A Texas magazine is reporting that a former Baptist pastor accused of murdering his wife and staging it to look like she committed suicide has a long trail of allegations of sexual abuse.

A 9,500-word cover story in the March 2008 Texas Monthly includes allegations that Matt Baker, the 36-year-old former pastor of Crossroads Baptist Church near Lorena, Texas, led “a secret life as a sexual predator,” dating back to an accusation of attempted sexual assault during his sophomore year at Baylor University in 1991.

A Baylor vice president questioned Baker about the incident, according to the story, but believed the woman made the story up. Administrators typed up a report and put it in a file but took no action.

Something similar happened at First Baptist Church in Waco, where there were reports that Baker grabbed a female custodian and made suggestive comments to a teenage girl. Lacking concrete proof, the church did not fire him or report him to the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Officials at First Baptist Church in Waco said nothing about allegations against Baker when other churches later called, the retired pastor told the Texas Monthly. “All I can say is that he was very young, and I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. If those stories weren’t true, I didn’t want to be known as the man who ruined his career.”

Baker was fired in 1996 from a part-time job at a YMCA, the article said, after four female employees claimed in written statements that Baker propositioned them.

But none of that prevented Baker from enrolling in Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary or getting a job as pastor of a small church well known for grooming young preachers. At the time of his arrest he was a part-time Baptist student ministries director, a position funded by the Baptist General Convention of Texas, from which he was suspended with pay.

He also worked as chaplain for the Waco Center for Youth, a residential treatment facility for emotionally disturbed adolescents, to supplement his income as a bivocational pastor of the 75-member Crossroads Baptist Church.

Whether or not he is guilty of murder, said Christa Brown of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the story about Baker “uncovered some ugly stuff about how easily a Baptist minister can rise in the ranks despite allegations of sexual abuse and sexual assault.”

“Every step of the way, Matt Baker was in churches, schools and organizations affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas,” Brown said in her blog. “Do you think officials there feel guilt? Why didn’t they have an effective system in place for investigating and keeping track of abuse allegations against Baptist ministers in their affiliated churches?”

“A sexual predator can often become emboldened by a lack of consequences,” Brown said. “Did too many people allow this guy to get away with too much for too long?”

Kari Lynn Baker’s death on April 8,, 2006, was initially ruled suicide by sleeping pill overdose, stemming from her inability to come to terms with the death of an infant daughter from a brain tumor in 1999. Police reopened the case after Kari’s family began their own investigation alleging that Matt Baker killed his wife after falling in love with a 24-year-old single mother who attended his church.

Baker surrendered to police after a warrant for his arrest was issued Sept. 21, 2007. He bonded out of jail after a judge reduced his bail from $400,000 to $200,000 and was reunited with his two daughters, who had been staying with his parents in Kerrville since his arrest.

Baker, who began speaking out about his wife’s death late last year, denies killing her or ever having an affair. He claimed the old allegations against him were either from unstable females who were lying or from individuals who misunderstood gestures like a pastor’s hug as a sexual advance. He insisted the single mom most recently in his life was just a friend.

The Texas Monthly feature said Baker’s lawyer would make sure testimony about his alleged sexual misconduct will never be admitted in a trial, because he is charged with murder and not adultery, but the case may not even make it to trial. It still hasn’t been before a grand jury, amid reports that prosecutors worry they still don’t have enough evidence for a conviction.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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