The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
SNAP Press Statement
Statement Regarding Sexual Abuse of a Minor
at First Baptist Church of Farmers Branch
February 20, 2006
Statement by Miguel Prats
The First Baptist Church of Farmers Branch has issued an apology "for the very serious sexual abuse" that its prior minister Tommy Gilmore inflicted on an underage girl in the church youth group. What makes this story particularly troubling is the fact that there were other ministers who knew about it at the time and kept it a secret. What makes it even more disturbing is that, even in the here and now, Baptist leaders are still keeping secret the names of clergy predators such as Gilmore. These are the kinds of secrets that put kids at risk.
In court filings, this church's music minister James A. Moore swore an affidavit showing that he had knowledge of minister Gilmore's sexual abuse inflicted on a minor. Other documents show that prior minister Glenn Hayden knew about it as well. Yet, Tommy Gilmore, a minister known to have sexually abused a kid, was allowed to go on his way to be a children's minister at the First Baptist Church of Tyler, and after that, to churches in Georgia and Florida.
It would be comforting to think that this is simply a story about something that happened long ago. But in July 2004, this girl who is now grown up and a mother, submitted a report about Gilmore's abuse to church and denominational leaders, and once again, even though her report could be readily substantiated by this church's music minister, Gilmore was allowed to continue in ministry. In fact, rather than stopping Gilmore, this church threatened recourse against the victim if she pursued the matter, and the Southern Baptist Convention said it had no record that Gilmore was still in a ministerial position in any church. Yet, many months later, Gilmore was still working at a large church in Florida.
Not only did this church know about minister Gilmore, but so did the Baptist General Convention of Texas. It keeps a file of clergy who have committed sexual abuse, and it will place a minister's name in that file only when the report of abuse is made by a church and only if there is a confession, a conviction, or "substantial evidence that the abuse took place." So, a minister's name doesn't get into that file merely because a single victim reports him. A church must decide to report the minister, and even after that, the Baptist General Convention must decide for itself that there exists "substantial evidence." Only then does the Baptist General Convention place a minister's name into that file of what it calls "known offenders."
Court filings show that Mr. Jan Daehnert, a director at the Baptist General Convention, confirmed the decision to put Tommy Gilmore's name in the file of "known offenders," and that at least two other Convention leaders knew about it. Yet, Gilmore was not removed from ministry. The Baptist file of "known offenders" is kept confidential and secret.
Can you imagine how parents in Florida would feel if they knew that the Baptist General Convention of Texas had "substantial evidence" of a minister who sexually abused a kid in Texas, and that it didn't take action to protect their own kids in Florida? We've seen how the Baptist leadership explains its inaction with talk about "congregational autonomy." But we expect that most ordinary people are a great deal more concerned with knowing that their kids are safe than they are with the technicalities of "congregational autonomy."
How many abusive ministers' names are in that file and how many kids have they hurt? Why aren't the parents of Southern Baptist kids entitled to know which ministers' names are in that file? If you learned that your own kid had been raped by a Southern Baptist minister, would you be content to have the minister's name simply sitting in a confidential file, while the minister himself was still working in another church?
We call upon the Baptist General Convention of Texas to stop shielding clergy predators. Disclose the names in that file so that parents can be warned and kids can be protected.
We call upon the First Baptist Church of Farmers Branch to show us by your deeds, and not mere words, that you are genuinely remorseful for the horrible crime and cover-up that your leaders perpetrated here. You are a historic church - perhaps the oldest Baptist church in Dallas County. Your long overdue apology is a start, but we call upon you to do something historic and to be a Baptist church that actually works at trying to rid the denomination of ministers who sexually abuse the young and vulnerable. Expressions of remorse are worthless unless they are backed by real change.
We applaud this courageous survivor who, in the face of unwarranted church opposition, continued to work at bringing the truth to light so that others might be protected. For anyone else who may have been abused by a Southern Baptist minister, we urge you to report it to the police, no matter how long ago it happened. Whatever shame you may feel, it doesn't belong to you. All of the shame and guilt belongs to the abusive clergy and to any other church and denominational leaders who chose to turn a blind eye. You can find a starting place for support and information at www.snapnetwork.org. SNAP seeks to heal the wounded and protect the vulnerable.
Miguel Prats, SNAP Coordinator for Texas, 713-305-0159, email@example.com
Kristopher Galland, SNAP Dallas Coordinator, 817-329-0599, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mary Grant, SNAP Southwest Regional Director, 626-419-2930, email@example.com
David Clohessy, SNAP National Director, 314-566-9790, SNAPclohessy@aol.com
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests