CORDOVA, Tenn. (ABP) — In the latest development in a scandal at one of the Southern Baptist Convention's largest churches, Bellevue Baptist Church fired Paul Williams Jan. 22. He had served as the minister of prayer and special projects at the 25,000-member church for 34 years.
Williams came under fire last December after Pastor Steve Gaines announced Williams had gone on paid leave pending a church investigation regarding a “moral failure.” Gaines told the church Williams had confessed misconduct to him six months earlier.
Specific details of the case, allegedly involving sodomy with a minor 17 years ago, have not been released to the public, but several partisan web sites regarding Bellevue claim the abuse involved a family member.
Gaines has also come under attack for the lapse in time between when Williams confessed and when he alerted church members.
Michael Spradlin, president of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, which sits across the street from Bellevue Baptist in suburban Memphis, was quoted in the Commercial Appeal as saying he thought a minister who knew first-hand of child molesting and did nothing about it should resign. And Michael Reagan, host of a conservative radio talk show, said in his Dec. 18 show that pastors like Gaines must be held accountable for not reporting sex-abuse allegations.
Gaines defended his action in a letter to the church, saying he “believed the issue was settled.”
“In light of the events that have unfolded, I realize now that I should have discussed it further with this minister and brought this to the attention of our church leadership immediately,” Gaines wrote.
The decision to fire Williams was made by a personnel committee vote. A spokesperson for the committee will present a report on its investigation into the matter after evening services on Jan. 28. Williams has not been officially charged with any criminal activity.
The committee has said Bellevue is in contact with the Department of Child Services through counsel and is committed to cooperating fully with that agency.
Embattled Bellevue Baptist faces new conflict: 'moral failure' allegations (12/21)