Southern Religion

Sentenced after confessing more than a decade of sexual abuse

How long before he was arrested on Aug. 24 did Benton, Arkansas, First Baptist Church leaders know about allegations of sexual abuse against David Pierce?

Music minister there for 29 years, Pierce was sentenced on Aug. 27 to 10 years in prison.

Repeating a behavior often seen when Baptist clergy are charged with and/or convicted of sexually abusing parishioners, Greg Kirksey, former president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, wrote a letter asking the court for leniency on behalf of Pierce.

For example, in Illinois a Baptist newspaper editor was forced to resign after publishing a news story about charges of sexual misconduct filed against a Baptist minister.

It was 2002 and Pastor Leslie Mason was slated to be nominated to preach the keynote sermon at the annual meeting of the Illinois State Baptist Association.

Instead, Mason, then 34, now former pastor of Olney Southern Baptist Church in southern Illinois, faced charges of sexually assaulting two teenage girls who had attended his church. In a plea bargain, Mason pleaded guilty to two class-one felonies in exchange for dismissal of eight remaining counts.

He received a seven-year sentence – one year less than the period of abuse documented in court records.

Prize-winning, 19-year-veteran editor Michael Leathers was forced to resign to ensure that reporting like the Mason sex-abuse story “doesn’t happen again.” Thus Leathers and professional Baptist journalism in Illinois were added to the list of Mason’s victims.

As of this writing, North Carolina Biblical Recorder Editor Norman Jameson has not suffered a similar fate for publishing the story of a recent Baptist sexual abuse indictment. Whether there will be other official backlash, remains to be seen, given demonstrated Southern Baptist priorities in such matters.

Protecting church members from victimization isn’t the priority it should be the Southern Baptist Convention. They argue that church autonomy makes it a matter of individual church concern, and offer general guidance to member churches.

In 2008, the SBC made Number Six on Time Magazines list of under-reported news stories by refusing to create a central SBC database of church staff and clergy convicted or indicted on charges of molesting minors.

Meanwhile, Christa Brown of the Survivors Network wrote at Stop Baptist Predators:

How tragic that so many [at Benton First Baptist Church] were so wounded over such a long period before Pierce was finally stopped. This tragedy speaks to the need for Baptists to create a place where people may safely report clergy abuse with the expectation that their reports will be responsibly assessed and acted on.


August 31, 2009 - Posted by | Churches, Crime, Religion, SBC | , ,

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