Former Isanti County pastor sentenced for criminal sexual conduct

Ryan Jay Muehlhauser

Ryan Jay Muehlhauser

“The side effects of what Ryan did have great impact on me, my family, my former place of employment and my close community. On a personal level, as a result of the abuse, I have struggled with not being able to look at my body and have felt great detachment, and at times, shame and hate for my body. The pain and anger of being used and abused at such an intimate and personal level through spiritual means have been quite overwhelming to try to deal with emotionally.”

Those words were read by Isanti County Victim Services advocate Cheryl Terhaar during the June 5 sentencing for former pastor Ryan Jay Muehlhauser.

Muehlhauser, 55, of Cambridge, had been an Isanti County pastor serving the community for more than 20 years when he was charged in November 2012 with eight counts of felony, fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct with two adult males seeking spiritual counsel.

Muehlhauser pleaded guilty to two of those counts Feb. 28. Under the plea agreement, Muehlhauser will serve 160 days in Isanti County Jail, remain on supervised probation for 10 years and register as a predatory offender. The other six counts were dismissed. Under state sentencing guidelines, a prison sentence can’t be ordered for fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct.

“My failures have brought pain, confusion, anger and damage into many people’s lives,” Muehlhauser said. “I failed in my role as a pastor, mentor, husband, father and friend. I have betrayed the trust of so many people. To my victims and their families, I’m so, so sorry for the ways I hurt them, and I ask them to please forgive me.”

Muehlhauser had been serving as senior pastor at Lakeside Christian Church in Cambridge since January 2012. Prior to that he served as the church’s associate pastor for 22 years.

Muehlhauser previously admitted in court that he engaged in sexual contact with two adult males. He admitted the sexual contact with one of the victims took place throughout October 2012 inside the prayer cabin located on the church property while he was providing spiritual advice in his role as pastor. He admitted to placing his hands on the victim’s genital area and suggesting the victim fondle himself.

He also admitted the sexual contact with the second victim occurred from March 1, 2012 through Nov. 4, 2012. He admitted to feeling the victim’s genital area and calling the sexual encounters “blessings.” He said he committed these acts for his own sexual gratification.

The relations at issue surfaced when a counselor with Outpost Ministries — a group that assists individuals who “want to break away from the gay life,” according to its website — reported that two young men he was counseling advised him of sexual activity between them and Muehlhauser.

Assistant Isanti County Attorney Tim Nelson said this case has impacted the entire community.

“This case is particularly egregious,” Nelson said. “We clearly have victims who were at a vulnerable point in their lives and placed themselves in the care of someone they thought they could trust and help them manage the difficulties and confusions they were dealing with. This abuse added a whole new package of difficulties they were dealing with.”

Nelson said churches are dealing with the impact of the crime.

“This is tarnishing to institutions of the church,” Nelson said. “We have all sorts of people doing good work at the churches, and here you have someone in that setting tarnishing what happens there. It will be hard for the victims to walk through the door of another institution again. It’s important for people to have access to this type of service and should be able to walk in and deal with someone they can trust.”

One of the victims in the case said he is seeking professional help.

“The result of Ryan being present in my life has led to fear, defensiveness and trust issues toward those I consider closest to me,” Terhaar read from the victim impact statement. “On at least some level, most of my close relationships have been affected by personal fear and anxiety in my life that I now bring into the relationship as a result of the abuse that went on. Some of the individuals are experiencing personal betrayal and pain due to choices I made while under the advisement and spiritual guidance of Ryan.”

Judge John McBride told Muehlhauser he would have been sent to prison if it had been allowed.

“I’m pleased to hear you are showing remorse for these offenses,” McBride said. “If the state sentencing guidelines allowed, I would send you straight to prison without the blink of an eye. Sir, you are a criminal, and these are sexual criminal acts you performed. And what’s most egregious about this, is these were young men struggling with their own sexuality and spirituality and you took advantage of both. I can’t think of a more egregious offense than that.”

McBride acknowledged the impact the crime has on the religious institutions.

“This also causes harm on other church institutions,” McBride said. “Church is an important part of my life and my family’s life. Church is supposed to be a place of sanctuary, solace and comfort. It is criminals like you who have abused that and have destroyed these institutions — and that breaks my heart.”

McBride ordered that Muehlhauser can never again serve as a minister or pastor, church council member, mentor, counselor or volunteer with a church. McBride did allow Muehlhauser to be furloughed for sex offender treatment.

“If I’m here and you violate any conditions of your probation, you will go to prison,” McBride said. “You have a high risk of reoffending without treatment. I will not let you be put back into that situation again. You don’t want to see me again.”

One of the victims in the case said he still holds to his Christian faith.

“My prayer first and foremost for Ryan is repentance,” Terhaar read. “Although I do not believe Ryan is an evil man, I desire for Ryan to see that his actions were not only negative, but his actions were evil. His actions have caused great damage. I desire him to fully embrace what he did as wrong. I desire him to get the spiritual and great psychological help that he needs.

“Above all, I do believe in and pray for God’s mercy over Ryan. I entrust the legal system to act in the best way they see fit as far as sentencing goes. … I do want to ensure that no one becomes a victim to the kind of spiritual misguidance and therefore sexual abuse that Ryan gave. I want justice for all who have been affected by this horrible abuse. I do believe in personal change and transformation as a result of justice.”

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