JACKSON, Miss. (ABP) – A former Southern Baptist minister accused of fondling boys in the 1980s pleaded not guilty Oct. 18 in a Mississippi courtroom to eight felony counts of gratification of lust and is scheduled to stand trial April 2.
John Langworthy, former associate pastor of music and ministries at Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Clinton, Miss., entered a not-guilty plea during his arraignment in Hinds County Circuit Court. His next scheduled court appearance is March 19, his deadline for changing his plea as part of a plea bargain.
Langworthy, 49, was arrested Sept. 7 after confessing to his congregation to past “sexual indiscretions” with younger males. He was indicted in September on allegations that he sexually abused five boys, aged 10-13, that he met through volunteering in two Baptist churches between 1980 and 1984, while Langworthy was a student at Baptist-affiliated Mississippi College.
Langworthy, the married father of two, began his ministry at Morrison Heights Baptist Church 21 years ago after resigning from the staff of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas over credible accusations of sexual abuse by several boys.
A member of Langworthy’s Prestonwood youth choir, Amy Smith, decided about a year ago to speak up about what she knew about his dismissal and found out he was working at a church and public high school in Mississippi.
After repeated correspondence with pastors at both churches and school administrators, Smith, now Houston representative of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, finally landed an interview with a Dallas television station in a report aired Aug. 8 titled “Disturbing revelations about former Prestonwood minister.” After the news about Langworthy surfaced, several alleged victims came forward in Mississippi, leading to his arrest and indictment.
“The light of knowledge and truth is our greatest tool to protect kids,” Smith wrote on her blog. “We applaud these brave men who found the strength to come forward and report the abuse. We also hope it will encourage others who saw, suspected or suffered clergy sex crimes by Langworthy or any other offender to come forward, report the abuse to the police, expose predators, protect kids and start healing.”
Smith said she does not believe statutes of limitation have expired in Texas, because Langworthy fled Dallas in 1989 and has not returned to face those allegations. She claims that pastors at Prestonwood, including Senior Pastor Jack Graham, who went on to serve as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, fired Langworthy but failed to report him to the police as required by law.
“It’s always tempting to keep quiet about child sex crimes – whether known or suspected,” she said. “And for victims, that’s a very effective short-term coping mechanism. But over the long haul, it’s terribly destructive. The lifelong effects of childhood victimization slowly and imperceptibly eat away at your self-esteem, trust and faith. And we must hold accountable those in positions of authority who endanger kids when they look the other way and fail to report child abuse to law enforcement authorities whose job it is to investigate the abuse.”
Smith said at one point in her conversation with Morrison Heights Baptist Church, an elder in the church who is an attorney left her a voice mail asking her to return his call. She sent an e-mail asking the purpose of his call and he replied asking if she would be willing to discuss a “resolution” of the Langworthy affair. “I said no,” she related on her blog.
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.