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Ontario’s Most Influential Pastor Resigns Following Abuse Investigation

Anabaptist Bruxy Cavey preached “Jesus over religion” and drew record crowds of Canadians who were put off by traditional church. Now they’re reckoning with their former leader’s misconduct.
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Ontario’s Most Influential Pastor Resigns Following Abuse Investigation
Pastor Bruxy Cavey

The Meeting House in south Ontario calls itself “a church for people who aren’t into church.”

Under that motto and the leadership of its shaggy-haired, proudly Anabaptist preacher Bruxy Cavey, the megachurch grew to become the biggest in the Toronto area, drawing thousands to its movie theater seats and home church small groups.

Like his denomination, Cavey was known for being apolitical and pacifist; he was an introvert who turned on the charisma on stage. During his 25 years in ministry, around 35,000 Canadians who had been disinterested, disenchanted, or hurt by other churches found a spiritual home and family at The Meeting House, and 8,000 still belong to the church, according to the Handbook of Megachurches.

This large community of members and former members is now grieving a blow they hardly expected from their own “megachurch pastor for people not into megachurch pastors,” as one scholar called him.

After a three-month-long investigation, Cavey, 57, publicly confessed on Tuesday to an “adulterous relationship.” The church said it amounted to abuse of authority and sexual harassment against a woman under his pastoral counsel, asked him to resign, and removed his teachings from its website. The victim and her advocates say Cavey committed clergy sexual abuse.

“In a way, the stakes were so high for Bruxy, and his crash is intensified because he promised us that he would not be that kind of pastor. … He basically was the megachurch pastor for people not into megachurch pastors,” said Peter Schuurman, who profiled Cavey in his book The Subversive Evangelical and described him as gentle, generous, and good humored.

Bruxy preached a message of “Jesus over religion.” He liked to tell the story of how he got a tattoo of the verse barring tattoos, Leviticus 19:28, as a way to demonstrate how Jesus freed him from his sin as well as the letter of the law.

“His whole persona and branding was based on the vision of a church that was more like a counter-culture’s Jesus and less like the now-defamed evangelical trope of prosperity, politics and emotional hype,” Schuurman wrote for Canada’s Christian Courier.

The news trickled out this week through social media, blog posts, and streamed videos. In comments, members of The Meeting House vented their heartache.

They offered prayers and solidarity with the unidentified victim. Some who were themselves abuse survivors grappled with the idea that their pastor had done this; one wrote that she “started to wonder if anywhere is trustworthy.” Several members said they hadn’t attended in-person services since the pandemic and that the situation made them question whether to return.

Adding to the upheaval, not everyone at The Meeting House was satisfied with the results of a third-party investigation, which did not call Cavey’s behavior sexual abuse. Danielle Strickland, a fellow teaching pastor at The Meeting House, stepped down in solidarity with the victim on Monday—the day before the church released its report and Cavey announced his resignation.

Strickland, who had been on staff at The Meeting House since 2019, was first to hear the victim’s story last year. She lobbied behind the scenes for the church to change the language in its statement, seeing how the woman who came forward felt “unheard” and “unsupported” in the process. “The whole truth needs to be told, or else not only will there not be healing, but I think there will be further harm,” Strickland said.

The former pastor shared a statement from her on Wednesday morning. More than 15,000 people tuned in for the remarks on Instagram Live, cheering on Strickland’s advocacy and the victim’s bravery in the threads below the video.

Through Strickland, the woman described what happened as a “devastating twisting of pastoral care into sexual abuse” when she was 23 and Cavey was 46—a decade ago. The woman said she still didn’t feel safe going public. “The findings failed to name this abuse of authority for what it is: clergy sexual abuse,” she said in the statement.

Instead, the investigation’s designations of sexual harassment and abuse of authority have been repeated by The Meeting House in its official statements and a livestream town hall on Tuesday night.

When the question “Wasn’t this just an affair?” came up, Maggie John, chair of The Meeting House’s board of overseers, said no. “The investigator found that given how the relationship started, which was in a clergy counselor relationship, Bruxy abused his power and authority, and as the pastor Bruxy was responsible.” She said it went on for years.

Cavey did not use the word abuse or victim in his confession blog post, though he acknowledged the “dynamics of power and influence and an expectation of exemplary conduct” that come from his position.

“My failure is not a failure of the presence, power, or teaching of Jesus,” he wrote, “but an example of the pain someone like me can cause when I ignore his presence and fail to follow his teaching.”

Cavey’s misconduct and departure will affect his denomination, Be In Christ Church of Canada (BIC), formerly Brethren in Christ. In a statement to CT, BIC executive director Charles Mashinter said Be In Christ supports the church’s decision for Cavey to resign and has also removed his pastoral credentials.

The headquarters for Be In Christ are located at The Meeting House’s building in Oakville, Ontario (along with another Anabaptist-rooted network called Jesus Collective). The church makes up the biggest swath of BIC denominational members and is responsible for doubling its size over the past 20 years.

Under Cavey’s leadership, The Meeting House came to hold a pretty unusual place of influence in the Christian landscape. There are very few Brethren megachurches—a database by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research lists just four in the US—and all congregations tend to be much smaller in Canada, where worship attendance has been dropping for decades and as little as 6 percent of the population considers themselves evangelical.

“In Ontario, you’d struggle to find an evangelical Christian who hadn’t heard of The Meeting House and Bruxy Cavey … virtually everybody knows who he is and had tremendous respect for him,” said Robin Wallar, lead pastor at Lift Church in Hamilton. “It’s hard to know the immediate impact [of the recent revelations], but it’s generally pretty devastating to the church in Canada.”

Evangelical leaders couldn’t ignore the popularity of The Meeting House—many of them knew believers or even former members from their own churches who had landed at one of the church’s 20-some locations, which span from the Toronto area to Ottawa. And they also couldn’t bypass the points of theological tension with this Anabaptist, pacifist, egalitarian, yet conservative and evangelical pastor.

A few years ago, The Gospel Coalition Canada ran a series with Cavey, calling his church “our largest neighbour within the Evangelical world.”

The interviewer—Paul Carter, lead pastor of Cornerstone Baptist in Orillia, Ontario—asked whether Cavey’s “Jesus not religion” mantra maligns traditional evangelical churches and got him to clarify some of his theological beliefs, particularly his critique of penal substitutionary atonement. Despite theological differences, Carter remained friends with Cavey since.

Even with the shared leadership model Cavey described in a 2018 conversation with Carter and the team of pastors he referenced in his resignation announcement, he had been the face of The Meeting House, and it’s hard for people to imagine the church without him. One member from Strathroy commented on Instagram that she’s been a part of The Meeting House her whole life, having followed Cavey’s teaching since she was eight.

“The Meeting House without Bruxy Cavey at the front, it’s going to suffer a significant loss, but the legacy of an irreligious Anabaptist spirituality will linger,” said Schuurman, who lives in Guelph, Ontario, and directs a Christian network called Global Scholars Canada.

At the end of his dissertation, Schuurman considered what would happen when Cavey would eventually leave the church. He noted that megachurch research experts agree that fewer than 5 percent of today’s megachurch pastors end their careers in “significant conflict” such as sexual scandal.

Even in Canada, where Schuurman says they’re not “breeding superpower personalities,” the revelations around clergy misconduct seem to continue to come to light year after year (some recent, high-profile examples include Ravi Zacharias, Jean Vanier, and Todd Bentley).

US pastor Greg Boyd, a friend and fellow member of the Jesus Collective, had asked for prayer for Cavey in the wake of the allegations and amended his remarks to “acknowledge the power dynamics” of the situation. Matt Miles, executive director of the Jesus Collective addressed Cavey’s resignation, saying, “It is also important to recognize that this is not an isolated incident in the context of the wider church community. Abuses of power and sexual misconduct are antithetical to Jesus’ way of love and have caused deep hurt for many people.”

Cavey wrote the books The End of Religion and Reunion: The Good News of Jesus for Seekers, Saints, and Sinners and preached at The Meeting House, which was one of Canada’s early adopter of the simulcast multisite model, since 1997. The church has opted to remove recordings of Cavey’s sermons from its website as a result of his misconduct, which it believes represent a disqualification from ministry.

“We are followers of Jesus, not in a particular person. We’re grateful that Bruxy has pointed us to Jesus, to God. While we have amazing sermons and material, we also have a case of sexual sin, harassment, abuse of power and authority, that compromises the experience that we see in this person,” said John, the board chair, in the online town hall. “Because we want to avoid triggering the victim or any others that have experienced any sexual misconduct, we have chosen to not provide those resources at this time.”

[Editor’s note: On March 14, Herald Press announced that it would be pulling Cavey’s books. “We take our responsibility of resourcing the church seriously,” said publisher Amy Gingerich. “Given that The Meeting House asked Cavey to resign and removed all his teaching videos from their website and the Be In Christ denomination revoked his credentials for ministry, we at Herald Press cannot in good faith sell his books.”]

The Meeting House has made professional counselors available, in addition to pastoral care on staff, for those in the church who need extra support as they process the news and their own grief. The church said it hopes to continue to dialogue with the survivor.

Strickland, who also does ministry as a speaker and social justice advocate, told followers on Wednesday that the victim chose the name Hagar as a pseudonym. It’s a reference to the Old Testament figure who both suffered abuse and testified to a God who sees.

Hagar spent part of her statement offering a message to anyone in the throes of clergy abuse:

Maybe you feel confused because you deeply care for and want to protect your pastor from harm. Maybe you’ve been told you are the only one who understands them. Jesus sees you. He’s holding your face in his hands, looking you straight in the eyes, and speaking truth to you. You are being abused.

Jesus can rescue you from this abuse, and he can help you right now. Your life matters to him. He’s with you. Invite the light of truth to break the lies and secrecy that this pastor has trapped you in. Tell one person you trust. I know you can do it because I did.

Jesus is so much bigger than you can imagine, and he sees you, and he will never stop rescuing you.

May/June
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