The founder of a conservative “biblical discernment” ministry says Memphis pastor Steve Gaines endangered children at Bellevue Baptist Church by treating molestation allegations against a staff member as a church matter instead of reporting it as a crime and should be sued for his actions.
Gaines told church members in December he kept secret for six months a confession by longtime staff member Paul Williams to a “moral failure” 17 years ago. While Gaines did not describe the nature of the incident, a Web site critical of his leadership said it involved molestation of Williams’ own son. An assistant prosecutor said if Gaines knew about sexual child abuse and didn’t report it, he may have committed a crime.
In a letter to selected members of Bellevue Baptist Church, James Sundquist, director of Rock Salt Publishing, said the counseling firm that counseled Williams was also required to report any admission of sexual abuse and if it failed to do so could be sued. “So if it were me, I would be tracking down who is and or has been the licensed psychologist or psychotherapist that counseled Paul Williams,” he said.
Sundquist has written two books and articles criticizing Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Church” model. Criticism of Gaines includes charges that he embraces the church-growth philosophy of Warren. Sundquist views Warren as a “false teacher.” He also is a strong critic of using modern psychology and psychiatry in the church, believing their secular foundation represents a clear and present danger for Christians.
Sundquist said he believes what Williams is accused of doing is worse than acts by ousted National Association of Evangelicals head Ted Haggard.
“As reprehensible as Ted Haggard’s actions were, they were not a crime or felony,” he said. “So for Steven Gaines to call Paul Williams’ actions ‘moral failure’ and simply a ‘church matter’ is conveniently inadequate.”
“Criminal charges will not be filed against Ted Haggard and probably no ensuing civil suit,” he continued, “but they ought to be field against Williams and Gaines. I therefore appeal to you to pursue both criminal and civil prosecution of both those individuals who committed these felonies as well as those who covered it up.”
Sundquist said awards in a lawsuit would be higher if any victims have actually been molested, but church members who were only counseled by Williams could still file a civil lawsuit.
“It has become abundantly clear that Gaines will not resign his pastorship,” Sundquist said. “So it must be wrested from him. (Just blogging about it will never cause him to surrender … though it has been useful to expose him and build your base.)”
“Normally you would need some sort of majority vote to oust him,” he said. “However, in a civil lawsuit, were you to win, you don’t need a majority, just proof of malfeasance coupled with even one witness of the victim.”
With awards in similar lawsuits in the Roman Catholic Church in the millions of dollars, Sundquist said persons filing a class-action suit would have ultimate leverage for an out-of-court settlement, such as cutting off Gaines’ salary and forcing the deacons to resign.
“This is a gift from heaven,” Sundquist said. “Now this will in great part, but not totally, be contingent on Paul Williams’ son being willing to testify against his own father. However, you could still win, because Steve Gaines has already admitted to the congregation that this incident occurred and that Paul Williams remained on staff endangering the welfare of many minors and members.”
It isn’t clear how seriously critics of Gaines are taking Sundquist’s advice, but the Saving Bellevue Web site recently added two articles about whether the Bible ever permits Christians to sue one another in a court of law.
Bob Allen managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.