This from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Last Sunday, the Rev. Travis Smith paced First Baptist Church’s sanctuary, decorated for the holidays with poinsettias and a Christmas tree. He addressed his congregation, speaking to them about forgiveness.
Smith read verses from the Gospel of Matthew that follow the Lord’s Prayer:
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,” he said.
Since Smith’s arrest in October on sexual abuse and statutory rape charges, which follow similar allegations from 2010, forgiveness from his congregation has become critical to his survival as its pastor. It is this group of about 100 souls who will decide Smith’s future in the Southern Baptist Convention.
In any denomination, Christians confronted with the shocking news that their often-beloved pastor has been accused of sexual misconduct, many congregations circle the wagons, some experts say.
“When a church rallies around its pastor, there’s disbelief that someone they trust could do something like this,” said Diana Garland, dean of the school of social work at Baylor University. “It often feels so much safer to blame the victims for causing his downfall, rather than accept that the power of a religious leader has been abused.”
But what happens when those circling the wagons around their pastor are also those who have to make the ultimate decision about his fate — his career, his paycheck, his reputation?
A deacon at First Baptist Church of Stover said that at its last monthly business meeting no one from the congregation even put forward a motion to dismiss Smith, the first step in a longer process to remove the pastor.
“These are old charges, and if they’re true, why weren’t they brought up when they occurred?” said Phil Marriott. “We’ll wait for the court system to address them and let justice take its course.”