As the June 30 deadline nears for Southwest Baptist University (SBU) trustees to sign the new Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) governing documents (SBU is the only MBC entity not to do so), the relationship between the school and the MBC has taken a disturbing turn.
On Feb. 22, SBU President Eric Turner posted a message on the university’s website announcing that “a newly elected trustee may have mishandled child sexual abuse allegations against one of his staff members in 2005.” Reports quickly surfaced that Turner was referring to Mike Roy, who was elected an SBU trustee by MBC messengers in November. Roy supports SBU signing the new MBC governing documents. Turner went on to say Roy was “imposed” on SBU by the MBC Nominating Committee without SBU input or approval. “Imposed” is an odd, combative choice of words considering the MBC owns SBU and has a legal right to name its trustees.
“SBU and the Board of Trustees are taking immediate action regarding this matter,” Turner wrote, referring to the allegation against Roy. “A special board meeting has been called for Monday (Feb. 24).” And Roy was not invited.
Turner and more moderate trustees have become increasingly intransigent in recent months, with Turner criticizing the MBC in front of faculty. Trustee meetings have become tense. Opposition to signing the governing documents appears to be escalating, with Turner’s attack on Roy the latest development. The problem is the allegations against Roy are untrue.
We live in a nation where a person is presumed innocent until proven otherwise. If proven guilty, then Caesar does not bear the sword in vain. Such was the case with Shawn Davies, a former music and youth minister at First Baptist Church, Greenwood, near Kansas City. In 2007, Davies was convicted on 25 counts of abuse dating from 2003 and was sentenced to 20 years in prison for molesting children at the church. Davies was released from prison in July 2019 after serving about 12 years. He is currently living in Reed Springs, Mo., according to press reports.
In his post on the SBU Facebook site, Turner accuses Roy, who was pastor of First, Greenwood, at the time of Davies’ conviction, as unwilling to cooperate with authorities. Lee’s Summit attorney James Freeman, who provided legal counsel for Roy and the church at the time, blasted Turner’s characterization of Roy as “slanderous.”
“Based upon this Facebook post, it appears that because of a complete failure to follow 1 Cor. 6 and Matthew 18 credence is publicly being lent to this smear campaign by Southwest Baptist University,” Freeman wrote in a Feb. 24 letter to Turner, SBU trustees and the MBC Executive Board.
“All actions taken by Dr. Roy and the Church (at the time of Davies’ investigation and conviction) were taken in direct consultation with myself and the church’s insurance provided legal counsel. Unfortunately, someone inside the local law enforcement community provided inaccurate and incomplete information to a local media company, which then inaccurately reported information. Because Dr. Roy had been instructed by legal counsel to refrain from commenting to the media, the local media company’s inaccuracies were not challenged. For example, the unethical media – in an attempt to sell drama and advertising – improperly reported that Dr. Roy was unwilling to cooperate with the investigation, which was a completely false accusation.
“Dr. Roy took no action to hide the abuse, took no action to protect the abuser, and took the steps that every church would wish its minister to take upon becoming aware of such tragic allegations, i.e., he called legal counsel, immediately reported the reasonable cause of suspected child abuse, removed the individual, followed the advice of counsel so as to not jeopardy the ultimate prosecution, and participated with law enforcement.
“Despite the misinformed media and its inaccurate reporting, Dr. Roy and the church [were] cleared of wrongdoing. To insinuate that Dr. Roy was engaged in any attempt to shield or protect a child abuser is patently false and derogatory, as is any attempt to insinuate that he failed in his legal or moral duties to the abused, the church or the community.”
Other SBU trustees are defending Roy and criticizing SBU.
“I am at a loss for words and deeply appalled at how the university has continually worked to usurp the MBC,” wrote trustee Tim Carter in a Feb. 23 email. “There are many more things that I could list but of all the things that have come up the most appalling is what is happening to Dr. Mike Roy right now. To say that I am ticked off would be an understatement. The way that this is being handled by the administration of SBU and the executive cabinet of the board of trustees is legally dangerous and spiritually disgraceful.”
Other trustees have expressed similar views. This whole episode is nothing but a guilt-by-association farce. SBU needs to stop smearing innocent people and obey the authority placed over it. Sign the governing documents.
As for child sex abuse, MBC churches must create hostile environments for offenders. Such sinful behavior grieves the heart of God and it is especially wounding to the Body of Christ. The Church must be the safest place on earth for the most vulnerable among us.