(RNS) — A Tennessee pastor who confessed two decades ago to statutory rape has resigned after his church was recently removed from the Southern Baptist Convention for hiring him.
Pastor Randy Leming Jr., who served at Antioch Baptist Church in Sevierville, announced his resignation on Feb. 28, the Baptist and Reflector reported on Thursday (March 11). The Baptist and Reflector, a publication of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, said Leming had been with the church since 2014.
The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, meeting in February, determined that the church was no longer “in friendly cooperation” with the denomination because “the church knowingly employs as pastor a man convicted of statutory rape.” The SBC voted in 2019 to amend its constitution to make sexual abuse one of the stated grounds for disfellowshipping a church.
Leming declined to provide a statement to the Baptist and Reflector. Religion News Service could not immediately reach the church for comment.
According to a 1998 decision in a Tennessee appeals court, Leming was 31 and a pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church in Sevier County in 1994 when he performed oral sex on a 16-year-old victim on two occasions. Shiloh Baptist is within six miles of the Antioch church. Leming appealed the two concurrent sentences of 18 months in prison he received, claiming the sentences were excessive. The judge in the case upheld the lower court decision, calling the committed offenses “especially shocking and reprehensible.”
The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board was not informed of the disfellowshipping of Antioch until after the Executive Committee decision had been reported in a state newspaper, the Baptist news journal said.
“Now that this has been brought to our attention, we will begin the process to better understand the circumstances surrounding Antioch Baptist Church’s situation,” said Randy C. Davis, president of the mission board. “The SBC Executive Committee had a full year to work through its process and to better understand the situation. It is important that Tennessee Baptists also understand the complexities.”