HOUSTON - FOX13 is getting a look at Mid-South pastors named in an explosive sex assault investigation
At least eight former church leaders in the Mid-South associated with the Southern Baptist Convention either pleaded guilty or were convicted over sex crimes over the past two decades, according to data from a list compiled by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News.
It is the most comprehensive list and reporting to date of sexual predators associated with SBC after the two news organizations poured through 20 years of sex crimes to create this database.
Investigators spent a year building the database of church leaders and volunteers who were convicted of sex crimes.
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Investigators spent a year building a database of church leaders and volunteers who were convicted of sex crimes.
FOX13 went through the database and found at least eight people had connections to a Mid-South church. One of the men was convicted in Shelby County and fled the country.
He was brought back to the states in 2015.
Five of those men currently are behind bars across multiple states. Three are out of prison: one lives in Alabama, one in Mississippi and the other in Shelby County.
No answer at home of convicted former pastor
FOX13 wanted to talk to Steven Haney, a former pastor in Shelby County.
In 2007, Haney was arrested for sexually abusing two teenage boys. Two years later, he pleaded guilty to rape and sexual battery by an authority figure.
Haney is now a registered sex offender in Tennessee. No one answered the door at his home in Shelby County.
Chronicle & Express-News’ comprehensive list
Haney is one of at least eight former church leaders FOX13 named in the list of more than 200 sexual predators associated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
The list compiled includes 20 years of public records, per the two news organizations.
Those in the Mid-South include Samuel Nuckolls, a former traveling evangelist in DeSoto County, Miss., who used a video spy pen to videotape women taking a shower.
Nuckolls is still behind bars in Mississippi.
Also on this list: Luke Cooke.
Cooke is a former Memphis youth minister who pleaded guilty in 2015 to sexually molesting two boys.
He fled to China, eventually being extradited from Albania to Memphis, which ended a decade-long search. Cooke is currently behind bars.
And the list includes Haney, the former pastor at Walnut Grove Baptist Church.
New name, new identity
Walnut Grove Baptist Church no longer exists.
At least not in the same way before the Haney scandal.
The church, formally known as Walnut Grove, is now known as Gracepoint Baptist Church. It underwent a makeover after Haney’s arrest, according to Baptist News Global.
Pastor John Allen, the current pastor at Gracepoint, could not confirm why the name was changed, though he told FOX13 the scandal played a role.
Allen did not go on camera with FOX13, but he did speak extensively with us.
Allen said he was not part of the church when Haney was the leader.
But the stigma, he said, still persists. The pastor told a story of just a week prior when a parishioner asked a coworker to go to the church.
Allen, a third person party to the events, paraphrased what he heard.
“Somebody was telling me about, ‘I invited my coworker to church,’ and the response was, ‘that’s an evil place’ because some bad things happened here,” remembered the pastor. “Maybe somebody will come give us a chance, but that person clearly is going to have some level of barrier between them and this church because of the history of the church.
“And it’s unfortunate – it may not even be fair – but it’s real.”
Allen acknowledged the community’s remembrance of the old church; it was part of his decision not to do an interview on camera, rather be quoted.
“I understand why you’re here. You should be here. I’m not complaining about that. I’m trying to minimize how that might affect the church in the future,” said Allen.
Allen said any person paid at the church undergoes an independent background check.
“We do one on everybody. That’s not the end all and be all, but it’s a start at least,” Allen said. “And that’s not because of what happened here. That’s because it’s good stewardship of people’s lives. And particularly when you’re dealing with children, you want to at least feel like the people you put with them are solid, good people without a history.”
Mid-South Baptist Association
FOX13 went to speak with Dr. Mitch Martin, the executive director of missions at Mid-South Baptist Association.
We wanted to speak with him about what changes SBC will make.
A worker told FOX13 that Martin was in a meeting off site and would call us back.
He called back an hour later and declined to go on camera, stating he was in and out of meetings all day, but instead would send a statement.
Not long after, Martin sent this statement to FOX13:
“The Mid-South Baptist Association takes sexual abuse claims serious and has implemented a Sexual Misconduct and Inappropriate Behavior Complaint Process. The association recognizes that all forms of sexual misconduct by ministerial leaders are chargeable offenses that requires reporting. The MSBA is committed to responding in a way that holds all parties accountable and promotes healing."
J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, tweeted a thread spanning nine tweets on Feb. 10 about the Chronicle’s report.
“The abuses described in this @HoustonChron article are pure evil,” wrote Greear. “I join with countless others who are currently ‘weeping with those who weep.’”
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