Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Guest post by Youth Pastor Drew Underwood

In February of 2011, I reported on youth pastor Drew Underwood's arrest for allegedly attempting to solicit sex from underage girls via the internet. As is typical, I was unkind. All charges against Pastor Underwood were dropped, and for good reason. My policy, in a case like this one, is to offer a guest post to anyone who is subsequently found to be falsely accused, have had the charges dropped or are found not guilty when the case goes to trial. Pastor Underwood was kind enough to reach out to me in an email. He tells his story below.

Email To: Mojoey
Date: 10/5/13
Subject: Deep Thoughts - In response to one of your articles 

My name is Drew Underwood, and I am the youth minister that was accused of sexual crimes that you had mentioned on your blog back in 2010. Of course, as you already know and have reflected on your blog, those charges were dropped due to a wide range of evidence (actually more than just having shown that others had access to my laptop). I know that it has been almost two years since I have been acquitted, but I'm sending this e-mail to you in hopes that it may provide me some sort of closure.

Before this incident had occurred, I had been in the ministry for almost six years. I had served in two churches up to this point, as well as helped manage a construction ministry that sought to help low-income families with home repairs that were desperately needed. As manager of this camp, I constantly reminded our staff to hold themselves "above reproach" (1 Timothy 3:2), knowing that so much as an accusation, true or false, could hinder or effectively put an end to their ministry. This meant ensuring that they were never in compromising situations with the student volunteers that came to our camp, as well as other general interactions with our campers.

I can't even begin to express to you the shock that I was in when I had two local deputy sheriffs arrive at my workplace, only to be indicted on the very things that I so cautiously warned our camp staff about. From the beginning of my indictment, I was cooperative with the investigation and turned over all materials at their request. At the same time, I also knew what the repercussions would be for the accusal. I knew that I would have to leave the ministry that God had called me to in that particular season of my life. Almost immediately, I found myself unemployed and was seeking legal representation with what savings I had, as well as with monetary help from my family.

The charges were formally presented the next month, but it wasn't until mid-April that evidence was finally released. This is when there was a breakthrough in the evidence that eventually led to my acquittal. At the time, I lived in a duplex throughout the year that also served as housing for our summer staff at camp time. Although someone could have easily had access to my personal computer, the IP address registered to my computer did not match with what was discovered during the initial investigation. None of the inappropriate photos or records of chat logs in question were discovered either. Finally, not only were the photos not of me, they were of one of our camp staff.

I believed that this would have been the turning point in the court proceedings. However, when we showed up to discuss the evidence at the next court hearing in May, the detectives in the case were not present. Seeing it as a fluke incident, the hearing was postponed to June. Again, detectives were not present and this cycle continued until the end of the year. During this time, no effort was made by the investigative parties to contact the camp staffer in question. I was told by my legal representation that, essentially, because I was already indicted on the charges, there would be no further investigation.

Finally, in December, after having the detectives not show up to present their side of the case once again, I requested that a date be set for trial. We finally settled on mid February (almost a year after the initial arrest) for the trial to begin. I was prepared to go to court to show my innocence and finally face the indictment head on instead of playing this seemingly endless cat and mouse game. In the weekend before the trial, I was contacted by my lawyer who had been asked if we would accept having the charges dropped so long as we did not seek legal repercussion against the authorities in charge of the investigation.

I discussed filing a case against the parties involved with my lawyer, only to try and recover what savings I had completely depleted, as well as return the money that was given by my family to help me afford a proper legal representation. Although part of me felt entitled to file a case against them (others were overwhelmingly opinionated that I should sue them), at this time I was ready to have these charges dropped and try to move on with my life. I was told that even if I had filed a case, it would have been passed off as probable cause anyways. We agreed that we would pose no legal repercussions and the charges were dropped, as well as my indictment expunged from my record.

I knew that things would not return to normal, not even close. Many of my friendships had become strained so much to the point that we just lost touch. I felt that my ministry was effectively over and that I would never be able to serve in such a capacity simply because of the label that had been placed upon me over the previous year. In the months prior to my acquittal, and even to this day, I have severe anxiety and panic attacks because I feel that people still view me as a monster and a pervert. For the first few months after my arrest, and after politely being asked to remove myself from my place of employment, I never so much as took a step outside of my parents home. I honestly can't even put to words how hard the situation has been to cope with.

But even during what I can easily call the darkest moment in my life, there was a silver lining. My then fiancee stood by my side and supported me from day one of my indictment (our first date was actually supposed to be the day that I was arrested - needless to say, we didn't make it out to dinner that night). We are now married and have a beautiful daughter who just turned six months this past week. In going through this together, our marriage has definitely begun on a much stronger note, and I feel like we've already faced more challenges than what many seasoned marriages will ever experience.

During this time we also returned to my home church where we joined as members. The pastor there, as well as the rest of the entire congregation, has truly been representative in Christ in showing his love and just being there for me and my family. Firmly believing that my personal ministry was over, God proved me wrong as I was ordained as a minister in October of last year and continue to serve alongside my pastor, preaching and ministering to our local community.

Although there are plenty of other ways that God has brought restoration to my life, God has profoundly used the situation to help me draw closer to Him. I mentioned before that I used to work in construction. Whenever a problem arose, it was just my personality to fix it and to come up with a solution, just as you would fix a leaking roof or creaking floor. It was when I was put in this extremely precarious situation that I realized I had no control over the situation and that I honestly had to completely submit myself to God's will and allow him to move. At first, during this whole ordeal, I felt completely and utterly helpless. But, by the end, I knew that it would be God that would bring things to light and ultimately right everything.

God also helped me in my attitude towards the staffer in question who was in the photos provided as evidence. There was so much hatred in my heart for what this person had put me through. However, over time, I realized that if I was to truly be a witness for Christ, I would have to see him as Christ sees him. Although this is a person that obviously should have faced the consequences for his actions, it was also a person that needed help, that was struggling with a horrible addiction and mindset, and obviously needed God to work in his heart and in his life. I can honestly say that I have forgiven this person (although by no means condoning their actions whatsoever), and pray that God will help them overcome this struggle.

In looking over your blog, I realize your stance on Christianity and your views as an atheist. I would like to thank you for reflecting the changes in my case on your blog (something I wish local media here would have done when I was acquitted), as well as for extending me an opportunity to reply. Although we may not have the same stance regarding Christianity, it is never a pleasant thing to see people who are supposed to be leading a faith community commit such horrible acts, much less to see them happen so frequently as it seems to be today. I do realize that cases such as mine are extremely rare, and that many of these minister are guilty of the crimes they have been accused of, but I would be amiss if I didn't say that even though there will always be such cases as these, they do not portray the true Christ. Although what I went through was by no means a pleasant experience, I believe the most hurtful part of the experience would be messages I received on FaceBook saying things to the effect of "this is why I'm not a Christian." Although I'm sure you came to your stance for other reasons, I would like to encourage your readers and other atheist/agnostics to look past the failures of the Christian community, and rather look at the true heart and mindset of Christ.

Again, I apologize for it being so long to reply to your blog post. I have honestly returned to this post many times over the past year, but have had trouble trying to figure out how to respond, or even if I should respond, but I do appreciate the opportunity. I pray that, even though you are sure in your convictions regarding a religious stance, God would reveal himself in some way to you. Thank you again, and may God bless you.

Drew Underwood