A former youth pastor at a Southern Baptist church in southwest Missouri pleaded guilty this week to six child sex abuse-related charges, court documents show.
Jeff Taylor, 48, was sentenced to nine years in state prison as part of a plea agreement. He pleaded guilty to four statutory sodomy charges and two statutory rape charges, the agreement shows. Two other statutory sodomy charges were dismissed.
Taylor was arrested in 2020 after a 19-year-old told a sheriff’s deputy that the youth pastor at her church had been sexually abusing her since she was 11 years old, according to a probable cause statement.
When police spoke with Taylor, he did not deny the 19-year-old’s allegations and claimed what he did “was based in love,” the probable cause statement indicates.
Taylor started attending First Baptist Church of Strafford, Missouri, in fall 2015, the church’s senior pastor, Orvin Feliciano, told The Roys Report. Taylor had served as a lay leader, then was hired as the church’s student minister in May 2018, Feliciano said. He was fired in 2020 over unrelated child sex abuse allegations.
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The church’s previous senior pastor told the Springfield News-Leader at the time that the church immediately fired Taylor when it learned about those allegations. The church also reportedly called police and the child abuse hotline.
First Baptist Church Strafford had taken steps to prevent abuse, the pastor told the newspaper, but no one had reported any other inappropriate behavior toward children or youth there.
Feliciano told TRR that the church’s policies and procedures are reviewed and updated annually, but had not fundamentally changed since Taylor’s firing.
According to the probable cause statement, the 19-year-old told authorities Taylor molested her regularly beginning when she was 11 or 12, and forced her into oral sex starting before she was 16.
He also tried repeatedly to have sex with the girl when she was 15, the probable cause statement indicates. She reportedly told authorities that Taylor was having sex with her at least once a week before she was 18.
Sarah Einselen is an award-winning writer and editor based in Texas. Josh Shepherd is a journalist and web content manager based in the Washington, DC area.