A woman who says she resisted unwanted advances 17 years ago by a pastor now under investigation for allegedly sending lewd text messages to two underage girls believes there are other victims and has started a blog urging them to come forward.

Tiffany Thigpen Croft, a wife and mother in Jacksonville, Fla., claims Darrell Gilyard–whose resignation as pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville was announced Monday–is a sexual predator and must be stopped.

“He is a predator and he misuses his standing as a pastor,” Croft wrote in a blog titled Let’s Stop Pastor Darrell Gilyard Together.

Croft alleges that Gilyard targets and preys on women and young girls, especially those are vulnerable and seek his counsel. She said he uses the opportunity to discover their weaknesses and win their trust as pastor and then begins to come on to them.

Croft said she speaks from first-hand experience with Gilyard’s predatory behavior, when she was 18 years old and a leader in the youth group at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville. At the time married and a pastor in Texas, Gilyard traveled with the FBC Jacksonville youth group as evangelist on a mission trip.

That, Croft told EthicsDaily.com, is where she first met Gilyard. She said Gilyard later asked her to become a staff member at his Texas church as a way to get closer to her. “I trusted and looked up to him as a spiritual leader,” she said on her blog.

That was until the day she said Gilyard asked her to meet him at his hotel and tried to persuade her to come to his room. She said she refused, the incident ended with her literally running away and Gilyard was not apologetic or remorseful when later confronted.

Croft said then-First Baptist Church co-pastor Jerry Vines counseled and represented her during the ordeal. She said she trusted her pastoral staff to handle the matter and truly believed Gilyard would never preach again.

Vines, who went on to be elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, took an interest in Gilyard early in his ministry. Another eventual SBC president, Paige Patterson, helped the young preacher become the most sought-after African-American on the predominantly white Southern Baptist preaching circuit.

Patterson stopped promoting Gilyard after he resigned as pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Richardson, Texas, in 1991 and admitted to several adulterous affairs. That didn’t stop Gilyard from starting a church of his own with a remnant that followed him out of Victory, however.

Fourteen years ago Gilyard landed the pastorate of Shiloh Baptist Church, which was at the time in serious decline, and is credited with turning it around into a 9,000-member mega-church. Gilyard tendered his resignation as pastor effective immediately in a letter dated Friday, two weeks after taking a leave-of-absence with pay.

Vines, now retired as pastor of First Baptist Church, recently told the Florida Times-Union that Gilyard came to him about three or four years ago asking for forgiveness for his past, and Vines agreed to forgive him.

For 17 years, Croft said, she believed Gilyard was victimizing other women and girls, but there was nothing she could do. She got her chance, she said, after a mother told police she found an obscene text message from him on her daughter’s cell phone. Other reports said a second girl lodged a similar complaint.

“I decided it was time to rise up with them,” Croft said in the blog.

Croft told her story to a local TV station and is cooperating with police by asking other victims to speak up. “We can only stop him if we all stand up together and say, ‘It is enough,'” Croft said.

Croft told EthicsDaily.com she talked with detectives Friday and learned there may not be enough evidence to prosecute Gilyard unless more victims step up quickly.

“Will you join us in standing up for ourselves and making him stop?” Croft implored on her blog. “Please do not be intimidated. We will all stand together and support each other and in numbers, he cannot make this go away again.”

Croft said Gilyard has been forced to leave four churches over allegations of sexual misconduct. In 1991, she said, there were many stories, but not enough victims were willing to testify against him. Now she encourages brave women to come forward with information she says will help detectives establish a history and pattern of predatory behavior.

She told EthicsDaily.com she started the blog as a “safe place” for victims to tell stories without fear or intimidation.

Croft said victims can send a message to her via her personal e-mail, which she will forward to detectives, or contact the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office sex-crimes hotline directly by phone (904) 630-2168 or e-mail. Another option is to post a comment to the blog.

“All we need is your testimony,” Croft wrote. “You may even be able to remain anonymous. We just need to know how many more are afraid to tell.”

“Seventeen years have gone by for me, in which I knew he was still victimizing and there was nothing I could do,” Croft said. “Please don’t find yourself sitting back and watching it happen to someone else and live with the guilt of not stepping up with us.”

Croft said several women have accused Gilyard of rape, but some former victims might hesitate to come forward because they believe their affairs with him were “consensual.”

“It is wrong no matter what,” she advised. “He is in a leadership position, and it is time for someone to speak out and stop him.”

Croft also challenged fellow pastors to step up to the plate.

“You as pastors will have to answer to the Lord for not protecting the innocent,” she said. “He will face enough judgment from the Lord when his time comes, but what about the girls and women he damages in the process.”But Croft insisted her efforts aren’t motivated by revenge.

“I truly wish this person had gotten help and would stop his behaviors,” she blogged. “But the truth is, he has not ¦. I have hoped for the last 17 years that he had changed and repented. But, sadly, he has not. Because of this there are more victims, and probably more to come.”

“I have prayed for guidance and wisdom,” Croft said. “I truly pray he will get real help and repent. If he had already done that, I would not be doing this. But I cannot sit back and let it happen again and again.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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