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.
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?