YORKTOWN, Va. (ABP) — A Southern Baptist youth pastor charged with sex crimes involving a teenage girl in Virginia once resigned as pastor of a church in Hawaii to begin a new ministry, citing his "passion" for working with youth.
Jeremy Ryan Duffer, 40, minister of youth at Seaford Baptist Church near Hampton and Newport News in Virginia's Hampton Roads area, was arrested Aug. 13 on charges of taking indecent liberties with a child and contributing to the delinquency of a child.
"We are saddened and disappointed by the recent arrest of our youth pastor," said Gene Cornett, transitional pastor at Seaford Baptist, which is in the process of seeking to replace a permanent pastor who moved to another church in January 2008.
That is about the time that Duffer, the son of Southern Baptist missionaries who was born and raised in Hawaii, stepped down after five years as pastor of University Avenue Baptist Church in Honolulu. The Hawaiian church has more than 600 members and is consistently in the top 10 Hawaii Baptist churches in baptisms.
"I feel this is where God is leading my family at this time," Duffer said in announcing his impending move to the mainland in November 2007. "It is a return to my passion for the youth."
Duffer now stands accused of engaging in consensual sex with a juvenile on a single occasion that occurred sometime between July 24 and Aug. 8. If convicted, he could face between one and five years in prison.
"As soon as we heard that he was under investigation, he was immediately suspended as a pastor and has been told that he is prohibited from having any further contact with our youth," Cornett said in a statement to media. "We take the safety of our children very seriously, and make every effort to create a safe and nurturing environment for them."
Seaford Baptist Church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia, one of two separate conventions in Virginia with ties to the Southern Baptist Convention.
Before leaving Hawaii, Duffer also taught Bible at Hawaii Baptist Academy, a prestigious private K-12 school started in 1949 by Southern Baptist missionaries and now associated with the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention.
Dick Bento, president of Hawaii Baptist Academy, called news of Duffer's arrest "shocking." Bento said Duffer taught only one Bible class at the school and that he was not aware of any allegations or suspicions against him during that time.
Emory Gaskins, the current pastor at University Avenue Baptist Church, said he isn't aware of any incidents or allegations involving Duffer while he was in Hawaii, but he said he didn't think many people on the islands had yet heard the news about his arrest.
The Williamsburg Yorktown Daily reported Aug. 14 that the nature of the allegations against Duffer typically would result in bond being denied, but a judge in York County took into account that he did not have a criminal record and did not pose a flight risk and set bond at $20,000.
Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Judge Richard AtLee Jr. did, however, prohibit Duffer from having unsupervised contact with any minor children. Asked if he could find another place to live where minor children would not be present, Duffer reportedly said there were many church members he believed would help him.
According to the Seaford Baptist Church website, Duffer has been involved in ministry for 17 years. A graduate of Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo., and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., he has worked in various roles as a pastor, youth pastor and recreation minister.
He and his wife, Shelly, have been married for 18 years and have four children.
Since moving to Seaford, "Pastor Jack" is credited with involving youth in service ministries like free car washes and drive-by raking as a way to involve young people in community outreach.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.