EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to better reflect the nature of the alleged sexual abuse of Debbie Vasquez.
NASHVILLE (BP) — After a workgroup of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee released a statement Feb. 23 on 10 churches noted by SBC President J.D. Greear in a report on sexual abuse, Baptist Press attempted to contact the churches for their response.
One of the churches listed by Greear is not Southern Baptist. Among the other nine, six offered reactions to BP.
Of the nine Southern Baptist churches named, three warrant “further inquiry,” the EC’s bylaws workgroup stated in its release, which was issued after meetings Feb. 22-23 via conference call.
Click here for a full report on efforts to combat sexual abuse by Greear and the bylaws workgroup.
The following are responses BP obtained from the churches (listed in alphabetical order)
— Arapaho Road Baptist Church in Garland, Texas, said via a statement by spokesperson Carolyn Alvey, “The church appreciates the leadership from Pastor J.D. Greear and the steps he outlined for change among churches within the Southern Baptist Convention. Arapaho Road welcomes conversation with Pastor Greear and the SBC to share what the church has learned and implemented.”
Among initiatives implemented following allegations two Arapaho Road youth workers had inappropriate contact with teens: the church created a paid director of safety and security position, retained sexual abuse awareness and prevention experts from the organization Ministry Safe, began conducting weekly staff training on abuse prevention and began conducting in-house seminars on how to spot sexual predators, Alvey said in an email.
“From the moment leaders learned of the 2013 allegations, the church has been and remains committed to pushing everything into the light and being transparent,” Alvey said. “That is the only way for true healing to happen for everyone involved and we continue to pray for and be available for pastoral care for those impacted.”
The bylaws workgroup said “no further inquiry is warranted” concerning Arapaho Road based on the information Greear provided.
— “Further inquiry is warranted,” the bylaws workgroup stated, regarding whether Bolivar Baptist Church in Sanger, Texas, evidenced indifference in addressing sexual abuse. Specifically, the workgroup said further inquiry is warranted regarding whether Bolivar — in the words of an SBC constitutional amendment recommended by the full EC — continued to “employ a person who unlawfully concealed” information about sexual abuse from law enforcement and whether the church willfully disregarded “compliance with mandatory child abuse reporting laws.”
Pastor Dickie Amyx and his wife Melinda told BP the church has not taken either of those actions that would reflect sexual abuse.
Dickie Amyx said he had a sexual relationship in the mid-1970s with a 17-year-old girl at a non-Southern Baptist church he was then serving as an associate pastor. At the time, Amyx was around 30 years old. The girl became pregnant and had a child. Bolivar Baptist didn’t know about that relationship when it called him as pastor, Amyx said. The congregation learned of the alleged abuse in 2006 during the course of a lawsuit.
The church “knew the truth” about Amyx, Melinda Amyx said. “They knew that he wasn’t a sexual predator. Our church is not hiding anything.”
Dickie Amyx said he “will talk with anybody” at the Executive Committee “if they want to talk.”
Legal counsel told BP the age of consent in Texas is 17.
The woman whom Amyx allegedly molested when she was a teen — identified by the Amyxes and the Houston Chronicle as Debbie Vasquez — told the Chronicle she was 14 when “her pastor in Sanger,” Texas first had sexual contact with her.
The Chronicle did not state explicitly the identity of the pastor who allegedly molested Vasquez at 14, though it said Amyx admitted fathering the child she bore at age 18. Amyx told BP the incident occurred at Calvary Baptist Church in Lewisville, Texas.
— Brentwood Baptist Church in Houston did not respond to BP’s request for comment prior to its publication deadline. The bylaws workgroup stated “no further inquiry is warranted” based on the information Greear provided.
— Cathedral of Faith Baptist Church in Houston did not respond to BP’s request for comment prior to its publication deadline. “Further inquiry is warranted” regarding Cathedral of Faith, the bylaws workgroup stated, citing Greear’s allegation a “registered sex offender” “leads” the church.
— John Hull, pastor of Eastside Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., told BP he was “shocked” and found it “profoundly upsetting” when Greear listed Eastside in his report to the EC without first having a conversation with the church.
The church has dealt with sexual abuse by a contractor, employee or volunteer minister three times since 2000, with all cases ending in criminal convictions, BP reported Feb. 15. All three instances of abuse occurred before Hull arrived as pastor. BP’s report and a Feb. 22 report by Georgia Baptists’ Christian Index newsjournal identified security improvements the church has reported.
“We have made it known here that we have done many things to improve what happened here,” Hull said, adding he “fully cooperated with the Houston Chronicle” as it prepared a report about sexual abuse and Southern Baptists.
“I support President Greear’s efforts to stop this horrible thing of sexual abuse, and especially child abuse, in our churches,” Hull said. “… We’ve been grieving and we’ve been sorrowing” and “we’ve made great strides.”
Hull expressed appreciation for a phone call with Greear Feb. 23. They had a “spirited and strong conversation with each other, and I think he is extremely aware of our dissatisfaction with how he as a leader managed this matter,” Hull said.
The bylaws workgroup said “no further inquiry is warranted” concerning Eastside based on the information Greear provided.
— Billy Taylor, pastor of First Baptist Church in Bedford, Texas, told BP he was “astonished” and “surprised” when Greear listed the church in his report without first contacting it.
A former First Baptist staff member, Charles Adcock, was under indictment on 29 counts of rape and sodomy at the time he was hired by First Baptist and now is “a registered sex offender living in Arkansas,” the bylaws workgroup report stated, based on information provided by Greear. When Adcock’s background came to light in 2015, “the church membership was shocked, disgusted and angered,” according to a statement on First Baptist’s website. Adcock left the church at that time, “and those responsible for allowing Adcock to serve at FBC Bedford were removed from their positions shortly after his departure.”
First Baptist has “worked diligently to review and update our policies and procedures” since then, according to the statement.
Taylor said the church unanimously adopted a resolution Feb. 24 stating, “Today we renew our commitment of providing a safe environment for our members, families, guests and our community as our highest priority” and “resolve to make sure the problems of the past are never repeated. We welcome and look forward to working with the Southern Baptist Convention toward making our church, and other Baptist churches the safe place God intends them to be.”
The bylaws workgroup stated “no further inquiry is warranted” based on the information Greear provided, and First Baptist “appears to be an example of a church, affected by the actions of a few individuals, that has taken decisive steps as a congregation.”
— “It appears that” Second Baptist Church in Houston “has had, and continues to have, significant, detailed procedures and policies in place to prevent abuse and properly respond to charges of abuse,” the bylaws workgroup stated. “We believe no further inquiry is warranted based on that information.”
Second Baptist sent BP a statement it emailed to Greear the morning after he listed the church in his report to the EC. Included with the statement were five pages outlining Second’s policies and procedures aimed at “ensuring a safe environment” and “ministering to those affected by sexual abuse.”
Second invited Greear, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Danny Akin to visit Houston at the church’s expense to “walk through all of our current systems, policies and procedures,” according to an email forwarded to BP by the church.
According to the church’s statement, “Second Baptist Church wants to assure the Southern Baptist Convention and our community that we have long adhered to strict policies and guidelines dealing with sexual conduct and abuse.
“First and foremost, we grieve with each and every child, individual, their families and everyone affected by sexual abuse. Period. We pray and will continue to pray for anyone, and everyone affected by the gutless and heart wrenching actions of sex abusers and predators. We are thankful for all law enforcement agencies that put their lives on the line each day to bring sexual abuse offenders and predators to justice,” Second Baptist stated.
“Second Baptist constantly strives to utilize the resources God has given our church family to implement and maintain effective systems, policies and procedures to prevent sexual abuse, to minister to anyone affected by sexual abuse, and to provide a safe environment for children, youth and their families,” Second Baptist stated.
— “Further inquiry is warranted” regarding whether Sovereign Grace Church in Louisville, Ky., “may have evidenced indifference to sexual abuse,” the bylaws workgroup stated.
BP’s efforts to reach the church by phone and email were not successful. But Sovereign Grace posted a statement on its website Feb. 25 noting, “On February 18-19, the Executive Committee of the SBC proposed an amendment to the SBC Constitution on sexual abuse. The amendment proposes four criteria in response to ‘indifference in addressing sexual abuse’ in churches. We support this amendment, these criteria, and the godly impulses behind them. We believe just as strongly that Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville and its leadership are in full compliance with this proposed amendment. We are also aware of the statement by the SBC bylaws workgroup. Although we do not believe we should have been included on the list of churches submitted to the bylaws workgroup, we look forward to answering any questions the workgroup has for us.”
— Rodney Brown, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Ashburn, Ga., told BP the church’s minister of music confessed in 2013 or 2014 he had molested a “young teen” decades earlier and had repented. In response, Brown “fired him right there on the spot.” The man continued to attend the church, Brown said, though he was never allowed to be alone with children.
“Church leaders came back to me and said, ‘Rodney, the man says he’s repented. We’re not his judge. We’ve not seen anything to indicate any of this at our church,'” Brown said, adding the church felt the man was gifted for ministry and reinstated him as minister of music, a position in which he continues to serve.
When Greear listed Trinity in his report without contacting the church first, Brown felt “shock” then “discouragement,” he said. “I thought the Southern Baptist Convention was there to support the churches that were a part of it. I kind of felt betrayed because no one had bothered to reach out to anybody in the church, me in particular as pastor, to allow us to verify or deny any allegations.”
Trinity performs background checks on volunteers and staff and is “doing everything we can” to protect children, Brown said.
The bylaws workgroup stated that based on the information Greear provided, “no further inquiry is warranted” regarding Trinity.