Church Members Seek Answers|
By Martina Brendel
January 30, 2006
Congregants of St. John's Baptist Church in Jersey City are demanding answers from church leaders about the sexual harassment lawsuit filed against the pastor that may cost the church more than $100,000.
Three members of the congregation walked out during the Rev. Sammie Lee Hawkins's sermon yesterday, while dozens more remained inside, signing a petition calling for a mediated discussion about the issue between church leaders and congregants.
"The people of St. John's know what's going on and we want answers," said Darreth Millers, a board member for 12 years who was among the three who walked out yesterday, and helped spread the word about the petition. "The sad part is that the people who should be giving answers haven't been giving them."
Millers said the purpose of the petition was to convince the pastor and the board to talk about the lawsuit and what it means to the congregation.
"You can't treat us like you'd treat a dog, just because you're the pastor," Millers said. "You have to respect people and give them answers."
Millers had also attempted to organize a walkout during Hawkins's sermon, but was joined by just two other congregants, including Jermaine Johnson.
"They're intimidated by him," Johnson said of Hawkins. "He's very strong-willed. Some people don't want to speak out."
Some members, including Shirley Johnson Hall and Mazie Jones, said they support their pastor.
"We only want the truth told about him," Hall said. "He loves the church, he loves the people and he loves serving God. He is what we need."
Jones called the charges against the pastor "lies, lies."
Hawkins was accused in 2003 of sexual harassment by Kevin Profit, the church's former organist. Hawkins represented himself during a civil suit, but then walked out during a pre-trial hearing in October and never returned. A judge then ordered a default judgment against Hawkins and ordered the church to pay $112,415 to Profit, according to court documents.
On Jan. 19, the church held a meeting - attended by 200 of its 300 congregants - to discuss the accusations against Hawkins and how the church should proceed. Rather than acknowledge the charges, Hawkins denied them and called instead for the temporary suspension of Millers, who he said had "brought shame to the church" by speaking about the charges to The Jersey Journal.
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