First Baptist Church of Raytown, Mo., held a members-only meeting Sunday night to discuss details of a recently settled lawsuit involving the pastor’s son, who fathered an out-of-wedlock child while serving on the church staff in 2004.
On Dec. 6 a circuit court in Jackson County, Mo., dismissed a lawsuit against Mark Lewis Brooks, son of pastor Paul Brooks, by a former church intern. She alleged the younger Brooks, employed at the time as a singles minister at the church, sexually assaulted her on numerous occasions over a five-month span between September 2003 and January 2004. She gave birth to a daughter in October 2004, and DNA tests proved Brooks was the father.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
According to accounts on an Internet discussion board, Brooks claimed the affair was consensual and that the woman is in love with him. He was 32 and married when she became pregnant. She was 20.
A court-approved settlement required the woman and her mother, a member at First Baptist, <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Raytown, for more than 20 years, to relinquish membership in the church. All parties agreed never to contact the other. The child may initiate contact with her father or grandfather after she turns 18. The mother gave up future claims of child support. Brooks gave up parental rights. The child was adopted by her maternal grandfather.
Neither side is allowed to talk about the case to the media, but the agreement allowed Brooks to share information about the case with members of First Baptist. According to Internet reports, Mark Brooks did not attend the Sunday meeting, but a lawyer presented evidence there was more to the story than the woman’s side. The younger Brooks did apologize to the church Dec. 3
Some members were satisfied, while others were not. Paul Brooks’ handling of the matter sharply divided the congregation in metropolitan Kansas City, one of the largest Southern Baptist churches in Missouri. Hundreds of members left, creating a budget shortfall of $800,000.
According to the original lawsuit, Mark Brooks forced himself on the young woman several times, telling her it was God’s will. When Paul Brooks phoned to ask about the nature of her relationship with his son, she said Mark Brooks would not leave her alone. Paul Brooks said it was her fault and told her not to answer his calls. When she became pregnant, both a counselor arranged by the church and Mark Brooks advised her to have an abortion. (In September First Baptist Raytown was host church for a rally opposed to stem-cell research featuring speakers including Rick Scarborough and Alan Keyes.)
Shortly after the former intern became pregnant, Mark Brooks announced he was returning to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Not knowing the circumstances, the church gave its blessing, including a written endorsement required for admission to the seminary. After the lawsuit was filed and reported in media, seminary officials reportedly expelled Brooks for not disclosing his paternity of the child.
After that, according to reports, Brooks moved to four different states in six months, making it difficult to serve him with court papers or collect child support. He did not begin paying child support until the child was 20 months old, when the state garnished his wages.
In March 2006, Brooks filed for joint custody of his daughter, arguing that both he and the mother were fit parents. (In the original lawsuit, the mother said Brooks caused her to fear for her safety.) In June 2006, after mediation failed, he filed for sole custody, claiming the mother was mentally and emotionally unstable and a threat to the child. In August Brooks dropped his lawsuit seeking custody or visitation rights, before terminating all parental rights Dec. 1.
Brooks has reportedly never met the child. His father reportedly does not acknowledge her as his grandchild. Lay leaders acknowledged the child’s paternity on a church Web site in July.
According to reports of Sunday’s meeting, Paul Brooks admitted to mistakes in trying to protect his son and the church and asked for forgiveness.
According to a transcript of his Dec. 3 apology, Mark Brooks said, “I am sorry, so very sorry for the damage that I have caused, for the shame that I brought on the Lord and on this church.”
Brooks said the church offered him a position of leadership, and he let them down. “I am so sorry,” he said. “You are a great church, you are a great people and you deserve better.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.