A 20-year-old youth group volunteer at the nation’s largest Southern Baptist church has been arrested on a charge of sexually assaulting a minor.
Leo LaSalle Comissiong III is accused of kissing and fondling a 15-year-old boy in February at the Florence, S.C., location of NewSpring Church, a multi-site congregation based in Anderson, S.C. The church is ranked No. 1 on a LifeWay Christian Resources list compiled by LifeWay head Thom Rainer of the 500 largest Southern Baptist churches with an average attendance of 31,215 in 2014.
Suzanne Swift, chief public relations and marketing officer for NewSpring Church, released a statement saying a NewSpring Church staff member saw Comissiong enter an unoccupied room with a 15-year-old, violating a policy that forbids adults from being alone with children or teens while on a NewSpring campus.
Swift said Comissiong denied any wrongdoing at that time but after questioning him a second time church leaders removed him from volunteering at the church in any capacity. After talking separately to the student, Swift said NewSpring staff contacted law enforcement and have since then fully cooperated with the investigation.
Comissiong was booked into the Florence County Detention Center April 29 and released the next day after posting $25,000 bond. He is charged with third degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor, a crime punishable by fines and up to 15 years in prison at a judge’s discretion.
NewSpring Church began with 15 people meeting in a living room with Perry Noble, a Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary dropout and former youth minister, in 1999. The South Carolina Baptist Convention helped the church plant get off the ground with $20,000 in financial aid during its first two years, an amount repaid with a $25,000 check sent to the convention as a “thank you” gift in 2008.
The church remains affiliated with the state convention but provides only modest support for the Cooperative Program budget, which funds both the South Carolina and Southern Baptist conventions.