By Bob Allen
A Texas Baptist church is facing a multi-million dollar lawsuit filed by parents claiming sexual abuse by a youth minster in the 1990s led to their son’s death by suicide.
A lawsuit filed in Dallas County District Court accused First Baptist Church in Rockwall, Texas, of negligence and fraud that ultimately gave rise to the Jan. 19 suicide death of 37-year-old John Jeremy Sweet-Gomez in Dallas.
Parents Carla Sweet and Ed Gomez claim their son’s abuse began when he was 12 or 13 years old. The lawsuit alleges “a civil conspiracy, accompanied by a meeting of the minds regarding concerted actions” for the purpose of concealing and minimizing public knowledge about their son’s abuse.
Representatives of First Baptist Church of Rockwall, it claims, “engaged in this conspiracy to avoid prosecution, to cover up sexual misconduct and abuse and to conceal claims arising from crimes or conduct of their youth pastor.”
Steve Swofford, pastor of First Baptist Church of Rockwall since 1989, did not respond to an email request for comment.
Swofford is a past president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. In 2005 he received the M.E. Dodd Award at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn., for his church’s longstanding denominational support through the Cooperative Program giving plan.
The lawsuit also names Billy Bob Burge, who served as youth pastor at First Baptist Church of Rockwall in the early to mid-1990s. At the time the lawsuit was filed Burge worked with youth at Grace Community Church in Greenville, Texas, but according to Rockwall County Herald Banner he has since resigned.
The newspaper quoted the pastor of Grace Community Church as saying that when informed about the lawsuit, Burge “categorically denied” the allegations.