Editor’s Note: In support of the sixth strategic action of Vision 2025 adopted by messengers to the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting, Baptist Press will continue to report every instance of sexual abuse related to Southern Baptist churches or leaders of which we are made aware.
HOUSTON (BP) — A former Southern Baptist student minister has been sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to four charges related to online sexual abuse of a minor, Harris County Criminal Court records show.
Timothy Jason Jeltema, 31, pleaded guilty Nov. 17 to two counts of online solicitation of a minor, one charge of indecency with a child and one charge of sexual performance by a child.
The charges date to 2018 and were filed a month after Champion Forest Baptist Church fired Jeltema for violating the church’s communications policy in an unrelated case with an 18-year-old, the church said Nov. 17 in a public statement.
“Timothy Jeltema, a former minister to students at the North Klein campus of Champion Forest Baptist Church was terminated on May 15, 2018, the same day he was accused of and admitted to improper contact via social media with an 18-year-old member of our church,” the church said. “Though no laws were known to have been broken, he was immediately dismissed for a clear violation of the church’s written code of conduct and his admission that he did not follow long-established Champion Forest regulations that pastors of students and adult volunteers must never communicate electronically one-on-one with students. Champion Forest has zero tolerance for a lack of adherence to this policy.”
Weeks later, on June 12, 2018, a 13-year-old victim came forward and accused Jeltema of online sexual misconduct. The church immediately reported the accusation to the Tomball Police Department, which arrested Jeltema and charged him with online solicitation of a minor.
Other charges were added as the investigation progressed, with police asserting that Jeltema communicated with and requested photographs from approximately 20 to 25 juveniles between the ages of 14 and 17 years old via Instagram and Snapchat, the local ABC affiliate reported in 2018.
The church expressed heartbreak in response to the crimes.
“We are extremely saddened by this heartbreaking situation. For more than a decade, our church has had multiple layers of policies and procedures in place — including a national background check that is performed on all staff as well as volunteers who work with children and youth up to age 18,” the church said. “Additionally, Champion Forest has written expectations of employees and volunteers that include standards of conduct as safeguards for both them and those under their care.”
The church takes seriously allegations of sexual misconduct, it said, and encourages “anyone with information regarding potential criminal activity, especially any victims, to contact law enforcement immediately.”
Jeltema posted bond shortly after his 2018 arrest, but has been held in Harris County Jail since Nov. 17.
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 [email protected]. All calls are confidential.