Ala. Pastor Responds to Critics Who Say He Was Wrong for Posting Video on YouTube of Teacher's Apology for Sex Abuse of Student

Alabama Pastor Mark Wyatt at Deeper Grace Fellowship, where he recently made a video with convicted sexual offender Alicia Gray, where she read her statement following her conviction.
Alabama Pastor Mark Wyatt at Deeper Grace Fellowship, where he recently made a video with convicted sexual offender Alicia Gray, where she read her statement following her conviction. | (Photo: YouTube / Mark Wyatt Screenshot)

One week before she was set to report to prison as a convicted sex offender, Alicia Gray, a former school teacher, shared on-camera how her faith had helped her since she was arrested on sex abuse charges last year.

"I had pain in my own heart and a void that I thought I needed to fill through attention and all kinds of other things, and that void was just needing Jesus," Gray said in the Jan. 10 video.

Alabama pastor Mark Wyatt filmed and uploaded the footage of Gray, who attends his church, reading her court statement to YouTube.

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"The purpose of the video was simply to say to everybody, there is hope for you. If you have failed, if you have failed God, if you have fallen further than you ever thought you could, the love, grace and healing of God will be able to forgive you," Wyatt, who leads Deeper Life Fellowship in Mobile, Ala., told The Christian Post on Wednesday.

Wyatt said that, contrary to media reports suggesting otherwise, he had not set out to make an "apology video."

"Now, in the video she does apologize, because that was part of her statement report that she read to the judge and is now part of the court record," said Wyatt. "But if we were to make an 'apology video' we would have done it much differently."

"This was not intended to be an apology video where everyone was satisfied with Alicia's remorse. This was meant to be a declaration from her heart of the grace of God that has rescued her in the past 11 months," he added.

Wyatt believed that by putting Gray's statement on social media, he would be able to share her comments with the Mobile community, where he figured it might get about "1,000 views in this area."

"People have accused me of being manipulative and stupid because I put it on YouTube and did not expect 40,000 views. But honestly, I put it on YouTube because if you're going to use Facebook…the easiest way to share a video is to share it on YouTube," said Wyatt.

In an interview with CP, the pastor also addressed critics who are accusing the church of ignoring Gray's 14-year-old victim and his family.

"It was against the law for us to have any kind of contact with the victim and his family during the investigation until the case closed," said Wyatt. "If I had been asked to pastor the victim and his family, I would have be happy to do that. We have prayed for him. I'm praying for him."

Despite the pastor's good intentions, not everyone sees the video in the same light as him.

Last week, on Janet Mefferd's radio show, Boz Tchividjian, the executive director GRACE, a Christian organization that assists sex abuse victims, called the video a "tragic picture" of what is wrong with the Church's response to sex abuse.

Tchividjian went on to slam Wyatt's use of the word "relationship" when describing the connection between Gray and the victim, and the fact that neither he nor the former high school teacher called her actions a "crime."

"He's right about that. ... Honestly, this does not mean we don't understand that it is a crime; we absolutely understand it was a crime, and Alicia knows that and we have never tried to absolve the matter," he said.

"She was absolutely culpable. She was the teacher. She betrayed her authority. She betrayed his trust. She was absolutely at fault for this," added Wyatt.

Since Tchividjian's original critiques, Wyatt shared that they had exchanged several emails about the situation and emphasized he felt comfortable deferring to him "as the expert here."

When asked if he would go back and make the same decisions again, Wyatt said that he still would have posted the video, but wished he could have expressed better the purpose of the video and the fact that the church felt "brokenhearted" for the victim and his family.

"I have received a number of emails and phone calls from both sex abuse victims and from at least one family member of a perpetrator, all of whom have said, 'Thank you for this,'" Wyatt explained. "I had one woman write to me and say, 'I have had bitterness in my heart for 22 years, but when I saw this video, I forgave my abuse and God healed my heart.'"

Overall, he said his decision to be there for Gray and mobilize the church to love her "wasn't something you had to think through."

"I'm not accountable for her decision, but I am accountable for how we love her," he said, pointing to the book of Hebrews as the source of his charge. "The message of grace really is that forgiveness is available for everyone."

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