Fort Worth pastor arrested on child sex charge

By DEANNA BOYD

dboyd@star-telegram.com

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

June 19, 2008

FORT WORTH — It began in February when the father overheard his 17-year-old daughter talking inappropriately over the phone.

On the other end of the line, the father said he later learned, was James "Jay" Virtue Robinson IV, pastor of Southwood Baptist Church, which the family had been attending for more than a decade.

The girl acknowledged that she had had a sexual relationship with the 31-year-old pastor.

The outraged father told the church council and several church members. But Robinson, pastor of the church since October 2006, repeatedly denied his accusations.

Eventually, saying he had learned that a relationship had started when his daughter was 16, the father went to police.

Wednesday evening, more than three months after the father overheard the phone call, Robinson surrendered at the Tarrant County Jail in response to an arrest warrant accusing him of sexual assault of a child. He was released after posting $20,000 bail.

The case has divided the church at 2633 Altamesa Blvd. Some back the pastor; other long-term members believe that the evidence supports Robinson’s removal.

Some members have left the congregation, which began in 1978 with 13 members but now counts hundreds.

Some members were forcibly escorted from the church by armed guards, accused of causing discord, according to documents obtained by the Star-Telegram.

Robinson has steadfastly denied having a relationship with the girl. Neither he nor his attorney, Cheyenne Minick, returned telephone calls Wednesday night seeking comment.

After one Sunday evening service, the pastor addressed the congregation, saying that the girl and her parents were being manipulated by former church members whom he described as "wolves in sheep’s clothing," police and church members say.

"We now have reason to believe that the preacher may actually be himself a wolf using the pulpit to prey on the sheep he’s been charged to protect," said Lt. Paul Henderson, police spokesman.

Some members of the church strongly disagree.

"Everybody is supporting the pastor," said a man who answered the phone at the church Wednesday night, where services went on as usual although led by an associate pastor. "The church does not believe the allegations."

The man, who declined to give his name but described himself as a longtime member of the church, said that despite the arrest, he believes Robinson will remain pastor of the church.

"He will be unless he’s somehow convicted," the man said. "He is our pastor."

"I think that active members of the church will support the pastor. "There are people out there making allegations every day against people who are innocent."

Pastor’s denial

The girl, now 18, was 16 when she and Robinson, then the youth minister, began to strike up more than just a friendship, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

The relationship began with kissing and escalated to sexual touching, occurring about 10 times at the church, the affidavit states.

By the time she was 17, the relationship progressed to sexual intercourse. Robinson would pick the girl up from her school and take her to his home where they would have sex, the affidavit states.

The girl’s father said that after overhearing his daughter’s telephone conversation with Robinson on Feb. 25, he confronted the pastor that day.

The next day, he and Matt Linde, a member of the church council, confronted Robinson in person.

Both times, Robinson denied having an inappropriate conversation or relationship with the girl, said the father, who is not being named to protect his daughter’s identity.

"Essentially what he said was, he just became best friends with [the girl]. He said maybe he was wrong for that, but that’s the only thing he has done wrong," said the father, who at the time was a worship leader and music director at the church.

The father reviewed his daughter’s cellphone records, discovering that she and the pastor had exchanged calls and text messages into the early hours of the morning. He took those records to the church’s council the next Sunday.

Later that evening, Linde said, he and the seven other council members listened as Robinson told his side of the story. But after two meetings that week, Linde said, the council is split on whether to ask for the pastor’s resignation.

"The co-chair said in this case, we’re going to err on the side of the pastor, so we cannot ask for his removal," Linde said.

Instead, the council voted to give Robinson a written reprimand and one year of probation, and order him to have counseling. Linde, however, voted against that.

"If they felt there was enough evidence to reprimand him according to the scripture, there’s enough evidence to remove him — to ask for his resignation," Linde said. "I was not willing to settle for a written reprimand. It did no good. It was going to sit in his file folder where nobody would see it, nobody would hold him accountable."

The father was also unhappy with the vote, so he met with a group of men at the church to tell them about his accusation and give them copies of the phone records.

When the council found out, the father said, the council decided not to issue any disciplinary action against Robinson at all.

"They called it an illegal meeting of church members," the father said. "They were threatening people after that — anyone who is caught talking to us or communicating and talking about the issue at church will be removed."

Armed guards

The council carried out that threat on March 16, according to church members and police reports.

Jon Blackburn, an ordained minister who was at the meeting with the girl’s father, was scheduled to speak that Sunday morning to a Vietnamese congregation that meets in Southwood’s gymnasium.

Blackburn is not a member of Southwood but had attended the church regularly for about a year when not speaking at other churches.

When he arrived at Southwood that Sunday, a college-age church member handed Blackburn papers stating that he was no longer permitted at the church.

When Blackburn tried to explain that he was there only to preach to the Vietnamese congregation, the father of the younger man with the papers was summoned, he said.

"He came to me with an armed security guard and asked me if I was going into the service. I again explained that I was not, that I was there to preach for the Vietnamese congregation," Blackburn said. "He goes into the main church sanctuary, obviously to speak to Jay, comes back out and says, 'Jay says you’re not permitted to speak to that church.’"

When Linde and his family arrived at the church that morning to attend Sunday school, they didn’t make it past the parking lot.

Instead, Linde reported to police, the family was met by a church member, who said, "You will not be able to go into the church." Two armed guards gave Linde a letter stating that the church council had voted him off the council and out of the church, he said. If he attempted to come onto the property, the letter stated, he would be forcibly removed.

"I felt like I was in a communist camp," Linde said. "I felt like we were being denied our abilities as Christians to be able to worship freely."

A 53-year-old Arlington woman filed a police report that she and her grandson were ushered out of morning services because of their objections to the pastor’s behavior.

And a 38-year-old Burleson woman told police that she was assaulted by a guard during a meeting after an evening service. The guard bumped into her and pushed her with his chest while trying to remove her husband from the church, she reported.

Pastor’s letter

In a letter dated March 17 and sent to church members, Robinson reiterated that the "accusation of moral failure" leveled against him is false. He wrote that he had taken a polygraph test that supported his innocence and said the results were available for review by appointment by active adult members of the church.

Police say that the polygraph test was not administered through them and that they cannot vouch for its legitimacy.

Robinson said the accusing family was being used by others "who desire to wrest the leadership of this church from the pastor and the council" and would stop at nothing.

"Those who choose to follow the lead of these by gossiping, slandering, causing division and discord, or by holding or participating in sectional meetings, will face church discipline," Robinson wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Star-Telegram.

"Anyone who attempts to disrupt any service will be removed and be subject to church discipline. It is our desire and prayer that all would repent and be restored, but until that time, those who cause discord in the Church are to be shunned according to Scripture. Anyone else who causes discord and division or gossip should be avoided."

Robinson and the seven remaining council members signed the letter, which also invited church members to Robinson’s May 17 wedding at the church. The letter was accompanied by a similarly signed church council statement stating that it was the council’s unanimous decision "that there is insufficient evidence to dismiss the Pastor or take any other action."

"Pastor Jay continues to have the Council’s complete support. It is recommended that the Church join in that support," it read.

Greg Ploetz, a council leader, declined to comment Wednesday night about the arrest. Council member Wes Basta said Wednesday night that there are no plans to remove Robinson as pastor of the church.

"We are supporting the pastor at this point," Basta said. He said he believes the allegations against Robinson are untrue.

"Unless there’s some evidence that we haven’t seen, then yes, we feel he’s innocent," Basta said.

Police involved

The same day members were being evicted from the church, the girl’s parents asked Blackburn, a trusted friend, to talk to her.

Accompanied by his wife, Blackburn questioned the girl about her relationship with Robinson, and locations and times when they had been together. Through that discussion, the family was able to deduce that the relationship went back to when the girl was underage, and Robinson was the church’s youth minister.

With the father’s permission, Blackburn discussed the new information with a friend in law enforcement, who met with the girl’s family and recommended they file a report with Fort Worth police.

On March 18, the father did so and the Crimes Against Children Unit began an investigation.

Detective T.L. Howard attempted to interview Robinson, but the pastor declined.

Through his attorney, Robinson agreed to take a polygraph, the affidavit states.

During that polygraph, given June 12, Robinson denied any sexual contact with the girl. The arrest warrant affidavit stated that afterward, when Robinson was told that the examination showed "significant deception," he asked what would happen to him if the sex was all after the girl was 17.

The pastor’s attorney called a halt to the examination, the affidavit states.

Broken church

The church’s Web site states that 450 people attend Sunday services, but Basta said he believes the number is closer to 700 or 800.

Linde said his family now worships with about 100 former Southwood members at a private facility. Several other members, he said, have moved their memberships to other churches or are waiting for the legal proceedings to play out.

"Our intention, honestly, was to go back and try to bring restoration to a broken facility," Linde said. "Spiritually, I believed the place was broken. My intention was to go back and help it heal after things played out in the legal realm."

http://www.star-telegram.com/229/story/708675.html

See also:

Ex-pastor pleads guilty to sex assault on church member, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, August 30, 2008

Accused pastor resigns, church says, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 31, 2008

FW pastor arrested after dad overhears 'sexual' call, WFAA-TV, June 19, 2008 (with video)

   
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