He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8
Our obedience to God’s Word certainly involves diligence in the work of bringing healing to those who have been abused by people who were supposed to be in position to guide and protect. Far too many have suffered such abuse at the hands of a spouse, parent, teacher, or minister. Indeed, one is too many. It is altogether good and right to see that abusers are held accountable for their actions and that the survivors of abuse find strength through the love and support of the church.
We wish we could say that Bethany’s history was clear of this matter. But sadly, that is not the case. In 2002, Bethany’s leadership was informed that Christian Watts, a married youth and music minister at Bethany, had engaged in sexual actions with a young woman not his wife. With the information that was then known, the language used was that of an inappropriate relationship. Christian Watts was immediately removed from his position, and the name of the young woman—who was 19 at the time of it being reported—was not made public for her sake. She had been attending Bethany’s youth ministry when the sexual actions took place. The church responded with grief and with prayer for her healing as well as prayer for full repentance on the part of Mr. Watts.
A few years later, a church in Owensboro, Kentucky, contacted Bethany as a reference in consideration of calling Mr. Watts to their staff. Bethany’s pastor at that time, Chuck Fuller, informed that church of what had taken place. When the Owensboro church declined to call Mr. Watts, he reacted by threatening to file a lawsuit against Bethany’s pastor.
Bethany’s pastor today, Ken Vickery, was contacted by the young woman in 2019. Her name is Valerie Swope. Over the previous years, she had been in regular contact with Todd Robertson, who had been Bethany’s pastor during her time of attendance. Todd had been a steadfast help for her as she continued to deal with what had happened. Bethany’s leadership met with Valerie and Todd in 2019 to hear more about the matter. After being given more details about what had occurred in the years prior to 2002, we came to believe that this had been not only an inappropriate relationship, but a case of abuse by a minister of the church. At the age of 28 and while holding his position at Bethany, Mr. Watts had sexual relations with Valerie when she was a 16-year-old attender of Bethany’s youth ministry. That fact alone warrants defining his actions as ministerial abuse and a disqualification from pastoral ministry—regardless of the fact that 16 was the legal age of consent at the time. Furthermore, Valerie’s account of interactions that took place before her 16th birthday only deepened our conviction that this was a case of abuse.
We grieved with Valerie, prayed with her, and expressed our support as she sought to make the matter known. Local legal authorities opened an investigation in 2019, but with the laws that were in place in the late 1990s and early 2000s, no criminal charges could be filed. At the time of that 2019 investigation, Christian Watts was serving as pastor of a church in Tennessee.
We were again in contact with Valerie in the Spring of 2022. She reported to the newly implemented Southern Baptist Convention hotline, and she contacted a reporter at The Tennessean newspaper. For the protection of others, with a desire for authentic confession and repentance, and for the sake of her own healing, she sought to tell her story. We continued to give her our full support and encouragement. Within a few days of the article being published, Christian Watts resigned from his position as pastor at the Tennessee church.
We grieve this sin that took place in our church’s history. We grieve the pain that this sin has brought upon Valerie and her family. We want her to know that we love her and will strive to be a support for her in every way we can. Above all, we commit to pray for her to flourish in the years to come and that the all-sufficiency of our Lord Jesus Christ will define her and not the pain of past abuse. We pray that she will know that God is with her and that He is the God of comfort, the God of hope, the God of forgiveness, and the God of justice.
We grieve the pain this sin has brought upon the Watts family, and we pray for their healing. We pray that Mr. Watts would recognize and acknowledge that this was a sin of abuse. We pray for the reconciliation and healing that come only through full confession and repentance.
We express our deep apologies to our community that this abuse took place in the history of our church. Twenty years passing and only recently learning all the details do not weaken our resolve to confess and deal with this sin. Any such abuse goes directly against who Jesus has made us to be, and we pledge that we will do everything possible to ensure that no such abuse takes place in this church again.
As for our present members, we can trust that God is with us at Bethany, and that this painful part of our history can, by His grace, result in the power of the gospel to be on display—the power that brings about confession, godly grief over sin, full repentance, restoration, and righteousness.
If you have suffered/are suffering abuse or know of someone who has, please know that you do not have to face it alone. We long for you to be safe. We long for you to find strength and healing from your pain. We long for you to know the peace Jesus alone can provide.
To access immediate help from trained professionals, please see the list of resources provided below. We would also encourage you to report any abuse to the police.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
For hearing and speech impaired with TTY equipment: 800-799-4889
National Child Abuse Hotline
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN)
To report sexual abuse in a Southern Baptist Convention church: https://guidepostsolutions.com/sbc-ec-investigation/
The hotline can be reached at 202-864-5578 or SBChotline@guidepostsolutions.com
The website for the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force has resources that could aid in processing past abuse and/or aid in allowing you to care for abuse survivors: