Mike Stone has launched a second campaign for the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention, and he is focusing on the SBC ‘s handling of sex abuse. On a recent podcast interview, he spoke about one of the SBC’s most painful instances of sex abuse and its mishandling by a Georgia Baptist church, a Georgia Baptist association, the Georgia Baptist Convention, and the Executive Committee of the SBC.
Instead of pointing to the failures and bitter lessons learned, Mike took credit for keeping Trinity Baptist Church, Ashburn, Ga, from leaving the SBC and for having an abuser terminated who was serving as Trinity’s worship leader. He says he achieved these results while serving as the chairman of the SBC’s Executive Committee and working through his personal relationship with the Georgia Baptist executive director. He says his way of “personal relationships” is the way forward for the SBC and is a more Biblical approach to addressing sex abuse.
David Pittman is a survivor of the abuse in Mike’s campaign story, and he says Mike’s comments are “another example of re-traumatizing survivors for personal gain.” For more than a decade, David and other survivors have been exposing their abuser and trying to prevent him from serving in SBC churches. Mike claimed credit when, instead of his story, their story should have been told. Their efforts deserve to be remembered and respected, and their story should become a case study for the SBC so it is never repeated.
The abuser moved through at least 4 SBC churches in Georgia where David says he has spoken to 11 other men the abuser sexually assaulted when they were boys. I serve as the lead pastor of one of those churches where the abuser served as a youth minister in the early 1980s and sexually assaulted 5 of these boys, including David. Another SBC pastor has spoken with two additional survivors. Because of Georgia’s strict statute of limitations, the abuser could not be tried in criminal or civil court by the time the survivors healed enough to tell others about their abuse.
In 2006, David contacted an SBC church in Georgia where his abuser was serving on staff. After David spoke to the senior pastor, the pastor confronted the abuser who then confessed to assaulting David and two other boys not associated with the church. The abuser resigned, and the pastor notified the Church Relations Office of the GBC.
In 2010 and 2011, David and an SBC pastor, at David’s request, contacted Trinity Baptist Church, Ashburn, Ga, where the abuser was then serving as the student minister. Trinity’s pastor rejected their reports about the abuser, and the GBC said they could not help. After David contacted church members directly, the abuser confessed only to abusing David, and he resigned. Yet, a short time later the pastor rehired the abuser to serve as Trinity’s worship leader.
On February 10, 2019, the Houston Chronicle’s lead story of a six-part investigative report about abuse in the SBC featured this awful story of abuse. David, Ray Harrell, and another unnamed survivor told their story of abuse and shared how Trinity rejected warnings and kept a confessed sex abuser on staff. They also shared the GBC did not act after being informed.
On February 18, J.D. Greear, serving as SBC president, publicly identified Trinity as one of 10 churches the SBC Bylaws Workgroup should address to determine whether they met the qualifications to remain affiliated with the SBC. Trinity’s pastor and others sharply criticized Greear for publicly identifying Trinity and the other churches.
The February 23 announcement of the Bylaws Workgroup further emboldened Trinity’s pastor and Greear’s critics. The workgroup, of which Mike was a member, declared Trinity had not violated the qualifications to affiliate with the SBC and concluded, “We believe no further inquiry is warranted based on that information.”
David and the other survivors had not previously shared their stories of abuse with my church. I spoke with David for the first time the week the Houston Chronicle article was published, and his story and our conversations compelled me then and compel me today to support him and the other survivors. A few days after talking with David, I confronted the abuser and received written confessions from him on February 25 and 26, admitting to sexually assaulting 5 boys when he served as a youth minister at my church in the 80s.
I contacted Trinity’s pastor on the afternoon of February 28 and informed him his worship leader confessed to sexually abusing 5 boys and claimed he could not remember if he had abused others. The pastor sternly defended his worship leader and stated the GBC had been “supportive.” The magnitude, however, of the written confession overwhelmed him. He admitted he had been wrong and said he “had led the church down a dark path.” He also said he would need to apologize to Greear. I told the pastor we expected him to remove the abuser from leadership and call on the abuser to repent and give a full confession. Two days after our conversation, Trinity’s pastor terminated the abuser.
Mike says he is responsible for the abuser’s termination. He says he asked the Georgia Baptist executive director to go to Trinity, keep them in the SBC, and have them terminate the abuser.
Trinity’s pastor has said three GBC staff members communicated with him after Greear called for a review of Trinity. Georgia Baptist’s executive director emailed Trinity’s pastor a message the pastor says was supportive of the church and him. A few days later, the executive director published an apology to survivors and Georgia Baptists for the harm his email caused, saying his comments were “insensitive and inappropriate.” A GBC staff member participated in an SBC association meeting that prayed for Trinity and the pastor, and after I confronted Trinity’s pastor, the GBC’s general counsel contacted the pastor to assist with the abuser’s termination.
In early 2019, the executive director was hosting “listening sessions” with pastors around Georgia. On the day I confronted Trinity’s pastor, the executive director held a morning listening session in Albany, Ga, which Trinity’s pastor attended. According to the pastor, the executive director did not speak to him about terminating the abuser. Rather, the pastor says the executive director told him he was praying for him and his family and recommended another pastor to mentor him. After I confronted Trinity’s pastor that afternoon, I called the executive director to inform him, and I shared the pastor would need assistance, including legal counsel. The executive director said he would ask the GBC’s general counsel to assist Trinity with the termination, and the pastor later said the general counsel spoke to him more than anyone else from the GBC.
Mike has taken credit for the work survivors have done spanning more than 13 years. He did so to bolster his campaign to become the president of the SBC. David has labored on behalf of all the survivors with remarkable perseverance. Three survivors, David, Ray, and another who is unnamed, stepped through their pain to tell their story of abuse to the Houston Chronicle in yet another attempt to stop this abuser. Mike ignored them by taking a victory lap on their backs while claiming his efforts removed this abuser from leadership in the church and kept the church from leaving the SBC.
Mike’s story about having the abuser terminated and keeping Trinity in the SBC is neither complete nor accurate. I have shared a summary here that shows the survivors, not Mike, have always been the ones behind every effort to expose this abuser and to try to prevent him from serving in SBC churches.
But there is more to this story. After a couple of years, Trinity’s pastor invited the abuser to return to serve with their worship team. Sadly and inexplicably, the abuser is serving with them to this day. Trinity eventually withdrew from the SBC and the GBC. According to Trinity’s pastor, the church and the pastor remain active participants in the local SBC/GBC association.
Mike Stone took credit for something only the survivors have the right to claim. For more than 13 years the survivors have labored to expose this abuser and to try to prevent him from serving in SBC churches. Mike should make right this wrong in as public a manner as he has caused it.
Troy Bush serves as lead pastor of Rehoboth Baptist Church in Tucker, Ga. He previously served as an urban church planting strategist and international missionary. He has written about urban ministry, missions, church history, and slavery. He has taught missions and urban ministry at several seminaries.