An advocacy group has called on Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to suspend its president and investigate newspaper reports from 1991 that he ignored allegations of sexual misconduct by a preacher friend now accused of sending lewd text messages to minors.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests sent a letter Wednesday to seminary trustees charging that President Paige Patterson turned a blind eye 17 years ago to allegations of sexual misconduct against Darrell Gilyard, a one-time Patterson protÃ©gÃ© now accused of being a serial predator.
“Surely an institution dedicated to the development of spiritual leaders should consider the sort of spiritual leadership exemplified by its own president, who reportedly exhibited an extraordinarily blind-eyed response to clergy sex abuse,” SNAP said in its letter.
Gilyard resigned Friday as pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., following reports that police were investigating messages a mother reported finding from Gilyard on her teenage daughter’s cell phone. That resurfaced old Dallas Morning News stories about Gilyard’s forced resignation from a church in Texas years ago amid numerous allegations of extramarital affairs.
Those stories indicated that Patterson, at the time president of Criswell College in Dallas, “knew of reports that a high-profile African-American pastor had sexually assaulted and exploited female college students and church members, but that he kept quiet about it and instructed the students ‘to refrain from speaking’ about it,” SNAP said in the letter to trustees.
SNAP said the stories indicated a “profound failure of moral judgment” by Patterson in responding to allegations about Gilyard. Patterson refused “to protect students who were under his charge,” the letter to trustees alleged, and failed “to warn others at risk about a reported sexual predator.”
“More innocent and vulnerable Baptist teens and young people suffered because of Patterson’s secrecy,” SNAP-Baptist director Christa Brown said in a press release. “Those who make immoral and insensitive responses to clergy sex abuse should not be in positions of leadership for religious institutions.”
SNAP addressed the letter to Thomas White, the seminary’s vice president for communications, and Steve James, a trustee and pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Lake Charles, La., with request to circulate to all other trustees. Neither White, James nor Patterson responded to requests by EthicsDaily.com for comment in time to be included in this story.
The 1991 news stories say that Patterson, who mentored and promoted Gilyard to become the most sought-after African-American on the mostly white Southern Baptist Convention preaching circuit, eventually broke ties after Gilyard admitted committing adultery and resigned as pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Richardson, Texas.
But before that, the articles indicated, Patterson steadfastly refused to believe allegations against Gilyard.
“Articles in the Dallas Morning News indicate that multiple Criswell College students said they had reported abuse or suspicions of abuse by Pastor Darrell Gilyard to Patterson,” SNAP said in the letter to trustees. “One said Gilyard tried to rape her. According to their accounts, Patterson told students ‘to refrain from speaking’ about it. Others said Patterson would not take their calls and would not return calls. Finally, others said that when they met with Patterson they were grilled on their own past and psychological histories. According to the News, Patterson asked a counselor to work with Gilyard, but when the counselor tried to report that Gilyard had abandoned counseling, Patterson didn’t return his calls either.”
SNAP claimed Patterson’s inaction enabled Gilyard to move from church to church without warning to unsuspecting congregations and young people. Now he stands accused of sending sexually explicit text messages to two girls, ages 14 and 16.
“This often happens when a pastor’s predatory conduct goes unchecked,” SNAP said. “The hurtful and abusive conduct escalates.”
Founded in 1989 amid the Catholic pedophile priest cover-up scandal, SNAP is billed as the oldest and largest support network for victims of clergy abuse, with 8,000 members and 65 support groups across the country.
For more than a year, SNAP has been urging the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s second-largest faith group behind Catholics, to consider an independent review board to receive and investigate reports of clergy sex abuse. The SBC Executive Committee is studying a motion referred by last year’s convention to study the feasibility of a national database of clergy offenders and will report back to the convention in June.
Patterson, eighth president at the seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, is also a former SBC president. Elected in 1998 and 1999, he appointed the study committee that revised the Baptist Faith & Message in 2000.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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