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Bellevue ‘ill-prepared’ for child molestation, report states

CORDOVA, Tenn. (BP)–A minister at the center of a church-wide controversy at Bellevue Baptist Church has been terminated for sexually abusing his adolescent son 17 years ago.

Paul Williams, Bellevue’s minister of prayer and special projects, was the subject of a month-long investigation by a special Bellevue committee after his actions became known in December.

The investigative committee presented its findings to the church Jan. 28 following Bellevue’s Sunday evening worship service. Copies of the 19-page report were provided to Bellevue members after the meeting, and the report was posted on the church’s website. David Coombs, Bellevue’s administrative pastor who led the investigation, gave a summary of the full report.

In addition to recommending Williams’ termination, the investigative committee also concluded that “Bellevue was ill-prepared on several fronts for handling the Paul Williams matter.” The church’s procedures and protocols “were and are inadequate.”

“Starting with Paul, there appears to have been no serious consideration given by anyone to the health and safety of the Bellevue family,” the report states. “On Paul’s part, there appears to never have been any time in seventeen years that any consideration was given to the effect that having a child molester on the ministerial staff of Bellevue Baptist Church would have on the church.”

Following Coombs’ presentation, personnel committee chairman Wayne Vander Steeg reported to the church that the committee had already terminated Williams, effective Jan. 22, with no severance package.

In December, controversy erupted at the church when several members claimed that pastor Steve Gaines had failed to discipline a staff member allegedly involved in sexual misconduct with a child. Already under some pressure from church members dissatisfied with his leadership, Gaines announced during worship services Dec. 17 that the church had placed Williams — on staff at the church for 34 years — on a leave of absence. Gaines then wrote a letter to the 30,000-member congregation two days later, explaining why the decision had been made.

“I learned about this in June from the minister involved and believed that the issue was settled,” Gaines wrote. “Two weeks ago, I was surprised to find out it was not. Some people have questioned why I waited for several months. It’s simply this: I acted out of heartfelt concern and compassion for this minister because the event occurred many years ago; he was receiving professional counseling; and I was concerned about confidentiality.”

According to the investigative committee report, Williams engaged in “egregious, perverse, sexual activity with his adolescent son” over a period of 12-18 months. Williams then became convicted of his actions, stopped and asked for forgiveness. He never sought counseling until recently, when his son initiated it. And neither Williams nor his son revealed the matter to anyone else at the time.

Williams apparently thought everything was fine between him and his son until November 2005, when his son indicated to him that everything wasn’t resolved. His son told him their relationship would be severed for a period of time. After that encounter, “the circle of knowledge about Paul’s sexual activities with his son started to grow,” the report recounts.

Two other staff members at the church -– Jamie Fish and Webb Williams -– as well as Gaines learned about Williams’ actions throughout 2006. Coombs said his committee had uncovered no evidence that former pastor Adrian Rogers knew anything about Williams’ actions.

According to the report, Williams’ son and two friends approached Gaines on Dec. 7, 2006, asking why Williams was allowed to continue to serve on Bellevue’s staff. It was after this meeting that Gaines informed other members of the staff, including Coombs, Vander Steeg and others, and began the investigation.

Coombs acknowledged in his report that Gaines, Fish and Williams erred in not coming forward sooner with their knowledge of the situation.

To prevent such inaction in the future, the committee recommended a complete review of the church’s policies and procedures. Coombs said implementation of new policies and procedures should take place as soon as practical.

In addition, the committee recommended additional training for the entire staff about how to handle such matters -– including individual training for those staff members with knowledge of Williams’ actions.

The church also will provide counseling and support for any individuals “who feel they have been harmed by Paul’s actions or feel they have been hurt by the church’s action of not dealing with Paul earlier,” according to the report.
With reporting by Gregory Tomlin.

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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