A Southern Baptist church in South Carolina has placed its youth pastor on administrative leave and is investigating an incident last week where the pastor handed out stickers to teens saying, “I ♥ Hot Youth Pastors.”
The action comes after reports of the incident were posted online and prompted major backlash.
On Sunday, Eddie Leopard, lead pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Greer, told his congregation that their student pastor, 35-year-old Cory Wall, had made a “poor decision” to distribute to the church’s youth “a sticker that offended some people.”
Leopard addressed the incident in a clip posted anonymously online, which apparently has been edited from the service video. Leopard’s comments were similar to a statement the church posted Saturday on Instagram.
Leopard prefaced his brief statement by noting that many in the church “may have heard and are aware” of the incident.
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“I wanted you to be first to hear, that’s only right,” said the lead pastor. “Any decision made by the leadership of the church should be shared by the church—not with the media, and certainly not on social media.”
Leopard continued: “Cory has been placed on administrative leave and will not be involved in student leadership responsibilities while this situation is being investigated.”
According to the pastor and church leaders, the investigation will be “thorough and comprehensive.” However, the church did not specify who would conduct the investigation.
Attorney Basyle “Boz” Tchividjian of BozLaw, a law firm that represents abuse victims in civil lawsuits, told The Roys Report that Leopard’s response raised some red flags.
“The way I was hearing it, the fact that it ‘offended some people’ seems to be the only reason they are investigating this,” Tchividjian said. “When a person who has been handed responsibility from the church to oversee care and discipleship of minors is handing out a sticker (like this), it shows horrible discernment and judgment—at the very best.”
Tchividjian added that investigations like these should be conducted by an independent third-party that understands abuse issues.
The main concern is whether Wall has a history of this behavior, Tchividjian said, though he noted other questions like: “Did (Wall) have these made? Not that I’ve been looking, but I’ve never seen these stickers for sale anywhere.”
According to a post on the church’s Instagram account, Wall has a master’s degree from Southeastern Theological Seminary and “has spent the last 14 years serving local churches in North and South Carolina in the areas of students and college.”
“Has (Wall) ever had issues before? We just don’t know,” Tchividjian said. “We’re left with their plans to ‘do an investigation’ and that’s about it. This needs to be much more defined to the public than it has been so far.”
Tchividjian also said Pastor Leopard’s comments about the media and social media are a “concerning” way to frame what happened.
“He comes across seemingly irritated at social media, rather than thanking social media for informing him of something so troubling about one of his pastors,” Tchividjian said.
The audio clip posted online concludes with a prayer from Leopard.
“God, I pray for Cory, I pray for those offended . . . Father, we ask for your direction, your wisdom, and your guidance. Lord, we know you will bring good out of everything, and we trust in you.”
Fairview Baptist is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), which has been embroiled in scandal concerning the coverup of sex abuse at SBC churches. An independent report by Guidepost Solutions found that, for decades, SBC leaders protected sexual abusers and mistreated their victims.
Freelance journalist Josh Shepherd writes on faith, culture, and public policy for several media outlets. He and his wife live in the Washington, D.C. area with their two children.