(WEHT/CNN) – A sweeping investigation by two Texas newspapers reveals, that since 1998, 380 Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers have been accused of sexual misconduct.
According to the Houston Chronicle’s database, at least one Southern Baptist affiliated leader was accused of sexual misconduct in Vanderburgh County.
Nathan Anthony St. Pierre, a youth choir director, pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual misconduct with a minor in 2008.
He was sentenced to seven years but released on parole in 2010 and subsequently registered as a sex offender in Georgia.
Some are calling on churches to step up
Pastor Stephen Washburn of Pflugerville, Texas said, “I think it’s time that we Southern Baptists are kind of jolted into reality.”
Washburn said the pattern of sex abuse in Southern Baptist churches is heartbreaking and frightening.
“I was shocked. I was surprised by the report,” Washburn said.
He said it’s time for churches to take more responsibility in protecting their members.
At FBC Plugerville, a sexual harassment policy signed by all paid staff is a commitment that no accusation will go ignored.
Staff members and volunteers get a full background check once a year.
However, he said it shouldn’t stop there. He said it’s time for individual churches to talk to each other when it comes to hiring and firing.
“We should keep a registry of sexual abuse convictions so that any church in Southern Baptist life — if they are going to hire somebody — we call references,” said Washburn.
In 1999, Great Hills Baptist Church Youth pastor Charles Willits was convicted of multiple counts of indecency with a child.
He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and released in 2014.
In 2009, former Solid Rock Baptist Church Youth Pastor Shane Flournoy was sentenced to six years in prison for sexual assault of a minor he met at the Texas School for the Deaf.
In 2017, Pastor Ruben Garcia at Betania Baptist Church accepted a plea deal and avoided prison for the sexual assault of a child.
Washburn said for too long some church leaders have behaved above the law.
He said pastors should be treated differently by being held to a higher standard.
“We should be the example of how to live this life. And if we are not, we don’t deserve to hold a position,” said Washburn.
The newspapers said of those accused, 220 were either convicted of sex crimes or received deferred prosecutions in plea deals.
Of those 220, 90 remain in prison and 100 are registered sex offenders.
(This story was originally published on February 12, 2019)