The following is a statement by Troy Bush, Lead Pastor, Rehoboth Baptist Church, Tucker, GA
What we did not know then, we know now. And what we know should be important to Southern Baptists, especially Georgia Baptists.
We didn’t know Franklin “Frankie” Andrew Wiley, a student minister who served our church family, Rehoboth Baptist Church, Tucker, GA, in the early 1980s had molested 5 of our boys. We also didn’t know he sexually abused other boys at other Georgia Baptist churches before and after his time at Rehoboth.
We now know the names of each boy he assaulted in our church family. We know he assaulted 10 boys at 4 different Georgia Baptist churches. We know he assaulted an eleventh boy not in one of the churches. And we have credible-but-unconfirmed reports of 2 other boys at a Georgia Baptist church. We know that 3 weeks ago he served with the worship team of another Georgia Baptist church in a Sunday morning worship service.
When the Houston Chronicle published David Pittman’s and Ray Harrell’s story in the first of a series the reports on sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention, we began to learn what happened so many years ago in our church family. You can read their stories here (https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/investigations/article/Southern-Baptist-sexual-abuse-spreads-as-leaders-13588038.php). We decided we had to respond, especially with the Houston Chronicle claiming their abuser was currently working at a church. On February 17, I reached out to David Pittman.
The next day, SBC President JD Greear addressed the SBC Executive Committee (EC) and named Trinity Baptist Church, Ashburn, GA, as 1 of 10 churches that needed to give assurance they were properly addressing reports of sexual abuse. Frankie Wiley was Trinity’s music director.
The SBC process almost protected an abuser
The SBC was unprepared to address sexual abuse within its midst. In the days following JD naming Trinity Baptist, a series of mistakes nearly prevented Frankie from being exposed and removed from a ministry role in a Georgia Baptist church.
Thomas Hammond, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, and Augie Boto, executive vice president and general counsel and the interim executive director and CEO of the EC, expressed support for Trinity without contacting survivors or Rehoboth. Thomas later apologized, and you can read his statement here (https://christianindex.org/hammond-statement-trinity-baptist-church/). Augie has yet to apologize to the survivors of Frankie’s abuse.
The greater mistake occurred with the EC Bylaws Workgroup’s handling of the inquiry into the 10 churches. Both JD and Mike Stone, then chairman of the EC, were members of the Workgroup. The Workgroup met without JD as he was on a family vacation, and they limited their inquiry only to information JD used to develop his list of 10 churches. On February 23, the Workgroup reported their findings, and regarding Trinity they said, “we have no evidence that the church, as a body, violated any of the four provisions. We believe no further inquiry is warranted based on that information.” The case was closed as far as the EC was concerned.
Surely, they considered the claims in the Houston Chronicle article. If that information was not enough, in less than 5 minutes of searching on the Internet, they would have found a 2012 article on David Pittman’s website where he told his story and detailed Frankie’s movement through several Georgia Baptist churches, including Rehoboth and Trinity. You can see that article here (https://togetherweheal.net/2012/10/01/pedophiles-are-like-serial-killers-my-story-by-david-pittman/). David’s phone number and email were on his website. They still are.
JD, Augie, Mike and the Workgroup didn’t contact Rehoboth or me before they completed their inquiry. They didn’t contact David. They didn’t contact Jerry Light, the former pastor of Jodeco Rd. Baptist Church, Stockbridge, GA, a pastor David named in the 2012 post on his website.
In 2006, Jerry was the senior pastor of Jodeco Road Baptist Church, where Frankie also served as the student minister. Jerry removed Frankie from his staff after David called and told him what Frankie had done to him. Frankie confessed to Jerry, confirming David’s story, and Jerry later located and confirmed two other survivors, one that was in another Georgia Baptist church. He also informed the Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC), and for several years the GBC referred to Jerry anyone requesting a reference on Frankie. Jerry has maintained written records from that period, and he will make them available to SBC or Georgia Baptist leaders if requested.
Mike responded to critics of the Workgroup’s findings by saying, “I believe that almost all of us, in our zeal, emotion and righteous anger have done some stumbling out of the gate.” You can read his statement here (https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/first-person-we-seek-the-same-goal/). He added that critics do not understand the process. I have to say, the failure of this process looks more like a faceplant than a stumbling, and I don’t need to understand the process or the motives of those involved to understand the Workgroup got it wrong on this matter.
This rushed process nearly succeeded in protecting a confirmed child sex abuser while it failed the survivors of his abuse. It failed Rehoboth and all the Georgia Baptist churches where survivors have been identified. It failed Trinity and the children and students there. And it failed Georgia Baptists by not providing just and righteous actions to address this matter within our midst.
Pastors and churches play the most important role
We love our autonomy until we are looking for solutions to abuse such as I have discussed here. We’ve resisted abuser registries and inquiries into our churches, while looking to convention entities, not autonomous churches, to be the champions of survivors.
The fault doesn’t lie with our convention structures and leaders as much as it does with churches and pastors. Yes, we must improve our convention structures and our policies, and a transparent investigation into how we’ve addressed sexual abuse should help us.
If I’ve learned anything in this journey, I’ve learned that local churches play the single most important role in addressing allegations of abuse, especially involving pastors. Until we understand that our autonomy places each church and its pastors in the lead seat of responsibility, we will continue to chase solutions that will never fully satisfy. Let me share a few additional steps Rehoboth took to illustrate what it looks like for a local church to take responsibility to act.
I called Frankie on February 24, and over the next couple of days, he confessed to abusing 5 boys in the Rehoboth Family in the early 1980s. I couldn’t breath when I read his confession along with the names of each of the boys. I told Frankie that he needed to demonstrate true repentance, including never again serving in a leadership role in any church and making a full confession of the other boys in other places and churches he abused.
When I called the pastor of Trinity on February 28, he initially defended Frankie and the actions he and Trinity had taken. After I shared Frankie’s confession, Rodney admitted he had been wrong in how he handled this matter. I insisted that he remove Frankie from any ministry role and not merely ask him to resign. On Saturday, March 2, Rodney terminated Frankie and asked him to voluntarily withdraw his membership.
I also called Augie, Mike, Thomas and Todd Unzicker (he responded to my request to talk with JD) to tell them Trinity Baptist’s music director had confessed to abusing 5 boys, to tell them Trinity would finally be doing what it should have done years ago, and to express Rehoboth’s dismay over how they had handled this matter. I also emailed them and requested they address unresolved matters.
Rehoboth gave the GBMB a $10,000 grant to support their efforts to protect children against abuse. Rehoboth partners with GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment https://www.netgrace.org), and we suggested the GBMB use those funds in conjunction with GRACE to help Georgia Baptist churches.
And I called a Georgia Baptist church last week where Frankie had begun to serve with their worship team.
Addressing abuse in our church families will always need a multifaceted response, and our SBC entities can be a true help. But they, including the new credentials committee, will never be enough. Pastors, churches, and their associations/networks should accept the responsibility that we, not our Convention entities, are first responders and not just inside our own church. Autonomy cannot be an excuse for not speaking and acting in our own communities and among our own local association/network of churches.
The SBC must also add dedicated staff or a trusted partner to assist us. Again and again, I heard how personnel matters, church schedules, and simply a lack of time slowed this process or actually prevented the volunteers from doing the job that we are expecting them to do. It is unrealistic to expect part-time volunteers (SBC president, EC chairman and trustees, credentials committee, etc.) to handle well the inquiries from across the SBC without adequate support. Those appointed by the SBC and given the responsibility to address these matters must also have adequate staffing support to perform the ministry we expect of them.
Victims should not have to carry the burden
David told me early in our conversations he was not looking for a legal remedy. Because of the statute of limitations in Georgia, he had long given up hope that Frankie would be charged with his crimes. What he desires most is that we, the churches, would listen to survivors, take their concerns seriously, and act righteously to protect children.
I recently asked him what he would want included in this statement. His reply is convicting:
It is reprehensible, that I, a victim of this predator, have to be the one that has to figure out a way to contact the churches to protect their children from him when it should be the churches doing the protecting. Victims should not have to do what Jesus called the church to do. —David Pittman