Former Cordova pastor pleads guilty to sex charges involving boys

By Lawrence Buser

Memphis Commercial Appeal

April 29, 2009

A former Cordova church pastor pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges he sexually abused two teenage boys, including one with whom he fostered a five-year affair.

Steven C. Haney, 48, who headed Walnut Grove Baptist Church for some 20 years, was placed on probation for eight years and will be added to the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry.

State prosecutor David Zak said the plea arrangement was approved by the victims and their families, who were spared the stress of testifying in trial.

"The defendant pleaded guilty only because he is, in fact, guilty," Zak said.

Haney still faces federal child pornography charges involving pictures of one of the boys on his computer.

In court Wednesday, he pleaded guilty to rape and sexual battery by an authority figure. He was given suspended, concurrent sentences of eight and three years by Criminal Court Judge John Colton Jr., who approved the settlement.

One case involved a male church member who testified at an earlier hearing that Haney enticed him into a sexual relationship in 2001, when he was 15, by telling him it was "God's plan" and that having sex with the pastor would enable him to do great things for God.

The teen said Haney told him having sex with him would be "a test of faith" for the teen, who added he was rewarded with paying jobs and other favors for his cooperation.

"Steve had convinced me this was for God," he said in a 2007 hearing.

Sexual encounters took place at the pastor's church office, at his home and at the home of Haney's mother, the boy said.

Although the indicted offense occurred between July and November 2003, the victim said the sexual abuse lasted for five years. Evidence in the case included conversations about the affair that the youth recorded at the direction of police.

The other offense involved Haney's inappropriate touching of another male teenager in October 2003 in a restroom at the church. That victim was also about 15 at the time, the prosecutor said.

Zak said in court that the victims have received anonymous mail criticizing them and proclaiming Haney's innocence. He called the action "unconscionable."

He said a Web site also had been established in support of Haney and declaring anonymous supporters would be watching the trial very carefully.

Defense attorney Leslie Ballin said his client had nothing to do with either the mail or the Web site.

-- Lawrence Buser: 529-2385

See also: 

(1) Former Minister Arrested on Sexual Battery Charges and Former Church Member Speaks Out about Accused Pastor, WMC-TV 5 in Memphis, 7/14/07 and 7/20/07;

(2) Alleged Victim Says Former Pastor Told Him Sex Was Test of Faith, EthicsDaily, 9/20/07;

(3) Former pastor said sex was "a test of faith," Memphis Commercial Appeal, 8/30/07;

(4) Federal grand jury indicts former pastor on child pornography charges, Commercial Appeal, 10/16/07;

(5) Former Southern Baptist pastor pleads guilty to sexual abuse, Associated Baptist Press, 4/30/09.

SNAP Note: Walnut Grove Baptist Church is listed as an SBC-affiliated church. In approximately April 2008, Walnut Grove Baptist Church changed its name to Gracepoint Baptist Church.