Legal Conclusions from Licking Baptist Church, Part 1

Licking Baptist Church is a small congregation in Hebron, Ohio, founded in 1807. It has no website that I can find.  And some terrible things happened there.

As one blogger explains,

In 2005, Pastor Lonnie “Joe” Aleshire Jr. admitted to raping one teenage girl at a Hebron, OH church, and molesting her sister.   In all, the 41 year-old pastor pleaded guilty to rape and nine other sex charges.

The girls were 16 and 13 at the time. The pastor was a volunteer, working full-time for the Department of Youth Services. His father was the full-time pastor.

Before the guilty plea, when the two sisters first made their accusations, the pastor had them disfellowshipped and shunned by the congregation. The church rejected the girls who’d grown up there, even holding a candlelight vigil for the “embattled” pastor at his jail cell!

The pastor, even after entering a guilty plea, clogged the courts with a series of appeals — so many that he was ordered to stop and found guilty of perjury. The Columbus Dispatch reports,

The elder sister told police that Aleshire forced her to the ground and raped her at the church; the younger said he had repeatedly molested her.

Aleshire, 41, a married father of four, served nearly seven years in prison and was released in January. He tried to recant his guilty plea, filing so many appeals that Licking County Prosecutor Ken Oswalt charged him with perjury. He pleaded guilty to that, too, and a judge this week sentenced him to five years’ probation and ordered him to stop appealing the case.

Merely filing appeals does not make one guilty of perjury. That requires lying under oath. The pastor repeatedly claimed his innocence in court pleadings, until he eventually admitted to that lie, resulting in five years probation being added to his seven years in prison.

The Newark Advocate reports,

The abuse, which occurred between 2003 and 2004, was reported in early 2005. Later that year, Aleshire pleaded guilty to six counts of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, three counts of sexual imposition and one count of rape.

The victims, now young women, testified in the civil trial about the intimate details of their sexual abuse for the first time — details they had not shared with each other or their parents. Farlow followed the questions a Licking County Sheriff’s Office detective asked them more than seven years ago.

The women sued the pastor, the church, the Baptist association the church was a member of, and the other pastors of the church. The case against everyone but the pastor who actually committed the rapes was thrown out.

This decision was appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Licking County, Ohio Fifth Appellate District and the dismissal of the claims was upheld.

The suit went forward against the pastor who’d pled guilty to rape, and he was easily convicted. The plea of guilty made any defense impossible. The only question was damages.

The Licking County Common Pleas Court jury, though, took little time to side with the sisters. After two hours of deliberation, jurors decided that Aleshire should pay $2 million in damages to one sister, $1.25 million to the other, and about $550,000 to each of their parents. A judge also will determine attorney fees to be awarded to the family.

Farlow said the victory is about more than money. The sisters, she said, finally feel like someone believed them.

It is, of course, extremely unlikely that the sisters will ever collect any of this money. After all, no one insures individuals against damages due to their own willful crimes. The only way for the girls to have reached an insurance policy would have been to bring the case against the church, the convention, or someone else who was merely negligent. And those cases were thrown out.

There are some important lessons to learn here. Most obviously, notice how easily the pastor was able to persuade the congregation to turn on the girls who accused him.

These girls had grown up in that church — a very small church.  And yet the congregation preferred to shun them — as a matter of congregational discipline — rather than accept that they’d ordained a rapist.

You see, we tend to very nearly deify our preachers. We hear them speak from God’s word each Sunday, and so we invest ourselves deeply into their integrity and righteousness. Indeed, the preacher often really does us great good through his preaching, even if he’s guilty of some truly terrible things. And we just can’t accept that this man whom we are so invested in could be so bad. And we’ll distort reality to absurd lengths to avoid admitting our error.

When the pastor was first arrested, the church gathered around his jail cell, with candles in hand, to hear him preach. That’s right. They disfellowshipped the victims who’d grown up there and held church services in the jail — all so they could believe that their volunteer, part-time pastor was a good man.

Imagine being an elder or deacon at such a church who must deal with a bad preacher who is nearly deified by the congregation! How do you discipline or fire such a man?

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13 Responses to Legal Conclusions from Licking Baptist Church, Part 1

  1. laymond says:

    I hate to say it, but many cowardly men hide behind a pulpit. and yes I have known some.

  2. Jerry says:

    Back in the early 1970′s I followed a preacher whom the elders had just fired for adultery. He had fathered a child by a woman in the congregation. The elders found out about his philandering when the wife of one of the elders was told by a member of her garden club that she ought to know that her preacher had a reputation as the “play-boy pastor” in town. On investigation, they found it was true. Further investigation showed that he had propositioned the wives of at least most of the deacons. They passed it off as foolishness until they heard more of the story.

    In spite of this background, some of the congregation, including one of the elders, still wanted to keep him after he “came forward” and confessed “I have made some mistakes in judgment.” That was a couple of Sunday’s after he was fired. A year or more later, it was still necessary for me to rebuke some of the people for being like the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 5:1ff. They still had so much vested in this man that they could not emotionally accept that he was a serial adulterer.

  3. Chris says:

    Makes one wonder if a church would be better off without a pastor. This would avoid putting one man on a pedestal and creating an idol.

  4. Alabama John says:

    Did the girls have a father?
    What was he doing through all of this? Seems he should of been castrating a preacher that would sing a little higher from then on.

  5. laymond says:

    You should have been a TEXAN John. :)

  6. We created the high office of “preacher”. God did not. God gave the work, but we built the pedestal. Every time I hear a preacher called a “man of God”, I want to vomit. Not because that preacher is not a godly man doing what he is called to do. No, it has little to do with him. I object because that appellation makes him something which the godly man next to him is not, merely because that second godly man is only a doctor, or a plumber, or– gulp! — a social worker, or a lawyer.

    We literally elevated the pulpits (some of the old classic buildings have pulpits high above the congregation) and elevated the men in them. Especially for a younger man, this kind of unearned honor is hard to take. We start to believe what they say about us. As the Pharisees did, we begin to love to be honored by men. This is more the fault of the church than of the fellow in the pulpit.

  7. Larry Cheek says:

    Many small churches have contributed very much to the the preaching profession as they allowed you might say any Christian man to deliver a sermon, as they critiqued the lesson for content. The presenter studied to prepare and learned much more than those of the congregation, but as others in the congregation performed the same service for the congregation knowledge increased overall. I believe that could be seen in the letter to Corinth that they practiced multiple members delivering messages to the congregation. Do any of you see that as a good method of increasing the dedication of members of the church today? This also served to keep from promoting a hired preacher into the status of “A man of God” elevated above his fellow brethren.

  8. Doug says:

    Church leaders should never think that a situation similar to this could not happen to them. I was unfortunate enough to have something vaguely similar happen to me. As a member of a the board of a Christian institution, the board had to let the main employee of the insitution go because of financial and moral issues. Within a month, the insitution and the whole board was served with legal papers in a class action law suit. The person fired had a group of supporters who believed that this man could do no wrong. Even after shown the evidence against him, they still believed that he was innocent of any wrong doing and they wanted him reinstated. Well, that didn’t happen but for over a year I was in for many meetings and grief. It was amazing to me that otherwise good people could see me as a bad person for trying to do the right thing for this instituion which they loved just like me.

  9. Wendy says:

    I experienced something similar. There was evidence on my (church secretary’s) computer that porn was being downloaded. The person who was almost certainly responsible was given the task of investigating, and reported back some days later that he had “dealt with the situation”.

  10. aBasnar says:

    Do any of you see that as a good method of increasing the dedication of members of the church today?

    We have about 8 brothers who take turns in preaching regularly – imagine I#d be the only preacher! I NEED to be balanced out, and so do the others.

    Alexander

  11. rey says:

    “Before the guilty plea, when the two sisters first made their accusations, the pastor had them disfellowshipped and shunned by the congregation. The church rejected the girls who’d grown up there, even holding a candlelight vigil for the ‘embattled’ pastor at his jail cell!

    Well, if that’s the case, the church should be sued into bankruptcy and then some. The idea that a pastor is beyond reproach to the point that you not only ignore reality but excommunicate those trying to solve the problem is so antibiblical that its inexcusable.

  12. Jim says:

    Hey Rey,

    You are exactly right.

    When the leadership is corrupt and the congregation is so infatuated with the leadership that they would turn out the victims of a crime no less, the congregation shares in the perps and the leaderships guilt.

    What did the Samaritan do? Did he ask the poor victim how it happened? Did he state that the victim should have known better than to travel that road with valuables? Did he assume the victim started the mess that led to him being left for dead?

    You know, a dog will take care of its puppies better than what these girls received from their brethren.

    The Samaritan took care of a complete stranger. He asked no questions of the victim. He had compassion for a man of God’s creation in dire need. He not only looked on the wounds, he looked into the wounds. He annointed and cleansed the wounds and wrapped them. He bore up the burden of this man onto his own beast and took the victim to a place of safety and provided for his care. The Samaritan even added that when he came again he would take care of any additional costs.

    Too many leaders are concerned with congregational reputations and by extension their own.

    Christians must distinguish between petty and small matters that should be handled in the local congregational setting and criminal/civil matters that require the use of the prevailing government’s court system to adequately resolve.

    Jim

  13. Anna says:

    Yes the girls have a father. It has nearly destroyed him. He has chosen to allow the law to get this evil man but now realizes they will never give the rapest the punishment he deserves.

    The family tried to sue the church. It was thrown out because the judge says the church didn’t hire Aleshire with the purpose to rape the girls. The church and the leadership get off Scott free. The judge didn’t care they held candlelight vigils, allowed him to preach from jail or shunned the victims. Surrounding law enforcement cannot believe the ruling.

    Just another injustice for these poor girls. They were awarded a huge judement. One that could help them get their life back on track. But because the church, leadership, and organization were excused from the suit it leaves only the rapest to pay up.

    Sometimes it is hard to see the justice.

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