Friday, December 21, 2007

Great Hills Baptist has second minister convicted on child sex

“I just can’t believe it.” How many times have we heard those words?

It’s what church members often say when they learn that their beloved minister has been accused of child molestation.

They can’t believe it. They won’t believe it. They refuse to believe it.

So, over and over again, we see the same sad story of churches rallying around an accused or convicted minister while the victim is ostracized and vilified.

We read about it with Larry Neathery, Keith Geren, Leslie Mason, Larry Reynolds, Jeff Hannah, Bob Gray, Leonard Smith, Mark Brooks, Lonnie Broome, Tom Wade, and many many more. Those are just the names that come to mind off the top of my head.

Now we see the same story at a prominent Southern Baptist church pastored by a member of the SBC Executive Committee, Michael Lewis. His church, Great Hills Baptist in Austin, Texas, is shown above.

This is the second time Great Hills has had a minister convicted of child sex crimes. In 1999, their youth minister Charles Richard “Rick” Willits was sentenced to 15 years in prison for sexually abusing a 14-year old boy he met at the church.

Congregants and other ministers just couldn’t believe it. “Some stayed loyal to the end, refusing to believe their youth minister was capable of sexually assaulting boys.”

At Grace Temple Baptist in Denton, Willits’ prior church, the pastor said, “I’m dumbfounded.” Yet, people in the Denton community reportedly “provided leads” to the police.

In the Austin newspaper, one commenter pointed out that, on “the same night when Austin police asked that any other victims be helped to come forward, former Great Hills pastor Harold O’Chester held a rally for Rick Willits…professing the belief of the church members that Rick was innocent and attacking Rick’s victim as a liar.” After seeing the first vocal victim ostracized and harassed, “guess how many other victims came forward?” the commenter asked.

Another commenter said the church “denounced the victim” and “very publicly supported the accused pastor…even paying his salary through the trial.”

And on TV, youth minister Billy Muench declared that, “without a doubt,” he would make Willits part of his ministry and “would serve with him til the day I die.”

Despite the certainty of the church members, a jury found Willits guilty.

Now, still another Great Hills minister has pled guilty and been convicted of a child sex crime. This time, it’s Jerry Carver, the former education minister at Great Hills.

Do you think the people of Great Hills will have learned something from their prior experience with minister Willits? Or will they still find ways to mentally minimize minister Carver’s crime and seek leniency for him in the sentencing process?

And what about Great Hills’ senior pastor, Michael Lewis? Has he learned anything?

As a member of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, Lewis could make a difference. The Executive Committee is supposed to be studying the feasibility of a database of convicted, confessed, and credibly accused clergy.

Having seen how church members are so extremely reluctant to believe ill of their ministers, will Lewis now understand the need for an independent, objective review board to determine whether abuse accusations are credible and to inform congregations?

With his own church having been infiltrated twice by clergy predators, will Lewis now appreciate the urgent need for action by the SBC Executive Committee?

Or will he be content with the status quo?

8 comments:

gimommo said...

Christa,
Here we go again....see Open forum's post from Jacksonville Baptist church.....the SBC is worse than we thought the Catholics were!
Page Patterson and others covered for another one of "God's men" and enabled this wolf to leave a trail of victims....again!

Christa Brown said...

Gimommo is talking about the recent Jacksonville news that a guy, who was previously a Southern Baptist minister in Texas, has been accused of sending sexually explicit text messages to a teen girl in Florida. He moved on to a Florida church after admitting to "affairs with women he was counseling," and after being counseled himself by none other than former SBC president Paige Patterson. You can read more about it here and here.

And gimommo isn't the only one who thinks Southern Baptists may have a bigger sex abuse problem than the Catholics. Check out what a Southern Baptist minister and former seminary professor says in this article.

WatchingHISstory said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Just ran across your post (several months after the fact). After reading what you said I figured I'd try to clear up a bit of things that aren't exactly accurate.

--"Congregants and other ministers just couldn’t believe it. “Some stayed loyal to the end, refusing to believe their youth minister was capable of sexually assaulting boys.”"
I'm one of those who still believes that Rick is innocent. I knew him personally and I was there at GHBC when this took place back in 1999. Do I think Rick did things that would be considered inappropriate? Yes. Do I think he sexually assaulted the kid (who I also knew)? No. What I think happened (and of course, this is just my own theory) is that Rick said/did things that the kid took the wrong way. One thing the media left out was that the "victim" was a homosexual. I believe that the kid thought Rick was making passes at him, and then tried to act on those perceptions. At that point I think Rick informed him that he misunderstood what was going on, the kid got his feelings hurt, and decided to get revenge by making up the whole story.
And please don't think that I'm bashing the guy for being gay. I brought it up because I believe it's important. Furthermore, the kid confessed to a our Sunday school teachers (married couple) that he lied about the whole thing. The couple (obviously) didn't testify at the trial.
So yes, some of us (who were there when all this took place and had much more info than the media as to what happened)continue to remain loyal because we don't believe Rick was guilty of the crime. (Especially since there was no evidence of proof. It was all just a bunch of "he said, (s)he said..." and because Rick was a youth pastor and accused of this he was found guilty.)

--"on “the same night when Austin police asked that any other victims be helped to come forward, former Great Hills pastor Harold O’Chester held a rally for Rick Willits…professing the belief of the church members that Rick was innocent and attacking Rick’s victim as a liar.” After seeing the first vocal victim ostracized and harassed, “guess how many other victims came forward?” the commenter asked."
Yes, our pastor held a meeting and informed us of what was going on. I was there. I honestly don't remember our former pastor ever accusing that the kid was a liar, and I believe that no other kids came forward because there weren't any other victims.

--"Another commenter said the church 'denounced the victim” and “very publicly supported the accused pastor…even paying his salary through the trial.'"
Yes, the church (in majority) supported Rick because there was no evidence that the kid was telling the truth. There is a huge difference between these two cases. Rick was supported, Jerry was not. In fact, Jerry was asked to leave the church. (And as far as I know, Rick's wife is still a member there, and yes, she's still married to him.)

--"Despite the certainty of the church members, a jury found Willits guilty."
And I still believe they are wrong. I know both Rick and Jerry personally. I do not believe Rick is guilty, I do, however, believe Jerry is.

--"another Great Hills minister has pled guilty and been convicted of a child sex crime."
Rick did not plead guilty, Jerry did. So it's not "another" minister that has plead guilty.

--"Do you think the people of Great Hills will have learned something from their prior experience with minister Willits? Or will they still find ways to mentally minimize minister Carver’s crime and seek leniency for him in the sentencing process?"
Actually, the church didn't seek leniency for Jerry. The church fired Jerry and asked him to leave. Jerry did not receive the same support that Rick did because many (still) believe that Rick is innocent... not many believe the same of Jerry.

--"With his own church having been infiltrated twice by clergy predators, will Lewis now appreciate the urgent need for action by the SBC Executive Committee?"
Pastor Lewis was not the pastor back in 1999. And if I remember correctly several years went by before Lewis was appointed the new pastor of the church.

Anyways, sorry for the length of my reply. If you have any questions/comments about the things I said I'd be happy to respond.

Christa Brown said...

(1) Great Hills’ former minister Rick Willits was CONVICTED on 9 counts of child sex abuse. (2) His victim was a 14 year old. (3) It is pure hatefulness to stick a label on a 14 year old child molestation victim.

For more of my response to this comment, see my new posting.

Anonymous said...

This article is inaccurate and biased. Rick was offered a plea bargain if he would admit to the charges against him and he still sticks by his origional plea of not guilty. The two ministers should not be associated in the same article. Jerry has problems just as we all do, but God is so forgiving that he still cares about Jerry and wants his love. I pray that the readers of this article are not mislead.

Christa Brown said...

According to the published news article, a jury found Rick Willits guilty, and he was sentenced to 15 years (a sentence that suggests there was considerable evidence).

Anon's comment illustrates what this posting is about - how often church members simply "can't believe it" - even when their beloved minister is convicted and even when he's on a sex offender registry and even when there is overwhelming evidence and sometimes even when there was an admission.

Obviously, I can't actually know whether Anon is a Great Hills church member or not, but he does at least appear to be someone who knows Willits since he purports to know that Willits still sticks by his original plea of not guilty (despite having been convicted). So who's the biased one? The reporters and newspapers who put their names and reputations on the line when they publish news about the conviction of ministers like Willits, or an Anonymous commenter who still tries to promote Willits' innocence despite Willits' actual conviction?

"Jerry has problems just as we all do...."? No, Anon. All of us have not been convicted of child sex crimes.

Anonymous said...

I visited this church for about two months when I first moved to Austin. My discernment was telling me something wasn't right here. I was told that they were searching for a new pastor, but no one told me what had happened to the previous one.

They are very legalistic, I felt judged and unwelcome. I was getting plugged into the singles ministry and ended up becoming a victim of slander and gossip after sharing my testimony with a "friend." I truly believe there are demons in this church. It doesn't surprise me that they produce child predators at Great Hills Baptist.

Also, they are very immersed in "Christian Psychology", don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with receiving godly counsel in the body of Christ, but this church takes it way too far.

I wish I would have found this website long before going to Great Hills Baptist. I invested too much energy there.