JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (ABP) — Once touted by Southern Baptist leaders as the nation's next great African-American preacher, Darrell Gilyard has resigned from his fifth church over charges of sexual misconduct — this time with underage girls.
Dogged for 20 years by dozens of allegations of extramarital sex with parishioners, Gilyard, 45, resigned Jan. 4 after 15 years as pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church, a 7,000-member megachurch in Jacksonville, Fla. Police are investigating a Nov. 29 complaint filed by a member of the church claiming Gilyard sent sexually explicit text messages to her middle-school daughter.
A native of Palatka, Fla., Gilyard rose to sudden fame in the Southern Baptist Convention in the late 1980s under the mentorship of former SBC presidents Jerry Vines and Paige Patterson. The attention catapulted him to several pastorates as well as appearances on Jerry Falwell's nationally broadcast TV program.
His story of growing up a homeless orphan living under a bridge in Jacksonville, which Falwell promoted with a video biography, was later discredited.
But Patterson, once Gilyard's teacher at Criswell College in Dallas, continued to promote the charismatic young preacher's career — even, according to the Dallas Morning News after several women confronted Patterson with charges of sexual abuse and misconduct. Patterson said at the time the women lacked evidence and witnesses.
But Patterson, in a statement released to a sympathetic news outlet Jan. 9, said that Criswell expelled Gilyard after some of the allegations were substantiated. He noted that he even moderated the congregational meeting in which Gilyard resigned — at Patterson's insistence — from the pulpit he occupied while a Criswell student.
“Nearly two decades ago, I was neither an investigator nor a judge, but the president of a small Bible college. I certainly did not have resources available to me to pursue the case, yet I did all that I could within my means to discover the truth when allegations concerning Mr. Gilyard were brought to my attention,” Patterson told the Southern Baptist Texan. “Once I had investigated the matter and was able to substantiate that Mr. Gilyard was guilty, I got him to confess that guilt publicly.”
The Texan is the news arm of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, a group formed by disgruntled conservatives after they failed to gain full control of the moderate-dominated Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Beginning in 1985, Gilyard was hired and then forced out of positions at three Dallas-area churches — Victory Baptist Church in Richardson, Concord Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas, and Shiloh Baptist Church in Garland. He was similarly hired and forced to resign at Hilltop Baptist Church in Norman, Okla. At least 25 women in the Dallas church publicly accused him of sexual misconduct, according to a church spokesperson. Some of the women alleged he raped them, the Morning News said in 1991.
The public allegations subsided after Gilyard, who is married, moved to the Florida church in 1993, but new allegations resurfaced last year. Church leaders confronted him after the most recent police complaint was filed, according to several Jacksonville media reports.
In a news release about his Jan. 4 resignation from Shiloh Metropolitan, Gilyard said: “My commitment to the church and its congregation has been one of the most rewarding of my life. In life, there comes a time when the needs of the many outweigh the needs of one, and the church and its ministry are larger than just me.”
A support group for survivors of clergy sex abuse said Jan. 9 that Patterson, now president of the SBC's Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, should be suspended from the seminary while its trustees investigate his “profound failure of moral judgment” in promoting Gilyard and ignoring the allegations two decades ago.
“Surely an institution dedicated to the development of spiritual leaders should consider the sort of spiritual leadership exemplified by its own president who reportedly exhibited an extraordinarily blind-eyed response to clergy sex abuse,” said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
“We ask you to demonstrate this institution's commitment to treating clergy sex abuse and cover-ups seriously by suspending Paige Patterson, fully investigating and publicly reporting your findings,” Clohessy said in a letter to Southwestern trustees, which was posted on one of SNAP's websites, www.stopbaptistpredators.org.
Noting Gilyard is now charged with abusing teenagers, not just adults, Clohessy said, “This often happens when a pastor's predatory conduct goes unchecked: the hurtful and abusive conduct escalates.”
— Robert Marus contributed to this story.