unibrow” teasing. Girls wanted to date him, guys wanted to be him, and children wanted to follow him.
He was a camp director at Kanakuk Kamps, one of the largest Christian camps in the world. Kanakuk is an immense operation. Since its founding in 1926, it claims to have served more than 450,000 campers. Its main campus is located outside of Branson, Missouri, but it has international reach. Every summer approximately 20,000 kids pass through its gates, and the institution is particularly prominent with the Evangelical elite.
Newman was the camp’s rock star. A person who went to Auburn University with Newman said, memorably, “If Jesus and Pete walked into a room, I’m not sure who the kids would have worshiped.” “Pete Newman is the most thorough relationship builder with kids in Kanakuk history,” Kanakuk chief executive officer Joe White once said. “This guy has a raging love for God and it spills over constantly to the kids at kamp.”
White himself has long been a popular, charismatic figure in American Evangelicalism. (We reached out to White, and he declined to comment.) He has inspired intense devotion from campers, employees, and parents. Outside of camp, he’s known for a particular and vivid public presentation where he builds and carries a cross on stage to illustrate the crucifixion of Christ. The example below comes from a 2015 convocation at Liberty University:
Kanakuk and White promoted Newman relentlessly, both within the organization and to the public at large. Newman rose through the ranks from camp counselor to camp director. It sent him on the road to recruit campers and to raise money. According to former members of the camp community, parents would sometimes compete for a coveted honor—hosting Newman in their home.
He was also a superpredator. He groomed and abused boys in their own homes. He groomed and abused boys at camp. In fact, he abused boys across the world. On June 9, 2010, he pleaded guilty to seven counts of sexually abusing boys. He received a sentence of two life terms, plus 30 years. His guilty plea was but the tip of a terrible iceberg. A civil complaint alleges that there were at least 57 victims, but the prosecutor in his case estimates that the real number could be in the “hundreds.”
The true dimensions of the worst Christian sex abuse scandal you’ve never heard of have long been largely unknown. Newman’s initial arrest and sentencing received little media attention. Few reporters knew about the camp’s size or importance. They were unfamiliar with Joe White. Moreover, the limited scope of the guilty plea concealed the sheer scale of the abuse. The resulting civil lawsuits received little attention, and nondisclosure agreements silenced victims and kept evidence under seal.
Following Newman’s conviction, the narrative from the camp was relatively simple. They had been shocked to find a bad apple in their midst. They had fired him immediately, promptly reported his wrongdoing to the authorities, and then implemented new “industry-leading” protective measures to protect the children who attend the camp. The camp’s worst moment became a catalyst for positive change, and now, its leaders maintain, it leads the way in caring for kids.
The truth is far more complex.
The scant media attention—combined with NDAs—means that we still don’t know the true number of legal actions against the camp or the true extent of Newman’s abuse. An unknown number of victims have filed an unknown number of lawsuits filled with unknown evidence that have resulted in unknown numbers of settlements for an unknown amount of money. We do, however, have a far more complete account of what happened at Kanakuk, and we’re sharing that account today.
Our own involvement began when former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson reached out to Nancy (who has her own experience with sexual abuse in church) after discovering from a victim’s sister the extent of the NDAs connected to the scandal. Nancy then began her own months-long effort to comb through court documents, interview witnesses, and to retrieve the documents and testimony that would tell the tale.
During this investigation, we discovered that one courageous young man and his family had resisted the pressure to promise silence. He and his family refused to sign a nondisclosure agreement. They wanted the freedom to tell their story and to share their evidence. They still want their identities to remain private (we’re maintaining the anonymity of victims and their families), but they want the evidence to become public. We’re sharing that evidence today.
But first, a warning. The content that follows is deeply disturbing.’ For more of these sordid details and the rest of this article they may be found at https://frenchpress.thedispatch.com/p/they-arent-who-you-think-they-are