A settlement was reached in a lawsuit involving three Oregon men who claim they were sexually abused as children while participating in the Assemblies of God Royal Rangers program in the 1980s.
The Royal Rangers program, much like Boy Scouts, involves youth participating in various church activities, including campouts and sleepovers — all supervised by pastors and youth leaders.
The three plaintiffs claimed that they were sexually abused by Assembly of God church pastor Todd Scott Clark and another Royal Ranger’s leader Ralph Wade Gantt.
The case was set to be heard this month in Multnomah County. According to The Springfield News-Leader, it would have been the first case involving sex abuse and youth leaders that the Springfield-based national office of the Assemblies of God could not remove itself as a defendant.
First Assemblies of God Church of Albany and the Oregon District of the Assemblies of God were also defendants in the case.
On the Royal Rangers website, the activity-based, small group church ministry founded in 1962 is described as a program for boys and young men in kindergarten to 12th grade.
The mission for the male youth ministry is to “evangelize, equip and empower the next generation of Christlike men and lifelong servant leaders.”
The program also promotes itself as providing “Christlike character formation and servant leadership development for boys and young men in a highly relational and fun environment.” With every meeting, outing or service activity, the program seeks to “encourage them in their walk with God.”
In an interview with CP, Gilion Dumas said that over a dozen boys were molested by the two men during sleepovers and other events sponsored by Royal Rangers. She said that at least 12 men have come forward and have filed complaints against Clark Gantt, claiming the two men sexually abused them when they were boys in the Royal Ranger program.
Of the 12 men who filed complaints against Gantt and Clark, one settled a legal complaint in 2017, she added. Eleven more complaints were filed in 2018, and over the past few months, eight of those complaints were settled.
"When there's that many, it takes a while to negotiate settlements," said Dumas. "There were a lot more people abused than the 12 who came forward and filed the lawsuits.”
Dumas said the Assemblies of God General Council filed more than 25 motions to either get the case involving the three defendants dismissed, transferred or have judges in Multnomah County disqualified from the case. Dumas said that the General Council appealed the case to the Oregon Supreme Court three times.
The motions, however, were rejected and the general council remained a defendant in the case.
The lawyer stated that both Gantt and Clark were convicted in 1988 for child sexual abuse. Gantt was convicted of abuse of boys associated with the First Assembly of God church in Albany. Clark was convicted of abusing victims associated with the Royal Rangers program at First Assembly.
"Like many states, Oregon has an extended statute of limitations for civil lawsuits for childhood sexual abuse, recognizing that most victims cannot bring claims for many years," Dumas detailed in a 2018 statement. "As a result of the trauma caused by childhood sexual abuse, very few sexual abuse survivors – especially male survivors – ever report what happened to them. It can be years and even decades before those who do report come forward to do something."
The Royal Rangers are not the only youth organization that has settled lawsuits related to sexual abuse. Earlier this summer, the Boy Scouts of America reached a settlement with nearly 60,000 sexual abuse victims that will likely result in the payout of hundreds of millions of dollars.
“People everywhere should be aware of red flags or signs to pinpoint exactly when a church leader is abusing children,” Dumas said.
A key sign, she said, is when a leader does not have children and they are spending time alone with specific children who are not their own, outside of the regular arranged church activities.
“You know its a red flag when an adult church leader wants to take a kid away from regular activities and instead of being in Sunday school or regular church activities. The adult leader wants to take a kid to do a special activity alone or go for ice cream alone away from the other kids and adults,” she said. “I think it's important for kids to do activities away from other kids, but there needs to be more than one adult around.”
Other signs, she said, including when an adult teacher shows "children extra attention and gives them gifts."
Dumas said another red flag is when an adult leader shows children extra attention and gives them gifts. Vulnerable children include those "who have a sick parent, parents fighting, a single parent, a tough financial situation, parents that travel a lot and other stresses."
“Predators know how to exploit any weaknesses," she told CP. "These are vulnerable children who just want a role model in their elders. These things should be monitored.”
She says churches can do more to prevent sexual abuse by not allowing children to be alone with adults without parents present. She advised that parents should tell their kids to inform them when an adult touches them. She says churches should report all complaints of sexual abuse to the police.
“It's important to tell kids ‘if anyone touches you, tell your mom and dad,’ and that way, if anything happens to a kid, they have a better chance at recovering from it,” she said. “It’s important that churches accept responsibility when something does go bad. Don't just say, ‘This doesn't happen to us because we are good people.’ Even if you forgive the sin, you have to deal with the crime.”
In the cases of church leaders sexually abusing youth, Dumas said, it often leads to the victims eventually losing their faith in God or struggling with organized religion.
“That is the saddest thing I've seen in my experience,” Dumas, a Christian herself, said. “These child victims of sexual abuse often have trouble finding a church family, and we often encourage our clients to find counselors. And for those clients that still have some faith, we find a counselor that can help them in their faith so they can find a church family that will be supportive of them.”
Having worked with various adult survivors throughout her career, Dumas said she notices a pattern of male survivors typically not coming forward about their abuse until later in life. She said they can suffer from anger issues, substance abuse, mistrust of authority, relationship problems and depression.
She said that could often lead to multiple marriages, problems with kids and destroyed relationships.
“And those damaged people, then go on to destroy more relationships. It's not that they go on to sexually abuse other people, but [they are] damaging in many other ways,” Dumas added.