New Orleans church grieved by youth minister's arrest

by Art Toalston, posted Friday, March 06, 2015 (3 years ago)

NEW ORLEANS (BP) -- A prominent New Orleans church took prompt action to dismiss a youth minister accused of sexual abuse of a teenage girl and to begin the healing process within the congregation.

"We are devastated by the events that have led to the arrest of one of our former ministers," the March 1 worship guide of First Baptist Church in New Orleans stated to the congregation.

"The safety of the children in our care is our highest priority. We do everything in our power to make certain that all persons who work with them are properly screened and interviewed. We are now reviewing all of our policies and procedures with paid staff and volunteers and will bring forward any recommendations that might strengthen our security."

The pastor, David Crosby, wrote that a family meeting of the church would be held at 1 p.m. after the 10:45 a.m. worship service, with childcare provided, to address the dismissal and arrest of former youth minister Jonathan Bailey.

"All are welcome to attend," Crosby wrote in the worship guide. "I will address some errors in the media reports and provide further information that you may want to know as a member of our family of faith."

Crosby told local media that Bailey was fired and escorted off church property Feb. 9, the day that allegations were reported to him and to police of sexual misconduct by Bailey with a 14-year-old girl in First Baptist's youth group.

Bailey, 33, was charged Feb. 23 with indecent behavior with a juvenile and was freed on bond. He was arrested again on sexual battery March 4 after the youth disclosed additional details of Bailey's improper contact with her. Bond was set at $35,000. If convicted, Bailey could face a sentence of up to 10 years in prison without parole or probation, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune daily newspaper.

Crosby, in March 6 comments to Baptist Press, recounted:

"As we do for all potential employees, we ran a criminal background check on Jonathan Bailey before he received an offer of employment. It came back clear. Our search committee called references and references of references. The committee did not learn of any negative incident or circumstance. As an employee of FBNO, Jonathan was under the daily scrutiny of fellow staff members, adult volunteers and parents of youth. He experienced instruction and correction, as do we all, but nothing observed by our staff or reported to us by parents or volunteers indicated that he had the capacity for such a horrible breach of trust."

Crosby said the church was "deceived and manipulated by someone who knew how to navigate church life, who knew the vocabulary of our faith and who believed that he could break the rules without being discovered. That has come to an end." The pastor noted that Bailey's "behavior is no longer hidden, and his breach of professional ethics and moral failure are now exposed."

"We want the justice system to work as it should in this case. To this end, we are fully cooperating with criminal authorities as they continue their investigation," Crosby said.

"The safety of children in our care is and will remain our highest priority," the pastor said. "We ask for prayers for our young people and their families, especially those most affected, as well as our entire congregation. We have suffered a terrible blow. Jonathan was a friend and a colleague in ministry. We are struggling with feelings of anger, grief, sadness and confusion.

"We are clinging to one another and the promises of God's Word," Crosby said. "We do not know what the future may hold. But we have confidence in our Almighty God, and we are experiencing daily the comfort and encouragement of His Holy Spirit."

Bailey, who had served at First Baptist for about two years, is a 2010 graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

NOBTS President Chuck Kelley issued a statement to Baptist Press on March 6, noting:

"We profoundly regret the apparent reprehensible conduct of this former NOBTS student. We have a zero tolerance for such behavior on the part of students, faculty or staff and applaud the swift response of First Baptist Church upon learning of the situation. We pray for all those affected by this tragic situation.

"We take very seriously the ministerial training role entrusted to us by Southern Baptist churches," Kelley said. "Our concern for the churches our graduates will serve begins during the admission process. A student who applies for any degree at the seminary is required to have a church endorsement and provide multiple references. NOBTS also includes a criminal background check as part of our screening process for admission."

Bailey's wife Tiffany, also a 2010 graduate of the seminary, is a Baptist Collegiate Ministry staff member at Tulane and Loyola universities. The couple has a young daughter.

Roger S. Oldham of the SBC Executive Committee said in a statement to Baptist Press, "We grieve over this tragic episode in this teen's life. We grieve for this trusting teen and her parents, this trusting wife and daughter, this trusting youth group and this trusting church.

"Trust is sacred. When it is violated, it leaves a debris field as wide and long as the most devastating tornado, but with deeper wounds and scars," said Oldham, the EC's vice president for convention communications and relations.

"We also applaud the swift action taken by the leadership of First Baptist Church to work with law enforcement to address this alleged criminal act and the efforts the church takes to protect the children under its care," Oldham said. "We join them in praying for the day when there will be no more instances of sexual abuse by any professed minister of the Gospel."

The Southern Baptist Convention's website has numerous resources for sexual abuse prevention with links to LifeWay Background Check Resources, the U.S. Department of Justice Dru Sjodin National Database of Sex Offenders and links to other aids.

Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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