NBC 12 reports…
“Recently, you may have noticed what appears to be a growing number of arrests and even convictions of area faith leaders. Within the past year, police have investigated crimes ranging from stealing money from church to arson, even soliciting underage children for sex – all involving ministers. Other spiritual leaders say when a person of the cloth becomes connected to crime, it often affects the morale and faith of church members.
For many, focus is found through faith. No matter the religion, week after week, people gather to renew their spirits and show reverence to a higher power.
“If there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things,” Bam Bam Spradling quotes reading his Bible.
He credits his faith for restoring his life.
“[I] was sexually abused when I was nine years old. I grew up hating my dad. I hated his guts, couldn’t stand him,” Spradling confessed.
So he turned to a life of drugs and violence. After his release from prison, he found new hope in the Richmond Outreach Center – better known as The ROC.
“Maybe God did have a plan, and maybe if I learned to trust somebody else besides myself because obviously I didn’t do a very good job,” he said.
For nine years, he remained faithful… until now.
The church’s former pastor Geronimo Aguilar made headlines after a Texas grand jury indicted him in September for allegations of indecency with a child. He also faces sexual assault charges for allegations dating back to 1996.
“I was angry. That makes you think, ‘man, do I ever want to go to another church and tithe ever again?'” said Spradling.
Aguilar is only one of several area ministers with run-ins with the law.
Just this week, Olander Cuthrell went back to court – this time, federal court – for lying to the FBI. In June, a court found the minister guilty of felony arson after police say he lied, claiming someone else had painted a racial slur on his Chesterfield home before setting it on fire.
Also this week, Chris Phillips, a former youth minister in Hanover, plead guilty to embezzlement. He now faces 20 years in prison for stealing $87,000 from the Mechanicsville Advent Church after court documents revealed he paid a woman he met online for sex.
In January, another minister – Kelvin Goode, found guilty of contributing to the delinquency of a minor after investigators say he visited a Chesterfield church, making contact with a 14-year-old and requested sexual favors. He’s now serving time.
“That’s why we’ve lost our glow in the community,” said Richmond Bishop Darryl Husband.
Husband oversees a dozen pastors in an alliance that brings churches together. He believes scenarios like these hurt the spiritual body.
Husband says churches are often the cornerstone of the community, so whenever shame falls upon a pastor or a minister, all eyes turn towards him. That’s because faith leaders, he says are held to a higher standard, but he adds it’s important for church goers to keep their mission in check.
“Don’t just walk in the church and feel good about the worship service and say, ‘boy, that was a good word’ or ‘I’m joining the church today.’ We need to start investigating the lives of the people we’re following. Stop making your pastor God,” Husband said.
It’s a lesson Spradling says he learned even before the allegations at The ROC.
“This taught me to look at God first and not a man, because man is going to let you down,” he said.
While he’s still looking for a new church home, one thing he hasn’t lost is faith.
“I have to stop and read that verse Philippians 4:8 and think about that, otherwise I find myself becoming angry and bitter, and I don’t want to be like that because I end up doing stupid stuff,” Spradling admitted.
Geronimo Aguilar, formerly of The ROC, is the only minister mentioned in this report who is still awaiting trial. NBC12 reached out to the church for comment about how it is moving forward after the former pastor’s arrest, but the church declined.”