|An African-American Baptist preacher once promoted by past Southern Baptist Convention presidents Paige Patterson and Jerry Vines and the late television preacher Jerry Falwell surrendered to police in Jacksonville, Fla., Monday afternoon on charges of lewd and lascivious conduct with a 14-year-old girl.
Darrell Gilyard, 45, took a voluntary leave of absence as pastor of Jacksonville's Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church Dec. 21 after a member of his church told police she found obscene text messages from him on her daughter's cell phone Oct. 23. Gilyard resigned Jan. 4 from the church he led over a 14-year-period to grow from a dwindling congregation into a 7,000-member mega-church.
An arrest warrant issued after a six-week investigation alleged that Gilyard "did solicit a person under 16 years old to commit a lewd act by sending her lewd text messages and requesting for her to send him lewd text messages back."
Gilyard's attorney released a statement saying the pastor volunteered to surrender immediately upon being informed he was under arrest. He said Gilyard "has been a committed community servant, instrumental in building Shiloh Baptist from a few to several thousand, and improving many neighborhoods and the lives of young people following a path of crime and drugs."
"It would be inappropriate to comment on any matters properly addressed in the courtroom," the statement said. "In the meanwhile, he appreciates the enormous support of his family and others, and has sought professional support for himself and his family during this very trying time."
Gilyard was released from jail after posting $5,000 bond. His arraignment on the felony charge is scheduled Feb. 5.
Media attention to the scandal renewed attention to 17-year-old newspaper reports from Texas reporting that Gilyard was forced to leave four churches in the 1980s and 1990s after numerous women in those congregations accused him of sexual abuse.
Those reports also raised questions about handling of those allegations by Paige Patterson, an influential conservative leader who mentored Gilyard while president of Criswell College in Dallas. The Dallas Morning News quoted several women who said they complained to Patterson about Gilyard, but he refused to believe them and told them not to repeat their accusations without proof before finally severing ties with his former protégé after Gilyard admitted to committing adultery in 1991.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests asked trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where Patterson is now president, to suspend him and investigate whether his alleged inaction helped a serial predator move from church to church.
"I never asked anybody to remain quiet about anything," Patterson said last Thursday on Dallas-Fort Worth TV station WFFA, adding that he believes Gilyard should never be allowed back in the pulpit
Tiffany Croft, a woman who claims she resisted unwanted advances from Gilyard 17 years ago while an 18-year-old youth leader at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, says she, for one, doesn't hold Patterson or her pastor at the time, former SBC President Jerry Vines, responsible for Gilyard's conduct.
Croft, who started a blog encouraging others with knowledge of past sexual misconduct by Gilyard to come forward to help police in their investigation, said she believes both Vines and Patterson were in over their heads and did not know how to handle the situation, and that both made mistakes. She said she does not know why Vines has since spoken in Gilyard's church, but he now knows it was a poor choice.
"I extended forgiveness and mercy to him and evidently he trampled upon them," Vines wrote in an e-mail to the Florida Times-Union. "No minister if guilty of sexual improprieties, especially with underage children, should ever be allowed to stand behind the sacred desk again. Let the truth be found and let justice be done."
Croft wrote Saturday in her blog that she would like to see Patterson and Vines "now step up and help put an end to this problem within the church."
"We need a system where sexual predators go on the books (especially after more than one allegation) [in] some kind of record accessible by all churches to check before hiring pastors or other staff," she wrote.
"It is not enough to do criminal background checks, because many times victims do no more than confront the church, so there is no public record," she said. "We need a system available to churches nationwide that prevents this."
Croft said several people have asked for such a record, primarily Christa Brown of SNAP, who has asked Southern Baptist Convention leaders to consider not only a database but an independent panel to receive and review reports of sexual abuse by clergy. Brown said a church panel would function in the 90-percent-plus cases that are not prosecuted because they are outside a statute of limitations by the time a victim speaks up.
Brown said a national database might have stopped Gilyard, because predators often continue and escalate their behavior after they are allowed to get away with it.
Croft said Southern Baptists' current practice of trying to keep abusive clergy out of the public eye and black-ball them by word of mouth doesn't adequately protect churches.
Croft said a national database is "such a simple thing, really," and asked, "Who better [to support it] than two prominent voices like Paige Patterson and Dr. Vines?"
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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