Columbia Road Baptist Church is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation of three hundred located in North Olmsted, Ohio. Pastored for 32 years by Alan Jenkins, Columbia Road is a typical IFB church: King James-only, staff members with advanced degrees from unaccredited colleges or diploma mills, and a website that hides their extremist views.
Columbia Road recently found itself the center of attention after its youth pastor — Brian Mitchell — was accused and convicted of four counts of sexual battery. Mitchell was sentenced to ten years in prison for his crimes. A 16-year-old female member of Columbia Road sought spiritual advice from Mitchell, only to find herself a target of his sexual advances. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports:
The girl [said] in a letter to the judge that she looked up to Mitchell, and that she sought him out to learn how to live a more spiritual life through religion.
Mitchell began sending her text messages that became more and more frequent. Someone brought it to the attention of church leaders and the texting stopped for a time.
He started up again, and the girl said the tone of the messages quickly turned from innocent and fun to serious. She said he complained about his wife and their marital problems.
She wrote that she wanted the texts to stop but felt scared to say anything because he was a powerful figure in the church and in her life.
One day, he drove to her home and told her to come out to his car. He kissed her and told her he wanted to see her again.
The next time he drove out to her home, he had sex with her in his car. Another time he had sex with her at her home while his wife was out of town, Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Kristen Karkutt said.
“I did not give him permission,” the girl wrote. “I clearly said ‘no, didn’t want to.’ I felt like he tricked me.”
Mitchell directed her to delete text message exchanges between the two and told her never to tell anyone. He picked her up during her lunch break from school. He sent her flowers for her birthday, then asked her mother at church if she knew who sent them.
Normally an outgoing teen who played sports and worked two jobs while going to school, she found herself unable to get out of bed. She struggled in school.
The girl wrote that she still has nightmares and displays what Corrigan called textbook symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“This is a perfect example of the psychological damage caused by these types of crimes,” [Cuyahoga County Judge Peter] Corrigan said.
Friedman said Mitchell acknowledges that he betrayed the girl, her family, his own family and the church.
“The whirlwind two or three months of Snapchats and texts and the secrecy involved created an adrenaline- and lust-filled situation where he felt like there could be a future,” [defense attorney Ian] Friedman said.
According to the Plain Dealer, once Columbia Road Baptist leaders were made aware of the matter, they reported it to the police. What I want to know if this:
- When did the church find out?
- How much time expired between finding out and reporting it?
- Did the church investigate the matter first, before reporting it to law enforcement?
- Did the church consult a lawyer or their insurance company before reporting it to law enforcement?
The reason for asking these questions is that IFB churches routinely try to handle allegations of sexual conduct in-house, hoping to minimize damage to their “testimonies” (reputations).
According to the victim’s mother, Columbia Road church leaders asked the victim to apologize to the sexual predator youth pastor’s wife. In fact, according to the mother, they were told they could not come back to church until they did so. For those of us who investigate, report, and/or follow the foibles of the IFB church movement, blaming victims of sexual assault is far too common. In this case, I suspect the church believes — as many members did when Jack Schaap, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana was accused of sexual assault — that a 16-year-old church girl enticed or came on to the their fine, upstanding, married, father-of-three youth pastor. Surely, Pastor Mitchell would never, ever have had sex with this girl had she not batted her eyes, showed a bit of cleavage, and led him on.
This is nothing more than what is commonly called slut-shaming. IFB churches promote the false notion that women are responsible for weak, pathetic male church members — including pastors, youth directors, deacons, bus workers and Sunday school teachers — “falling” into sin. This line of thinking is reinforced every time women are reminded that if they don’t dress or behave a certain way, their brothers in Christ will find themselves unable to resist throwing them on the church pew and savaging them while the congregation sings What a Friend We Have in Jesus.
In typical fashion the victim was blamed, and youth pastor Mitchell received dozens of letters which were given to the judge, telling him what an awesome, loving, God-fearing man he is. While I can understand Mitchell’s mother might write a letter on his behalf, it is beyond belief that church members would make any attempt to support a man who sexually assaulted a minor who had been placed in his trust. Ohio law is clear. Mitchell had a professional relationship with the victim. He was obligated to act morally and ethically, meaning that in no circumstance could he have an intimate relationship with the victim. Simply put, she was off-limits, as were every male and female with whom Mitchell had a professional relationship . This is the law. Every pastor, doctor, dentist, social worker, and psychologist knows this — Mitchell included.
According to Columbia Road’s now-disabled Facebook page:
According to Columbia Road’s senior pastor elect (2018) Bill Giallouraskis:
I was not privy to any information where church leaders asked that of the mother. There was to my understanding, a time when the wife of Brian and the mother talked together and the wife suggested that it would do a lot to heal the relationship with the young lady ’cause of course she was involved with the youth as a mentor as well, being Brian’s wife. That it would do a lot to help, that if they could make amends with each other. Perhaps the mother misunderstood that to be more than it was.
When asked if Mitchell’s wife felt betrayed by the victim, Giallouraskis said, “I can tell you we were all very surprised. We were all very grieved, we all felt very betrayed.”
Giallouraskis also said:
We have a pretty rigorous process that we put all of our workers through especially any of our workers who are going to work with children or youth. We run background checks, we also have an interview process that we go through that asks some pretty poignant questions about whether there are issues going on in the lives of the people” like sexual immorality or pornography.
I guess the difficulty with Brian was that there have been no prior incident that would have ever come up on a background report. He has a very good recommendation from the previous church that he worked at…He married into a family that has been in our church for four generations. There was just no red flag that came up in our process.
Surely Giallouraskis is aware that criminal background checks only show if someone has been convicted of a crime. Just because Mitchell was well thought of and came from a “good” family doesn’t mean he has not, in the past, preyed on, vulnerable teen girls. As his criminal conviction shows, he has at least preyed on one church teenager. Was he a predator virgin? Time will tell. Virtually every day there are news reports about Evangelical pastors being accused/charged/convicted of sex crimes. I could spend the next hour detailing stories about IFB preachers who were convicted of sex crimes or were caught committing adultery. Giallouraskis ignorantly thinks that by asking prospective employees and volunteers if they are committing fornication/adultery or watching porn that they have done their due diligence. In what setting would a prospective pastor/volunteer ever say, Yo, I like having sex with teenagers and I love watching porn. Never!
For those of us who have spent much of our lives wading in the cesspool called the IFB church movement, the youth pastor’s sexual assault of a church girl and the mother’s claim that the church asked for an apology sound all too familiar. Circling the wagons, protecting the clergy, and blaming the victims have, sadly, become standard operating procedure. In classic IFB-fashion, Columbia Road Baptist Church, instead of making a full disclosure, disabled their social media accounts and posted the following on their website: