JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (ABP) – A Baptist church in Florida is barring children from attendance where a registered sex offender has been preaching since the end of January.
Jacksonville television station WJXT quoted a woman Feb. 19 who said she was turned away on a recent Sunday when she tried to bring a 2-year-old boy she babysits to services at Christ Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church.
"They said for the next two weeks, no children are allowed," said Wanda Evans. "This is the second Sunday, no children, so next week's Sunday, kids will be able to be allowed."
The congregation on Jacksonville’s north side has had to make adjustments since opening its pulpit to Darrell Gilyard, who recently served three years in prison for sex crimes with two girls committed while he was senior pastor at Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville.
As a registered sex offender, Gilyard, 49, is not allowed to be around minors. His attorney withdrew a motion Feb. 11 seeking a change in Gilyard’s probation status to allow minors in the sanctuary when he preaches after a judge called it “premature” pending input from a licensed therapist.
Gilyard vowed in a text message to the Florida Times-Union to somehow prove “that life isn’t over when one has committed a crime for which he receives this heinous label.”
“You don’t have to languish on the fringes of society,” Gilyard said.
Gilyard’s return to the pulpit prompted sidewalk protests by a group calling itself the New Black Panther Party. "A minister who has done such evil should not be restored to the pulpit until his repentance is as notorious as his sin," George Harvey, pastor of nearby Mt. Charity Baptist Church, told WJXT.
Gilyard, once seen as a rising star in preaching circles, including the Southern Baptist Convention, has a ministry long marred by scandal. Prominent Southern Baptists including Paige Patterson, Jerry Vines and Jerry Falwell were all strong supporters until a falling out in 1991 when Gilyard resigned from a church after admitting to several extramarital affairs. That was after allegations of sexual misconduct at three previous churches.
Gilyard went on to serve 15 years as pastor of Jacksonville’s Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church, a prominent African-American congregation that under his leadership grew to 7,000 members. He resigned in 2008 after he was charged with lewd and lascivious conduct for sending inappropriate text messages to two underage girls.
Gilyard’s current preaching assignment is more modest. About 150 attended his first service Jan. 29, up from a normal attendance of five to 10.
Tiffany Croft, a Jacksonville woman who says she resisted unwanted sexual advances by Gilyard 20 years ago and in 2008 started a blog urging others with similar stories to come forward, called his return to the pulpit barely two months after his release from prison a mockery. She marveled at why people who regard child sexual abuse by a teacher or priest as an abomination are so quick to forgive a pastor because they like to hear him preach.
“Darrell Gilyard talks a good game,” Croft wrote in her blog Feb. 11. “He preaches amazing sermons of words and uses holy scriptures.” Responding to those who argue it would be a waste of those talents to not allow him to preach, Croft offered, “There are a whole line up of victims behind every one of his sermons.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.