Foursquare Church struggles with transparency over allegations of sexual abuse

As Foursquare Church enters its centurial year of operation, it aims to crack down on its longstanding, systemic, history of sexual abuse through newly adopted Safeguarding polices. However, some still believe it continues to turn a blind eye to years of sexual abuse in the past by refusing to publicly address the issue, according to one of its members. 

GRACE investigates Foursquare and the Heidi Cooper story

Foursquare Church is an Evangelical Pentecostal Christian denomination with 8.8 million members across 67,000 churches. It was founded by preacher, and media celebrity, Aimee Semple McPherson in 1923.

In March, 2019, Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) received a complaint from Heidi Cooper, a lifelong member of the Foursquare Church and a credentialed Foursquare Pastor, on behavioral misconduct by Mike Larkin, former President of Pacific College-Ignite — a Foursquare College.

Prior to joining a Southern Californian Foursquare Church in 1986, Larkin was a police officer. In 1991 he became an Executive Pastor, which he served for five years before joining the church’s global mission teams with Foursquare Missions International. In 2000, Larkin was promoted to the position of Director of Missions and in 2008 became the President of Life Pacific College-Ignite (LPC-Ignite), an extension campus of Life Pacific University. In 2011, Life Pacific University relocated the LPC-Ignite campus to a satellite location in Christiansburg, Virginia.  At this time, Larkin and his wife relocated to Virginia from California to continue his presidency before resigning in December of 2019.

When Larkin “resigned,” he was offered a severance of $99,000 from church funds, half of which was not approved by the Board of Directors. The president of Foursquare at the time, Glenn Buriss Jr., who pushed for the unusually high severance amount, according to Cooper, was on his last term and left before the Board realized what had been done. The Board never corrected the severance payment and declined to comment on the decision when confronted by Brian Butler, a Florida pastor, and many others at a meeting last June.

foursquare sexual abuse

Photo of Foursquare Pastor and former LPU-Virginia President Mike Larkin who is named in sexual abuse allegations. SOURCE: Foursquare 2019 special announcement video.

Additionally, Foursquare published an article praising Larkin for all of his accomplishments. That article has since been removed, Cooper said.

Cooper resigned from her position in June of 2019 as a regular speaker at LPC-Ignite, a reported aftereffect of Larkin’s illicit behavior towards her and, as later investigations found by GRACE, multiple others.

GRACE entered an Engagement Agreement with Foursquare Church on March 17, 2020, a year after being contacted by Cooper, and conducted 28 witness/victim interviews. Because the investigation was not a judicial proceeding, GRACE could not subpoena witnesses nor documents; all interviews were voluntary.

Prior to 2018, GRACE conducted approximately two to four investigations a year, Pete Singer, Executive Director at GRACE told the Lynnwood Times. By 2019, GRACE was conducting about 20 sexual abuse investigations a year, although Singer was unable to say how many of those have been directly related to Foursquare.

According to the GRACE investigation report obtained by the Lynnwood Times, Cooper’s experiences with Larkin spanned approximately three years. Larkin would repeatedly message her sexually inappropriate things on Facebook Messenger. Larkin allegedly also told her to delete the messages because “someone could take it wrong.”

When GRACE requested a transcript of these Facebook messages, it was discovered that Larkin had deleted them.

Cooper originally told counselors Paul Kuzma, Foursquare Pastoral Counselor CSR East, and Ted Roberts, Pure Desire Ministries, of the sexual Facebook messages Larkin sent between December of 2018 and March of 2019. The counselors confronted Larkin about the allegations, via a Zoom call, in March, 2019, to which he denied any inappropriate behavior.

Cooper was then told to write a letter to Larkin on the impact of his behavior and read it to him in person.

“This was very traumatizing and I broke down crying the minute I saw Mike [Larkin],” said Cooper.

Later that month, Larkin admitted to making inappropriate statements to Cooper but still denied inappropriate intent; this was also expressed through a letter he wrote to Cooper who still felt Larkin was not taking ownership by denying any sexual intent. Larkin was advised to seek counseling, but no other action ensued.

On June 13, 2019, Cooper wrote a letter to Tammy Dunahoo, Vice President of Foursquare, revealing what Larkin had done and explained why she was no longer traveling with LPC-Ignite. She was told the issue would be addressed immediately and provided screenshots of Larkin and her conversations as proof.

Larkin was approached for the first time by then-President of Foursquare Church, Glenn Burris, in November of 2019, during which time he became very defensive by attacking Cooper’s credibility, Dunahoo later told Cooper.

GRACE found merit in Cooper’s allegations and ultimately held Foursquare accountable for “creating and reinforcing cultural values that protect the vulnerable,” adding that Foursquare “lacks adequate misconduct policies and procedures” and it could “benefit from more education on misconduct and trauma-informed practices.”

When Cooper met with the board of directors on April 15, 2021, two members admitted they knew about Larkin’s abuse for years yet did not come forward. Cooper asked that the board come public with Larkin’s history of abuse and was told there would be a public statement issued by July 1, 2021.

After months of requesting Foursquare to release the public statement it promised, on March 31, 2022, the board notified Cooper that a public statement was “no longer appropriate…making public statements about leadership conduct is not how Foursquare disciplines its ministers…publicly making a statement about specific people or situations is not the way forward for Foursquare.”

More allegations of sexual abuse of Foursquare Pastor Mike Larkin

Cooper was not the only victim of abuse by Larkin, according to the GRACE investigation.

Another victim, who asked to remain anonymous fearing retaliation from Larkin, told the Lynnwood Times that Larkin allegedly had a reputation for staring at women’s breasts and talking “a lot” about sex and masturbation during class when at Life Pacific College-Ignite.

She attempted to express how these comments made her feel uncomfortable to Tim Clark, the Dean of Students at the time, but never received a response. From then, she alleges, the “tides turned, and Larkin became very manipulative,” making fun of her weight, saying she would be “prettier” if she dyed her hair blonde, and in one extreme example, forcibly grabbed her face and yelled at her for speaking out against comments he made about her sister’s weight.

The victim continued to bring these issues to Clark, and Dr. Michael Salmeier, Academic Dean, but they allegedly defended Larkin.

“’Mike was God’s anointed’, he [Salmeier] would always say,” the victim told the Lynnwood Times.

Larkin would often meet with female students alone and ask them about their sexual history, number of sexual partners, and sexual orientation investigations indicate. He would also frequently comment on female students’ appearance calling them “hot”, “gorgeous”, and make comments such as “you can see why I hired her” when referring to female staff’s appearance. 

The GRACE investigations found that Larkin’s behavioral misconduct was not always sexual in nature, describing his behavior as “bullying, intimidation, control, and manipulation.”

Just a few examples of Larkin’s physical and emotional abuse include ridiculing staff of their performance while threatening to significantly reduce their compensation, threatening staff members’ job security without apparent cause, berating students for considering leaving the LPC-Ignite program, persuading students to not talk to their parents on the phone, enlisting students to bring him information about their peers then using that information to pressure students (stating he received the information from the Holy Spirit), and making comments such as “oh well, guess you’re pro-life now” after a staff member’s wife had a miscarriage.

Larkin also described the “sins” of students, told to him in confidence, to the entire student body, cursed and yelled at students who approached him about problems with Ignite, threatened physical assault and hurt student’s future opportunities, and took out loans on behalf of students without their consent.

Going public with Foursquare sexual abuse allegation

Heidi Cooper went public with the investigation’s findings in May of 2022, telling her story on Hagar’s Voice, a podcast that deals with victims of clergy abuse. This caused an uproar at Foursquare’s  annual convention in Orlando when brought up in public comment —thousands attended the event. Throughout the convention, Foursquare leadership never mentioned Larkin by name, nor acknowledge any abuse had ever happened, according to Cooper. They also refused to address Larkin’s $99,000 severance pay half of which was not approved by the board of directors.

“They panicked…All they basically did is run around and confuse people,” Cooper told the Lynnwood Times. “They were avoiding the questions.”

At that meeting, the convention body passed a motion, during an open session, recommending the board empower a Safeguarding Team to operate without board or staff interference. The motion passed overwhelmingly; yet, just one month later, the 11 member team was notified that their work would be paused.

In July of 2022, Foursquare announced a new Healthy Culture Board Taskforce to “assess and address necessary structures for leadership health and accountability, as well as victim care and support”. This taskforce is led by an internal Board of Foursquare members.

When hearing of Heidi Cooper’s story, Justin Rupple, a Foursquare Pastor in California, published an open letter in June of 2022 to Foursquare with a petition calling for accountability within the church. That petition as of February 27, 2023, has garnered over 600 signatures.

The purpose of the petition, Rupple told the Lynnwood Times, is a full disclosure of the investigation results conducted by GRACE, the release of a public statement fully disclosing misconduct, and to hold Foursquare accountable for its failures to respond appropriately in a manner that safeguards other victims from further abuse.

“Foursquare leadership has never publicly disclosed this Mike Larkin situation,” said Rupple. “Victims should never be burdened with the responsibility of disclosure. The fact that Heidi went first, after multiple attempts of asking Foursquare to and being told they would, that breaks my heart because that’s cost Heidi something.”

Other incidents of sexual abuse in Foursquare churches

One witness in the GRACE report also told investigators, “[Foursquare] pastors are allowed to do whatever they want and do it in the name of God.”

“It seems obvious that there are issues in the church and the power dynamic and structure is unhealthy,” said Mel [last name redacted], whose brother was sexually abused at a Foursquare Church in Yakima when they were both children. “It’s really time to change it.”

Her brother’s abuse occurred from the age of four to eight by the pastor’s son, according to Mel. When her parents confronted the pastor about her brother’s sexual abuse, no action was taken.

Since going public with her story of abuse, Heidi Cooper told the Lynnwood Times that “at least 50” others have contacted her with similar stories within Foursquare churches across the county, with some occurring this year.

In Beaverton, Oregon, during the 1990’s, a then-teenaged boy named Matt Davis alleges he was sexually molested at a Foursquare Church by Raymond Martin Johnson, a former doctor and Foursquare member at the time. 

In 1971 Johnson was placed on probation by the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners after admitting to having sex with a 14-year-old boy. That probation lasted six years. Johnson was also asked to resign from the Boy Scouts of America in 1983 after he allegedly acknowledged to a Scout official he had inappropriate conduct with an underage boy, the Beaverton Valley Record reported.

Despite disclosing this to Foursquare leadership, per the requirements set forth by the Board of Medical Examiners, Johnson was still brought on as a volunteer and was allowed to host Foursquare youth events at his house, although not permitted to officially volunteer as a Youth Pastor or attend youth events on church grounds.

He would frequently have “lots of young men live with him, pool parties, bible studies, and camping trips,” Davis told the Lynnwood Times.

“They knew he was a pedophile and they still encouraged him to work with youth,” said Davis

randy remington

Randy Remington

In 2003, Beaverton Foursquare received a new Senior Pastor, Randy Remington, who relocated from Everett’s New Life Center after nine years as Senior Pastor. At that time, Davis decided to share with new leadership his abuse.

“He basically had me in his office, and we talked about what happened to me, and then he wished me luck and I went on my way,” said Davis.

About 45 minutes after leaving Remington’s office, Davis received a call from Remington informing him that another victim of sexual abuse at the church was filing a lawsuit but that it had nothing to do with Johnson.

“That was pretty much a lie,” said Davis.

Remington is now the current President of the denomination and has been since 2020.

After years of working through his trauma, Davis filed a lawsuit against Johnson in the Multnomah County Circuit Court in May of 2012, through Portland Attorney Kelly Clark—best known for winning a lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America in 2010. Davis asked for $1 million in damages for “severe debilitating physical, mental and emotional injury, including pain and suffering and permanent psychological damage.”

Davis’ lawsuit, like many lawsuits filed against Foursquare Church relating to abuse, was settled outside of court so the documents have not been made public.

In October of 2022, Barry Buzza, a former President of the Foursquare Church in Canada, was also sued for sexual abuse by a former Foursquare member. The lawsuit contended that the denomination failed to investigate properly and treated the abuse as a consensual affair.

barry buzza

Barry Buzza is a former president of Foursquare Church in Canada sued for sexual abuse. | YouTube/Over The Wall Ministries

In 2007, two men and a woman filed a lawsuit against Foursquare pastor Darrell Roberts and his twin sons, David and Jonathan Roberts, alleging that Robert’s sons had sexually abused them when they were all children, the Oregonian reported.

That same year a 32-year-old woman, Mary Ellen Wright, also came forward claiming she was sexually abused at a Foursquare church in Oak Lawn, Illinois.

Kristi Kernal-Phillips, former Foursquare Church secretary, informed the Lynnwood Times that child pornography was found in Raymond “Marty” Johnson’s library during his time with Foursquare. He was known to be “overly physical” with the boys in the church’s youth group, the Lynnwood Times was told.

When a colleague of hers took these concerns to leadership, they informed her they would not look into it, shamed her for the suggestion, then proceeded to make false accusations about her in an attempt to “assassinate her character,” Phillips said.

Philips continued she suspects Foursquare’s “theology of forgiveness” and “redemption” attracts sexual predators because they know they can get “all these second chances.”

“Leadership and church members believe that God can change anybody so that has to include a child molester or pedophile, and if it doesn’t include them, then that shatters pretty much all of our belief that God can do these miraculous things,” said Phillips. “I also think that money can be a real motive.”

Johnson was known to be wealthy, Phillips added, and alleges he would sometimes offer to pay for minister’s children’s orthodontic surgeries and college tuitions. 

Another former Beaverton Foursquare member, who asked to remain anonymous, substantiated Philip’s point that Johnson was a key “financial contributor” to the church. She added that she was instrumental in implementing a background check and screening process at Foursquare, following Johnson’s allegations and reputation. She shared that before policies to screen members or reporting sexual abuse existed at a Foursquare at this time, the church would often onboard volunteers regardless of what came up during a background check.

In one instance, Sam Nunez, who was arrested for ties to sex trafficking in Portland in 2017, got a job at New Life Foursquare Church in Frederick, Maryland working with children despite his background. Nunez, like Remington, also came from Everett.

Mill Creek Foursquare Pastor comments on sexual abuse cases

When the Lynnwood Times reached out to Mill Creek Foursquare Church regarding Evan Root, a former Mill Creek Foursquare volunteer charged with first degree rape of a child and first degree child molestation last year, Chris Manginelli, Lead Pastor, stated the church has an intensive screening process and never leaves volunteers or employees alone with the children.

“Mill Creek Foursquare Church has been part of this community since 1992 and we make the safety of children a high priority. All of our children’s workers, whether paid or volunteer, are run through a screening process and we implement policies so that children are not alone with an adult,” said Manginelli.

On July 25, 2022, the Foursquare board of directors announced a new intake process for reports and complaints related to leadership abuse in an attempt to take the church’s history in a new direction. Included in this new practice is providing counseling to Foursquare pastors, oversight of internal email exchanges, and placing emphasis on its Safeguarding Team, which Heidi Cooper suggested with the help of Vice President Dunahoo.

While some former and current Foursquare members believe this to be “smoke and mirrors,” others like Justin Rupple believe it to be a step in the right direction. He added that Foursquare won’t entirely be absolved of its systemic issues until it publicly discloses its investigation reports and takes accountability for its cases of abuse in the past.

“The denomination is not full of abusers that are covering up abuse so that it can continue,” said Rupple. “I believe Foursquare genuinely doesn’t want to see abuse happen, they genuinely want to deal with it, but there is a fear of disclosing it. That fear is it will do irreparable harm to all of the good that we’re doing as an organization.” 

As of the date of this publication, Foursquare has not publicly addressed Larkin or Johnson’s behavior, offered apologies to their victims, nor publicly released the findings of the GRACE investigation reports. The Lynnwood Times reached out to Foursquare’s corporate press contact asking if the denomination has any plans to go public with this information and how it will handle victims of sexual abuse coming forward in the future but is still awaiting a response.pp

Kienan Briscoe

Kienan Briscoe is a 9-time award winning journalist who has worked for a variety of publications including Pulitzer Prize-finalist Puget Sound Business Journal, Sound Publishing, Game Rant, and the University of Washington's newsroom. Before making the leap to news reporting he worked as a freelance writer in New York City. He holds a degree in Journalism from Arizona State University. Journalism, to him, is one of the most important tools for informing the public and holding governments accountable to the people. When he is not reporting he enjoys writing fiction and poetry (author of three novels), playing guitar, reading classic literature, and getting outdoors.

Kienan Briscoe has 383 posts and counting. See all posts by Kienan Briscoe

4 thoughts on “Foursquare Church struggles with transparency over allegations of sexual abuse

  • March 21, 2023 at 12:37 PM

    Everyone knew Larkin was a per*ert. leadership covered it up. Glad this is coming to light now

    • March 22, 2023 at 10:06 PM

      Why do you think they covered it up?

  • March 8, 2023 at 4:03 PM

    These leaders need to answer to this! To keep these situations hidden is deception.

  • March 3, 2023 at 12:28 PM

    Kienan, thank you for your coverage of what many of us Foursquare Church abuse survivors believe is a longstanding history of wide-spread abuse that the denominational leaders do not want to fully and transparently address with ALL of its members. Our hope is that with more light shining on this problem within Foursquare, that other survivors will come to know that they were not to blame and are not alone, and that children and other vulnerable populations within The Foursquare Church will be as safe as possible, and not have to invest the time, money, and energy that many of us are now spending in order to heal and recover from the abuse we experienced in this denomination. We desire accountability and change, not revenge, as some have wrongly accused us of. As a result of the publication of this piece yesterday, we have already had victims come to us to share their stories of abuse in Foursquare. Thank you, again.


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