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Gay-Sex Sting Operation Nabs Baptist Pastor

A Southern Baptist pastor was among 40 men arrested on indecency charges in a two-week investigation of city parks in Johnson City, Tenn.

Robert E. Riley, 55, stepped down as pastor of Rogersville First Baptist Church in Rogersville, Tenn., after being charged with disorderly conduct and indecent exposure, the Rogersville Review reported Wednesday.

Johnson City police said after receiving several complaints, officers went undercover to investigate “inappropriate or anti-social illegal behavior” in public parks.

According to a report Tuesday in the Johnson City Press, the sting was just the beginning for authorities who said homosexual activities in city parks have become a “serious problem.”

The newspaper described one area off the beaten path, a growth of underbrush frequented so much by men to have sex that it earned a word-of-mouth nickname of the “Man Cave.” Police said they would strike up conversations with men approaching the trail to the spot–conversations that would quickly turn sexual and at times led to proposals for sex.

The Rogersville paper on Wednesday said Riley’s arrest report stated that the minister exposed himself to an undercover officer on the afternoon of Sept. 26 and asked the officer to engage in sexual conduct. The report said Riley was cited without incident and “warned not to be back in any Johnson City park.”

According to a Southern Baptist Convention church database, Rogersville First Baptist Church was founded in 1890. It has a total membership of 1,088 and average attendance of 300.

Riley’s name was removed from a staff listing on the church’s Web site. The staff member listed as contact at the site did not respond to an e-mail requesting information about Riley’s employment status before the deadline for this story, but the Rogersville newspaper said contacted the church’s chairman of deacons on Tuesday, who said Riley has resigned his position and is no longer serving as pastor.

“We have supported Bob Riley during the years he was here as pastor and a member of the church,” deacon chairman Bill Trent told the Review. “At this time our prayers are with him and his family.”

Riley isn’t the only out-of-work Tennessee Baptist preacher facing legal problems. The Jackson Sun reported earlier this week that Mark Woodson Mangrum, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Parsons, Tenn., is scheduled to appear in court Friday to change his plea to guilty in connection with a federal charge that accuses him of using a computer to entice a 14-year-old boy into having sex.

Mangrum was one of six people indicted Feb. 13 by a grand jury in Memphis on federal charges of child pornography or using a computer to solicit sex from a minor.

Mangrum’s attorney at first said his defendant didn’t do anything wrong and was looking forward to defending himself in court. But on Monday attorney Mark Donahoe told the Jackson Sun that Mangrum had settled on a plea agreement, but he couldn’t discuss details.

Mangrum reportedly worked at First Baptist Church in Parsons six years before resigning in January. In February Donahoe said Mangrum stepped down because, “he didn’t want anyone in the church to be uncomfortable or for this situation to affect the church in any way until the final matter can be resolved.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.