The downfall of a pastor

Allegations of sexual misdeeds detailed

Rebecca Sherman

Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News
Published: JULY 14, 1991

Well before Pastor Darrell Gilyard appeared Wednesday in the pulpit of Victory Baptist Church, more than half the church's 800 members had rushed from their homes and jobs for fear of missing the hastily called meeting. And while they knew that their charismatic preacher was being pressured to resign, many prayed for his last-minute redemption.

The crowd was starkly quiet as the 29-year-old minister confessed that he had sinned against God, his family and those who sat before him. He shoved aside a speech that had been prepared by Dr. Paige Patterson, his mentor and former teacher at Criswell College. "This book tells me what to do with my sin,' Mr. Gilyard said, clutching a worn Bible.

"It has been with me everywhere. It's been in the various foster homes, it's been under the bridge with me.

This is far more than a moment of tragedy and failure. It is a moment of triumph. I have walked away from yet another bridge, a bridge of triumph."

What he didn't say was that for the fourth time in four years, he had been forced to walk away from a congregation. A growing number of women in the Richardson church said their pastor had sexually abused them. One said he had had sex with her in the pastor's study. Another said she received lewd phone calls and, most recently, a woman said he raped her.

Mr. Gilyard, unavailable for comment since his resignation, left behind a Baptist model, of sorts, for integrated membership and a reputation as one of the most widely sought black evangelists by predominantly white Baptist congregations. Both his home and mobile phone numbers have been changed.

The morning after the resignation, Dr. Patterson described Mr. Gilyard as one of the "most brilliant men in the pulpit.' - Mr. Gilyard credited his appearances on the Old Time Gospel Hour, a weekly television program produced by evangelist Jerry Falwell. It was Mr. Falwell who promoted The Darrell Gilyard Story, a video biography of a young black orphan who rose to prominence after he had spent his teen-age years living under a bridge in Florida.

Although Victory Baptist is not officially affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, Mr. Gilyard and the church embraced the principles and guidelines of the group and looked to the organization and its largest church, First Baptist, for support and guidance.

Likewise, Dr. Patterson, president of Criswell College, located in the First Baptist complex, was Mr. Gilyard's former teacher and mentor.

Though many of the women who say they were involved with Mr. Gilyard said they feel guilt over their participation, they are angry at church officials who, they said, did little to protect them. One woman who said she had had a long-term affair with Mr. Gilyard said her phone calls requesting a meeting with Dr. Patterson were not returned. "His secretary said unless I had proof, he wouldn't see me.' Others recall meetings with church officials at both Victory Baptist and First Baptist churches who drilled them with questions about their emotional stability and their relationships with other men.

First Baptist officials said they knew of the allegations of sexual misconduct, which began as long as four years ago when Mr. Gilyard was removed as assistant pastor of Concord Missionary Baptist Church in Oak Cliff. But they said they did not believe those allegations, and continued to recommend him. "We were dealing with a man of special gifts and talents,' Dr. Patterson said. "I was unwilling to call anyone guilty until I had demonstratable evidence that these allegations were true.' Dr. Patterson said that according to Scriptures, action cannot be taken against a minister accused of adultery unless there are two or more witnesses. He also asked for any other proof, such as photographs, videotapes or laboratory tests.

In the interim, the dynamic preacher became even more visible.

In addition to frequent appearances on Old Time Gospel Hour, he maintained a heavy speaking schedule across the country, drawing huge crowds wherever he spoke. Most recently, he shared a platform with Iran-contra figure Oliver North at the Southern Baptist Convention in Atlanta. "Their greed eclipsed their vision of reality,' said the Rev. E.K. Bailey, pastor of Concord Missionary Baptist Church, where Mr. Gilyard had been removed in 1987 amid allegations of sexual improprieties. Others, such as Dr. Patterson, paint Mr. Gilyard as a victim. "It's amazing,' Dr. Patterson said, "how jealousy, frustration and racism can be motives for making accusations.'

Intimate secrets

The Rev. Darrell Gilyard built Victory on conservative values, particularly when it came to women. He would not allow them to usher, serve on the finance committee, teach men or take classes with them.

But outside the church, according to the women who claim to have been victimized by him, Mr. Gilyard spent most of his time with women. Those who talked with The Dallas Morning News about their experiences asked to remain anonymous.

"I heard him preach at Concord for the first time, and I was amazed,' said one woman. "I was touched by his story of being orphaned. I thought he was special, anointed.' Soon after, she said, friends told her that the pastor, married since 1985, had made sexual advances toward them. She said he began asking her to lunch and she accepted. "He'd flatter me, say I was pretty. In the back of my mind, I knew something wasn't right.'

The woman said the minister followed up with late-night phone calls asking her to meet him in her garage, where her husband wouldn't see them. She said she refused. "I was afraid to tell anybody,' she said. "I knew what he said about friends of mine, how he spread rumors about them and told me (their) secrets.'

The calls persisted for three or four months, the woman said, until finally she told him to stop. "He would go and preach every Sunday against adultery and premarital sex and fornication,' she said, "and then afterwards, he'd call and beg me to meet him at a hotel.'

Another woma n was a student at Criswell College in 1988 when Mr. Gilyard preached at the school. He later asked for volunteers to work at Shiloh Baptist Church in Garland, his third preaching position. Mr. Gilyard began calling her, the woman said, asking her out to lunch. She accepted. "He was very, very suggestive to me, asking me if I liked him, liked how he looked. He wanted me to tell him intimate secrets. I asked if his wife knew about this, and he got mad.' She said the pastor who preached so humbly in the pulpit was arrogant and conceited outside church. "One time I remember something good happened at the church and I said, "Glory be to God!' and he said: "God? Glory be to me. I did it, not God.' '

The woman said she began hearing similar stories from friends at the college who attended Shiloh, where Mr. Gilyard was assistant pastor.

In 1989, she says she made an appointment with Paige Patterson, one of the most prominent figures in the Southern Baptist Convention. "Darrell was there with his wife and an attorney,' the woman said. "He confronted me and said I wore suggestive clothing. I don't even own suggestive clothing.

"Paige Patterson asked me to refrain from speaking to anybody about this. He said unless I came back with two witnesses or proof that something had happened, not to come back.'

Another woman who was drawn to Mr. Gilyard's preaching left the Concord church after Mr. Gilyard was fired. "We couldn't believe that he had done anything.' She said she and her husband corresponded with Mr. Gilyard during the next year while he was assistant pastor of Hilltop Baptist Church in Norman, Okla., in the fall of 1987. She said she was thrilled when he came back to Dallas.

One evening, she said, he called her late at night and told her he had been having sexual fantasies about her. "I thought he had some problem that he just needed to talk about, so I said I'd pray for him.' She said the pastor asked her to meet him later in a hotel or at the church. "I agreed to meet him at the church,' she said. "There was nobody there, it was at night. We were talking by the pulpit, and we started kissing. Then he grabbed my hand and pulled me down onto the - floor, right there in the church. I was in a state of shock. This was a man I trusted. I didn't know what to do. Then he was on top of me.' She said she was able to free herself and leave. But the calls continued, she said. "I told him what we did was wrong. I even called Paige Patterson to tell him what had happened.' She said Dr. Patterson would not take her calls. "He told his secretary to tell me that unless I had some kind of proof, not to call back.'

The woman said she prayed about it for a month and wrote Dr. Patterson a detailed, 10-page letter. "He called me, but he wouldn't agree to meet with me.'

Dr. Patterson said recently that he did not recall the woman or the letter.

Another woman joined Victory Baptist shortly after she moved to Dallas last year. Mr. Gilyard offered her a job at the church. "He called about 10 o'clock one night and said he wanted to talk about my work,' she recalled. "We talked for a while like that, then the conversation shifted and he started getting real personal.

He wanted to know what attracted me to him. I should have hung up, but I felt flattered.' She said the phone call became more sexually explicit until finally she hung up. "I felt dirty and sick afterward,' she said.

She said she told Darrell DeBoard, the administrator at Victory Baptist, two or three days later. The woman said she also quit her job at the church and moved out of town that weekend.

Mr. DeBoard declined to discuss the incident, saying he could not violate a confidence.

Another married woman who met Mr. Gilyard at Concord said that Mr. Gilyard parlayed flattery into a sexual relationship. "He planted things in my mind -- bad thoughts about my husband,' she said. "He'd say things like, "You know he's not paying enough attention to you.' ' Eventually, she said, she believed him, and they began seeing each other regularly.

The woman said she ended the affair after several women at Concord confessed publicly that they, too, had been seeing the pastor. "I thought when it was all out in public like that that he would have been stopped. No matter what people say about him, it's always his word against theirs.'

No proof

Martha Dixius, a social worker who taught Sunday school at Victory Baptist, said a woman in the congregation approached her in November for help. The woman, said Ms. Dixius, had "a trust level of a 7-year-old. She is very naive.' In a counseling session, Ms. Dixius said, the woman told her that Mr. Gilyard had noted her visitor's card and phoned her the next day with an offer to show her through the church. During the tour, he asked her questions a bout her personal life.

The next evening about 6 p.m., the woman told Ms. Dixius, Mr. Gilyard drove to her apartment and called her from his car phone. "She let him in her apartment because he told her he wanted to talk about some of the problems they had discussed the night before,' Ms. Dixius said. "She told me that by 6:30, she was raped.' The woman told her she was too confused and frightened to call police. The woman told Ms. Dixius that Mr. Gilyard continued to go to her apartment for six months and have sex with her. "He would - call her from the car phone and say, "I'm coming up, let me in,' and she would be too frightened to say no.' After counseling the woman for four months, Ms. Dixius referred her to another counselor. The two counselors met with the woman and Darrell DeBoard, administrator of Victory Baptist. "The word "rape' was used a lot,' Mr. DeBoard recalled, "but I understood that to be emotional rape. She was graphic with details, so it was hard not to believe' that something had happened.

Mr. DeBoard said he asked the group not to discuss the meeting until he had a chance to pray about it. He said he did not encourage the woman to talk to police because he didn't believe that anything illegal had occurred. He said he confronted Mr. Gilyard with the woman's allegation; the pastor denied it.

Mr. DeBoard said the woman did not have proof that sexual encounters had occurred. "I told her I can do very little with it with no proof,' Mr. DeBoard said. "I came here as a minister, not to be a detective and investigate.'

Pattern of denial

Darrell Gilyard's preaching career began at Concord Missionary Baptist Church in Oak Cliff in 1985, when pastor E.K. Bailey asked him to preach one Sunday. Mr. Gilyard's oratory talent brought him numerous speaking invitations from other predominantly black churches.

But another side of Mr. Gilyard began to emerge, a side that Mr. Bailey described as greedy and racist.

"He would talk about starting a mixed-race church,' Mr. Bailey recalled, "but his actions were different. He was offended by black music and anything African-American. "He was given a car, a place to live rent-free, a good salary, but he always wanted more.'

Two years after his arrival, Mr. Gilyard was fired in front of 1,500 members at Concord for having had sexual relationships with women members.

Mr. Bailey, who said he had heard sexual allegations from "around 25' of his own members, said he assumed that would be the end of Darrell Gilyard's bright evangelistic career. "I saw Darrell Gilyard as becoming the greatest black preacher in America,' Mr. Bailey said. But news of Mr. Gilyard's firing spread instantly through Baptist circles. "African-American churches across the country canceled his speaking engagements like popcorn,' said Mr. Bailey.

Mr. Bailey said officials from First Baptist attended the open service during which Mr. Gilyard was fired but later decided there was not enough evidence to further investigate Mr. Gilyard. "Paige Patterson wrote me an unkind letter over the whole ordeal,' Mr. Bailey said. "He basically told me that he would have come out to my church and solved the problem for me if I had told him first.'

Mr. Bailey says First Baptist continued to promote Mr. Gilyard throughout the predominantly white Southern Baptist churches. "You saw his star rising and rising,' said Mr. Bailey, "and you knew what kind of a person he was.'

Mr. Gilyard had little trouble gaining employment as assistant pastor for Hilltop Baptist Church in Norman, Okla. "I had heard the rumor s about him,' said the Rev. Dan Maxwell, the church's former pastor. "But Paige Patterson said he had been out there and talked to the women and there had been nothing to - substantiate the allegations.

"Darrell was really no help at all. He'd pop in and give a sermon, pop out.' Mr. Gilyard stayed less than a year, and within a week after his return to the Dallas area, allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced at the Hilltop church. Two women told church officials that Mr. Gilyard had made sexual advance s toward them, Mr. Maxwell said, and a third woman confessed to an affair with Mr. Gilyard.

Mr. Maxwell says he took his information to Dr. Patterson. Dr. Patterson spoke to the woman and said he did not believe her story. "That individual's story change d many times,' Dr. Patterson said. "That bothered me.'

In 1989, when Mr. Gilyard was an assistant at Shiloh Baptist in Garland, the allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced again. Dr. Patterson met with two women who represented friends who, they said, were involved with Mr. Gilyard. Mr. Maxwell was asked to attend, as were Mr. Gilyard and his wife and other First Baptist officials. Don Simpkins, a pastoral counselor, also attended. Mr. Bailey said he was not invited.

Mr. Simpkins said the group did not focus on details of the allegations, but delved into the women's pasts. "We wanted to know if these women making the allegations had a history of psychological problems, if they had been on medication or seeing counselors,' Mr. Simpkins said. "We wanted to know if they were divorced.' "We decided that these women weren't telling the truth. That Darrell Gilyard was basically a guy who didn't know how to act around women.'

"I have always felt bad because of it,' said Mr. Maxwell. "A number of pastors have called me and asked what happened at our church. I always tell the truth, but nothing is ever done about it. I don't know how long I can keep telling the story and not be listened to.'

Mr. Simpkins said Dr. Patterson asked him to counsel Mr. Gilyard once a week. "I was supposed to "polish the rough edges,' ' said Mr. Simpkins. Mr. Simpkins said that after a few visits with Mr. Gilyard, he suspected some "personality disorders' and wanted to test Mr. Gilyard . "He refused,' Mr. Simpkins recalled, "so I called Paige to let him know it wasn't going well, but he never returned any of my calls.' Mr. Simpkins said he counseled Mr. Gilyard eight times before he ended their relationship.

"The first I had heard that Mr. Gilyard had stopped counseling was several days ago,' Dr. Patterson said Thursday.

Mr. Simpkins said he spoke to The News after recent attempts to force Mr. Gilyard's resignation failed. "I realize now that I was wrong not to believe these women,' Mr. Simpkins said. "I believe it's time now to do the right thing.' Mr. Simpkins said he believes allegations against Mr. Gilyard that surfaced last year were covered up by Victory and First Baptist officials.

The allegations, which have come from at least four women members, were brought out in a meeting last month when an attempt to force Mr. Gilyard to resign failed.

Mr. Gilyard admitted, Dr. Patterson said, to several sexual relationships with women.

Dr. Patterson said he has withdrawn all support from Mr. Gilyard - and has asked that the pastor and his wife attend a two-week rehabilitation session. "Mr. Gilyard is no longer qualified to pastor a church,' said Dr. Patterson. He also asked Mr. Gilyard not preach or pastor a church for two years -- and then only if he can prove he has been rehabilitated. "In retrospect, Darrell should have been in counseling all along,' Dr. Patterson said.

Leaders at Victory, meanwhile, said that Mr. Gilyard may have rallied enough supporters to call for a vote for reinstatement as early as Sunday.

See also: 

"Richardson minister quits amid sex charges," Dallas Morning News, 7/12/91

"Pastor who quit in sex case speaks at new church, Dallas Morning News, 7/22/91