Bringing Secrets into the Light: Allegations of abuse and cover-up at North Love Baptist Church
ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - Nearly two dozen allegations of sexual abuse from women who were connected with North Love Baptist Church, North Love Christian School, Reformers Unanimous and North Love Ministries, are coming to light.
“The end goal is to uproot the culture of abuse when we see as almost institutional at this place,” Nate Plautz said.
Plautz attended North Love Baptist Church every Sunday growing up and attended kindergarten through 12th grade there. But these days, Plautz is speaking against North Love as one of the co-founders of a private North Love group that supports survivors.
“We have about 80 members in this group of former North Love Christian School and North Love Baptist Church,” said Plautz. “Some (are) from the Reformers Unanimous program as well, but (these are) people who were either abused, have a family member who was abused or, frankly, they just want to support survivors.”
Plautz says there’s a large number of survivors to support, “At this point we’ve talked to 21 females who say they were sexually abused at North Love or one of the related ministries.”
“There’s no vindictiveness in what we are doing. There’s heartache. Such heartache,” said Kyra DeBerry, who attended North Love for the first 26 years of her life - graduating from both the high school and Bible College.
“I would love to be able to return to North Love some day and have it be a church that I feel safe at and feel safe bringing my children to. I don’t let my children go there,” she said.
DeBerry told 23 News that she co-founded the support group to help survivors.
“Three of my friends told me that they had abuse that was covered up at North Love,” she said. “We sat at home later and said, ‘How do we know this information and not do anything about it?’”
Group leaders say all of the alleged abuses have taken place under the watch of Reformers Unanimous co-founder Paul Kingsbury. Kingsbury was a pastor at North Love Church from 1982 until last week.
“The Deacons have unanimously accepted Pastor Kingsbury’s resignation effective immediately,” said North Love Head Deacon Doug Stodola.
Ron Haese took over as interim pastor.
“I want to say this Pastor did nothing - nothing to disqualify him as pastor. Nothing,” Haese said during Wednesday’s sermon.
When asked to be interviewed, Kingsbury responded, “I’ve enjoyed and appreciated you and the other fine personnel at WIFR for many years. Circumstances prevent me from granting interviews at this time.”
Kingsbury said at a recent sermon, “There is nothing - nothing that has gone on in the ministry or has gone on in all these years - (that) has ever been just put under a proverbial rug. If you lift the rug, it’s clean under there.”
“I’m a firm believer that nothing can be hidden forever,” Plautz said. “The truth will eventually come out, but obviously we moved very quickly to ensure nothing would be hidden under the rug.”
Pautz believes the story doesn’t end with Pastor Kingsbury’s resignation and expects more allegations will come to light.
“There’s (sic) been several who want to. The thing is, they are immensely scared. And it’s because of how Kingsbury has groomed the church,” said one alleged victim whose name we are withholding because she was a minor at the time of the alleged abuse. We will refer to her as “Sarah” throughout the story.
“Sarah” says she was also scared to share her alleged abuse at the hands of John Neese, a prominent member of North Love Bible Church. She says she was 15 years old and Neese was in his 50s.
“I would see him every Sunday morning,” said “Sarah.” “Wednesday night, he would give out the bulletin. He was obviously an usher, a deacon; but when you interacted with him, it was because he would pass out the bulletin. And through an incident, he offered me a job.”
Seventeen years later, “Sarah” drew up the courage to take action, filing a civil lawsuit in May against Neese and North Love. Then earlier this month, “Sarah” says she filed a police report.
“I knew I couldn’t be the wife that I was supposed to be, a mom to my children, because I always taught them to stand up for what’s right,” said “Sarah”. “And I knew that it was something I was carrying all my life. I knew that I had to take a stand because I knew I wasn’t the only victim trying to get help from Kingsbury.”
In another recent sermon, Kingsbury said, “I have that same profound and deep commitment to the body of Christ to the bride of Christ. That’s why, in many ways, these days of extreme and unjust criticism have been painful.”
The pain that motivated Plautz to speak out, was a sense of guilt.
“I saw a sexual predator grooming a girl in my class when I was 10 years old. At the time, I didn’t know what that was,” Plautz said. “But now I know what that was. Sniffing the girls, buying her jewelry, giving her a back rub. I mean, that’s a memory that will haunt me for a very long time.”
“I specifically have been told that we’re hurting the cause of Christ. Which, as a follower of Christ, I would never want to do. I simply want the truth and the truth is not always fun. It’s not always pleasant to see. It’s sometimes ugly and that’s just kind of where this is at - an ugly truth.”
Stodola told North Love members during Wednesday’s service, “The deacons are fully aware of, and take seriously, the allegations being made against Pastor Kingsbury and North Love Baptist Church. The deacons are united and looking into these matters. Please give us time, and have patience as we seek the truth in Christ.”
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