The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

Advertisement
Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp attends the Class of 1972 50-year reunion in Kyle Field on April 20, 2022.
A&M System’s Title IX director suspended after supporting Biden's Title IX changes
Nicholas Gutteridge, Managing Editor • May 23, 2024
Advertisement
Texas A&M utility Gavin Grahovac (9) throws the ball during A&Ms game against Georgia on Friday, April 26, 2024, at Olsen Field. (CJ Smith/The Battalion)
Southern slugfest
Shalina Sabih, Sports Writer • May 23, 2024

The No. 3 Texas A&M baseball team took on No. 1 Tennessee Thursday at 1 p.m. at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Alabama. Despite its...

Texas A&M pitcher Evan Aschenbeck (53) reacts after throwing the final strike out during Texas A&M’s game against Mississippi State on Saturday, March 23, 2024, at Olsen Field. (Chris Swann/ The Battalion)
Down but not out
May 23, 2024
Advertisement
Beekeeper Shelby Dittman scoops bees back into their hive during a visit on Friday, April 5, 2024. (Kyle Heise/The Battalion)
Bee-hind the scenes
Shalina Sabih, Sports Writer • May 1, 2024

The speakers turn on. Static clicks. And a voice reads “Your starting lineup for the Texas A&M Aggies is …” Spectators hear that...

Kennedy White, 19, sits for a portrait in the sweats she wore the night of her alleged assault inside the Y.M.C.A building that holds Texas A&M’s Title IX offices in College Station, Texas on Feb. 16, 2024 (Ishika Samant/The Battalion).
'I was terrified'
April 25, 2024
Scenes from 74
Scenes from '74
April 25, 2024
Advertisement
Farewell from the graduating Battalion staff of 2024
Farewell from the graduating Battalion staff of 2024
The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Christland Church: Former members describe alleged abuse, manipulation, control

From+left+to+right%3A+Shu-hui+Morgan%2C+Steve+Morgan%2C+Amanda+Paull+and%26%23160%3BS%26%23225%3Bndor+Paull.%26%23160%3B

From left to right: Shu-hui Morgan, Steve Morgan, Amanda Paull and Sándor Paull. 

Content warning: This article discusses suicide and allegations of spiritual and sexual abuse.
Sándor Paull came to College Station in 2017 and founded Christland Church with a group of colleagues, a “church plant team.” The group focused its recruitment efforts on Texas A&M students and began inviting them to Christland. However, A&M students and former members recounted that while initially welcoming, the church soon engulfed them, with many still recovering today from alleged instances of sexual and spiritual abuse, manipulation and mistreatment.
Christland is a “multiethnic, multigenerational church with a heart for students” located five minutes away from A&M. It has 4.8/5.0 stars on Google Reviews, a welcoming website and, when searched online, a majority of the results are generally positive.
But a closer examination of sources from the church, including court documents and leaked records, reveals a different story. Paull, vice president of a network of nationwide churches and lead pastor at Christland, has allegedly stood by while this abuse and mistreatment has run rampant, even personally perpetuating them in some instances, according to insider sources. Yet he has faced no consequences; conversely, sources say he’s thrived — right here in College Station.
A nationwide organization    
Christland was founded in 2017 as part of a larger group of churches headed by Steven D. Morgan, the current president of The Network, a collection of 26 churches, with 24 in the United States and two internationally.
In 1987, Morgan, 22 at the time, was arrested for aggravated criminal sodomy against a minor in Kansas,  according to court documents, with the court finding “probable cause” that he “unlawfully, knowingly, willfully and feloniously commit[ed] sodomy with a child under sixteen years of age.”
In 1987, Kansas defined aggravated criminal sodomy as sodomy with a child who is not married and is underage, causing a child under 16 years old to engage in sodomy with a person or animal or sodomy with an individual who does not consent.
After initially failing to appear in court, a diversion agreement — a system meant to remove a case from the justice system and resolve it through alternate means — was signed, which required Morgan to attend counseling, have no contact with the victim and have no involvement with youth organizations for three years, among other things, in exchange for dropped charges, a promise that was fulfilled in 1990.
In 1993, Morgan, then 29, began working with Paull, then 20, according to a training resource for pastors Morgan wrote.
He would later invite Paull to become a pastor at Vineyard Community Church, later renamed Vine Church, in Carbondale, Illinois in 1994, becoming the first pastor recruited by Morgan. Together, they would help grow the organization, taking the name The Network, with Paull rising to vice president along with being seated on the board. Over the years, Paull would guide and train multiple pastors before moving to College Station in 2017.
An alleged cycle of control, undeterred
Staff, pastors and members would be subject to various forms of “spiritual abuse and systemic gaslighting” from The Network’s “controlling, manipulative and abusive culture,” according to a mission statement from former members and staff who came together to create the website Leaving The Network, or LTN.
Skyler Ray Taylor, the primary webmaster, shared his experience on the website.
“I entered as a spiritual refugee and stayed on as a prisoner,” he wrote in 2022.
Taylor was a member at Vine Church from 2002 to 2014, serving as a staff member from 2007 to 2014. In his writing, he described his time with Morgan and Paull to be one linked to grooming and control.
“Steve spent his entire career as a pastor grooming young men to be utterly loyal to him,” Taylor wrote. “At conferences and retreats, young men from Vine Church would be rounded up and presented by Sándor to Steve.”
What followed would be a call from Paull, where he would reveal “that he and Steve feel like God is calling you to be a pastor,” according to Taylor’s account. They would then rise through The Network’s ranks, with the “most loyal being promoted to ever higher positions.”
The Battalion reached out to Taylor, who responded through email. In a written statement, he emphasized the role Paull played in The Network’s growth.
“Sándor’s primary role in The Network is to ensure Steve Morgan’s directives are carried out and to identify very young men to present to Steve for consideration as future leaders …,” Taylor wrote. “These men whom Sándor has identified for Steve have nearly always been current students at a university when they were recruited.”
Taylor noted Paull would even go as far as to watch over children, preparing them for a leadership role in The Network.
“Do you know how long it takes for me to release a pastor here into that role,” Paull said in audio shared by Taylor. “There’s some of you in this room — I’ve been watching you since you were five, wondering if that’s what God’s built you to be.”
Taylor wrote that Paull’s involvement was instrumental in The Network’s rapid expansion into college towns nationwide, sharing that Paull recruits young individuals into “church plant” teams, where they uproot their entire lives to move to new towns, starting churches and spreading The Network.
“[A&M] students should be aware that The Network specifically targets college students and that Sándor Paull, in particular, has been incredibly effective at convincing students to become loyal to the organization,” Taylor said. “Nearly every leader in this organization began their involvement with The Network as a college student.”
Taylor shared that those who have reached out to LTN have described “priority shifts to stay at a Network church rather than continuing after college … and the increased control Network leaders exert over large and small decisions in their lives.”
“In some cases, young men have been flown to Austin to meet with Steve Morgan directly at his home,” Taylor said. “Parents, siblings and friends describe feeling helpless as they watch their loved ones get drawn deeper and deeper into the group.”
Paull spoke at The Network’s Summer Leadership Conference in 2018, where he emphasized the importance of forgoing individualism in exchange for devotion towards one’s leaders — even if they’re wrong.
“We are trained and conditioned that I have to give my opinion,” Paull said in a recording of the 2018 conference. “My voice has to be heard. And the truth is … your voice and your opinion doesn’t matter if Jesus hasn’t put you in that role of responsibility. We’re all in danger of thinking too highly of our own opinions.”
Throughout the conference, Paull spoke on multiple topics surrounding leadership, including his own.
“I had four staff members leave in one semester, and I remember calling Steven saying, ‘Steve, is it me?’” Paull said in the recording. “Because sometimes it is, right? Sometimes, yeah, it is you. And when he said, ‘I don’t think so. I think they’ve got their things,’ I chose to trust him because I believe that if it was me, he loves me enough that he’d tell me.”
On Christland’s website, the “Kids Programs” curriculum conveys a similar tone, with the children having to memorize Proverbs 3:5-6, most notably the message “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”
Morgan also presented a related message in a 2011 teaching at Blue Sky Church in Seattle, comparing the ideal member to one that is similar to an “obedient child” following their parents.
“It shouldn’t be that your small group leader is exhausted by you,” Morgan said in the audio. “Do you know there’s such a thing as getting what you think you want and having it cause you great harm?”
Hidden and belittled: The accused sodomy of a minor
Despite the alleged crime occurring in 1986, it stayed hidden from the public until the court documents were revealed in 2022, according to the documents posted in an article on LTN. Paull first went to Joshua Church in Austin on July 10, 2022, where Morgan is the lead pastor, to distribute a letter detailing The Network’s response to the situation, reaffirming their “commitment to serve alongside [Morgan] in his work.”
He then spoke to Christland Church about the situation on July 17, 2022. Paull would reveal that he had known about the alleged aggravated sodomy of the minor for 27 years but was “opposed to having to speak to a person’s forgiven sin” because “biblically, it’s forgotten by God,” as Paull claimed that the incident happened before Morgan had converted to Christianity.
In his speech, Paull would go on to describe the situation to the churchgoers, divulging that it allegedly occurred at a Mormon summer camp between Morgan, 22, and a 15-year-old boy. However, because the charges were dropped due to the diversion agreement, he believes there were “not malicious acts of violence that were involved.”
“There’s been no cover up,” Paull said in the recording. “There has been no concealment.”
However, Andrew Lumpe, a former staff member of The Network, posted a story on LTN that shows the extent of Paull’s involvement. Lumpe was told about Morgan’s alleged abuse in 2007, later contacting Steve Tracy, Ph.D, a theology professor who specializes in abuse within churches, among other things, in the wake of the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements in 2019.
“I believe that committing sexual assault/abuse … does disqualify someone from vocational ministry,” Tracy said in a written message to Lumpe. “I don’t see any way someone who has sexually assaulted, regardless of whether it was before or after their conversion, can meet these biblical qualifications.”
Lumpe included this excerpt in a letter he sent to Paull, who then flew to California to meet with him, where Paull told Lumpe that the situation had already been handled within the church.
“Sándor stated that they would not be taking any actions,” Lumpe said. “Sándor also stated that they would not be contacting outside experts.”
Throughout the meeting, Paull supported Morgan, emphasizing that the crime “happened before he was a Christian.”
“I asked if they would hire a youth group leader at their churches, if they knew the person had an alleged sex assault crime background like Steve’s,” Lumpe said. “Sándor hesitated, then answered with a sheepish ‘maybe.’ I further pressed him if he would let his then 17-year-old daughter attend a youth group led by a person arrested for sexual assault. He would not answer …”
Ben Powers, a former lead pastor of City Lights Church in St. Louis, Missouri, later reached out to Tracy, providing more detail on the alleged crime.
“The family of the boy Steve raped found Leaving The Network and reached out to us giving us more details of the crime,” Powers wrote in a message in 2022. “The boy was 15 years old at the time, and after the assault, suffered in many ways and still does today.”
When speaking to Christland in 2022, Paull’s sentiment was unchanged, saying the board, appointed by Morgan according to page 11 of The Network’s Operating Bylaws, found no wrongdoing, even mentioning that he was on two of the four boards that looked into it.
“This is not something that the Bible prohibits,” Paull said in the recording. “I’ve shared this in … detail [with members of staff and] I am very thankful that … we are in absolute complete unity at Christland in terms of what we believe.”
Paull then reaffirmed his commitment to Morgan once more, stating that they are “thankful for Steve’s strong yet humble leadership, depth of love, Christ-honoring character.”
“Doctrinally, there’s been no miscarriage of justice,” Paull said. “It’s not a betrayal of pastoral trust, responsibility. I want to be more like him. I do. He is a better man than me, in his character and his gifting and his obedience to Jesus.”
He went on to reassure Christland members about safety protocols regarding children, stating that no church in The Network has ever had someone “with that background” in their Kids Program, nor have they ever “had an investigation nor needed it.”
A recording tells a different story, however. Alex Dieckmann, lead pastor at Rock River Church in San Marcos, a church involved in The Network, taught a session at the Network Leadership Conference in 2019. During this session, he revealed the apparent molestation of a minor.
“There’s a woman who hadn’t confessed something her whole life,” Dieckmann said in the audio. “She was molested as a child, and then what happened was, because that happened, she did the same to someone else. And she would be around kids and serving in the Kids Program. She could not hold a child without thinking back. I prayed for her and just prayed [for] healing.”
Texas’ mandatory reporting law requires suspected child abuse be reported to the proper authorities, with a failure to do so resulting in a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment of up to one year and/or a fine of up to $4,000.
The audio indicates that the individual continued serving in the Kids Program after Dieckmann heard the story and that no report was made. The Battalion reached out to Dieckmann and Rock River Church multiple times but received no response.
Christland’s website states their willingness to share a copy of their training manual for their Kids Program upon request, but The Battalion received no response upon inquiry. However, the manual was shared by an anonymous Christland attendee.
In the five-page training manual, there is no mention of the mandatory reporting law, instead telling volunteers to “contact a Christland staff member immediately” if they suspected a child was a victim of abuse.
A separate anonymous attendee described the training they underwent at Christland, using the alias “Alex” to protect against retribution.
“It was just like a 30-minute meeting with the Kids Program director on my first Sunday … and she just kind of walked me through how it’s done,” Alex said. “She said they were going to do a background check, but I don’t believe I ever had one done. I immediately started serving that very day. From my understanding, that’s what the training looked like for everyone.”
A separate anonymous source from Christland, referred to as “Sam,” was an attendee and member who helped found the church in 2017. They said the church’s Kids Program emphasized safety for participants.
“Sándor would regularly, up on the podium on Sundays, say, ‘Your kids are safe, we do background checks on all of our workers before they’re allowed to serve,’” Sam said.
Despite being founded in 2017, emails shared with The Battalion indicate Christland only instructed volunteers to undergo a background check in 2022 — around two weeks after Morgan’s court documents were revealed.
One email from Cody Dicks, a student from Southern Illinois University, or SIU, before joining Vine Church and later becoming staff pastor at Christland, stated that Kids Program volunteers would do a background check using a company named Checkr to “sync the background checks of our volunteers with our church database,” as it would “allow all the information to be in one location for ease of filing and organization.”
Despite the email indicating that Christland had access to background checks from volunteers, none of the multiple sources The Battalion contacted had any recollection of volunteers undergoing one.
“No one from the church plant had a background check done, and we were the first ones serving in the Kids Program,” Sam said. “So they weren’t running checks from the very beginning. The whole team got a 20-minute training during one of the [church] plant meetings, and then the Kid’s director said, ‘Now you are all officially trained to serve in the Kids Program,’ and that was that.”

Emma Wright, Class of 2022 and former Christland member, shared a similar experience.
“To be honest, there wasn’t really any training,” Wright said. “There was no type of certification, no type of online course you had to take. I don’t think anybody would have been able to recognize any signs of abuse unless they were really, really obvious.”
Attempts to infiltrate a university 

Sam said that nobody in the founding group had any experience or affiliation with A&M whatsoever, hypothesizing that The Network chose the area because A&M fits the target demographic well.
“Before we planted, we had prep meetings … we were learning the culture of A&M, the Aggie traditions, ways to fit in, like ‘Aggies don’t boo, they hiss,’ the ‘Gig ‘Em’, who’s allowed to say whoop,” Sam said.
In Illinois, Sam said Paull and the leaders encouraged small groups — groups meant to study the Bible — to compete over who could search Christland the most, as it would move it up the list of options when those in the A&M area searched online for churches. This continued once they arrived in College Station, as noted in a June 19, 2017 email.
“We need to be searching for ‘church in college station tx’ rather than anything else,” Paull relayed in 2017. “It already has the highest ranking and will continue to be higher as it has the least competition.”
A different email from June 7, 2017 had a similar message.
“I wanted to remind all of us to take time to get on our website,” Paull wrote. “We REALLY [sic] need to be in the first page of search results by the week before the TAMU semester begins.”
Sam noted that one of Paull and Christland’s initial priorities was getting a Recognized Student Organization, or RSO, approved.
“They do work really hard to get at least one or two students who are on the church plant into A&M so they can register Christland as an RSO,” Sam said. “Then, they can do more school-sanctioned events.”
The Battalion found an RSO under the name of “Christland College Ministry” with a link leading to Christland’s website. The public contact for the RSO is economics senior Madison Guye, a member of the initial group that came to Christland in 2017 and current small group leader at the church, according to Christland’s website. She began attending A&M in 2019.

Guye did not respond to multiple requests for a comment.
The Battalion found that two separate network churches, Joshua Church and Rock River Church, established RSO’s in their respective cities at University of Texas at Austin and Texas State University in San Marcos, with more likely existing in other colleges around the nation. According to their 2022 constitution, UT’s RSO invites students and takes them to Joshua Church, where Morgan is the lead pastor.
In another email, Jackson MacLachlan, a staff pastor that “focuses on reaching college students” according to his biography on Christland’s website, sent out a request for students to work shifts at the Memorial Student Center Open House, an event that occurs at the beginning of every semester.
“For those of you who haven’t helped with this before, the event exists for students to make some quick connections and see what student organizations are out there to get involved with,” MacLachlan wrote. “The best time of year to catch students is the first 3 weeks.”
Alex said MacLachlan would have shifts of students walk around A&M handing out Airheads with an attached card detailing Christland’s information, something they said usually took place the first month of every semester.
“It was always by inviting,” Alex said. “That was what the church stressed very heavily …. Most of the [A&M student members] came through being invited by someone. It was what they called their ‘trusted model.’”
Mia Conrad was on the original team that founded Christland, later becoming a senior administrative coordinator for the A&M Office of Diversity, according to the office’s website. Sam described her as immensely loyal to Paull and someone he would often send women to for advice, as Conrad worked alongside Paull for more than 20 years at Vine Church. After coming to College Station in 2017, she continued the administrative work at Christland alongside her A&M job.
Today, Mia is a small group leader at Christland on Thursdays from 7-9 p.m., according to the church’s website. Wright, an Aggie, was in the “Women’s Group” she led, detailing how once she left the church, Conrad never contacted her again — even though Wright considered Conrad her “second mom” and knew her for years. Wright decided to leave the church the day Morgan’s crime was revealed, first texting Conrad and then calling her a few days later.
“I said, ‘I just feel really betrayed by him and disillusioned with [Sándor],’” Wright said. “And [Conrad] asks me, ‘Why do you feel disillusioned with Sándor?’ That question really took me by surprise, and I remember thinking, ‘isn’t it obvious?’ She said, ‘I read the article you sent me, I know about all of that, I was thinking about it, I was praying about it, and I feel like God gave me grace for Sándor.’”
The conversation ended soon after, and the two would never text or call again, according to Wright. The next time they would interact would be a wedding months later, where Conrad would talk with Wright for a few minutes before quickly moving on to another person.
“Just nothing,” Wright said. “It was silence, just like from everyone else. So that was tough.”
Mike Berardi was another of the original Christland team members, being the Kid’s Program director at Vine for an unspecified amount of time before moving to College Station. Morgan wrote about him on pages 47-48 of his training resource for network pastors.

“One of the hardest things for me in the early days of the church was losing students for the summer or permanently through graduation,” Morgan wrote. “I remember when a young man named Mike Berardi was graduating from SIU’s engineering program. … I had great hopes that he would stay in Carbondale to get a job and continue to help as a leader in the church.”

Berardi wouldn’t stay, instead opting for an engineering job.

“Later when we were badly in need of a children’s director, I was excited when Sándor felt that God might want us to contact Mike Berardi (who was a successful engineer at that point) and ask him to return and help us,” Morgan wrote. “After letting him go, we … got Mike back! It was a good deal!”

Today, Berardi is the associate director of technology services at the Bush School of Government and Public Service while also serving on the five-person Board of Overseers for Christland, along with Paull, Dicks, Winston Bryant and Ricky Scher.

As a member of the board, Berardi helps to “conduct, manage and control the affairs of the church,” and carry out disciplinary actions, among other things, as written in Christland’s Bylaws, according to an 18-page document shared by a Christland attendee.

Sam gave their thoughts on Berardi, calling him “another true believer,” as he is completely dedicated to Paull.
The Battalion attempted to call Berardi, but when the reporter identified themselves, Berardi immediately hung up. They did not respond to any further emails.
Alleged spiritual abuse, discrimination and Christland’s inaction
Alex, the anonymous alias of an Aggie, was invited to Christland by an already-attending member, an offer she accepted as she was looking for a church in the area. But as her time with the organization grew, it began to envelop her — leaving them with memories that still affect her today.
“If you weren’t there every Sunday, someone would question you about it,” Alex said. “If you were missing small groups, someone questioned you about it. If you weren’t serving, you were told you needed to be more involved. My life was essentially the church.”
Alex said it was not abnormal for those in power dating newer, younger members, but rather “a trend,” with one example being Jackson and Shannon MacLachlan. The former was a student at SIU before being invited to Vine and becoming a pastor at Christland. Once there, Alex said he began dating Shannon, a then-student at A&M, when she joined his small group. Today, they are married with two children.
Alex later began getting close with another member, describing that others often viewed him as “this super responsible, trustworthy guy.”
“He was very generous with his time which, you know, being young, makes you feel special and cared for,” Alex said.
Once they began seeing each other more, Alex said the member would often imply that they “shouldn’t tell anyone.” At the time, the relationship was only flirtatious, but that wouldn’t last, Alex said.
“He had very abruptly kissed me … he was very aggressive about it,” Alex said. “It was not how a girl would imagine a romantic kiss. It was a very forceful one. I would tell him ‘This is a lot’ and ‘You’re hurting me and he didn’t really seem to care. He kind of seemed to enjoy that. I quickly did not enjoy things after they got physical.”
She went on to describe what she called a “cycle of manipulation,” with the member promising change yet never delivering.
“I started to tell him, ‘Hey, I’m not comfortable with this, I feel like you’re pushing it too far, I don’t feel okay with where things are going,’ and he would, every single time, break down and cry,” Alex said. “He would [say] ‘I’m so sorry … I care so much about you, I didn’t mean to hurt you, I just like you so much … I’m going to do better by you, you deserve better,’ like it was not going to happen again. Of course, that was a lie, because it would always happen again.”
Alex said he would also say that telling the pastors would have him removed from important areas in the church and “the spiritual health of others would be affected,” leading to her staying silent in fear of negatively affecting others.
Alex later ended the situation herself, stating that it “wasn’t going to end unless I did something.” She cut all contact with him, blocking and “avoid[ing] him at all costs.” They only spoke months later, according to Alex, when they had a final conversation.
“And so he starts saying how he wants us to be together, he thinks I could be his future wife, he wants us to date,” Alex said. “And then he goes, ‘But we don’t need to tell anyone, it’s not the right time, maybe in a couple of months.’”
Soon after, Alex would report the situation to one of the leaders in the church and Alex said the leader responded that “they weren’t surprised” because “it had happened before.” Another meeting with a separate leader followed.
“[They were] like, ‘You’re not the only girl, there’s three others we know about …’ and obviously, that’s like a slap in the face …,” Alex said. “But then [the leader] goes on to start talking about how … my ‘conscious[ness] clearly wasn’t super strong, otherwise I would have said something sooner’ and that ‘obviously, it takes two.’ That I need to ‘recognize my own part in this.’”
Soon after, Alex said she realized that others in the church had been told what she went through by the leaders, with many putting the blame on her rather than the perpetrator.
“It made me wish I had never said anything,” Alex said. “At this point, I just feel completely violated and blamed for what happened. It just felt like I was in trouble, that I had let this happen. That he was a man and that temptation was temptation and that it was my job to not be that way.”
Alex was told by members that she dressed too provocatively, a statement she disagreed with, as she said others in the church often wore more revealing clothing, and that she was “too friendly with men.” Soon after, Paull had his meeting with Christland in response to the leaked court documents detailing Morgan’s indictment.
“It was weird because no one at the church really seemed bothered by it, and I was like ‘Does no one think this is a big deal?’” Alex said.
This prompted her to search for LTN, where she read the stories of those affected by Paull, Morgan and The Network.
“And I knew right then, I was like ‘I can’t go back,’” Alex said.
Sam, the anonymous alias of a Christland founder and attendee, spoke of the same individual as Alex, stating leadership within the church often spoke highly of him, despite the accusations.
“I had no doubt that he was going to eventually … be a pastor down the line,” Sam said. “He had all the attention on him.”
On July 13, 2022, Casey Raymer, the current lead pastor at Vine, spoke to the church regarding Morgan’s leaked court documents, ensuring the safety of the church, similar to Paull’s speech.
“I do want to reassure you that throughout our 27-year history here at Vine Church and across our network of churches, to my knowledge, there’s not been a single incident of abuse take place,” Raymer said in a recording of the speech.
However, Sam’s account of Vine says otherwise, as they detailed how a well-known, respected individual in the church would reach out to women well-meaningly, later making unwanted advances on them. Once reported, no action was taken, with Sam stating that a leader said it had happened to “five or six other girls.”
Sam said this member later went on to join a church plant in another state.
“These older guys are given free reign to do this,” Sam said. “The pastors know what they’re doing. There’s no protection for women at all. They literally don’t care.”
When Sam moved to College Station to help start Christland in 2017, their time in the city was relatively quiet, similar to their experience at Vine — but that changed when Morgan’s crime was revealed, Sam said.
“I found out that week that someone from Vine had killed herself because she had found out the news about Steve,” Sam said. “She had been in this church for like 15-plus years, and it just destroyed her …”
When Paull announced the meeting with the church to discuss the news, Sam arrived expecting an apology and announcement of Morgan’s resignation, as that was “the only rational option of what he could say.”
“He started talking, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s not going to say anything, Steve’s not going anywhere,’” Sam said. “It was shocking to me … how much he went out of his way to defend and protect Steve. And then the language he used to describe the crime to diminish what actually happened was absolutely horrifying.”
Once the meeting concluded, Sam described a relative calmness among the churchgoers.
“Nobody seemed phased about anything,” Sam said. “I felt like something was wrong with me because I was horrified.”
From that point on, Sam stopped attending Christland altogether, saying that even going to the church was essentially supporting Morgan.
“Five percent of the money that is tied to Christland goes to The Network fund, and who knows where that money goes,” Sam said. “But Steve is sitting nice and pretty in a $2 million mansion in Austin … I just wanted nothing to do with it.”
But Sam’s reluctance to support Christland turned many against them, sharing how they felt like they “lost their family.”
“Nobody from the church was talking to me because I didn’t believe what they were believing,” Sam said. “I wasn’t saying what they were saying. All of a sudden, this family that I had for these years was gone. And I was by myself.”
Sam said this is the “pull” the church has on people, as they isolate people and ensure their only friends are within the church.
“Part of me feels like that’s why a lot of people stay because they don’t have any friends outside of The Network,” Sam said. “They encourage you to isolate yourself from your own family, as the church becomes your family … they don’t want to be lonely, and it’s hard to start over … especially when you’re an adult. It’s why they try to get you in college, when you’re trying to make new friends and [are] super out there. You’re very vulnerable in college.”
Today, Sam said they are still recovering from their experience at Christland.
“You put your blood, sweat and tears to build this thing, and then you realize that it is a sham,” Sam said. “It’s hard to walk away from that.”
Wright, a former student and Christland member for four years, grew up in Carbondale, Illinois, moving to College Station to attend A&M in 2018. She immediately began attending Christland, as she was already familiar with many of the members due to spending years at Vine before Paull and his group left for Texas. By the time she left, Wright had spent her whole life in The Network — 22 years.
During her time at the church, she noticed that Paull would often preach on women’s role within society.
“Sándor would so often preach about these things, about how good it was to be a mother or a parent, a wife …,” Wright said. “And, I always felt uncomfortable because … that’s not what I’m doing, that’s not what I’m training to do.”
Wright was in the Corps of Cadets during her time as a student, a “non-traditional route,” as she called it.
“Sándor would say some things, that, looking back, I’m like ‘That is sexist,’ but it’s subtle enough to where we can all kind of laugh it off,” Wright said.

She also said gossip at Christland was common, with “everybody [knowing] everybody’s business.”

“You would think that you told someone something in confidence — something like your medical history — and then whoever you told would tell one other person at the church,” Wright said. “And they would tell one other person, and suddenly all the pastors knew. That happened a lot. I know way more than I should know about a lot of other college students, and that’s really disturbing.”

Wright said the pastors and small group leaders encouraged this, as they wanted to know about students to “help [them] better.”

During her sophomore year, she began dating another cadet, later inviting him to attend Christland with her. He would go on to become involved in the church, even serving in the Kids Program.

“He got to know Sándor pretty well,” Wright said. “I know at least a couple of different times, he went to Sándor’s house, because one of Sandor’s hobbies was fixing up cars and motorcycles. A lot of the college guys would have him work on their cars for them.”

But Wright said her year would soon change for the worse.

“Not long after we started dating, he started sexually abusing me,” Wright said. “I felt so much shame about it. I thought it was my fault. I would have several conversations with my boyfriend at the time, like ‘I don’t like this, this needs to stop, what do we need to do to make this stop,’ and it never stopped. It became a habit for him.”

This continued for the rest of her sophomore year, with him actively participating in the church the entire time before she ended the relationship the following summer. She would begin processing everything over the following months before realizing she was abused, Wright said. She then told family and friends, also deciding to report it to Paull. Wright met with Paull and his wife, Amanda Paull, in his office soon after.

“It was so weird because Sándor was extremely neutral throughout that entire conversation,” Wright said. “He did not display any signs about being upset about what had happened to me. He was not grieved over what happened to me. He was not angry towards my ex-boyfriend … nothing.”

The conversation continued, and Wright said they did nothing to support her other than offering affirming statements of “we’re very proud of you” and “you’re so strong.”

“Sándor did not offer any resources,” Wright said. “He did not offer to protect me or put any protections in place for me at the church. He did not offer to confront my ex-boyfriend. Nothing, it was basically just like ‘Thank you for telling us,’ and that was it. He was allowed to continue working in the Kid’s Program, and nothing changed about his status at the church. There was absolutely no change.”

Wright said he stayed in the church until the end of his senior year, when Wright expected him to leave to fulfill his military contract. But when she attended the first sermon the year he was supposed to be gone, she saw him sitting in the row in front of her.

“I spent that entire service trying to keep myself from panicking …,” Wright said. “I could not focus on the worship songs. I could not focus on the teaching — nothing. I was just constantly thinking to myself, ‘Don’t panic, don’t panic, don’t panic, don’t start crying, don’t make a scene in front of everyone, just hold it together.’”

Wright talked to Paull immediately after the sermon, with Paull stating that he did not know why he was still there. They then met for the second time, and Wright told Paull that she didn’t want to see him at all.

“Sándor, again [was], very, very neutral,” Wright said. “He really didn’t express much emotion at all.”

Paull would text him in front of Wright, asking him to attend a different sermon and small group, where he would be for months before leaving for military service the following semester. Wright noted that there was “no face-to-face confrontation at all, not in the beginning and not in the end.”

“I’m not really sure how much of my story [Sándor] did believe, now that I think about it,” Wright said. “Of course he never told me it was not my fault.”

Morgan’s indictment would then be revealed, with Wright deciding to never attend the church again after learning about it.

“I avoid the building when I can,” Wright said. “I avoid driving past it if I can. I take longer routes.”

She would only tell two people she left, including Conrad, the A&M faculty member who helped found Christland, as they had grown close during their years together at the church, with Conrad also being one of the few people Wright told about her sexual abuse.

“So I [told her], ‘You know, I thought Sándor really had my back when I was dealing with the abuse from my first boyfriend and that situation, I thought he took issues of sexual abuse very seriously,’” Wright said. “But the fact that he has really helped cover up this whole crime shows me that he hasn’t. He doesn’t take this seriously, and that hurts.”

Wright said Conrad would not change her mind, however, instead choosing to stay at Christland, where she is still a small group leader today.

“Her decision to stay with Christland was … really discouraging,” Wright said. “I could tell from that conversation that she really didn’t see much wrong with Sándor’s action, or if she did, she was very easily able to justify it and move on with her life, and I just wasn’t. But at the same time, it’s not surprising. She spent so long in The Network, and pretty much her whole community is there.”

Like others, Wright lost many of her friends and family once she left Christland, and she is still recovering today.

“[A&M students] should be on their guard,” Wright said. “They should avoid Christland as much as they can, and they should be aware [that] if they ever go to Christland or any Christland event, then people will act very friendly towards them. At first, they may not see the red flags because people will [try] to be [like] a family.”

Pastors Paull, Dicks and MacLachlan did not respond to multiple interview requests from The Battalion.

Today, Christland continues, with Paull and the other pastors preaching sermons every Sunday at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Morgan preaches at Joshua Church in Austin, and The Network operates throughout the nation, with Christland still being listed on the official A&M Student Activities website as an active organization.

“I love Jesus, but I’m terrified to get back into a church,” Alex said. “I’ve lost so much trust in myself and churches as an institution. And I don’t wish that on anyone.”

“They have absolutely not apologized for covering Steve’s crime or for the abuse allegations or any of it,” Wright said. “They have not apologized for any of it. Regardless, Sándor, I plead with you to repent. To publicly repent and apologize.”

“You made me feel safe,” Sam said. “You made me feel like I was a part of the family, that I was valued, that you would protect me and care for my needs. I learned the hard way that it was all an illusion. Only the innermost circle is cared about and valued. Steve must be protected above all, regardless of the hundreds being hurt. You are hurting and abusing your power, and worst of all, I don’t think you care.”

“And anyone still attending a church in The Network, I want you to know that you are just as disposable as we all have been,” Sam continued. “If they cared about you and the people in this church, they would take these concerns seriously. They would go above and beyond to investigate the allegations, bring justice to those who have been wounded. But they don’t care, and it’s only become increasing[ly] apparent with their silence in response to the cries of those they have hurt. I thought I was attending a church where the pastors loved and wanted to imitate Christ. Not the church of Steve Morgan.”
Editor’s Note: Emma Wright previously worked for The Battalion, from June to August 2020.

Navigate Left
Navigate Right
  • An email from Pastor Cody Dicks instructing volunteers in the “Kids Program” to undergo background checks using the website “Checkr.” 

  • An email from Sándor Paull detailing Christland’s plan to boost the ranking of their website in Google results. 

  • Christland Church on Highway 6 in College Station on Thursday, April 20, 2023. 

Navigate Left
Navigate Right
View Comments (1)
Donate to The Battalion

Your donation will support the student journalists of Texas A&M University - College Station. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Nicholas Gutteridge
Nicholas Gutteridge joined The Battalion in January 2023 as a news reporter before being promoted to news editor in August 2023. He interned at The Pentagon in Washington D.C. from January-May 2024 with the U.S. Air Force Office of Public Affairs before rejoining The Battalion. He specializes in investigative reporting and will be the managing editor for the 2024-25 academic year.
Donate to The Battalion

Comments (1)

All The Battalion Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • J

    Janet KMar 25, 2024 at 9:19 pm

    Very thorough investigation of how some churches function as mini-cults with predators within. These predators count on good-willed people to give the benefit of the doubt and not ask questions. It’s sad when one church produces so many victims that need trauma therapy to overcome being a part of it.

    Reply