First Baptist Church in West Plains, Mo., has cut ties with Kanakuk Kamps near Branson because of the way it handled concerns about sexual abuse of campers. The announcement comes as churches become fully aware of allegations of what transpired at the camp over two decades.
Victim advocates say the number of abuse victims at the camp could be in the hundreds.
“Due to information that has recently been made clear to the leadership of First Baptist Church West Plains, our church has made the decision to not partner with Kanakuk Kamps for ministry until the truth of their knowledge about what happened with Pete Newman is openly confessed,” Senior Pastor John King wrote.
Joe White, president of Kanakuk Kamps, which has welcomed more than 450,000 campers since 1926, was sued in 2015 for being aware of sexual abuse taking place at his camp. A 50-page petition filed on behalf of the plaintiff, identified only as John Doe IX, contains details of a case involving Pete Newman, a former camp director who pleaded guilty to statutory sodomy and enticement of a child.
“In February 2010, Peter Newman pleaded guilty in Taney County to several counts of statutory sodomy and child enticement involving child abuse of a boy on Kanakuk property between approximately 2005 and 2008,” court records said. “In 2003, defendants White and Kanakuk had actual knowledge that defendant Newman continued to engage in activities with children at Kanakuk camps that involved defendant Newman and the children becoming naked together.”
In fact, Newsman admits to abusing at least 13 other minors, according to the Sprinfield News-Leader. But it gets worse according to the newspaper. “A civil lawsuit filed later against Newman stated that Newman abused 57 underage victims linked to Kanakuk. (Last year, Newman was found liable for more than $5 million in damages in that case, Missouri court records show.) Victim advocates and prosecutors have also said the number of Newman’s victims could be in the “hundreds.”
Despite that knowledge, the documents state, Kanakuk and White continued to employ Newman. He now is serving two life sentences plus 30 years after pleading guilty to sex crimes involving teenage boys.
“We believe in grace and that God can and will heal,” King wrote. “The process of healing is being delayed because of the lie that Kanakuk tells claiming they did not know what was taking place until 2009. Based on depositions, we now know that the leadership of Kanakuk certainly knew that there were felonies against children committed in 1999 and in 2003.”
Responding to King’s letter in a statement Kanakuk Kamps referred to the claim that it lied about when it first learned about the abuse of campers as “unsubstantiated allegations.”
“We were shocked and disheartened to read the letter that Pastor John King distributed to members of his congregation,” it said. “While we are grateful for those who stand with victims, we are surprised that Pastor King would make such broad and inaccurate accusations without inviting Kanakuk to have a conversation or allowing us the opportunity to address his concerns.”
–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice