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Three Women Sue Houston Church and SBC for $1M

Jane Doe plaintiffs claim church was negligent in hiring and supervising sexually abusive youth pastor.

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Three women, referred to as “Jane Doe” in court documents, filed suit against the Southern Baptist Convention and Champion Forest Baptist Church, a large SBC church in Houston on April 19 in Harris County District Court.

Champion Forest Baptist Church North Klein campus where Timothy Jeltema was a youth pastor / Photo via social media

The lawsuit, which seeks at least $1 million in monetary relief, claims the SBC and Champion Forest “invited, encouraged, and enabled a predator to be part of their trusted inner circle.”

Timothy Jeltema, who is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, was a youth pastor at the North Klein campus of Champion Forest where he is accused of having “abused and sexually assaulted” the plaintiffs when they were young women, ages 14, 15, and 16 when the abuse started.

Jeltema pleaded guilty to counts of sexual performance by a child, indecency with a child, and online solicitation of a minor. He was sentenced to five years in prison in 2022. Jeltema is currently in jail and is eligible for parole in November.

The lawsuit seeks to hold Champion Forest and the SBC responsible for the harm suffered by the plaintiffs. It claims to be an effort 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.”

Several claims are being brought against the church, including negligent hiring, training, and supervision, negligent failure to timely report child abuse, and general negligence. The plaintiffs are also attempting to hold the church responsible for Jeltema’s actions through a legal theory called respondeat superior, where an employer is held responsible for the actions of its employee.

Timothy Jeltema, Photo courtesy of Harris County Sheriff’s Office

The lawsuit attempts to hold the SBC liable for general negligence, saying despite similar reports of abuse within the denomination, it “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.”

Jeltema was fired from Champion Forest in 2018 after admitting to an inappropriate relationship through social media with an 18-year-old member of the church, according to a statement by the church provided to KTRK in Houston.

The lawsuit alleges that the church hired Jeltema to work with middle school and high school youth and “encouraged and condoned” his “unbounded and close contact” with the young girls.

Jeltema is accused of inappropriate sexual behavior, including sending lewd photos and videos of himself to the plaintiff Jane Does. Jane Doe 1 accused Jeltema of sexually assaulting and attempting to rape her.

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Each of the plaintiffs assert they have suffered extreme emotional distress as a result of Jeltema’s actions.

“Champion Forest Baptist Church takes any allegation of sexual misconduct very seriously. We are heartbroken and grieve with those who are victims of any kind of sexual impropriety,” the church said in its statement. “We are praying for healing and restoration for the victims. We always encourage anyone with information regarding potential criminal activity, especially any victims, to contact law enforcement immediately.”

The church added that it has had policies and procedures in place, including background checks for staff and volunteers, for over 16 years. Further, it has in place a set of written expectations including standards of conduct for employees and volunteers.

“We are extremely saddened by this heartbreaking situation,” Champion Forest said.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Why does MinistryWatch report on sex crimes? These stories are tough to read and sometimes even tougher to report, but we think they are vital to our mission to bring transparency, accountability, and credibility to the evangelical church. To read more about why and how we report these stories, read “Why MinistryWatch Reports On Sex Crimes.” You can find that story here.

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a freelance writer who holds a Juris Doctorate from Baylor University. She has home schooled her three children and is happily married to her husband of 25 years.