Christian Writing Conferences Uncover an Onslaught of Sexual Misconduct Allegations
Allegations and complaints of sexual misconduct toward women in the Christian writing and publishing industry have recently come to light.
According to Publishers Weekly, accusers have come forward with claims ranging from “accidental” touching to being pinned against walls and groped, and from inappropriate “mentoring” relationships to requests for sexual favors.
The list of men in the Christian publishing arena who have recently been accused of sexual misconduct, includes publishing professional Dennis Hensley, literary agent Chip MacGregor, magazine editor Ben Wolf, and writing mentor Jeff Gerke.
In late 2017 Christian writers conference directors contacted one another to discuss attendees’ recent reports of unwanted sexual advances. By January 2018, the directors were able to detect behavioral patterns and pinpoint the names of abusers. Now they are taking action.
In July, one of the accusers, Dennis Hensley, faced allegations which led to his resignation from Taylor University in Upland, Ind. Hensley was frequently in attendance at Christian writers conferences and directed the Professional Writing program at Taylor University. Reportedly, Hensley resigned from his post at Taylor due to an investigation into what the university called “significant and credible allegations of serious misconduct.”
Publisher’s Weekly reports that one of Hensley’s accusers, former Taylor University student Rachel Custer, told them that in 2004 Hensley tried to kiss her, saying they would be “special friends” and this would be their “little secret.” Custer reports that she immediately told the Taylor dean of students about the incident and was led to believe that a letter was put in Hensley’s file regarding the incident.
Hensley told the Chronicle Tribune “When she reported it, the way she remembered it was totally exaggerated.”
Despite this, other women have spoken out about Hensley noting that he asked them for sexual favors.
Accusations by several women were also made toward literary agent Chip MacGregor. According to Publisher’s Weekly, many of the accusers have refused to go on record with their allegations out of fear for their career. They did, however, recount the abuses by MacGregor claiming that he inappropriately touched them, made lewd comments toward them and or sent them suggestive emails.
One former client of MacGregor’s, Lorilee Craker, author of 15 books, reports that she ran into a wall when she mentioned the sexual misconduct to other industry professionals regarding MacGregor’s and other’s behaviors over the course of many years. “On the rare occasions when I would tell people in the industry about my experience with Chip, they would invariably shut me down,” she said. “‘Oh, I don’t want you to get a reputation for talking out of turn’—a silencing line if there ever was one. The message was that ‘gossip’ was a worse crime than anything else.”
MacGregor said regarding the allegations, “I had acted like a jerk and been inappropriate on numerous occasions… I’ve never attacked or harassed anyone, but my behavior was inexcusable, and I’m sorry.” He said that “any sexual activity was, in fact, consensual—but looking back on that time, I’m ashamed of who I was and how I acted.”
Ben Wolf, editor-in-chief of Splickety Publishing Group (SPG), has also received allegations of sexual misconduct including inappropriate emails and requests for sexual favors.
Wolf responded to the allegations saying, “In the summer of 2017, I made inappropriate comments to a female peer in the publishing industry who had routinely exchanged similar inappropriate jokes back and forth with me for several years prior.
“I immediately apologized to all affected parties as soon as concerns regarding my words were brought to my attention, and I regret that any of it ever happened. This incident is the only one of its kind, and I will never repeat this mistake.”
Wolf continued, “Any other allegations leveled against me regarding supposed misconduct, harassment, bullying, and/or manipulation and the like are blatantly false, and I categorically deny them.”
Jeff Gerke also faces allegations which include inappropriate emails, requests for sex, and sending suggestive photos. Gerke has been removed from speaker lists amid allegations, but when asked about the allegations he said he was only guilty of one “emotional affair.”
He told Publisher’s Weekly, “Because the emotional affair was consensual (and initiated by the other woman), I’m surprised to see it depicted as sexual harassment. She was as fully engaged in it and as culpable as I am.”
Nevertheless, he added, “Over the past few years, I have sought out and received intensive Christian therapy, deep retraining of my thinking and behaving, and excellent marital counseling with my wife. I am deeply sorrowful for my actions.”
Due to the overwhelming number of accusations, conference directors are taking steps to protect attendees, creating codes of conduct for faculty members and encouraging or requiring speakers to have roommates to allow for accountability. Directors are also encouraging attendees and speakers to come to them with complaints if anything happens that makes them uncomfortable.
“We’re not turning a blind eye anymore,” Florida Christian Writers Conference director Eva Marie Everson said.
Kathy Ide, director of the SoCal CWC and Mount Hermon CWC, and others have started talking directly to attendees and speakers about appropriate behavior, as well as reiterating the conference’s code of conduct to faculty.
Many directors are saying this behavior is rare at Christian writing conferences, but important for them to know about nonetheless.
“The most important thing for directors now is to just be aware,” Everson said. “Keep your eyes open, and don’t think that it can’t happen at your conference. Because it can, and it could be the last person you expect.”
Photo courtesy: Unsplash/Rachel Lynette French