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Report: over 250 people, including Oklahomans, involved with Southern Baptist churches guilty of sex crimes

Sanctuary of a small church with pews and pulpit

AUSTIN, Tx. – More than 250 people who worked or volunteered in Southern Baptist churches around the country have been charged with sex crimes, according to an investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News.

Since 1998, close to 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct, the newspapers found. That includes those who were convicted, successfully sued, and those who confessed or resigned.

More abusers worked in Texas than in any other state.

The Chronicle counted up more than 700 victims. Many victims were shunned by their churches and some were urged to forgive their abusers or to get abortions.

About 220 offenders have been convicted or took plea deals, and dozens of cases are pending.

Nearly 100 offenders are still held in prisons from coast to coast. Uncounted others cut deals and served no time. More than 100 are registered sex offenders.

Some still work in Southern Baptist churches today.

The investigation reveals that:

  • At least 35 church pastors, employees and volunteers who exhibited predatory behavior were still able to find jobs at churches during the past two decades. In some cases, church leaders apparently failed to alert law enforcement about complaints or to warn other congregations about allegations of misconduct.
  • Several past presidents and prominent leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention are among those criticized by victims for concealing or mishandling abuse complaints within their own churches or seminaries.
  • Some registered sex offenders returned to the pulpit. Others remain there, including a Houston preacher who sexually assaulted a teenager and now is the principal officer of a Houston nonprofit that works with student organizations, federal records show. Its name: Touching the Future Today Inc.
  • Many of the victims were adolescents who were molested, sent explicit photos or texts, exposed to pornography, photographed nude, or repeatedly raped by youth pastors. Some victims as young as 3 were molested or raped inside pastors’ studies and Sunday school classrooms. A few were adults — women and men who sought pastoral guidance and instead say they were seduced or sexually assaulted.

The Houston Chronicle compiled this list of records and information of church officials and volunteers convicted of sex abuse crimes.

10 Oklahoma men appear in the database.

  1. Joshua L. Spires was a church minister in Delaware County. Spires was convicted in 2009 after guilty plea to 10 counts of lewd molestation of a minor; served nine years in Oklahoma state prison. Released Feb. 28, 2018. He is now a registered sex offender in Texas for life and under probation/community supervision until 2029.
  2. Billy Ray Smith was a volunteer youth worker at the Calvary Baptist Church in Durant. Smith was convicted of forcible sodomy in Bryan County in 2010. He is currently serving a 15-year sentence in Oklahoma state prison.
  3. Brian Kelly Burchfield was a Shawnee youth pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church. Burchfield was sentenced to six months in jail and 10 years probation for soliciting a minor by use of technology in 2016. He is a registered sex offender in Oklahoma.
  4. Douglas Dwayne Davis worked as a youth minister at the Village Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. He was convicted in 2010 of lewd proposals or acts to a child and second-degree rape. Davis is a registered sex offender in Oklahoma.
  5. Dustin Ray Werneburga Coalgate youth pastor, was convicted of rape and two counts of lewd and indecent acts or propositions to a child in 2012. Werneburg was sentenced to 10 years in prison, plus a 30-year suspended sentence.
  6. Jody Hilliard, now deceased, was an assistant pastor for 26 years at First Baptist Church in Duncan, a minister of education for three years at the Central Baptist Church in Lawton, and was a high school principal for several years in Elgin, Oklahoma. Hilliard was convicted in 2018 for five charges of lewd and indecent proposals and acts to a child under 12. He was sentenced to seven years and 18 years probation, but did not serve a complete year before dying in prison.
  7. Sean David Whisenhunt was a Central Baptist Church of Owasso youth minister. Whisenhunt received a suspended sentence after being convicted of sexual battery in 2010, but he was convicted of violating the terms of his sex offender registry in 2014. However, he received another suspended sentence.
  8. Aaron Matthew McDonaldmusic director at Dewar’s First Baptist Church, was convicted of sexual battery and sentenced to 10 years in January 2003, but was released after two years in prison. Registered sex offender in Oklahoma.
  9. Benjamin Lawrence Petty, a volunteer cook at Falls Creek, was charged with forcible sodomy, first-degree rape, and rape by instrumentation. Petty pleaded guilty of all three charges, and as part of the plea deal, received a 15-year suspended sentence and never went to prison. He is a registered sex offender. He was convicted in 2018 in civil court.
  10. Charles W. “Chuck” Bryan Jr. was a youth volunteer at an Edmond church. Bryan received a 10-year prison sentence for three counts of lewd and indecent propositions and acts involving a 15-year-old girl. He is also convicted of forgery. Bryan remains incarcerated in Oklahoma and is a registered sex offender.
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