Dogged for 20 years by dozens of allegations of extramarital sex with parishioners, Gilyard, 45, resigned Jan. 4 as pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church, a 7,000-member megachurch in Jacksonville, Fla., that he has served for 15 years. It is the fifth church position that Gilyard has been forced to resign from over charges of sexual misconduct.
Gilyard was charged with lewd and lascivious conduct. He will be arraigned Feb. 5. Police have been investigating a Nov. 29 complaint filed by a member of the congregation claiming Gilyard sent sexually explicit text messages to her daughter. At least one other girl allegedly received similar text messages. One of the mothers produced a journal detailing her daughter's sexual relationship with the pastor, the police said. The girls are 14 and 16 years old, according to media reports.
Gilyard was not available for comment after his arrest.
A native of Palatka, Fla., Gilyard rose to sudden fame in the Southern Baptist Convention in the late 1980s under the mentorship of former SBC presidents Jerry Vines and Paige Patterson. The attention catapulted him to several pastorates as well as appearances on Jerry Falwell's nationally broadcast TV program.
His story of growing up a homeless orphan living under a bridge in Jacksonville, which Falwell promoted with a video biography, was later discredited.
But Patterson, once Gilyard's teacher at Criswell College in Dallas, continued to promote the charismatic young preacher’s career -- even, according to the Dallas Morning News, after several women confronted Patterson with charges of sexual abuse and misconduct. He said at the time the women lacked evidence and witnesses.
Patterson, in a statement released to a sympathetic news outlet Jan. 9, said Criswell College expelled Gilyard after some allegations were substantiated. He noted that he even moderated the congregational meeting in which Gilyard resigned -- at Patterson’s insistence -- from the church he served while a Criswell student.
“Nearly two decades ago, I was neither an investigator nor a judge but the president of a small Bible college. I certainly did not have resources available to me to pursue the case, yet I did all that I could within my means to discover the truth when allegations concerning Mr. Gilyard were brought to my attention,” Patterson told the Southern Baptist Texan. “Once I had investigated the matter and was able to substantiate that Mr. Gilyard was guilty, I got him to confess that guilt publicly.”
Beginning in 1985, Gilyard was hired and then forced out of positions at three Dallas-area churches: Victory Baptist Church in Richardson, Concord Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas, and Shiloh Baptist Church in Garland. He was similarly hired and forced to resign at Hilltop Baptist Church in Norman, Okla. At least 25 women in the Dallas church publicly accused him of sexual misconduct, according to a church spokesperson. Some of the women alleged he raped them, the Morning News said in 1991.
The public allegations subsided after Gilyard, who is now divorced, moved to the Florida church in 1993, but new allegations resurfaced last year. Church leaders confronted him after the most recent police complaint was filed, according to several Jacksonville media reports.
In a news release about his Jan. 4 resignation from Shiloh Metropolitan, Gilyard said: "My commitment to the church and its congregation has been one of the most rewarding of my life. In life, there comes a time when the needs of the many outweigh the needs of one, and the church and its ministry are larger than just me."
A support group for survivors of clergy sex abuse said Jan. 9 that Patterson, now president of the SBC's Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, should be suspended from the seminary while its trustees investigate his "profound failure of moral judgment" in promoting Gilyard and ignoring the allegations two decades ago.
"Surely an institution dedicated to the development of spiritual leaders should consider the sort of spiritual leadership exemplified by its own president, who reportedly exhibited an extraordinarily blind-eyed response to clergy sex abuse," said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
"We ask you to demonstrate this institution’s commitment to treating clergy sex abuse and cover-ups seriously by suspending Paige Patterson, fully investigating and publicly reporting your findings," Clohessy said in a letter to Southwestern trustees, which was posted on one of SNAP's websites, http://www.stopbaptistpredators.org.
Noting Gilyard is now charged with abusing teenagers, not just adults, Clohessy said, "This often happens when a pastor’s predatory conduct goes unchecked: the hurtful and abusive conduct escalates."
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