Once the most sought-after African-American on the Southern Baptist Convention preaching circuit before sexual misconduct marred his ministry in the 1990s, Pastor Darrell Gilyard has taken a leave of absence from his Jacksonville, Fla., mega-church after a woman told police he sent obscene text messages to her daughter.
The alleged victim’s mother filed a complaint against the 14-year pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Nov. 29. According to media reports, the woman claimed she found obscene text messages when she checked her daughter’s phone Oct. 23. The report doesn’t include the girl’s age, according to the Associated Press, but describes her as a minor.
According to the Florida Times-Union, the mother waited so long because deacons at the church asked her not to involve the police until they spoke with Gilyard and promised to take care of it.
The sheriff’s office hasn’t filed any charges but referred the case to its sex-crimes unit, according to a local television station.
Gilyard said in a statement he was voluntarily agreeing to a leave of absence with pay “in light of recent issues that have been brought to our attention.”
“It is my goal, during this time, to have a complete and thorough review of the facts,” Gilyard said. “Once this is completed we will discuss how to proceed accordingly.”
Gilyard, 45, rose to fame among white leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention after Jerry Vines, at the time co-pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., who later served as the SBC president, discovered the gifted young black preacher in the early 1980s.
Learning that Gilyard wanted to attend college and seminary but couldn’t afford it, Vines called on his friend Paige Patterson, at the time president of Criswell College in Dallas, who secured a scholarship for Gilyard. Gilyard didn’t finish his degree, but Patterson continued to mentor him, helping him to land preaching gigs at Baptist state conventions and evangelistic rallies across the country.
Gilyard reciprocated by leading his multiracial Victory Baptist Church in Richardson, Texas, one of the fastest-growing in the nation, to join the Southern Baptist Convention in 1990.
The friendship ruptured in 1991, when Gilyard admitted to several adulterous affairs with women he was counseling. Gilyard resigned as pastor of Victory Baptist Church under pressure from SBC leaders. Patterson counseled him to stay out of the ministry for at least two years, but Gilyard ignored the advice and started a new church with about 125 former Victory members two weeks later.
Gilyard gained national prominence on Jerry Falwell’s “Old Time Gospel Hour” with an emotional story of growing up homeless and sleeping under a bridge in Palatka, Fla., in a sermon sold as “The Darrell Gilyard Miracle Story.” The story unraveled, however, when the Dallas Morning News reported that Gilyard in fact was raised in a comfortable home by a woman who said she took him in as an infant and raised him as a son.
Gilyard became pastor at Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville at age 31 in 1993. A church Web site credits Gilyard with leading the church to grow from 200 to more than 9,000 members and construct a 5,000-seat sanctuary. His sermons are broadcast on television and streamed on the Internet. His recent guest appearances include a sermon at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., and appearance on Trinity Broadcasting Network.
Gilyard is also active in Jacksonville’s civic affairs. He recently received appointment to a 16-member commission to stem violent crime. He resigned from that post Sunday.
A leader at Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church told the Florida Times-Union in 1993 the church wasn’t concerned with Gilyard’s past. “He has taken the church from a dying church to a very progressive one,” Ella Marie Sykes, the director of church ministries told the newspaper. “We’re going to stand by him. We do love him and believe in him.”
The 1991 Dallas Morning News story that documented Gilyard’s fall from grace at Victory Baptist Church listed previous allegations of sexual misconduct at three churches in Oklahoma and Texas. The article accused Patterson of glossing over Gilyard’s 1985 firing as an assistant pastor from one of the churches for sexual misconduct and quoted multiple former Criswell College students who said they reported Gilyard–including one woman who said Gilyard tried to rape her–to Patterson and he told them to refrain from speaking about it unless they had substantive proof.
Patterson, who went on to serve as SBC president and now is president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, denied being confronted more than once, telling the Associated Baptist Press that particular woman “gave me reason to doubt it was true.”
“The fact that two former Southern Baptist presidents had significant information about Gilyard’s predatory conduct makes this story particularly troubling and shows how far the tentacles of collusion extend in this denomination,” said Christa Brown of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.