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Former Southern Baptist Pastor Charged with Rape, Sexual Battery of Teenage Boy

A former Southern Baptist pastor in Cordova, Tenn., has been indicted on charges of rape and sexual battery by an authority figure involving a teenage boy.

Last week a grand jury handed down criminal indictments against Steven Haney, former pastor of Walnut Grove Baptist Church in suburban Memphis. Haney, 47, was arrested July 12 after a man, who is now 21, said his former pastor molested him over a five-year period beginning when he was 15.

In a preliminary hearing in August, the alleged victim said Haney seduced him into a long-term sexual relationship by telling him it was a test of his faith in God.

If convicted of rape, Haney could face eight to 12 years in prison. He also faces three counts of sexual battery by an authority figure, a felony punishable by three to six years in jail. As of now, Haney is free on $25,000 bond.

Haney was pastor of Walnut Grove Baptist Church for 20 years before resigning last December. After his arrest, former church members said about 30 families left the congregation after similar accusations involving Haney surfaced in the 1990s.

Police said in July they were interviewing as many as 10 people who said they had dealings with Haney in the past to see if there might be additional victims.

In June an Oklahoma pastor made a motion requesting the SBC Executive Committee to conduct a feasibility study “concerning the development of a database of Southern Baptist clergy and staff who have been credibly accused of, personally confessed to, or legally been convicted of sexual harassment or abuse, and that such a database be accessible to Southern Baptist churches in order to assist in preventing any future sexual abuse or harassment.”

Victims’ advocates say Baptists’ governance system–where local churches make their own decisions about whom to hire as a minister–makes them vulnerable to sexual predators. They say a greater problem, however, is a code of silence that–instead of exposing predators–allows them to move on quietly, often to another church, while pressuring victims to keep quiet for the “good of the church.”

Newspapers recently reported the arrest of a former independent Baptist pastor in Florida accused of molesting girls in North Carolina 30 years earlier.

The Fayetteville Observer reported Oct. 9 that Anthony Phillips Denton, 57, was charged with 16 counts of taking indecent liberties with children between 1977 and 1981, while employed as a music minister at Berean Baptist Church.

Until recently Denton worked as a counselor at Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., a church already in the media spotlight since the arrest last May of its longtime former pastor Bob Gray on charges of capital sexual battery over acts two women now in their 30s claim happened when they were 6 years old.

Local media carried reports that church leaders knew Gray was a pedophile but covered it up. Don Boys of Cutting Edge Ministries wrote that he spoke to women who told him Gray also knew about Denton’s past but said Denton had repented of his sins. One alleged former victim of Denton, Boys said, contacted Trinity’s current pastor to warn him about sexual crimes and was told she needed to get counseling.

Neither Trinity Baptist nor Berean Baptist churches are affiliated with the SBC, but allegations of sexual abuse by Gray date as far back as 1949, when he was a young assistant pastor at a Southern Baptist church in Hampton, Fla.

Trinity is also part of the Southwide Baptist Fellowship, a group of independent Baptists that has made overtures to a Southern Baptist Convention they now see as purified by the so-called “conservative resurgence” of the 1980.

Past SBC President Jerry Vines spoke favorably of Trinity Baptist Church at a conference in 2006, reportedly without mentioning the pedophilia scandal. (In 2002 Vines famously called the Muslim Prophet Muhammad a “demon-possessed pedophile.”)

At the same conference the late Jerry Falwell addressed the accusations of molestation and rape of numerous children against the former pastor, describing it as a “bump in the road.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

Related stories:

Alleged Victim Says Former Pastor Told Him Sex Was Test of Faith

Former Preacher Accused of Molestation May Face More Charges

Clergy Sex-Abuse Scandals Hit Baptist Churches in Tennessee, Louisiana

Report Alleges Cover-Up of Pedophile by Baptist Church

Falwell Terms Clergy Sex-Abuse Case ‘Bump in the Road’

Former SBC President Defends Denomination’s Record Against Clergy Sex Abuse

Clergy Sex-Abuse Survivor Questions Fairness of SBC Executive Committee Study