Sunday, January 2, 2011

To the people of FBC-Orlando

This man, Tommy Gilmore, is in your church.

His full name is Thomas Edward Gilmore. His wife’s name is Darla Sue Dunagan Gilmore.

From time to time, I hear from people in the Orlando area who tell me about having seen him. Someone once told me they thought he might be teaching Sunday School. And recently, someone spotted him on television during one of Pastor David Uth’s sermons. He said that Gilmore was seated in the TV camera area at First Baptist Church of Orlando and speculated that this might mean Gilmore was becoming more brazen and that he might even try to move into another leadership role somewhere.

This was hard news for me to hear, even though I don’t know what the fact that he was shown on TV might actually mean.

But I know this: Tommy Gilmore is the man who sexually abused me when I was a church kid in Farmers Branch, Texas.

He was a trusted minister. He was married and had a kid. He was well over a decade older than me. He did it with words of God and in the house of God. He twisted Scripture into a weapon against me.

And he has never shown a shred of remorse.

Other ministers knew at the time about what he did to me, and they simply allowed him to move on. So Gilmore went on to build a ministerial career in prominent Southern Baptist churches in Texas, Georgia and Florida; and no one in Baptist leadership stopped him from working with kids.

Tommy Gilmore can be part of a church and apparently feel quite comfortable. Why shouldn’t he? Baptist churches have been sanctuaries for him – a place where he was safe to do whatever he wanted with no consequence. Other Baptist leaders covered for him.

But I’m like a great many clergy sex abuse survivors. The idea of being part of a church is not even thinkable for me. How could I ever feel safe in such a place? I’ve seen the meanness that churches can do – even to kids. I saw it in my own life, both as a child and as an adult, and I’ve seen it in the stories of countless others. When a minister goes wrong, churches can display a mob mentality. It’s pretty ugly.

Clergy predators commit despicable deeds that wreak terrible havoc in the minds and souls of kids, but it is the faith community itself that commits the final savagery, tearing people limb to limb if they dare to speak of what the minister did.

There’s nothing unusual about me. Very few Baptist clergy abuse survivors feel any sense of safety in Baptist churches.

In Baptistland, ministers can molest, rape and sodomize kids, and still find a welcoming church. But for those whom Baptist ministers have abused – if they dare to speak about it – there is only heaped-on hate. Our stories are too awful.

Make no mistake about it – there were plenty in Baptist leadership who were informed about what Gilmore did. Moreover, they knew the allegations were well-substantiated – confirmed by another minister and also by the fact that the Baptist General Convention of Texas had placed Gilmore’s name in its secret file of ministers reported by churches for sexual abuse.

But there was absolutely no one in Baptist leadership who would do diddly-squat to assure the protection of other kids.

Despite all my efforts to get help from Baptist leaders – at last 18 of them in 4 different states and at national headquarters – Gilmore continued working in children’s ministry. At his last position (at least the last position I heard about), he was hired as a contract minister rather than a staff minister. I always wondered if that was part of an attempt to hide him. But though he didn’t appear on any church staff registry, there he was . . . still delivering a sermon (which was even posted online at the time), and still talking about his work in children’s ministry and his counseling work . . . and this was long after I had reported him to Baptist officials.

Despite the knowledge of so many in Baptist leadership, the only thing that finally got Gilmore removed from children’s ministry was my filing of a lawsuit, and the fact that the Orlando Sentinel reported it. The Orlando Sentinel reported that news, and included Gilmore’s name in the article, despite the fact that Gilmore’s attorney had threatened to sue the newspaper if it did so.

I thank God for the Orlando Sentinel. The newspaper did what no Baptist official would do. The newspaper at least gave parents a warning and the chance to decide for themselves about who they would trust their kids with.

Given the history, I have no reason to believe that Gilmore wouldn’t still be able to assume some other leadership role or ministry position in a Baptist church. Who would stop him?

So, if you’re a parent with kids at First Baptist Church of Orlando, be warned. And if Tommy Gilmore assumes a leadership role, please, take your kids elsewhere.

Related news articles:
"Book says SBC lacks system of preventing sexual abuse" (pointing out that the Orlando Sentinel reported Gilmore's name, "ignoring the threat of a lawsuit")
"SBC to consider national clergy sex offender database" (which, as we all now know, they didn't actually consider in any serious manner)
"Austin lawyer pushes Baptist churches to confront sexual abuse"

1/5/2011: Orlando News Center reprint of this posting


Anonymous said...

What on earth would be the purpose for hiring this guy? How could they NOT know about him? What are they smoking down there?

Anonymous said...

Well, here is proof that FBCOrlando cares little about their teens. They have NO problem hiring a sexual predator minister.

One wonders why a sexual predator never publicly repented and got out of ministry? What does that tell us?

Christa Brown said...

I have no reason to think that FBC-Orlando has actually hired Gilmore. But what would stop them? What would stop some other Baptist church from hiring him? He didn't have any problem getting hired at Charles Stanley's megachurch in Atlanta, despite the fact that Baptist ministers in Texas knew about him.

With Baptists, if a man isn't sitting in prison, he can probably find a pulpit to stand in. No matter how many in-house reports of abuse he may have, there is no denominational system that will stop him, or that will even warn people in the pews.

"What does that tell us?"
That Baptist clergy-predators believe they are safe in Baptist churches.

Wendy said...

This makes me heartsick. I grieve for the childhood innocence that Christa lost when she was physically, psychologically, and spiritually raped and molested by this monster, Gilmore. I grieve for other children and teens who have been under his leadership. Research shows that predators don't stop, so it is highly probable that other kids were hurt during the many years Gilmore served in ministry. Gilmore's ability to move easily among prominent Southern Baptist churches is evidence that they don't care. If the church truly cared for their children, Gilmore wouldn't be allowed on their premises, much less PAID staff.

Christa Brown said...

"I have no reason to think..."

Actually . . . history provides a reason. Even if Southern Baptist officials were to flat-out put it in a letter that Gilmore was not working in ministry in any church, I would still have reason to believe that he still is . . . because that's exactly what happened before. The Southern Baptist Convention wrote to me that they had no record he was working in ministry in any Southern Baptist church . . . and in fact he was . . . and furthermore, he had been all along, and he had been at very prominent churches. So, when I finally put together the pieces, it was mighty hard for me to believe that no one knew he was a minister.

Wendy said...

What makes Southern Baptist officials so callous and heartless? WHY would they lie? WHY would they allow a monster who hurts children to hold ministerial positions in prominent Baptist churches?

Valarie said...

I am posting this on my facebook page.
I know there are many who would prefer not to hear about the ongoing problem of Baptist clergy abuse again but if it protects one person that's something. We can stop the cover ups and secrets with our web presence. This isn't a case of speculation...this man finally admitted his crime of sexual abuse while a minister.
I wish more people would read your well written and documented book about this predators crime and the years of cover up by other ministers.

PG said...

Makes me sick and does not surprise me at all. Just another reason not to trust those in AUTHORITY in the SBC church. He ought to come to Memphis and go to Bellevue. I'm sure Steve Gaines would welcome him with open arms.

Anonymous said...

I was sexually abused by a pastor as a child and as an adult. When I told on the pastor as an adult, the church officials told me I they believed me but I could not get him dismissed unless I had another victim. Fortunately, I did. But the fact that they needed that was disturbing and they said that was Biblical.

Wendy said...

Anonymous, I'm so sorry that happened to you. Church leaders often twist and pervert scripture to meet their own agenda. If they believed you, they didn't need another "witness". The pastor clearly wasn't "above reproach"!

David said...

Ug. I read the first article you linked to, which seemed reasonable, and then I got to the comments, which were a rage-hate against you by psychotic, frothing at the month, hateful "true believers". Their response to a story about a young girl being raped validates every thing you have said. Reading the comments with their defense of pedophilia ("there's nothing we can do!"), and their blaming of the innocent victim, made me so sick, I had to close the browser and lie down.

I am so sorry for what happened to you, and to my family, and to all of us that have been through this or known someone who has.

Christa Brown said...

Thank-you, David. I too feel enormous sorrow for all that has been done to so many of us, and for the faith community's constant refusal to see.

The article David is talking about, with numerous "rage-hate" comments at the bottom is here. And of course, David is exactly right. Their own words show them for who they are and demonstrate why there must be trained outsiders to assess clergy abuse allegations. I wrote more about it here: "Harsh words make my point."

Anonymous said...

He is a monster.

Anonymous said...

I was a victim of Tommy Gilmore too, after you. It has caused me considerable grief and suffering. I called him a number of years ago (after he left 1st Baptist Atlanta) to confront him, and he was remorseful and apologized. I agree that he should not be in a leadership role and that Baptist leadership did nothing to stop this when they knew about it.

Christa Brown said...

Dear Anon 5/16/2014: I am greatly grieved to learn that you too were victimized by Tommy Gilmore. From what you say, I am guessing that his abuse of you probably occurred while he was a minister at FBC-Atlanta? Is this correct? Is this why he left FBC-Atlanta and moved to Florida? In any event, his abuse of you happened after his abuse of me, which means that the ministers at my childhood church who knew about him were complicit in his abuse of you. They allowed him to move on to another church even while knowing that he had abused a kid . . . and so you were greatly harmed as a result. And I imagine that many more were harmed as well. Please email me: