“We implore you to increase your financial and moral support to A.P. for the next two years then make an evaluation,” the elders wrote. “We are confident the Lord will bring unparalleled results through the new leadership, its renewed focus and its amazingly talented staff.”
The board of Apologetics Press fired Thompson, 55, its executive director for 26 years, at a May 24 meeting.
Among those who attended were his wife, Rhonda, elders from supporting congregations and his minister, Frank Chesser of the Panama Street Church of Christ in Montgomery. Chesser declined an interview request.
Miller said the confrontation followed an investigation by Apologetics Press staff members and other interested individuals.
“We didn't lay anything out on the table,” Miller said, referring to specific instances of wrongdoing. “We just said, 'We now have knowledge of multiple incidents involving a number of individuals.'”
At that time, Thompson confessed his sins and asked for forgiveness, according to those present. At his church the next night, he responded to the invitation and again asked for forgiveness.
CHURCH MEMBER SAYS HE'S A VICTIM
A 36-year-old church member, who grew up in Alabama, said he was among alleged victims who gave statements to the investigators.
The member, who preferred not to be identified publicly, told The Christian Chronicle that Thompson started sending him cards and letters when he was 13, then pressed him to go out to dinner after he turned 16, the legal age of consent in Alabama.
At the meal, Thompson invited the teen to go home with him and watch a movie, the member said. Thompson's family was not home, and the member said Thompson lured him to a bedroom, disrobed and touched him inappropriately. The member said he later met two other young men who told of similar experiences with Thompson.
The member voiced concerns that church leaders who gathered evidence against Thompson wanted to keep the accusations quiet.
He said one minister told him, “He didn't molest Methodists. He didn't molest Baptists. He didn't molest atheists. And we intend to keep it in the church.” (The minister who allegedly made that statement declined to comment.)
But the member said the accusations needed to be made public to allow more victims to come forward.
“We don't know if he just molested Church of Christ kids,” he said. “This guy was all over the country.”
In an “Open Letter to the Brotherhood” dated May 25, Thompson wrote, “For some time now, I have been struggling with some personal sins in my life, and as a result it was obvious ... that I no longer was the best choice to lead the work forward for the next quarter of a century.”
When contacted by the Chronicle about the firing, Thompson referred all questions to Apologetics Press. “That's something between them and me, and it's a very personal matter,” he said, and declined to comment further.
Rhonda Thompson, his wife of 33 years, said the couple is divorcing. “You can safely say we're devastated,” she said.
But she said she remains supportive of Apologetics Press, describing its work as “vital to the church, and I beg the brotherhood to continue to support it.”
GRAND JURY DECLINED TO BRING CHARGES
The recently uncovered accusations were not the first. A year and a half ago, no charges were brought after a grand jury in Montgomery County heard accusations of inappropriate sexual contact by Thompson with a 17-year-old boy, Miller said.
While that case ended with no legal action, the Eastern Meadows church, Montgomery, withdrew as the overseeing congregation for Apologetics Press. The Thompsons, the Millers and three other families associated with Apologetics Press left that congregation, Miller said.
But the Eastern Meadows church continued to contribute “a fairly large sum of money” to Apologetics Press, Miller said.
“We had information about the allegations,” said Ted Norton, an Eastern Meadows elder. “We were not in a position to know whether they were true or not. We as individuals had our own personal feelings, but we did not have evidence so to speak.”
To many, Thompson was the face of Apologetics Press - the outspoken creationist who delighted in sparring with those with whom he disagreed.
The Abilene Christian University alumnus made national news in the mid-1980s when he accused ACU biology professors of teaching evolution and making light of the Genesis account of creation.
The professors were exonerated after a three-month investigation by ACU.
Another focus of Thompson's books and attacks was John Clayton, a Dowagiac, Mich., church member and former atheist who leads “Does God Exist?” seminars across the nation.
CLAYTON SAYS CRISIS CALLS FOR PRAYER
Thompson took issue with Clayton's views on creation and accused him of advocating “theistic evolution,” since Clayton suggests the earth cannot dogmatically be said to be 6,000 years old.
“I would have nothing to say about it - except that we need to pray for everyone involved, especially the many people who put their faith in Bert and will be seriously damaged by what has happened,” Clayton said of Thompson's firing.
Last year, Apologetics Press published two articles making a biblical case against homosexuality and listing the authors as Brad Harrub, Thompson and Miller. Both articles remain on the organization's Web site, but references to Thompson as an author have been deleted.
“I think we just decided to remove those because of the hypocrisy,” said Miller, indicating that he and Harrub had written 98 percent of the original articles.
Phil Sanders, minister of the Concord Road Church of Christ in Brentwood, Tenn., said Thompson's work blessed thousands.
“I will still place a measure of confidence in what he has written,” Sanders said, “but I am deeply disappointed that he has permitted this sin to enslave him.”