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Grand jury won't charge preacher Perry Stone in sexual misconduct case... yet
Despite multiple allegations of wrong-doing, preacher Perry Stone won't face any criminal charges... for now
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More than a year after we first learned there was an investigation, a Grand Jury in Tennessee has declined to charge right-wing pastor Perry Stone with any crimes related to sexual misconduct allegations.
The door isn’t closed on the matter, according to 10th Judicial District Attorney General Stephen Crump, and Stone’s files will remain open, but for the time being, nothing of consequence will happen.
It was in late 2021 that Wyatt Massey of the Chattanooga Times Free Press published a damning investigation into Stone’s Voice of Evangelism ministry. Massey spoke with several people associated with the group who said they had already been questioned by the FBI; they included alleged victims along with others who were simply concerned about Stone’s lack of accountability.
They were concerned because, after the allegations first arose, ministry leaders seemed to do nothing about it. The local sheriff’s office said it hadn’t received any formal complaints and wasn’t looking into the matter either.
Who is Perry Stone?
Let’s back up for a bit. If the name Perry Stone sounds familiar to you, it may be because he’s something of a laughingstock outside his Christian bubble.
In 2019, he went viral for all the wrong reasons when he was caught checking his phone while speaking in tongues:
And once, shortly after COVID forced even conservative churches like his to shut down in April of 2020, he delivered a sermon to an audience of puppets:
That April, in 2020, his ministry announced out of nowhere that Stone was taking a short “sabbatical.” But Massey obtained a recording of a speech in which Stone told a small group of church members that he was actually stepping away from the pulpit because he had “acted inappropriately” with female employees.
“I confess at times I’ve been inappropriate in all this weariness of just non-stop ministry,” Stone said in the message. “I let my guard down and I’ve asked, of course, God to forgive me for that. I sat down with my family, with my beautiful, precious wife Pam, the love of my life. I asked her to forgive me. And I very humbly and very sincerely ask those who have been hurt or offended by my actions to, please, also forgive me for those things.”
Stone, 61, did not say specifically what occurred but said he “acted inappropriately with them, and with words and sometimes actions.”
In other words, that recording suggested a different reason for the “sabbatical” than what Stone told a much larger crowd around the same time, which is that he was taking time to be with his family and working on a project about a “great treasure” that will soon be discovered.
The Voice of Evangelism’s Board of Directors implied in a statement that, whatever Stone did, it may have been unethical—they said he “has sincerely repented”—but it wasn’t criminal. That statement was vague as hell, but at the very least, it suggested that the ministry was going to look into the matter and take action if needed.
That sabbatical didn’t last very long. Within a matter of months, Stone was back in the pulpit at his Omega Center International building and there was virtually no mention of the allegations against him—at least not publicly.
The Allegations Against Perry Stone
So what was Stone accused of doing? Massey got ahold of the letters that several victims sent to ministry officials in 2020 and it was all extremely disturbing:
In April 2020, the all-male Voice of Evangelism board of directors each received copies of 11 letters, nine of which were from women either employed by or connected to the Stone's ministries, which include Voice of Evangelism, Omega Center International and the International School of the Word.
The letters — some of which were given to the Times Free Press and others described to a reporter — detailed allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Stone, including groping, showing that he was aroused while fully clothed and rubbing himself, asking women in his ministry about their breasts, kissing the women on the neck and lips, asking them to kiss him in similar ways, messaging them to send him pictures and asking them to massage him. At least one letter obtained by the Times Free Press said Stone would lock office doors to be alone with women.
Several of the women alleging misconduct told the Times Free Press that Stone told them he had a dream in which something bad was going to happen to his wife, Pam, and God told him he should be with the other woman. Several women said Stone would tell them he was lonely and his wife was not pleasing him sexually.
Massey said two of those letters came from ministry employees who had previous knowledge of the misconduct. And yet when the ministry announced Stone’s “sabbatical” to other staffers, they didn’t elaborate. They just said Stone needed time to recover from something that could easily have been interpreted as more of a personal demon like addiction.
Two weeks later, he was back at work.
He wasn’t preaching between May and December of 2020, but you would never know it from his videos posted on YouTube, where pre-recorded sermons and person-to-camera statements were still going up on a regular basis.
How could that happen? How could none of the other leaders in his ministry take these allegations seriously enough to remove the guy from power?
It might be because Stone had ways of making sure people were loyal to him:
Nine people either connected to or employed by Stone's ministry, some of whom were with the ministry for more than a decade, said he would hand out cash to those close to him. The former employees said Stone would also buy vehicles for women and pay for their housing.
Four people with connections to the ministry said Stone would threaten the employment of loved ones or remove opportunities in his ministry if women rebuffed his advances.
The Board of Directors for the ministry said it investigated the matter thoroughly and “completely refuted” some of the allegations… though they didn’t explain which ones were dismissed or why they were so confident in dismissing them.
Perry Stone’s Current Preaching
In 2021, Stone continued preaching as usual—though in August, he stopped uploading regular sermons to his YouTube channel. Instead, he shifted to only posting pre-recorded messages or hot takes on current events that don’t involve an audience of any kind. The actual sermons are, however, still posted to Facebook or on a separate YouTube channel.
In December of 2021, Massey attended a service in person and heard a rather shocking claim from Stone (which was live-streamed but promptly removed from social media):
… God told him Satan was trying to hurt his reputation and stop him from delivering a revelation that would save entire nations. He told the crowd demons use slander and accusations, and people who talk to news reporters but do not want their name used should not be trusted.
It is "demonic," "perverted" and a sin to talk about sins of the past, Stone said.
It’s part of the standard Christian playbook for sexual abuse allegations: Just blame Satan and make sure everyone treats the accusers as Satan’s minions.
We know why Stone said that, though.
Just a week earlier, he had been heckled during an in-person service. Stone had mentioned how more people were leaving organized religion and, according to Massey, a woman yelled out from the crowd, “Probably because you keep touching them, you nasty perv.”
Stone shouted her down from the stage, got security to remove her, and told the congregation about how lies were being spread against him.
Shortly after that outburst, one of Stone’s ministry colleagues, Bryan Cutshall, got up on stage and did the dirty work for his boss:
"What you just witnessed happened at the trial of Jesus the day before he was crucified," Cutshall said. "This is Satan and his plan against Jesus and those who support him. You've just come into the trial of Jesus."
Stone himself chimed in with his own disturbing response:
"I am not a perfect man," Stone said. "People have taken me hugging and kissing them on the cheek wrong. I quit that. I'm Italian. My whole family holds hands, rubs backs. I didn't know you can look at somebody and say, 'Hey, how you doing?' and they can take it wrong."
Stone then told the crowd that God has told him that the people who have accused him will have to answer for it when they die.
Of course, no one was accusing him of sexual misconduct over a hug or kiss on the cheek. They accused him of kissing them on the lips without consent, showing them that he was aroused, and groping them, among other things.
The FBI Investigation
That’s why the FBI investigation into Stone seemed fairly serious. They apparently obtained internal documents from the ministry and spoke to various employees and alleged victims.
You may wonder: Why was the FBI involved at all? There were allegations that the Bradley County Sheriff's Office couldn’t be trusted to investigate the matter because Stone’s ministry was donating large amounts of money to them, giving them use of his buildings for training purposes, and hiring them to provide security at his church. In essence, the fear was that Stone was paying them off so that they wouldn’t investigate him.
Considering that Tennessee had a law making it illegal for religious leaders to make sexual advances on someone in their care in a professional setting—punishable with a fine of up to $3,000 and a 1-6 year prison sentence—it was imperative that local law enforcement officials took any allegations of this problem seriously. If the sheriff’s office was part of the problem, though, then the FBI needed to step in to investigate. The problem with the FBI, however, is that no one there ever confirms an investigation. We wouldn’t know if they did anything unless there was a resolution, and it was possible we wouldn’t hear anything at all.
Incidentally, when Massey’s article was published, Stone posted a video on YouTube called “The Truth Behind Today's Media.” Without addressing any of the specifics about his case, he treated shady televangelists as victims of a mainstream media out to make money off of them.
… the more sensational a report comes, or if a person's name is known, it sells them more papers. It sells them more, uh, advertising dollars. It's really about marketing and advertising dollars all the way around…
He also suggested that any report using the word “alleged” should be ignored, as should any report that used unnamed sources. Both of those things appeared in the Free Press article about him.
Of course, as anyone familiar with quality journalism understands, reporters don’t make things up for the hell of it, “alleged” is the accurate way to describe what’s going on here, and unnamed sources are known to reporters and their editors—but they’re not published because there may be legal or social repercussions for it. The way to get people close to Perry Stone to speak out about him is to promise them anonymity.
Stone also claimed some local journalists were trying to get “to the next big job, to the next big city… [and] working on self-promotion.” As if Massey’s article was all made up as part of an elaborate scheme to get a job at a national newspaper.
The result of the investigation
And now we finally have an update after months of silence.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press now reports that, sometime last year, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation handed its investigation over to Stephen Crump, the local District Attorney General, for review. Last month, Crump presented those findings to a Bradley County grand jury. And then… the grand jury chose not to file charges against Perry.
Unlike the recent case against Donald Trump, where a mostly completed case was presented and the jury had to decide whether or not to indict, this case was more open-ended. Crump’s team gave the jury the facts of the case in order for them to determine what to do with the information. The whole process took more than an hour, which Crump said was “far longer than usual.”
The jury chose not to pursue anything more at this time. They could always give the case another look if new information comes to light.
But just like that, it was like the allegations were never made at all. Even the ministry took a victory lap of sorts:
The Bradley County Sheriff's Office, which had cut ties to Stone's ministries pending the TBI investigation, quickly took note. On March 24, sheriff's deputies were told they could, once again, perform extra and off-duty services at the Stone-affiliated Omega Center International and for the Voice of Evangelism ministry, Sheriff's Office spokesperson Paul Allen said by email Monday.
In an emailed statement to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Voice of Evangelism spokesperson John Rodriguez said neither Perry Stone, the ministry leadership team, nor any of its staff have been contacted by the district attorney, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation or any other investigative entity, but that they had learned that the investigation did not yield an indictment.
"Unfounded accusations and blatant lies have been made about Perry Stone and Voice of Evangelism for the past three years," Rodriguez wrote. "Yet the mission of love for people has never stopped nor wavered. We are committed to continue to share the love of Jesus with a hurting world."
To be clear, just because the allegations didn’t yield any charges doesn’t mean they’re “unfounded” or “lies.” It’s possible they just don’t rise to the level of criminal conduct.
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