It may have taken decades to investigate and expose. But finally, a pastor who reportedly abused multiple youth in his care, has been removed from office.
As we reported in an article in May, claims that former youth intern, Paul Warren, had abused boys in the 1980s at Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, circulated in the church for decades. But it wasn’t until 2019, when Pastor Brian Salter learned about the claims, that the church took swift action to investigate, expose, and heal these sins that had been buried.
We praised the church’s response, applauding its transparency; regular communication with church members and the public; its hiring of Godly Responses to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) to perform an independent investigation; and its efforts to address these issues in the context of loving, Christian community.
But the story didn’t end there. As Lookout Mountain soon discovered, Warren was still serving as a pastor at Abbott Memorial Presbyterian Church (AMPC) in Baltimore.
The wheels of ecclesiastical justice can turn slowly at times. But recently, the Chesapeake Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America, and Abbott, acted to bar Warren from further ministry.
Give a gift of $25 or more to The Roys Report this month, and you will receive a copy of “Is it Me? Making Sense of Your Confusing Marriage” To donate,.
Details about how the presbytery and the church handled Warren’s case were spelled out in a recent, undated letter posted on Abbott Memorial’s website.
“It is with deep sorrow that I write this letter to our congregation and Baltimore community, not only because of the actions that have come to light regarding Paul Warren, who was our pastor, but also how we, as the Session and as leaders in the church, addressed these actions,” wrote George Lenning, clerk of the church’s session.
The letter admitted the presbytery’s failure for initially ruling last September that Warren was qualified for ministry because he “had confessed and demonstrated repentance for his former transgressions over 35 years ago.”
“Abbott Memorial Presbyterian Church is deeply sorry for our decision in allowing Paul to continue his employment with Abbott Memorial Presbyterian Church and recognizes the undue hurt we may have caused Paul’s victims. The Session and congregation of AMPC have been devastated and heartbroken to hear of these abuses, and we grieve with the survivors.”
Here’s a timeline of events:
May 2020: Lookout Mountain informs Abbott Memorial that it is investigating Warren, the pastor at Abbott Memorial, related to alleged abuse.
“The Session of AMPC took immediate action to release Paul Warren from active ministry in May 2020 and waited for the ruling of the Chesapeake Presbytery, Paul’s oversight association, which was conducting a separate investigation,” says clerk Lenning’s letter. Warren continued as pastor of the church.
September 2020: The Chesapeake Presbytery accepted Warren’s “demonstrated repentance” for his former transgressions and “confirmed him in his pastoral qualification.”
January 8, 2021: GRACE releases its investigation report commissioned by Lookout Mountain.
January 24, 2021: Warren resigns as pastor of Abbott Memorial.
February 2021: The Chesapeake Presbytery of the PCA acknowledged that it erred in Sept. 2020 when it recommended that Warren continue in the pastorate, reversed its ruling, and found Warren guilty of “flagitious sin” and deposing him from his call as teaching elder.
Dee Parsons, who has covered the saga at her blog, The Wartburg Watch, said the presbytery finally did the right thing. But she believes it finally did so because it could no longer avoid the public scrutiny brought by her blog and other news reports.
“I will give the PCA kudos for getting him out of there,” she said in a phone interview with The Roys Report. “But they should have been smarter to get him out of there sooner.”
Parsons says forgiveness is essential when pastors confess sin, but forgiveness should not be a pathway back to ministry for those who have abused young people.
“I don’t believe any man who has been working in a church and has been molesting kids should ever be allowed to be in a position of authority again,” she said.
Steve Rabey is a veteran author and journalist who has published more than 50 books and 2,000 articles about religion, spirituality, and culture. He was an instructor at Fuller and Denver seminaries and the U.S. Air Force Academy.