WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (ABP) — Embattled pastor Steven Flockhart resigned from First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach, Fla. — less than three months after he was hired to lead the 10,000-member church — reportedly because he lied about his academic degrees.
Church leaders announced the resignation Aug. 27, according to The Palm Beach Post. Flockhart, 40, had been elected senior pastor in June. His resignation took effect immediately.
The announcement came the same day the Post ran a story about Flockhart's résumé, which said he graduated from Columbia International University and earned degrees from two other respected schools. In reality, he received bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees through correspondence classes from non-accredited Covington Theological School in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., the story said.
The Post and Associated Baptist Press previously reported that Flockhart left a Georgia church eight years ago with unauthorized debts from personal credit card use and personal checks totaling more than $162,500. Macedonia Baptist Church in Dawnville, Ga., filed a lawsuit after Flockhart left in 1989 for Crosspointe Baptist Church near Memphis, Tenn.
Flockhart repaid the debt last year, the Aug. 13 story said. Bruce Phillips, chairman of the elders at the 170-year-old church near Dalton, Ga., declined to comment for this story.
The résumé also said Flockhart was obtaining a second master's from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, although the Post reported that officials at the Wake Forest, N.C., school denied the claim.
According to the Post, Flockhart said in his resignation letter that he did not expect his deceptions to resurface.
“I ask your forgiveness for this situation,” Flockhart wrote to the church. “You embraced our family and loved us from the beginning. We immediately fell in love with First Baptist and this community. I will cherish the sweet memories that we shared in this brief time together.”
First Baptist's executive pastor Kevin Mahoney and associate pastor Bill Keith did not return phone calls for this story.
According to the Post, one part of Flockhart's résumé was true: his plans to begin working on a doctorate at Liberty Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Va. The school was founded by Jerry Fallwell as part of Lynchburg Baptist College.
According to the Post, Liberty officials said Flockhart paid registration fees directly to seminary president Ergun Caner because Caner personally recruited him, said Ron Godwin, Liberty's executive vice president and CEO.
According to the Post, Godwin said Flockhart and Falwell are friends. Falwell is the school's chancellor.
The Post reported Flockhart was hired by the West Palm church on the strength of a recommendation from Johnny Hunt, a prominent Southern Baptist leader and pastor of a 14,000-member church in Woodstock, Ga.