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Sexual charge filed against Ark. minister

BENTON, Ark. (BP)–Allegations of sexual indecency with a child prompted Arkansas authorities to arrest David Kent Pierce, minister of music at First Baptist Church in Benton, Ark., on April 24. Pierce, 56, was immediately terminated by the church, where he had served on staff 29 years.

Earlier in the week, a teenage boy’s family contacted the church about the alleged misconduct, Dennis Byrd, chairman of the church’s personnel committee, told Baptist Press. The church immediately contacted a state police hotline to report the allegation. Saline County Sheriff Bruce Pennington, who is a member of First Baptist Church, arrested Pierce at home.

Pennington told reporters he felt obligated to arrest Pierce himself. “I felt it would be more comfortable for me doing it [arresting him] rather than one of my deputies, and I want people to be aware [that] regardless of your stature in this community we’re not going to condone these actions,” Pennington said.

The congregation’s senior pastor, Rick Grant, released a statement to the media that read: “First Baptist Church has terminated the employment of David Pierce, our longtime music minister, as a result of serious moral failures on his part. The events for which he was terminated occurred several years ago, but left the church no alternative other than to dismiss him.

“This is a very sad day for me, for First Baptist Church, its staff and the congregation,” Grant added. “I’m heartsick over all of this. During my 20-plus years in the ministry here, this is the most difficult thing I’ve had to deal with, by far. This is a good church. We love the Lord. I can’t tell you how many people — church members here and others — have told us they are praying for us, both individually and as a church. We are praying for the church, for all families who may have been affected by this — and on some level that’s all of us — and we pray for David Pierce and his family.”

Sheriff Pennington said several adults also have come forward with allegations of misconduct by Pierce toward them when they were teenagers, and those complaints are being investigated as well.

Pierce had no prior arrests. The child involved is a minor, so police are not releasing any details of the case. Pierce remained in custody in the Saline County Jail. In an April 27 hearing, bond was set at $25,000. If convicted, Pierce could face up to six years in prison.

The issue of sexual predators in the church was forcefully addressed by Morris H. Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, at the 2008 SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis.

“The Southern Baptist Convention is on record for having stood strongly against sexual abuse,” Chapman said at the time. “We have long condemned those who would use our churches as a hunting ground for their sick and selfish pleasure.

“At the same time, sexual abuse is a growing crisis in this nation and we must continue to do everything within our power to stop this horrendous crime. Even though the number of Southern Baptist ministers who are sexual predators may seem to be relatively small, we must be on watch and take immediate action against those who prey on the most innocent among us. One sexual predator in our midst is one too many.”

Chapman encouraged churches to make use of the national sex offender database (www.nsopr.gov) for screening prospective staff members and volunteers who work with children. Chapman also pointed out that resources for preventing child sexual abuse had been posted on the SBC website at www.sbc.net/localchurches/ministryhelp.asp.

While the national Southern Baptist Convention “has no hierarchy and no ecclesiastical authority over local churches,” it does want to “encourage, empower and educate local churches as to how to best do their local work to protect our precious children,” Chapman said. He called on Southern Baptist congregations to adopt policies and be vigilant in protecting their children from sexual predators.

Southern Baptists also must take steps to ensure that sexual predators who have victimized children in one congregation do not get another opportunity by moving on to another church, Chapman declared.

“Sexual predators are opportunistic and frequently migrate from one victim field to another,” Chapman said. “We must never rid ourselves of the problem by pawning a sexual offender off on an unsuspecting church where he will once again violate our children.”

Churches must be responsive to allegations about ministerial misconduct, especially when the misconduct is perpetrated against a child, Chapman added.

“Those who would overpower our children and violate their trust must come to know that they will not be coddled, they will not be protected, they will not find refuge in our churches,” Chapman said. “They must understand that they will be reported to the proper law enforcement agencies and charged with their heinous crimes.”

In 1978, messengers to the Southern Baptist annual meeting adopted a resolution on child abuse that requested their moral concerns entity to provide resources for dealing with child abuse and called on legislators to “end the horrors of child pornography and protect children from child abuse.” In 1999, they adopted a resolution denouncing the idea that “adult-child sex” is beneficial or even acceptable to children. In 2007, a resolution expressed their “deep level of moral outrage and concern at any instance of child victimization” and called on churches to respond to “any suspicions or allegations of child abuse in a timely and forthright manner.”
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly.

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