Just days after an independent investigation revealed a list of 700 volunteers, ministers and pastors known to be “credibly accused” of sexual abuse, the Southern Baptist Convention ushered in a series of reforms meant to ensure public oversight over the nation’s largest Protestant denomination continues.
Roughly 8,500 delegates overwhelming approved the changes in a vote taken June 14 during the organization’s annual meeting. One of the first requirements is for the Southern Baptist Convention to issue a formal apology to those victimized by its leadership after an independent study found that Southern Baptist Convention-affiliated churches have a decadeslong history of mishandling abuse claims and mistreating victims.
“Reading those 300 pages’ worth of failures to act, of not passing along information that would have protected, is both heartbreaking and horrifying. But the question on the floor today is, ‘Is it humbling?’” Bruce Frank, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Sexual Abuse Task Force, asked the assembly ahead of the vote.
The reforms that ultimately were approved are “the bare minimum of what needs to be done,” the North Carolina-based reverend said.
One makes Frank’s task force a permanent fixture that can continue overseeing changes in the denomination’s churches. Another establishes a more detailed public database tracking known predators. The Southern Baptist Convention’s affiliated churches have 14 million members spread across more than 47,000 churches nationwide.
The creation of such a database had been discussed by the Southern Baptist Convention for more than a decade until, at last year’s gathering, members voted to launch a review of sexual assault claims reported to the executive committee .
The result was a scathing report, released last month by independent consultancy firm Guidepost Solutions, detailing the many ways leadership mishandled cases and stonewalled and denigrated sexual abuse survivors, all while maintaining a list of roughly 700 known cases between 2000 and 2019 that involved Southern Baptist Convention-affiliated clergy deemed “credibly accused.”
That means those listed were either the subject of civil judgments, criminal convictions or, in some cases, even submitted their own confessions to acts of sexual abuse on people ranging from senior citizens to a 3-year-old child.
Texas is the state with the most names on the list, while Florida was second with at least 58 known predators in Southern Baptist churches.
At least 11 of the named offenders worked in Tampa Bay area churches. Of those, five are not currently registered as sex offenders in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement database. In some cases, that’s because the accused were adjudicated while working in other states or were offered plea deals that allowed them to avoid registration. In other cases, though, it’s unclear how church leaders avoided registering as sex offenders despite criminal charges.
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Southern Baptist Convention executives had long argued it would be impossible to create a list like the one it kept in secret without “violating congregations’ autonomy,” the report said. And because none of those allegations were shared, ministers forced out of one church for sexual misconduct were allowed to move into new leadership roles in another, perpetuating crimes.
“The fact that our council was keeping a list of hundreds of people who were entrusted with caring for sheep who were found out with little more than just a simple Google search should tell us this is the tip of the iceberg,” Frank cautioned the group. “Fellow pastors in this room, please hear me. You will get the phone call. That’s not a word of prophecy. That’s just math.”
Still, the new reforms didn’t pass without scrutiny from member pastors concerned about false accusations, legal responsibilities and the high costs of maintaining such efforts.
The day after Frank’s measures were approved, the Southern Baptist Convention delegates voted on another resolution that calls for lawmakers to create a legal shield that protects churches against civil liability if they share information on alleged abuse with legal authorities.
For now, at least, the organization’s existing database of accused clergy is available to the public on the Southern Baptist Convention’s website here. The entire Guidepost Solutions Report can also be read online here.
Local offenders include:
- Brian Siegfried Brijbag was a 36-year-old youth pastor at First Baptist Church in Brooksville when he was arrested in May 2012 for sexually abusing a 17-year-old girl twice, resulting in two counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor. He also was accused of having sex with an 18-year-old girl in his church office, but because she was an adult at the time there were no resulting charges. Brijbag pleaded no contest to a lesser charge: a single count of child abuse. That allowed him to avoid being added to Florida’s sex offender registry. Instead, Brijbag was sentenced to three years of probation and mandatory sex offender counseling. He also was required to pay for the teens’ counseling, along with nearly $1,000 in court costs.
- Robert Harvey Alexander was a 51-year-old deacon at First Baptist Church in Tampa when he was arrested in 1999 on multiple criminal charges for committing “cybersex” with teens. He was sentenced to 21 months in prison. At the time of writing, Alexander is not a registered sex offender in Florida.
- Dan Earl Allmond was a 33-year-old youth pastor at Tampa Baptist Church in Tampa when he was arrested in 1998 on two counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor. Police said Allmond sexually abused a 17-year-old girl multiple times, both at his home and on church property. He received a probationary sentence in lieu of jail time and remains a registered sex offender in Florida.
- William Allen Richardson II was a 47-year-old volunteer associate youth pastor and choir director at First Baptist Church in Mango when he was arrested on charges of sexual battery and lewd molestation in 2013. Investigators said Richardson used Sunday school classes at the church to sexually abuse one 9-year-old girl and continued until she was 11. He eventually was convicted of one count of using the internet to lure a child for sex in 2014 and was sentenced to 18 months in state prison. He is a registered sex offender in Florida.
- Scott Dewayne Wright was a youth pastor at Crossing Church in Tampa who later took the same job at Calvary Chapel Worship Center in New Port Richey. Wright was 35 in 2009 when he pleaded guilty to two counts of unlawful sexual activity with a 16-year-old girl. He was sentenced to four years in prison, followed by six years of probation. According to the Southern Baptist Convention database, Wright has also been accused of sexual activity with a 17-year-old church member. He is a registered sex offender in Florida.
- Matthew Christopher Porter was a 30-year-old youth minister at Bethel Baptist Church in Bradenton when he was arrested for secretly videotaping girls between the ages of 12 and 16 as they undressed in his home. In 2008, Porter pleaded no contest to nine counts of video voyeurism and was sentenced to four months in state prison, followed by 24 months of probation upon release, court records show. After that, Porter was allowed to move to Granbury, Texas, where he was arrested on similar charges in 2012. Court records say Porter was working as the chaplain at Harbor Lakes Plaza Nursing and Rehabilitation when he was caught on film adjusting a hidden camera in the staff bathroom. He is not listed on the sex offender registry in Florida, but remains a registered sex offender in Texas.
- Samuel Armand Sutter was a 25-year-old youth pastor at Openwater Church in Odessa when he was arrested for carrying out a monthslong sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl in his congregation. Sutter pleaded guilty in 2017 to three charges: lewd and lascivious battery, unlawful sexual activity with a minor and use of a computer or device to solicit illegal acts. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and remains incarcerated. Sutter is a registered sex offender in Florida.
- Randy Lee Morrow was a 41-year-old youth minister at Countryside Baptist Church in Clearwater when he was arrested in 2000 for sexually abusing three teenage boys between the ages of 13 to 15. In 2002, a jury found Morrow guilty of nine charges ranging from sexual activity with a minor to lewd and lascivious behavior and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He was sentenced to 135 years in prison and remains incarcerated. Morrow is a registered sex offender in Florida.
- Kenneth Neal Baxley was 37 years old when he resigned as pastor of Central Baptist Community Ministries in Lakeland in February 2002. Baxley got the job despite spending 15 months in prison for attempted sexual battery on a child younger than 12 — a crime he committed in 1983 but confessed to seven years later. In May 2001, Baxley was given a two-year sentence for failing to register as a sex offender with the state under his new address. He was still in Polk County Jail that June when state prosecutors filed five additional charges of sexual battery on a child in familial custody after a 17-year-old relative told police she had a sexual relationship with both Baxley and his wife Amanda during the several months she lived in their home. In September 2002, the state agreed to drop criminal charges against his wife after Baxley entered a plea agreement. He was given a 30-month prison sentence but was released after 11 months due to credit for time served. After his release, Baxley agreed to two years of house arrest and 10 years of probation, along with required supervision when in the company of his children from a previous marriage. Baxley is not a registered sex offender in Florida.
- Brian Andrew Neiswender, was a 26-year-old youth and music pastor at Heritage Baptist Church in Lakeland when he was arrested in June 2008 on charges of indecent assault and corruption of minors. The allegations of abuse came from teenage girls at Christ Community Church in Kingston, Pennsylvania, where Neiswender worked as a youth pastor before moving to Florida. According to police, Neiswender fondled at least two underage girls on multiple occasions between September 2003 and February 2006, usually during private music lessons or while playing hide-and-seek in the church basement. Neiswender pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 16 months in prison followed by three years of probation. He was ordered not to have contact with any minors other than his children and is a registered sex offender in Pennsylvania. Neiswender is not a registered sex offender in Florida.
- Marshal A. Seymour was a 40-year-old volunteer youth minister at First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland (renamed Lakes Church in 2020) when he was arrested in November 2007 on charges of unlawful sexual activity with a minor, using a child in sexual performance and tampering with evidence. Investigators said Seymour sexually abused three boys between the ages of 15 and 17 in his congregation, offering them money for sex acts or to keep quiet. In 2009, Seymour was convicted on lesser charges as part of a plea agreement and he was released from prison in 2016. Officials at the Lakeland church said Seymour passed two background checks before he was allowed to begin working with youth groups in 1999. They didn’t know that Seymour had been arrested earlier that same year and accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old boy at Parkway Assembly of God in Mobile, Alabama, where he was the youth minister. He was charged with sodomy and sexual battery but pleaded guilty to lesser charges to avoid jail time. Seymour is a registered sex offender in Florida.