An Alabama church has cleared the air after it was falsely listed in the sexual abuse report sanctioned by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

In May, the SBC released a report it had commissioned through an organization called Guidepost Solutions, which specializes in such investigations. The report aimed to determine if the SBC’s Executive Committee mishandled allegations of sex abuse, stonewalled numerous survivors, or prioritized protecting the SBC from liability.

The 205-page database was made public in May. It includes more than 700 entries from cases that primarily span from 2000 to 2019.

In a joint statement, executive Committee leaders Rolland Slade and Willie McLaurin called publishing the list “an initial, but important step towards addressing the scourge of sexual abuse and implementing reform in the Convention.”

A church in Pelham, however, has been forced to address a mistake in the report that has briefly shone a dim light on the church. First Baptist Church Pelham (FBCP) was mentioned in the report, alongside the name of a man who had been convicted of sexually abusing a child. The SBC report claimed that Luis Garcia, who was convicted in 2007 of three counts of sexual abuse in Shelby County, was “pastor of Spanish ministries” at FBCP. The leadership of FBCP denied the leadership designation given to Garcia in the report, according to a statement provided to 1819 News.

According to Dr. Daven Watkins, Senior Pastor of FBCP, Garcia was never a member of the staff at FBCP. However, he was permitted to use an older building after the congregation had changed locations.

“Mr. Garcia was not on staff here at FBC Pelham,” Watkins said. “[Garcia] was using the old facility on Church Street rent-free to hold Hispanic congregational meetings. This congregation is not [the] El Buen Pastor, the Hispanic ministry that meets on our campus today.”

According to Watkins, the previous pastor confronted Garcia after allegations of abuse were brought forward. Garcia was subsequently barred from the building.

“An allegation of sexual abuse against a minor was brought to the attention of our then Pastor Dr. Mike Shaw,” Watkins said. “He called in Mr. Garcia with a witness, Paul Moore. Mr. Garcia was confronted, his keys were taken, and he was told not to return to the church campus. The Hispanic parents refused to go to the Pelham Police Department to file a report. So soon after [Shaw] filed the complaint, Mr. Garcia was picked up and his case was adjudicated. He served time in jail and served the probationary period. To our knowledge, he has returned to his country of origin.”

Watkins spoke before his congregation sharing the information regarding the misstated information in the SBC report.

“I want you to be confident that we took the allegation seriously and handled it properly. We grieve with all those who have experienced sexual abuse. As a denomination, we repent for any negligence, and we ask God’s favor to rest upon his people. We also commit to handling any case of sexual abuse with the same level of seriousness and appropriateness.”

Sex abuse accusations in the SBC were thrust into the spotlight in 2019 by a report from the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News documenting hundreds of cases in Southern Baptist churches, including several in which alleged perpetrators remained in ministry. 

Last year, thousands of delegates at the national SBC gathering made clear they did not want the Executive Committee to oversee an investigation of its own actions. Instead, they voted overwhelmingly to create the task force charged with overseeing the third-party review. Ed Litton, current President of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, appointed the panel.

According to the report, Guidepost’s investigators, who spoke with survivors of varying ages, including children, said the survivors were equally traumatized by the way in which churches responded to their reports of sexual abuse.

Survivors “spoke of trauma from the initial abuse, but also told us of the debilitating effects that come from the response of the churches and institutions like the SBC that did not believe them, ignored them, mistreated them, and failed to help them,” the report said.

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