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New complaint filed against Tacoma megachurch pastor cites multiple instances of sexual misconduct

ean Curry, former pastor of Life Center Tacoma. (Bruce Kellman / News-Tribune)
ean Curry, former pastor of Life Center Tacoma. (Bruce Kellman / News-Tribune)
By Sean Robinson News-Tribune

TACOMA – Revelations surrounding Tacoma megachurch pastor Dean Curry have reached the crisis stage.

Last week, Curry stepped down as leader of Life Center Tacoma in response to a complaint of physical misconduct with an ex-employee. This week, a former church board member filed formal complaints with federal and state agencies, alleging prior instances of sexual misconduct by Curry with female church employees and congregation members.

The complaints to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the state Human Rights Commission come from Julee Dilley, who was elected to the Life Center Board in 2014. She said she and her husband left the church in 2016 over concerns about Curry’s conduct and the church’s response to it.

The allegations described in Dilley’s complaint appear to be distinct from the more recent misconduct charge brought to the Northwest Ministry Network by the former church employee. That record is confidential, and the employee has not been identified publicly.

Dilley describes herself as a “witness, not a claimant” in the complaints. She said she did not file them for financial gain.

“This is a situation I never wanted to be in or thought I would be in,” she said an interview with The News Tribune. “I’m just a stay-at-home mom who wants to serve my church. This is about the welfare of the church.

“I see it as a move toward accountability. I’m seeking no gain — absolutely no gain. I love the church. I’m concerned about the welfare of the church. These are moral issues that have been long-standing and consistent.”

Dilley’s complaint sheds new light on prior incidents allegedly involving Curry, referenced obliquely in public statements by church leaders, but not described in detail. The complaint describes three incidents involving three women:

An ongoing relationship with a married church member that turned physical.

An incident involving another married church member being visited by Curry late at night, discovered by the woman’s husband.

A female administrative employee who spoke of uncomfortable conversations with Curry that included comments on her appearance and discussions of his intimate relations with his wife.

The News Tribune sought comment from Life Center leaders Monday. Board member Nate Angelo responded with an emailed statement after consultation with other leaders.

“Julee Dilley was a member of the Life Center Church board three years ago when it commissioned an independent external investigation into accusations against then-Senior Pastor Dean Curry,” the statement reads. “The Northwest Ministry Network of the Assemblies of God conducted its own investigation into the same matter and concluded there was ‘no reason to investigate further.’ Julie was not satisfied with the decisions reached by the church board or the Northwest Ministry Network and no longer attends Life Center.

“Life Center takes all accusations against church employees seriously and will do so in the future. While we have not seen her current complaint, we will respond to complaints and accusations in appropriate forums but will not debate them in public media.”

The Northwest Ministry Network, based in Snoqualmie, is a larger organization that holds administrative authority over Assemblies of God churches in the Northwest. The network recently decided to recommend Curry’s dismissal after hearing new complaints of physical misconduct involving female employees.

Leaders of the network said they relied on the testimony of “two or more witnesses” before unanimously recommending Curry’s dismissal.

Curry, 50, denied the accusation in a July 1 speech to the congregation, and said he had been “falsely and wrongly accused” of actions that would amount to adultery. He denied being unfaithful to his wife, Anne. He is appealing his dismissal to the national Assemblies of God organization, a confidential process expected to take months.

Since his departure, multiple church members have spoken to The News Tribune. Some defend Curry wholeheartedly. Others say concerns about his conduct with women have simmered for years.

Dilley attended the meeting at Life Center’s main campus in central Tacoma where Curry announced his departure. She said she was disappointed by his statement, feeling it belittled his accuser, an ex-employee who was in her 20s when she worked for the church.

Dilley’s complaint cites other examples of Curry’s behavior that troubled her. They included isolating female employees and church members and spending time alone with them on numerous occasions, and promoting an outreach ministry that featured one-on-one counseling of prostitutes and women known to be victims of sex trafficking.

Reached Monday, Curry replied with a short statement denying the allegations.

“More outrageous false accusations,” he said. “Saddened to see some are opportunistically trying to hinder the forward work of the ministry. I categorically deny all of it.”

Adultery and extramarital affairs aren’t crimes, but church by-laws frown on them among leaders. Grounds for discipline of church leaders include “moral failure involving sexual misconduct.”

Separately, Life Center’s employee handbook states that the organization is “committed to equal employment opportunity.” It lists “sexual or other unlawful harassment” as an example of employee misconduct.

The EEOC investigates claims of discrimination based on race, sex, age and other categories that fall under the umbrella of civil rights protections. The state Human Rights Commission also investigates such claims under state law.

Findings from the two agencies have no independent force but can be used in future legal actions.

While religious organizations are exempt from some aspects of employment law, they are not immune to sexual harassment lawsuits. The national Assemblies of God organization addresses the issue on its website, explicitly noting federal rules.

“Is a church (or other employer) liable for acts of sexual harassment committed by its workers?” According to the EEOC guidelines, the answer is ‘Yes.’ “

Dilley said she was disappointed by the church’s 2015 investigation of Curry, which led to a vote of confidence in his continued leadership. Key witnesses weren’t interviewed, she said, and church board members criticized her for raising concerns.

Though the inquiry was presented as independent at the time, conducted by an outside law firm, Dilley described it as “an internal investigation in disguise,” designed to protect Curry and the church rather than addressing the concerns of women who came forward.

Women who spoke out about Curry’s behavior were portrayed as “crazy” or having drinking problems, Dilley said. Those who listened to them, including Dilley, were told they were on a witch hunt.

“Three years ago, one woman came forward with the highest allegation of an affair,” Dilley said. “At that time, she was being portrayed as crazy. Now a second woman has come forward. I’m hearing that she’s being painted as crazy. I’m hearing that there’s a third woman who has come forward and this was literally in the last week.

“Do we have three crazy women? What do these women have to gain by coming forward? They have been hurt. They’re going to get slaughtered in social media. I’m proud of the women that are willing to come forward, so how could I not come forward? They’re being brave. How can I not be brave? I know I’m gonna get lambasted on social media. I just knew I couldn’t say nothing.”

Dilley’s complaint includes correspondence from 2015 and 2016 between another high-ranking Life Center church member and a Northwest Ministry Network official. The News Tribune is not naming the church member, who requested confidentiality, citing threats from other church members.

The church member’s correspondence recounts many of the same incidents mentioned in Dilley’s complaint, including an account of personal discussions with the married church member who described an affair with Curry.

The member also described Curry discussing advice to other pastors who had extramarital affairs. Reportedly, Curry recommended withholding such information from state authorities at the Northwest Ministry Network, though he couched it in a metaphor:

“I have, on a number of occasions, heard Dean say the following in regards to keeping secrets: ‘If you have a secret, tell a rabbit. Then shoot the rabbit.’”

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