An amended lawsuit was filed today in Pulaski Circuit Court alleging that a former senior pastor of a Garland County Baptist church had raped a minor who was a member of his congregation and for whom the preacher later became a guardian.
The lawsuit was amended to name the plaintiff, Riley Fields, who says he was raped over a period of years by Teddy Hill Jr., former senior pastor of Millcreek Baptist Church.
The suit names Hill, the church, the Diamond Lakes Baptist Association, Arkansas Baptist State Convention and James Tucker, director of the Baptist State Convention.
In a news release summarizing the case, one of the attorneys, Joshua Gillispie, said Hill’s former wife had told Tucker about her concerns that Hill was sexually abusing children, but no one took action. The original lawsuit was reported several days ago by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which quoted an attorney for the Baptist Convention as saying it has no responsibility for local churches or their pastors because they operate autonomously. Gillispie intends to challenge this argument in part by citing the financial contributions member churches such as Millcreek make to the convention. He also contends the convention and Tucker had a responsibility under the law to report information it received about sexual abuse of minors to the state hotline. An attorney for the convention told the Democrat-Gazette that the convention had not received information sufficient to justify a report. The attorney intimated that the Convention might have been named a defendant as a “deep pocket” for the millions in actual and punitive damages being claimed.
We believe this claim of member church autonomy, routinely used over the years by state conventions to avoid liability for pedophile pastors, is dubious. It has never been tested in an appellate court. It is a calculated legal strategy used by the ABSC and other Southern Baptist state conventions to avoid responsibility for the actions of its member churches and pastors. The ABSC’s position is simply that they have zero responsibility for the protection of the children in their flock, even when they have reason to believe a child in a member church is in danger. We believe that position is untenable.
The plaintiff, now 19, became a member of the church when he was 13 and about three years later the pastor became his guardian and he lived in the parsonage. He worked as a volunteer in the church.