Last week, former youth minister Robert “Bobby” Price went to jail for 16 months for molesting two boys. In addition to the prison sentence, he must register as a sex offender for the next 30 years. His life, his family, and the church he served have been wrecked, perhaps irreparably. What is even more tragic, the two young boys he abused will be scarred for life.
And I can’t shake the feeling that if I had done my job, none of this would have happened.
Rumors about Price had circulated for years. In the 1990s, his father, Bradley Price, was pastor of Northside Baptist Church, a large independent congregation in Charlotte, N.C., my hometown. I edited a small Christian newspaper back then, and one of my reporters and I investigated financial and other improprieties at the church.
On one memorable day, after we published our first story, someone from Northside Baptist Church called to warn me—with the threat of a lawsuit—not to publish any more stories about the church. I told him our reporting was fair and accurate. I also told him I had heard from credible people about sexual impropriety at the church. He would not confirm what I was hearing, but he would not deny it either. We ultimately published more stories that helped lead to the resignation of Bradley Price and the departure of most of his family members from that church.
But the Price family moved a few miles up Interstate 85 into a neighboring county and started another church, King’s Way Baptist Church. Some years later, Bradley Price had a heart attack and nearly died. When he recovered, he called to invite me out to his new church for a meeting. I was surprised to receive the invitation, but I was glad to say yes and spend a pleasant afternoon with a Bradley Price who professed to be a changed man, a man whose recent experiences had humbled him and resulted in better physical and spiritual health. He even thanked me for the stories I had published, saying they had put him on a new path that God was blessing.
His son Bobby was the youth minister at King’s Way, just as he had been at Northside. Another son, Randy, was the worship leader. A third son, Rusty, ultimately succeeded his father as senior pastor. Indeed, Bradley Price ran the church almost like a family business. I should have taken this overt nepotism as a warning sign. But I’m embarrassed to admit that I did not ask hard questions about King’s Way Baptist Church that day. I should have. Because about the time Price and I spent that pleasant afternoon together, his son Bobby—court records now show—was molesting little boys.
Police arrested Bobby Price in October 2013. He pled guilty last week to abusing two victims from 2000 to 2006. The little boys, now adults, were called Victim A and Victim C in court proceedings. According to court documents, the abuse took place at the church’s “Youth Shack,” on a mission trip, and even in Bobby Price’s home.
Stories like this are becoming distressingly familiar. Over the past year WORLD has reported on both sexual and financial scandals. Though not all of them rise to the level of the heinous crimes committed by Bobby Price, they do all have two things in common: Persons in authority took advantage of those who revered them, and persons who knew what was going on failed to speak up. They remained silent out of a misplaced sense of loyalty, or self-interest, or a lack of courage, or because they were too busy or told themselves it was someone else’s job.
Whatever excuse they gave for their silence, the result was always the same: a greater tragedy and more victims than if they had spoken up, or spoken up earlier. When WORLD reports such a story, some readers inevitably question its appropriateness. It’s a good question. We ask that question and many others ourselves, and none of us at WORLD ever take making these decisions lightly, or make them alone. But now, for me at least, this good question has two very good new answers: Victim A and Victim C.
I do not know who Victims A and C are, but if I ever get a chance to meet them, I will ask them to forgive me. I will also tell them that their courage has steeled my resolve to do what I can to prevent what happened to them from happening to anyone else ever again.