‘NASHVILLE (BP) – A Missouri Baptist pastor says his church will no longer partner with a popular camp due to a lack of transparency amid abuse allegations.
Pastor John King cited recent information that has “been made clear” to First Baptist Church in West Plains, Mo., that leadership of Kanakuk Kamps, based in Branson, haven’t been forthcoming in their knowledge of credible accusations made against a former staff member. The disaffiliation with Kanakuk will continue until “the truth of their knowledge about what happened with Pete Newman is openly confessed,” the statement read.
First Baptist had previously hosted a Kanakuk day camp called Kampout! in the church parking lot. King’s announcement came in a May 2 letter to parents explaining why First Baptist was canceling a scheduled Kampout! for this summer.
In a phone call with Baptist Press, King expressed that the decision was based on ensuring that survivors of Newman’s abuse – many he knew personally – would have their voices heard.
“No one is trying to burn Kanakuk down,” he said. “What we want is the truth and those who didn’t fire Pete Newman after credible accusations of abuse came to light be held accountable.
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.
I personally had never heard of Kanakuk Kamps before this. However, unknowingly my wife and I spent fourteen years with an independent Baptist mission agency that for years covered up an adulterer/pedophile on the mission field so this is all too believable. We didn’t learn about the adulterer/pedophile doctor until years after resigning from this mission so organizations do have a bent to cover-up sin.
‘Kanakuk Kamps is one of the largest Christian camps in the nation. Each summer, more than 20,000 kids from age 7-17 pay thousands of dollars each to stay at the camp in southwestern Missouri. Some of the most prominent leaders in the evangelical world have worked with the camp and its leaders, Joe and Debbie-Jo White.
But a new website, called FactsAboutKanakuk.com claims that “Kanakuk’s reputation and reach conceals a dark secret. For decades, Joe White and other camp leaders knew about and facilitated sexual abuse against scores of children.”
The website, which went live on Saturday, includes links to court documents for six lawsuits in which Kanakuk and senior staff members, including Joe White, were names as defendants. The website maintains that “non-disclosure agreements and significant financial settlements have concealed the truth in order to preserve a ministry brand and economic engine.”
Kanakuk Kamps and related non-profit organizations brought in about $35-million in 2018, the most recent year available. It had a profit (revenue over expenses) of more than $8-million. According to an analysis of Form 990s from 2014-2018 by MinistryWatch, Joe and Debbie-Jo White receive payments from Kanakuk – payments that include salary, rent payments for real estate they own, and other compensation – that usually top $500,000 per year, and some years top $700,000.
The FactsAboutKanakuk website also has a petition demanding that individuals and families who have settled with the camp be released from any non-disclosure agreements or “similar clauses.” MinistryWatch is on record opposing the use of non-disclosure agreements in ministry settings.
One of the lawsuits filed by “John Doe IX” against Kanakuk and a senior staff member, Peter Newman, resulted in a judgment for the plaintiff for nearly $20-million in 2018. According to the Springfield News Leader, “The judgment ranked as the largest reported plaintiff’s judgment in Missouri in 2018.” However, it is not clear that the settlement has actually been paid by either Kanakuk or Peter Newman, who is now serving a life sentence for multiple counts of sexual abuse perpetrated when he was a senior member of Kanakuk’s staff.
Repeated calls by MinistryWatch to Douglas, Haun, and Heidemann, the law firm that represented the plaintiff, to determine if either Peter Newman or Kanakuk had paid the plaintiff, “John Doe IX,” have gone unanswered.
Then there is this undisputable page listing those affiliated with Kanakuk and convicted of sex offences.
‘Kanakuk’s Convicted Sex Offenders
The following is an evolving roster of former Kanakuk staff and associates who have been convicted of sexual abuse of minors since Joe and Debbie-Jo White assumed leadership of the camp. Only convictions according to verdicts and judgments from the criminal justice system are listed, although it is believed that additional former staff members may be subject to similar charges as investigations and civil litigation proceed and as victims continue to come forward.
The average age of victims who finally report childhood sexual abuse is about 52 years old. Only 23% to 33% of victims disclose their sexual abuse during childhood, and only 6% to 15% of victims ever disclose those assaults to law enforcement. Males are more reluctant and take longer to make full disclosures. The extent of damage done to campers who attended Kanakuk Kamps and its programs will likely not be known for many years.
Bradberry was a Kanakuk Kamps counselor in the summer of 2011 after the camp had implemented and promoted its Kanakuk Child Protection Plan. Arrested the following year for sexual abuse of young boys, he was sentenced in 2013 to four years for sexual misconduct involving a child under 14, seven years for statutory sodomy, and two 10-year sentences for child molestation, to be served concurrently. He is serving those sentences in a Kentucky correctional center. Bradberry is expected to be released in 2023.
Corbie Dale Grimes
Grimes was a Kanakuk Kamps counselor in 1987. He was terminated after being caught for sexual misconduct with campers, but the incidents were not reported by the camp to law enforcement as mandated by state law. As a result, Grimes went on to work in youth ministry, was caught abusing children as a youth pastor at another institution, and was finally convicted of sexual abuse in Florida in 2002.
A staff member at Kanakuk Kamps from 1998 to 2005, Kerr was arrested in Colorado in 2011 for the abuse of adolescent girls. After pleading guilty to multiple charges, he received 45 days in jail and 10 years of sex offender probation. It is unknown if he engaged in sexual misconduct while at Kanakuk Kamps.
A pilot for the private plane used by Joe White, Morgan was charged with sexual abuse of his biological child in 2000. White invited him to stay on Kanakuk grounds while awaiting trial. White later testified for Morgan’s defense as a character witness, stating that he would have no problem allowing the man to babysit his own children and encouraging the judge not to imprison him. It is unknown if Morgan abused any campers during his multiple years of affiliation with Kanakuk and his off-season residence on camp property.
Morgan was found guilty of statutory sodomy in 2009 and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was released in 2019.
Peter Daniel Newman
Newman was hired as a Kanakuk counselor in 1995. He moved up through the ranks as a father-son retreat leader, assistant director and ultimately the director of K-Kountry. Frequently used by the organization for marketing and promotional purposes, Newman was arrested in 2009 and pled guilty to two counts of first-degree statutory sodomy, three counts of second-degree statutory sodomy, and three counts of enticement of a child. A prosecutor in the case stated that Newman “is the most prolific child molester I have ever dealt with.” In 2010, Newman received two life sentences plus 30 years in the Missouri Department of Corrections. The subject of multiple civil lawsuits, there were at least 57 alleged victims of Newman prior to his arrest, but the total number of campers abused by him remains unknown.
Ringheim was a counselor for K-1 and volunteered with the K-Life Orlando program. He was accused of criminal misconduct that occurred in 2008 and 2011. He regularly chaperoned bus trips to Kanakuk’s Missouri camps and other activities, with the intent to groom and molest children. He was ultimately charged with seven felony sex crimes against underage boys. He was arrested in 2011, was found guilty of seven felony sex charges involving underage boys, and was sentenced to 15 years in Florida state prison. He is expected to be released in 2031.’ https://factsaboutkanakuk.com/known-abusers/