It’s been almost a month since the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News published their expose´on the Southern Baptist Convention’s track record of handling sexual abuse cases in its midst. The pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Ashburn, Georgia, has come forward with an apology.
“Recently I have come to realize that I failed my duty as pastor in not taking action against an individual who had been accused of child abuse in the past at another church. This was because of my long‑standing friendship with the accused,” Pastor Rodney Brown wrote in a statement to the Christian Index.
Trinity’s Troublesome History With the Accused
Brown says the staff member in question, Trinity’s minister of music, has been fired and asked not to come back to the church. This is not the first time the person in question (Brown and others have not used the person’s name due to the fact that he was not convicted of a crime) has been fired. According to the Baptist Press, Brown said in “2013 or 2014,” the music minister confessed to having molested a young teen decades earlier while at another church. Brown told BP he fired the staffer “right there on the spot” but allowed him to continue attending and being a member of the church. Eventually, other church leaders convinced Brown to give the person the music minister position back, citing an apparent repentance and lack of suspicious behavior. Now, Brown sees this decision as a mistake.
In the most recent statement, Brown writes:
I have injured the victims of the accused by my actions, especially Mr. David P, who brought this to my attention. I have spent much time before God repenting for my actions. I now ask David P and the other victims for forgiveness for my acting so irresponsibly.
I also must ask Southern Baptist Convention President Dr. J.D. Greear and the SBC in general, along with the Georgia Baptist Convention, to forgive my actions. I have acted irresponsibly toward them in the past few weeks and I truly express my deep sorrow for that. I pray we can heal and become stronger in the protection of our children.
My greatest failure during this time has been to the God I serve who gave His Son for me. This situation has greatly changed my thinking as pastor. I realize that friendship can never override the duties God has given me to protect those we serve in His name. My prayer is for God’s mercy and healing for the victims of these terrible acts and for any churches affected.
Mentioned in Brown’s statement is “David P,” or David Pittman. According to the Houston Chronicle, Pittman says the music minister abused him over 30 years ago at a church near Atlanta. Although the incident occurred in the 1980s, Pittman didn’t speak out about it until 2006, and authorities told him it was too late to press charges. Although he couldn’t press charges, Pittman used his voice to warn others about his abuser, including a school that employed the man as a substitute teacher, and Trinity Baptist Church. For 13 years, his warnings were mostly brushed off. And while Pittman feels “vindicated” by the firing of his abuser from Trinity, he is still very skeptical of the SBC’s ability to right its ship.
The SBC Scrambles to Respond to Expose´
Since the publishing of the Houston Chronicle articles, the President of the SBC, J.D. Greear, has weighed in, asking for a change in the SBC’s “rulebook,” the Baptist Faith and Message, to include wording that would disfellowship churches that are negligent in their responsibility to protect victims of sexual abuse and prevent abuse from happening. This would include, among other things, repercussions for churches hiring people with credible allegations of sexual abuse against them. Greear also indicated a long-called-for database of sexual abusers for the SBC was not off the table.
Greear also asked the Executive Committee to look into 10 churches mentioned in the Houston Chronicle’s articles to determine whether they were in right standing with the SBC. The EC’s response to Greear’s request was disheartening to many following the unfolding story. The EC’s response can only be described as cursory and hasty. The leader of the workgroup, Ken Alford, actually resigned from his position on the EC over the backlash, although he indicated such backlash was “unfair” due to the EC’s lack of “investigative authority.”
Trinity Turned Itself In
Considering Trinity was on Greear’s list of churches he believes need to be investigated, yet the EC deemed “no further inquiry is warranted,” in essence, Brown has done what the EC would not. He has spoken to victims, in this case, Pittman, he has examined his own actions in the matter, he is asking for forgiveness, and finally, he has protected others by firing the abuser.
Brown isn’t the only leader apologizing in this instance, though. Georgia Baptist Executive Director W. Thomas Hammond Jr. also apologized for the way he reacted to the Houston Chronicle’s reporting and Greear’s directive, which some found troublesome due to its “blindsiding” of the churches mentioned. After reading two churches in Georgia on the list, Hammond reached out to Brown to get his take on the story. He initially expressed his dismay over the fact that the church had been exposed in such a way.