|Southwestern President Responds to Victims' Rights Group Criticism
By Tammi Reed Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan in Floridan Baptist Witness
January 10, 2008
FORT WORTH (SBT)—An activist organization that describes itself as a "group for women and men wounded by religious authority figures" has once again made headlines by attempting to tie allegations of abuse by a non-Southern Baptist pastor to what they describe as a Southern Baptist entity leader's "blind-eyed response to clergy sex abuse" 16 years ago.
The widely distributed news release, which accuses Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson of negligence in the early 1990s in dealing with the pastor in question, found a quick venue for further distribution by the alternative media outlet EthicsDaily.com, a forum founded by moderate Baptists who routinely offer objections to the conservative leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Meanwhile, Patterson released a statement Jan. 9 disputing the SNAP news release and noting that the pastor, Darrell Gilyard, was expelled from Criswell College when Patterson was president once his guilt was substantiated. Patterson said he even moderated the meeting during which Gilyard resigned the church he pastored as a Criswell student.
According to the Florida Times-Union, Gilyard resigned Jan. 8 from Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., following allegations he sent an obscene text message to a minor's cell phone. A Shiloh church representative confirmed that the congregation Gilyard has pastored for the last 14 years is not affiliated with Southern Baptists.
Gilyard previously was pastor of a Richardson congregation called Victory Baptist Church, but resigned at the age of 29 after accusations of sexual impropriety. The Texas church is not listed in affiliation with the SBC nor either of the state Baptist conventions.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) frequently identifies alleged abuse followed by an effort to draw media attention to religious bodies the group believes have been negligent. Southern Baptists, unlike Roman Catholics and other denominations with a hierarchy, have autonomous churches and the denomination has no authority structure to dictate the hiring or discipline practices of local churches.
In this most recent instance, SNAP released a letter to trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary urging suspension of Patterson, whom they accuse of failing to protect students at Criswell College when he was president and Gilyard was a student. SNAP cited a Dallas Morning News article from 1991 that reported that several students relayed to Patterson suspicions of abuse by Gilyard.
SNAP then blames Patterson for "failing to warn others at risk about a reported serial predator," adding that the accused pastor "was allowed to move on"—a charge Patterson disputes.
SNAP's Christa Brown of Austin wrote, "More innocent and vulnerable Baptist teens and young people suffered because of Patterson's secrecy. Those who make immoral and insensitive responses to clergy sex abuse should not be in positions of leadership for religious institutions."
Brown has made similar guilt-by-association charges in the past, but apologized to Southern Baptist leaders Feb. 22, 2007, for making false accusations that leaders had not responded to the group's letters.
When given a forum at a workgroup meeting of the Executive Committee, Brown told of being raped as a minor by a man who continued working at a Southern Baptist church. Another SNAP representative said their organization depends on the press to solve the problem, alleging that churches do not.
Patterson released a statement Jan. 9 calling the "snap judgments" by Brown and others both misinformed and inaccurate.
"Throughout my 50 years in the ministry, including that time that I served as president of the Criswell College, I have never turned a blind-eye to clergy sex abuse as the SNAP organization purports," he stated. "Clergy sex abuse is one of the greatest tragedies of the modern era, and in the classroom and in the pulpit I have steadfastly fought and will continue to warn and fight against it."
Patterson said he routinely addresses the subject with every incoming class and again with every graduating class.
Recalling his observation of Gilyard's career while a student in the early 1990s, Patterson said he had great hope that God would use the testimony of the young minister, and then later learned a portion of the well-publicized account that Gilyard had been homeless was fabricated.
"I fondly hoped he would walk worthy of his calling in purity of life and heart. He chose not to do that," Patterson stated.
"Nearly two decades ago, I was neither an investigator nor a judge, but the president of a small Bible college. I certainly did not have resources available to me to pursue the case, yet I did all that I could within my means to discover the truth when allegations concerning Mr. Gilyard were brought to my attention," he continued, noting that part of justice includes not making charges against people until one can substantiate them—a lesson he said SNAP could profit from learning.
"Once I had investigated the matter and was able to substantiate that Mr. Gilyard was guilty, I got him to confess that guilt publicly."
Furthermore, Patterson said he expelled Gilyard from school, preventing him from completing his degree there. He also moderated the business meeting at the Richardson church on the night when Gilyard resigned the pastorate at Patterson's insistence.
"Since that day, I have had nothing to do with Darrell Gilyard and have only seen him on one occasion when he visited the Southwestern Seminary campus during the time the seminary was hosting a preaching conference. I do not and have not endorsed his ministry or work and have made crystal clear to Mr. Gilyard that on the basis of his behavior, as well as his divorce, he has no business serving as pastor of a local church."
Patterson restated Southern Baptist polity affecting such circumstances, noting that he exercises no control over autonomous churches, nor does he control whether they affiliate with the SBC.
"I have done everything that I know to do to act justly and at the same time protect as many people as possible from the behavioral pattern of Darrell Gilyard. Once Gilyard was proven guilty, I attested to that guilt to every individual who contacted me for a recommendation or character reference."
The Southern Baptist Convention advises Southern Baptist churches to address criminal acts by those in ministerial positions and to utilize resources for screening preschool and children's workers already in place.
"We have repeatedly encouraged our churches to exercise due diligence in background research when considering a prospective minister or volunteer, but that due diligence cannot be mandated," wrote Augie Boto, SBC general counsel and vice president for convention policy, in a response last year to SNAP.
He clarified that "the Southern Baptist Convention structure leaves the responsibility for such matters in the hands of those most motivated and capable of addressing it—the members of the local churches--many of whom are parents and grandparents.
In the fall of last year, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention contracted with Child Guard Systems of Richardson to serve as a resource for its 1,975 churches to provide "safety for children and integrity for ministries."
With the goal of providing "safety for children and integrity for ministries," SBTC promotes a "Safe Kids" approach to assist affiliated churches in this critical area. The approach of the company includes criminal background checks, but goes further by providing a customized training and testing program for church ministries.
Messengers in annual meetings of both the SBTC and SBC have passed strong statements addressing child abuse. The resources recommended by both entities are linked on their websites at sbtexas.com and sbc.net.
—For further background, see the April 30, 2007 TEXAN editorial on SNAP
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