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Missouri church cuts ties with camp accused of mishandling abuse

First Baptist West Plains, Mo., had previously hosted a Kanakuk day camp called Kampout! in the church parking lot. The church has canceled a similar event for this summer.

NASHVILLE (BP) – A Missouri Baptist pastor says his church will no longer partner with a popular camp due to a lack of transparency amid abuse allegations.

Pastor John King cited recent information that has “been made clear” to First Baptist Church in West Plains, Mo., that leadership of Kanakuk Kamps, based in Branson, haven’t been forthcoming in their knowledge of credible accusations made against a former staff member. The disaffiliation with Kanakuk will continue until “the truth of their knowledge about what happened with Pete Newman is openly confessed,” the statement read.

First Baptist had previously hosted a Kanakuk day camp called Kampout! in the church parking lot. King’s announcement came in a May 2 letter to parents explaining why First Baptist was canceling a scheduled Kampout! for this summer.

In a phone call with Baptist Press, King expressed that the decision was based on ensuring that survivors of Newman’s abuse – many he knew personally – would have their voices heard.

“No one is trying to burn Kanakuk down,” he said. “What we want is the truth and those who didn’t fire Pete Newman after credible accusations of abuse came to light be held accountable.

“No one is going to put this to rest until the truth comes out.”

Newman was a highly-regarded camp counselor eventually promoted to camp director before he pled guilty in June 2010 to seven counts of sexually abusing boys. Kanakuk Kamps is not an SBC entity, though well known in the area and associated with hosting children of high-profile musicians, athletes and other figures.

“While we hope for the restoration of the reputation of Kanakuk, we feel more strongly about standing in truth with those who were victimized by the abuse allowed to occur due to the indecision and negligence of the leadership of the Kanakuk facility,” the statement said. “Kanakuk leadership continues to lack transparency in order to step aside from the responsibility that they carry in what happened to the young men who were victimized after they learned of Pete Newman’s actions.”

First Baptist gave four reasons for its decision:

  • the desire not to introduce others to an organization the church felt it could not trust
  • to send a message to abuse victims that their voices are heard, their voices matter and their healing is of great importance to the church
  • to send a message to others who have suffered similar harm that it isn’t God’s intention, that the church is a refuge for the abused and that First Baptist will not stand for abuse or those who hide it
  • to invite every church to stand for truth and Kanakuk “to see what happened with the victims between 1999-2009.”

Newman’s actions are outlined in a March 2021 report by journalists David and Nancy French that included victims’ testimonies. Kanakuk and chief executive officer Joe White, the report alleged, knew about concerns expressed by parents over Newman’s inappropriate behavior with campers that included Bible studies in a hot tub and riding four-wheelers in the nude. A follow-up article accused the camp of intimidating reporters of abuse.

“Those young men are still reeling from these consequences while Kanakuk tells the world that they didn’t know [about abuse] until 2009 while, in reality, they knew in 1999,” King’s statement said.