Gary M. Wall

California Mennonite Brethren district minister charged with soliciting prostitution, credential removed

In 2019, Gary Wall (b. 1963), while district minister for the Pacific District Conference (PDC) of the U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches (USMB), was charged with soliciting prostitution after a police operation at a massage parlor in Fresno, California. Wall pleaded no contest and entered into a settlement agreement that allows first-time offenders to avoid a criminal record by fulfilling certain conditions, including completing a course on associated harms. The agreement allowed Wall to change his plea to not guilty and have the case dismissed. According to coverage in the Mennonite Brethren magazine Christian Leader, Wall maintains his innocence.

Wall’s assertion of innocence was questioned in a July 2021 case study by Christa Wiens, a Mennonite Brethren representative of a local human trafficking service organization (Central Valley Justice Coalition) that has worked with individuals trafficked in massage parlors:

Case study: Many people in the church wondered whether it was possible that they, too, could have accidentally been in the wrong massage parlor. The reason this particular massage parlor was targeted is because of a history and evidence of blatant illicit activity and human trafficking. There are websites where individuals rank such massage parlors, indicating which kinds of sex acts can be purchased there, and this massage parlor was listed there. [It] was around the corner of a run-down office center in the middle of town, and there was an ATM located at the front of the business so that customers could pay only in cash. [Interested parties should] have more questions about how a person with access to good healthcare, a credit card, and a home and office far from this location would choose this particular location to get their massage in the middle of a workday.

Wall was apparently detained at the massage parlor in January 2019, but it is unclear whether he disclosed it to anyone at PDC or USMB at that time. Court documents show Wall was formally charged in April, with a warrant issued for his arrest at that time, but he did not formally respond to the charges until June. In May, Wall announced that he was leaving his position as district minister at the end of 2019 to join the International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB) as national director. A Christian Leader article quoted Wall’s letter saying the decision to leave USMB was a calling from God and quoted PDC moderator Pat Coyle announcing “Wall’s decision” in a letter to district pastors.

In July, Coyle notified PDC pastors and leaders that the district and Wall “mutually agreed to free [Wall] from his PDC responsibilities this summer rather than later,” and then clarified that this had already taken effect. Coyle noted that Wall would be available to work with the new district minister and consult as needed. In August, Wall pleaded no contest to the charges of soliciting prostitution. In November, still without mention of the criminal charges, the ICOMB announced that Wall had withdrawn from his position for “personal reasons.”

In December 2019, Mennonite World Review was the first Anabaptist periodical to report on Wall’s charge and plea, and included a statement from PDC moderator Coyle saying Wall’s departure was a “private personnel matter” and the conference would not comment on when they learned of the arrest or if they shared that information with ICOMB. ICOMB executive director Rudi Plett confirmed to Mennonite World Review that they had not been aware of the charge against Wall when they announced his new position in May. Dennis Fast, interim district minister for the PDC would later state that he had not learned of the charges until reading about them in Mennonite World Review.

Mennonite World Review’s efforts to reach Wall were unsuccessful until several weeks after the original article was published, when Wall stated that based on a plea agreement he would be allowed to change his plea to not guilty and have the case dismissed. Wall also stated that he had never been arrested (as the original article reported), but he did not offer clarification. Wiens’ case study later explained:

Case study: [Wall] took issue with the reporting that he had been arrested, claiming that he had not been arrested, since the warrant was not issued on-site during the sting. This might be confusing to any organization trying to understand terminology and report accurately. Sometimes officers arrest a person on-site based on probable cause or the reasonable belief that a crime has been committed. At other times, the evidence from the case may be reviewed or properly examined before a warrant is issued, limiting the person’s freedom of movement until bond has been paid or a trial date has occurred. According to a detective on the Vice Unit of the Fresno Police Department, the very same department responsible for trafficking stings, including this one, “The fact that a subject is charged after doesn’t mean anything other than the Detective working the case had to get everything lined up before the arrest. This happens a lot in major crimes up to homicide where further investigation or interviews are needed, only because once an arrest is made there are timelines we have to meet.” Understanding legal terms may require some effort, and [this] effort falls on pastors who may lack the skill and the connections to gain such understanding, leaving the accused to drive the narrative.

In January 2020, the Mennonite Brethren periodical Christian Leader reported on the case, saying “the facts as reported in [Mennonite World Review] are in dispute” and that conference leadership was working “to resolve the questions surrounding the events.” That August, “in proceedings that lasted roughly one minute,” Wall’s case was conditionally dismissed with a plea change to not guilty on fulfillment of the requirements of the settlement agreement. Christian Leader published a brief update, garnering criticism from Wiens, the representative of the local trafficking organization, in her case study:

Case study: Details of the case were not widely known until an article was published in December of 2019 by a magazine without direct ties to the USMB denomination [Mennonite World Review]. The USMB issued their response in an article in their own publication [Christian Leader] that echoed the narrative offered by the accused, rather than an investigation or a report of findings and facts. Though the article states, “[Pacific District and USMB leadership are working together] to resolve the questions surrounding the events,” none of the questions they sought to answer were included, and no follow-up report was ever given. In October, a brief article announcing the dismissal of charges was released in Christian Leader, and a short email was sent to pastors signaling a desire to examine roles and responsibilities within leadership structures, to prioritize self-care for leadership, and to take seriously the issue of human trafficking. No further information regarding [Wall] was offered, nor has there been any further clarity to date.

A few days after the conditional dismissal, a group of nearly 70 members of Pacific District churches signed a letter to the conference stating that its response was inadequate. The letter requested information about policies the church was using, since it appeared that guidelines developed by the church in 2015 had not been followed, and called the church to address victims in the case. The letter mentioned “other issues of sexual misconduct from leadership within our denomination, some very recently” and called for transparency and accountability, including a public statement. The case study later echoed this call, emphasizing the need for an external investigation.

In October 2020, as reported in Christian Leader, PDC sent a letter to district pastors and churches that “speaks to perceptions related to the process they followed in addressing the matter”: “We recognize that our processing of this matter in real time appeared to hide the seriousness of the matter and to ignore the issues related to it.” USMB leadership expressed desire to support Wall but also “to respect his request for privacy.”

Case study: We are aware [of] laws around employee rights and confidentiality, yet we often fail to understand those laws. We rely on lawyers to make sense of it, lawyers who are primarily focused on protecting the churches that pay them, not on determining the guilt or innocence of the accused or seeking the same kind of justice the church claims to seek. We abdicate our responsibility for truth-seeking to the state, delaying our search for justice in the hopes the courts will reach the conclusion for us, deferring to their authority.

The case study excerpted in this post was released in July 2021, highlighting concerns related to the case and constructing a timeline of events. It addressed issues of power within the USMB, including Wall’s position relative to those to whom he was accountable as well as a reported lack of accessibility and trust for an email account set up by the church to receive information:

Case study: They received no emails, [even though] many within the local MB community were talking to each other, sharing information, and some within the local community had inside knowledge of this case. The email address was shared to church leaders, but there was not a public push, [and it] was connected to the very leaders who had already demonstrated a lack of transparency.

To date, there has been a lack of transparency about what reporting policies were followed, who knew what, and when they knew it. Leadership has refused to disclose this information, citing employee confidentiality.

The case study ultimately called for an external investigation that would assess Wall’s activities and seek to identify potential victims.

In February 2021, Wall opened a nonprofit organization to provide pastoral care and spiritual coaching to ministry leaders, with a group of Mennonite Brethren leaders on the board. As of September 2021, Wall was also employed as director of men’s ministries and mission strategist at Mountain View Presbyterian Church in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Editor’s note: In Nevada, sex work is legal in restricted areas. The movement to decriminalize sex work is based in part on evidence that it could help stop traffickers and other abusers. Within the decriminalization movement there is debate about whether partial decriminalizationor full decriminalization with regulation is the next step.

In November 2021, PDC moderator Coyle addressed the case at the conference’s annual convention, noting “concern and confusion” in the district “as the executive board balanced confidentiality, care for Wall and his family, and communication.” He shared actions the board was taking, including forming a team “to work toward reconciliation with Wall.” But at the denominational USMB convention in July 2022, PDC leadership reported that Wall “chose to no longer cooperate” when the reconciliation team decided to hire a law firm to investigate the case.

As reported in Christian Leader, the law firm continued its investigation without Wall’s cooperation. The reconciliation team then made recommendations to PDC and USMB, one of which was shared with a subset of delegates at the July 2022 convention: “Based on the findings of the Telios Law Firm, the Restoration Team is unanimously recommending that PDC/USMB leadership revoke Gary Wall’s Mennonite Brethren ordination and credentialing and update his ministry status to state that he is not suited to serve in a district, national or international role in the Mennonite Brethren denomination unless and until he chooses to re-engage in a satisfactory reconciliation process with denominational leadership.”

In October 2022, as reported in Christian Leader, the USMB and PDC “affirmed the recommendation that Gary Wall’s ordination and credentials be rescinded.”

The following month, in a meeting at North Fresno Church, the restoration team presented information and answered questions on the case. Pat Coyle, former moderator of PDC, apologized on behalf of the district’s board and stated, “We did not lead as well as we could have and should have. And a lot of that is we simply were not prepared. … I would pass this on to church leaders, district leaders, denominational leaders, any denomination in any church for that matter. You have to have a plan in place that you understand and … rehearse — practice.”

Case connection: In the concurrent Pacific District misconduct case of minister Eric Simpson, also covered by MAP, USMB and Pacific District leaders told a congregant who sought help that they could not intervene in a ministerial misconduct case unless the congregation’s leaders requested their assistance.

Christa Wiens asked the group to release the full Telios report, and Coyle stated that they would relay that request to the national and conference leaders who have that authority. 

Church-related positions

  • District minister, Pacific District Conference of the U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, 2002–2019
  • Board of Faith and Life, U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches
  • Board of Faith and Life, Pacific District Conference
  • Board Trustee, Fresno Pacific University
  • Founder and Executive Director, Shalom Center for Pastoral and Church Health, February 2021–?
  • Director of Men’s Ministries & Mission Strategist, Mountain View Presbyterian Church, Las Vegas, Nevada, September 2021–?

Documentation

Scroll to Top