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Church Culture

Pastor on Leave after Reportedly Giving out ‘I (Heart) Hot Youth Pastors’ Stickers

(RNS) — The student pastor at a South Carolina church has been placed on administrative leave after reportedly giving out stickers to students that read “i (heart) hot youth pastors.”

An image posted online, supposedly of the sticker given out at Fairview Baptist Church in Greer, South Carolina / Screenshot

The stickers caught attention online after they appeared in a social media post from someone who claimed their 14-year-old sister had received the sticker from her 35-year-old youth pastor, who had given them out to students.

Fairview Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Greer, South Carolina, announced Sunday (Oct. 9) its student pastor, Cory Wall, has been placed on administrative leave and will not be involved in student leadership while it conducts an investigation.

“Our student pastor, Cory Wall, acknowledges that he made a poor decision and a mistake by making a sticker available that was offensive to some,” reads a post by the church’s personnel team and deacon officers on its website and Facebook page.

The post did not describe the stickers Wall had made available, and Fairview could not immediately be reached for comment.

On Monday morning, Wall no longer appeared alongside church staff on Fairview’s website, where he was listed as its student pastor as recently as Friday.

“We take this matter very seriously and want to be proactive as we move forward. Our main goal is to always make our campus a safe place for anyone who attends,” the church’s statement reads.

The original social media post, which blurred the name of the church involved, claimed a youth pastor had given “i (heart) hot youth pastors” stickers to students during Midweek. Midweek is the weekly gathering for students in sixth grade through high school at Fairview, according to the church website.

Another social media post claimed to show an email exchange between Wall and someone expressing concerns about stickers being distributed at Midweek.

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“We’re updating our church-wide database, and I encouraged kids to come see me to get a sticker and update their information,” reads the email reportedly from Wall.

“The sticker was meant to poke fun of the ‘I Love Hot Mom’ culture. In hindsight, the joke was of very poor taste and a mistake on my part. I do apologize for their distribution.”

Hemant Mehta—who has written about the stickers for atheist website OnlySky—noted in one piece, “The ‘I (heart) hot moms’ shirts which can be found online aren’t a ‘culture’ so much as pathetic frat boy humor. But as far as I can tell, it’s not like these ‘youth pastor’ stickers are available online.”

A YouTuber named Danny Duncan sells “i (heart) hot moms” merchandise. It is unclear if that is what the stickers and email are referencing.

The stickers touched a collective nerve as churches and denominations around the world, including the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant Christian denomination in the United States, have had to reckon with their handling of sexual abuse cases in the wake of the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements.

Leaders of the SBC’s Executive Committee released a list earlier this year detailing about 700 cases, dating back to the 1960s, of sexual abuse by pastors, Sunday school teachers, camp counselors, music ministers, bus drivers and missionaries, with about 400 tied to Southern Baptist churches from Alaska to Alabama.

A number of cases involving youth pastors have made headlines in recent years, as often reported by MinistryWatch, and Jules Woodson, an advocate for sexual abuse survivors, helped spark reform in the SBC by publicly sharing her story of abuse by her former youth pastor.

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.