Davis, California — Recently, Grace Valley Christian Center (GVCC), a church on the outskirts of Davis, California, was in the news for the attempted murder of one of its members by her teenage sons.
Several hundred people attend the church, going to services on Sundays and Wednesdays as well as meeting in home groups throughout the week. GVCC has an associated elementary and middle school as well as an online high school. Grace Valley Christian Center is also, according to the many sources the Vanguard talked to, emotionally, verbally, spiritually, and sexually abusive.
Over the past six months, the Vanguard talked to more than a dozen sources about GVCC, including many former members as well as experts on authority structures, abuse in Christian churches, and Indian Christianity. In a multi-part series, the Vanguard will explore the lives of former members and how their time at GVCC impacted them.
GVCC was formed in the late 1970’s by a group of college students and P. G. Mathew, a pastor born in India and formerly practicing in Canada. The church was originally part of the Shepherding Movement, a charismatic movement created in the early 70’s borne from concerns that American churches were straying from tradition and lacking discipline.
The Shepherding Movement offered an all-encompassing solution. It advised that church members should submit to their pastors and elders like a sheep does to a shepherd. This advice extended beyond members’ presence at church; it included purchasing houses and cars, decisions on whom to marry, where to live, and when to seek medical help — much of which continues at GVCC today.
Former members of GVCC detailed stories of authoritative control, verbal harassment of adults and children, sexual assault, emotional manipulation, and drug abuse. Multiple people referred to it as a “cult” and one referred to it as a “dictatorship” with Pastor Mathew at the center of it all.
One source said, “It’s all psychological, weird, controlling, traumatizing, family ruining, life ruining, and I still can’t figure out what for. It feels like it is just for the sake of doing it, or for money, or I don’t know.”
Along with P. G. Mathew, the church is run by his family — notably his daughter Sharon Broderick, who is the principal of the school, and a council of elders, men who oversee the workings of the church including the home groups.
One of the methods of control that Grace Valley Christian Center employs is collecting information on its members, requiring the sharing of intimate details about each member’s day-to-day life in weekly reports.
“They keep a filing system on everybody,” one source said. They shared that “one of the moms told me that her daughter was having a horrible period, and she talked about it in a report and the elders spoke about it in a meeting.” Another source said, “Every week I was supposed to report on how my week went, what I struggled with that week. They would give me feedback or tell me what to do. If I didn’t do it I would get in trouble and they would talk to my parents.”
The Vanguard has obtained screenshots where church leadership requested a report by email every week. If members did not comply, they were listed in a weekly email sent to church members.
Sources reported that when they mentioned future travels in their emails, church leadership dissuaded them from going. One source detailed that “the pastor’s secretary for 44 years overheard us about wanting to go over to Napa for a couple days in someone’s trailer [to help with wildfire efforts]. It got back to me by the next morning that we were told we couldn’t do that. We don’t sleep in trailers with other couples, and we don’t help those outside of the church.”
In addition to maintaining decades of information on people in the church, Pastor Mathew and the elders attempt to control constituents through verbal abuse and public shaming.
Sources described countless times they were brought before Pastor Mathew and the Council of Elders. One source described the meetings as “12 older dudes who just scream at you for hours, they put you in a spot right before service so that everyone walking into service can see your face through the window and hear the muffled yelling.”
One source described being in Pastor Mathew’s office when they were younger than 10, and Pastor Mathew “saying that my [sibling] and I had demons in us, and that was why we were fighting with each other and our parents.”
When one person moved out of their parents’ house to a nearby city as a young adult, Pastor Mathew said they were leaving because they were greedy and money hungry: “You’re arrogant and worthless in God’s eyes.”
One source said Pastor Mathew would “call me horrible things, tell me I am a used tissue, a dirty tampon, no man will want me…I was 12.” The source said that it was “a lot easier to just accept whatever they say about you, and take the punishment, rather than have them yell at you and persist.”
In these meetings, people’s eternal salvation was also called into question. GVCC’s oldest founding members now have children and grandchildren who were born into the church. People become members of the church by signing a lifetime covenant with the church. One source stated that “your covenant with the church was more important than your marriage covenant” and that “if you break it, you are going directly to hell.” Children as young as 10 are asked to sign these documents. Sources told us when they get in trouble at church, they are made to doubt their ability to enter heaven.
The school that is run by Pastor Mathew’s daughter employs similar verbally abusive tactics. “I have heard stories from mothers that their children were just verbally ridiculed [by Sharon Broderick] in front of other students enough that the children went home in tears,” said one source.
Many sources were nervous to talk to reporters because of the power and influence the church and its members have in the larger community. Current church members work at multiple law enforcement agencies, and include doctors, lawyers, and even a former judge.
GVCC also possesses great monetary power. No one the Vanguard interviewed knew exactly how much money the church has access to, but all sources were under the impression that the Church is doing well financially. Historically, there have been annual meetings during which the church’s finances were discussed, but details were never made clear to congregation members.
When congregants saw how much money the church had in the financial meetings, they often asked questions about why the church was holding on to all that money and what the money was going to be used for. According to multiple sources, instead of answering those questions or changing how they managed their money, GVCC just stopped having financial meetings.
The lack of accountability in the structure of GVCC — monetarily and socially — opens the door for abuse. Most prominently, a former member at GVCC was arrested on child molestation charges that were eventually dropped. Sources alluded to the fact that the church would use methods of threatening people to coerce them into staying quiet.
Multiple accounts of sexual assault were reported by sources during interviews. When one source was assaulted outside of the church as an adult, they started having flashbacks to being sexually assaulted as a young child by someone in the church — something they had previously not remembered.
Leaving a place that has so much control and power is difficult. The church dissuades people from leaving by telling members to cut off contact with those who have left. All the sources detailed the shunning that happened to them when they left GVCC. One source described what they were told while they were still a GVCC member, “I’ve seen a lot of people leave, and I’ve been told not to talk to them, delete them on social media.” That same source explained what happened to them — “my parents don’t talk to me anymore, my friends that I grew up with don’t talk to me anymore.”
This article is part of a special series of investigative reporting detailing allegations of abuse and control by former members of Grace Valley Christian Center. Future parts coming soon detail the experiences of former members including exploitation of labor, drug abuse, control of relationships, and how the authoritative structure has led to death. The Vanguard has collected many first hand documents and corroborated accounts. Due to the sensitive nature of these allegations, sources have requested to remain anonymous for their protection.
Grace Valley Christian Center History and the Shepherding Movement
P. G. Mathew, the pastor at Grace Valley Christian Center (GVCC), was born in India. According to one source, he came from “a long line of Indian Christian pastors” and was taught from childhood the “superiority of his pedigree.” The source relayed a story where Mathew’s father “discouraged him from playing ball” because he should not play “games which were considered unspiritual.”
Mathew originally started out in graduate school for chemistry but “he felt called by God to preach the gospel,” a source said. Mathew collected multiple theological degrees, including one from Westminster Theological Seminary.
According to a source, Mathew came to Davis in 1973 at the request of Bishop Ronald Coady, pastor of Trinity Cathedral in Davis, to teach at the newly inaugurated Saint Justin’s Theological Seminary. It appeared Mathew came highly recommended from his position in Vancouver where he led a youth group.
However, Bishop Coady apparently later shared with people that the job in Vancouver had “begged him to hire [Mathew] because his harsh ministerial habits were destroying the group and causing division among the church leadership.”
Mathew seemed to follow a similar behavioral trend in Davis. In 1974, at the request of some seminary students who were unhappy at Saint Justin’s, Mathew started a charismatic bible study. This later became Davis Evangelical Church (renamed to Grace Valley Christian Center in the mid ‘80s). According to a source, he adopted a church government structure that “gave him all the real authority and the members none.”
Someone described the changing nature of the church as “over time, the church would become more and more authoritarian, controlling and centered on the honoring and exaltation of the pastor, demanding absolute and unquestioned obedience from its congregants.”
Mathew “installed or deposed elders and other leaders at will, which meant he was accountable to no one, but everyone was accountable to him,” the source shared.
An expert on Indian Christianity that the Vanguard talked to explained this style of Christianity. “There can often be a real cultic personality surrounding charismatic pastors,” they said, “and that can be in almost any denomination but especially in more conservative denominations where there’s less suspicion of strong structures of hierarchy and authority.”
When asked about the type of authority at GVCC the expert said, “A pastor who is well trained, has several seminary degrees and who knows the bible well, may also have a very paternalistic sense of his relationship to less educated people in his congregation.”
In the late 70’s, P. G. Mathew joined the fledgling church to the Shepherding Movement. The Shepherding Movement was, as explained by a source, “a large group of churches across the United States that formed a vast hierarchy under five prominent pastors in Fort Lauderdale. The movement stressed ‘serving and honoring’ leaders, ‘covenant’ relationships with (for the most part) unquestioned obedience.”
Pat Robertson, conservative Christian Televangelist, wrote an open letter in 1975 lambasting the Shepherding Movement. He called the movement “an unnatural and unscriptural domination of one man by another.” He said the “very sincere brethren” in the movement he ran into used “cultish jargon.”
In his open letter, Robertson described how he learned “wealthy Christian friends were being forced not only to divulge the most confidential details of their financial and family life, but were being urged to pour their resources [sic] into the pockets of the head ‘shepherds.’”
Once a shepherd is picked, Robertson reported that following them is “more binding than a marriage.”
Robertson said, “those ‘submitted’ are under the control of their ‘shepherd’s’. [A former employee] tells of a pregnant woman who could not visit a gynecologist until her ‘shepherd’ approved it. ‘Another couple were told by their ‘shepherd’ to stop living together as man and wife. ‘Sheep’ cannot buy a car, a home, take a trip, a vacation, or engage in any other activity of any magnitude without permission of their shepherd.”
Robertson quoted a devotee as saying, “If God Almighty spoke to me, and I knew for a certainty that it was God speaking, and if my shepherd told me to do the opposite, I would obey my shepherd.”
After receiving criticism, the founders of the Shepherding Movement began to disavow what they had created. Eventually the leading organization—and the accountability structure it maintained—was disbanded.
Dismantling the top of the Shepherding Movement, however, did not appear to take apart the many churches across America that used this structure, including GVCC.
As one former member of GVCC described it: “[Y]ou have someone in absolute authority”; when the larger Shepherding Movement disbanded “we lost the only accountability that we had” and they ended up with “your classic narcissistic personality cult.”
Over time, GVCC grew. GVCC gains members in several ways: they recruit families of children from their school, Grace Valley Christian Academy; they have a college group at UC Davis called Grace Alive; and they encourage their members to marry each other and have babies.
As one source explained, “For years, the source of new members was college students, and that’s the way that it was in the very beginning…but what they noticed is that these kids would graduate from college and leave to go elsewhere, so they realized the way to keep these students in the church is to get them married, and it really really works.” Another source explained that “love bombing is big for recruiting, especially on the UC Davis campus.”
A source provided a screenshot of the document Grace Alive members use to track who is responsible for retaining new members, explaining “whenever a college age visitor comes to a club meeting on UC Davis campus or a church service at Grace Valley a college member of GV is assigned to reach out, befriend, and recruit them.
Each visitor is assigned a primary and a support person. The primary takes the lead on reaching out and the secondary follows the primary’s lead and offers additional outreach support. To clarify, the visitors have no knowledge of this because only the members who have been baptized and signed the church contract are involved in this.”
In terms of accountability to the leaders of GVCC a source said that “each week the primary and support people have to report how their outreach efforts are doing and what they are learning about their assigned visitor.”
A source emphasized the control the church has over Grace Alive by stating, “As a UC Davis campus student organization, Grace Alive is required to operate independently of the church with which it is affiliated….Two former Grace Alive presidents revealed that they were not elected by the members of Grace Alive, as dictated by University policy, but were appointed by leaders of the church.”
Once GVCC has new members, it employs many methods to retain them, including, day to day control/submission to the church, signing a life covenant, threats of being shunned by the community for leaving, and verbal, emotional, and spiritual abuse. All of these tactics will be detailed in future articles.
P. G. Mathew, sources estimate, is in his late 80’s and the line of succession for the church is not completely clear. P. G. Mathew has a son and a daughter. The son, Evan, runs one of GVCC home groups but is not listed as a minister on the GVCC website.
Mathew’s daughter, Sharon, is the principal of Grace Valley Christian Academy. Her husband, Gregory is listed as a minister on the website. There are also other ministers that have been with the church since the founding that are close to P. G. Mathew.
Many sources agreed that Sharon is the natural successor to her father except for one thing, she’s a woman. One source explained, “Since GVCC claims to be a conservative Reformed church, women are not supposed to hold positions of authority over men.”
One source stated, “People presently at GVCC [sic] might be wondering ‘why does Sharon have so much power?’ after hearing so many years about the necessity of male church leadership.” Sharon, from reports, seems to be made in her father’s image and runs the academy similarly to how her father runs the church.
One source said that it is made clear to children at the school that orders are to be obeyed “immediately, exactly, and with joy.” They went on to say that “the worst thing that has ever happened to that school was her becoming the principal.”
The Christianity expert the Vanguard interviewed suggested that “in churches that are characterized by charismatic leadership, there is no clear heir apparent; they tend to break up afterwards particularly if they are a large church like this. Another possibility is they break up into smaller churches following the junior pastors.”
The former GVCC members the Vanguard talked to postulated who might succeed P. G. Mathew. One source said, “Many former members of GVCC are speculating that the church leadership will eventually pass to Sharon’s husband, Rev. Gregory Broderick, who, after marrying Sharon, was baptized and put on the fast track to leadership.”
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