Convicted Sex Offender Pursuing Ministry Training at Southern Baptist Schools

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In 2009, David Chatham was convicted of possessing child pornography and sentenced to six years in federal prison. His Southern Baptist pastor reportedly argued for leniency at the time, citing Chatham’s “dedication to Christ.”

Now Chatham is pursuing ministry training at Southern Baptist schools. He was a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in a ministry leadership program for several years. Chatham currently says he’s been admitted as a ministry student at Liberty University, a school with informal ties to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

Chatham claimed on his LinkedIn profile earlier this summer, which we’ve archived, that he was enrolled at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, in an online Master’s in Applied Ministry program.

After The Roys Report (TRR) asked Chatham about his enrollment, the reference to Liberty disappeared from his LinkedIn profile. Chatham told TRR that he had been accepted to Liberty but was not enrolled.

Liberty’s description of its Applied Ministry program notes it will help students “meet the spiritual needs of your community in impactful ways.”

Liberty University did not reply to multiple requests for comment regarding Chatham’s acceptance at the institution or whether the school conducts criminal background checks. Liberty has been the subject of multiple lawsuits claiming it did not provide adequate protections for women who were sexual victims on campus.

Before applying to Liberty, Chatham was enrolled for several years at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) in Wake Forest, North Carolina, in its online Master’s in Ministry Leadership program. SEBTS claims its program will help students “develop strategies to maximize leadership impact.”

However, a source contacted SEBTS in April of this year, asking how a convicted sex offender was allowed into its master’s program. TRR has obtained correspondence showing that Chatham ceased to be a student at SEBTS as of July 6.

This reporter reached out to SEBTS for comment about Chatham’s prior enrollment, but the school did not respond.

Chatham, a public relations consultant from Raleigh, N.C., possessed at least 3,400 pornographic images, according to a 2009 article in the Charlotte News Observer. The article adds that some of the images were “particularly violent” and others “depicted very young children.”

The 55-year-old now works for Angel Oak Creative, a Christian marketing agency that specializes in serving non-profits.

News of Chatham’s prior enrollment at SEBTS and apparent acceptance at Liberty comes as the SBC is reeling from an independent investigation into alleged cover-up of abuse within the denomination. The investigation found that the SBC “often mishandled” abuse allegations and mistreated survivors.

Chatham enrolled at SEBTS
In a video posted to YouTube this past February, Chatham introduced himself to SEBTS classmates and stated he has been enrolled at SEBTS in the Master’s in Ministry Leadership for the last few years. He added he is taking one class per semester while working full-time. Chatham does not disclose his criminal history but mentions that his pastor had helped him through a “significant crisis” in 2009.

Last spring, a source who wished to remain anonymous noticed Chatham’s enrollment and began emailing SEBTS administrators with concerns. That source has since shared his email correspondence with TRR, and TRR has confirmed the source’s identity.

The source first reached out to SEBTS on April 27, asking the school whether a student with a criminal background involving child pornography could be admitted to the Master’s in Ministry Leadership program.

Mark Silverthorn, SEBTS interim director of admissions, responded that SEBTS has an “extensive vetting process,” including “a criminal background check.”

Silverthorn said that when “concerns are discovered,” the school implements “tailored procedures to provide the highest level of protections.” These potentially could include limiting the student to taking online classes and prohibiting the student from living on campus or interacting with certain populations.

According to a source, SEBTS later confirmed that Chatham was studying online only. This reporter reached out to SEBTS for confirmation, but SEBTS did not respond.