After discovering that his father, an Evangelical pastor, had sexually assaulted multiple young women throughout his career, Rev. Jimmy Hinton has made it his life's work to teach churches how to guard against pedophiles.
Jimmy's father, John Wayne Hinton, shared the gospel from the pulpit of Somerset Church of Christ for nearly 27 years before retiring in 2001. Inspired by his father to enter the ministry, Jimmy took over the pulpit in 2009. However, just two years later, a woman approached Jimmy and informed him that his beloved father had molested her when she was a young girl.
Sadly, by the end of the conversation, Jimmy knew the woman was telling the truth, and was forced to contact the authorities.
"I'm not saying I wanted to believe that about my dad," he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Doing the right thing isn't doing what we want to believe. It's about doing the right thing."
Before long, more victims started coming forward, revealing in horrific detail what John Hinton had done to them over the span of several years.
"They were looking for validation that somebody was listening and somebody believed them. The amount of emotion was incredible. The only thing I did know was that my family would never be the same," Jimmy said.
Shortly thereafter, John Hinton was arrested on 200 counts, one charge of rape and dozens each involving indecent assault on children and the possession and creation of child pornography including numerous nude, explicit photos he had taken of girls as young as 4. Now 65, Hinton is serving a sentence of 30 to 60 years at State Correctional Institution Rockview in Bellefonte, Centre County.
Sadly, this disturbing series of events is far too common within the church. Writes "Boz" Tchividjian, a former child abuse chief prosecutor, "It is critical to note that this abuse is no less prevalent within the faith community. In fact...the faith community is even more vulnerable to abuse than secular environments."
According to a recent Abel and Harlow study, 93% of sex offenders describe themselves as "religious." The study also notes that this category of offender is, in fact, the most dangerous. Other studies, as cited by the Religion News Service, have found that sexual abusers within faith communities have more victims and younger victims.
Because of this harsh reality, Jimmy decided to take action. He recently formed a nonprofit consulting group, Church Protect, and speaks to congregations around the country regarding the issue.
He encourages churches to refrain from the belief that their congregations aren't susceptible to the same kind sexual abuse, or that they could control a sexual offender in their congregation.
"Every church is vulnerable. When they proclaim, 'Everybody welcome,' predators will take advantage of that," he said.
He also urges congregations to check every person's criminal record for themselves, not trusting the perpetrator's version of events. "Even churches that know of a person's past and believe they can monitor him would be shocked at how a predator can groom and even abuse victims in plain sight," he said.
Some convicted pedophiles, Jimmy said, have attempted to get involved with his church, and react angrily when he tells them the only fellowship he would offer is a separate gathering time for adult men only.
"A survivor of abuse is often re-traumatized in the presence of a perpetrator, and not just their own," he said. "If you truly are remorseful, you're not going to put me in that position" of having prohibit them from coming to church when children are around.
Most importantly, Jimmy says the horrific ordeal hasn't turned him away from his faith, but instead made it stronger.
"In a strange way, it's really helped to increase my faith," he told the Gazette. "When you look at Scripture, it's from cover to cover - God hates oppression and God calls his people to stand up and oppose it. It's not that God is passively sitting by, watching innocent children being abused and doesn't care. God is angry. God is weeping with us. God is calling people to stand up and oppose it."