A Tennessee pastor who opposed laws protecting LGBT people from housing and employment discrimination has been arrested for molesting at least eight children over the course of his 20-year tenure as the leader of the church.
Matthew Dennis Patterson (a.k.a. “Denny”), the pastor at Nolensville Road Baptist Church (an Independent Fundamental Baptist church) in South Nashville, Tennessee, reportedly resigned “abruptly” on September 24. In the days that followed, police received several reports from members of the congregation who said the pastor had asked to “engage in strange activities” with children.
The reports from the kids are extremely disturbing.
Children at the church told adult members that Patterson had asked them to sit on his face and stomach, sometimes in their underwear, according to a police statement.
Detectives John Thomas and Jacob Masteller from the department’s Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Unit led the six-month investigation into the complaints.
After interviewing multiple church and staff members, police said the detectives identified multiple victims, most of them boys, who were molested from 1998-2017. Police did not say how old the children were at the time of the alleged abuse.
Patterson has already been charged with eight counts of aggravated sexual battery, and police say more victims “are anticipated” in the case. In other words, this could get even bigger.
The prosecution says Patterson refused to speak to police, but that the church has been “fully cooperative” with the investigation.
In an interview Friday night, church member James Thomas, who is serving as a spokesman on this issue, said Nolensville Road Baptist would continue to work with police.
“Anything we could ever do to help them, we would try to do,” he said. “We wanted to see this all the way through because nobody should ever hurt a child.”
James Thomas said church leaders had no inkling of the allegations against Patterson until he resigned. Patterson abruptly left the church on Sept. 24, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family.
“The next day we found out the truth,” he said.
This is a refreshing response from a church. If it’s true that they received no reports about inappropriate behavior, and that they are willing to help police secure a conviction, then color me impressed.
Patterson’s arrest is especially interesting because of his history of being an opponent to the LGBTQ community. Conservative Christians often try to cast gay people as evil child abusers — and we know what they’ve said about transgender people in bathrooms — so there’s an extra level of irony (in addition to disgust and sorrow) when a pastor is indicted for child sex crimes.
Patterson was a vocal opponent of anti-discrimination bills considered by the Metro Council in 2003. The measures were designed to protect jobs and housing for lesbian, gay and bisexual people.
“We want to make sure we keep the pressure on, let them know that anytime they bring this up, we’ll be down here to oppose it,” Patterson told The Tennessean in an article published Feb. 5, 2003.
It’s insane to think that someone who was secretly abusing children sexually would make some sort of a moral stand against homosexuality and gay rights, but that is how it tends to work with people who fervently oppose civil rights. They lash out against other groups, sometimes in the name of public safety and religious freedom, in part to mask their own sins and crimes.
The most important thing here is that Patterson has been arrested and police are actively searching for more victims. Hopefully, they will get some justice.