CORDOVA, Tenn. (BP)–A call for the resignation of Bellevue Baptist Church senior pastor Steve Gaines has been voiced by the president of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, which has a longstanding relationship with the prominent Southern Baptist congregation.
At issue, according to comments to the Memphis Commercial Appeal by the seminary president, Michael Spradlin, is Gaines’ six-month silence after learning of a sexual abuse allegation 17 years ago against a longtime Bellevue staff member.
“If Steve Gaines found out that a child had been sexually molested by one of his ministers and if he did nothing to address it, then he needs to step down immediately,” the newspaper quoted Spradlin as saying in a Dec. 20 article.
“We cannot take chances with other people’s children,” said Spradlin, who also is interim pastor of nearby Germantown Baptist Church. “If he [Gaines] knew about this and kept quiet, then he’s put Bellevue in a very dangerous position and possibly put children and the emotionally vulnerable at risk.”
Gaines, in a Dec. 19 statement quoted by the newspaper, wrote: “The past few days have been difficult ones as I have worked through an issue that no pastor wishes to face. We have had to place a minister on a paid leave of absence due to a past moral failure.
“I learned about this in June from the minister involved and believed the issue was settled. Two weeks ago I was surprised to find out that the issue was not settled.
“Some people have questioned why I waited for several months,” Gaines acknowledged. “It’s simply this: I acted out of a 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. In light of the events that have unfolded, I realize now that I should have discussed it further with this minister and brought it to the attention of our church leadership immediately.”
Spradlin, in his comments to the Commercial Appeal, also referenced controversy that has buffeted Gaines since he was called as Bellevue’s pastor in July 2005 succeeding Adrian Rogers, who had retired after leading the church for 32 years. Rogers died of cancer in November 2005.
“There’s a sense of Steve Gaines being the measure of what’s right and what’s wrong,” Spradlin was quoted as saying. “If you agree with him, you’re right and if you disagree, you’re wrong.
“But I think he’s spent all his credibility and people are losing trust in him,” Spradlin said.
The Commercial Appeal did not report a response from Gaines.
The newspaper identified the Bellevue staff member accused of sexual abuse 17 years ago as Paul Williams, a 34-year staffer. The newspaper did not identify his position at the 30,000-member congregation, although Bellevue’s website previously listed him as minister of prayer/special projects. Williams has been placed on paid leave while an investigation of a “moral failure” is conducted, the paper reported.
Bellevue’s director of communications, Jim Barnwell, told the Commercial Appeal, “I think the important thing to remember is that Steve Gaines realized he made a mistake, he’s taking ownership of that and trying his best to fix it.” Barnwell added, “I don’t believe there was a deliberate attempt to hide anything.”
Describing the investigation, the Commercial Appeal said it will include Bellevue members “and independent sources” during which “Williams will not perform any ministerial duties or be on the Bellevue campus.”
Earlier this year, Gaines’ brief tenure at Bellevue encountered a stormy challenge from a former deacon, Mark Sharpe, and other opponents whose accusations — aired on the Internet and in the Commercial Appeal — include Gaines’ alleged intimidation of those who disagree with him, his alleged forcing out a popular music director and his alleged refusal to disclose his salary, which they contend is nearly $500,000.
Barnwell told Baptist Press at the time that “the allegations are simply not true,” noting that “not one” former or current staff member, past deacon chairman or member of what Bellevue calls its board of directors had “broken ranks and joined the opposition.”
Gaines and other church leaders devoted the Sept. 24 Sunday evening service to the controversy. Gaines told the congregation that the session was not a “business meeting,” but a time for church members to receive information “from this pulpit from the leaders of this church.”
Gaines, deacon chairman Chuck Taylor, Harry Smith, a longtime member of the church’s finance committee, and Chip Freeman, the church’s chief administrator, reportedly addressed various allegations point by point.
Compiled by Art Toalston.