Church stands united
When Pastor Jeff Cox stepped into the pulpit Sunday morning it was with a heavy heart.
He had been personally struggling to come to terms with what his parishioners and the community had been dealing with over the past several weeks.
So with the support of the deacons and after days of prayer he stood before the congregation.
At the end of the sermon, his heart was lighter and he knew without a doubt God was leading the Batesville First Assembly in the right direction.
Cox had not been in his office long before the news broke.
Grant Rader, a member of the church’s children’s youth ministries for more than a decade, was being led from his home in handcuffs and being questioned in connection with computer child pornography.
The news was gut-wrenching.
Independence County Sheriff’s Office, the Arkansas State Police Cyber Crimes Unit and Homeland Security arrived at the home around 6:45 a.m. before Rader left for his teaching job at Batesville Junior High School.
Cox was stunned, and he wasn’t alone.
The following day the news became grim as more and more details were made public.
Rader was being held on seven felony charges in connection with computer child pornography after images of children engaged in sexually explicit conduct were located on a laptop.
In his six years as senior pastor at Batesville First Assembly of God, Cox knew the church family was going to be reeling from the news.
“I was completely blown away and everyone I talked to was completely blown away,” he said.
With a duty and responsibility to protect the children who attend church, Cox said he spoke with police officers who gave him little information except to assure him the charges were real and not an accident.
“Almost immediately I knew there was merit to the charges. I also knew I had a responsibility to protect the children who come into our church.”
With Rader behind bars on a $100,000 bond, Cox went to the jail and told him the church has a policy regarding sex offenders and he would not be allowed to return unless he complied with the terms which would include no contact with children and having a church designated supervisor with him at all times.
While trying to deal with news and the knowledge Rader had confessed, Cox said he and the congregation were dealing with the aftermath.
“Every emotion you can imagine was felt in our church and is still being felt in our church,” he said.
“I loved him like a son. … He has been a part of the church for over 10 years. We loved him unconditionally. It is gut-wrenching the things we have been through because we truly love and care about him.”
When Rader made bond and was out of jail Cox knew some hard decisions would have to be made. So, when Rader and his wife came to his office on June 6 to speak with him about returning to church, Cox knew he had to talk openly and honestly with Rader about the charges.
He also knew Rader confessed to authorities, but he wanted to hear what he had to say for himself. During that conversation, Rader admitted to downloading all types of pornography and the sexual nature of those videos were almost beyond comprehension.
He then told Rader and his wife they could not attend church until he spoke with the leaders.
When he entered the pulpit on Sunday morning, the sermon was about discipline and consequences. Prior to that, Cox had met with church leaders and informed them of the gravity of the situation.
His outline of his sermon would be handed out to the parishioners.
He began talking about how God disciplines those He loves saying those who refuse discipline do not love Him. He referred to the Old Testament when God commanded the Israelites to devote all the spoils of Jericho and when they did not keep his commandment there was sin in the camp.
“You see, a single person’s sin can affect the success of the entire church,” Cox said. “We are all one body and our actions affect one another. Being a part of a church is very intimate. When there is sin in the body God won’t bless it. When there is sin in our ministry God won’t grow it.”
Cox then moved to 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 saying the church is to hold one another accountable inside the church.
“This verse isn’t talking about judging those outside the church, but those inside. When someone carries the name ‘brother’ and is living in sin we are suppose to separate ourselves from that person.”
He went on to Revelation and the story of Jezebel who called herself a prophetess but refused to repent of her sexual immorality.
In that story, Cox said, the church was doing great works but God had one thing against them because they tolerated the sin among them.
“To know good and not do it is sin. If you’re not dealing with it you’re condoning it.”
Then Cox got to the heart of the sermon, saying he talked with Rader about the crimes of which he has been accused.
“As many of you know, Grant Rader who was not only a Jr. High school teacher but was also a member of BFA and a worker in our children’s ministries for over a decade was arrested on the morning of May 21, 2013 by local, state and federal authorities, for possession of child pornography.”
He cited a story from the Batesville Daily Guard dated May 22, 2013 where it stated why Rader had been arrested and how Rader confessed to downloading various types of child pornography.
“I know that many have questioned over the past few weeks. Could Grant have really done this? Are they sure that someone didn’t just hack his computer and plant the videos there? Please hear me this morning. This was not an accident. Grant’s computer was not hacked. Grant confessed to the crimes for which he has been charged. The Guard didn’t expose the graphically wicked and sickening nature of the videos.”
Cox went on to say he had written a letter to the district superintendent with the Arkansas Assemblies of God concerning a conversation he had with Rader and his wife. The documents he gave the congregation were explicit. He also said he felt Rader was being deceptive and had no remorse.
He then went back to a story in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians about sexual immorality. “The similarities of what is being addressed here in the Bible and what we are dealing with are almost identical. It is a case of sexual immorality. It is a kind of sexual immorality that even pagans consider despicable.
“So as a result of these truths, Paul tells the church in Corinth exactly how they should respond. The church should be filled with grief. They should put out of their fellowship the man who has committed these evil, sexual sins. Forbid him to attend church. They are not to do it privately; they are to handle it publicly. … However, beyond just refusing him the privilege of attending church, they are told to hand this man over to Satan. … The motivation for putting this man out of the fellowship and handing him over to Satan is so that the sinful nature that would cause this person to indulge in such wicked behavior would be destroyed, and so that his soul might be saved when the Lord returns to earth again. God disciplines those He loves.”
The repercussions have been far-reaching.
Like a death in the family, Cox said he and many others have worked through the denial, anger, bargaining and depression to reach a point of acceptance for what has happened since the news of Rader’s arrest.
He also knows the action taken by the members of Batesville First Assembly is the right thing to do and was the only decision that could be made to be credible to the church and community. “We feel like this is the highest act of love we could portray toward him, towards the church and our community.”
Cox said he felt he had to put it in writing so there was no room for miscommunication or gossip and so the church family could put any doubts aside on where the church should stand.
“Right is right whether everybody thinks it is right or not.”
And putting the information in writing to the congregation was shocking to some. “There was a lot of sobbing.”
And at the end of the sermon, Cox said he stood before the congregation along with other leaders in the church and asked the congregation to be united.
“They all stood.”