Church scrutinized after pastor’s arrest

A Missouri Baptist pastor acquitted last year of child molestation is back in court facing new felony charges of sex crimes involving multiple victims.

By Bob Allen

Missouri Baptist Convention officials are watching a member church whose pastor was arrested recently on sexual abuse charges a year after his previous acquittal of child molestation.

travis smithTravis Smith, 42, of California, Mo., appeared for arraignment Oct. 16 in Moniteau County court. He faces charges of forcible rape, statutory rape and sexual abuse alleged to have occurred in 1998, statutory rape in 1999 and statutory rape and sodomy in 2005.

Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church in Stover, Mo., since 2006, was found not guilty on Sept. 28, 2011, by a jury in Morgan County of misdemeanor child molestation of a 14-year-old girl in 2009. A separate charge of statutory rape was dropped because that accuser turned out to have been 17, the age of consent in Missouri, rather than 15 as first claimed when their alleged improper relationship began.

The First Baptist Church, Stover, website listed Smith as its pastor as of Oct. 23. Local media reported Oct. 3 that church members were standing by their pastor despite the charges. Community residents countered with a vigil on behalf of his alleged victims, protesting a church fish fry that was described in conflicting media reports as a show of support for Smith and an annual church event that just happened to coincide with news of the arrest.

The church website lists affiliations with the Southern Baptist Convention and Lamine Baptist Association. Rob Phillips, communications team leader with the Missouri Baptist Convention, said First Baptist Church in Stover has contributed more than $12,500 to the Cooperative Program year-to-date, making the church a member of the Missouri Baptist Convention, and the church has not contacted the state convention regarding its affiliation.

“We are aware of the situation at First Baptist Church, Stover, and are in contact with the association's director of missions, who is working closely with the pastor and the church,” Phillips said in an e-mail.

“While we respect the independence of the local church and have no direct authority over it, we are deeply grieved by the allegations,” Phillips said. “We pray that the courts will administer justice fairly and swiftly, and that there will be healing among the wounded church members. We also pray the church members will have the wisdom, grace and courage to act biblically in their dealings with their pastor.”

Smith is out of jail on $70,000 bond. His next court appearance is scheduled for 9 a.m., Nov. 13, in Moniteau County Judicial Circuit 26 in California, Mo., before Associate Circuit Judge Peggy Richardson.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol arrested Smith Oct. 1 on six felony charges involving multiple victims following a lengthy investigation by its division of drug and crime control. State policed turned him over to the Moniteau County Sheriff's Department.

The charges against him carry penalties ranging from a minimum of a year in prison up to life, depending on circumstances.