MY FAITH STORY
In March of 1995, after a year and half of dealing with racism as a high school student in rural Kentucky (called vulgar names, constant fights, jar of tobacco spit thrown in my face, stuff stolen out of locker constantly, chased and nearly run over by a truck) I was brutally assaulted in a hate crime and missed the next 18 months of school recovering from fractures in my face and ribs and 3 spinal surgeries. That is where my heart for victims and passion to bring criminals to justice comes from.
I was not a Christian and did not grow up in church. During my recovery from the spinal surgeries (brutal), the father of my best friend, Willis Polk, visited me and invited me to church when I recovered. It didn’t even register with me back then that my best friends dad was a pastor. He was a down to earth, casual dude. At that point in my life he was the only positive male role model I had. I eventually made my way to his church, Imani Baptist Church in Lexington, KY, was baptized, and became a Christian.
MOVE TO ATLANTA
I was licensed for ministry from that great church that loved me through some hard times. I have thought of that church as my home church my entire life and they think of me (and my wife who I met there) as their son in Atlanta.
I moved to Atlanta in 1997 to attend Morehouse College. While at Morehouse I did as many students did and hopped from church to church and even went a few periods where I didn’t actively attend anywhere. Back then I was really in to Afrocentric stuff and culture was honestly more at the center of my life than faith. I was the first sophomore elected Student Government President in 50 years.
The bulk of my time in church while a student @ Morehouse was @ Zion Hill Baptist Church with Dr. Aaron Parker, but I visited probably a dozen different churches.
TOTAL GRACE CHRISTIAN CENTER
For years, a friend of mine from Morehouse, Alfred Record, had invited me to visit Total Grace Christian Center. He spoke of how much he loved the church, how great of a preacher the pastor, Johnathan Alvarado was, how awesome the music/worship was, and how many AUC students and graduates attended there. One Sunday my wife & I decided to visit. Ironically, Bishop Alvarado was not even there. The Youth Pastor, Matthew Lee, spoke.
We loved it. The music was great. Pastor Matt was a great dude and a Morehouse graduate that preached in a down to earth way. We went back the next week, and for a few more weeks, until we decided that we, alongside a few thousand others, wanted to become a member there. In the beginning, I only had a passing connection to Bishop Alvarado, and, in a sense, like many other young adults, saw Pastor Matthew Lee as my pastor. I worked closely as a volunteer alongside him with the college ministry and enjoyed it.
About a year after serving there, I interacted with Bishop Alvarado a little more frequently, but found him a bit hard to approach. He had security, also had something called armor bearers (guys that carried his Bible and served as something like security), and a crowd. I had never seen that before.
Alongside Pastor Matt, I began serving as a part of what was called the Ministerial Alliance – a collection of licensed ministers from the church. By that time, I had been licensed from my home church for 5 years and had preached across the country – particularly when I was Student Government President @ Morehouse. It was as a part of this alliance that I began interacting more with Bishop Alvarado. At that time, folk called him Apostle Alvarado. He was not yet a Bishop.
I respected Bishop Alvarado a great deal. For me, the way I thought then, he must have been a good leader because he had a large church. I always thought one equaled the other. People in the church revered him. At this point, the church was 12 years old, had about 4,000 people that attended, and was well-established. Many of the key leaders, like Pastor Matthew Lee, had been there since the beginning and they also revered Bishop Alvarado in a way that I had only seen Malcolm X revere Elijah Muhammad.
People stood in his presence when he walked into a room. He was always called by his title. Never did anyone disagree with him. Never. Anybody that knew me from Morehouse knows that I am a serial non-conformist and always go against the grain, but not this time. I became a part of the system. I was a young father and husband and Bishop Alvarado was married with a young family.
Honestly, I had no idea how to be a great husband or father. I had never seen either. For me, he became my role model. His wife loved him publicly and privately. His kids adored him. I was all in. That’s how I am.
As I served faithfully alongside Pastor Matt, I started getting invited occasionally to sit on the stage with Bishop Alvarado, Pastor Toni (his wife), Pastor Matt, and few others. It may not sound like a big deal, but to me it was huge. I was moving up through the ranks. Eventually I would be given the rare chance to pray in a service. Occasionally I would start to serve as an armor bearer for Bishop Alvarado. I would carry his Bible. Sit behind his chair. Give him mints. Make sure his drink was fresh. Stuff like that.
I’m not demeaning it. In that environment, doing those things meant you were somebody. I did it with pride and care and respect. He had built this church and I got to play a small, honorable role in supporting him. It was new to me and I had always been “the dude” everywhere I had served, but I saw this as an opportunity to learn behind the scenes how to become a great leader like him.
During my first 4 years attending Total Grace I was not on the paid staff and I had some amazing full-time jobs in Atlanta. I served as a high school civics teacher at a cool charter school for my first job out of college. I worked as a counselor and motivational speaker in prisons and youth detention centers all across Georgia for Wholistic Stress Control Institute and for Youth For Christ.
WORKING FOR BISHOP ALVARADO
Eventually, I was offered a part-time position to work as an assistant to Bishop Alvarado’s assistant. Yes, I’m serious. And I took the position right away. I saw it as another chance to learn and serve. At this point in my time @ Total Grace, I was not yet all the way into the inner circle, but I soon would be. His current Executive Assistant, a lifelong friend of Pastor Toni that left corporate America to serve @ Total Grace, had resigned abruptly and left.
That happened frequently with the paid staff. People that were essential, primary leaders with a ton of history would leave suddenly under mysterious conditions. The Head Deacon and Director of Finance had built the church from scratch with Bishop Alvarado and honestly just disappeared one day. He left a note, the keys, bounced, and was never seen again. I saw this with the Music Director (a few times), other Elders of the church, and never asked questions.
I replaced Bishop Alvarado’s Executive Assistant and I did a TERRIBLE job. The role was very much a secretarial/organizing position and I suck at those things. The woman I replaced was the president for an organization for people that did what she did.
I’m a big picture guy, but I was ready to give it my best shot. I answered phone calls, booked travel, filtered email, kept his office clean, booked his appointments, and did misc. errands that he would need – i.e. fixing the wireless internet at his house or syncing his phone with his calendar. I also worked alongside him closely on Sunday morning to make sure he got to and from each location properly.
Within a year of becoming his full-time assistant, I also took on the paid position of webmaster, and then the role of Pastor of a new location we were starting for Total Grace in Gwinnett County. When I took on that role, it was with the understanding between Bishop Alvarado, the staff, and I that after building the core group and launching the location that I would leave to start Courageous Church in the city of Atlanta. Eventually when I was prepared to leave Total Grace to launch Courageous Church – Bishop Alvarado did not support the move. This tension essentially ended our relationship and ultimately, I left Total Grace in a way similar to many others – suddenly with no goodbye. Thankfully I left with my own network, influence, outside partners, and more for us to basically be able to start over from scratch.
WAS BISHOP ALVARADO GAY?
A few weeks ago I had a brutal conversation with a friend of mine that worked for years @ New Birth. After seeing the videos of those young dudes that said they were in a coerced sexual relationship with Bishop Long, I had made up in my mind that something crazy had happened. Bishop Long’s weak denials didn’t help. In that conversation, I told my friend how I just couldn’t imagine how he served @ New Birth for so many years and never saw the stuff the boys were talking about. My friend was hurt that I said that. He insisted he had not only never seen it happen, he had no idea anything like it was happening.
Now…here I am.
In the 3 years or so that I served as Bishop Alvarado’s assistant I didn’t see anything that made me think he was involved in anything like child molestation. Throughout my seven years there, I was regularly told by other pastors and friends in the city that Bishop Alvarado was either currently gay or “used to be gay”. I was told that he was gay when he was a student @ Morehouse and that his being gay was a not so well kept secret.
These comments infuriated me so much and I argued vehemently against every person that said it. I lost friends over this. Like many current and former staff members at Total Grace, I saw what I thought were some effeminate qualities about Bishop Alvarado like the way he talked, mannerisms, neatness/dress, etc., but just thought it was a coincidence. I even spoke with staff members and asked them privately if it was maybe the case that homosexuality was a struggle that he had overcome. They admitted that they wondered the same thing, but I absolutely, 100% “knew” he wasn’t gay.
I saw his wife. I saw his kids. I saw him. And what I saw was not what I “knew” to be gay. Being gay certainly has nothing to do with being a pedophile anyway. I certainly didn’t think that he was a child molester. On more than one occasion my wife and I dropped our children off with the Bishop Alvarado and Pastor Toni at their house when we had to go out of town. Had I had any inclination I would not have done so and certainly my super skeptical wife would not have done so.
WHEN I LEARNED OF CHILD MOLESTATION
On Friday March 11th, 2011 @ 5pm I received a call from a local television reporter. He asked me what my opinion was on an out of court settlement that had been reached between Bishop Alvarado and three boys that been molested by him. He informed me that the settlement had been reached privately in January and that Bishop Alvarado admitted and apologized to the abuse as a part of the settlement.
I WAS SHOCKED! Even though I am no longer close with Bishop Alvarado, my absolute gut reaction was disbelief. I couldn’t imagine that such as thing was true. The reporter informed me of the families in the settlement and I came close to throwing up. For real. I knew these families and worked very closely with one of them.
The reporter informed me that the settlement was not a copycat case of the Bishop Long deal because these boys came forward before that even took place. It just didn’t make sense to me. I was overcome with feelings of anger, confusion, and a weird sense of shame because I had devoted several years of my life to him specifically. I told my wife and she was undone, crushed, confused, sick. We didn’t know what to think. We both agreed that we needed valid information beyond a reporter.
I wrote a tweet stating that I just received a call stating that a local pastor had admitted to and settled a case for child molestation. I thought what I was tweeting was a top secret thing. Wrong.
Within an hour, over a dozen people reached out to me. Without me naming anyone, they knew who I was talking about. Current staff members of Total Grace reached out to me to say that they didn’t know what to do. They loved him. They loved the church. They needed their jobs. Without fail – each of them said that they were aware of the settlement, that it was a mess, and that they were confused too. Several former staff members reached out to me by phone and email and Facebook and said that they had already heard and were crushed. Bishop Alvarado was their mentor, their boss, their check-writer, and for some he was Godfather to their children.
At this point, still on Friday, I felt like I needed to know more before I fully believed it, but I had heard from so many people that claimed to know it for themselves that I had crossed over to the side of believing it. I then reached out to both Pastor Toni and Bishop Alvarado via text message to let them know that a reporter came to me with outrageous charges and I had hoped to talk to them about it. Pastor Toni replied and said that she would take my information under advice, but they didn’t want to talk. Even still, I was so confused and started having a rush of questions.
A RUSH OF QUESTIONS ABOUT CHILD MOLESTATION
If Bishop Alvarado had molested boys, those boys, any boys, at their age, any age, before I was there, while I was there, anytime – what did that mean? Was that period of my life a lie? Who knew? Who was caring for the victims? Who was standing up for them?
What about the VERY CLOSE friends that my wife and I have that still attend there with their kids? Do they know? Should I call them right away? What about the hundreds of other families? Should they be informed? Who knows about this? How can I help?
My gut reaction when I see or learn about a victim is to change my whole life to stand up for them and to stand up to bullies. I do this in Atlanta, I do this in Haiti. It’s what I do. It’s who I am. It’s who God created me to be. I had been bullied, but now I’m strong.
Even then I needed to talk to someone that knew the whole truth. I had not tweeted a thing.
DEVASTATED @ WHAT I HEARD ABOUT BISHOP ALVARADO
On Sunday, after an AMAZING day @ Courageous Church, I received a Facebook message from a man that I had not spoken to in years. He was Mr. Total Grace. He served at Total Grace for 17 years since the church first started. He had spent his entire adulthood building Total Grace from a storefront church to a mega church. He had served as the Youth Pastor, as First Assistant to Bishop Alvarado, and as Executive Pastor. I spoke to the man that I knew loved Total Grace with every fiber of his being. He was the most faithful servant of Total Grace in the history of that church. He was nearly as revered at the church as Bishop Alvarado. He was the glue that made the church stick.
Pastor Matthew Lee informed me in a conversation that I wished to God had never happened that the suit had indeed taken place and that Bishop Alvarado had admitted to molesting boys. Pastor Matt told me, while I cried in my car, that Bishop Alvarado was not even slightly repentant but just mad that he had been caught. My heart raced. I have not cried since the earthquake in Haiti, but this cut me deeply. It was true.
Pastor Matthew Lee told me that he offered to return as a pastor @ Total Grace so that Bishop Alvarado could step down, but it was played to the left. What I learned from Pastor Matt was brutal, gut-wrenching, and nauseating in the very worst way. We both agreed that we had been duped by the man we loved and served. He said that he had cried many nights. We shared how we both had trusted Bishop Alvarado with our kids alone and how the thought made us sick today. He shared things with me that I cannot repeat.
I had another essential staff member and close family friend of the Alvarado family tell me that she witnessed Bishop Alvarado tongue kissing a 14 year old boy, but that she never said anything because she did not want to destroy his family and that she was confused by it. I learned who the victims were . They were children of people that we all know and love and trust. They were children of people that are CRUSHED that this has happened. They were children of people that had served at Total Grace for 10-15 years. I learned that many people believe more victims exist.
Why I Came Forward…
I have paid an enormous price by coming forward. Anyone that is suggesting that I am doing this for attention doesn’t know me. First off, I HATE the attention that I am getting because of this. Hate it. Secondly, I have received so many awards and so much international attention this year that it would honestly last me for several years if nobody said one more good thing about me in the news. I am successful. Our church is growing. I love my family. I am happy. I love life.
I did not want this burden. I do not have time for it. I have a huge family, multiple jobs, and a staff of my own to oversee.
I did not do this as a vendetta to Bishop Alvarado. I could have made him look bad many times and always chose not to. I have even defended him since I have left. When my wife was very ill 2 months ago, I was so worried for her that I asked every pastor I know to pray for her – including a personal request to Bishop Alvarado. We exchanged text messages and he said he was praying for her. I exchanged several text message with Pastor Toni and we wished each others families well and admitted that we thought about each others kids.
I have no vendetta, but I do have a calling to stand up for victims and stand against predator and bullies. I am a good keeper of secrets and I have secrets about Bishop Alvarado that I have no desire to share and never will.
However, this is not a sin to be kept secret, it is a crime. A 40 year old man cannot have consensual sex with pre-teen and teenage boys under the age of 16. That is called rape and child molestation and it is a crime. It has pained me to do this.
I have received death threats, hate mail, and more. I am not happy right now. I have hardly slept since Sunday. I have cried. I have lost weight. I am now sick.
However, I came forward because I refused to accept the possibility that one more child could be molested while I was silent and politically correct.
I came forward because I believe that God holds us accountable for what we do with what we know. I did not know that these things happened while I was there, but I do now and God holds me accountable for what I do with that knowledge.
I came forward because I could not stand the thought that the families I love that attend there now could learn 6 months, or 12 months or 10 years from now that I knew what I know and chose not to tell them. They deserve to know. Strangers deserve to know.
Yes, love and grace covers a multitude of sins, but this sin is also a crime. Unfortunately, it is a crime that tends to keep happening until it’s stopped by force.
Ultimately, I prayed, I sought scripture, I talked with my wife, and I consulted trusted voices before I moved forward with this. I will pay the price if my coming forward has hurt anyone and I must answer to God for my actions daily, but I will not accept what Bishop Alvarado said just yesterday during his mid-week service when he said that “Shaun King has caused all of this.”
Bishop Alvarado – you caused this. You alone man. With all of my heart and soul I wish this was not true. If the roles were reversed, I hope you or anyone else would have thought more of the kids than me and do the same thing. I do pray for you, your family, and for the church. Most of all, I will stand for the victims that came forward and those that never ever will.
I have been a victim – not of molestation – but of assault and of a power structure that railroaded me – and I did this for the boy in me that was killed in 1995 when I was beaten to a bloody pulp.
Update on March 17th : I just made a pledge to a representative of a victim of Bishop Alvarado that I will now focus all of my energy on positive change moving forward. I will not mention him by name (or innuendo) publicly again and will instead begin moving forward with real solutions for this issue in Atlanta and worldwide.
Update on March 18th : If you have any facts in this case, I urge you to directly contact the Dekalb County District Attorney’s Office – Child Protective Division. You can contact Assistant DA Donna Stribling confidentially @ firstname.lastname@example.org
She is a nice person. You do not have to share anything with me, but I urge you to contact her directly and she will confidentially advise you.