State convention held liable for abuse - Word&Way

State convention held liable for abuse

A jury found May 17 that the Florida Baptist Convention is liable for failing to do an adequate background check before recruiting and training a former church planter now in prison for molesting a 13-year-old boy.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, witnesses during a two-week trial testified that former pastor Douglas Myers, currently serving a seven-year prison term, faced allegations of inappropriate behavior with young boys at churches in Alabama and Maryland before he started Harbor Baptist Fellowship in Eustis, Fla., in 2002. That’s where Myers met the boy he confessed to molesting over a six-month period in 2005.

Myers, 63, had no previous convictions prior to his 2006 arrest and January 2007 guilty plea. The convention’s lawyer argued that Myers was not employed by Florida Baptists and that criminal, credit and motor-vehicle background checks on him turned up nothing.

After his arrest, however, a former deacon came forward to say that his suspicions about Myers split a previous church in Alabama, prompting him and about half the active members to leave, and that he was told by the current pastor of one of Myers’ former churches in Maryland that if the Alabama congregation had “done its job” and contacted former employers they would have been advised that he was unfit to be a pastor or to work around children.

A 2007 lawsuit filed by the mother of a victim identified only by initials accused the state convention, Lake County Baptist Association and mission sponsor Bay Street Baptist Church in Eustis, Fla., of "wanton, willful acts and gross negligence" by failing to do an adequate check into Myers’ background prior to retaining him as a church planter and pastor.

The lawsuit claimed that as a church planter, Myers acted as an "agent" of the convention, association and church, receiving organizational support including health insurance, retirement services and support through the state convention's Cooperative Program budget.

The state convention further supported Myers' efforts through training and resource materials and signaled approval of a mission church started with Myers as pastor by reporting it in the Florida Baptist Witness, the suit contended.

— Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.