Writer – Darick Taylor
The latest book by prolific author and FSCJ professor Dr. Tim Gilmore, Devil in the Baptist Church: Bob Gray’s Unholy Trinity, is perhaps his most personal nonfiction project to date. The subject of Devil in the Baptist Church is the deceased Rev. Bob Gray, who served as pastor at Trinity Baptist Church for 38 years. Bob Gray also molested dozens of children—the first case dating back to 1949, the year before he became pastor.
Dr. Gilmore attended Trinity Christian Academy in the 1980s when Gray was still “a prominent figure in the background.” Growing up in an atmosphere of austere religious fundamentalism and suffering a tragic loss within his family at the age of 12 created a sense of anger in Dr. Gilmore—anger which he had to process. “As I matured, hopefully I mellowed,” he told me. If the emotional difficulty of writing this book, which hits so close to home, stirred up any of that old anger, it did not prevent Dr. Gilmore from recognizing the hurt of those whom Gray victimized: “Yeah, it’s hard. But at the same time, I am not a victim, and I can only imagine what those people have had to go through.”
Gray preached around the country and was friends with the widely known pastor and televangelist Jerry Falwell. Yet the directors of Trinity Baptist Church, to which many people dedicated their lives throughout the time Gray was pastor, were emphatic about dealing with the problem internally. Dr. Gilmore explained that because Trinity considered God’s law to be above man’s law, “The thinking was that only God can really deal with this, so it has to be taken care of inside of the church.” In the early 1990s, victims and their families were told not to go to the police; meanwhile, Gray quietly ceased being pastor and was sent to Germany as a missionary. It is not known if Gray continued his abuse of children while in Europe, though there is little reason to believe otherwise.
When Gray returned to Jacksonville in 2006 to retire, nearly two dozen adults who as children had been abused by Gray bravely came forward to accuse him. Gray was promptly arrested, but by that time the statute of limitations regarding possible criminal charges had expired. Civil suits were brought forward; however, Gray died in jail without facing trial at the age of 81.
I asked Dr. Gilmore, who has written about figures running the moral gamut from “pseudo-serial killer” Ottis Toole to humanitarian hero Eartha White, if he finds he needs a balance of the dark and the light in his writing. “I do,” he said. Does he consciously seek out that equilibrium? With Eartha White, yes; maybe that provides a clue about the tone of his next book.
To learn more about this poignant story and important moment in Jacksonville’s history, visit the UNF Gallery of Art on Thursday, September 22nd at 7PM. Dr. Gilmore will be reading from Devil in the Baptist Church, and there will be copies of the book for sale at the event. Further details can be found at https://www.facebook.com/events/1681799422145146/