Texas Monthly’s cover story is about a Baptist preacher accused of killing his wife. I don’t know whether he did it or not. But the investigation certainly uncovered some ugly stuff about how easily a Baptist minister can rise in the ranks despite allegations of sexual abuse and sexual assault.
Investigators now say that Matt Baker “spent years in Waco leading… a secret life as a sexual predator.”
Let me condense some of the history and allegations set forth in the article.
Matt was a ministerial student at the largest Baptist school in the world, Baylor U. in Waco, Texas. It’s affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Matt was also a trainer for the football team. When another trainer, a freshman girl, was on her way to clean out a locker room, “Matt said he’d be happy to help.”
“…inside the locker room, he pinned her arms behind her back…spread her legs…forced her onto a bench….”
She went to Baylor officials at the time, but they “asked her not to contact police.” They “let him walk away.” They typed up a report and put it in a file.
The girl dropped out of college and moved away. “The Baylor people had thought I was just some screwed up slut who had wanted to ruin the life of a good ministerial student,” she says.
Matt continued to excel and got a prized internship at First Baptist of Waco, a church affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. He ran their summer youth camp and worked in the church’s recreation center.
In 1994, Matt married Kari.
Soon after their wedding, a “minister at First Baptist received a report that Matt had grabbed a female custodian in the bathroom….”
“Around the same time, the pastor received a separate report that Matt had cornered a teenage girl in a small room where roller skates were stored.”
The church didn’t fire Matt.
“Unlike some denominations, Baptist churches have no defined hierarchies and operate independently of one another.”
“There are no rules, for example, requiring a church to inform” others about a minister accused of abuse.
“In fact, to avoid defamation lawsuits, leaders of a church have an incentive to keep their mouths shut when it comes to questionable behavior among clergy, which is perhaps why First Baptist officials said nothing about the allegations when other churches later called, interested in hiring Matt.”
“I didn’t want to be known as the man who ruined his career,” says the now-retired pastor of First Baptist Waco.
Matt “continued to make his way up the ladder.”
“To supplement his income, he ran an after-school youth program at the YMCA….He was fired. The director had received written statements from 4 young female employees, all of whom claimed Matt had sexually propositioned them,” and one said Matt “touched her pants near her genitalia and put her hands on his crotch.”
“For whatever reason, the YMCA decided not to press charges.”
“Just as they had been at Baylor and at First Baptist of Waco, the written complaints about his behavior were put in a file and…forgotten.”
“Apparently, no administrator from the YMCA, First Baptist, or from Baylor itself uttered a word in 1996,” when Matt was accepted into Baylor’s renowned Truett seminary.
“Nor did anyone say a word” when he got a job as pastor at Pecan Grove Baptist Church, also affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
In 1997, a woman told Matt’s wife that her 16-year-old daughter said Matt had “grabbed her and kissed her” in a parking lot.
In 1998, Matt became the pastor at Williams Creek Baptist Church, and from there he went to First Baptist Church of Riesel, and to Northlake Baptist in Dallas. All are churches affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
In 2005, Matt moved his family back to Waco and accepted a job as chaplain for the Waco Center for Youth, a residential treatment facility for emotionally disturbed adolescents. He was also asked to be the pastor of Crossroads Baptist, a church near Lorena, just outside Waco.
Crossroads Baptist Church is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
In 2006, after the death of Matt’s wife, Kari, still more stories from teenage girls surfaced: “…a hand on a leg”… “his hand against her breast”… asking “if she was wearing panties.”
Kari’s mother says that Matt had set his sights on a new target, a young, single mom who was the daughter of the music minister at Crossroads. She contends this may have been a motivation for Matt to kill Kari, or perhaps because Kari found out about Matt’s “other life.”
Telling friends that he didn’t want his daughters to endure the “rumors” sweeping town, Matt moved to Kerrville to work as a director for the Baptist Student Union at Schreiner University. Even with so many allegations of abuse and assault on teens and young women, Matt was able to get still another job working with students. His position was funded by the Baptist General Convention of Texas. After his arrest on murder charges, Matt was suspended "with pay."
Matt also worked as a substitute teacher in Kerrville. He was teaching at a high school just before he was taken into custody.
Matt Baker denies all charges.
Kari’s family says that it has pursued the murder investigation because of what they described as “our shame that we didn’t see Matt for who he really was.”
The woman who was assaulted as a freshman in the Baylor locker room says that she feels “enormous guilt.” “If I hadn’t done what Baylor told me to do…back in 1991, I think Kari would be alive today.”
Isn’t it sad that Kari’s family and a sexual assault survivor are the ones who feel such guilt?
What about the Baylor officials who did nothing? Do you think they feel guilt?
What about the prior minister and pastor at First Baptist of Waco. They received reports about Matt and did nothing. Do you think they feel guilt?
Every step of the way, Matt Baker was in churches, schools and organizations affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Do you think officials there feel guilt? Why didn’t they have an effective system in place for investigating and keeping track of abuse allegations against Baptist ministers in their affiliated churches?
On a blog devoted to this case, a recent comment said, “This guy should have been busted by an organization like this many years ago.”
I agree. Why didn’t Baptists bust him? Why didn’t they even investigate?
A sexual predator can often become emboldened by a lack of consequences. Did too many people allow this guy to get away with too much for too long?
April 2009 Update: Matt Baker has now been indicted on a murder charge in connection with his wife's death. Read more in the Waco Tribune and the Associated Baptist Press. Follow the continuing story at the Don’tEvenGetMeStarted blog.