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Three Women File Lawsuit Claiming the SBC and a Houston Megachurch ‘Enabled A Predator’

By Liz Lykins
champion forest baptist church megachurch
Champion Forest Baptist Church - Champions Campus in Houston, Texas. (Photo: social media)

Three women are accusing the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and a megachurch in Houston of failing to protect them from a youth pastor who sexually abused them as minors, according to a lawsuit filed last month.

The women, referred to as “Jane Does,” allege the SBC and Champion Forest Baptist Church “invited, encouraged, and enabled a predator to be part of their trusted inner circle,” the lawsuit states. The women are asking for more than a million dollars in damages.

The women were 14, 15, and 16 when former youth pastor Timothy Jeltema started to sexually abuse them, the lawsuit states. The women claim the pastor took advantage of his position of power to do so.

Jeltema is currently in prison after pleading guilty to child sex crimes in 2022, The Roys Report (TRR) previously reported. He was sentenced to five years for two charges of online solicitation of a minor, one charge of indecency with a child, and one charge of sexual performance by a child.

Jeltema began serving at the church in 2009 and later became a youth pastor at the church’s North Klein campus, according to the lawsuit. He was initially arrested in 2018, a month after Champion Forest fired him for improper contact with an 18-year-old church member, TRR reported.

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champion forest baptist church
Worship service at Champion Forest Baptist Church – Champions Campus in Houston, Texas. (Photo: social media)

The lawsuit alleges that leaders at the church and SBC didn’t train employees or work with law enforcement to prevent child sex abuse from happening.

The suit hopes to “prevent others from becoming the next headline-grabbing tragic victims of faith-based organizations’ failure to protect their parishioners and innocent children from the known dangers of pedophilia.”

In response to the suit, the church requested a “general denial” on April 22, and asked to be released from all charges, according to court records.

The church claims they fully complied with the police investigation into Jeltema in 2018 and that the charges against the former pastor surfaced after he was fired, according to a statement church representatives sent to ABC 13.

“We are heartbroken and grieve with those who are victims of any kind of sexual impropriety,” the church said. “We are praying for healing and restoration for the victims.”

The church also noted that it has “multiple layers of policies and procedures in place-including a national background check” for staff and volunteers at the church. 

Church allegedly ‘tipped’ off Jeltema

The suit alleges that Jeltema had inappropriate sexual behavior, including sending lewd photos and videos of himself, with the Jane Does. Jane Doe 1 accused the former pastor of sexually assaulting and attempting to rape her.

When one of the Jane Does told church leaders about the inappropriate messages at a church camp, the leaders refused to call her parents, the suit said. Instead, the leaders isolated her.

“They then grilled her, questioning her veracity,” the suit continued. “It was not until after the pastors demanded to see her cell phone so they could confirm her outcry that they eventually called Jane Doe 3’s parents.” 

The women also accused Champion Forest leaders of mishandling their reports of sexual crimes and accused the leaders of interfering with police investigations into Jeltema’s crime. The suit claimed that church leaders “tipped” Jeltema off to the 2018 police investigation, which then gave the former pastor time to destroy evidence.

jeltema champion forest
Timothy Jeltema (Photo: Harris County Sheriff’s Office)

Additionally, the church “encouraged and condoned” Jeltema’s “unbounded and close contact” with young girls, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit claims Jeltema had improper communications with up to 25 girls at the church.

“Had the church done what it was supposed to do, plaintiffs would not have been harmed and their faith would not have been shaken to its core,” the suit said.

Jeltema is eligible for parole in November, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

The lawsuit holds the SBC liable for general negligence and alleges that despite similar reports of abuse within the denomination, the SBC “did little to nothing to inform its member churches of the unfortunate experiences of other member churches so that such experiences might be used as a guide to reduce or eliminate risk.”

This lawsuit comes as the SBC and numerous SBC churches are embroiled in controversy for their handling of sexual abuse reports.

In 2022, Guidepost Solutions released a report detailing how leaders in the denomination treated sexual abuse survivors as enemies of the church, denied responsibility for the actions of local churches and downplayed the number of sexual abuse cases in those churches, all in the name of protecting the institution.

This past December, a lawsuit accused the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBCEC) of “maliciously and systematically” covering up sexual abuse and sought $10 million in damages, TRR reported. A month later, victims in Arkansas sued the SBCEC and First Baptist Church in Little Rock for negligence involving sexual abuse claims.

In March, the Department of Justice concluded an investigation into the SBCEC’s handling of abuse. No results have been released.

Freelance journalist Liz Lykins writes for WORLD Magazine, Christianity Today, Ministry Watch, and other publications.

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2 Responses

  1. The church claims they fully complied with the police investigation into Jeltema in 2018

    Why do churches wait until the arrest to do something about abuse and molestation? Is it because the details of the abuse are finally made public in the police records?

    This is shameful on many levels.

  2. Church? Looks like a theater/entertainment complex… Oh right, that’s how you grow a ‘church’ nowadays… Also way harder to keep people accountable with that kind of ‘melt into the crowd’ environment… and really easy to personally ‘put on a show’! as the collective does the same thing! – a predator’s paradise!

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Your tax-deductible gift helps our journalists report the truth and hold Christian leaders and organizations accountable. Give a gift of $50 or more to The Roys Report this month, and you will receive a copy of “Ghosted: An American Story” by Nancy French.