In response to an explosive investigation, top Southern Baptists have released a previously secret list of hundreds of pastors and other church-affiliated personnel accused of sexual abuse, including several from the East Texas area.
The 205-page database was recently made public and includes more than 700 entries from cases that largely span from 2000 to 2019.
Included in the list is Joshua Ponder, a former youth minister at First Baptist Church of Mabank, is a registered sex offender included on the list. In 2008, he plead guilty to abusing a 16 year-old boy and was sentenced to five years in prison. According to the database, Ponder was also an ex-Palestine youth pastor.
Hezekiah Stallworth of Palestine had preached throughout Anderson County for more than three decades before he was accused of fondling a 7 year-old girl in 2010.
He served as a pastor at Beulah Baptist Church south of Palestine and Oak Grove Baptist Church in Elkhart, where the incident took place.
Eventually, more victims came forward to accuse him of similar abuse which happened more than 20 years earlier. He plead guilty and was sentenced to 20 years in prison, which according to prosecutors, equaled a life sentence for a man in his mid-70s.
Also included in the database is Joshua Allen, a former pastor at Tyler Street Baptist Church in Jacksonville who plead guilty to possession of child pornography. After serving time in federal prison, he was released in 2010 and registered as a sex offender.
Gary Welch, a former youth minister at Northside Baptist Church in Corsicana who was arrested in 2012 after he was accused of abusing a teenage member of the youth group for three years, also made the list.
He was found guilty of aggravated sexual assault of a child, indecency with a child, and two counts of sexual assault of a child and sentenced to 55 years in prison.
The database’s existence became widely known when the independent firm, Guidepost Solutions, included it in its bombshell report detailing how the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee mishandled allegations of sex abuse, stonewalled numerous survivors and prioritized protecting the SBC from liability.
Executive Committee leaders Rolland Slade and Willie McLaurin, in a joint statement, called publishing the list "an initial, but important, step towards addressing the scourge of sexual abuse and implementing reform in the Convention."
"Each entry in this list reminds us of the devastation and destruction brought about by sexual abuse," they said. "Our prayer is that the survivors of these heinous acts find hope and healing, and that churches will utilize this list proactively to protect and care for the most vulnerable among us."
The Guidepost report, released after a seven-month investigation, contained several explosive revelations. Among them: D. August Boto, the committee's former vice president and general counsel, and former SBC spokesman Roger Oldham kept their own private list of abusive ministers. Both retired in 2019. The existence of the list was not widely known within the committee and its staff.
"Despite collecting these reports for more than 10 years, there is no indication that (Oldham and Boto) or anyone else, took any action to ensure that the accused ministers were no longer in positions of power at SBC churches," the report said.
The Executive Committee did not make additions to the published list, but their attorneys did redact several entries as well as the names and identifying information of survivors and others unrelated to the accused, Thursday's joint statement said.
They made public "entries that reference an admission, confession, guilty plea, conviction, judgment, sentencing, or inclusion on a sex offender registry," and expect some of the redacted entries on the list to be made public once more research is done. The list also includes Baptist ministers that are not affiliated with the SBC.
Survivors and advocates have long called for a public database of abusers. The creation of an "offender information system" was one of the key recommendations in the report by Guidepost, which was contracted by the Executive Committee after delegates to last year's national meeting pressed for an outside investigation.
Also in the wake of the report's release, survivors have been calling in information about abuse allegations to the Executive Committee, Guidepost and members of a task force set up to oversee the firm's investigation, according to a joint statement from the three entities.
A hotline is now open for survivors, or someone on their behalf, to report abuse allegations: 202-864-5578 or SBChotline@guidepostsolutions.com. Callers will be provided with care options and connected with an advocate, the statement said.
Guidepost will maintain the hotline and keep the information confidential, but will not be looking into the allegations. The joint statement described the hotline as a "stopgap measure for survivors" until delegates can pass reforms during this year's national meeting scheduled for June 14 and 15 in Anaheim, California.
The task force expects to make its formal motions based on the Guidepost report public soon. Those recommendations will then be presented for a vote in Anaheim.