May 23, 2012
Jury Holds Baptist State Convention Liable for Pastor’s Sexual Abuse
Florida convention had hired Douglas W. Myers to plant two new churches.
A Florida jury found the state chapter of the Southern Baptist Convention liable for the actions of a former pastor currently serving time for the sexual abuse of a 13-year-old boy.
The Lake County jury found that the convention failed to do an adequate background check on Douglas W. Myers, who was recruited to start two churches in the county. Myers pleaded guilty in 2007 to molesting the boy; he is currently in the midst of a seven-year prison sentence.
The victim and his mother sued the convention, alleging it hadn’t done enough to uncover allegations of inappropriate behavior with young boys at Myers' previous churches in Alabama and Maryland, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Court testimony indicated no convention officials checked Myers’ references or called his previous churches, though a background search of his criminal, credit, and motor-vehicle records raised no suspicions.
The convention argued that it serves primarily as a support group for affiliated churches and that it had no direct authority over Myers. But the victim's attorney argued that as a church planter, Myers had more direct contact with the convention because it provided him with training and funds for his ministry.
No potential monetary damages were discussed during the trial; those will be determined at a later date.
Earlier this month, Christianity Today reported that a Kentucky jury found a church liable for the death of a boy killed after his youth minister let him drive a vehicle. A similar story happened in Florida last year, prompting churches to reassess their risk management policies.