In a video statement released on Friday (April 1), Willy Rice disclosed that, many years ago, a member of the deacon body at Calvary Church in Clearwater, FL “committed a sexual sin that could also be described as abusive.”
Rice, who is the pastor of Calvary Church, is expected to accept a nomination for SBC president at the denomination’s annual meeting this summer in Anaheim, CA.
Rice further disclosed that he and other leaders at Calvary Church knew about the incident but said that after coming to the church, the man had displayed the “genuine fruits of a repentant life.” After several years of being a member of the church, the unnamed man was ordained to the office of deacon.
Rice said that after being contacted by a fellow pastor last week regarding the man’s previous abusive behavior, the leadership of Calvary Church “realized the need to reevaluate his role as a deacon.”
“We were challenged to think more accurately about our leadership structure, and allowing him to serve as a deacon was inconsistent with our desire to stand against all forms of sexual abuse,” Rice said. “We have all agreed that our brother should not continue to serve as a deacon at Calvary.”
Rice emphasized that the incident in question happened before the now-former deacon became a member of Calvary Church, and he had never received criminal charges.
“Nevertheless, it was a terrible sin, and it devastated people’s lives,” Rice said.
Rice explained that after the abusive incident, the former deacon experienced “a genuine conversion” to faith in Jesus. Several years later, he began attending Calvary Church and was open about his story. Rice further clarified that the deacon was never allowed to serve in ministries involving children or students, but became involved in other areas of the church before eventually becoming a deacon several years after that.
Rice now admits that the deacon never should have been ordained to the role.
“Over the last three to four years, we have grown in our understanding of the dynamics of sexual abuse and predatory behavior. If we were making the same decision today, after all we have learned, we would have obviously chosen differently,” Rice said. “But we’re all in agreement of that. Moreover, we’re in full agreement that going forward, we will strengthen the nominated process for our deacon body.”