Religious leaders say churches are places of refuge, but they are often dangerous for vulnerable children and adults. Church sexual abuse is disturbingly common, and many scandals only come to light because of whistleblowers, journalists, and independent investigators. The latest scandal is within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), a Christian denomination with more than 13 million members nationwide. An investigation into Southern Baptist Convention sex abuse found that the organization shielded predators from punishment instead of protecting victims. The SBC released a previously secret list of Baptist ministers and pastors accused of abuse in response to the report.
The list isn’t comprehensive, and there are several entries where the offender’s name and other information are redacted, making it impossible to know pertinent details. Still, the database paints a troubling picture of what happens behind the scenes in one of the largest Christian denominations in the country. The database names 15 Louisiana church leaders who have been accused of sexual abuse.
In reality, the number of church officials who have perpetrated abuse is almost certainly higher than that. Only 20% of sexual abuse incidents are reported to authorities, and many victims don’t tell anyone. Additionally, the church’s database only includes instances where the accused admitted, confessed, or was convicted of a crime or added to a sex offender registry. That means predators who denied the allegations or didn’t face conviction weren’t included.
Louisiana Pastors Implicated
The Louisiana offenders included in the database span the entire state. Below are a handful of pastors implicated in the scandal. Several entries were redacted to remove the names of offenders, churches, and where the abuse took place.
Macedonia Baptist Church, Rayville: Jason J.D. Cooper was convicted of indecent behavior with a juvenile and oral sexual behavior. Two teenagers came forward to say that Cooper sexually abused them while the church pastor.
Old Mount Olive Baptist Church, Oak Ridge: Victor Mitchell, Jason J.D. Cooper’s stepbrother, was convicted of the same charges. The teenagers also alleged that Mitchell abused them.
Bibleway Missionary Baptist Church, New Orleans; Second Highway Baptist Church, Marrero: Sherman R. Smith, a former pastor, was accused and charged with sexually abusing seven girls over 12 years.
New Beginnings Faith Tabernacle Baptist Church, Shreveport: Robert James Washington Jr., a church van driver, pled guilty to rape and kidnapping and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. The crime occurred at the church.
Immanuel Baptist Church and Grace Memorial Baptist Church, Slidell: James Robert Griffin, a pastor and volunteer at two Slidell churches, was charged with aggravated sex crimes and possession of child pornography. He is now a registered sex offender.
First Baptist Church, New Orleans: Jonathan Bailey, a former youth pastor, was convicted of 12 felonies after pleading guilty to sexually abusing a 13-year-old child. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Vineyard Ministries, Westwego; Greater Cypress Grove Missionary Baptist Church, Algiers: Former pastor Bryan K. Johnson was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to having sex with a 15-year-old girl. A local news investigation found that the pastor had a troubling history of inappropriate behavior around young girls.
Donahue Family Church, Pineville: Former church youth leader Angelo “Doggie” Golatt was convicted of four counts of forcible rape involving boys 9 to 19 years old and is serving a 40-year prison sentence.
Paradise Baptist Church, Bell: Holland Farrell McMorris pled guilty to violating a child. The former pastor was sentenced to 40 total years in prison with no eligibility for probation or parole.
Harris Baptist Conference Center, Bienville: Michael Phillip Latham was the director of a campground facility owned by the Southern Baptist Convention after sending explicit images to a police officer who he thought was an underage girl. He is now a registered sex offender.
You can find the complete list released by the Southern Baptist Convention here. Given that sexual abuse crimes are underreported and that the database only includes confessions and criminal convictions, it’s safe to say that the number of Louisiana church predators is much higher than the reported numbers.
The denomination has set up a hotline for victims of sexual abuse. Survivors can call 202-864-5578 or email SBChotline@guidepostsolutions.com to report inappropriate behavior. The church organization is also expected to introduce new procedures to protect victims of sexual abuse better. Unfortunately, these measures are too late for those who have already been harmed. Even when members were brave enough to come forward directly to church leadership, pastors and staffers often ignored them.
Notably, the Southern Baptist Convention kept this list secret until forced to release it after an independent investigation. Some of the predators in the database still work at churches that didn’t know they had a history of abusive behavior. Instead of doing its due diligence to shield its members from sexual violence and misconduct, the organization created a culture of silence.
As the facts surrounding this scandal continue to emerge, sex abuse survivors are starting to file lawsuits against the SBC for acting negligently and engaging in a cover-up. Louisiana sex abuse attorneys at Herman, Herman & Katz help victims of church sex abuse recover damages from the organizations that failed to protect them. An institution may try to discredit you or discourage you from coming forward. Our attorneys help you stand up and fight back. Call us at 844-943-7626 or schedule a free consultation.
Jed Cain is a partner with Herman, Herman & Katz, LLC. He has dedicated his career to representing injured folks and their families.