Bainbridge Island lies across Puget Sound from Seattle, feeling somewhat immune to big city bustle, noise, crowds and crime. It is blessed with a stunning beauty and a wonderful sense of peace. Its residents put God and family before pretty much everything else. They are a modest and trusting community of souls. So, when Nick Hacheney arrived at Christ Community Church, he found a naïve congregation primed to believe and eager to please.
On the morning that Nick’s wife, Dawn, was found dead in the charred remains of their house, the men and women of Christ Community --- especially the women --- gathered around to support their friend and leader. Their hearts and prayers went out to him. They fervently wanted to help ease his pain. After all, he had expected the day to begin with a relaxed fishing trip with two good friends and end with opening gifts that still lay under the Christmas tree. But that tree had burned, along with the quiet young woman who had been the pastor’s wife.
Several women who had worked closely with Nick before Dawn died --- Annette, Sandy and Nicole --- seemed to make it their mission to reach out to him in his time of desperate need. They ached for his loss, and for their own. The police, fire department and coroner all expressed their condolences, but none took a closer look at the dead woman’s body until years later.
In the intervening period, Nick preached his own brand of religion, preying on the good will and concern of those who only wished to help him. He counseled that God wanted His people to be happy; go ahead and buy whatever it is that you want, and never mind that you can’t afford it. His philosophy seemed to be: If it feels good, do it. No wonder Christ Community’s members fell into confusion, debt and a deep unease.
Nick’s actions tore apart the small church, dividing the flock into his followers and the followers of the other pastor. At first, the struggle for control blinded them to Nick’s flagrant lechery, despite complaints about hugs that lasted too long, kisses that looked more than just friendly, wandering hands, leering eyes and lewd comments. It would be a long time before the church’s leaders took a serious look at their youth pastor. By then, it would be too late; the church would not be able to stand up under the startling revelations.
It was as though they had put the wolf in charge of the hen house. They gave Nick the responsibility for marriage counseling, a task he took to with gusto. Unfortunately, he counseled the women right out of their marriages --- and their clothes. He twisted their faith in God so that they believed God wanted them to serve as a sexual release for this bereaved man who had so tragically lost his wife. Nick must have been a very persuasive speaker to put that kind of logic over on so many women. The number is still unknown, but it is likely a lot more than he will admit to, a lot more than came forward toward the end. And as the allegations of sexual abuse began to come out, a thought started to nag at those who had witnessed Nick’s behavior: Is it possible he killed his wife? It was almost unthinkable.
Early on, there was an exchange between Nick and his friend, Annette, that later seemed prophetic. He told her to stand in front of him, facing away, and then said, “I need you to trust me, to have faith.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Fall backwards…without looking at me. Just fall…Go ahead, fall. God will be here. I’ll be here.”
Annette did. She fell, in more ways than one. She is still putting her life back together. As for the other women, some did not get off so well.
Anyone who has ever given their trust to an authority figure, especially a professed man of God, will want to read A TWISTED FAITH. Even with the barrage of abuse stories in the news today, there are still predators looking for easy victims. Everybody should read Gregg Olsen’s book in order to understand how important it is to think for themselves and question when something doesn’t sound right. What an eye opener!
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 24, 2011