A Sad Story

This week, USA Today reported about a small church in Pennsylvania that has imploded because its leaders decided to hire a pastor they knew was a convicted sex offender … and they kept this bit of information from the congregation. It’s difficult to express how foolish, destructive and unwise this decision was.

Here’s a bit from the article:

On a Sunday morning in late 2017, Oakwood Baptist Church pastor Donald Foose stood before a congregation that had been blindsided by the sudden departure of their previous head pastor.

Foose offered no answers to their lingering questions. Instead, his voice booming through the sparse sanctuary, he preached about the destructive power of gossip.

“The tongue is a fire,” Foose declared, reading from the Letter of James. He held up a piece of paper with his own name and the name of the church on it. With his other hand, he struck a match – and lit the paper ablaze.

“Look what that little fire did,” he said once the sheet had burned. “It destroyed me. It destroyed the church. It destroyed the unity of the church. And I’m amazed that I didn’t catch the place on fire.”

Within six months that sermon would seem like an attempt to smother questions leading straight to Foose’s disturbing past. The details emerged regardless.

In 2000, Foose was convicted and jailed for molesting an underage relative. He resigned from his role as principal of a Christian school, and Pennsylvania’s Department of Education stripped him of his teaching license, deeming him “a danger to the health, safety and welfare of students.” Under state law, Foose can’t even drive a school bus, and were he convicted after 2012 he would have been required by law to register as a sex offender.

But Foose still became a pastor at Oakwood, then superintendent of the Oakwood Baptist Day School. Church leaders who were aware of his past concealed it from the congregation.

The truth – exposed in 2018 after a husband and wife at the church discovered Foose’s record – fractured the tightknit, devout community of roughly 100 members. Pastors resigned, attendance fell, friendships dissolved and faith was tested. In interviews with more than a dozen current and former congregants, a portrait emerged of church leaders compounding Foose’s betrayal by twisting scripture and exploiting the concept of forgiveness to stifle questions about how the situation had been handled.

Foose resigned from Oakwood in May 2018. Soon after, the beloved pastor who had left Oakwood months before, Bob Conrad, acknowledged in a five-page letter to his former church that he and other leaders had known Foose could not pass a background check. Foose claimed to have been falsely accused, Conrad wrote, and church leaders took him at his word, failing to prevent him from having access to children even as school employees complained about his overly familiar behavior with the students.

“I pray,” Conrad wrote, “that you will find it in your hearts to forgive me for my lack in leadership and judgment.”

Read the rest of the article.