Southern Baptist Convention pastors are calling on Willy Rice, a candidate for SBC president, to remove himself from the race after it was revealed that Rice’s church removed a deacon who previously committed “a sexual sin that could also be described as abusive.”
Rice, who pastors Calvary Church in Clearwater, Florida, first broke the news in a video posted to the Calvary church website on Friday, April 1. In the video, Rice acknowledged that the deacon in question had engaged in sexual misconduct many years before coming to Calvary and later repented of his sin and gave his life to Christ. The man, who was never brought up on criminal charges, has reportedly been open about his past.
According to ChurchLeaders.com, Rice explained that while the man was prohibited from serving in children or student ministries at Calvary, he showed “genuine fruits of a repentant life” throughout the years, resulting in his ordination as a deacon.
Rice, however, noted that the church recently reevaluated its decision to make him a deacon and decided to remove him from his leadership position. Rice added that allowing the man to serve was “inconsistent with our desire to stand against all forms of sexual abuse.”
The pastor then apologized that the church did not recognize the matter sooner.
“If we were making the same decision today, after all we have learned, we would have obviously chosen differently,” he explained. “We’ve learned a great deal about what should be categorized as abusive behavior, and we grieve that we did not recognize some of these things sooner and apologize for our lack of compassion or concern for the victim.”
Rice’s initial video was met with mixed feelings, leading the pastor to readdress the issue during a Sunday service.
“Some people outside our church identified one of our brothers who’s serving in a role in our church” in an attempt to “score some points,” Rice asserted.
According to the Baptist Press, the former deacon had engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with an 18-year-old girl in 2005. At the time, he worked as a high school teacher and coach in Tampa Bay.
Rice said that the misconduct took place “almost 20 years ago” and that while no children were involved, it “was awful.”
“You ever thought about your worst moment being put in the newspaper?” he asked the congregation. “I’m glad they didn’t put all my bad moments in the newspaper, because they’d have to sell a lot of papers!”
The former deacon had “repented of that sin” and turned his life around thanks to “the grace of God,” Rice added.
“I want you to know this about my brother: … If he’s not saved, I’m not saved. If he’s not forgiven, I’m not forgiven,” he contended. “If the blood of Jesus Christ is not enough to save him, then it’s not enough to save me. And I’ll tell you what else, it’s not enough to save you either! But I want you to know that it is enough.”
Following this incident, several SBC pastors are urging Rice to withdraw from the SBC presidential race.
“In this moment in SBC life, it is imperative that we elect a president who has a proper understanding of abuse and is able to show himself trustworthy to SBC abuse survivors,” Indiana Pastor Todd Benkert tweeted on Friday.
In this moment in SBC life, it is imperative that we elect a president who has a proper understanding of abuse and is able to show himself trustworthy to SBC abuse survivors. In light of today's announcement by @WillyRice to @CalvaryChurchCl, I would ask several questions.— Todd Benkert (@toddbenkert) April 2, 2022
Benkert, who previously supported Rice’s SBC presidential nomination, asked a number of questions, including whether “grooming” took place.
“If you did not consider his sexual sin abuse, why the restriction on ministering to youth and children?” Benkert asked.
He also argued that the video “raises some concerns about whether or not Rice has the right understanding of abuse dynamics to be the one who leads our convention in this moment.”
Benkert also responded to Rice’s comments about his critics in a follow-up post.
“No one is after you. We were planning to vote for you 3 days ago. No one is questioning [the deacon’s] conversion or God’s forgiveness of his sin,” he tweeted. “No one is canceling anybody. The issue is whether you understand the dynamics of abuse and its disqualification for leadership in the church.”
No one is after you. We were planning to vote for you 3 days ago. No one is questioning his conversion or God’s forgiveness of his sin. No one is canceling anybody. The issue is whether you understand the dynamics of abuse and its disqualification for leadership in the church. https://t.co/oXR718WVdD— Todd Benkert (@toddbenkert) April 4, 2022
Another SBC Pastor, Grant Gaines from Tennessee, also asked if Rice to drop out of the race, asserting that it is essential “the next SBC president have a lot of trust from survivors and the convention as a whole regarding sexual abuse if we’re going to make the progress and reforms we need to make going forward.”
“I really appreciate Willy sharing this video and am glad he has led his church to take the action they have now taken,” he wrote. “I do believe, though, that in an effort to go forward with trust, it would be best for another candidate to step in.”
am glad he has led his church to take the action they have now taken. I do believe, though, that in an effort to go forward with trust, it would be best for another candidate to step in. 2/2— Grant Gaines (@DGrantGaines) April 2, 2022
Voting for the SBC president will take place at the 2022 Annual meeting in Anaheim, California, this June.
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Photo courtesy: ©Sparrow Stock
Video courtesy: ©Calvary Church
Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer and content creator. He is a contributing writer for Christian Headlines and the host of the For Your Soul Podcast, a podcast devoted to sound doctrine and biblical truth. He holds a Masters of Divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary.