Silent Treatment Demands Highprofile Preacher Step down Says Seminary Prez

USA Religious News [Memphis TN]
December 20, 2006

(AgapePress) - A crisis at one of the nation's largest Southern Baptist churches appears to be escalating as a seminary president has called for that church's senior pastor to step down for remaining silent about allegations of sexual abuse involving a longtime staff member.

Dr. Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis, has been under fire since revealing this past Sunday that Pastor Paul Williams, minister of prayer and special projects at Bellevue, had been put on a paid leave of absence while the church investigates allegations of what it describes as "a past, but highly concerning moral failure" involving Williams. The alleged incident took place 17 years ago when Williams molested a family member. He has been on the Bellevue staff for 34 years, according to one newspaper report.

After his sermon on Sunday, Dr. Gaines addressed the issue. "As a result of this entire situation, it's obvious that we need operational policies [and] procedures at Bellevue that would be available to give us guidance in these types of situations," he told the congregation. "We've not had those in writing." He shared that he has since instructed the church's personnel committee to devise staff policies and procedures so the church will "be able to have some guidance in these areas should they occur in the future."

A statement from the church said Pastor Williams will undergo outside Christian counseling, but will have no church responsibilities and will not be on church property during the investigation, which is expected to take a few weeks to complete.

Gaines, who became pastor of 28,000-member Bellevue Baptist in September 2005, has acknowledged that he became aware of the matter in June and believed the issue was settled, only to find out two weeks ago that was not the case. In a statement released on Tuesday, he attempted to answer those who have criticized him for not taking action earlier.

"I acted out of a heartfelt concern and compassion for this minister because the event occurred many years ago," he said, adding that he was concerned about confidentiality while Williams was receiving professional counseling. "In light of the events that have unfolded," he continued, "I realize now that I should have discussed it further with this minister and brought it to the attention of our church leadership immediately."

But Dr. Michael Spradlin, president of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary -- located across the street from Bellevue on property donated by the church -- says that is not good enough. In today's (Wednesday, Dec. 20) Commercial Appeal (Memphis) newspaper, he has called for Gaines to step down. Spradlin says if Gaines did indeed know about this months ago and did nothing, then he should resign immediately.

"We cannot take chances with other people's children," the seminary president told the Commercial Appeal. "If he 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."

Spradlin continued, saying "you can't fault someone for not knowing what to do, but you can fault them for not seeking advice on how to address a situation as tragic as this one." He adds, "Keeping it hidden and hoping it will go away is not the way to handle it."

But Bellevue leaders insist there was no attempted cover-up. Jim Barnwell, the church's director of communications, says it is important to remember that Pastor Gaines realized he made a mistake in not coming forward earlier. "He's taking ownership of that," says Barnwell, "and he's doing his best to get things organized and fix it. There was no attempt to hide anything."

And as for Spradlin's call for Gaines to step down? "Dr. Gaines has said that he is not interested in resigning," says the director of communications. "He's interested in fixing the problem."

Bellevue Baptist Church is perhaps best known as the home church of the late Dr. Adrian Rogers, who pastored there for more than 30 years and was a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Related article:
Good and Faithful Servant': Year in Review: Church in America


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.