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Montana pastor charged with sexually abusing four girls

James F. Battin Federal Courthouse in Billings, Montana. (US Courts photo)

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.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated after initial publication to include comments from Montana Southern Baptist Convention Executive Director Barrett Duke.

LAME DEER, Mt. (BP) – Dean Alan Smith, longtime pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church in Lame Deer, Mt., pled not guilty Tuesday (Jan. 3) to federal charges filed against him last month.

According to local media reports, Smith, 66, was charged with sexually abusing four girls on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation between 2017 and 2019. Morning Star Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation where Smith has been pastor more than 20 years, sits adjacent to the reservation.

The Billings Gazette reported that charges against him include one count of aggravated sexual abuse, one count of abusive sexual contact and three counts of abusive sexual contact by force and of a child. If convicted of the most serious crime, Smith faces a maximum of life in prison, a $250,000 fine and not less than five years of supervised release.

Montana Southern Baptist Convention Executive Director Barrett Duke said the convention has been in contact with the church.

“One member of the church has been very open with us about what they’re dealing with there,” Duke told Baptist Press.
“I’ve let them know we want to be available and help how we can, [and] to help the girls who’ve made these claims find the way to some healing themselves.”

Duke said the convention already had a list of trauma-informed counselors in the region as part of its ongoing attempts to prevent and handle sexual abuse and care for survivors. The MTSBC has also published articles and made resources available for churches. But churches can still be slow to take advantage of resources or follow new protocols. In fact, Duke said no one from Morning Star had attended any MTSBC-sponsored event in more than a decade.

“We’re trying to sensitize our churches to the challenges and the importance of staying current on training and awareness,” Duke said. But he added that the task can be harder in rural churches, which describes most of those in Montana.

“The harder area is not in our cities but in the rural areas where everybody thinks they know everybody,” he said. “It isn’t as though you have a stranger coming into the church all of a sudden. [Rural areas] don’t change a whole lot. They think they know the person. They’re a little slower I think to adopt some of the processes for identifying potential predators.”

Tribal leadership has told Smith he is no longer welcome on the reservation. The church held a meeting last week that was attended by a regional leader from the MTSBC. Duke said the convention is committed to helping the church and the alleged victims.

“I feel for the girls,” he said. “I feel for the community. It should never have happened. We’ll continue to try to help them find a place of healing.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office is prosecuting the case, which was investigated by the FBI. U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy J. Cavan presided over Tuesday’s arraignment and continued Smith’s release, with conditions, including his not being allowed around children, Montana’s KTVQ reported. The FBI asks anyone with more information to contact the Billings, Mt., office at 406-248-8487.

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.