Chattanooga-area faith leaders on Southern Baptist list of those accused of sexual abuse

Two Chattanooga-area pastors are listed on the Southern Baptist Convention's internal roster of church leaders credibly accused of sexual misconduct.

Until Thursday, the SBC list was a confidential document of more than 600 names kept by denomination leaders. The SBC released the list after a third-party investigation showed a systemic cover-up of abuse allegations, which included downplaying allegations or harassing victims who came forward.

The list includes Donald McCary, 78, and Gregory Stanley Dempsey, 58, as credibly accused sexual abusers.

MCCARY CASE

McCary worked as the minister of music and youth at Central Baptist Church in Hixson. The church has since been rebranded as Abba's House.

McCary was initially sentenced to 72 years in prison for abusing four boys between the ages of 12 and 15 in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1996, the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the convictions and granted four separate trials for the charges.

He represented himself in two trials in 1997, during both of which he was found guilty. McCary then pleaded guilty in the two other cases. He was sentenced to 38 years in prison for the cases, according to reporting by the Times Free Press at the time.

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According to the Tennessee Department of Correction, McCary was released from prison in December 2016, having received some sentence credits to get out early.

McCary lives in Ooltewah, according to the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry. A phone number listed on public records for McCary is no longer in service.

In 1992, five of McCary's victims sued the former minister and Central Baptist Church for $10 million. The cases were settled out of court three years later.

Abba's House, in a statement posted to the church's Facebook page, said church leaders are praying for victims and are committed to helping churches improve safety.

"The sexual misconduct of Don McCary was discovered and made public 30 years ago," the statement read. "The leadership of Central Baptist Church back then went above and beyond, working with the district attorney at the time, as well as local authorities, to ensure justice was served and that the victims received the help they needed. It was a difficult time in our church's 70-year history, but we are grateful that the church never covered up anything and extensive safety measures such as surveillance cameras and safety policies were put in place that continue to this day. Our church is committed to loving, serving and protecting children from all walks of life."

DEMPSEY CASE

In 2006, Dempsey pleaded guilty to four counts of statutory rape and two counts of sexual battery by an authority figure for abusing a teenage boy between 2003 and 2005. He served as the minister of music at Oak Street Baptist Church in Soddy-Daisy, though at the time he was charged, Dempsey was senior pastor at Middle Valley Methodist Church in Hixson.

Court records from the case, reported by the Chattanooga Times Free Press at the time, said Dempsey confessed multiple times to having sex with a boy, once during a video-recorded interview and another during a recorded phone conversation in which investigators pretended to be the boy's therapist.

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Dempsey was given 11 months and 29 days in jail, though as part of the sentencing for every day in jail he would get credit for two days served. He was ordered to be on probation for 12 years and register as a convicted sex offender.

Dempsey lives in North Chattanooga, according to the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry. He did not respond to a Times Free Press request for comment Friday morning.

THE LIST

There may be other pastors who served or are serving locally who have been accused of sexual misconduct whose names do not appear on the list. The 205-page document released Thursday includes only church leaders who confessed to illicit conduct or who were criminally charged. Also, some names and locations of pastors have been redacted.

Most cases on the list will already be known to local communities but the release represents the first time the denomination has taken a comprehensive look at the number of abusers in its organization. Previously, compiling such lists was left to advocacy groups and journalists.

The release of the database undermines yearslong claims by the denomination that it could not create a list of accused abusers given the denomination's fundamental belief in church autonomy, which allows individual SBC churches to act independently.

Last year, during the SBC's annual convention, the denomination moved to bring in Guidepost Solutions to conduct a third-party investigation of the organization, specifically the denomination's executive committee.

The investigation provided a damning report on the SBC's leadership and efforts internally to downplay the abuse crisis, cover up allegations and sideline victims. The report also revealed the SBC had a list of credibly accused faith leaders.

In a joint statement released Thursday, Executive Committee Chair Rolland Slade and Executive Committee Interim President Willie McLaurin said releasing the list was "an initial, but important, step towards addressing the scourge of sexual abuse and implementing reform" in the denomination.

"Each entry in this list reminds us of the devastation and destruction brought about by sexual abuse," the statement read. "Our prayer is that the survivors of these heinous acts find hope and healing and that churches will utilize this list proactively to protect and care for the most vulnerable among us."

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, an advocacy group founded to address abuse in the Catholic Church, said in a May 25 news release the SBC must do more to support survivors who have not come forward, either from fear or intimidation.

"In addition to the publication of the secret list, SBC's leadership should also publish a chronology of each accused's education and work history," the organization said in a statement. "Furthermore, it must detail when the accused was first exposed to SBC leadership. The enabling of the abuse is nearly as bad as the abuse, and when a victim comes forward and is lied to, blamed, minimized, or threatened, the survivor is retraumatized."

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