Editor's Note: The names of primary sources have been replaced with pseudonyms (marked with an asterisk on first usage). This was an intentional decision made by Charisma and should not reflect on the witnesses' credibility; four of the five women stood by their claims enough to let us publicize their names. After prayerful deliberation, our editorial board has chosen instead to protect the reputations and identities of those sources.
UPDATE: The story has been updated to include comment by Waterbrook and the reaction by Netflix.
"I was blown away when John [Crist] agreed to do an interview with me for my senior project," she says. "... I was shaking and so nervous to be around someone I had idolized for months."
From a makeshift podcast studio constructed in her room at Bally's Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, Kate* was thrilled to be interviewing her professional hero, comedian John Crist. She and her boyfriend drove to Las Vegas in May 2017 just to record this interview—and everything was going great. When the interview ended, Crist even stayed and chatted with them for a while.
"I opened up about my mental health, what it's like being in the industry, addiction struggles and how he inspired me to create this podcast and do interviews," Kate says. "It was at this point John confided in both my boyfriend and me that he was a sex addict. Both my boyfriend and I felt it was cool how open he was about his past, and I continued to feel grateful and excited I was getting to meet my comedy idol. Moreover, I ... was so excited to have a mentor I had so much in common with."
So she thought nothing of it when Crist asked her for her number before he left. Or when he later added her on Snapchat and immediately began messaging her. Or when he invited her out for the evening—just the two of them.
Kate says she eagerly accepted, told her boyfriend about the meeting and then left to meet Crist. When she reached his apartment, he met her outside, suggested they rollerblade, and invited her upstairs to "grab a few things" for the trip. Upstairs, he gave her a water bottle full of raspberry vodka and poured himself whiskey in a Snapple bottle.
Drinks in hand, they rollerbladed along the Venice boardwalk and talked. He reiterated how talented she was and how he could help her career. He also bladed behind her so he could "enjoy the view."
"I was truly blinded by his celebrity status," Kate says. "There were a few moments I thought, 'Hey, this is kind of weird,' but the same phrase kept playing through my head that stopped me from leaving: 'It's OK. He's a Christian. He won't do anything inappropriate.'"
Soon Kate had consumed half the bottle of vodka Crist gave her. Intoxicated, they took off their blades and ran into the water. Once there, she says Crist grabbed her and tried to kiss her, and in her drunken state, she struggled to push him off. He told her in crude terms how much he wanted to have sex with her and continued to pursue her. In response, she tried to explain that she had a boyfriend and only desired a mentoring relationship with Crist, not a sexual one. Eventually, he relented.
She rollerbladed back with him to his apartment to get her bag. Once there, Crist again grabbed her, crudely propositioned her for sex and begged her to stay. She pushed him off, left and—on the verge of blackout drunk—called an Uber to bring her home. The next morning, she told her boyfriend what happened. (Her boyfriend confirmed to Charisma the accuracy of all points of Kate's testimony for which he was present. On the points for which he was not present, he says her testimony to Charisma matches what she told him the next day.)
Crist later messaged Kate that their evening together was "the best day of [my] life" and that he couldn't stop thinking about all the things he wanted to do to her.
"The one thing that stopped me from believing he was creepy is John so proudly parades his face as a Christian," Kate says. "I've let myself believe that just because someone is a Christian means they won't do something intentionally bad. But the truth is, John invited me to his apartment with the intention of sleeping with me after shaking hands with my boyfriend."
The ordeal left Kate emotionally devastated and still—two years later—spiritually shaken. She says she struggles with "what it means to be Christian after being so disgustingly let down by a role model I considered a man of God."
Unfortunately, Kate's story is not an isolated incident.
According to multiple sources, Crist has exploited his Christian reputation and platform to harass, manipulate and exploit young women over the last seven years. The allegations include, but are not limited to, individually sexting multiple women during the same time period, initiating sexual relationships with married women and women in committed relationships, offering show tickets in exchange for sexual favors and repeatedly calling these women late at night while drunk.
Over the last 24 hours, Charisma contacted Crist about these allegations to get his comment. In response, he emailed Charisma the following statement (printed here in its entirety, per his request). In the statement, he admits to "destructive and sinful" behavior, apologized to his fans and announced he would cancel all future tour dates this year to focus on getting healthy.
"Over the past number of years, various women have accused me of behavior that has been hurtful to them. While I am not guilty of everything I've been accused of, I confess to being guilty of this—I have treated relationships with women far too casually, in some cases even recklessly. My behavior has been destructive and sinful. I've sinned against God, against women and the people who I love the most. I have violated my own Christian beliefs, convictions and values, and have hurt many people in the process. I am sorry for the hurt and pain I have caused these women and will continue to seek their forgiveness. I have also hurt the name of Jesus and have sought His forgiveness.
Over several recent years, I have privately sought and received regular professional treatment for my sexual sin and addiction struggles. I'm committed to getting healing and freedom from my sin and have decided to cancel my remaining tour dates this year and to postpone all future commitments in order to devote all my time and energy on getting healthy spiritually, mentally and physically.
Those closest to me—my family, team and close friends—have known about this battle for some time, and now you do too. I'm ashamed of my behavior and I'm so sorry for hurting so many people. I don't blame anyone but myself. I'm responsible for my actions and I've repented and am taking full ownership. I realize it will be difficult for some people to ever forgive me, and I accept that as a result of my bad decisions and actions.
My entire career has been lived out on stage, and even though I've shared many of my life struggles with my audiences, I've lived in constant fear of the darkest parts of my life being exposed publicly. My greatest fear has been that those who have loved and supported me would hate me if they knew everything about me. I now humbly seek forgiveness and mercy and love—not just for me, but for those I've hurt along my path. I'm so sorry."
Multiple sources noted to Charisma that Crist has previously said he is receiving counseling and treatment for this behavior—as early as 2014—yet continued to hurt others in the process. However, Crist has never made a public statement and apology like this before.
In 2019, few Christians seem better known and more influential than Crist. To those unfamiliar with him, that may be surprising; after all, Crist is not a pastor, ministry leader or worship leader. But Crist has risen to fame precisely because he's what many young believers want to be: funny, smart, cool, relatable and vocal about his faith. The son of a Vineyard pastor, Crist is best-known for his stand-up comedy and popular YouTube videos satirizing Christian culture—including "Church Hunters" and "Christian Mingle Inspector." (His website says his videos have been viewed more than 1 billion times.) He has 2 million followers on Facebook and another million on Instagram. Crist was also scheduled to releases a Netflix special, "I Ain't Praying for That," this November, and his first book, Untag Me (WaterBrook), in March; both releases have since been postponed. (Netflix informed the Religion News Service on Nov. 7 that Crist's special has been put on hold.)
He tours nationwide to sold-out comedy clubs and churches alike. According to Pollstar, he is one of the top 100 touring artists in the world. In 2018, he became the first stand-up comedian to join the popular Winter Jam tour, sharing the stage with Jordan Feliz, Skillet, Kari Jobe and evangelist Nick Hall. During that tour—the second-best-selling tour of Q1 2018 after "Disney on Ice"—Crist reportedly offered to trade women tickets for sexual favors.
"He would talk with women online on Twitter, Snapchat, whatever," Jeremiah Warren, a filmmaker and photographer, says. "[He gives] them a free ticket to the city [where] they live that he's coming to for a show. Then he will invite them to a hotel room for unspecified reasons. When they turn him down, then he holds the ticket over them and says 'Why have you been talking to me? Obviously this is what you wanted.' This is a very gross simplification and paraphrase, but he's basically shaming them for taking this free ticket and trying to neg them into going to him in the hotel room."
Warren says he first learned about Crist's behavior in 2015 from his friend Lindsey*. When he spoke out about Crist on social media, he was approached by at least 11 women who were mistreated by Crist. That's when he learned about what happened at Winter Jam.
Charisma could not independently verify Warren's claims about the Winter Jam tour. However, these allegations were also repeated by another unrelated source who asked to remain off the record.
Similarly, Nora*—whose friendship with Crist from 2012-13 was sometimes flirtatious and sexual in nature—says Crist used to regularly call her and share exploits of "hooking up" and "fooling around" with girls he'd bring back to his hotel room after his shows at churches, ministry events and comedy clubs. (Nora defines "fooling around" as beyond making out but short of intercourse—to her knowledge, Crist never engaged in intercourse so he could honestly say he was a virgin.)
At a July 2, 2017, show at Calvary at Brookwood in Joplin, Missouri, Sarah* says she secretly witnessed Crist making plans backstage with a fan to rendezvous at his hotel room. He later told Sarah that conversation never happened.
Though many were afraid to come forward, five women agreed to share their stories. Whenever possible, their testimonies have been independently validated by other witnesses and copies of texts and social media conversations supplied to Charisma. These women have testified out of a desire not to ruin Crist's career but to warn other young women not to fall for his manipulations.
"I would like to believe that our stories matter on a larger scale, and that the voices of several women are enough to at least make people pause before booking him or have some accountability checks in there," Nora says.
Yet some evidence suggests certain Christian leaders have been aware of Crist's behavior and—through inaction—let it continue unchecked. This is why Charisma believed it necessary to warn the body of Christ about what Crist has been doing behind the scenes. To be candid, our editorial team does not relish being in this position. We sifted through and gathered information for months before deciding to move forward with the story. Though the allegations against Crist are not criminal, we believe they are newsworthy for three reasons. We believe pastors and leaders who book Crist at their ministry events need to know the person they're signing. We believe leaders who make Christianity part of their public persona—whether or not they are formally in ministry—should be held to a higher standard. And above all, we believe the body of Christ must police itself and has an obligation to protect the innocent and vulnerable among us.
"The church should not be looking the other way when a Christian leader is preying on women," says J. Lee Grady, director of The Mordecai Project—a ministry that confronts the abuse of women globally. "When Jesus talked about wolves in sheep's clothing, I'm sure He included sexual predators in that metaphor. This guy may be a comedian, but sexual harassment isn't funny. This behavior needs to be challenged, and the victims need counseling and support."
Many of the stories relayed to Charisma follow a similar pattern of behavior: Crist would initiate contact through social media, cultivate a flirty relationship and then initiate (or attempt to initiate) sexting and other sexual activities in addition to emotional manipulation.
In November 2013, Crist invited Lindsey—who was then in an abusive marriage—to sleep with him in his hotel room in Las Vegas, Nevada. She says that while she never had sex with him, after several hours of cajoling, she got in bed with him. About a month later, her marriage ended for unrelated reasons, and she began sexting with Crist for several months. In addition, she says Crist told her to keep a mutual friend—who had also had a sexual relationship with him—quiet.
Aspects of Lindsey's story have been independently confirmed by Warren and Joy Eggerichs Reed of Punchline Speakers. Crist was a friend of Reed's and was listed on the speaking agency's site for a brief period in 2017. After she became aware of multiple stories about Crist's mistreatment of women, she discussed with Crist via email these allegations and her decision to remove him from the site. He admitted that he had mistreated women and was getting help, but they both agreed it was wisest to conclude their working relationship.
From 2013-14, Crist also flirted via text with Maggie* and eventually solicited sexually explicit images from her. That sexting relationship ended after they had a fight, which was when she discovered Crist was carrying on simultaneous relationships with other women. At the time, Crist denied those rumors.
From March 2017 to February 2019, Sarah says Crist emotionally strung her along—saying he loved her, calling her by affectionate terms and alluding that he would marry her—while simultaneously pursuing sexual and emotional relationships with other women.
Sarah, Lindsey and Maggie each say they experienced emotional manipulation by Crist. He would regularly make excuses for why they couldn't be an official couple; the most common were that it would ruin his career and that he had baggage he needed to work through before he could date anyone. Despite these excuses, he would affirm how much he cherished the relationship and how lost he would be without the woman in question.
But Lindsey and Maggie say Crist made them feel paranoid and told them to keep their relationship with him a secret from even close friends and family, since they "don't really love you" and are "out to get us." Sarah says Crist would gaslight her, telling her things she witnessed firsthand had never actually happened and that she was being "crazy"—and eventually, she says, she gave in and stopped trying to catch him in lies. Lindsey says he would disparage her work and make her think of her value only in terms of her worth to him and his career. And Sarah and Lindsey both describe Crist regularly calling at 3 a.m. and expecting them to be awake to take his call.
Over the years, Crist's behavior has gradually become a kind of open secret among certain Christian circles. Some individuals contacted for the investigation expressed surprise that the general public was not already aware of Crist's behavior.
According to Sarah, Crist says his sister and manager, Emma Crist, is his accountability system on the road to ensure he will not do anything inappropriate. He has also attended OnSite Workshops in Cumberland Furnace, Tennessee—mostly recently in January 2019—to receive counseling for unspecified issues. It is unclear whether Crist has any pastoral or ministerial accountability system in place.
Three sources told Charisma they had contacted WaterBrook & Multnomah with stories about Crist's misdeeds. Two received no reply, while one received a response—saying the recipient would share that information with leadership—but did not hear anything more.
Following this article's original publication, WaterBrook provided the following statement to Charisma: "WaterBrook takes the troubling allegations of sexual misconduct against John Crist extremely seriously. We are postponing the publication of his book."
In 2012, Crist wrote guest columns for Jon Acuff's "Stuff Christians Like" blog and other platforms; he later joined Acuff's "Start" group on Facebook for young Christian professionals. Crist met Maggie and Lindsey through that Facebook group and later met them in person at the Start Conference in September 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee.
When Lindsey later learned Crist had started sexual relationships with multiple women in the group, she reported Crist's behavior to Acuff. She says Acuff and his wife, Jenny, were the first people who told her that Crist's behavior was abusive and not OK. They removed him from the Facebook group, and Lindsey cut all ties with Crist.
However, Acuff has continued to associate with Crist. In December 2015, Acuff tweeted, "One of my good friends, @johnbcrist, just released a new comedy special. You should get it!" He has continued to tag and promote Crist in several tweets since. An anonymous source close to Crist says Acuff has been a mentor to Crist, and they are "still very close."
That same source says allegations against Crist have been raised "a few times" on his social media account or to his team, but that Crist is "manipulative, and he has a lot of people fooled. He always told me he's completely honest about his 'past' transgressions with anyone he works with—Premier [Productions], Jon Acuff, managers, etc.—but I have a feeling it's a glossed-over honesty."
Charisma contacted Acuff twice to get a comment for this story but received no response.
Sarah recalls that in December 2018, Crist told her that he'd had to meet with his lawyers and discuss "every single inappropriate relationship he had ever had." The lawyers told him, "If we don't know everything, we can't protect you." At the time, Crist insisted to her all of his sexual misdeeds were in the past.
Earlier this year, when Sarah eventually discovered Crist had pursued other relationships during the two years she knew him, she confronted him over text, accusing him of emotional manipulation and having inappropriate sexual online relationships with multiple women simultaneously, including with some married women.
He texted back a day later: Yes, everything she said was true.
"I just want you to know you have such a platform," she told him over the phone. "If you would change, you could use your platform for such extraordinary things. I can't imagine how heavy life must be. You're constantly trying to keep track of your lies, and running from your lies and waiting for the other shoe to drop."
After a pause, Crist replied.
"You're so right," he said. "There are days that I just wish everything would come out all at once so it would finally be done."
In August, Sarah told Charisma in an email that she heard Crist had approached a friend of her friend using "his same tactics." Crist broke up with girlfriend Lauren Alaina in September.
Reed says the church must use discernment in determining how to proceed next:
"We should always forgive people and applaud steps taken towards healing. Places like OnSite can help. However, it costs little for a leader to go someplace, have an emotional experience and proclaim they are no longer who they used to be. We welcome that type of honesty with open arms. And when we've only had positive interactions with the accused, we want to give them the benefit of the doubt, especially when they feel like a friend through their platform—or when they actually are our friends. 'Their book changed my life! Their sermon brought me to Jesus! They make me laugh so hard! They are generous! They took a picture with my Grandma!'
However, where there is smoke there is probably fire, and where there are five testimonies there are probably 25. With the discovery of an ongoing pattern of harmful and manipulative behavior, we might conclude that earlier admissions and vulnerability are in some cases a cover-up or preemptive PR move to, hypothetically speaking, keep people looking at their left hand while their right is DMing fans to come to their hotel room.
As observers, friends and believers, we need to look at each allegation with wisdom and discernment, and take prayerful action based upon what seems best. These situations will always be difficult. We will hear arguments like 'he said, she said' and 'they just want to destroy my career.' The church must welcome all broken people through our doors because we are all broken people. But we need that discernment and prayerful wisdom to decide whether we ought to pay a given person thousands and thousands of dollars to step on stage to teach, lead, make us laugh and keep our daughters' virginity intact—technically speaking."
Fallout and Lost Faith
"It's terrifying to be in this position right now to talk to you," Sarah says. "There's so much shame in it: that you're stupid, and you shouldn't have or that you're the one who was in the wrong or maybe you brought this upon yourself. But the biggest thing is, we have to speak out. It's really hard as a Christian too, because you don't want to ... hurt that person, or you don't want to completely destroy their character. You want to be Christlike, and you want to show love. But at a certain point, showing love to someone is being bold enough to speak up and to get them to seek help. ... If you truly love somebody, you don't stand by and allow it. You had to stand up and get it stopped. Nobody should have to live with this. I'm better than this. You're better than this. [John] is better than this."
Lindsey says she cannot say whether Crist's behavior is intentional or not, but that either way, it is directly hurting other women, which makes it unacceptable.
"It is never OK for me to remain broken and hurt someone else," she says. "When that occurs, you can say, 'OK, maybe I understand what has made you this way, but I cannot excuse it and I cannot say that it's OK.' I'm not the person who can tell you whether John did it with intention, or whether it was because of brokenness in his own life. I can tell you that it is a pattern."
She adds: "He's a very intelligent man. ... But when you are that intelligent, and you repeat this behavior over and over again, you have to get to a point where you understand, to some degree, what you're doing. 'If I act in this specific way, then they will respond in a specific way.' ... He knows. He's aware. And he has done nothing to rectify or to own that."
Crist's use of his Christian reputation to gain trust contributed to at least two women—Nora and Lindsey—losing trust in Christianity altogether. Neither affiliates as a Christian today.
"I haven't been to church in years," Lindsey says. "It's hard. It's hard to go into a place where you know that people know things that are going on, and they never do anything about it, because they just list it as 'bad behavior' or something that someone can just be forgiven of and then it's fine. It's not fine. Even when you forgive someone, it's important to go back and make restitution and to change your ways and change your behavior. It's really hard to even consider participating in a community, in a body of believers, that would allow such behavior to unfold unchecked, and give it a platform. No, I don't consider myself a Christian anymore. ... I have no ill will toward the church. I don't have bitterness there. I think a lot of people are really earnest in what they believe, and I respect that. But I want to be able to respect it more."
"I know how hard it is to succeed in the comedy scene," Kate says. "Comedy clubs don't pay well. But churches will pay you well, and it's a much easier scene to break into. He knows this and even admitted the advantages of the Christian entertainment scene versus the pop culture comedy scene. What a shame he not only takes advantage of young women but God's church."
Ron Lewis, founding and senior minister of King's Park International Church in Durham, North Carolina, says Crist's story illustrates the importance for ministry leaders of properly vetting Christian speakers and entertainers.
"In an age of social popularity, it's tempting to assume we 'know' someone based on their public persona, where they speak, and what they post about themselves," Lewis says. "In 35-plus years of ministry, I've made it a personal policy not to invite anyone to our pulpit or platform without knowing them personally or relying on input from someone I trust who does. This has served as an 'accountability buffer,' preventing embarrassment and regret numerous times. Although [we may be] tempted to exalt gifts and talent, Christlike character trumps everything."
In the end, Sarah says the key to her emotional recovery has been remembering that one Christian's behavior is not a reflection of the character of Christ. And she holds out hope that Crist can one day be rehabilitated and reconciled back into the body of believers he has hurt—but for that to happen, he must first be held accountable.
"To be using the God that I know and I serve to be able to do this to people is just mind-boggling and so dangerous, and it has to stop," Sarah says. "... But God can use a really terrible situation for good. At this point even, I stand by: If John will do the work and John will truly repent and John will truly change, even John's story could be something absolutely phenomenal that could change lives for others. But until he actually does the work and actually changes, it's only going to continue."
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