Bartlett church moves on after pastor resigns amid scandal

John Finley, former Bartlett Hills Baptist Church executive pastor, is pictured in this snapshot from the 1980s, when he worked as a youth pastor in Fort Worth, Texas. He is accused of sexual abuse of two teen girls during his stint in Texas. Courtesy photo.

Editor’s note: Two Texas women filed a police report in January 2018 against their former youth pastor for alleged sexual abuse that happened almost 40 years ago. In April, six Bartlett Hills Baptist Church representatives received letters with the bombshell accusations about the man, John Finley, who was then serving as their executive pastor in Bartlett. For details, see the original story that was researched and published July 8 by the Star-Telegram in Fort Worth, Texas. (You can also listen to video of one of the alleged victims there, as well as hear a recording of Finley confessing "inappropriate" actions to his Bartlett church before he resigned.)

On Monday, John Finley declined to comment to The Bartlett Express on the sexual abuse allegations against him. His attorney was not immediately available to comment as of our press deadline on Tuesday and had not returned our call as of Wednesday. The current Bartlett Hills pastor also declined to comment but referred The Bartlett Express to a designated spokesman.

Three months after Bartlett Hills Baptist Church heard claims that their then-pastor John Finley had sexually abused two teens in Texas, they are still waiting on supporting documentation, said church spokesman Ted Rasbach.

On Monday, Rasbach explained some background: Six people (a mix of church staff members and church leaders) each received an alarming letter out of the blue on April 3.

“We received a letter containing allegations, and the key word is ‘allegations,’” Rasbach said.

Two women said he explicitly touched them sexually when they were younger than 18 and he was a youth minister decades ago at Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas.

Only four of the letter’s recipients were available to convene. The youth minister had left the church three weeks earlier, and the music minister had just resigned to take a position at another church.

The remaining four confronted Finley with the allegations that night. They met with him again two nights later, and in that meeting Finley announced he would voluntarily resign. He did so on April 8.

Finley admitted to inappropriate contact but not actual sex, and he told the church that his accusers were at least 18, which the girls dispute.

Rasbach continued, “Since that time, we requested documentation from them, supporting the allegations, but never got them. We were promised them, but never got them. But somehow or other the writer for the Telegram did. She told me she did.”

Rasbach said the church committee wanted to see police reports about the allegations and verification of the girls’ ages at the time. The sexual contact allegedly happened in the late 1980s, but no police report was filed until January 2018, he said, and Finley’s name still wasn’t specified even then.

“For whatever reason, they chose not to do that,” he said.

In response to a follow-up question, he said that it wouldn’t be proof enough that the alleged victims were underage even if they offered a copy of their driver’s licenses, showing their dates of birth. “That wouldn’t have substantiated that they were minors.”

Rasbach said of Finley’s conduct in Bartlett, “We never had one report of any inappropriate or sexual misconduct behavior about John Finley.”

Later in the interview, Rasbach, a church member for the past 52 years, mentioned that Finley served as his church’s youth minister from 1987 through about 1998 and then served as pastor. Rasbach also said he personally worked quite a bit with Finley. In his opinion, the pastor was an honorable man to work with.

Rasbach said he continued speaking with an advocate for the two women for several weeks after receiving that disturbing letter.

“They wanted us to change John Finley’s statement, and we said we would not change his statement,” he said. “That was his words, that was his resignation, and we were not going to change that.”

Rasbach’s committee notified church members one week in advance about an April 18 business meeting of the whole church to discuss the John Finley matter. There, Rasbach announced the church was creating a process anyone could use to report inappropriate conduct. None has been reported to date, he said.

After Finley resigned, the church notified the Mid-South Baptist Association and its executive director of the allegations. Rasbach said that executive director also notified the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s president.

Today, Finley is out of the ministry, and his former church is searching for a replacement pastor, Rasbach said.

“It comes down to who you believe, that’s what it comes down to. Our church has not taken the stand for John Finley. Of course, they wanted us to agree with them, the ladies did. They wanted the church to agree with them, to acknowledge that he had violated minors.”