A Texas pastor whose church was disfellowshipped from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention over an inappropriate relationship with a teen prior to his conversion is contesting the decision as unbiblical.
Erbey Valdez, 47, senior pastor of New Spirit Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas, told The Christian Post Thursday that if the Apostle Paul — who authored two-thirds of the New Testament — wasn’t disqualified from leadership due to his murderous history prior to conversion, he doesn’t believe his 10-year-old sexual sin should disqualify him from church leadership.
“There is no evidence in the Bible that someone who would commit a sin such as mine would be disqualified. And again, I always continue to offer up Paul to show that the opposite exists — that in Paul, he’s a man who authored I Timothy 3 that we should be above reproach. And it should say something to us that the man who says we should be above reproach was the man who murdered Christians. And so if I understand, even the disciples of the church at the time didn’t know what to do with Paul,” Valdez, a married father of two contended.
“Even people who have committed horrendous crimes, even they can be called to not only be leaders but to be even pastors such as Paul. If the church is governed by the Bible and not by popular opinion, what does the Bible say? I believe that the call to ministry and the call to pastors comes from God and God alone. And I would think that most evangelical Christians would agree.”
In the wake of the national Southern Baptist Convention’s sex abuse scandal — in which The Houston Chronicle highlighted more than 700 victims of alleged sexual abuse at the hands of hundreds of Southern Baptist Convention leaders and volunteers — the SBTC’s executive board ruled at a meeting held April 22-23 in Galveston that New Spirit Baptist Church was in violation of the newly adopted doctrinal statement of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.
The violation pertained to membership rules which specify that no church may be approved for affiliation or continuing affiliation if the church’s senior pastor has been convicted of the sexual abuse of a child or if the church is found by the credentials committee to be “indifferent” in their response to child sexual abuse.
Valdez was a 37-year-old middle school principal in 2009 when he was arrested and charged with improper relationship between educator and student. The then 17-year-old student, he said, did not attend the school he led but was part of the school district in which he worked. The teenager claimed in an affidavit to have had sex with Valdez on three occasions, two of which were in the back seat of his car. The third is alleged to have occurred at a hotel in another city.
Valdez, who is on the national sex offender registry, explained that at that point in his life, he was living the life of a “hypocritical” Christian.
“Even though I claimed to be a Christian, I didn’t live by it. I lived a hypocritical life. I’m afraid to say that if I had passed away in 2009, I believe I would have been one of those who would have come to Jesus and said ‘Lord, Lord’ and He would have said ‘get away from me, I never knew you.’ I didn’t live an obedient life prior to 2009 even though I went to church and was involved,” he said.
Since then, Valdez has been on the road to recovery with the support of his forgiving wife, Maricruz, and started New Spirit Baptist Church, which officially became affiliated with the SBTC less than two years ago.
“She forgave me and we rededicated our marriage to Christ and in 2010 was the beginning of our marriage ministry we currently hold; it’s called Possible Marriage Ministries and to this day it continues where we share our story openly without any secret,” he said.
When asked if any other individuals are likely to make any other claim against him for sins prior to his arrest in 2009, he said “no.”
“Obviously, I wouldn’t anticipate anybody that is coming out because there hasn’t been. In fact, when I was arrested in 2009 there was a full investigation made into my entire past,” he said.
He noted that one other individual was interviewed but police decided that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to proceed with the case.
The repentant pastor who studied at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, which he described as the “seminary training center of the SBTC,” contends that he fully disclosed his past to SBTC officials prior to his church getting approved for affiliation.
“I fully disclosed everything when I applied at SBTC. And they, fully knowing my story, they not only accepted me as a student but the admissions officer said Erbey, you’re going to reach people we never could reach because of your story,” said Valdez. “And so I told them, I don’t understand how fully disclosed to Southwestern accepting this information as a student and affirming my call and then disclosing it to SBTC and then for them to change their mind, that was very hurtful to me.”
Gary Ledbetter, communications director of the SBTC, told CP that neither the organization’s board or credentials committee, which investigates church affiliation matters, were aware of Valdez’s history.
“Neither the board nor the credentials committee was aware of the details of Pastor Valdez’s situation when his affiliation was approved less than two years ago. They just didn’t know,” Ledbetter said.
When it was noted that Valdez claims otherwise, Ledbetter said “that could be technically true.”
“There could be somebody in our convention or somebody that is involved with us that does know these things. But the credentials committee and the board, the ones who are in that decision room, they did not,” he said.
When asked if Valdez’s application to affiliate would have been rejected had they known of his past, Ledbetter replied, “I don’t know.”
“I hate to guess, but I do think it would be an unusual revelation. It’s not the sort of thing where in the past we have known of a situation like that and we have just brushed by it,” he said.
In further statements to CP, Valdez affirmed that since his conversion, his record has been impeccable and there has been no instances of sexual abuse at his church.
“Our church stands in full agreement and support on the fight against sexual abuse. At NSBC, no sexual abuses have occurred, and this is why we feel the SBTC is not focusing on the issue at hand. We feel the issue is churches where sexual abuse actually occurs and, even worse, attempts to cover it up are made. We feel that transparency and full disclosure on the part of churches and religious organizations is the best method to ensure the protection against sexual abuse,” Valdez said.
He further argued that the incident that got him in trouble did not involve a child under Texas law.
“My conviction did not involve the sexual abuse of a child, but rather an ‘improper relationship’ with a female adult according to Texas law. My conviction occurred specifically because of my role as an educator, not because of abuse of a child,” he said in a letter to the SBTC that was shared with CP.
“This is not to minimize or excuse my prior sin, but to demonstrate that, according to the description made by SBTC, our church should not fall under this decision. This is but one reason why appeals and case-by-case examinations should occur in this matter.
“We understand the challenge the SBTC faces in regards to the public outcry on sexual abuse, and NSBC will continue to pray fervently for the Lord to protect and guide you to a decision that properly balances its public stance with the true restorative work of Christ, even in senior pastors."