ST. JOSEPH — A small Southern Baptist church near St. Joseph is reportedly standing by its pastor accused of soliciting sex over the Internet with a police officer posing as a 13-year-old girl.
Robert Black, 40, of Independence, waived his right to a preliminary hearing and is scheduled to appear in court May 14 to face charges of first-degree attempted statutory rape and attempted enticement of a child under 15.
Police arrested Black April 8, after he allegedly arranged by email to meet for sex with a minor "girl" who was actually an Internet crimes detective at a car wash in Liberty. According to media reports, police found more than 130 online "friends," many of them teenagers, on a Facebook account registered to "Jon Still."
Investigators believe the name is an alias that Black used to entice teenagers. They have asked parents in the region to report if they believe their children may have communicated with him using that name.
Black, pastor of New Home Baptist Church in St. Joseph, a small congregation that is affiliated with the Missouri Baptist and Southern Baptist conventions, claims he is innocent.
Clyde Elder, director of missions for St. Joseph Baptist Association, said May 6 the church is standing in support of its preacher, and by mutual agreement with church leaders, Black has taken a leave of absence with pay. Elder said the church is using supply preachers during Black's absence.
"We need to keep Pastor Black and the New Home Baptist Church in our prayers," Elder said.
New Home Baptist Church has removed information about Black from its Web site on a staff page that formerly featured a family photo of a smiling Black surrounded by his wife and three young children.
Black has been pastor of the church, with a history dating back to 1887, since 2008. Elder said Black has been with New Home Baptist Church about four years, first as a deacon and worship leader, and took over as pastor after the death of a longtime predecessor who led the church twice for a total of nearly 35 years.
Southern Baptist churches are autonomous and make their own decisions, including about whom to call as pastor, but the Southern Baptist Convention urges congregations to perform background checks before hiring prospective ministers.
According to a Kansas City television station, Black cleared a mandatory background check before coaching a team of girls in the Fort Osage Youth Basketball League.
New Home Baptist Church is the third Southern Baptist congregation recently in news reports involving allegations of sexual abuse.
Police in Benton, Ark., re-arrested David Pierce, 56, former minister of music at the city's First Baptist Church, May 6 on additional charges of sexual indecency with a child. Originally arrested April 24 on one count of the charge, Pierce now faces 54 counts of the crime involving four alleged victims.
Police say current charges relate to incidents alleged in the last three years, and all those alleging abuse are still teenagers who are or were involved in the church's youth choir program, named Pure Energy, that Pierce directed.
According to the Benton Courier, Sheriff Bruce Pennington said in a news conference he expects additional charges to be filed against Pierce, saying allegations of abuse are believed to date back about 15 years.
After learning of allegations against him, First Baptist Church fired Pierce, who had been on the church staff for 29 years. With 2,500 members, the church is prominent in the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.
In suburban Memphis, Steven C. Haney, 48, former pastor of Walnut Grove Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., received probation after pleading guilty April 29 to rape and sexual battery by an authority figure.
One of Haney's alleged victims claimed that his former pastor molested him for more than five years beginning when he was 15, luring the youth into a long-term sexual relationship by convincing him it was God's will and a test of his faith.
Prosecutors agreed to a guilty plea to spare witnesses the stress of testifying in court. Haney still faces federal charges of child pornography that carry a 10-year prison sentence.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.