The pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis said Wednesday he has no plans to resign over waiting six months to tell church members one of their long time ministers was a confessed child molester, while a Texas Baptist pastor who recently settled a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse of a minor announced he will step down at the end of the year.
Amid calls by the president of neighboring Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary and conservative radio talk-show host Michael Reagan for him to resign, Bellevue Pastor Steve Gaines told about 500 of the church’s 30,000 members Wednesday night, “I’d really like to stay and be your pastor, if it would be all right.”
At Southmont Baptist Church in Denton, Texas, meanwhile, 28-year pastor Larry Reynolds sent a letter announcing he would retire instead of fight controversy over public disclosure of a lawsuit dismissed Nov. 30 alleging molestation and rape of a teenager he counseled and took into his home in the 1980s.
On Sunday Gaines, already under fire from some long-time Bellevue members over worship and leadership styles, announced that six months ago 34-year staff member Paul Williams confessed a “moral failure” that occurred 17 years ago. An anti-Gaines Web site said the incident involved molestation of Williams’ own son.
Mid-America Seminary President Michael Spradlin told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal that Gaines was losing credibility and trust.
“If Steve Gaines found out that a child had been sexually molested by one of his ministers and if he did nothing to address it, then he needs to step down immediately,” the newspaper quoted Spradlin as saying in a Dec. 20 article.
“We cannot take chances with other people’s children,” said Spradlin. “If he [Gaines] knew about this and kept quiet, then he’s put Bellevue in a very dangerous position and possibly put children and the emotionally vulnerable at risk.”
Radio host Michael Reagan, the eldest son of President Ronald Reagan with a syndicated program heard by 5 million listeners on 200 stations, compared Bellevue to a cover-up of pedophile priests by the Roman Catholic Church.
Reagan wrote about his own sexual abuse that occurred at an after-school day camp when he was 8 in a 2004 book, Twice Adopted, published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Reagan said anyone at Bellevue who knew about the abuse and did nothing should resign, effective immediately.
“It should have been dealt with the moment he [Gaines] found out, but instead he waited six months,” Reagan said. “And he better pray that no children were touched by Pastor Williams in that last six months.”
The widow of long-time Bellevue pastor Adrian Rogers, three-time president of the Southern Baptist Convention and key figure in the “conservative resurgence,” told a Memphis television station Williams told her personally that her husband knew nothing about the abuse. Asked why she felt it important for the public to know Rogers was uninformed, Joyce Rogers said: “I think it has to do with his integrity, and this was not his manner of dealing with things like this. He would have dealt with it immediately.”
Southmont Baptist Church in Denton, Texas, held a members-only meeting Sunday and was scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to keep Larry Reynolds, who started the church in 1979, as pastor. That was after details of a lawsuit settled for an undisclosed amount of money and bound by a confidentiality agreement were made public by EthicsDaily.com and the Denton Record-Chronicle.
Reynolds said he would step down because he believed it was in the best interest of the church. “I know that some will interpret my leaving as a tacit admission of all the allegations made against me,” he said in a statement. “It is not; but I realize I cannot help what some choose to believe.”
On Nov. 19, as a condition of the settlement agreement, Reynolds read a statement to the church saying: “Twenty years ago, I made a terrible mistake. I realize now that my lapse in judgment caused one of our parishioners great harm. I confess that proper boundaries were not kept. I am publicly apologizing to Katherine Roush for hurting her. I ask God for forgiveness, you for forgiveness and Miss Roush for forgiveness.”
The Baptist General Convention of Texas, also named in the lawsuit, issued a statement saying because Baptist churches are autonomous the convention is not responsible for selecting or investigating ministers.
As a service to help churches in screening of ministers, however, the convention said, it keeps a confidential file of incidents of clergy misconduct.
“This process in no way protects perpetrators,” the statement said. “Contents of the file are not secret and information regarding those who have been convicted of sexual misconduct is published as public information via other information sources. The file established by the BGCT is just one of many resources churches can access to discover a background of sexual misconduct for a potential ministerial candidate.”
On his radio show, Reagan said while sexual abuse by Catholic clergy has attracted most of the attention, there are pedophiles in every church, and pastors “are not dealing with it.”
“It’s something that’s going on in the churches, and we’ve got to start holding our pastors accountable to this,” Reagan said. “Pastors aren’t dealing with this very well. It’s something they’re fearful of, because they’re afraid of being painted like the Catholic Church is painted. But the Catholic Church is painted by it because of the cover-up, not the molestations, per se. If they would have dealt with the molestations correctly in the beginning, they would not be facing the financial burden that they’re facing today.
“And other churches are going to find out the same thing. God forbid that in fact somebody from the [Bellevue] church stands up and says, ‘By the way, 17 years ago or 12 years ago or 15 years ago or last week my child was sexually molested by this Pastor Williams.’ Because that church, which is a 25,000 member church, is going to go bankrupt, too. And well it should.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.