Bob Gray, the Jacksonville pastor seen in this photograph from LIFE magazine preaching against Elvis Presley, was connected with a number of top fundamentalist preachers like Jerry Falwell, Lester Roloff, and was a big supporter of Ronald Reagan. He was arrested in 2006 for multiple accounts of child molestation. Gray’s trial was delayed for over a year but he died from a fall just before his trial was to begin.
When I went to Jacksonville, Florida to host a public awareness event on clergy abuse in 2008 (see video after this article), I met a number of people who said they were writing a book about the Gray scandal. Well, eight years later, we have a book! Devil in the Baptist Church: Bob Gray’s Unholy Trinity, by Tim Gilmore, explores the world that made Bob Gray possible and how little they’ve done to make amends.
You will notice that on the first page Tim Gilmore thanks those who survived the Bob Gray experience in addition to Jeri Massi and Dwayne Walker. That would be me.
The appendix shows that he drew some material from an essay I wrote called ‘A Place to Submit (the saga of Bob Gray)’ which was in my book, Our Pastor Molested Me, Now What? People have asked and even encouraged me to write a book about Bob Gray but ultimately I decided against it.
There were other people working on books! I could only go by what I knew, the depositions, and interviews and conversations with others who were affected by the scandal. It’s not an easy thing to get abuse victims to talk about their abuse much less make their names public. I could use pseudonyms but that could be a slippery slope as it would still be easy for those ‘in the know’ to identify the victims.
There is the issue of actually naming victims. Most newspapers won’t even print the names of minors or victims of rape cases. Now, if they come out on their own that’s a different story. I’m not going to tell someone who is comfortable in their anonymity that they have an obligation to go public. They certainly don’t and I would defend their right to privacy.
I had enough material for an article but not enough for a full blown book. ‘A Place to Submit’ was the article that was added to a compilation of other interviews I did on a variety of subjects, some of them dealing with abuse and recovering from abuse. The compilation was called Our Pastor Molested Me, Now What? (interviews and essays about clergy abuse). Outside of one Gray victim who sued under her own name, victims were given the bland names of V1, V2, V3, etc, in my essay.
Devil in the Baptist Church names names on both sides! That’s braver than what I did.
It’s difficult for a book like Devil in the Baptist Church to please everyone, let alone those who grew up at Trinity Baptist Church during the late seventies/early eighties when most of these events took place.
There are some issues I have with portions of Devil in the Baptist Church. I do not believe Trinity sent Bob Gray out of the country to avoid arrest. I believe Gray came up with that idea all by himself! No one had to send him anywhere, he knew what he had to do.
Gray did spend time in Germany during World War 2. He did claim to be a correspondant for the military newspaper, Stars and Stripes, and covered the Nuremberg trials. I paid a few visits to the offices of the Simon Wiesnthal Center, located across the street from the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. I put in a request, and didn’t find one Bob Gray byline in their collection of Stars and Stripes.
That doesn’t mean he didn’t write for Stars and Stripes. He could have been one of many soldier/writers who were probably not credited. And those who went to Trinity might find a few other points they might challenge regarding Gilmore’s descriptions of Bob Gray’s preaching style. I remember him shouting, but stationary, behind a pulpit, as opposed to prowling the podium like Jimmy Swaggart, as the book asserts.
Who actually called the police on Bob Gray?
One of my sources took pictures of Bob Gray’s arrest. She saw Bob Gray taking luggage to his car like he was about to go on a long trip. She immediately called the police with the warning, paraphrased, “If you want to arrest Gray, now is the time!” If Gray was evading arrest, who tipped him off? One credible source told me the tip came from the media. A different credible source mentioned the tip came from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. Maybe he was tipped off by both the media and the Sheriff’s Office?
One of these sources is mentioned in the book, but nothing about the theory Gray was trying, for a second time, to flee the country instead of confessing to the congregation his crimes against children.
Gilmore does a very good job of presenting the background that ultimately created the paranoid conspiracy laced subculture responsible for so many refusing to go to the authorities with the story of how Bob Gray molested them as children. From the comic tracts of Jack T. Chick who promoted John Todd, otherwise known as Lance Collins, who claimed to have been a member of the alleged Illuminati, to the teen prisons started by Lester Roloff where some teenagers, who couldn’t keep their mouth shut about abuse, would be sent.
John Todd, in addition to other fundamentalists like Jack Hyles, predicted that preachers would be arrested on charges of child molestation. A very convenient conspiracy theory!
Ultimately, I was impressed by how Gilmore created and portrayed the world of southern fundamentalism. Impressed enough to give the book a qualified endorsement. Qualified because of the naming of victims. If a survivor of Bob Gray abuse reads the book, sees their name, does not feel revictimized, then I am all in favor of the book and encourage people to ready Devil in the Baptist Church.
Those who are still in administrative positions at Trinity Christian Academy and Trinity Baptist Church may shortly be calling their lawyers. I would ask them to put the phone down.
I have a compromise.
Those who have read my novel, The Last Fundamentalist, about a church scandal loosely inspired by the Bob Gray case knows that I have been critical of GRACE, Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment. GRACE was founded by Boz Tchividjian, a professor of Liberty University. I do believe the late Jerry Falwell, the founder of Liberty University, might have known about Bob Gray’s predilictions toward minors as well as the exact reason that Bob Gray left for Germany, yet chose to remain silent.
When I inquired about this, this is what I received on my facebook wall:
I have yet to hear GRACE condemn the abuses toward girls at the homes founded by Lester Roloff as well as silence regarding abuses that have been taking place at fundamentalist troubled teen camps, like Camp Tracey (which is actually discussed in Devil in the Baptist Church).
In spite of all my skepticism and reservations regarding GRACE, I will admit a presentation they have been giving at various private and public schools regarding child abuse is actually very good, informative, and might go a long way toward helping Trinity deal with what went well beyond a ‘family squabble’.
Trinity can only repent in public, not private. If public repentance is good enough for their backslidden members, Trinity needs to apologize to the city of Jacksonville for exposing children to a pedophile through their city wide bus ministry. I would challenge Trinity Baptist Church and Trinity Christian Academy to invite GRACE to give a presentation at Trinity Christian Academy about child abuse and how to prevent it. Trinity should put all the rage they might feel about this book or about me even endorsing this book and put it into promoting such an event. And not just anyone can present this.
Only Boz can go to Trinity!
Now that is something even I would endorse!
(Click the book cover to order your copy of Devil in the Baptist Church)