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A church whose former pastor was president of the Southern Baptist Convention has been rocked by allegations of child abuse, PageOneQ has learned.
Pastor Paul Williams, who directs prayer programs and special projects at the Bellevue Baptist Church outside of Memphis, has been forced to take a leave while a church committee investigates charges that Williams sexually molested a family member 17 years ago. Williams has been at Bellevue for 34 years, reports Agape Press, a news service run by the American Family Association.
In a statement issued by the church and obtained by PageOneQ, the church's personnel committee says that Williams has taken a paid leave of absence in the wake of "a past, but highly concerning moral failure."
Dr. Steven Gaines (pictured), pastor of the church, has been attacked for not taking action earlier. Gaines acknowledged learning of the allegations in June of this year. While explaining that he thought the issue had been resolved, Gaines said he kept the information private because "the event occurred many years ago."
This past week, Gaines told his congregation that it was necessary to address the church's lack of policies in such situations, so they may "have some guidance in these areas should they occur in the future."
The move to have Williams placed on leave was not enough to satisfy the president of the Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Michael Spradlin said if Gaines was aware of the allegations and took no action, he should leave the church. Spradlin told the Memphis Commercial Appeal that:
"If Steve Gaines found out that a child had been sexually molested by one of his ministers and if he did nothing to address it, then he needs to step down immediately,"
"We cannot take chances with other people's children. If he knew about this and kept quiet, then he's put Bellevue in a very dangerous position and possibly put children and the emotionally vulnerable at risk."
The same paper reports that while Williams has not been charged, the church has placed him in a counseling program.
The Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary is located across the street from Bellevue on land donated by the church.
Excerpts from the Memphis Commercial Appeal article follow.
Scott Hutcheson of Reality Cubed contributed to this report
Alarmed by what he described as a crisis of the faithful at Bellevue Baptist Church, the president of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary said Tuesday the senior pastor of the Cordova congregation should resign.
Dr. Michael Spradlin, head of the seminary that moved across the street from Bellevue this summer, said Dr. Steve Gaines should step down because of his initial decision to remain silent amid allegations of sexual abuse involving a Bellevue minister.
Church leaders announced Monday that Paul Williams, a Bellevue staffer for 34 years, had been placed on paid leave pending an investigation regarding a "moral failure."
The alleged incident occurred 17 years ago. Details have not been made public by the church and Williams has not been formally charged with any wrongdoing, but claims of sexual abuse have been posted on the Internet.
Huge Southern Baptist Church rocked by sexual abuse charges