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Examples of Institutional Conduct

Do these constitute examples of collusion with clergy sex abuse by Baptist churches and organizations?

Baptist General Convention of Texas: Keeps a confidential file of ministers reported by churches for sexual abuse, “including child molestation” and for whom there is an admission, “substantial evidence,” or a “confirmed” report from the church. The assessment of “substantial evidence” was reviewed by the BGCT’s own attorneys. But even in these rare circumstances -- i.e., when a church itself reports a minister and when the BGCT determined there was substantial evidence -- the minister’s name simply sits in a file and people in the pews are not warned.

Baylor University (the largest Baptist school in the world): Took no action when a student reported sexual assault by ministerial student Matt Baker. Reportedly, university officials asked the student not to contact police. They typed up a report and put it in a file. Despite that assault report in their own file cabinet, and despite the fact that Baker had already been twice reported for sexual abuse at First Baptist of Waco (ironically, the church at which every Baylor president has held membership), Baylor admitted Baker into its Truett Seminary, thereby helping to further advance his career. So, Baker was able to continue church-hopping through Baptistland while also leading “a secret life as a sexual predator.” The only thing that finally stopped his ministerial career was a murder conviction.

Bellevue Baptist Church (Memphis, TN): This flagship magachurch retains as its senior pastor a man who knowingly kept quiet about a staff minister who admitted to sexual abuse of a kid. Thereby, it sends the unmistakeable message that a clergy sex abuse cover-up is no big deal. At least 10 other church leaders and staff also knew about the child molesting minister, but they followed the example of their morally-blind pastor and kept quiet. Some tried to justify their silence by saying it was all “under the blood.”

Bolivar Baptist Church (Denton County, TX): Retains as its pastor a man whose "best" defense against a clergy molestation allegation was to say, "I didn't have sex with her when she was 16 or younger." The woman says he abused her starting when she was 14. But even if people believe the pastor as to the girl's age, is that the sort of man who should stand in a Baptist pulpit in a position of spiritual trust? The woman also has a paternity judgment against the pastor for the child she gave birth to at age 18. She had to get a paternity judgment in order to even get the pastor to financially support the kid that he fathered.

Branchville Baptist Church (Summerville, South Carolina): Hired a pastor who had a prior conviction for criminal sexual conduct with a minor.

Calvary Baptist Church (Greenwood, IN): After the pastor of a Southern Baptist church in a nearby town was charged with child sex abuse, the pastor, ministers, and deacons of Calvary Baptist (12 of them) invited the pastor to worship at their church “anonymously.” And even after he pled guilty, he was still allowed to mix anonymously among the Calvary Baptist congregants. In what appeared as an effort to influence the judge to impose a lesser sentence, Calvary’s leaders also wrote a letter to the judge, expressing support for the preacher-predator.

Central Baptist Church (Southington, CT; this is a Baptist church but not Southern Baptist): After one of their ministers admitted to “kissing and fondling” a church girl, the senior pastor allowed the minister to read a letter of resignation to about 200 church members. He “admitted having a relationship with a young female church member” and he “apologized and asked for forgiveness.” Though at least 200 people then knew about the minister’s sexual abuse of a girl, the church simply allowed the minister to move on. Meanwhile,  the girl was ostracized and “accused of lying.” Reportedly, one family even left the church “because SHE was not reprimanded enough.”

Eastside Baptist Church (Henderson, TX): Lawsuit alleged that church leaders knew about pastor’s “improper behavior” but did nothing. The pastor was allowed to move on, was eventually convicted of child molestation, and admitted to molesting dozens of young boys.

First Baptist Church at the Mall (Lakeland, FL): Allowed Marshall Seymour to work as a volunteer youth minister despite multiple reports of “inappropriate situations” at his prior Mississippi church, despite an arrest in Alabama on charges of sexual abuse and sodomy which was plea-bargained to an assault conviction, and despite an ongoing civil lawsuit against his prior Alabama church, alleging molestation of a 9-year-old.

First Baptist Church of Atlanta (Georgia): Hired a children’s minister who was known (by another minister) to have abused a church kid in Dallas, Texas. Did FBC-Atlanta not bother to check with the man’s prior church or did the prior church not tell? When SNAP members tried to leaflet FBC-Atlanta to inform parents about the church’s prior children’s minister, church leaders ran them off the premises and even tried to bully them off a public sidewalk.

First Baptist Church of Benton (Arkansas): Retains as its pastor a man who kept quiet about reports of a staff minister’s sexual abuse of boys, and who even kept quiet after the minister provided him with 12 names of boys with whom he had “inappropriate contact.” Eventually, when a case could be criminally prosecuted, it came to light that the minister had sexually victimized scores of church boys over a period of 20 years. The sheriff, 3 circuit judges, a prosecutor, and many community leaders are members of this prominent church.

First Baptist Church of Columbia (South Carolina): Ordained a deacon into a position of trust and allowed him to work with youth even though the man had a prior child molestation conviction in Maine. Then, when multiple complaints and allegations arose against him at FBC-Columbia, “it was a ‘hey, no big deal’.” Church leaders still did not remove the man from his position of trust until after he was finally arrested, at least four years after the initial allegations at FBC-Columbia. The church was “protecting the institution at all costs.”

“For many years, churches seemed to say to offenders, ‘We won't say anything if you won't say anything, and you go on down the road.’ Consequently, churches 'ended up passing perpetrators to other churches'.” Sonny Spurger, Baptist General Convention of Texas.

First Baptist Church of Farmers Branch (Dallas, Texas): Threatened to sue a clergy molestation survivor who reported the church’s prior youth and education minister, even though the church’s music minister had known about the abuse for many years and had already made statements acknowledging it. To this day, the church chooses to retain the keep-it-quiet music minister (who allowed the molester to move on to work with children in other churches). It also chooses to retain the pastor who led the church in its hostile response of threatening suit against the molestation victim and who himself had been reported for sexual abuse of an adult congregant. The church chose to view the pastor’s conduct toward the adult congregant as mere “misconduct” rather than abuse.

First Baptist Church of Hesperia (Hesperia, CA): Retains Wayne Stockstill as its pastor despite his keep-it-quiet response to a report of child molestation by a deacon in his church. Stockstill’s justification was that he “erred on the side of grace.”

“Experts warn the lack of such a hierarchy in Baptist life… makes Baptist churches unwitting accomplices to predator pastors who are recycled from one unsuspecting congregation to another.” 

-- Greg Warner, Associated Baptist Press

First Baptist Church of Oviedo (the Orlando area, Florida): Hired a children’s minister who was known (by another minister) to have abused a kid in one of his prior Texas churches. Is this an example of “don’t ask—don’t tell” Baptist-style? Did FBC-Oviedo not bother to check with the man’s prior church, or did the prior church not tell?

First Baptist Church of Romeoville (Chicago, Illinois): “Knowingly placed convicted sex offender in pulpit.”

First Baptist Church of Tyler (Texas): Hired a children’s minister who was known (by another minister) to have sexually abused a church kid in Dallas, Texas. Did FBC-Tyler not bother to check with the man’s prior church or did the prior church not tell? Did church officials tell people in the pews at FBC-Tyler about their children’s minister?

“You wonder if those of us in a position to stop people like this from advancing in the SBC, but don’t do anything … if we become accomplices…” 

--  Pastor Wade Burleson, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Enid, OK

First Baptist Church of Waco (Texas): Church officials, including the former pastor and recreation minister, received 2 separate reports of sexual abuse involving Matt Baker, but they simply allowed Matt Baker to move on and “said nothing when other churches later called, interested in hiring Matt.” The pastor explained that he “didn’t want to be known as the man who ruined his career.” (Texas Monthly referred only to “the pastor;” however the church’s history indicates that the pastor during that time period was Scott Walker.) Matt Baker was later convicted of murder, and during the trial, prosecutors said they had evidence of at least 13 others, including 4 minors, whom Matt Baker was reported to have sexually assaulted and abused during his career as a Baptist preacher in Texas. His career got its start at this church: "Why didn't Baptists bust him?"

First Baptist Church of Winnie (Texas): Hired music minister with a sex crimes conviction arising from lewd conduct in his prior church.

Florida Baptist Convention: According to a civil lawsuit, the Florida convention recruited pastor Doug Myers as a “church planter” despite reports that he left a Maryland church “amid issues with three teenage boys” and despite allegations of “unacceptable” behavior with boys at his prior Alabama church. Myers was eventually criminally convicted on molestation of a boy in Florida. The Florida Baptist Convention also invited pastor Tom Messer to be a featured speaker at the 2009 pastors’ conference, despite the many news reports of his participation in a huge, long-lasting cover-up of the prior pastor’s child sex crimes.

Gracepoint Baptist Church (Memphis, TN)(formerly Walnut Grove Baptist Church): Kept Steven Haney as its pastor even after it was reported that he had sexually abused a teen boy in the church. Years later, Haney was convicted on sexual abuse of 2 more teen boys (and no telling how many more were abused in the interim). While the trial was pending, victims received mail from Haney’s supporters -- mail that the prosecutor described as “unconscionable.” In the end, rather than learning any lesson from their failure or expressing any remorse, the church decided to put it in the past fast by changing its name to Gracepoint Baptist (and thereby also maneuvering to lessen the likelihood of legal recourse by any other victims of Haney).

Great Hills Baptist Church (Austin, TX): Even as Austin police were asking that any other young victims of the church’s arrested minister be helped in coming forward, the church held a rally in support of the minister. That minister was eventually convicted on 9 counts of child sex abuse, and a few years later, the church had a second minister convicted on child sex crimes. Is it any wonder that the church attracted a second predator, given what strong public support it showed for a prior predator?

Heritage Fellowship (Gainesville, GA)(formerly Emmanuel Baptist Church): Hired a youth minister after a prior criminal charge of child molestation (on which he was acquitted), and after the minister molested more boys on which he was convicted, the church simply changed its name.

Hope Baptist Church (Starke, FL): Lawsuit alleged that the church knew about a pastor’s abuse of a 15-year-old church girl but “didn’t take action.”

Illinois State Baptist Association: Terminated the employment of a Baptist newspaper editor because he dared to report on the arrest of a prominent Southern Baptist pastor on child sex charges. Glenn Akins, executive director of the Illinois association, justified the firing by saying it was “God’s will.” Meanwhile, the pastor pled guilty to felony sexual assault on a teen girl.

Paramount Baptist Church (Amarillo, TX): Lawsuit alleged that “numerous parents, teachers and others had complained to church leaders” that a Sunday School teacher  “had engaged in inappropriate sexual touching of children on the church premises.” But according to the lawsuit, parents who complained were asked to leave the church, and the teacher continued working with kids. More kids were molested, and the teacher was eventually convicted.  

Southmont Baptist Church (Denton, TX): Gathered a $50,000 love offering for their former pastor, who resigned after news was made public that he had paid “hush money” to settle a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse of a 14-year-old church girl. The pastor made an apology at a church banquet and confessed “that proper boundaries were not kept."

Trinity Baptist Church (Concord, NH): Under the leadership of former pastor Chuck Phelps, the entire congregation of about 400 members sat and listened to a 15-year-old girl apologize for being an unwed pregnant teen. The alleged father was a church deacon, but reportedly, he was allowed to simply apologize for being unfaithful to his wife. The girl was then whisked off to Colorado even as New Hampshire police were seeking to investigate. (rev. 7/10)

Trinity Baptist Church (Jacksonville, FL): A TV station in Jacksonville, Florida, reported that Trinity leaders “knew for years their former pastor was a pedophile, but covered it up for fear public knowledge would harm the church’s ministry, shipping the minister to Germany where he served 10 years as a missionary, possibly with access to other children.” Trinity continues to retain as its senior pastor the man who, according to news reports and a “smoking-gun” tape-recording was at the helm of that reported cover-up. Accusers said “it was well known” by other church officials as well, and that they knew for decades.

Victory Baptist Church (Andalusia, AL): Allowed pastor Ralph Lee Aaron to move on to another church after a complaint about inappropriate conduct with a kid. So, they got the guy off their own turf, but what did they do to warn others? A few years later, Aaron was charged on numerous counts of sexual abuse and sexual torture of 8 to 12 year-old boys.

“Collusion is usually far more devastating to victims than the primary abuse.”  -- Dee Miller

Wayside Baptist Church (Miami, Florida): Church members chartered a bus to go to the jail to show support for their youth minister before his sentencing on sex crimes against numerous teen church boys. Apparently they had no problem forgiving the molesting minister  --  “after all, he had repented.” The boy who brought the minister’s serial sex abuse to light said what was nearly as damaging as the abuse was the fact that even after the abuse was exposed and admitted, the church made more of an effort to forgive and support the abuser than to heal the abused.

Westside Victory Baptist Church (Fort Worth, TX): Their pastor was convicted of sexually abusing five boys, and 13 of the 25 charges were for aggravated sexual assault. “Besides being abused… Neathery’s victims were ostracized by members of Westside Victory Baptist Church where... the abuse occurred.”

Click here for examples of individual conduct that may constitute collusion.

"The motivation of those in power...was to protect an further secure the power of individual men....
No reputation, and no power, that is built on lies and on
the cover-up of serious crimes, is worth protecting."

- Prof. Marci Hamilton


Published April 2010