By Will Hall, Baptist Message executive editor
RALEIGH, N.C. (LBM) – The Houston Chronicle reports that The Summit Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, has launched a review of the hiring of a pastor accused of a sex abuse cover-up at his last congregation.
Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear is pastor of Summit and was key in the hiring of Brian Loritts to serve as executive pastor of teaching and development.
Loritts previously served as pastor of Fellowship Memphis (2003-2015), a multi-ethnic church in Memphis, Tennessee. His brother-in-law, Rick Trotter began to serve as worship pastor there in 2005 and remained on staff until 2010.
According to the Commercial Appeal, a daily newspaper of Memphis, Trotter was caught having placed “a hidden camera in a bathroom where he recorded women—and, reportedly, minors, too.”
The news outlet also stated that Fellowship Memphis “didn’t report him [Trotter] to authorities, and he avoided prosecution.” A victim at Fellowship Memphis told the Commercial Appeal,” I asked about pressing charges, but they discouraged us from doing that. They really didn’t give us any of the information.”
Trotter left Fellowship Memphis and in 2011 joined the staff of Downtown Church, another Memphis congregation, where he was caught in 2016 taking pictures up the skirt of a praying woman and subsequently arrested.
At the time he announced the hiring of Loritts (May 24, 2020), Greear called the new staff member “one of the most gifted pastors and preachers in the United States,” according to the Biblical Recorder, the news service of North Carolina Baptists. “He has been a leader in the movement of churches seeking to reflect the Gospel through multiethnic reconciliation, a true reconciliation that demonstrates the power of the Gospel to bring people together as one.”
Greear said that Loritts had “freely disclosed” about the incident, the Biblical Recorder reported.
Loritts began his new job with The Summit Church on June 1, and The Summit Church issued a June 8 statement as an “explanation of the transparent and thorough process” that preceded the hiring of Loritts.
The press release said Loritts was upfront about the scandal during the candidate process and they lauded his “commitment to biblical self-evaluation and humility” for being forthcoming. They concluded from looking into the matter that Loritts “had not attempted in any way to cover up the incidents of abuse that occurred at Fellowship Memphis in 2010, protect the abuser, or discourage victims from seeking justice for their abuses.”
One of those not satisfied with the explanation was Rachel Denhollander, a former Michigan State University gymnast and sex abuse victim, who exposed Larry Nassar, a former MSU doctor convicted of sexually abusing MSU and USA Gymnastics athletes, including Denhollander.
Denhollander was a key player in Greear’s initiative to address sexual abuse in the SBC — as a response to an exposé by the Houston Chronicle, which reported in 2019 about 220 sexual abusers and 700 victims who were part of one or more of the 47,000 or so SBC congregations during a two-decade period.
After serving as a neutral observer on a conference call between a Fellowship Memphis victim and Summit leaders, she tweeted that “there are serious questions that remain that need to be answered.”
Denhollander tweeted more extensively, June 12, saying, “I am deeply discouraged by this hire [of Bryan Loritts] as things stand right now. From Summit’s statement it would appear that the process for bringing Bryan on board is more extensive than many churches would have done. However in cases where serious allegations and questions have been present and there is concern about obtaining all relevant information, a closed process simply cannot provide what is needed to ensure the truth is reached.”
She also urged pastors in similar situations to “hire an independent, trusted and qualified third party to handle the vetting and investigation for you.”
A statement on summitchurch.org now says that “On January 20, 2021, The Summit Church engaged Guidepost Solutions LLC to review Bryan Loritt’s response to sexual abuse allegations at Fellowship Memphis in 2010,” noting it felt “it would be helpful to get an independent firm to review this matter.”