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NEWS DIGEST: Georgia youth pastor arrested; Florida pastor back in custody; Texas church, SBC named in suit

Editor’s Note: Baptist Press will report every instance of sexual abuse related to Southern Baptist churches, entities, institutions or leaders of which we are made aware.

Georgia youth pastor charged with felony

By BP Staff

METTER, Ga. (BP) – A Georgia youth pastor was arrested Friday (April 26) and charged with obscene internet contact with a minor, which is a felony.

Candler County Sheriff’s Office officials arrested Benjamin Dalton Houser, who was a youth pastor at Cedar Street Baptist Church in Metter.

“Dalton Houser was approached about allegations of inappropriate and untimely conversations via text messaging with CSBC youth members,” the church said in a statement. “The lack of discernment with this behavior from someone in church leadership has led to Dalton resigning from his position as CSBC Youth Pastor effective on March 27, 2024. At that time, we contacted the Sheriff’s department and gave the evidence we had.”

Savannah’s WSAV News reported that a Sheriff’s Office investigator met with Cedar Street’s deacons last month to discuss possible crimes against children. The investigator then sought assistance from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Houser is being held on a $50,000 bond. A judge has ruled that he is to have no contact with anyone in the case, WSAV reported.

Fugitive former pastor back behind bars

By BP Staff

KEY WEST, Fla. (BP) – Monte Chitty, former pastor of First Baptist Church Marathon, Fla., was taken into custody April 5 after skipping a scheduled arraignment April 1. He was on the run for a few days before authorities caught up with him in Woodville, Texas.

South Florida’s WPLG News reported that Chitty approached a church group in Texas that was ministering to homeless individuals. A member of the group called police. Chitty was transferred back to South Florida April 19.

Chitty, 62, was originally arrested March 4 and charged with sexual battery of a minor, lewd and lascivious conduct and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Authorities say Chitty sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl on First Baptist Church property

In both the girl’s and Chitty’s phones, detectives found messages in which Chitty alluded to sexual acts against the girl. He was booked in the Monroe County Detention Center.

Texas church, SBC named in abuse-related lawsuit

By BP Staff

HOUSTON (BP) – Both Champion Forest Baptist Church and the Southern Baptist Convention are named as defendants in a lawsuit filed by three Jane Does who attended the church during the time Timothy Jason Jeltema served as a minister.

Jeltema served at the church from 2009 until his arrest in 2018 for sending explicit photos to a teenage girl and soliciting her for sex. He pled guilty in 2022 to sexual abuse-related crimes and was sentenced to five years in prison.

According to a statement from Champion Forest in 2018, Jeltema was terminated from his position on May 15 of that year after admitting to having “improper contact via social media” with an 18-year-old church member.

The lawsuit claims Jeltema could have had improper communications with up to 25 girls at the church. It alleges that the church did not take the proper steps to protect the young people in its care.

The Houston Chronicle reported that Houston attorney Rusty Hardin filed suit against the church and the SBC because while SBC-affiliated churches “have known for years that churches are a hunting ground for depraved individuals seeking to prey on the innocence or children,” Champion Forest “invited, encouraged, and enabled a predator to be part of their trusted inner circle.”

Champion Forest attorney Marc Sheiness filed a “general denial” with the court, the Chronicle reported.

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.

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