|Former Baptist mega-church pastor Darrell Gilyard pleaded not guilty to lewd and lascivious conduct at his arraignment Tuesday in Jacksonville, Fla.
Gilyard, who resigned Jan. 4 as pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church after two weeks of media reports that police were investigating him, did not appear in court. His lawyer entered a not-guilty plea on his behalf in the judge's chambers.
Once the most sought-after black preacher in the predominantly white Southern Baptist Convention, Gilyard was arrested Jan. 14 following a six-week investigation after a member of his church told police she found obscene text messages from the pastor on her 14-year-old daughter's cell phone.
As an up-and-coming young preacher in the 1980s, Gilyard was promoted heavily by SBC leaders including future convention presidents Jerry Vines and Paige Patterson.
Patterson, who mentored Gilyard as president of Criswell College in Dallas, says he severed ties with his former protégé after learning that Gilyard had numerous marital infidelities in 1991. Patterson, a conservative leader credited with cofounding the "conservative resurgence" that purged moderates from leadership in the nation's second-largest religious body, is now president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
Vines, who retired in 2006 as pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., said Gilyard asked him for forgiveness for his past troubles about four years ago. Vines said he agreed to forgive Gilyard and has preached in recent years at Gilyard's church.
Last month the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), called on Southwestern Seminary trustees to suspend Patterson and investigate newspaper reports from 1991 that Patterson ignored numerous allegations against Gilyard while at Criswell College, allowing Gilyard to move on to the Florida church, where he now stands accused of being a sexual predator.
Patterson called allegations by SNAP "misinformed and inaccurate" and denied turning a blind eye to sexual abuse by clergy.
Christa Brown, SNAP's Baptist coordinator, said SBC leaders washed their hands of Gilyard after too many problems cropped up and figured he wasn't their problem any more after he joined a non-SBC, independent Baptist church.
"Darrell Gilyard was someone that high levels of Southern Baptist officials actively promoted," Brown said in a YouTube interview with California filmmaker Dwayne Walker. "They talked about him [Gilyard] as if he was going to be the next Billy Graham, this great preacher. I've never heard him preach, but I've heard he's extraordinary."
"Is it enough that they went to such measures to promote this preacher, and then when they learned he had problems, they washed their hands of him and let him go independent?" she asked. "Having built this person up so much, shouldn't they have expended the same amount of effort to warn people about the truth of the person they had built up so much? I think people ought to be asking those questions. Just because they get these guys out of the SBC, so hopefully that they think the taint won't come back on them, well I think it should come back on them."
For more than a year, SNAP has been urging Southern Baptists, the nation's second-largest faith group behind Catholics, to consider an independent review board to receive and investigate reports of clergy sex abuse. The SBC Executive Committee is studying a motion referred by last year's convention to study the feasibility of a national database of clergy offenders and will report back to the convention in June.
Brown, a survivor of sexual abuse by her Southern Baptist youth minister decades ago when she was a teenager, said there currently is no system for accountability in the Southern Baptist denomination like those that exist in virtually every other organization.
"Police officers, if they get into some trouble, they have an independent review board," she said "They don't sit around with their buddies at the bar and let the buddies decide 'Oh well, was that self defense or not?' It's someone else who looks into it.
"Same thing with school teachers--they have boards they can be reviewed by. Medical review boards, dental review boards, nursing review boards, state bar review boards for lawyers. You don't have to be convicted of a crime. You can be reviewed for other sorts of conduct that is viewed as being not fitting for the profession.
"Even plumbers, I think, have review boards, but ministers don't. And they say 'We will handle it among ourselves.' And that just doesn't work. You can't have your own cronies and colleagues as your review board if you objectively look at what happened. It'll never work."
Walker runs a blog called Christian School Confidential, which chronicles the saga of Trinity Baptist Church, another Jacksonville mega-church accused of covering up for its now-deceased longtime former pastor accused of being a serial child molester.
Walker grew up as a fundamentalist Christian attending Trinity Christian Academy but is now a professed atheist. His films include "Bible Madness," a story of a woman molested by a church official as a young girl who makes a new life for herself in Southern California, and "Don't Go in the Church," a short film about growing concern regarding pedophile preachers in Protestant pulpits.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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