After a Saddleback Church youth mentor was hit nearly a half-dozen felony charges of child molestation, church pastors have asked believers to pray for the families involved and for the investigators as they determine the facts.
After Ruven (aka) Ruben Muelenberg, a popular youth biblical video game creator and author, was booked into the Orange County Jail on suspicion of lewd and lascivious acts with a child, Saddleback Church pastors Kurt Johnston and Steve Johnson released a statement expressing their "shock and grief" over the situation.
"We ask you to do two things: first, please pray for the Saddleback families who are involved in this sad matter; second, please pray for the investigators as they determine the facts," they wrote. "As followers of Jesus, we always want the whole truth to come out because Jesus taught us that lies enslave us, but the truth sets us free."
According to the OC Register, Saddleback Church staff contacted the Orange County Sheriff's Department after a church member reported that Muelenberg had acted inappropriately with two 14-year-old boys.
"Both victims indicated they had engaged in inappropriate conduct with the suspect for the past year while he volunteered at the church," Sheriff's Department Lt. Lane Lagaret said. "There have been several alleged incidents of lewd and inappropriate conduct, several of which have occurred on the church property."
One of the victims attended Saddleback Church and was part of the junior high ministry program when the suspected lewd acts occurred.
Meulenberg volunteered at the church for about six years and investigators believe there may be additional victims, Lagaret said. He was scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday afternoon on three counts of lewd acts on a child 14 or 15 years old and two counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a minor younger than 14.
In the statement, Johnson and Johnson added that Saddleback Church has been "built on the service of thousands of volunteers who donate hundreds of thousands of hours of their time."
"Most of you know that for decades we've had extremely high requirements and strict procedures in place for anyone who volunteers in our student and children ministries," they wrote.
The two added that, like all volunteers, Meulenberg underwent extensive background training before he was approved.
"To be considered for volunteering with kids or students, we require fingerprinting, professional background checks, and personal interviews," they said. "We also use services that report any illegal activity to us immediately. In this case, the accused volunteer had no record of arrest or criminal charges. Also, our church requires volunteers who work with students or children to complete an annual training regarding appropriate conduct. Our system of safeguards has safely served over 40,000 students and children for 38 years."
The pastors concluded their statement, "Please pray for everyone involved. We love you."
Saddleback Church was founded by Rick Warren and his wife, Kay, in 1980. In the past, Kay has spoken candidly about being molested when she was 3 years old and the effect it had on her life.
"Deeply buried in my soul were the wounds caused by being molested by a family friend when I was very young," she wrote. " Like many other young children who are the victims of sexual abuse, I didn't know how to talk about what had happened to me."
She continued, "I kept the abuse a secret, but grew increasingly confused about my own developing sexuality. Pornography and acting out became a shameful part of my life, even while I longed to love and serve God. After awhile, there just didn't seem to be any hope for change and I felt doomed to live a double life."
Kay revealed that she was able to overcome the deep shame she felt once she understood who God created her to be: "He's known the truth about you from the very beginning and it hasn't stopped Him from dearly loving you. Once you do, you too will experience peace and the freedom to give your real self to those you love."
The church's "Celebrate Recovery" ministry helps people "find freedom from hurts, habits and hang-ups including addictions, compulsive and dysfunctional behaviors by showing them the loving power of Jesus Christ through a recovery process."
"Celebrate Recovery has helped more than 17000 people at Saddleback, attracting over 70% of its members from outside the church. Eighty-five percent of the people who go through the program stay with the church and nearly half serve as church volunteers."