Champion Forest Baptist Church and the SBC Hit With a Lawsuit from Three Alleged Victims of Timothy Jeltma. Did the Church Coverup Abuse?

Deep Space Network complex in Madrid, Spain, all six antennas were positioned to receive data from Voyager 1. It’s a process known as “arraying,” and it allows the DSN to collect the very faint signals from faraway spacecraft by combining the receiving power of several antennas. NASA/JPL

“We live in a society where people are often more offended by those who point out child abuse than by the abuse itself. In other words, society does not view abuse as the problem; the problem is you pointing it out. Society’s basic mindset is that “If we don’t talk about abuse, then it’s not happening.” Similarly, children are attacked when they point out the dysfunction around them.” ― Darius Cikanavicius, Human Development and Trauma: How Childhood Shapes Us into Who We Are as Adult”


So how did this happen?

Champion Forest Baptist Church

Here is a link. They sure love their students. The young people are at the top of the church’s home page. Here is a link to the staff page. They have lots of pastors and one female “minister.” Jarrett Stephens is the top dog in this organization. He has his page.

A native of Louisiana, Jarrett graduated from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark., with a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies and Psychology. He received his Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2006 and his Doctor of Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary in January 2012.

…Pastor Jarrett has served as Champion Forest’s Senior Pastor since January of 2021. He has led the church to establish a residency program that trains and equips seminary students who are called to ministry.

He has written at least two books and has his own podcast. The church has three sites, and the website claims:

Through multi-site strategy, CFBC has extended its reach across NW Houston and grown in attendance from 5,000 in 2013 to about 8,000 in average attendance as of September 2019.

The church hired 18-year-old Timothe Jason Jeltma to work with middle and high school girls! Jeltma was a predator and would go to prison 16 years later.

An 18-year-old male to work with girls? Huh? What was Stephen Trammel thinking?

Even if he were not an alleged molester, there were bound to be problems. The Chronicle reported in Houston that SBC megachurch ‘enabled a predator,’ new $1 million lawsuit claims:

 Champion Forest’s former executive pastor Stephen Trammell in 2009 allegedly “recruited” Jeltema, then aged 18, to work primarily with girls in middle school and high school. The suit also alleges that the church “encouraged” Jeltema to “develop extremely close relationships with the girls he pastored” in part by being available to contact them 24/7 through phone, text and social media platforms including Snapchat and Instagram.

Jeltma has far more problems than being a young guy working with girls near his age. Sixteen years later, he would be arrested and sentenced to prison. He is supposedly eligible for parole on 11/24, but it is projected he will serve until 2027.

The church and the SBC (yep—the denomination) are getting sued for negligence amid claims that up to 25 young women were harmed.

Three girls allege Jeltma molested them. According to the Chronicle and the lawyer, this is significant, given the ongoing DOJ investigation.

The suit states the Jane Does have suffered “extreme emotional distress.” It also accused church leaders of mishandling their reports of sexual crimes and accused then pastors of interfering with police investigations into Jeltema’s crime—a significant claim as there remains a federal investigation into the SBC’s handling of sexual abuse.

Read the following quote, which throws shade onto the SBC.

…The suit blamed Champion Forest for failing to “establish standards and procedures” for hiring and training Jeltema, “particularly with regard to the appropriate boundaries and interactions between staff members and children and adult males and female youth.” It also suggested that Jeltema was “able to engage his deviancy in one form of fashion with 25 young women” at the church. “This pattern is well known to the Southern Baptist Convention, however, SBC officials ‘decided’ to distract, minimize, avoid and often cover up these problems,” the suit states.

Do you think the SBC will settle this time around? I predict a settlement with an NDA and expect more of these lawsuits to follow.

The allegations surrounding what Stephen Trammel allegedly did to cover up what happened to one Jane Doe at the church camp are particularly horrific.

According to Bishop Accountability,

During a church camp in Florida in June 2018, one Jane Doe “begged” to speak with her parents after telling church leaders that Jeltema was sending her sexual images and lewd comments via phone and social media messages, according to the suit. Trammell and then chief youth pastor Steven Morris allegedly “refused” to call her parents and instead “isolated” her. “They then grilled [Jane Doe] questioning her veracity,” the suit claims. “It was not until after the pastors demanded to see her cell phone so they could confirm her outcry that they eventually called Jane Doe 3’s parents.”

The girl and her parents went to report the crimes at the Tomball Police Department, and the pastors joined them, the suit said. When the police attempted to question the Jane Doe alone, Trammell allegedly tried to “intimidate the police officers into letting him be present” and said his “church was a mega church, and that ‘they did not know who they were dealing with.’”

After leaving the police station, Trammell allegedly went to Jeltema’s apartment. “Upon information and belief, immediately following that conversation, Timmy destroyed his phone and his computer with a hammer, destroying much of the evidence that would have uncovered the extent of his wrongdoing, additional victims, and the church’s entanglement with Timmy’s pedophilia,” the suit said.

What happened to the other two Jane Does?

According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Yahoo: Church ‘did nothing’ to keep teens safe from pastor’s sexual abuse, Texas lawsuit says:

Victim 1

Victim 1 was 15 years old when Jeltema first sent her sexually explicit photos over Snapchat, according to the lawsuit, which said the abuse began after the youth pastor carried her back to her cabin at church camp when she hurt her ankle.

In 2018, Jeltema sexually assaulted the then 16-year-old and tried to rape her, but the teen was able to break free and drive off, according to court documents.

After the attempt, the youth pastor threatened the teen, saying he would “harm both her and her family” if she told anyone what happened, the lawsuit said.

She later testified at his 2022 sentencing hearing, saying she had known him since she was 9 years old.

“He watched me grow up into a beautiful young woman as well as these other woman and he took advantage of his church position and he preyed on us and he made us feel like we were alone, scared, pathetic, useless, and that we had no purpose in life because of what he did to us,” she said, according to the lawsuit.

Victim 2

Victim 2 said she had known the youth pastor since she was 7 years old.

By the time she was 15, the two had a “close relationship” and the pastor had knowledge of her insecurities, according to the lawsuit.

Jeltema connected with the teen on Snapchat while pretending to be someone younger, saying “all of the things he knew she was longing to her from a boy her age,” according to the lawsuit.

Jeltema later sent her unsolicited sexual photos, according to the lawsuit.

This had a damaging effect on the teen, now an adult, who said during his sentencing that, along with constant anxiety, “I feel like my religion was ripped from me.”

Where are the pastors involved in this? Did they have to leave the ministry?

The church said they do “background checks and have policies in place.” All churches claim this now. None of this works when a molester is not in the system. Also, church leaders get a clue! Molesters don’t give a hoot about “policies in place.”

In the meantime, the Chronicle reports.

Trammell left Champion Forest in November 2020, and is currently the executive pastor at Houston’s First Baptist Church. Morris remains a pastor at Champion Forest’s North Klein campus.

The SBC appears brain-dead when they pick this year to reward Jarrett Stephens.

I am becoming convinced that the SBC doesn’t understand how the public views abuse. In this instance, the SBC appears to reward pastors whose churches have undergone an abuse situation . There will be more and more of these stories and more and more lawsuits for the SBC to pay out lots of money to victims. I know the current pastoisn’tn’t there when it happened. He is the face of this church. Wait a few years to give the award. Stephens shouldisn’tse the award. This is not rocket science.

I saw this tweet.

PS: The SBC Sex Abuse Hotline isn’t so hot

I called them to try to understand their intake of calls. Hotlines imply that someone is there. There isn’t. You must divulge information, and they will call back within 24 hours.

“If you are/have been a victim of sexual abuse or suspect sexual abuse by a pastor, staff member or member of a Southern Baptist church or entity, please reach out for help at 202-864-5578 or SBChotline@guidepostsolutions.com. All calls are confidential.”


Comments

Champion Forest Baptist Church and the SBC Hit With a Lawsuit from Three Alleged Victims of Timothy Jeltma. Did the Church Coverup Abuse? — 50 Comments

  1. Sure, they’ll stand in front of crowds, cry their alligator tears, make empty promises, and spend the tithes and offerings ……. but nothing is ever going to change. The SBC has had three presidents since the Houston Chronicle article blew everything open, and what has been done?

    Hmmmm, a fake hotline, the removal of churches with women pastors, the Mike Law amendment proposal, and a prestigious award for a lead pastor who was had a youth minister beneath him who molested 25 girls.
    Isn’t it just grand, glorious, and godly how these champions of complementarianism are willing go to such lengths to protect the dignity of their women and girls?

    It took me about 8 years to admit it and come to terms with it, but I walked away because I finally realized how little females are truly worth in SBC churches.

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  2. August 2022, SBC President Bart Barber chose Jarrett Stephens, senior pastor of Champion Forest Baptist Church, to be a member of the Southern Baptist ‘Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force’:

    https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/barber-says-implementation-task-force-strengthened-by-different-perspectives-backgrounds/

    June 2023, SBC Annual meeting, Jarrett Stephens, senior pastor of Champion Forest Baptist Church, delivered the nomination speech for Bart Barber to be reelected SBC President:

    https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/barber-reelected-sbc-president/

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  3. August 2023, Jarrett Stephens, senior pastor of Champion Forest Baptist Church, completed his year of service on the ‘Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force’:

    https://thebaptistpaper.org/barber-announces-new-aritf-chairman-cooperation-group/

    “[SBC President Bart] Barber posted…on Twitter Aug. 11, thanking Blalock and fellow outgoing task force members Cyndi Lott and Jarrett Stephens.”

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  4. ** the church “encouraged” Jeltema to “develop extremely close relationships with the girls he pastored” in part by being available to contact them 24/7 through phone, text and social media platforms including Snapchat and Instagram **

    Good gravy! In 2009, when this boy was hired to “pastor” girls his age, other organizations were already putting procedures in place in efforts to prevent “peer-to-peer” sexual activity of any kind.

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  5. Check out who in 2021 was urging the SBC Executive Committee NOT to waive attorney-client privilege in its abuse investigation:

    https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/privilege-waiver-central-as-ec-prepares-for-second-special-meeting/

    “In a letter to trustees…the comments of Houston-based attorney, Mark Lanier, were shared. Lanier is a member and Sunday school teacher at Champion Forest Baptist in Houston and has represented both Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler, two of the architects of the Conservative Resurgence”.

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  6. So much off about this situation.

    For starters, why hire an 18 yo to work with middle schoolers?? That just doesn’t seem wise to me, and not just because the 18 yo might be an abuser. Even if they’re a totally decent, trustworthy kid, it’s unfair to the 18 year old to give them paid employment as a spiritual authority figure over younger teens. An 18 yo needs to go be a freshman somewhere, even if they don’t literally go to college. Making that kid a big fish in a small pond is not helping anybody, even if there were no ill intent involved.

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  7. CMT,
    Well, by law and by SBC standards an 18 yo is a MAN, not a boy! …. And, not just middle schoolers, middle school and HIGH SCHOOL girls.

    From Dee’s post:
    “ Champion Forest’s former executive pastor Stephen Trammell in 2009 allegedly “recruited” Jeltema, then aged 18, to work primarily with girls in middle school and high school. The suit also alleges that the church “encouraged” Jeltema to “develop extremely close relationships with the girls he pastored” in part by being available to contact them 24/7 through phone, text and social media platforms including Snapchat and Instagram.”

    Ah, come on……. An 18 yo MAN working with and making himself available to teenaged GIRLS 24/7……. how could anyone ever even remotely get the crazy idea that anything could possibly go awry??? SNORT, COUGH, COUGH.

    Sounds to me like Trammell thought he was putting a carrot on a stick to keep a bunch of girls coming to church… (maybe attendance #’s, getting parents to attend, draw more young boys in, and all that)….. When that plan came back to bite him, Trammell attacked the victims — victims that he, Trammell, had made readily available.
    Oh, and of course Trammell tried to bully the police officers.

    Welcome to the SBC.

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  8. CMT: why hire an 18 yo to work with middle schoolers?? … as a spiritual authority figure over younger teens

    In my humble (but accurate) opinion, the American church desperately needs to revisit its youth ministry model. Putting a flesh-baby over other flesh-babies is an accident waiting to happen. And how many youth pastors or youth volunteer leaders have you known that were “spiritual” and mature enough to guide young folks in the faith?! You will not find the office “Youth Pastor” in the New Testament. The Biblical model is for older saints to mentor young believers. During my long tenure in the SBC, the youth pastors I knew were essentially youth baby-sitters who entertained them with pizza parties and bowling/skating outings, in addition to taking them to summer youth camps (where anything could and does happen). Occasionally, we encountered a real-deal spiritually mature youth pastor who actually had a good working knowledge of the Bible and taught young folks truth. But, I think those are far and few between.

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  9. Chuckp: What about appointing an older couple who have married forever, have raised their children and maybe are even grandparents.

    We actually did that at a rural church we attended years ago. We ran a bus ministry through a nearby coal mining town and brought 35 unchurched kids to church. They were a little unruly at first, but we assigned them “grandparents” to sit with in church, who also helped teach them in Sunday School. Forty years later, some of those kids have their own families and hold leadership positions in that church; three of the young men are in ministry. Bypassing the usual youth ministry model works if you have the right ingredients.

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  10. Jeffrey J Chalmers: “church as entertainment”

    Great God Entertainment sits on the throne in much of the American church. A.W. Tozer put it this way:

    “Today we have the astonishing spectacle of millions of dollars being poured into the unholy job of providing earthly entertainment for the so-call sons of heaven. Religious entertainment is in many places rapidly crowding out the serious things of God. Many churches these days have become little more than poor theaters where fifth-rate “producers” peddle their shoddy wares with the full approval of evangelical leaders who can even quote a holy text in defense of their delinquency. And hardly a man dares raise his voice against it.”

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  11. Max: But, for young folks who desire church as entertainment, those sorts of youth pastors will work for them.

    I take some exception to this statement. There’s a bit of victim blaming that i’m picking up.

    Whatever the activity, the adult is responsible for maintaining appropriate boundaries.

    I was a swim instructor and lifeguard for my teen years. I was sixteen and teaching lessons to kids who were almost my own age.

    I never ever considered my students “fair game”. It never crossed my mind.

    But I’ll agree that good mentoring and training is key. The pool supervisor and head guards left by example.

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  12. Max: But, for young folks who desire church as entertainment, those sorts of youth pastors will work for them.

    I take some exception to this statement. There’s a bit of victim blaming that i’m picking up.

    Whatever the activity, the adult is responsible for maintaining appropriate boundaries.

    I was a swim instructor and lifeguard for my teen years. I was sixteen and teaching lessons to kids who were almost my own age.

    I never ever considered my students “fair game”. It never crossed my mind.

    But I’ll agree that good mentoring and training is key. The pool supervisor and head guards left by example.

    Jack: left by example.

    “Led by example”. Small screen big fingers.

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  13. Jack: victim blaming

    I was young and now am old. During my long tenure of doing church in America, I’ve observed a strange dynamic. Church leaders, in this era of being seeker-friendly, essentially ask the pew which way they want to go and then get out in front to lead them in that direction. “Pay me well and I’ll give you what you want” is an unholy alliance which has taken over some corners of the institutional church. That model was the success behind Bill Hybels’ Willow Creek church movement.

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  14. Jack: I take some exception to this statement. There’s a bit of victim blaming that i’m picking up.

    I think so too, and if this is Max’s assessment of young people who are victims of pastoral abuse, he’s judging them unfairly imo. In the stories I have heard in media and from people I know personally, abusive spiritual leaders use their spiritual credentials both as bait to draw victims in, and to silence them. Their tactics simply don’t work on kids who are just there for the fun and games; it’s the ones who are deeply curious and seriously interested in faith who are most vulnerable!

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  15. Max: Church leaders, in this era of being seeker-friendly, essentially ask the pew which way they want to go and then get out in front to lead them in that direction

    So should leaders be “vision casting” and kicking folks off the bus who ask too many questions?

    There are lots of things about modern American church culture that are seriously problematic. But too much consensus building doesn’t often seem to be one of them.

    And what does this have to do with kids who get chewed up and spit out by predatory youth leaders? That doesn’t happen because those kids are so “unspiritual,” as I said above. And it doesn’t happen because the youth group is playing too many silly games and hosting too many events.

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  16. Chuckp: I agree, why almost always a young guy or couple? What about appointing an older couple who have married forever, have raised their children and maybe are even grandparents. What wisdom a spiritual mature couple could bring to the table.

    Sadly, ‘they aren’t fun’ and kids like games (according to adults). This has been my observation, and experience when attempting to influence youth groups toward a more biblical studies foundation vs. games.

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  17. Stephens has been open about his being a victim of sexual abuse as a teenager, he has a video on I Am Second about it. Whether he has been able to implement better controls (though, as mentioned, predators can easily get around them if they have no prior record to check) is another story.

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