At least 15 people with Arkansas ties included on list of Baptist leaders linked to sexual abuse

15 current or former state residents noted, many who have criminal records

A cross and Bible sculpture stand outside the Southern Baptist Convention headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. (AP/Holly Meyer)
A cross and Bible sculpture stand outside the Southern Baptist Convention headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. (AP/Holly Meyer)

The newly-released list of Baptists accused of sex abuse includes former pastors, educators and other church workers from across the state of Arkansas.

While the 205-page document was released by the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, it relied primarily on news reports.

At least 15 current or former Arkansans are identified by name after committing sexual abuse or failing to report it as required by law. At least three other cases involving Arkansas or Arkansans have had the names redacted.

Examples of abusers on the list include:

• Former South Texarkana Baptist Church pastor Travis Payne, who was convicted in 2012 of molesting a 3-year-old girl before a revival service. The wife of a neighboring pastor said she had witnessed Payne touching the toddler's genitals and had heard him promise the toddler that he wouldn't hurt her. The child was standing on a piano bench with her shorts pulled down at the time, the witness added. Payne was sentenced to five years in prison.

• David Kent Pierce, a former music minister at First Baptist Church in Benton, who pleaded guilty in August 2009 to four counts of sexual indecency with a child. Under a plea agreement, 50 other counts were dropped. He was released from prison in March 2012, on the condition that he move out of Arkansas and remain at least 50 miles away from Saline County. He is currently registered as a sex offender in Missouri.

• Larry Michael Berkley, a former pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Harrison, who was convicted of multiple sex-related crimes in Tennessee as well as Arkansas. According to the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry, Berkley is a violent sex offender who pleaded guilty in 2014 to three counts of aggravated statutory rape, four counts of sexual battery by an authority figure, five counts of statutory rape by an authority figure and two counts of rape. In Feb. 2015, he was also convicted of aggravated rape, rape, sexual battery by an authority figure and statutory rape by an authority figure. In Arkansas, Berkley had been accused of sexual assault, sexual solicitation, furnishing alcohol to a minor, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and loaning pornography to minors. He is currently incarcerated in Tennessee.

• Mark Aderholt, a former International Mission Board missionary and onetime staff member at Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock and Central Baptist Church in North Little Rock who had victimized a 16-year-old Texas girl in 1996.

Investigated by the mission board in 2007 after a credible allegation of sex abuse against him surfaced, Aderholt left that post and took the jobs in Arkansas, later working in South Carolina as well. The board failed to report its findings to law enforcement officials.

Charges were ultimately brought in 2018, and in 2019 Aderholt pleaded guilty in Tarrant County, Texas, to assault causing bodily injury, according to an article in Baptist Press. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and 24 months' probation, and fined $4,000.

• David Wayne Farren, who had served as a youth director or pastor at four Texarkana-area Baptist churches.

In 2017, Farren was sentenced to 15 years in prison for sexually abusing two underage members of Baptist youth groups. He pleaded guilty to seven counts of first-degree sexual assault, one count of second-degree sexual assault and a misdemeanor charge of violating mandatory reporting requirements. Farren also pleaded no contest to one count of second-degree sexual assault.

• John Lankston Anderson Jr., a former Baptist minister who pleaded guilty, in 2002, to three counts of first-degree sexual abuse in Walker County, Ala., and additional sex abuse charges in Miller County, Ark.

Anderson completed a 10-year sentence in Arkansas, according to a federal lawsuit filed in Sept. 2014.

The Tennessee Sex Offender Registry lists Anderson as a violent sex offender whose victims were 12 or younger.

• Timothy Ray Ballard, a former principal and coach at Sylvan Hills First Baptist Church's Abundant Life School. Accused of molesting two students, beginning when they were 16 and 17 years old, Ballard pleaded no contest in 2011 to one count of first-degree sexual assault and four counts of second-degree sexual assault.

He was sentenced to two months in jail, fined $1,000, required to register as a sex offender, ordered to stay away from his victims and placed on five years' probation.

• Timothy Lee Reddin, a former pastor at Turner Street Baptist Church in Springdale, who sought in August 2018 to have sex with a 14-year-old boy. But the person he had met online was actually an undercover federal agent; Reddin was arrested when he attempted to meet for sex.

The Fayetteville man was sentenced in February 2019 to 10 years in federal prison followed by 25 years of supervised release after pleading guilty to attempted online enticement of a minor.

Reddin, who had previously pastored in Hot Springs Village, had already pleaded guilty in September 2000 to possessing child pornography.

Arkansas Baptist officials had long been aware of his attraction to children.

Reddin had resigned in 1998 as director of missions for the Central Baptist Association in Benton after being confronted about child pornography on a computer, according to court records.

The Arkansas Baptist State Convention has 1,488 churches and total membership of 412,404, a church spokesman said Monday.

The organization's executive director, J.D. "Sonny" Tucker, and its president, Pastor Larry White of Woodland Heights Baptist Church in Conway, did not respond to multiple requests for interviews this week.

In October, messengers to the state convention's annual meeting unanimously called on their incoming president to create a task force to determine best practices "to ensure the policies and procedures" of the convention "are above reproach in handling sexual abuse allegations."

Its findings are expected to be released this fall.

The Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee in Nashville, Tenn., released the list of accused sex abusers late Thursday. Officials said it contained 585 names.

Labeled "highly confidential," the document was characterized on the first page as "a fluid, working document ... which is NOT to be published."

Last year, delegates -- called messengers -- directed denominational leaders to create a task force to address how allegations of sex abuse have been handled. They also called for an independent, third-party investigation to examine past practices, and voiced support for waving attorney-client privileges so that all facts could be examined.

Executive committee members announced Tuesday they would release the list, two days after Guidepost Solutions released its report. It portrayed prior church leaders as worrying more about avoiding litigation than protecting the denomination's children.

The list, readers were warned, is "incomplete. It has not been proofed. It has not been adequately researched. It is not Southern Baptist specific."

In other words, it is possible some of the Baptists on the list might not be affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the country, with membership of nearly 13.7 million in 2021 and average Sunday in-person attendance of about 3.6 million.

Its 47,614 churches reported receipts last year of more than $11.5 billion, with more than $1 billion going for missions work, according to the latest Annual Church Profile Statistical Survey.

One day after the Guidepost Solutions report was released, Tucker, White, state convention Executive Board President Jeff Paxton, and state convention Sexual Abuse Task Force Chairman Brad Lewter released a written statement calling the findings "heartbreaking."

"We grieve for anyone who suffers abuse and we desire that all our churches are safe places, where every person is respected and valued. All of us, as Arkansas Baptists, need to continue moving forward with compassion and care for survivors of abuse, expanded abuse-prevention training, and implementation of safety practices, policies, and procedures," it stated.

"We, as Arkansas Baptists, ask God's blessings as we strive to protect the innocent and minister to survivors of abuse," it concluded.

Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention as well as the Arkansas State Baptist Convention had long declined to establish a data base listing Baptist ministers, missionaries and other church workers who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse, arguing that it was not consistent with Baptist polity and warning that it would create liability concerns.

In December 2019, a Hot Springs Village man filed suit against the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, its executive director and other Baptist entities or individuals.

The plaintiff, Riley Fields, accused former Baptist pastor Teddy Leon Hill Jr. of abusing him for years, beginning when he was 14. Hill's ex-wife has signed an affidavit alleging that she warned Tucker after learning that Hill had become the boy's guardian, expressing suspicions that he was sexually abusing his ward.

Hill has not been criminally charged and has denied breaking the law, telling authorities that he had sex with the plaintiff but only after the young man's 18th birthday, according to the state's maltreatment investigation, a copy of which was provided to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette by Fields' lawyers.

The state convention, which is fighting the lawsuit, declined to discuss the case this week.

"We cannot comment regarding ongoing litigation," spokesman Craig Jenkins stated in a text message.

"Regarding the published list, we saw it for the first time last night and have no information or knowledge beyond what has been released," he wrote.

Fields' attorney, Josh Gillispie, said the list of sexual abusers released Thursday includes only a fraction of the Southern Baptist ministers who have been credibly accused.

He noted that Hill's name was omitted, even though it is undisputed that Hill had sex with a teenager in his congregation.

On top of that, "a majority of the victims never come forward," he said.

"There's probably more predators within Southern Baptist churches who are not on that list than are," Gillispie said.

Protecting young Baptists from abuse has never been the top priority, he added.

"It's every child for his or herself in the Southern Baptist Church, because the buck stops nowhere when it comes to sexual abuse," he said.

Information for this article was contributed by John Lynch of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Ron Wood of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Lynn LaRowe of the Texarkana Gazette.

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