Ex-pastor hopes that resurfacing of '86 conviction will "set me free"
By Electa Draper
The Denver Post
August 19 , 2008
Baptist Pastor David Slone dreamed of leading a church where people could expose and heal any sin or dark secret without fear of judgment or rejection.
But a decades-old secret Slone kept from his Lafayette congregation surfaced last month, not through his testimony, but through anonymous letters mailed to church deacons, to newspapers and to a local chamber of commerce.
In 1986, Slone had been convicted, after pleading guilty, to two counts of child molestation in Oklahoma.
He was 22 and served a year in prison.
Slone, now 45, knows in many ways it was a life sentence. Some sins are not easily forgotten or forgiven.
He resigned as senior pastor July 18.
But he believes he is transformed — changed by a few years of counseling begun in prison; his marriage in 1987 to Stacey, who knew of his criminal record; and God's grace.
Part of Slone believes his debt was paid and his record cleared, he said, and part of him was still just too ashamed and afraid to tell anyone a year ago when Mountain View Baptist Church hired him as the senior pastor.
"I was teetering on (telling them) so many times. In the back of my mind, I knew I should tell them," Slone said. "But I thought . . . can't I just be done with that?
"God gave me the opportunity, and I screwed up."
Slone has been a member of the church since about 1998, when he, Stacey and their two children moved to Colorado from Oklahoma so he could take a job in software sales.
By the time the senior pastor position opened up, Slone had been serving as a youth minister for several years. Church officials say no accusations had been made against Slone during his ministry at Mountain View. Denver Post research did not uncover a criminal record subsequent to the 1986 conviction.
In Lafayette, Slone also ministered outside Mountain View, working in the larger community and abroad.
Inspired by a short-term church mission he made to help Brazilian poor, Slone and his wife in 2003 founded MAD Ministry, for Making a Difference, a Colorado nonprofit that assists Brazilian families.
Day-to-day operations at two Brazilian community centers serving a few hundred in Sao Jose and Queimadas are handled by others, he said, while he and his wife are the stateside fundraisers. The centers, which provide families with everything from food and clothing to computers and job training, run on about $6,000 a month, he said.
The Slones said they take donors to visit the sites only once or twice each year. In April, Slone opened a community center and after-school program in Lafayette. About a dozen kids spend time there with director Toni Fries.
Fries said she still trusts Slone with her own children.
"I wish this had never come out about him," Fries said. "It's his life. It's his past. If there's another man who's tried harder to atone for the sins of his past, then I want to meet him."
Slone said he has taken the center's kids on field trips, mostly Rockies baseball and University of Colorado football games — always with other adults along.
"I wanted desperately to make up for what I'd done," Slone said when asked why he chose youth-oriented causes. "And I wanted desperately for other people to look at me and not remember those days. . . . I felt like I had gone long enough."
The Slones said they don't know the fates of their centers, here and in Brazil, in the wake of the revelations of Slone's past.
"People can forgive drug or alcohol abuse," Stacey Slone said. "They don't forgive things done to children."
On July 17, when a friend first brought Slone a copy of the unsigned letter exposing his past, Slone said he felt suicidal — again.
"I was going to commit suicide when all this happened in 1985. I thought if this is who I am, I don't deserve to live. I don't want to be here," Slone said. "I had a lot of time to think about how bad I hurt people who loved me and trusted me."
Slone has admitted he groped five boys ages 12 and under, including two from a school where he worked and three from his Baptist church in Norman, Okla., where he taught Sunday school. He was convicted of only two counts. A Cleveland County district attorney claimed but never proved there were others.
Slone said he had been abused by a family friend.
"I told God, 'If you can change me, change me,' " Slone said.
Dr. Michael Karson, who teaches forensic psychology at the University of Denver, said it is hard to know how many sex offenders reoffend because authorities know about only the ones who get caught.
However, Karson said, data analyses show "the rates are lower than people expect: 13 to 20 percent for child molesters."
Slone said he made the decision to live a normal life. And he did. Now normality is over for him, his wife and two teen children.
"It would be a whole lot easier to deal with if it were just me," Slone said.
After Slone saw the letter exposing his past, he called an emergency meeting of church members July 18. About 80 of the 100 congregants attended.
"I told them I was sorry I hadn't told them," Slone said. "I said I was resigning and somehow hoped the church would be protected and God would get the glory. God has totally transformed my life. Somebody has got to look at that and say God's pretty amazing."
The church had checked Slone's background but found no criminal record, officials said. Oklahoma established its sex-offender registry in 1989. Colorado's registry, which requires convicted sex offenders who move here from out of state to register, was established in 1991. Neither registry was retroactive.
Slone's resignation as Mountain View's pastor was his decision, said Bob Ryan, director of the Mile High Baptist Association and adviser to the Lafayette congregation.
"I believe the church members would love to say they forgive him and let it go," Ryan said.
Yet Ryan, who said he has lost sleep over the man he believes is very spiritual, apparently redeemed, does not advocate Slone's retention.
"We are sensitive to the need to protect children," Ryan said. "His resignation was appropriate. If he had disclosed his record, he probably never would have been hired."
Slone said church members have been very supportive and some even have asked him to remain their pastor.
"I don't want to do anything more to damage the church. I don't want to split the church," Slone said. "Part of me wants to rise up and lead them. Part of me wants to crawl under a rock."
Church deacon Bill Fugitt said the church will soon take steps to replace Slone.
Karson said that while data show that some child molesters, especially those who were young when they offended, can change, the damage done by a child molester who reoffends is so great there is generally care to ensure it doesn't happen.
"You can welcome these people back into the community without welcoming them back into every role in the community," Karson said.
Sandra Gragg, a church member and Slone family friend, said Slone has been a greatly admired pastor. The molestation conviction does not erase that.
"I don't know the person David was when he did that," Gragg said. "David's leadership taught us as a church to reach out to the community and to try and serve it in a way we had never tried before. He has a story he can tell now. He's learning how to stand up and tell it."
Slone said he is looking for a job.
"Maybe the truth will set me free," Slone said. "I feel like at this moment that everything I've worked for all my life is gone. Our God is a God of second chances, of restoration. Now I get to live it. Again."
Post researcher Barbara Hudson contributed to this report.
Electa Draper: 303-954-1276 or firstname.lastname@example.org
SNAP Note: Mountain View Baptist Church in Lafayette, Colorado, is shown as a church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, and David Slone is listed as a Southern Baptist pastor. (8/19/08)