MONTCLAIR, Calif. (ABP) – A self-described “family-oriented” Baptist church with average attendance of about 185 is in the Los Angeles media spotlight after police said they caught its 53-year-old music minister in the act of molesting a 15-year-old girl.
Bethany Baptist Church in the Los Angeles suburb of Montclair, Calif., reportedly fired Mark William Michaels after his arrest June 5 on felony charges. Police said Michaels was caught “committing lewd acts” with the girl, who is a member of the church choir, in a parked car about a mile away from the church at 9 a.m. on Sunday.
Pastor Josh Matlock told local television station ABC-7 news of the arrest hit the congregation “like a ton of bricks.
“We didn’t see any of this coming,” Matlock said.
The station said Michaels was not scheduled to lead worship services June 5 and was supposed to be out of town in San Diego. Church members noticed the absence of the girl, the youngest member of the choir and the only minor. Michaels’ wife, who is church pianist, was reportedly ill at home.
Michaels was jailed at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga in lieu of $50,000 bail. He was scheduled to appear in court June 7, and police said they are looking for possible additional victims.
Bethany Baptist Church, meanwhile, was looking for answers.
Matlock told NBC-4 in Los Angeles said the congregation would not “try to brush it under the rug.”
“It happened,” he said. “It didn’t happen on the premises, but it happened, so we want to definitely care for all of those involved and all the members of our church.”
The congregation is affiliated with Transformation Ministries, a network of churches renamed after leaders of American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest withdrew from American Baptist Churches USA in 2006 over irreconcilable “differences of theological convictions and values.” Those differences included refusal by the national body to withdraw fellowship from congregations that are welcoming and affirming of gays.
The Bethany Baptist Church statement of beliefs includes “the supreme authority of the Bible and its absolute sufficiency as our only rule of faith” and that “biblical marriage consists only of the union of one man and one woman, and that biblical marriage is the only legitimate and acceptable context for a sexual relationship.”