Preacher, sex offender tapped another child molester for a worship role at a Romeoville church rocked by upheaval
August 21, 2007
BY SUSAN HOGAN/ALBACH Religion Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org
A second convicted sex offender was invited into a worship role at a southwest suburban Southern Baptist church, where Jeff Hannah, a multiple sex offender, had been preaching with the church's blessing since being paroled from prison in 2001, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
Hannah, 42, who had sexual relations with four teens while youth minister at a Lake County church, invited his neighbor, Bryan Buckley, to lead special music at a Sept. 9 celebration service at First Baptist Church in Romeoville, according to Buckley and church officials.
"I was asked to see if I was available on that date," Buckley told the Sun-Times.
Buckley, 38, was convicted in 1997 of four counts of criminally assaulting a 14-year-old girl over several months while a youth pastor at Christ Community Church in St. Charles. Hannah, convicted in 1996, apparently met Buckley in prison, officials said.
The two former youth ministers-turned-child molesters now live on the same Romeoville street and work for the same outdoor lighting company. Buckley isn't a member of First Baptist and attended worship sporadically, members said.
Hannah and the Rev. Charles Hamby, the church's pastor, abruptly resigned last week after the Sun-Times began asking questions. Hamby said Sunday that he saw nothing wrong with putting two child molesters into worship roles.
"We're a church that believes in grace and redemption," he said.
Christa Brown, founder of StopBaptistPredators.org, said she believes that God can change hearts, but only God can know if a person has truly changed.
"Churches shouldn't take a blind eye; the risk to kids is too great," she said.
Despite warnings about Hannah's crimes, the church tapped him to fill its pulpit full time for three years and then on a part-time basis, after Hamby, a divorced pastor, was hired in February 2006. When Hamby remarried a few months later, several church members left because of strict views about divorce.
The tension over Hamby's remarriage escalated into other battles over the church's constitution and name.
Recently, Hamby led supporters to rename the church New Beginnings, which was supposed to be celebrated on Sept. 9.
But the new constitution and name change won't stand because proper procedure wasn't followed, said Dan Eddington, who heads the Three Rivers Association, a regional organization for Southern Baptist churches.
No worship was held at the church Sunday. The 20 or so remaining members will meet this week to decide whether to continue the church.
Although Southern Baptists make up the nation's largest denomination, their congregations are autonomous.
Church member Mike Allen said the months of tension had been a painful test of faith for church members.
"I hope that we'll go on," he said. "I hope that God will take all this ugliness and use it for good."
Sex offender back in pulpit, 8/20/07
No Predators in the Pulpit (Chicago Sun-Times editorial) 8/22/07
See also the 1996 article about Jeffrey Hannah's prior conviction: