Now This is Getting Uncomfortable…

Orginally published on Thursday, December 21, 2006 at 1:03 PM
by Todd Rhoades

As a follow-up to our story on Bellevue yesterday… things get even more uncomfortable.  Recently, Mid America Baptist Theological Seminary moved across from Bellevue Baptist Church into a new 15 acre campus donated by Bellevue.  Yesterday, the President of that seminary said he thinks it’s time for Bellevue’s pastor to resign…

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.

“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,” Spradlin said. “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 decision is the most recent in a series of miscues made by Gaines since his arrival at Bellevue last year and the congregation has suffered, said Spradlin, who is also interim pastor at Germantown Baptist Church.

“There’s a sense of Steve Gaines being the measure of what’s right and what’s wrong. If you agree with him, you’re right and if you disagree, you’re wrong,” Spradlin said. “But I think he’s spent all his credibility and people are losing trust in him.”

Gaines acknowledged he became aware of the matter six months ago.

In a statement released Tuesday, Gaines wrote: “The past few days have been difficult ones as I have worked through an issue that no pastor wishes to face. We have had to place a minister on a paid leave of absence due to a past moral failure.

“I learned about this in June from the minister involved and believed the issue was settled. Two weeks ago I was surprised to find out that the issue was not settled.

“Some people have questioned why I waited for several months. It’s simply this: I acted out of a heartfelt concern and compassion for this minister because the event occurred many years ago, he was receiving professional counseling; and I was concerned about confidentiality. In light of the events that have unfolded, I realize now that I should have discussed it further with this minister and brought it to the attention of our church leadership immediately.”

Attempts to reach Williams Tuesday night were unsuccessful.

Spradlin agreed that the congregation should have been informed immediately and Williams relieved of his duties as soon as news of the situation surfaced. By remaining silent, and by keeping Williams on the payroll, he says inestimable damage has been done.

“People are watching this and talking about how it’s being handled and the effect is that it puts everyone under suspicion,” Spradlin said. “You can’t fault someone for not knowing what to do, but you can fault them for not seeking advice on how to address a situation as tragic as this one. Keeping it hidden and hoping it will go away is not the way to handle it.”

David Brown, former Bellevue member and coordinator of the West Tennessee chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said euphemisms don’t work, either.

“If it turns out that there was in fact sexual abuse, then calling it a ‘moral failure’ is not acceptable at all,” Brown said. “And there has to be total honesty. Here we have a religious leader who learned about a terrible situation and chose not to come forward.”

But church leaders insist there has been no cover up. Results of the investigation, which should last a few weeks, will be released to the congregation as soon as findings are available.

“I think the important thing to remember is that Steve Gaines realized he made a mistake, he’s taking ownership of that and trying his best to fix it,” said Jim Barnwell, Bellevue’s director of communications. “I don’t believe there was a deliberate attempt to hide anything.”

During the investigation, which includes Bellevue members and independent sources, Williams will not perform any ministerial duties or be on the Bellevue campus.

Mid-America seminary is on 51 acres donated by Bellevue and includes a 130,000-square-foot academic and administration complex, a 1,100-seat chapel, gymnasium, bookstore, dining hall and student lounge. The school has 450 students and receives financial assistance from the church, but is not controlled by Bellevue.

-- James Dowd: 529-2737


Gaines under fire:

Since being named senior pastor at Bellevue Baptist Church in September 2005, Dr. Steve Gaines has been the subject of several online debates. Savingbellevue.com has been critical of Gaines and other church leaders. Since its inception, the site has received nearly 400,000 hits.

Topics that have spurred debate include:

Allegations, denied by Gaines, that the congregation was being transitioned to include an “elder-led” form of government.

Institution of a blended style of worship, incorporating traditional and nontraditional music.

Gaines’ compensation package, which is confidential.

An incident in which Gaines and several other church leaders traveled unannounced to former deacon Mark Sharpe’s home in a gated community and climbed over a fence to get to his house.

SOURCE:  The Memphis Commercial Appeal

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  There are 16 Comments:

  • Posted by kent

    Gaines is going to be gone. Maybe not today or in the next few weeks but he will be gone. If the church is going avoid a split, then he will be gone. Also if the next person has any hope of survival a long term interim will be required. At least a year or more.

    I wonder how long Dr, Rogers was there and what was the transition from him to Gaines?

  • Posted by Andy McAdams

    There are so many different factors here.  I wonder if Pastor Gaines isn’t correct in the way he was handling things.  After 17 years, if there was no sign of any of the children other then the staff member’s child involved, then why broadcast it to the entire congregation?

    Deal with the staff member, make him get counseling, ask for his resignation and let the church move on.  This sounds to me like more of a family issue and in that case they need a pastor, which perhaps that’s what Gaines was trying to be.

    No, I wouldn’t let him stay on the staff of the church, nor would I give him any recommendations to some other ministry. 

    Gaines said, “they were investigating.” Then let them do just that and Michael Spradlin should keep his comments to himself until such an investigation is completed.

  • Posted by

    I wonder how amazing it would have been if the pastor with the moral question had admitted it to the congregation. It’s one thing to say “you’re gone” but quite another to confess and repent. Instead of controlling the message from the senior leadership down, what if the guilty just confessed. What if they broke down crying? What if THEN they resigned?

    They could leave the church, sure, the congregation could vote them out in special session and move them on their way. But what if they didn’t? What if they told their kids that there was this preacher and he is working through some issues so be careful and used it as a way to teach kids about grace and healing and growth? What is the age at which you teach them about the delicate nature or restoration and helping others grow? I know some people who still haven’t learned it - and maybe this is why.

  • Posted by

    Sometimes a Pastor has to look in the mirror and ask himself a very serious question: “Would I create more damage staying at this church or leaving it?” I believe in this case this pastor must admit that his “staying” is actually damaging this church.  Reasons don’t matter at this point, defenses are meaningless, and “sticking it out” won’t solve the problem.  If you are going to replace man like Dr. Rogers, you cannot go in and make a bunch of changes, which it appears he has done.  You must live under the current type of worship and leadership structure for at least a minimum of 5 years.  At that time the leadership and congregation will have gained confidence in you and will be more inclined to move, slowly I might add, towards a new vision and direction.  It is just the nature of the beast.  This new pastor I am sure has a good heart and a good mind, he just didn’t have much wisdom in this instance. 

    Just my 2 cents.

  • Posted by

    I agree with the posters that the current minister is gone. I don’t know about all the arguments leading up. And it’s true that following Rogers is impossible. Even Jesus would have a hard time. But the latest - a staff member confesses abuse of a child 17 years ago and you don’t tell that person that “we have to go immediately to our leadership”? That kind of thing cannot stay between the Senior Minister and the staff member. It’s too big. You not only do a disservice to the congregation and children, you also do a disservice to the staff member involved and the community at large.

    Caring for the offender is certainly the Christian response. But keeping quiet is NOT how we care. The chances that there was only one incident are slim to none.

  • Posted by Josh R

    I believe this is the second pastor since Dr. Rogers at Bellvue.  The last guy was forced out over his behind the scenes leadership style if I remember correctly..  The story was on MMI

    I believe a lot of the problem the church is having stems for society’s value of privacy being injected into the church, which really shouldn’t need privacy.  We should walk in the light, unashamed of what we are being saved from.  Our hiding and shame inhibits our growth in Christ.

  • Posted by

    andy writes [Deal with the staff member, make him get counseling, ask for his resignation and let the church move on.]

    Yeah, but do it immediately… “oops"…

  • Posted by

    So, by what authority does Mike Spradlin speak?  His opinion is less valid than the man that God placed in the leadership role.  Mike forgets that he is the leader of a para-church organization. He has no voice in the matter.  However, I’m convinced he has a financial concern .

  • Posted by

    I grew up at Bellevue, and lived under Dr. Rogers for twenty plus years. I have worked steadily in outreach with the church and held leadership positions at the church, and let me set a few things straight.

    1. Steve Gaines was basically hand-picked by Dr. Rogers. On many occasions Dr. Rogers had said he could only see one pastor following him and it is Steve Gaines.

    2. Steve Gaines was the first and only pastor to follow Dr. Rogers, so Josh R is mistaken.

    Let me explain something you wouldn’t know unless you have had time to speak with both pastors and or heard them preach so many times you could cue their mannerisms. Dr. Rogers and Steve Gaines are two totally different people.

    Dr. Rogers was smooth and articulent, Gaines is blunt. He says what he means and means what he says. No it’s not smooth, but it’s honest.  It is easy to sit and judge a man on his mistakes, like everyone is doing. Let’s not forget David who was called “a man after God’s own heart,” was a murder and an adulterer.

    So, judge not, lest you be judged. God’s deal with things in a totally different time line and totally different way than we do. So, let’s stop giving the devil room to roam with all of our back room chatter about someone none of us know and about a situation none of us are involved in. Let’s start making sure we live as an example for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. I know I still have a lot of work to do there.

  • Posted by Josh R

    Jon, thank for the correction..  The story I was referring to was about a different Bellevue, and my memory was confused..  It is always ugly when personnel decisions become matters of public debate.  It is very hard for the parties to defend themselves, and people begin to believe speculation.

  • Posted by

    I agree with you Josh, every time I hear of a church who has lost their pastor for whatever reason, or hear of a pastor under attack by his own flock it saddens me deeply. I just sit back and think to myself what a field day the devil is having with this.

    These days it is crucial that we assist our churches is providing a good example to the outside world of what a body of Christ should be. Jesus spent His whole life preaching about forgiveness and love, yet Christians seem to be the first to stand up and shout sinner, liar, hypocrite.

    I’m so grateful there is Grace. Thanks for your post Josh.

  • Posted by


    It is incorrect to site that scripture as a means to quiet members of the church that are discerning christians.  God, at no time commands us to never judge one another quite the opposite.  I can and will judge any man that does not report any type of abuse of a child immediately.  I can do this biblically because I have never abused a child and would never.  God definitely has Grace Jon.  His forgiveness is limitless but He does not always remove the consequences of SIN.  Right now BBC is dealing with those consequences of Paul Williams’ sin and Steve Gaines’ sin of silence.

  • Posted by

    Please pray for Bellevue. Many long time members who became christians under the ministry of Dr. Rogers and Dr. Whitmire are used to learning from men of integrity. Men who are honest and who do not change with the weather. They were steadfast and they challenged us to live our lives with integrity. They motivated us to read the bible because that was the way to live a pure life before the Lord. They taught us that when we sin, God will bring it before us when we pray and he won’t let us go forward until we confess the sin and get it right. We would be out of fellowship with him if we harbored sin in our lives.

    That is why SOME Bellevue members have so much trouble with the Pastor, Steve Gaines, because he came to our church and told the church body that we did not know how to pray or worship and that he was going to change that.  He caused our Minister of Music to leave without honor, who had worked so hard in our music ministry and had everyone from preschool to seniors active in the act of worship every week and all year long. He lied about it from the pulpit. He began spending the churches money unwisely and when confronted about it by deacons, told them to find another church. He scaled a fence in a gated neighborhood to confront the deacon unannounced. IT WAS only after months of pressure from the website and blog that he apologized from the pulpit for his mistakes. He made light of what he had done and made the congregation laugh at his SIN.

    Where is the Holy Spirit in his life. How can he teach the church to be pure and to obey the law? How can he teach anyone that if you harbor sin in your heart, you will not have fellowship with the Lord and that is the most desireable thing in our lives. Isn’t it????

    There are those at Bellevue that will stand for the truth. We will not compromise. Pray for the truth to have victory. Pray for the men and women that have to stand up for truth and adherence to the bible and to the law.

  • Posted by

    If what is said is true about the Minister of Music being forced out then Gaines DEFINITELY needs to go.  Where did pastors get the idea that they are the ONLY ones called by God to a church?  God calls EVERY minister to a church, and pastor had better be absolutely sure that his actions against a fellow minister are the based on clear mandate from God and not because HE has decided it’s “time for someone to go”.  That is pride and arrogance at its worst.  “Only I know the will of God.  Only I know wha’ts right for this church. ‘I am the pastor.’” This kind of controlling spirit is completely counter to the under-shepherd servant leadership that is supposed to the pastor’s role.  He cannot possibly know or control everything.  Be the pastor.  Do the preaching.  But let those who are called by God and by the church to other ministers to DO their ministry.  The best pastor I ever knew said it was his job to lead the church, to find the best people to lead with him, and then to stay out of their way and let them perform their God-called ministry.  Amen to that.

  • Posted by

    Sounds like Bellevue and FBC Daytona are facing the same challenges.  I have to wonder here, are we worshiping God or are we worshiping a man?

  • Posted by

    I am pretty sure that in most states all pastors are considered “mandated reporters.” This means that they are required by law to report suspected abuse, whether it be sexual or physical. The law does not give us the option to consider a person’s reputation or the potential damage done to it. . Although some states do have a statute of limitations on sexual abuse/rape cases, many do not. We as pastors must obey these laws. As you can see by reading the news, if you don’t follow these laws, bad things can happen. Not following these laws is one of the reasons the Church has a reputation for picking and choosing which laws they will follow. As a parent, i would not let my child attend a church where the leadership does not report suspected crimes against children. As a Children’s Pastor, I would resign if told I could not report such abuse. After I resigned, I would report it anyway.

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