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The Southern Baptist Convention on Thursday released a once-secret and lengthy list of accused sex abusers — several of whom are in the Midwest — within the denomination.

The 205-page list is a compilation of ministers and other church workers who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse. The list is described as a “fluid, working document” that was also incomplete but largely pulls information about abusers from published news reports.

The publication of the list comes after the release Sunday of a 300-page report by an independent investigator that described how leaders of the Southern Baptist denomination for decades have received reports of sexual abuse committed by church workers, pastors and others. But those reports were largely kept secret and, rather than acting upon and investigating reports of sexual abuse, denomination leaders sought to intimidate and vilify victims and their advocates.

“The whole thing should be seen for what it is,” wrote former Southern Baptist Convention executive committee member and general counsel D. August Boto in an internal email that was published in the report. “It’s a satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism.”

The crisis rocking the Southern Baptist denomination this week is similar in many ways to what the Catholic church continues to face. Leaders in both faiths systematically hid information about sexual misconduct, appeared to show more concern about their own legal liability than the victims and at times failed to expel accused abusers from positions of authority.

In 2007, Father Thomas Doyle, a Catholic priest credited as one of the first to warn of his own denomination’s clergy sex abuse crisis, wrote a letter to SBC leadership conveying his concern that Southern Baptist leaders were repeating the failures of the Catholic church in dealing with sex abuse.

Doyle was told, “Southern Baptist leaders truly have no authority over local churches,” a response that Doyle regarded as dismissive, according to the investigative report. 

That same year, at the SBC convention in San Antonio, Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson made a motion to create a database of Southern Baptist clergy who had been convicted or credibly accused of, or had confessed to sexual abuse. The proposal was meant to “assist in preventing any future sexual abuse or harassment.”

The database proposal appeared to go nowhere, according to the report, and witnesses at the convention recalled little about it except to express their opinion that it would “violate local church autonomy.”

Ultimately, a staffer for the SBC executive committee since 2007 had maintained a list of accused ministers and church workers, but it was kept hidden from the public and even SBC executive committee trustees, according to the report.

Southern Baptist leaders said publicizing the list of credibly accused abusers represented “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,” said a joint statement from Willie McLaurin and Rolland Slade, both SBC executive committee members. “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.”

Lawyers for the SBC executive committee researched the list of accused abusers, taking steps to verify information it contained. It left unredacted entries about alleged abusers that could be confirmed, while redacting entries where someone was acquitted or did not have a final disposition, as well as information that could identify victims.

Nebraska

  • Klint Bitter, a former youth pastor with Christ Community Church in Omaha. He was convicted in 2018 of attempted sexual assault after arranging through an online classified ad to meet with an underaged girl for sex. 

Missouri men feature prominently on the list. They include:

  • Robert Michael Black, a former pastor of New Home Baptist Church in St. Joseph, who solicited sex over Facebook from a police officer posing as a 13-year-old girl. He pleaded guilty in 2011 to attempted child enticement, served five years in prison and was released.  
  • Joseph Edmund Conger, former pastor of New Life Baptist Church in Cole Camp and First Baptist Church in Climax Springs, who was convicted in 2009 and sentenced to seven years in prison for statutory sodomy for an incident with a teenager in 2003. 
  • Michael Alan Crippen, a pastor at First Baptist Church in Duenweg, received a nearly four-year prison sentence for possessing child pornography. 
  • Shawn Davies, a youth minister who worked in Greenwood and Ferguson, pleaded guilty in 2005 to several counts of sodomy, pornography and other charges and received a 20-year sentence to serve alongside a 10-year sentence for separate abuse charges in Kentucky.  
  • Dale Gregory Johnson, former youth director for Parkade Baptist Church in Columbia, pleaded guilty in 2016 to sodomy and child pornography charges.
  • Terry McDowell, former pastor at Gateway Southern Baptist Church in St. Louis, pleaded guilty to molesting a 3-year-old in 2011 and received a suspended 10-year sentence.
  • James Niederstadt, a former pastor at Vinson General Baptist Church in Malden, received a 25-year sentence in 2000 following a conviction for forcible sodomy against a teenage girl who lived with him. 
  • Travis Smith, a pastor at First Baptist Church in Stover and former youth pastor at Pilot Grove Baptist Church, received a four-year prison sentence in 2016 following convictions for statutory rape and other charges stemming from multiple victims. 

Kansas

  • Kyle Guenther, a former minister at Harvest Baptist Church in Iola, was charged in Allen County in 2002 with molesting a teenage girl repeatedly, starting in 1999. 
  • Kessler Lichtenegger, a teen volunteer at Westside Family Church in Lenexa, was convicted in 2015 of attempted rape and attempted electronic solicitation of a child younger than 14. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison. 

Iowa 

  • Terry VanHoutan, leader of the adult ministry at First Baptist Church in Bettendorf, pleaded guilty to two sexual abuse charges in 2010, nine years after pleading guilty to indecent exposure.
  • Joel Mark Waltz, a youth pastor at Grace Community Church in Boone, pleaded guilty in 2017 to two counts of sexually exploiting a minor. 

This story comes from the Midwest Newsroom, an investigative journalism collaboration including IPR, KCUR 89.3, Nebraska Public Media News, St. Louis Public Radio and NPR.

For more in-depth news from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, we invite you to follow us on Twitter.


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Become a Supporting Member

Subscribe to thereader.com and become a supporting member to keep locally owned news alive. We need to pay writers, so you can read even more. We won’t waste your time, our news will focus, as it always has, on the stories other media miss and a cultural community — from arts to foods to local independent business — that defines us. Please support your locally-owned news media by becoming a member today.

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