Robby Gallaty, senior pastor of the 8,000-member Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, said he is “heartbroken” after Ben Widrick, a former 24-year-old church intern and Liberty University graduate was arrested last Tuesday for statutory rape of a student.
“On Tuesday of last week, we were informed that one of our former summer interns was arrested for the statutory rape of a student. As you can imagine, I am both heartbroken for the victim and angry that this took place. In an effort to be as transparent and open as possible, I want to share with you as much as we can,” Gallaty began in a statement Sunday.
“The timeline is fuzzy (and details are still coming together), but the abuse appears to have taken place last summer during the former intern’s 10-week service period with our student team at the Gallatin Campus. One of our student pastors first heard rumors of the situation in December, and he immediately informed local law enforcement and our leadership team,” the megachurch pastor continued.
“Since law enforcement was conducting an investigation, we were unaware of the outcome until local police made an arrest last week. Regardless of the time and location, the fact is that an intern who was representing our church allegedly abused their position of influence with a student. And, if true, this is unacceptable to us. We will continue to work closely with law enforcement in every way we can,” he added.
Gallaty said he was in contact with the victim and her parents and noted that “we hope to support them with love, support, counseling, and prayer.”
He further noted that the church had worked very hard to conduct background checks on all interns but it still wasn’t enough to prevent what happened.
“As we grieve for the victim, we are also deeply saddened that an event like this took place, especially with a student who was entrusted to our care. As with all of our employees, every intern we hire must pass a strict background check and interview process before they can serve with our church family. It sickens me that our processes and safeguards didn’t prevent this from happening,” he said.
“Long Hollow is a place where we take moral integrity and accountability seriously, and nowhere is that more crucial than on our staff. We’re doing our best to uncover how this relationship developed, and will do everything in our power to keep this from ever taking place again,” said the leader of the Southern Baptist Convention member church.
“This is a difficult time for the victim, her family, and our church. Again, please join me in praying for everyone affected by this. The Bible teaches that God is both just and merciful, so we are also praying for the perpetrator of this crime as well. Make no mistake, he should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, but God is gracious to those who turn to Him in repentance,” he added.
Widrick graduated from West Genesee High School in 2013, according Syracuse.com and from Liberty University in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in pastoral leadership, according to the university. A video uploaded to Vimeo four years ago shows Widrick’s drum audition for the Christian university.
Earlier this year, after an investigation highlighting more than 700 victims of alleged sexual abuse at the hands of hundreds of Southern Baptist Convention leaders and volunteers, the organization’s president, J.D. Greear, suggested the possibility of expelling churches and creating a registry of offenders.
In an address to the SBC's executive committee in Nashville, Greear proposed a range of reforms to help make churches safer. Among the suggestions were repenting, providing free training for ministry leaders, encouraging churches to review and strengthen their policies on abuse and a re-examination of the ordination process.
He also recommended requiring background checks for SBC leadership groups and entities, and changes to governing documents that would allow for "disfellowshipping" churches that mishandle abuse.