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Tag: Southern Baptist Sex Abuse Scandal

Dear Southern Baptist Pastors, Please Stop Saying “We Didn’t Know”

see hear speak

We now know that Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leaders hid, covered up, and ignored hundreds and hundreds of cases of sexual misconduct by SBC pastors, worship leaders, teachers, evangelists, youth leaders, missionaries, deacons, and college professors. The published list of the offenders is but the tip of the iceberg. It is likely that thousands of allegations of sexual assault, sexual abuse, rape, and other sex crimes were not investigated or taken seriously. Add to this number stories about preachers who used their position of authority and power to take sexual advantage of (primarily) women or were garden variety adulterers and fornicators, and it’s hard not to conclude that the SBC is many things, but it is definitely not Christian. We are not talking about a few bad apples here.

Several years ago, my wife and I, along with our children and grandchildren picked four thirty-gallon trash cans of apples from our trees. Due to Polly having serious bowel problems that resulted in her having major surgery and spending several weeks in the hospital, one of the cans of apples remained unprocessed. The apples sat in the can for weeks, and as they rotted, we could smell their sweet, alcohol-like aroma in the kitchen as the fall air wafted through the windows. Eventually, I dumped the apples on our compost pile. I view the current state of the SBC much like I do that rotting garbage can of apples. Sure, there were some unrotted apples in the can, but the decaying apples around the “good” apples made them unusable. I have no doubt that many SBC pastors are good men with character and high moral standards. However, in the midst of these good men are violent predators who used their positions of authority to prey on vulnerable children, teenagers, and women (and yes, boys and men too).

It is these “good” preachers I want to address. It has been fashionable of late for “good” Southern Baptist preachers to express outrage over the current sexual abuse scandal, often saying WE DIDN’T KNOW! It is to these preachers I say BULLSHIT! Don’t tell me you didn’t know. I know better. I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. I knew a number of Baptist pastors, missionaries, and evangelists. I attended numerous pastor’s fellowships and conferences where preachers would get together for preaching, food, and fellowship. And what else did we do? We talked about rumors. We were the gossips we preached about on Sundays. I heard countless stories about preachers committing crimes, having affairs, and all sorts of immoral behavior. We knew, yet, for the most part, we did nothing.

While I did my best to deal with such misconduct within the churches I pastored (and deplatforming preachers I heard rumors about), when it came to these things happening in other churches, I did what many SBC pastors do now, I said “that’s a local church problem.” I hid behind my ecclesiology, saying that it was up to an offending pastor’s church to deal with his misconduct. When such things happened in the churches I pastored, I didn’t hesitate to call law enforcement or child protective services. Sadly, when I heard about similar behavior by preachers, deacons, and leaders in other churches, I took a “not my church, not my problem” approach. Oh, I might distance myself from an offending preacher, but I never went the extra mile by reporting these so-called men of God to the authorities or passing on what I had heard to their churches. I was taught at Bible college that a preacher should never meddle in another church’s problems. While that is generally good advice, when it comes to knowing that a preacher is engaging in criminal or harmful behavior, it is always right to say something. Of course, doing so could cause all sorts of problems and loss of friendships. Sadly, some churches don’t want to know if their pastor is engaging in immoral and unethical behavior. In their minds, protecting the church’s “testimony” is more important than rooting out predatory preachers.

So, to the SBC preachers saying “we didn’t know,” I say, yes you did. You heard the rumors; you heard the gossip; you saw and heard things that troubled you; you had suspicions. You had enough knowledge that you should have demanded the SBC executive committee do something. You knew enough to demand that your state convention or area missionary get rid of the rotting apples in your midst. While you can’t do much about the past, you can, going forward, stand with and protect victims. You can, and you must, demand that predators be removed from their churches, local church autonomy be damned. When asked to choose between theological beliefs and vulnerable people, you must choose the latter.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Black Collar Crime: Southern Baptist Leader Joe Knott Terrified Over What Will Happen if Convention Tries to Stop Sexual Abuse in Their Churches

joe knotts

Southern Baptist executive member Joe Knotts recently stated:

I am terrified that we are breaching our long-standing position of being a voluntary association of independent churches, when we start telling churches that they should do this or do that to protect children or women.

I guarantee you women and children are going to be victimized no matter how much — and that is going to make us potentially targets of great class-action lawsuits, which could be the end of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Roy’s Report, June 2, 2022

I am speechless. Until the Joe Knotts of the world are run out of the Southern Baptist Convention, no real and lasting change will take place. He is part of the problem, not the solution. For Knotts and others like him, ecclesiology is more important than protecting children and women (and men too) from sexual predators who freely roam the halls of Southern Baptist churches. Why, if the SBC does anything to protect children and women from abuse, it could open the Convention to lawsuits. Your point, Joe? The executive committee, along with countless churches, pastors, and other leaders should be held accountable for the abuse that has happened on their watch. That’s the price that must be paid for decades of concealment and inaction.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

UPDATED: Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Trent Holbert Charged with Sex Crimes

pastor trent holbert

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Trent Holbert, pastor of The Ridge Church (its website is currently down) in Black Mountain, North Carolina, was charged last week with one count of indecent liberties with a child and two counts of statutory sex offense. The Ridge Church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Kentucky today reports:

Trent Holbert, 41, former pastor of The Ridge Church, was arrested last month and has been charged with one count of indecent liberties with a child and two counts of statutory sex offense, the Biblical Recorder reported. He was previously the pastor of Epoch Fellowship Church in Owenton, Ky., as late as 2017.

….

Both The Ridge Church and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina have released statements condemning Holbert’s alleged actions.

“Trent Holbert has resigned from his position as the head pastor of the Ridge Church,” said a statement released Friday from church elder Drew Wheeler. “Our hearts and prayers go out to the family of our former head pastor and the families of all of those involved. The care and protection of children and minors is a biblical and moral mandate that is taken seriously by the Ridge Church. We do not condone such actions as the alleged, and our prayers are with the victims of any such abuse.”

The North Carolina convention’s statement, released Thursday, said leaders were “deeply grieved” by the charges.

“As a pastor, Trent has been a speaker at convention-related events for adults in the recent past,” the statement said. “He underwent background and reference checks prior to his participation in those events. We are not aware that he had any contact or dealings with minors as part of those events. The care and protection of children and minors is both a biblical and moral mandate that we take very seriously. We are praying for everyone who has been impacted by these alleged heinous crimes. N.C. Baptists are offering support to the local association and the church as they face these challenging times, as well. We stand with any and all victims of abuse and are committed to cooperating with authorities during their investigation. We encourage you to contact the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office if you have any relevant information.”

According to WLOS news, on May 18, detectives with the Special Victims Unit of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant at Holbert’s residence. During the execution of the warrant, Holbert was arrested and charged with contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile, and electronic devices were seized from the home.

Oh, the Southern Baptists are “deeply grieved” by Holbert’s alleged criminal behavior. Yet, these same Southern Baptists refused to seriously address clergy sexual abuse at their latest national convention. Further, Southern Baptists refuse to establish a database of church leaders who have been accused of sex crimes. What Southern Baptists should be deeply grieved over is their immoral inaction on clergy sexual abuse.

Holbert’s church bio page (which has been scrubbed from the church’s website) states:

Pastor Trent is a gifted communicator and a relational junkie. He loves people and gets his fix from being a positive part of their lives. His ministry mindset is holistic. He believes that God’s plan and design for humans doesn’t stop at spiritual needs. He holds a degree in theology, but as a certified personal trainer and holistic health coach, Trent teaches us how to know our Creator better through optimal physical, emotional, and spiritual health. You can hear him weekly on the Fit For the Kingdom Podcast.

If convicted, Hobert’s bio can be updated to say “gifted communicator, relational junkie, and child molester.”

Black Mountain News article on Holbert starting The Ridge Church.

In October 2021, ABC-13 reported:

Newly returned warrants allege Trent Holbert groomed the teen by first befriending her parents who joined The Ridge Church.

Investigators said, because the parents had limited means, Holbert offered their daughter a bedroom in his home and began buying her undergarments as the two started a relationship.

Warrants also allege Holbert asked the teen’s parents to sign a parental waiver so that he would be able to take care of her in case they died. Investigators said Holbert called DSS on the teen’s parents as well, accusing them of neglect. Warrants show a DSS worker found this claim to be unsubstantial.

On May 18, 2021, detectives with the Special Victims Unit of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant at a residence on Tucker Road in Black Mountain. During the execution of the search warrant, Holbert was arrested. He resigned from the church in June.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Dear Pastor Greg Davidson, You Might Want to Ask Outsiders What They Think About the Southern Baptist Convention

southern baptist child abuse
Cartoon by Clay Jones. Please check out his awesome work at Claytoonz.

Greg Davidson, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Vacaville, California, has a sheltered, out-of-touch view of his beloved Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

Writing for SBC Voices, Davidson stated:

I love Southern Baptists. They are some of the most compassionate, forgiving, and understanding people on the face of the earth. I love the fact that there are so many that hate injustice. I like others have felt the cruel tentacles of injustice.

….

I believe it is encouraging that an overwhelming number of messengers stood against discrimination and abuse in our convention.

What does that mean going forward?

We need to unite around the fact, that whether we are supporters of Randy Adams, Al Mohler, Ed Litton, or Mike Stone, the overwhelming number of us agree on the major issues expressed by a total disdain for abuse, discrimination, and injustice as the Bible demands.

We also need to realize that we all can bring different significant contributions to this conversation that will help us to develop better solutions.

The overwhelming number of us agreed that we do not want fine, godly, and good people to be divided by godless worldly philosophies that are designed to divide us, but to be united instead around the truth of the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Word of God.

To realize that since the convention overwhelmingly voted for the truth to be discovered concerning the Executive Committee’s actions on abuse, it can logically be concluded that all sides want the truth to be known. Yet knowing that the vote for president was separated by less than 600 votes, there is clearly a difference of opinion about what the truth is. For the sake of unity let us not jump to conclusions and let the process work.

This is a moment when the best that is within can emerge, and we as Christian statesmen can rise above the bickering partisanship, and instead be used of God to heal the wounds and fractures in our convention with kindness, grace, and understanding. God bless us as we experience, by His grace, our finest hour as the people of God known as Southern Baptists.

Speaking of Southern Baptists as a whole, Davidson glowingly and effusively says:

They are some of the most compassionate, forgiving, and understanding people on the face of the earth. I love the fact that there are so many that hate injustice. I like others have felt the cruel tentacles of injustice.

While Davidson may sincerely believe this (I don’t personally know him), to those of us outside of the SBC, Southern Baptists are anything but “compassionate, forgiving, and understanding people [who] hate injustice.” Take the latest national convention, a time when Southern Baptists get together to argue, pass resolutions, and pretend that their denomination is not in numerical and moral free fall. What did we learn from the latest convention?

  • Southern Baptist love talking about sexual abuse, but don’t plan on doing anything meaningful to put an end to predators roaming the halls, sanctuaries, restrooms, and offices of their churches. Resolutions accomplish nothing. How about a national searchable database of pastors and other church leaders accused/convicted of sex crimes? How about excommunicating churches that hire or continue to employ pastors who have been accused/convicted of sex crimes? How about requiring annual comprehensive background checks on all pastors, church workers, and anyone who will come in contact with children? How about firing the executive board members who have protected criminals and covered up sex crimes? Nope, nope, nope on all of these things, yet we are expected to believe that Southern Baptists are really, really, really serious about sexual abuse THIS time.
  • Southern Baptists made it clear that they are opposed to teaching critical race theory (CRT). In doing so, it is hard to not conclude that Southern Baptists remain true to their racist roots.
  • Women will continue to be treated as second-class citizens.

Let me share with Pastor Davidson how Southern Baptists are viewed by outsiders:

  • Southern Baptists are anti-science
  • Southern Baptists are anti-abortion
  • Southern Baptists are anti-LGBTQ, anti-same-sex marriage
  • Southern Baptists are exclusivists, believing their sect’s doctrinal beliefs are the faith once delivered to the saints
  • Southern Baptists are culture warriors
  • Southern Baptists overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump, a godless, immoral man who caused great harm to our country
  • Southern Baptists hate atheists, humanists, and secularists (and Muslims, Catholics, Buddhists, and LGBTQ people)
  • Southern Baptists promote social policies that impede progress
  • Southern Baptists pine for the 1950s, the golden era of American life (gays were closeted, women stayed in the kitchen, and blacks knew their place)
  • Southern Baptists view their unbelieving neighbors strictly as targets for evangelization

Evangelicalism, of which the Southern Baptist Convention is a part, is the most hated sect in America. I have deliberately painted with a broad brush in this post. I know (so you don’t need to tell me) that what I write above doesn’t apply to all Southern Baptists everywhere. That said, the picture I painted accurately portrays how Outsiders view Southern Baptists (and Baptists in general). If Southern Baptists want to change how outsiders view them, they must change their beliefs and practices — and that ain’t going to happen. Fundamentalists control the denomination. It’s improbable that the Baptist Faith and Message will be revised, nor is there a chance in Heaven that conservatives will willingly relinquish their stranglehold on SBC boards, colleges, and institutions.

Davidson presents himself as a voice of reason, but he gives away his hand when he says:

The overwhelming number of us agreed that we do not want fine, godly, and good people to be divided by godless worldly philosophies that are designed to divide us, but to be united instead around the truth of the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Word of God.

Am I the only one who smells a Fundamentalist? Godless worldly philosophies? United around the truth of the inerrancy of the Bible? Davidson sounds like a Fundamentalist culture warrior. What next? Telling us that the earth is 6,023 years old? Believing that Bible is in any way “inerrant” ( an indefensible, irrational belief) allows Southern Baptists to continue to live in the dark ages. For all I know, Davidson may be a great guy, but his view of the SBC is out of touch with how things really are.

I am sure SBC faithful will view me as an ill-informed atheist. But marginalizing and dismissing people who are critical of the denomination only further serves to hasten their demise. Unless Southern Baptists recognize how out of touch they are with our culture and make the necessary course corrections, numerical and financial decline is sure to continue. While the SBC says it has 14 million members, over half of those card-carrying Southern Baptists are nowhere to be found on Sunday mornings. Baptismals are empty, used to store Christmas decorations. Older members are dying off and younger adults are fleeing in droves. These are facts, and thirty years from now, Fundamentalists will still be passing resolutions at the national convention, wondering what happened to their denomination. It’s too bad I won’t be around to tell Southern Baptists I told you so.

For the record: I attended several Southern Baptist churches as a child. I pastored a Southern Baptist church in Michigan, candidated at several Southern Baptist churches in West Virginia, and visited with my family a goodly number of Southern Baptist churches in Ohio, Michigan, Arizona, and California. Since deconverting in 2008, I have interacted with scores of ex-Southern Baptists (including pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and youth directors).

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Dear “Concerned” Evangelicals Who Are Alarmed by Christian Nationalism

christian nationalism

It seems that some Evangelical sects, pastors, and parachurch leaders are now aware of the fact that Evangelical churches are pastored by and filled with members holding racist, nationalist, white supremacist beliefs. Recent weeks have brought countless articles detailing Evangelicalism’s white supremacist and Christian nationalism problem. Shocker, right? While I appreciate high-profile exposure of these problems, I do chuckle a bit when Evangelical and secular authors alike express outrage over something they have just become aware of, acting like a pig who just found a truffle. They seem clueless of the fact that the alarming problems they see in Evangelicalism are not new, that racism, Christian nationalism, and white supremacist beliefs have been core Evangelical dogma for decades. I saw similar behavior when these same people expressed alarm and outrage over sexual abuse and coverup in Evangelical churches and colleges. I wanted to ask, “where the hell have you been?” This stuff has been going on in Evangelical and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches my entire life. And for new readers who may not know my age, I am sixty-three years old. I have been around Jesus hanging on the cross a time or two.

On the same day I read several news stories about Evangelicals and their affinity for Christian nationalism, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) expelled two congregations for “affirming homosexual behavior” and two other churches for employing convicted sex offenders. Homophobia and pedophiles pastoring SBC churches? Who woulda thunk? The SBC is dying on the vine, a result ot its continued move to the right theologically, politically, and socially. Racism, misogyny, white supremacism, and Christian nationalism are common among Southern Baptists — the largest Evangelical sect in the United States. The same can be said of IFB churches and thousands and thousands of Evangelical congregations.

Long before I left the ministry, I was speaking out about these issues. By 2000, I made it clear to the people I pastored that politics had no place in the church. We were no longer going to be culture war warriors. Instead, we would focus on loving God and loving others, trying to present to the world a Christianity worth having. After I left the ministry in 2005, I continued to focus on the rot within Evangelicalism and continue to do so today.

Well-meaning Evangelicals think that they can “fix” Evangelicalism; if they work to root out bad actors that Jesus will once again bless Evangelical churches, people will get saved, and congregations will start growing again. This, however, is wishful thinking. The problems facing Evangelicalism are systemic. Unless Evangelicals are willing to rewrite the Bible or jettison many of their beliefs, I can’t imagine they will ever return to the glory days of the 1960s-1980s.

Evangelicals are one of the most hated religions in America for good reason. Thanks to the Internet and sites such as this one, Americans now know what goes on behind closed church doors. Evangelical churches and pastors can no longer hide their abhorrent beliefs and practices. The facade has been ripped away, exposing structural racism, misogyny, and homophobia — to name a few. I have published 800+ stories about Evangelical clergy sexual misconduct (and other criminal behavior) in the Black Collar Crime series. Former insiders are now telling their stories, revealing where the proverbial dead bodies are buried. From blogs to podcasts to social media, Evangelicalism is being assaulted on all sides. Their response? Whining, complaining, doubling down, and attacking their critics; anything but making systematic changes to their beliefs and practices.

I get it, Evangelicals believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God. They also tend to believe the Bible is a timeless text meant to be read and interpreted literally. To make systemic changes would mean abandoning these beliefs and admitting fallibility. Imagine Evangelicals ever admitting that the Bible is wrong, that its teachings cause psychological and physical harm, that the Bible — a man-made book — is in desperate need of an update. This is not going to happen, of course. Evangelicals, as they like to say, shall not be moved.

Video Link

As alarmed reporters and Evangelical leaders belatedly see the light, I hope they will take a hard look at core Evangelical beliefs and practices. I hope they will come to see that Evangelicalism is rotting from within and is in the advanced stages of decomposition. I hope they will see that the Christian nationalism they just stumbled upon was there all the time, that the events of January 6, 2021, were just the culmination of beliefs put into place by men such as Jerry Falwell forty years ago. Most of all, I hope they will see that racism and white nationalism have always been part and parcel of Evangelical Christianity. My God, read the history of the Southern Baptist Convention.

As a critic of Evangelicalism, I hope that increased scrutiny and exposure to the light will bring the sect to an ignoble end. Thoughtful, kind, loving Evangelicals will hopefully abandon the sect, taking their money with them. That alone will starve and kill the beast. We shall always have Fundamentalists among us. The best we can hope for is that they will once again be forced to the margins of life, that the power they have over our culture and political life will be broken. By all means, let them rage against sodomites, abortion, and libs from their clapboard church houses. We just won’t care. Until that day comes, we must do everything in our power to marginalize Evangelical beliefs. We must love Evangelicals but hate their beliefs. We are in a no-holds-barred battle for the future of our country. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to fight for a better tomorrow, one where Evangelicalism is little more than a toothless, lazy porch dog — all bark, no bite.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Black Collar Crime: Southern Baptist Teacher Brian Reed Accused of Sex Crimes

brian reed old plank christian academy

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Brian Reed, a teacher at Old Plank Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Florida, was arrested last week and charged with lewd molestation, soliciting a minor via computer, and transmission of harmful materials to a minor. The alleged crimes occured in 2017 and 2018.

The school is a ministry of Old Plank Baptist Church — a Southern Baptist institution. Reed was fired a year ago after these allegations first came to light.

Channel 4-JAX reports:

According to a JSO arrest report, Reed is accused of initiating several video chats with the girl [age 13] in which he showed her he was masturbating. Reed also made lewd suggestions to the girl and asked her for nude photos via Facebook messenger, according to the report. He sent her a photo of himself with his private parts exposed, according to the report. Investigators noted in the report the photo appeared to be taken at the school where Reed worked.

Reed, 36, is also accused of groping the teen inside a locked gym at the school, according to JSO.

Old Plank Road Baptist Church pastor Larry McGinley issued the following statement (PDF file):

To The Old Plank Ministries Family And The Community,

The ministries of Old Plank Road Baptist Church are deeply saddened by the circumstances surrounding Brian Reed.

We are deeply concerned for the well-being, recovery and safety of the victim and her family.  We are in prayer for this precious family that the Lord will bring healing and help in this very difficult time.

We are praying for wisdom for the authorities that are handling this case.  From the moment this situation was brought to our attention, immediate and appropriate actions were taken by the ministries of Old Plank.  Utmost care and discretion have been practiced to protect the victim, her family, the students in our ministries, and the family of the accused. The ministries of Old Plank have and are currently fully cooperating with the agencies involved in this investigation.

Thank you and may God bless you.

Sincerely,

Larry McGinley, Pastor

Old Plank  Road Baptist Church

 

Stop with the “Few Bad Apples” Rationalization When Excusing Clergy Misconduct

a few bad apples

Sixteen months ago, I posted the first story in the Black Collar Crime Series. Yesterday, I posted the six-hundredth post in the series. Focused primarily on clergy sexual misconduct, the sheer level of reports puts to rest the notion that such crimes are committed by a “few bad apples.” Numerous times a day, I receive notices from Google Alerts, notifying me that a new report of alleged clergy crime has been posted to the Internet. I look at every notification, choosing to only publish the stories that are publicly reported by reputable news sites. I am often contacted by victims who are looking to expose their abusers. I do what I can to help them, but if there’s no public news reports or other information that can corroborate their stories, I am unable to do anything for them. Believe me, I WANT to help them, but it would be legally reckless of me to post a story without sufficient evidence. I generally also only publish reports about clerics from the United States — mostly Protestant, Evangelical, Southern Baptist, and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB). While I post stories featuring Catholic priests from time to time, I usually leave such reporting to others. The same could be said of widespread clergy sexual misconduct in Africa. The point I am trying to make here is this: 600 published reports is just the tip of the iceberg.  As of today, I am also sitting on over 300 clergy sexual misconduct stories I have not published due to a lack of sufficient evidence or a shortage of time to do so.

Not only are there more than just a “few bad apples” preying on church members, when you add to the total the number of pastors and other religious leaders who have consensual sexual relations with congregants, it is clear for all to see that so-called “men of God” are hardly the pillars of moral virtue they claim to be. In 2015, I wrote a post titled, Is Clergy Infidelity Rare? Here’s an excerpt from the post:

In October 2013, Doug Phillips, president of the now-defunct Vision Forum Ministries confessed to church leaders that he had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a woman who is not his wife. Defenders of Phillips took to their blogs, websites, Twitter, and Facebook to do damage control on the behalf of Phillips and the patriarchal movement. One such defender is Independent Baptist pastor Voddie Baucham, a man who is widely viewed as the African-American version of Doug Phillips.

A Christian woman by the name of Julie Anne posted an article on the Spiritual Sounding Board blog about the Doug Phillips scandal. Her post mentioned the following quote by Voddie Baucham:

Dennis, You ask, “How many times do we see this in Christian leadership?” The answer may surprise you, but it is actually quite rare. There are hundreds of thousands of churches in America. We hear of these types of things on a national basis when they happen to high profile people. However, considering the number of people in Christian leadership, the numbers are quite small. As to your other point, most men who go through something like this never recover. Of course, there are exceptions. Moreover, there are some circles wherein things like this, and much worse, are merely swept under the rug. However, in circles where leadership is taken seriously, it is very difficult for a man to come back from things like this. People have long memories, and tend to be rather unforgiving. (emphasis mine)

Baucham repeats the oft-told lie that clergy sexual misconduct is quite rare. I have heard this line more times than I can count. It is an attempt to prop up the notion that clergy are more moral and ethical than most people; that they are pillars of virtue and morality.  Such claims are patently false.

In 2007, Dr. R.J. Krejcir of  the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute, wrote a post detailing his recent study of clergy infidelity. Krejcir stated:

  • Of the one thousand fifty (1,050 or 100%) pastors we surveyed, every one of them had a close associate or seminary buddy who had left the ministry because of burnout, conflict in their church, or from a moral failure.
  • Three hundred ninety-nine (399 or 38%) of pastors said they were divorced or currently in a divorce process.
  • Three hundred fifteen (315 or 30%) said they had either been in an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner.

So much for clergy sexual infidelity being rare.

Numerous studies have been conducted concerning sexual infidelity among married people. The percentage varies widely, but it is safe to say that between ten and twenty percent of married people have been sexually unfaithful to their spouse. The percentage is higher for men than it is women.

We know that men of the cloth are not morally or ethically superior. In the United States and Canada, there are approximately 600,000 clergy. According to the Hartford Institute for Religion and Research, this total includes active clergy and “retired clergy, chaplains in hospitals, prisons and the military, denominational executives, and ordained faculty at divinity schools and seminaries.” This number does not include clergy who are affiliated with independent churches. If between ten and twenty percent of married people commit adultery, and clergy are no different morally from non-clergy, then this means that between 60,000 and 120,000 clergy have committed adultery.  Again, so much for clergy sexual infidelity being rare.

Keep in mind, this is only the number of CONSENSUAL sexual relationships.

….

Most people in the United States profess to be Christians. Taught to think that their churches are safe havens and their pastors have only their best interests at heart, many of them have a hard time believing and accepting that bad things happen, and far too often the perpetrators are pastors, deacons, elders, youth leaders, worship leaders, Sunday school teachers, church janitors, evangelists, missionaries, bus drivers, Christian school teachers, and principals. Wherever Christians have authority over others, you will find sexual misconduct — both legal and criminal.

What makes churches and clergy so dangerous is that congregants are trusting. It’s the world they need to worry about, or so church leaders tell them anyway. Led to believe that Christians — thanks to salvation and the Holy Ghost — are above the fray and oh-so-humbly morally superior, church members naively trust those who have “God-given” authority over them. Even after their pastors and other church leaders have been exposed as the predators, many congregants refuse to believe that the men and women they looked up to abused others. You who read the Black Collar Crime Series regularly know that it is not uncommon to have congregants comment, defending their pastor or suggesting that the police or district attorney are out to get their preacher.

Sadly, it is not uncommon for church members to blame victims instead of putting the blame where it belongs: on their ministers, youth pastors, and other church leaders. Even after church leaders are found guilty in criminal court, congregants will often line up to testify at sentencing hearings; letting courts know that their pastors are good men who made a momentary mistake (never mind the fact that most pastors convicted of sex crimes are repeat or habitual offenders). Worse yet, on way too many occasions, once incarcerated clerics are released from prison, they find their way back to churches looking for pastorates or they start new churches — hiding from their new congregations their decadent past. One of the reasons I continue to publish Black Collar Crime stories is that this blog becomes a database of sorts for people doing their due diligence before accepting as fact the “testimony” of prospective pastors.

And to churches who hire registered sex offenders, knowing what they did at their last churches, don’t be surprised when your new God-fearing pastor treats your church as a hunting ground. Get your head out of your ass and protect the children, teens, and vulnerable adults in your churches. “But, Bruce, as Christians, we are supposed to “forgive and forget.” It’s forgetting I have a problem with. Forgetting what clergy have done in the past invites and encourages new abuse and harm. Just yesterday, a family member who is a Fundamentalist pastor, mentioned in a positive light the “ministry” David Hyles has devoted to “fallen” preachers. (Please see Disgraced IFB Preacher David Hyles Helping Fallen Pastors Get Back on Their Horses and Is All Forgiven for David Hyles? and David Hyles Says My Bad, Jesus and UPDATED: Serial Adulterer David Hyles Has Been Restored) I thought, ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME!  But, when you believe in 1 John 1:9 Christianity (If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness), it is easy to dismiss past bad behavior as being “under the blood” and “buried in the depths of the sea of God’s forgetfulness.” No matter what Christians do — including rape, murder, and fraud — wiping their slates clean is but a prayer away. (Note: I later talked to the family member. He genuinely didn’t know about David Hyles’ past. He was a child in the 1980s when the Biblical Evangelist published its expose on Jack and David Hyles. I guess I am officially an old man.)

Years ago, a former colleague of mine in the ministry, told me that at his church they believed in forgiveness, and that’s why they didn’t run criminal background checks on church workers. “Bruce,” this pastor said, “when a person gets saved, their past ‘sins’ are forgiven and remembered no more. If God doesn’t remember their sins, neither should we.” In his naive, Bible-sotted mind, once a person is really, really, really “saved,” — one really each for the Father, Son and Holy Ghost — there’s no reason to not “trust” them, even if, in the past, he or she was a murderer, rapist, serial adulterer, or child molester. “Either our sins are under the blood, or they are not, Brother,” this preacher told me. Many years ago, I warned him that one of his daughters was in a sexual relationship with a teen boy in my church. He told me, “oh, they would never do that!” Right, two horny kids, all alone on a back-country road? What are they doing, studying the Bible and praying? A month or so later, he came home early from his church’s midweek prayer meeting, only to find his daughter and her boyfriend naked and having sex on the living room floor. Sadly, in far too many churches, trusted church leaders are assaulting and abusing congregants, and everyone around them is saying, “oh, they would never do that.” As the Black Collar Crime series makes clear, such thinking is not only naive, it’s dangerous. Throw in pastors who psychologically manipulate congregants and use those who trust them as a means to an end, and I can safely say that churches are some of the most dangerous places in the United States; that parents who “trust” church leaders with their children and teenagers risk their charges being misused, abused, and assaulted.

No, I am not saying all church leaders are bad people, but I am saying a large enough percentage of them are — more than a few bad apples, to be sure — that wisdom and prudence demands keeping children right by your side when attending houses of worship. Better safe than sorry, I say. (Dear Evangelical Church Leaders: It’s Time to Get Rid of Your Youth Pastors and Youth Departments) Suppose you went to the local grocery with your children to buy some groceries. Suppose there were 200 shoppers in the store, and ten of them were child molesters or registered sex offenders. Knowing this, would you let your children wander through the store unattended? Of course not. Why, then, should churches and preachers be treated any differently?

Let me leave you with one poignant thought: countless Christians have prayed for God to deliver them from the hands of their abusers, and without exception, God ignored their prayers. If left up to “God,” predator church leaders will, with impunity, cause untold harm. It is up to us to put a stop to clergy sexual misconduct. All I can do is write about the subject. But if you are a church-going Christian, you have the responsibility and duty to make sure the children, teens, and vulnerable adults are safe when attending church, school, or church events. Doing nothing is no longer an option.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Black Collar Crime: Southern Baptist Youth Pastor Rodney Harmon Sentenced to 37 Years in Prison

rodney harmon jr

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Rodney Harmon, Jr, the former youth pastor at Bayside Community Church in Pocomoke City, Maryland, was convicted in February 2019 on three counts of sexually abusing a minor. In January 2019, ABC-47 reported:

According to charging documents obtained by 47 ABC Harmon allegedly preyed on at least 7 teenage boys from January of 2018 to July of 2018 through his work as a youth group leader for Bayside Community Church in Pocomoke City.

With at least three victims Harmon promised the teenage boys they could make money for shooting videos of themselves masturbating if they sent them to him. However, none of the victims ever received payment.

One of the victims, only identified as Juvenile 2, seemed to be the most involved with Harmon. According to charging documents Hardmon sodomized him with an adult toy at least once and performed oral sex on the 15-year-old several times at Harmon’s House in the car to and from a mission trip and at a house the 15-year-old was dog sitting at.

A November 2018 news story at Lancaster Online reported:

Rodney O. Harmon Jr., 33, of Stockton, Maryland, was youth director for Bayside Community Church in Pocomoke City, Maryland, when he accompanied a church group to the Colerain Township retreat center, where the alleged abuse happened, the Lancaster County District Attorney said.

The alleged victims, ages 14 and 15, were part of the Maryland church group that attended the retreat between Aug. 1 and 4.

State police filed 12 charged against Harmon, eight of which are felonies, including statutory sexual assault and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. Harmon is awaiting arraignment on the charges.

Harmon is already in prison at the Worcester County Jail awaiting a hearing on charges there for making and distributing pornographic videos, and other sex acts involving four people, including three minors, according to charging documents.

Bayside Community Church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Charging documents posted here.

Friday, Harmon Jr. was sentenced to 75 years in prison, with all but 37 years suspended.

How the Christian Practice of Absolute Forgiveness Harms Others

mennonite-child-molester

The Toledo Blade recently published a story about how some Amish and Mennonite communities expect victims of child abuse, domestic violence, and other crimes to forgive their attackers and forget the crimes ever happened. Practicing absolute forgiveness, these faith communities expect congregants to forgive regardless of what harm is caused and whether perpetrators are truly sorry for their crimes. The Toledo Blade story focuses on a woman who was excommunicated from her conservative Mennonite church because she refused to forgive her husband — a man who repeatedly sexually molested their daughters over the years. Astoundingly, the Sunday after this woman was excommunicated, her church, with arms opened wide, welcomed her husband back into the church.

After local law enforcement became aware of the husband’s criminal sexual behavior, he confessed his “sins” and was sentenced to five years of probation and 15 years on Pennsylvania’s sex offender registry. You would think that the husband would be penitent and understand why his wife no longer wanted her children anywhere near him. Unfortunately, as is often the case with sex crimes that have a religious component, the husband didn’t truly see the depth of harm he caused:

They held a seminar, and they talked about how that is sin, and I did want to be free before God and confess it and get freedom, Shirk, now 50, said in an April interview. I didn’t want something hid that should have been confessed and taken care of.

I did confession in church and made the confession in church and everybody stood and said they forgave me. I thought it was all good, but I found out that doesn’t make everybody happy.

[He laughed.]

After that, I found out a lot of people carry a lot of hatred for that sin and it’s hard for people to forgive.

….

This got way out of hand. For a little bit of touching that I did wrong. I know that it can be a big emotional thing for the girl, and it can affect their life ever after and stuff like that, and I don’t want to belittle what I did.

“There is no forgiveness for one thing. The state has no forgiveness, and therefore the church has no forgiveness, because the state is on their case that they’ll put the preacher in jail if they don’t report it.

I believe what they’re [the state] doing to men is way far worse. I mean, my daughters that I molested, yeah, as far as I know they are living a normal life. But I sure am not.

The husband continues to try to reconnect with his wife, saying:

I wouldn’t expect a woman to live with a man who is drunk and beating on her. I wouldn’t expect that. But when the church has gotten together and said this man [a convicted child molester] needs forgiveness, it would have been in her place to do that.

As you can see from the husband’s comments, he lacks remorse and contrition, and when it comes right down to it, he doesn’t think what he did is so bad. Hey, at least he didn’t beat his wife and the daughters he molested are living “normal” lives, right? The husband even went so far as to question his wife relationship with God, saying, “I just don’t understand how that [not being reconciled] is going to work out on Judgment Day.” The wife joined another conservative Mennonite church, and while she has been encouraged by them to reconcile with her husband, they have not pressed the matter with her. I am sure some readers are thinking, “WHAT THE FUCK! Why doesn’t she divorce her child-molester husband?” Well, the answer is quite simple: conservative Mennonite congregations do not permit divorce, and doing so would be immediate grounds for excommunication.

Generally, forgiving others is a good idea. Forgiveness fosters peace and helps reconcile people who are at odds with one another. However, practicing absolute forgiveness can and does cause harm, and as this story shows, it allows people to escape responsibility for their behavior. Our goal in life should be to live in ways that don’t require forgiveness, and when we do cause harm to someone, to quickly make amends or restitution. It is up to the person harmed, then, to grant forgiveness. Absolute forgiveness wrongly requires absolution regardless of whether the offender makes things right.

I saw this kind of forgiveness expectation practiced numerous times over the fifty years I spent in the Christian church. Private “sins” were expiated simply by the penitent confessing their bad behavior to God. The Bible says in 1 John 1:9If we [Christians] confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. God promises to cleanse Christians from any and all sin if they will but ask him to do so. And if Christian’s ask, God wipes their sin slates clean, giving them the equivalent of a divine do-over. A sweet deal if you can get it, right?

When Christians commit public “sins” — behaviors that cause public shame to Jesus and his church — they are often brought before congregational leaders or fellow church members and expected to publicly confess their sins. Once the sinner has confessed his sins, he is absolved, and as in the case of private sins, his sin slate of wiped clean.

Whether a person is forgiven by Jesus of private or public sins, it matters not. Once forgiven — and exactly how is that determined? — congregants, including family, spouse, and children, are expected to absolutely forgive the person. Failing to do so is seen as bitterness or pride. I know of several instances where husbands abused their wives, confessed their “sins” before the church, and were granted forgiveness. Their wives were expected to forgive them and move on with life, living with men who just weeks before physically and psychologically abused them. In at least two instances that I know of, abusive husbands were welcomed back into their churches, while their wives were excommunicated for having bitter, judgmental spirits.

Even heinous crimes such as sexual abuse and rape are far too often covered over with expectations of absolute forgiveness. A recent story in the Houston Chronicle revealed that there are dozens of Southern Baptist churches who welcomed sex offenders back into their membership after their convictions. These churches KNEW these men were sex offenders, yet with arms open wide, they said, We forgive you, brother. Welcome to our church. I saw this same behavior on several occasions with Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. One man, a church bus worker, was caught sexually abusing a teen boy in the church’s basement. He was forgiven by the church and escaped jail time for his crime. Twenty years later, the man was given access to children again, and as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, he sexually abused another child. This time, the man did time for his crime. While the church forgave him, they would not permit him to continue attending their services. With the blessing of his pastor and church leaders, the man joined a nearby IFB church, and to this day can be found there “faithfully” serving Jesus. Astoundingly, his wife — taught by her pastors that there are no grounds for divorce — is still with him.

Whether to forgive should be up to the person harmed. While forgiving others is generally a good idea, churches that demand forgiveness in all circumstances cause harm to people who cannot or are not ready to do so. The act of forgiveness rests with the person harmed. In the case of spousal abuse, child abuse, and sex crimes, churches which demand that victims absolutely forgive their attackers often revictimize and inflict further pain on women and children (and in some instances, men). Victims must be given the space to process what happened to them on their own terms. And if they, for some reason, cannot or will not absolve abusers of their crimes, churches and pastors should accept their decision.

I grew up in a religious culture where absolute forgiveness was expected, regardless of the seriousness of the bad behavior or crime. One of the freeing moments of my life was realizing that I didn’t have to forgive my grandparents (my mother’s father and stepmother) for what they did to me personally, and to my mother and our family in general. My grandparents were go-to-church-three-times-a-week Fundamentalist Christians. Grandpa was a violent drunk before he got saved. After asking Jesus to forgive him of his sins, Grandpa was transformed into a “wonderful” Christian who still was quite violent. And Grandma was not without her own demons. (Please see Dear Ann) Publicly, they were viewed by others as super-duper Christians who loved Jesus with all their heart, soul, and mind. And maybe they did, but underneath their religious veneer lived people prone to psychological and physical abuse.

blood of jesus

Years before my mother’s tragic suicide (Please see Barbara), she tried to confront her dad over him sexually abusing her as a child. He told my mom that his past had been forgiven by Jesus and his sins were washed away by the blood of Jesus. He intimated to Mom that if Jesus had forgiven him, so should she. Needless to say, Mom was in no mood to forgive her child molester father. Nor did she plan to forgive his wife, a woman who caused untold heartache and pain. Years later, I reached a place where I had enough of my grandparents’ passive-aggressive behavior. I made it known that I was no longer interested in having a relationship with them. And with that, my grandparents were excised from my life and that of my family. Or so I thought anyway.

In 2003, I moved to Clare, Michigan and became the pastor of a small, struggling Southern Baptist church. One Sunday, as I was preaching, I glanced up and looked out the windows at the back of the building. I was shocked to see my grandmother sitting in her car with her new husband. (Grandpa had miserably died several years before of colon cancer.) I had a Christian version of a WTF moment, and sure enough, after the service my grandmother came up to me as if nothing had ever happened and told me she was living near me with her new hubby and asked if my family and I wanted to have dinner with them sometime. At that moment, I was dying inside, wanting to verbally reduce her to the pile of shit she was. Unfortunately, congregants were standing nearby, so I said, “sure.” Always play the part, Bruce. Always play the part. Several church members told me that they used to attend church with my grandmother. She is a wonderful Christian woman, they said. I responded, there are two sides to every story. Later, I would feel guilty over not forgiving her, so I spent time in prayer asking God to forgive me for being angry and bitter towards my grandmother.

Cleansed of my “sin,” I decided to try to forge a new relationship with my grandmother and her new husband. Polly dreaded doing so, remembering how awful my grandparents were towards her and our children. I played the “what would Jesus do” card, and off to my grandmother’s home we went — which was, ironically, a mile or so away from our home. During our dinner discussion, my grandmother decided to share a family secret that had laid buried for over fifty years: that my father was not my biological father. Granted, I had begun to question my paternity, and have since concluded that my “real” father was likely my mother’s cousin, but it was not my grandmother’s place to share this secret over dinner and in the presence of my wife and children. Why she decided to do this, I’ll never know. This was the last time I ever talked to her. Several months later, we moved back to Ohio, and outside of my grandmother trying to contact me on Facebook, I have had no contact with her. I sent her my Dear Ann article. She never responded. Of course not, it is all under the blood, buried in the deepest seas, never to be remembered again.

As an atheist and a humanist, I have learned that it is okay to not forgive some people; that some people, such as my grandparents, don’t deserve forgiveness; that them going to their graves unforgiven is just punishment for their crimes and ill-behavior. When my grandfather died, I felt nothing and shed not a tear. I was faulted for not attending his funeral, but I didn’t care. I knew it would be an act of Fundamentalist masturbation over his rotting corpse. I would hear wonderful tales about the man, the myth, the legend; the soulwinner who daily sought to evangelize the lost; the man who loved Jesus more than the world. We would not be told, as Paul Harvey used to say, “the rest of the story.”

I am fine with people thinking I am unforgiving; that I should make peace with my grandparents. My grandparents are bad people. No matter how many times they attended church, sang hymns, won souls, and gave money to the church, they were still, at least to family, nasty, judgmental, mean, and violent; guilty of behavior that would land them in jail if they did these things today. Life is too short to spend it around such people. If they need forgiveness, let them ask God for it. As their grandson and the son of the dear woman they physically and psychologically brutalized, I have no intention of granting them pardon. My grandfather is dead. Good riddance. Soon, my grandmother will meet her end too. I shall not weep, except, perhaps, for those harmed by their behavior. Too bad there’s not a Hell. If there were, I know two people who deserve first-class accommodations.

Were you taught that you must, in all circumstances, absolutely forgive? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Bruce Gerencser