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Loritts Responds to Allegations of Cover-Up: “It wasn’t us trying to hide anything . . . It was following the counsel of lawyers”

By Julie Roys

Embattled new pastor at The Summit Church, Bryan Loritts, says he wasn’t “trying to hide anything” when he withheld information from his prior congregation about a sexual predator in their midst. Instead, he said, “It was following the counsel of lawyers.”

Loritts’ made the statement in a videotaped interview published yesterday by the Biblical Recorder, a news group owned by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina of which Summit is a member.

For the past 10 years, Loritts has been dogged by allegations that he covered up the voyeuristic crimes of his brother-in-law, Rick Trotter, while Loritts was lead pastor at Fellowship Memphis and Trotter was the worship pastor.

Though the church discovered Trotter’s phone with secretly recorded videos on it in 2010, police have no record of Trotter’s crimes ever being reported by anyone at Fellowship Memphis. Trotter then went on to lead worship at another church where he repeated his crimes until he was reported to police in 2016.

In the interview, Loritts admitted that he did not inform his congregation about Trotter’s crimes until about six months after the church had discovered them. But Loritts said his secrecy wasn’t motivated by a desire to cover for Trotter, but rather, a desire to minimize liability.

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“Legal counsel is clear: You cannot say what this individual did,” Loritts said. But he added, “If I had to do it now, I would have risked being sued by my now ex-brother-in-law if it meant being vocal. I would have thrown caution to the wind.”[pullquote]“If I had to do it now, I would have risked being sued by my now ex-brother-in-law if it meant being vocal. I would have thrown caution to the wind.”[/pullquote]

Loritts also admitted that he failed to call police when a staff member discovered Trotter’s phone in a church bathroom and gave it to Loritts.

“And here’s what I got to own,” Loritts said. “What I should have done immediately was call the cops. I didn’t do that.”

However, Loritts described the day he discovered what Trotter did as “the most painful day of my life.” And he said he felt “sucker-punched” by what Trotter did to his family.

“In some ways . . . I saw myself as a victim,” Loritts said, though he added that his victimization was “not anywhere near the level” of those Trotter secretly recorded.

Loritts also expressed regret that he didn’t do more to prevent another church in Memphis, Downtown Church, from hiring Trotter.

According to a letter Summit Pastor J.D. Greear sent to his congregation in May, Trotter was hired by Downtown Church in Memphis “a few years” after confessing his sins to the Fellowship Memphis congregation. That letter has since been amended. The version of Greear’s letter posted online this week says Downtown Church hired Trotter “a little less than two years” after the public confession.

However, according to Downtown Church’s website, Trotter came on staff as Interim Worship Leader in August 2011—a year after confessing his crime to the congregation at Fellowship Memphis.

Loritts said that at that time, he met with Downtown Church Pastor Richard Rieves and “fully disclosed everything.”

Yet Loritts added. “If I had to do it all over again, I would have put a full court press on, telling him not just, ‘Here’s what (Trotter) did,’ which I told him that. I told him everything. I would have grabbed him by the collars, and I would have said, ‘Do not hire him.’”[pullquote] “If I had to do it all over again, I would have put a full court press on . . . I would have grabbed him by the collars, and I would have said, ‘Do not hire him.’”  [/pullquote]

Loritts then choked up and said, “I feel culpable. And what happened with these other people because I didn’t go the extra mile . . . if I had to do it all over again, Seth, I would have went the extra mile. And I gotta own that.”

Yet later in the interview, Loritts admits that in 2015, he hired Trotter himself— to lead worship at a conference for The Kainos Movement.

“That was a horrible, horrible decision that I’ve got to own,” Loritts said.

Loritts ends by asking for forgiveness from the victims, saying “his heart was in the right place” and that the mistakes he’s made “have positioned me well to serve in a place called Summit.”

Skepticism & Unanswered Questions

Greg Selby, a former insider at Fellowship Memphis who accused Loritts of participating in a cover-up with other church leaders, said he’s skeptical of Loritts’ apology.

“These guys are actors on a stage,” Selby said, noting that Loritts has never called him, nor any of the other victims he knows, to apologize.

“Where’s the real apology? Not the one on video, so that everybody will think that I’m a nice person—the apology to the real victims who will call you to the carpet on the truth? You won’t give it because you’re a coward and a fraud.”

Rachel Denhollander, a well-known advocate for abuse survivors, says she has “deep concerns” after watching the video.

Denhollander, who was on a recent conference call between Selby, one of Trotter’s victims, and Summit Church, said “there are serious questions that remain that need to be answered.”

One of the major questions regarding Loritts and the Trotter affair concerns Trotter’s phone, which reportedly vanished in 2010.[pullquote]“Where’s the real apology? Not the one on video, so that everybody will think that I’m a nice person—the apology to the real victims who will call you to the carpet on the truth?”[/pullquote]

In the interview, Loritts said that an intern discovered Trotter’s phone recording her in the bathroom of the church office at about 4:00 on a Thursday afternoon. She then went to Loritts and gave him the phone.

Loritts said he then called Ricky Jenkins into his office to serve as a witness for his meeting with the woman. (Jenkins was a teaching pastor at Fellowship Memphis at the time, but now pastors a church in California.)

I reached out to Jenkins to hear his perspective, but he did not respond.

I also reached out to the intern. She confirmed that she gave Loritts the phone and met with him and Jenkins. She added that the three did not discuss reporting Trotter’s crimes to police and that she left the phone with Loritts.

According to Loritts, he took the phone home overnight. He said the next morning, he gave the phone to Bill Garner, then an executive pastor at Fellowship Memphis, and instructed Garner to call both police and Child Protective Services (CPS).

Loritts said that after giving Garner the phone, he “never saw it again. Still to this day—don’t know what happened.”[pullquote]Loritts said that after giving Garner the phone, he “never saw it again. Still to this day—don’t know what happened.”[/pullquote]

In a statement published by The Summit Church earlier this week, Summit says that Loritts “turned over the phone to Fellowship Memphis’ elders,” not Garner. According to an archived webpage of Fellowship Memphis’ elders, Garner was not an elder in 2010.*

I contacted Loritts about the apparent discrepancy, but he did not respond.

I also called Bill Garner, who’s now a pastor at Harvest Church in Memphis, but he did not return my call.

According to Selby, Loritts said in 2010 that Fellowship’s lawyer had instructed leaders to throw Trotter’s phone in the Mississippi River. Similarly, Jennifer Baker, one of Trotter’s victims, said that Loritts told her in 2010 that Trotter’s phone had been destroyed. She said Loritts wouldn’t say who had destroyed it.

In the interview published yesterday, Brown didn’t ask Loritts about either of these alleged statements.[pullquote]According to Selby, Loritts said in 2010 that Fellowship’s lawyer had instructed leaders to throw Trotter’s phone in the Mississippi River.[/pullquote]

However, Brown did ask Loritts why Loritts had instructed Garner to call CPS and whether Loritts had seen videos of minors on the phone. Brown also noted that a 2016 report in the Commercial Appeal quoted two of Trotter’s victims who claim they were 15- and 16-years-old at the time they were recorded.

Loritts said that he scanned Trotter’s phone when it was in his possession and had seen “block after block” of video thumbnail pictures of videos. But Loritts said he didn’t notice any videos of minors.

Loritts said he instructed Garner to call CPS because he knew minors had been in the church office and may have used the bathroom, and he didn’t want to “leave anything to chance.”

Summit Church said they tried to verify that someone reported Trotter to CPS and to Memphis Police in 2010 but were unable to do so.

Loritts says he regrets that he “didn’t push hard enough for written documentation as it relates to (his staff) contacting the authorities.”

“When I put too much trust in what a person was telling me . . . that’s not enough,” Loritts said. “I should have gone the extra mountain (and said), ‘I actually need to see something physical.’ And I can’t outsource that to anybody else. That’s on me.”

*This information was added after this article was originally published.



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20 Responses

  1. So lets just forget about all this past nasty stuff. Most of this is “on me” but I have learned my lesson and I am your executive pastor. Trust me. I admit, destroying evidence can be a bit on the “illegal” side but it was all just a form of miscommunication.

  2. As things unravel, I’m left with even more questions than answers. It strikes me how many churches sound more like a business than a Church, and they behave more like a business. As a business owner, I can barely distinguish between the two from much of their conversation. Christianese such as “led by the Lord” almost sound cliche in context Is there no discernment anymore? God never leads us to bring sexual perverts on staff. When we pray & wait on the Lord for His direction this would not have been His leading. I question the candor here, but God will be the judge of their hearts & words. It seems a lot of believe-me responses, If I had to do it all over again… I grab them by the collar, etc etc. And to be blaming lawyers (notice he wouldn’t even say ‘our’ lawyers to try further distancing). It seems too prepared & polished. I don’t see any real accountability or responsibility here.

  3. “In some ways . . . I saw myself as a victim,” Loritts said

    That’s a bright red flag accompanied by screaming air horns.

    1. That comment made my stomach turn and minimizes all the real victims. He’s no victim. He was the leader legally responsible for protecting and reporting. The cover up enabled Trotter to commit many more crimes resulting in many more victims. It’s unbelievable that the President of the SBC, in the midst of a huge sex abuse scandal, would hire him. Victims are being revictimized and the safety of congregants just got worse.

  4. I would have a better chance of believing his story had Loritts already done the hard work of apologizing to the victims and all involved years ago, not just now when a lucrative pastoral job is on the line….

  5. Who can believe a man who steals people’s trust by pretending he has doctorates when he does not?

    In 2 Cor.10:3-4 God says ” For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.
    The weapons that Loritts fights with are the secular weapons of this world; Now he is doing the blame game with. “the (secular) lawyers …”

    1. Not in any way defend Loritts but many of your superstar preachers don’t hold the credentials they use. Lorrits bought his from a diploma mill but others have been conferred “honorary” doctorates they never earned like David Jeremiah but use the title. John MacArthur is another without an actual earned PhD that sometimes brands himself as Dr. I’m wary of any pastor using Dr. in front of their name even if they did actually earn it.

  6. Julie, ironic that the SBC, Summit and Bryan is now doing damage control after your reporting. When I saw the interview, my thought was fake news and maximum spin. If they wanted to reveal truth 60 Minutes style with tough and honest questions, please invite them on your podcast to be interview. Some thoughts on this softball interview. 1. Bryan as a caring Pastor should have protect the flock at the Downtown church and prevent Rick to be hired there. 2. I firmly believe that Bryan is an accessory to the crimes committed by Rick at Downtown church; he did not strongly block his hiring. 3. Bryan stated that Rick “would not be restore to vocational ministry …..never work there again at Fellowship Memphis”, but yet allow him to serve at Downtown church and KAINOS; providing credibility to his character. 4. Our church’s benevolent fund has a $1K max gift for any applicants. $30K for Bryan’s sister is very generous. To use God’s money to supplement loss income rather than for ministry is a grievous sin. 5. Since Bryan’s sister is working three jobs and going to school, daddy Crawford and bro Bryan should help her financially. 6. Get Bill Garner to reveal what he did with the phone and if he did or didn’t contact the police and CPS.

  7. Sorrowful. With this hire, it seems that Summit (and by virtue of its leadership) the SBA is not willing to do what it takes to be completely above reproach. I am so grateful the Lord is our Shepherd, whose primary concern IS His sheep. “I I will deliver My flock from their mouth.” (Ez 34). I pray peace and His comfort for all the victims.

  8. Since when did listening to legal counsel become a bigger priority than obeying the word of God?? Loritts, if he was a true shepherd would be held to a higher standard of integrity and care for his flock than obeying any temporal legal counsel. Its the excuse used by so many of these christian environments that care only about institutional protection…and are driven by the love of money. This is Not the heart of Jesus.

  9. Loritts sure “owns” a lot of poor decisions ! Why is he a senior pastor…anywhere?

    Coulda, shoulda, woulda! Sad, pathetic backtracking from the all to familiar Mega-church pastor who gets caught with his pants down. Spin control of Clintonesque proportions! Shame on him and his ilk bringing disgrace and dishonor to the name of Christ! Does Christ even matter to them any more?

  10. All i can say is……..when the “apologies” come AFTER exposure……it doesn’t really seem genuine. If it were all dealt with before said public exposure, im more willing to believe it. This apology? Nah.

  11. If, as is the case, Rachel Denhollander is a well-known ADVOCATE for abuse survivors with DEEP CONCERNS about this matter, how is Denhollander a neutral? Did Loritts consent to Denhollander’s role in this? If Denhollander is a neutral, why is she speaking to the blog press?

    Has Denhollander considered that, for the many victims who did not consent to Denhollander’s participation, Denhollander is a witness, not a neutral or a roving advocate, particularly relating to the contents of the phone conference?

    Does Denhollander have a seasoned supervising attorney to oversee her conduct in this matter? Does Denhollander believe that, because she possesses celebrity victim status, she is exempt from the Rules governing other attorneys?

    Has Denhollander considered whether her conduct and statements may have harmed the prospects of relief for the other victims who suffered in this terrible scenario?

    1. My understanding is that Rachel was not on the conference call in any official capacity, but simply helping two parties connect. So, she didn’t want to comment on the conference call because she thought doing so would be unfair to both parties.

      However, Loritts’ statements in a publicly posted video are another matter. On the content of the video, she felt much more free to give her opinion. It’s my understanding that she has not been hired as an attorney by either side.

  12. Hires like these are tokenism at its absolute worst. Ignore all the red flags strewn about the situation, in order to hire an African American leader, so the organization appears diverse. The defense of hiring said person appears noble, as an ally in the pursuit of racial reconciliation. Those demanding scrutiny are labeled as racist. If/when additional sordid details are exposed, perhaps to the point of firing or disqualification, the black population suffers a hit to their comprehensive image (thanks to complex, unfair biases that DO exist), while the hiring committee comes off mostly scot-free, noble, because they gave him a chance. This deepens the racial divide, which the SBC is well known for being among the worst in this area. Outside of Loritts and his multiple hirings throughout the years, all of which should be questioned why he was chosen, Anthony Moore and Darryl Gilyard also come to mind. Sad thing is, there are countless – COUNTLESS – in the African American community who are more than qualified for these roles, certainly not just as a ‘diversity’ hire, but because they are a stellar choice all around. The SBC, and other conservative Christian entires, need to do exponentially better in this area.

  13. Ms. Roys,

    With respect, I am unfamiliar with the difference between participating in a phone conference in “an official capacity” versus “simply helping two parties connect.” The point remains that Denhollander is an attorney, and her conduct is strictly governed by specific Rules in jurisdictions relevant to her admissions to practice and the locations where she practices. Denhollander is clearly a witness relating to the contents of the phone conference especially given the phrases you used to characterize her participation.

    Denhollander’s subjective conclusions as to what is fair or unfair do not govern her conduct. Her conduct is governed by the Rules under which she practices law.

    Whether anyone “hired” Denhollander is irrelevant. Her conduct remains governed by the Rules whether or not she is hired or paid for her services.

    The parties, including all the victims, should consider engaging non-conflicted seasoned litigators to represent them. It is my impression that Denhollander gives speeches, seminars and interviews, and perhaps writes books, relating to her victim status. I do not have the impression that Denhollander is a litigator. Because of the gravity of this matter to the victims (especially the helpless children), this instance screams for criminal and civil proceedings.

    If, as the Roys Report indicates, women and children were sexually victimized, the matter must be handled in the courts, not by phone conferences, or observations by Denhollander that “there are serious questions that remain that need to be answered.” Courts are really great venues to obtain answers.

    This is a serious situation; it should be resolved in a serious manner. We do not need a completed repeat of the hurtful dereliction by the SBC’s Village Church in failing to properly handle the credibly alleged felonious sexual conduct of Dr. Anthony Moore.

    1. I’m not an attorney, but I’ve been the client of attorneys. And I know that there is a huge difference between how an attorney may act if he/she is hired by you as opposed to how an attorney acts if he/she is not hired by you. The rules apply to situations in which the attorney has been hired to represent a party. But it’s my understanding that attorneys are permitted to be regular people too, and to have opinions, and to advocate according to their conscience when they have not been employed by a side.

      As for whether this issue should be resolved in court . . . The issue that Denhollander was engaging on was whether Summit should have hired Loritts and whether Summit’s investigation of Loritts was adequate to determine his fitness for ministry. That would not be a matter for the courts. However, perhaps there are civil or criminal proceedings that could still be brought against Trotter and those who didn’t report him. However, given that the evidence no longer exists, it seems that success in the courts is unlikely.

      1. Ms Roys,

        I have apparently failed to communicate with clarity.

        Respectfully, you are way out of your lane in opining on Denhollander’s ethical obligations while she serves as “a neutral.” If Denhollander the attorney is a neutral in a matter, she can no longer be an advocate in that matter. You may wish to confirm this with an Ethics Professor at any nearby accredited law school. It will not take long.

        I fully understand that Denhollander’s involvement as a neutral concerns whether Greear should have hired Loritts given Lorrits’ concealment of Trotter’s felonious sexual conduct as reported. That horse has already left the barn with Lorrits’ forthright confessions as the Roys Report has recently reported. Denhollander can now return to finishing her book.

        The “matter for the courts” is Trotter’s reported criminal conduct, Lorrits’ role therein, and Greear’s conduct in failing to disclose child predation to the extent he was aware of it.

        Finally, I respectfully disagree with you that the evidence against Trotter “no longer exists.” To the contrary, Lorrits’ lengthy explanation is the evidence. Moreover, the Tennessee Attorney General will be particularly interested in the advice by a Tennessee attorney to destroy evidence by throwing it into the Mississippi River. All in all, this should be an easy indictment if anyone in Memphis is paying attention.

        1. I am not a lawyer and don’t pretend to be one. I am a reporter. What I have relayed about the evidence & plausibility of prosecution is what I have been told by people who have pursued prosecution, talked to lawyers, and found little recourse. I will stay in my lane and keep reporting. If you’d like to contact those involved and offer strategies concerning prosecution, be my guest. And if together, you’re able to interest a DA in taking up the case, I will gladly report it.

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