Retired Mobile pastor Charles Brown, 79, has found himself navigating a situation he never anticipated — clearing his name for someone else’s misconduct.
“In a three-minute newscast, 80 years of my life and ministry went down the tubes,” Brown told The Alabama Baptist on May 28 as he shared the devastation he has endured since the May 27 noon news story incorrectly reported by NBC 15 in Mobile.
The correction reported by the station during the 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts the same day stated, “In our story we identified the names of church leaders from our area who were on the Southern Baptist Convention’s alleged sex abuser list … the names identified and their church affiliations were correct, however, the picture we showed for one of the people on that list was not.”
That’s where the two names were mixed up. The Charles Brown on the list is not the Charles Brown who retired from Government Street Baptist Church in Mobile earlier this year after nearly 45 years as pastor.
SBC alleged abuser list
On the SBC alleged abuser list, a Charles Brown is listed on page 26 as pastor of London Baptist Church in Evergreen, Alabama, when he was convicted in 1987 of “abusing a teenage boy in 1986.” According to the report, he was given a suspended sentence. Additional information noted London Baptist Church is in Castleberry, “that is next to Evergreen.”
How the reporter developing the story at NBC 15 in Mobile determined the Charles Brown of London Baptist in 1987 was the same Charles Brown who now serves as pastor emeritus of Government Street Baptist in Mobile is unclear. The Alabama Baptist has not yet been able to reach the station’s news director for that part of the story.
Mobile’s Charles Brown, who talked with a supervisor at the station, said the station representative apologized and acknowledged the mistake. The representative would not provide the reporter’s name nor exactly what happened but did confirm proper reporting channels were not followed, Brown added.
‘Did not check carefully’
Brown wonders if the reporter might have found a resumé or biography online that listed Evergreen Baptist Church in Seminary, Mississippi.
“That was the first church I ever pastored — Evergreen Baptist Church in Seminary, Mississippi,” Brown said. “I was there from 1963 through 1965.”
If that is what the reporter did, then he or she “obviously did not check carefully” because one use of “Evergreen” is a town and the other a church, the years of service noted in each are more than 20 years apart and the Evergreens are in two different states, he noted. “The news media made a terrible mistake.”
‘My big hurt’
“I don’t know how many people have heard [the incorrect news report],” Brown said, “but at Government Street we have a private school and a very large day care program. My big hurt is … the effect it has on the church, me, the congregation, just the insinuation of it … and how parents of the children would be concerned.”
Brown, his lawyer and church members gathered at the station the afternoon of May 27 to share a comment, an excerpt of which was included with the correction that aired in both evening newscasts. “I tried to redeem as much of my morality and my character as I could.”
Ministry leaders across the state also jumped into action to help spread the word of the mistake and affirm the credibility of his name, a name highly regarded not only by the Government Street Baptist congregation but well beyond.
The City of Mobile declared Jan. 16, 2022, to be Dr. Charles E. Brown Day in his honor.
Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, told The Alabama Baptist, “I’ve known Charles Brown for more than three decades. He is a dear friend of mine and a faithful colleague in ministry. Charles serves as a trustee on our State Board of Missions and executive committee. I believe in him as a Christian leader without equivocation.”
C. Thomas Wright, executive director of missions for Mobile Baptist Association, has known Brown for 18 years and worked with the minister’s fellowship group to send out an email alert as soon as they were made aware of the situation May 27.
The email described what happened and concluded with “Channel 15 has issued a correction but many may not see it. Please let others know of the mistake. Dr. Charles Brown of Mobile, AL, former pastor of Government Str. is innocent. Satan is alive and well and continues to try and destroy God’s men and women.”
It was not clear at press time how church leaders were planning to communicate with church members and parents connected to the school and day care, but on May 30 interim pastor Scotty Jernigan shared with The Alabama Baptist that he and another church leader addressed the issue during the May 29 Sunday morning service.
“Yesterday, in our normal worship time, right out of the gate, we wanted to address this upfront,” Jernigan explained. “We shared that Dr. Brown’s name had mistakenly been connected to the terrible issue of sexual abuse sins in the convention. … We shared how this was in no way connected to our church, school or child development center.
“We asked the church to pray over those who had suffered abuse and … [for the Lord to] bring to light every person who has caused the harm,” he said. “Our prayer is for what David experienced in the psalms … genuine repentance [even amid consequences from the actions] … real healing can start there. We pray every wound can be healed completely as only our God can do.
“We also pray for those who are innocent but being attached to the situation. It is tough to establish a good name and important to protect those who do.”
And while the Government Street congregation knows Brown and his reputation well enough to automatically have questioned the TV station’s accusation, church members appreciated the confirmation from church leaders to address the mistake quickly and publicly, Jernigan noted. “They were appreciative of us addressing it straight up, not waiting a few weeks. They appreciated us being upfront to prevent distraction.
“Our focus was on discipleship [and] an opportunity to grow,” he added. “What’s done in the dark is going to be brought to light.
“This is a sweet fellowship with tons of potential to have a great impact. God causes all things to work together for good, and while I don’t always understand it or know how He will do it, I’m expecting it and I’m praying Dr. Brown receives an awful lot of good from this because he deserves it.
“I believe there’s a stirring within our church right now and great hunger for God to do something among us.”
Importance of accountability
Reflecting on Brown’s situation, Wright shared with The Alabama Baptist, “This false accusation is the worst case scenario for publishing the list. Sexual predators must be held accountable and stopped from serial activity in one or more churches. Church members and the secular media must also be accountable to present accurate information.
“Each believer also can build a bridge for the gospel by acknowledging sinful Christians point people to a sinless Jesus,” Wright said. “The biblical Jesus is absolutely trustworthy. He will not disappoint and His life models how to be consistent in holiness. A holiness that transforms thought and behavior.”