Just over a week after a Southern Baptist Convention committee determined that six of 10 churches did not need further inquiry regarding their handling of sexual abuse, Pastor Rodney Brown, leader of one of the six churches, repented and apologized for not earlier firing a staff member alleged to have abused several children because the staffer was a friend.
“Recently I have come to realize that I failed my duty as pastor in not taking action against an individual who had been accused of child abuse in the past at another church. This was because of my long‑standing friendship with the accused,” Brown, who leads Trinity Baptist Church in Ashburn, Georgia, said in a statement to The Christian Index last Thursday.
“Other victims have now come forward naming this person and he has admitted to assaulting several young people many years ago. I now realize that what I first thought was an isolated incident was much more. I should have understood that earlier and not doing so was a great mistake on my part. I cannot apologize enough for my actions,” Brown said, noting that the staff member has since been fired.
“Although there has never been any known abuse at Trinity, the person accused has been terminated from the staff at Trinity. He was also asked to immediately resign his church membership, which he did. He has been directed not to return to Trinity."
Last month, SBC President J. D. Greear named Trinity Baptist Church among 10 churches he argued should face inquiries into whether they concealed sexual abuses or knowingly hired sexual predators.
Brown had previously told the Baptist Press, that the now fired staffer had confessed he had molested a “young teen” decades earlier and had repented.
“Church leaders came back to me and said, ‘Rodney, the man says he’s repented,’” Brown told BP. “We’re not his judge. We’ve not seen anything to indicate any of this at our church.”
David Pittman is one of the men who says he was abused by the staffer identified by the Houston Chronicle as a music minister more than 30 years ago. Pittman has been trying to get justice for himself and the other victims for the last 13 years and he said he felt vindicated by the recent firing.
The SBC, he told the Chronicle, needs “to understand the difference between child protection and risk management, because they seem to be more concerned with insurance policies than with the souls of the children and the lives that could be damaged.”
“I’m hopeful for the first time in decades that we can meet with them and they can hear what needs to happen for children to be better protected and for survivors to be listened to,” he said.
Pittman said the fired music minister abused him in the 1980s at a different church near Atlanta and the trauma forced him to turn to drugs and alcohol.
When he came forward with the abuse in 2006, Pittman said police told him it was too late to press charges but he has continued to advocate for justice by contacting schools where the fired minister worked as a substitute teacher. He also reached out to others who alleged abuse at the minister’s hand as well as the SBC and churches associated with him.
He said he lost hope that any action would be taken against his alleged abuser until Greear’s short-lived recommendation to investigate Trinity and other churches on the SBC’s watchlist. He was floored when the SBC Executive Committee bylaws workgroup stated in a report that for six of the 10 churches, they found “no evidence,” based on the information they were given, of them showing disregard or indifference for sexual abuse.
“I looked at my wife and told her ‘I can’t do this,’ ” he said. “I can’t give myself hope because they’ve lied and failed and they’ve said the right words before and then they failed again.”
In his apology, Brown also referenced Pittman and the other victims.
“I have injured the victims of the accused by my actions, especially Mr. David P, who brought this to my attention. I have spent much time before God repenting for my actions. I now ask David P and the other victims for forgiveness for my acting so irresponsibly,” Brown said.
“I also must ask Southern Baptist Convention President Dr. J.D. Greear and the SBC in general, along with the Georgia Baptist Convention, to forgive my actions. I have acted irresponsibly toward them in the past few weeks and I truly express my deep sorrow for that. I pray we can heal and become stronger in the protection of our children,” he continued.
“My greatest failure during this time has been to the God I serve who gave His Son for me. This situation has greatly changed my thinking as pastor. I realize that friendship can never override the duties God has given me to protect those we serve in His name. My prayer is for God’s mercy and healing for the victims of these terrible acts and for any churches affected.”