By Bob Allen
A former youth minister at a Baptist church in Texas, who admitted to exchanging sexually explicit text messages and photos with an underage girl from his church, has been sentenced to 12 years in federal prison.
Joshua Earls, 30, former student pastor at Arapaho Road Baptist Church in Garland, Texas, pleaded guilty to receipt of child pornography in October and faced up to 20 years in prison. He faces a lifetime of probation when he gets out of jail.
Earls, a graduate of Gardner-Webb University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, served fours as student pastor at Arapaho Road Baptist Church, a congregation affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Southern Baptist Convention, before resigning to follow a call into preaching and church planting in July 2012.
Earls was arrested in April 2013 after the girl’s parents found inappropriate pictures on her cell phone.
His younger brother, Jordan Earls, a former volunteer at Arapaho Road Baptist Church, also faces charges of indecency with a child and two counts of child sexual assault. He was arrested in South Carolina, where he served as a youth pastor at Northgate Baptist Church in Florence, S.C., where the brothers’ father is pastor.
According to a Dallas Morning News report of the Feb. 12 sentencing hearing, Joshua Earls, his parents, sister and fiancée asked the judge for a lenient sentence and asked the victim and her family for forgiveness.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn said her job is not to forgive, however, but to follow the law and consider risk to the community. She acknowledged that Earls had done a lot of good in his life, including ministering to other inmates while in prison, but added: “I also see the evil you have done.”
Lynn said she couldn’t imagine the anguish such an offense must cause in a “family of preachers.”
According to news reports last year, both brothers passed criminal background checks. After their arrest, Arapaho Road Baptist Church hired an outside consultant to review its procedures and ensure that it never happens again.