“It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being.” ― John Joseph Powell
In August 2009, I wrote several posts about how poorly Belleview Baptist Church and Steve Gaines handled a sex abuse situation. I was beginning to see that I had kicked over a hornet’s nest by starting this blog. This situation was truly shocking. Here is what Christa Brown wrote back then. Bellevue: Clergy sex-abuse and cover-up scandal-hit Southern Baptist flagship.
Bellevue Baptist is a flagship megachurch for Southern Baptists. It was long pastored by 3-term Southern Baptist president Adrian Rogers, and more recently, by Steve Gaines. In 2006-07, it was mired in reports of a clergy child molestation cover-up.
Pastor Steve Gaines knew that one of his staff ministers had sexually abused a kid years earlier. What did he do? He kept quiet. Not until 6 months later, when the news was broken in a blog was the congregation finally informed. It was a “church matter” said the pastor, and he gave a sermon on “grace” and redemption.
According to Wikipedia
On December 17, 2006, the church announced that Paul Williams, a minister and staffer at the church for 34 years, had been placed on leave with an investigation pending regarding a “moral failure,” identified by Gaines and others as alleged child molestation in the 1980s. The next day, December 18, Gaines released a statement that acknowledged that he had been aware of the allegation since June 2006 but that he did not address it for several months because Williams had been attending professional counseling, because of confidentiality concerns, and out of compassion for the staffer.[
It gets worse. Baptist Press reported that Williams had abused his own son.
Paul Williams, minister of prayer and special projects at Bellevue Baptist Church, sexually abused his son 17 years ago, according to a report from the church’s investigative committee. The committee announced its findings to the congregation Jan. 28.
“Paul Williams engaged in egregious, perverse, sexual activity with his adolescent son over a period of 12 to 18 months,” the report said. “Paul became convicted of his actions, and he stopped. He asked for forgiveness from his son and never touched him inappropriately again. (Dee: I don’t beleive him.) At that time Paul told no one else.”
…Williams, who had served at Bellevue for 34 years, told investigators he was sexually abused as a child.
Steve Gaines, senior pastor at the Memphis-area megachurch, told the congregation Williams had confessed the misconduct to him six months earlier. Gaines later said he should have immediately disclosed the information to church leadership.
At the time, there were some calls for Gaines to resign after this incident but the investigation committee, foolishly in my opinion, said all was well. No more kids were molested. Williams was fired.
The investigation committee stated Williams “did not pose a danger or risk to children at the church” from 2006, when Bellevue Baptist Church ministers learned of his past sexual misconduct, until the time of his dismissal. However, some church members told interviewers they felt they had been violated by Williams when he asked inappropriate questions in the course of his ministerial duties.
Steve Gaines would go on to be elected SBC president. He even *bravely* said that Paige Patterson’s statements were improper.
Given all of this, I knew we would be hearing from Steve Gaines and Bellevue Baptist again in the area of sexual abuse.
How does one look at a complex situation involving sex abuse?
Pardon my brief diversion. Before I started blogging, I spoke with Barabara Dorris at SNAP, as well as the well-known attorney, Jeff Anderson, both of whom offered me important advice. Barbara told me to always remember the victim, placing them in front of me as I try to figure things out. Jeff Anderson taught me about the legalities surrounding blogging and offered his assistance if ever needed. I am going to apply Barabara Dorris’s advice in the next situation.
Also, I’m going to apply what I learned about Steve Gaines and Belleview Baptist from way back when I started blogging.
James Hook, a paid volunteer at Bellevue Baptist allegedly molested a 15-year-old teen on church grounds as well as elsewhere.
According to the Commercial Appeal in Bellevue Baptist Church sued after paid volunteer coordinator sexually abuses teenager by Katherine Burgess:
The parents of a 15-year-old sexual abuse victim are suing Bellevue Baptist Church, saying the flagship church in the Southern Baptist Convention provided a space for her abuser to groom and abuse her, and that church officials failed to remove her abuser from working with children after being warned.
James A. Hook was a paid volunteer coordinator at the church when he sexually abused his victim, who is identified by the pseudonym “Janet Doe,
Here is where it gets complicated. You can be sure that Gaines and Bellevue Baptist will try to use it to their advantage in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit notes that Hook knew “Janet Doe” and her family outside of Bellevue: Hook and the victim’s mother had an extramarital affair in 2011, “long before the abuse,” according to the complaint. They also had a child together, “Janet Doe’s” sibling, according to Bellevue’s response to the complaint.
When the victim’s parents separated in 2018, Hook began communicating with the victim and her mother
Hook became a paid volunteer at the church around that time. However, it appears that the church was warned about him.
The complaint says that “Janet Doe’s” father warned Bellevue Baptist that Hook should not be allowed to interact with children.
Of course, predators are going to do what predators do. According to Family suing Bellevue Baptist Church over a former employee who admitted to sexually abusing teen girl by Chris Luther:
Now, a lawsuit filed on behalf of the victim’s parents claims some of the sexual acts committed by Hook happened on church property, that church leaders ignored warnings about Hook and that the church failed to have policies in place to prevent this abuse.
According to the parents, some people at the church knew Janet Doe was leaving with Hook.
The suit alleges Hook groomed the victim, identified as Janet Doe, and was provided unsupervised access to the teen at Bellevue.
“And he would leave with her in the presence of people who are there to monitor and would see him leave with her and nobody ever stopped him,” Smith said.
Luther claimed that Hook was serving time:
Hook is currently serving a five-year sentence.
But what is that “Five-year sentence? Not much, apparently and some church members, taking a page from Gaines’ past, supported Hook and asked for leniency
If this is true, I am absolutely disgusted. It causes me to wonder what goes on at BBC.
BBC says they didn’t do anything wrong and Hook was functioning outside of their communicated standards for (paid) volunteers
(PS What is the difference between a paid volunteer and an employee?_
See if you follow this…Luther reports:
The lawsuit admits that Hook had an extramarital affair with the victim’s Doe’s mother years ago and that Doe’s father once warned church leaders to keep his daughter away from Hook.
…lawyers for Bellevue Baptist Church say the church had no knowledge of the abuse and “denies that Bellevue Baptist Church is liable for any actions of James Hook which were outside the course and scope of his employment.”
According to Katherine Burgess of the Commerical Appeal in Bellevue Baptist Church responds to lawsuit over staff member’s abuse of teen
In its response filed in court, Bellevue denied “any suggestion or insinuation that Bellevue permitted, condoned or was aware” that Hook was grooming his victim. The church also denied any liability for Hook’s actions “which were outside the course and scope of his employment.”
Hook is one sick dude if these allegations are true. My heart goes out to Janet Doe.
According to the lawsuit, Hook used his position to encourage “Janet Doe” — the pseudonym used to identify his 15-year-old victim — to volunteer in the children’s Sunday School program, where he had access to her alone. There, the complaint says, he groomed her, giving her gifts, complimenting her and sending her sexually explicit photos of her mother taken during an extramarital affair seven years earlier.
The following may be how Hook was arrested. As told in In Disturbing details released after man caught at park with teenager:
A 43-year-old man was arrested over the weekend after his alleged interactions with a teenage girl came to light.
According to police, officers were called to the 8000 block of Dexter Road on Sunday and found a 2018 Toyota backed into a parking spot. In the back, the officer located a man, later identified as James Hook, and a 16-year-old girl underneath a blanket.
Police noted that both Hook and the victim described themselves as being in a father/daughter relationship. At one point, Hook had reportedly told the girl that he wanted to be a father figure to her. He was listed in her phone as “daddy” and she would go to him for advice, police said.
Hook even gave the girl a ring because “daddy’s give their daughters rings until they get married,” the police report said.
Some final thoughts.
What is it with the church members going to court to stand with and by predators? I have written a number of posts on this behavior. It happened in the church I left prior to starting this blog.
The Friendly Atheist addressed this in Baptist Church Sued for Not Stopping Staffer from Sexually Assaulting Girl.
The church says in its response that no one there knew what was happening and that they never allowed “unsupervised and unrestricted access to volunteers.” But apparently they knew enough to believe Hook was innocent of any wrongdoing; members of the church apparently showed up to his sentencing hearing to “show support and ask the judge for leniency.” The complaint also alleges that staff members saw Hook and the girl together, alone, but failed to intervene.
All of those courses on *How to witness to an atheist* will not get far when your witness is sticking up for a predator. Did anyone from the church go to sit on the side of the victim or ask for a tougher sentence for a man who abused a teen from their church? Anyone????
This situation was covered over at Reddit. It was not well received.
The church claims that it bears no responsibility if a paid volunteer functions outside of his stated responsibilities.
If a nurse doesn’t perform his duties as stated and a patient is hurt, the hospital, the attending physicians, and other involved personnel can be successfully sued. I believe that if churches cannot keep a close watch on the people in their building who are caring for underage children, then they should not run a program in which they reassure parents that their children are safe.
I believe that the members of this church exhibit a poor understanding of predators and their victims.
Given the history of Steve Gaines and BBC, this should come as no surprise. No thoughtful Christian should go to a court trial and deliberately, in possible view of the victim and parents, sit on the side of a pervert and defend him or ask for leniency. I predict this fiasco will long haunt their *Memphis witness* Their actions are creepy(Amnd they better not pull the David was forgiven meme. It will only further demonstrate their ignorance.)
I believe there is a subtle innuendo at play that this poor teen victim comes from a questionable background and that maybe her molestation is the fault of her parents or her upbringing.
First of all, we know that Hook is a predator. It is highly possible that he not only hurt this young teen but also her mother. We need to be careful when we pass judgment on a complex situation, especially that view could be used to benefits us. (Think the lawsuit.)
I believe that huge churches, like BBC, are at greater risk of sexual abuse in their youth programming because it is simply impossible for these churches to supply adequate supervision” Parents: Your kids are NOT safe.
This is a warning to parents whose children and teens are participating in BBC programs. If you want to protect your child since the church appears to be unable to do so, attend the programs to keep an eye on things. I know that your teens don’t want it and, if truth be told, it is nice to have a place to send your kids to have some time for yourself. I get it. I have raised 3 children to adulthood.
Parents, you have a problem. You go to a church in which your senior pastor covered up a pastor who molested his own son. This same church hired ane paid a volunteer who had a questionable background. They were warned by this teen’s father yet they continued to dole out his paycheck. Why? This seems crazy to me. No matter what the church says, they cannot know if this man has hurt other teens. Given his background, I would suspect it is possible.
Janet Doe was deeply wounded by Hook and the church appears to blow that off.
This teen has been deeply wounded by Hook. Her life will never be the same. She will need intensive counseling and I think the church should be willing to pay for outside, nonchurch connected counseling. Until Steve Gaines and his cohorts begin to truly understand the depths of the pain of abuse victims, they will not be able to truly offer a spiritually rich and safe youth program. They are at risk of a similar failure. To this observer, it seems like the church is making this all about them. “Poor us. We are getting sued. It just ain’t fair.” However, they need to contemplate Jesus who showed us that it’s about caring about the other: the abused teen, the disenfranchised, the ones who don’t look or live like us.