Leaders of the Missouri Baptist Convention defended a pastor accused by police of not properly handling a case of a staff member sexually abusing boys. However, they did not address the key allegation, and they misrepresented the nature of the claims.
After old allegations against a Baptist pastor resurfaced over the weekend, Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, announced Feb. 22 it would investigate the claims involving Mike Roy, who was elected by the MBC in October to serve as an SBU trustee. Roy was among five trustees chosen by the MBC’s Nominating Committee after that committee rejected nominees by SBU and misled MBC messengers about the nomination process.
Last week, a group known as “For Such a Time as This Rally,” which advocates for abuse victims in Southern Baptist life, brought attention to the 2005 conviction of Shawn Davies for sexual abuse charges stemming from allegations involving at least 13 boys at four churches. At the time of his arrest, Davies served as music and youth minister at First Baptist Church in Greenwood, Missouri, where Roy served as pastor. According to news reports at the time, police accused Roy of not being cooperative and allowing Davies to continue working at the church around children for four months after police notified Roy of the investigation.
With Roy a new trustee at SBU, the advocacy group posted an update on the case on Feb. 21 on their Facebook page. That post caught the attention of SBU officials, who called the trustee meeting as part of an investigation into the claims about Roy. Because of online allegations that SBU had acted inappropriately by installing Roy, SBU’s statement noted the school hadn’t vetted Roy because he was part of a slate of nominees “unilaterally imposed upon SBU without SBU input or approval.” SBU later clarified that “no allegations were made by SBU” but that the trustees “acted with appropriate immediacy by initiating an investigation” after “information was released publicly.”
The MBC’s Nominating Committee in October rejected SBU’s nominee slate and claimed they do not “rubber-stamp” nominees even as they accepted nominees from other institutions. MBC leaders have been critical of SBU and are demanding the school adopt governance changes to grant the MBC more authority. In the midst of that yearlong conflict, the MBC rejected SBU’s nominees and installed trustees who have been critical of the current SBU leadership – including Roy.
As SBU investigates whether media reports about Roy are accurate to determine if there is action the school should take, MBC leaders quickly offered their support for Roy and criticized SBU President Eric Turner.
Don Hinkle, the editor of the MBC’s official publication, responded Feb. 24 by calling allegations against Roy “untrue” and “false accusations.” The only evidence Hinkle provided came in comments from attorney James Freeman, who gave legal counsel to FBC Greenwood at the time. Freeman called the claims against Roy “slanderous.”
Freeman disputed the allegation that Roy had been uncooperative during the investigation into Davies, attacking the police and media for that accusation. He said “someone inside the local law enforcement community provided inaccurate and incomplete information to a local media company,” apparently a reference to police detective Robert Leslie who was quoted in press accounts at the time.
“The unethical media — in an attempt to sell drama and advertising — improperly reported that Dr. Roy was unwilling to cooperate with the investigation, which was a completely false accusation,” Freeman added about media outlets at the time who reported Leslie’s comments.
Freeman claimed Roy didn’t talk to the media at the time to correct the record on the advice of Freeman. Another leader in the church, however, did repeatedly talk to the media even as Roy avoided requests for comment. Roy left the church months after Davies’s conviction.
Hinkle added in his column thoughts from another SBU trustee, Tim Carter, to defend Roy and criticize SBU. Carter was part of the five-nominee slate with Roy chosen by the MBC’s Nominating Committee in October.
Hinkle, Freeman, and Carter did not address the other allegation at the time — that Roy left Davies in his position around children for four months after learning about the investigation.
Freeman accused SBU of a “smear campaign,” even though SBU’s meeting came after those advocating for action against sexual abuse in Southern Baptist and other churches publicized the issue of Roy. Hinkle similarly criticized Turner and one of the advocates bringing attention to Roy’s role in the Davies case: “Turner implicitly gives credence to the false accusations by Ms. Cheryl Summers” (who Hinkle did not explain is the person who started the “For Such a Time as This Rally” effort). However, the group didn’t create the accusations about Roy but instead pointed out the allegations already reported more than a decade earlier by various news outlets.
The Facebook page of “For Such a Time as This Rally” responded Feb. 24 to Hinkle’s column, calling his piece “poorly researched and irresponsible.” The group added that they “did not levy the accusations against Mike Roy” but “simply posted links to news articles that have been part of the public record since 2005 – 2007.”
In Hinkle’s column, Freeman also accused SBU of violating the Bible, arguing that SBU’s action are “a complete failure to follow 1 Cor. 6 and Matthew 18.” He does not explain how the passages apply, especially 1 Corinthians 6 that condemns lawsuits in secular courts among Christians. Freeman served as legal counsel for the MBC during its nearly 17-year litigation against various Baptist ministries (including Word&Way), financial institutions, and individuals. When the MBC first sued Baptist ministries, they claimed their lawsuit didn’t violate the passage since they believed it only prevents the suing of individual Christians, not Christian corporations. After Freeman and the rest of the MBC’s legal team filed a new lawsuit in that fight that also sued individuals, the MBC quit mentioning 1 Corinthians 6 in its legal updates.