One of 14 Girls Sexually Abused by Youth Pastor Calls Response of Texas Church ‘Abomination’

The Roys Report [Chicago IL]

October 6, 2022

By Kim Roberts and Julie Roys

Tommy Nelson, a well-known author and pastor of Denton Bible Church in North Texas claimed in a sermon last May that until 2005, he knew nothing of the sexual abuse perpetrated by a former youth pastor at his church.

“So, this all happened in the late 90s. It came to our attention in 2005,” Nelson told his congregation, referring to the abuse of multiple teenage girls by former junior high minister, Robert Shiflet. Nelson said church leaders had heard reports of Shiflet’s inappropriate behavior but not physical contact. “We saw smoke . . .” Nelson said, but “did not look for fire.”

Now, one of Shiflet’s victims is speaking out, accusing Nelson—who also serves on the board at Dallas Theological Seminary and is Song of Solomon Conference Speaker Emeritus—of minimizing the church’s neglect and harm of victims. The woman, who first told her story to Fox4 News in Dallas, said Nelson and Denton Bible ignored red flags for decades. When speaking to The Roys Report (TRR), she called Nelson’s statement in May “incredibly selfish and calloused.”

“It is the role of a pastor to shepherd the flock of God,” the woman, who requested we call her “Deborah,” told TRR. “He lacked remorse, lament, and a sense of brokenness. Systemic injustice was perpetuated by egotistical narcissists and cult-like behavior at this church. I know that sounds harsh, but all the victims’ experiences have been nothing short of an abomination.”

Shiflet is now serving a 33-month sentence for two counts of transporting a minor across state lines to engage in criminal sexual activity.

Shiflet worked at Denton Bible Church from 1996 to 2001. He then served as youth pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock from 2001 to 2003.

An independent investigation commissioned by Denton Bible Church found “credible accounts” that Shiflet abused at least 14 girls—11 at Denton Bible and three at Fellowship Bible Church.

Investigation summary confirms church ignored red flags

According to a five-page summary of the independent investigation’s findings released in May, youth workers told Denton Bible leadership, including Nelson, about Shiflet’s inappropriate behavior as early as 1999.

Shiflet was “observed regularly spending time alone with girls in his ministry,” which was against the rules and policy of the church, the summary stated. Victims said he “played with their hair and the back of their neck, gave them prolonged hugs, tickle(d) them repeatedly,” and cuddled with them on the couch in his home after his wife went to bed.

In 1999, a college church intern reported Shiflet’s inappropriate behavior toward her to church leadership. “Church leadership confronted Shiflet who was told to write the girl a letter of apology, which he never delivered,” the report states.

In 2001, Denton Bible denied Shiflet a promotion “because of his pattern of being alone with girls and not focusing enough on ministering to the boys in his youth group,” the summary stated. Shiflet then left Denton to become the youth pastor at Fellowship Bible Church where his abuse continued.

Nelson admitted in his May statement that he had endorsed Shiflet when Shiflet sought the church position in Arkansas but added: “No one had a clue. . . . It was one of whom we had no idea until the church in Arkansas uncovered his secret, his sin, and his crime that sent him to prison.”

Nelson claimed that prior to 2005, he had never heard the word “pedophile.” He added that the betrayal by Shiflet—someone Nelson had personally mentored—marked “the first time I’ve ever been used” in ministry.

Deborah said Nelson’s framing of the situation “felt like a blame shift.”

She said Nelson and Denton Bible betrayed the victims—not just when they and witnesses reported red flags while Shiflet was employed by Denton, but also when Deborah and others approached the church in 2005.   

The Roys Report (TRR) reached out to Nelson and Denton Bible Church for comment, but no one responded.

Pastor Nelson & Curtis Elder Address Shiflet’s Abuse on May 1, 2022:

(see video on original article)

A history of sexual abuse

Deborah said Shiflet began grooming her in the late 90s, when she was between 13 and 14 years old. Shiflet was in his late 20s or early 30s at the time and married with children, she said.

The grooming included parents and leaders because Shiflet was likable, trusted, and amiable. Although he never touched her private parts, he was very physically inappropriate with her, she said, giving her special names, and telling her he loved her. He would give her rides to school, and she would even spend the night at his house.

“He treated me like he was my boyfriend,” she told Fox4 News. “When he would touch me in ways that were inappropriate, he would ask me if it was okay. And if I said yes, he would keep doing them. And if I said no, he would ice me out emotionally.”

Deborah also pointed out that Shiflet engaged in inappropriate teaching about sex and marriage with the junior high students, like discussing details of his wedding night.

Deborah said she first approached the leadership of Denton Bible Church in 2005, when she was 19 years old, to tell them about what she had experienced at the hands of Shiflet.

At the time, Shiflet had recently returned to Denton after being fired from the Arkansas church in 2003. According to the report summary, the Arkansas church fired Shiflet after he was observed touching one girl’s thigh and kissing another.

Deborah said Denton Bible leaders confronted Shiflet and his wife about her allegations. The church also revoked Shiflet’s ordination in 2005.

Also in 2005, Deborah helped another woman, who was abused by Shiflet in Arkansas when she was 15 to 19 years old, come forward to leaders at Denton Bible about her abuse, Deborah said.

Church leaders did not report the allegations of abuse to authorities. They also never checked back with Deborah or the other victim to see how they were doing, Deborah said.

Deborah says another victim came forward to Nelson in 2015.

In 2019, Deborah said she and another victim reported Shiflet’s crimes to police, and the case was escalated to the FBI. At this point, Denton Bible reported Shiflet to police, as well, she said.

In 2019, after a victim’s parents approached church leadership and said their daughter was “still struggling because of Shiflet’s abuse and the inaction of Denton Bible,” the church commissioned an independent investigation.

The church hired Scott Fredericks, an experienced attorney and investigator, to determine “(1) the scope of Shiflet’s abuse in our church, (2) what was known about his conduct and when that was known, and (3) how the church responded.”

Shiflet was charged with sex crimes and arrested in June 2020. In November 2020, he pleaded guilty to two charges of transportation of a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity.

One of the counts to which Shiflet pleaded guilty occurred during his tenure at Denton Bible. It involved a 14-year-old girl on a school trip to Arkansas in 1997 on which Shiflet served as a chaperone. He was accused of “kissing and sexually touching a girl over and under her clothing and telling her not to tell anyone what he had done.”

After Shiflet pleaded guilty, Fredericks began the investigative process. His team interviewed over 40 people, including victims, families, staff, and elders. They also reviewed hundreds of pages of documents, the report said.

The investigation revealed three areas where “serious mistakes” were made by Denton Bible leadership. One, they did not protect the children from Shiflet. Two, they did not have a “victim-centered” response. Three, the “cultural dynamics at Denton Bible contributed to or exacerbated these failures.”

Empowered to Speak

Though Deborah said she’s grateful for the investigation and its report, both are “too little too late.”

She said she’s devastated by the length of time it took from the initiation of the investigative process in November 2020 to the release of the report in May 2022. Waiting so long “took an emotional and spiritual toll” on victims, she said.

Yet Deborah said she was “empowered greatly” by attending the Restore Conference last May, sponsored by TRR. After the conference, Deborah told her story to Fox4 News.

“The testimonies of those I heard, especially of other victims, gave me the vocabulary I needed and empowered me to take the steps I have to address this,” Deborah said of her experience. “This conference was one of the most validating experiences of my life.”

Deborah said she’s still healing from the trauma of Shiflets abuse and the church’s response to the abuse but has been able to forgive the elders, Nelson, and even Shiflet. Even so, she said she believes Nelson should be fired for the abysmal way he handled Shiflet’s abuse and his callous treatment of victims. She also hopes other churches will take note of what happened at Denton and do a “hard reset.”

“My heart in coming forward is to raise a warning to the global church that they cannot silence the voice of childhood victims,” she said.

Kim Roberts is a freelance writer who holds a Juris Doctor from Baylor University. Julie Roys is the founder and editor of The Roys Report.