Videotapes and letters from almost 30 years ago are providing insights into how a prominent Southern Baptist leader defended and tried to rehabilitate a popular but predatory pastor. In its ongoing investigation into sexual-abuse coverups in America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Houston Chronicle this week described the newly unearthed documents.
According to the paper’s review of letters, interviews, and almost five hours of tapes, former Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president and seminary president Paige Patterson “personally investigated and downplayed” abuse claims against Darrell Gilyard, a pastor he’d mentored. The items also show how Patterson and others attempted to blame and silence Gilyard’s accusers while maintaining the pastor’s reputation and career.
Patterson Defended Darrell Gilyard as a “spokesman of God”
Gilyard received national attention when televangelist Jerry Falwell featured his “miracle story”—including a background of homelessness that was later questioned. Though Gilyard lacked pastoral training, his charismatic delivery earned him the title of “the black Dr. Vines,” referring to Jerry Vines, another former SBC president who mentored him.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, allegations against Gilyard emerged from several SBC churches he served in Texas and Oklahoma. Even after Gilyard confessed to some claims and resigned from Victory Baptist Church near Dallas in 1991, tapes show Patterson defended Gilyard and spoke about “sins” committed by his accusers, who were “not innocent either.”
Patterson hailed Gilyard as “a spokesman of God” and “one of the most brilliant men who has ever stepped into the pulpit.” He asked church members not to publicly discuss the situation—something Patterson also did in 1987, when Gilyard resigned from another Dallas-area Baptist church after 20 women accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior.
In a 1987 letter to E.K. Bailey, pastor of Concord Missionary Baptist Church, Patterson urged Bailey to “forget the past” and keep quiet while Patterson tried to “rehabilitate the gifted young preacher” from “mistakes.” Patterson wrote that Gilyard “is no longer a problem to you” and “is worth salvage,” asking Bailey “not to disparage him any further.”
That year, partly due to recommendations from Patterson, Gilyard was hired at Hilltop Baptist Church in Norman, Oklahoma. More accusations soon arose, and in a 1989 letter, Patterson admitted to Hilltop’s co-pastor, Dan Maxwell, that it had been “unwise” to promote Gilyard until he’d learned “lessons of life that are important.” Patterson also indicated that any allegations against Gilyard needed to be substantiated by two or more witnesses.
Patterson promised to monitor Gilyard, who was directed to see Dallas counselor Don Simpkins in the late ’80s. During a meeting with eight accusers, Gilyard, and Patterson, Simpkins says Patterson focused on the women’s pasts and frightened them out of pressing charges. The counselor called the situation “a dog and pony show,” saying Patterson stopped taking his calls after Simpkins told him Gilyard “needed to be removed from ministry.”
Gilyard Continued Preaching But Eventually Was Convicted
Gilyard continued to gain popularity, however, and preached at the SBC pastors’ conference in 1989 and 1991. At Victory, allegations of sexual misconduct continued. The newly discovered tapes feature comments from Martha Dixius, a social worker at Victory, who describes Gilyard’s accusers as traumatized and “hurting.” Dixius, now deceased, says in the tape: “There is a lot of depression… It is eating [the women] alive.”
After his 1991 resignation, Gilyard headed to Jacksonville, Florida. In 1996, the insurer of Gilyard’s church paid $300,000 to settle sexual misconduct allegations against him.
Patterson eventually cut ties with Gilyard. Vines, who’d once written that Gilyard shouldn’t be leading a church, wrote in his autobiography that he “had no other option but to forgive” Gilyard after the pastor admitted “moral failings” to him about 2003. Five years later, Vines wrote that he saw “the first sign that I had been misled” by Gilyard.
In 2009, Gilyard was convicted of sex crimes against two Florida teenagers and served a three-year prison sentence. He also faced several civil lawsuits. Upon his 2012 release, Gilyard began pastoring another SBC church in Jacksonville after a judge adjusted his sex offender probation terms. When news broke that children had to be kept out of worship services at Christ Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church, the SBC broke ties with that congregation.