A bishop has to meet stringent personal qualifications, the broadest of which is that he must be “blameless” (1 Tim. 3:2). Of course, blameless does not mean sinless, but it does require at minimum that no credible charge of scandal can be lodged against him. In other words, a minister’s reputation is one of his most precious earthly possession. To destroy his reputation is to destroy his ministry.
The responsibility for protecting a minister’s reputation is not his alone. The people to whom he ministers also share that duty. Anyone can accuse a minister of anything at any time. Paul states that the church must not take accusations into account unless they are backed by credible evidence (1 Tim. 5:19).
On the other hand, the office of elder carries a heavy responsibility of trust. A minister who falls into disgrace betrays that trust. If an accusation of scandal can be sustained against him, then the church has an obligation to act. His conduct is to be publicly rebuked. People should know that even ministers cannot hide behind their offices when they do wrong, and that knowledge should move them to fear (1 Tim. 5:20).
Neither ministries nor reputations die with the men who build them. A man who spends his life laboring in the Lord’s vineyard may well leave an active work behind him when he dies. To some extent that work will be bound to his ongoing credibility, i.e., to the reputation that survives him.
Such a man was Robert T. Ketcham. As a young man, Ketcham was partly responsible for starting the protest movement that came to be called fundamentalism. He later became one of the pioneers of the Regular Baptist movement. While the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches was never a one-man organization, Ketcham played a significant role in defining its structure and consolidating its constituency. His name is still remembered and respected within Regular Baptist circles.
It comes as a surprise, then, to find Robert T. Ketcham being accused of “long-time sexual addictions.” This accusation is leveled in a report produced by Professional Investigators International, the purpose of which is to detail the immoralities of former missionary Donn Ketcham, Robert Ketcham’s son. The accusation is repeated three times (pages 79, 100, and 245). According to the report, the accusation is based upon testimony from E. Alan Cockrell (interim executive administrator of the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism from 2011 until 2013), Robert Showers (former corporate counsel and paid investigator for ABWE), Nancy Anderson (legal coordinator at ABWE), and an unnamed ABWE employee. The report also specifies that, “This allegation was outside of the scope of the investigation, so no additional information was gathered by the investigative team in this regard . . . nor was any corroborative evidence peripherally discovered” (100, 245).
So what do we do about Robert T. Ketcham? Do we refuse to receive the accusation, or do we rebuke him before all? The answer to this question depends entirely upon the quality of the evidence that supports the accusation. Historians evaluate their evidence by asking two questions. First, they want to know how likely it is that a given source was in a position to know the truth. Second, they want to know how likely it is that a given source is willing to tell the truth—and to what degree.
Not many now living can remember Robert Ketcham. I met him once, in October of 1973. I was a college freshman and had just turned eighteen. He was a blind and shrunken old man. He had to be led by the hand, he was unsteady on his feet, and he experienced difficulty speaking. Clearly he was unable to indulge any “sexual addictions” at this stage of his life, nor had he been for some years. If Robert Ketcham was guilty of the accusation, those with first-hand knowledge would now be in their mid-sixties or older.
None of the sources that were named by Professional Investigators International is claimed to have direct knowledge of Ketcham’s alleged “sexual addictions.” That being so, these four individuals are repeating a second-hand report. Furthermore, all four persons are connected more-or-less directly with the ABWE administration, which suggests that they are all relying upon the same report. They are not independent sources. To all indications they actually represent the same source.
If Ketcham was guilty of “long-standing sexual addictions,” it is inconceivable that no record exists. Since the early 1980s I have been researching Regular Baptist history, examining both living witnesses and written documents across the United States. For many years the GARBC has given me free access to its archives (including the so-called “naughty files” dealing with ministerial transgressions). I have also had access to the papers of some of Ketcham’s opponents and enemies. Over that time I have viewed tens of thousands of documents from many sources, thousands of which featured Robert Ketcham. Some were supportive of him and his ideas; others were critical. Some were vituperative. Not one, however, has ever mentioned anything resembling sexual misconduct. Not even his bitterest enemies made this accusation. In the tens of thousands of documents that I have viewed, Robert Ketcham’s reputation is unstained.
If Robert Ketcham really was guilty of sexual misconduct, then a public rebuke is in order, even after his death. If, however, he is innocent of those accusations, then his reputation ought to be guarded both for his sake and for the sake of ministries that have outlived him. To this point, the accusation has not been confirmed by two or three witnesses. On the contrary, it has not come from witnesses at all, but from individuals who appear to be relying second-hand upon some undisclosed report. At best, PII repeated what these individuals said without attempting to verify the accusation or seeking additional evidence.
The burden is now upon PII to produce credible evidence implicating Robert Ketcham in “long-time sexual addictions.” Barring that, they need to retract the accusation and to eliminate it from the PII document. The matter that PII was employed to investigate (the serial pedophilia of Donn Ketcham and the culpability of the ABWE board and administration for covering it up) is of great importance. Lamentably, that investigation’s credibility is undermined by its poorly substantiated accusation against Robert Ketcham. One way or the other, this problem needs to be fixed.
This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
Leave me alone, and let me look
Into that bright enticing blue:
The floor of heaven, as if I knew
What feet walk there, or what they do.
We hear of four-faced Cherubim
And spirits in the shape of wheels
With eyes of fire around each rim
Like chariots on heaven’s hills.
The seraphim with burning coals
Hide deep beneath their six-fold wing,
Their feet and faces as they sing
To all but Elohim unseen.
And somewhere, like a mountain range,
The martyrs march a million strong,
Stamping and chanting as if their song
Had crushed the serpent these ages long.
Abraham sits beneath his tree
And nurtures in his bosom wide
The souls of men as the sands by the sea,
And leprous Lazarus who died.
Four horsemen wait, and from their steeds
Proceeds a restless bitter breath;
They smell the scent of human deeds,
They answer with the sweat of death.
The Lamb amasses on the Mount
Ten thousand chariots of fire,
To take, when time has drawn us nigher,
Hell by force, Earth by desire.
For Christ went up into that sky
Long, long ago (such years have passed!),
And though its arc be high and vast,
He must come down again at last.
So leave me alone, and let me look
Into that bright enticing sky:
For they must come, or else must I
At last go up to them on high.