Lawsuit names Baptist church in 30-year-old abuse case

By Bob Allen
Baptist News
March 22, 2016

A Cooperative Baptist Fellowship pastor in Georgia has voiced regret and sadness about his church’s handling decades ago of allegations of sexual abuse within a Boy Scout troop it sponsored.

A lawsuit filed March 17 in Fulton County State Court accuses First Baptist Church of Gainesville, Ga., of neglect leading to the rape in 1985 of a now 46-year-old man.

Robb Lawson, who says in his lawsuit he didn’t come to terms with his mental and emotional harm until last year, claims that church leaders knew about allegations of abuse by the congregation’s scoutmaster, a church member, in the early 1980s but did not report it to police or the Boy Scouts of America.

Church leaders removed the man as scoutmaster, but he continued to participate in troop activities, including the camping trip where Lawson says his abuse occurred. The former scoutmaster remained active in the church, serving as a deacon until the allegations about him became public just recently.

According to a 2,600-word story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution March 18, parents and church leaders believed at the time that discretion was in the best interest of several boys who claimed abuse in the Boy Scout troop. Lawson said if they had done the right thing, other boys like him would not have been harmed.

Bill Coates, pastor of the 3,000-member congregation since 1998, said in a statement “the regret is profound, the sadness overwhelming” at realization that rumors about the individual that have persisted over the years now undoubtedly are true.

“Apparently, secrecy was the chosen way of handling such matters 35 years ago,” Coates said. “Today, this would be handled not only by removing the scout leader and preventing him from ever working again with youth, but also by reporting him to law enforcement.”

By the time police learned of the allegations, criminal charges were too old to prosecute. Lawson, however, took advantage of a new state law temporarily extending the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits for child molestation from five years to 35 years after the victim turns 18.

The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages and requests a trial by jury.

First Baptist Church in Gainesville is affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Church members include Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.


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