Misconduct allegations at Christ the Rock Community Church found credible after investigation

A Fox Valley woman alleges sexual and behavioral misconduct at a Menasha church. A third-party investigation finds those reports credible.
Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 4:55 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 17, 2023 at 9:10 PM CDT
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FOX VALLEY, Wis. (WBAY) - A Fox Valley woman’s allegations of sexual and behavioral misconduct at a church in the Fox Valley has been found credible through a third-party investigation.

The church recently published the report on its website.

The investigation lasted months and determined the misconduct happened 40 years ago by two former Christ the Rock Community Church staff members.

Joie Pirkey says she lived with this for decades. It’s one of the reasons she made a blog post in May of 2022, called “My Personal Abuse Story in the Church.”

“Finally I just thought I am ripping off the band aid, I need to forge a way, I am not going to hand this off to my children and grandchildren,” Joie Pirkey said.

In the blog post she writes about sexual and behavioral misconduct she says she endured as a teenager by two former Christ The Rock staff members: Dave VandeHey and Bill Lenz. She says Dave VandeHey showed a romantic interest in her as a teenager in the 1980′s that turned physical including kissing and touching. Vandehey was a volunteer youth leader when the misconduct happened. Vandehey was hired on staff when Christ The Rock Community Church formed in 1990.

Christ the Rock’s current lead pastor, Joel Zeiner, says when church elders learned of the blog post, they reached out to an organization called GRACE: Godly Response to Abuse in Christian Environment.

“Realized we are not equipped to do investigation, we have strong deep feelings for people in report, hard to be unbiased, knew we needed some outside help,” Pastor Zeiner said.

“I was like thank God, yes, I thought this was exactly, exactly what the church needed, I was very happy about that,” said Pirkey.

Over the next several months, grace investigators met with 31 people. The 41-page grace document explains why investigators determined the allegations against Dave VandeHey credible. Grace concluded that Vandehey, “engaged in grooming behavior” and talked to Pirkey “more extensively” than he admitted to.

The report includes several witness statements one saying quote “he shouldn’t be there telling her he loved her. He should be home with his wife.”

The GRACE report also makes clear that some former Christ the Rock leaders in the past knew about the allegations against VandeHey for years. One witness told GRACE: “Everybody on the pastoral staff would’ve known that. No one talked about it, but everybody knew about it.”

VandeHey did not return Action 2 News request for comment via Facebook. But he did release a statement to Christ the Rock, saying “The allegations against me were made years prior to my becoming a member at CTR. I deny that any of the allegations are true, and wish to state that these claims are completely false. Since becoming a member and serving on staff at CTR, there have been no other allegations or accusations made against me.”

GRACE also investigated allegations against Bill Lenz, founder of Christ the Rock Community Church. GRACE investigators determined the allegations of emotional abuse and behavioral misconduct against Bill Lenz credible based on witnesses describing actions of bullying and intimidation.

The report indicates Lenz threatened self-harm if employees did not follow his directives. Through the course of the investigation GRACE found credible allegations regarding Bill Lenz initiating physical contact with four women.

Despite Pirkey’s claims that leaders did not address some allegations, GRACE found multiple Christ the Rock people contacted some relevant individuals. But GRACE called it problematic, “riddled with conflicts of interest and self-protective impulses.”

Lenz died by suicide in 2017.

Action 2 News reached out to his family about the report; his family has chosen not to comment.

“When I read report, I was pretty gutted,” said Joel Zeiner. “These are two men who have had a huge influence on my life and many others. And have served in this community for decades. My temptation was – hard to believe and wanted to hide from it, but I had to learn to wrestle with the tension, of what I was reading and what I know of them, a hard wrestling for me to make sense of.”

Pastor Zeiner says the church takes the GRACE report seriously. Up until this week, VandeHey was listed on Christ the Rock’s website as a non-staff pastor. His photo has since been removed. Action 2 News is told the elders and leadership team will consider all recommendations offered to them by GRACE.

“Any allegation brought forth, we will take seriously. We want those things brought to the light and then there would be people who can discover healing in their own story,” said Ben Korinek.

Pirkey says she hopes the GRACE report sparks change, full transparency, and encourages other survivors to come forward.

“But even more than that, encouraging the community to stand beside those victims,” Pirkey says. “If the community will rally around, people will stand up and others will be afraid to sit in that way, it’s what the Bible says…that’s what we need for real change.”

Action 2 News wanted to be careful with the 41-page GRACE report as it is very detailed. The church has posted the full GRACE report online.