By Bob Allen
A Southern Baptist megachurch in Texas is being sued by parents of a teenage girl claiming careless hiring and supervision of a former youth minister in prison for sexual assault of a child.
A lawsuit filed Oct. 1 in Harris County Court accuses Second Baptist Church in Houston of negligent hiring, supervision and retention of Chad Foster, a former youth pastor sentenced last year to five years in prison after pleading guilty to raping a 16-year-old girl in 2011 and soliciting another teen online.
The parents, identified by pseudonyms so their daughter remains anonymous, seek actual damages including the cost of counseling, as well as punitive and “exemplary” damages for “breach of fiduciary duty” after entrusting their daughter to the church’s care and breach of fiduciary and “vicarious liability,” claiming Foster was “acting within the scope of his employment” when he committed his crimes.
The lawsuit describes “a simple yet effective marketing scheme,” where Second Baptist Church entices preteens and teens in public schools with lunches provided by places such as McDonald’s or Pizza Hut. Youth counselors befriend the children they speak with and invite them to church activities.
“What we have here is the proverbial pedophile with candy in his pocket,” the victim’s attorney, Cris Feldman, told Houston TV station KPRC Local 2. “Except this pedophile in question was sent into public schools with candy in his pocket provided by Second Baptist.”
The lawsuit says by all appearances the relationship between Foster and the girl, now 17, “started out as one of religious guidance,” before he began to compliment her and eventually ask her to talk “dirty” to him, when she was 12 years old.
Things escalated until “suddenly, and without explanation, Second Baptist quietly passed Foster off to Community of Faith,” another large Houston-area church accused in the lawsuit of allowing the behavior to continue.
The lawsuit claims Foster, who started out as a volunteer but was ordained and offered a paid position at Second Baptist “once his charisma with boys and girls was clear” lacked proper training for working with vulnerable and impressionable youth. “Nevertheless,” it says, “Second Baptist placed Foster in a position that allowed him to manipulate children — specifically Jane Doe II — of sexual submission and exploitation.”
Gary Moore, senior associate pastor at Second Baptist, denied the allegations in a statement to local media. “Second Baptist Church did not know of any of those allegations,” Moore said in comments quoted by KPRC. “If these happened and if Second had been made aware of them, we would have immediately terminated anyone involved and ensured that such conduct did not continue for one minute.”
The lawsuit is the most recent in a series of legal actions seeking to hold Baptist churches and organizations responsible for sexual misconduct of their ministers.
In July, Highland Park Baptist Church in Muscle Shoals, Ala., was hit with a lawsuit by a victim of Jeffery Dale Eddie, longtime associate pastor for children and church administration sentenced to 30 years in prison after telling police he had abused so many children for so long that he couldn’t remember the number. The church is seeking dismissal of the lawsuit, claiming that Eddie’s criminal acts were committed outside the scope of his employment.
The Florida Baptist Convention recently settled for an undisclosed amount a 2006 lawsuit after appealing a jury verdict awarding $12.5 million for failure to check far enough into the background of a church planter convicted in 2007 of sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy.
A recent Florida Baptist Witness article warned that churches increasingly “are attractive targets,” for litigation, “as people think they have a better opportunity for financial gain by suing an organization rather than an individual.”