"It ain't about how hard you hit. It is about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward," says Bellevue Baptist Church pastor Steve Gaines, quoting Rocky Balboa in his Sunday-night sermon.
Gaines tells the packed house that trials and tribulations teach maturity and endurance. Minutes later, the church's investigative and personnel committees release a report detailing one tribulation that has plagued the church since last December, a decades-old sexual-abuse case involving former staffer Paul Williams and his son.
According to the report, Williams engaged in "perverse, sexual activity with his adolescent son over a period of 12 to 18 months" more than 17 years ago. The report states that Williams, himself a victim of sexual abuse, did not abuse anyone else.
The "moral failure," as it has been labeled by the church, was first reported to the congregation December 17th, and Gaines initiated an investigation three days later. On January 22nd, Williams was fired from his position, which involved interviewing lay ministry volunteers and planning church events.
A staff member for 33 years, Williams told Gaines about the abuse last June. He also confessed to two other members before telling Gaines. But the abuse was not reported to church members until Williams' now-adult son confronted Gaines in early December about Williams being allowed to remain on staff.
"We could have learned about this six months ago and headed things off at the pass," says church member James Manning. "But the church seems to continually demonstrate a lack of willingness for accountability and transparency."
Sunday night, Gaines admitted responsibility for not dealing with the issue sooner. He labeled the situation "uncharted waters," claiming no church policies were in place to deal with sexual abuse by a staff member.
According to the report, the Department of Children's Services (DCS) will be training the church's human-resources department in how to handle such situations, and human resources will pass that knowledge onto all other staff.
Manning and other church members believe the investigation, which was conducted by church leaders and an attorney, should have been handled differently.
"This was a closed-door investigation, where membership really didn't know what was going on," says Manning. "I think the key in dealing with these situations should be transparency."
David Brown, of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and a former Bellevue member, believes the church should have included an abuse victim on the investigation team. After learning of the abuse on a Bellevue-oriented blog, Brown reported it to the DCS. The agency is now conducting a separate investigation.
In response to the church's handling of the situation, Manning and SavingBellevue.com founder Jim Haywood have launched an independent group -- Integrity Does Count, Inc. -- to "instill accountability" into Bellevue's church leadership.
"I don't have my finger on the pulse of 30,000 people," says Manning, referencing Bellevue's large membership. "But the people who follow current events in the church are pretty irritated."