by Tim Gilmore, 6/17/2012
In the late 1980s, the boys standing in line outside the yellow metal panel walls of the private Christian school mentioned rumors they had heard that the school principal and pastor of the church that ran the school had molested children.
Once a week, the 1500 students of The Christian Academy, from Kindergarten through 12th grade, attended Chapel, another name for church during school hours. At Chapel, they were shown a movie, some of the worst acting any of them would ever see, called The Burning Hell.
In The Burning Hell, two rebellious teenagers, who look like they’re about 30 years old, scoff at a Southern Baptist preacher. Immediately afterward, they’re seen rebelliously riding their rebellious motorcycles, when one of them inexplicably tumbles over, and even more inexplicably, his head rolls off. Next thing the rebellious decapitated teenager knows, he’s burning in hell with poorly costumed demons hopping around like down-on-their-luck birthday clowns.
The adults attending The Baptist Church that runs the school said the rumors about The Preacher were the work of the Devil.
In the 1950s and 1960s, The Preacher called the Civil Rights Movement the work of Communists, and its leader he referred to as Martin Lucifer King.
The first thing you see of The Baptist Church from Interstate-10 is the cemetery. In the distance behind it, you see the yellow metal panel walls of the school. There’s a lot you don’t see.
The Preacher was the pastor of the church for 38 years. In 1954, the church had a miniscule congregation. By the time he left the church in 1992, he had created a so-called megachurch. The church and school together comprise more than 140 acres.
In 1992, the church was one of the largest in Jacksonville. Ostensibly, The Preacher left the church to minister to the atheists in the secular nation of Germany. Whispered among the students at The Christian Academy, and by some of their parents, was the escalation of rumors that he had molested small children for over 20 years, that the church was getting him out of the country so that people would shut up.
Most church members said the rumors were the work of the Devil.
In the late 1980s, a half dozen boys at the private church school were told their hair was getting too long, that it was about to touch their ears, that they exhibited worrisome behaviors, that it had been said they listened to a kind of music that glorified Satan. Some of these boys had carved symbols of the Devil and the names of their favorite rock bands in their arms with sewing needles. There was concern amongst school and church administration that these behaviors could lead to human sacrifice, suicide, parricide, and demon possession.
On a school binder, one teenage boy had written the infamous rhyme, “Lizzie Borden took an axe, / gave her mother 40 whacks, / and when she saw what she had done, / she gave her father 41.”
In May 2006, The Preacher, Robert Calhoun Gray, Jr., was arrested for sexual battery. By that time, accusations that he had sexually abused children had existed for almost 40 years. Some said that his church and his school had been run by the Devil, that they were the Devil’s church and school.
Women had met with church leaders to discuss allegations that Pastor Bob Gray had molested them before they were 10 years old, but church leaders, as late as the early 21st century, claimed they had never heard such allegations and that such allegations had no chance of being taken seriously against a man with such a faithful following.
As soon as the first legal charges were made in May 2006, more women pressed charges. In less than a year, more than 20 women had pressed charges that Pastor Bob Gray had sexually abused them when they were children.
The statute of limitations in such cases was four years. The statute of limitations did not even wait for a girl to reach adulthood, or even adolescence. At the end of 2007, judges began throwing out the lawsuits, saying the allegations might be true, but that the victims had waited too long to file suit.
Police reports from 2006 indicate that The Preacher, Robert Calhoun Gray, Jr., pastor of Trinity Baptist Church and Trinity Christian Academy, admitted to “French kissing” several small girls in his office years ago. Plaintiffs said they were as young as five years old and eight years old when he molested them. One plaintiff said that after he kissed her, fondled her, and exposed his genitals, he gave her money to buy a soda and told her she was God’s reward to him.
In Chapel, in the late 1980s, 15 and 16 year-old kids were told that devils were in the air all around them, wanting them to listen to evil music, wanting their parents to vote for politicians who passed laws God did not like. An auditorium full of teenagers was reminded that 1 Peter 5:8 said, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” A quarter century before, The Preacher, Pastor Bob Gray, had said the Civil Rights Movement was under the leadership of Martin Lucifer King.
In the late 1980s, teenage boys attending Trinity Christian Academy were required to wear blue slacks, tucked-in white shirts, and ties. Their hair had to be cut at least half an inch above their ears. Teenage girls had to wear white shirts tucked in to blue dresses that could be no shorter than below the knees.
The teachers and the preachers made themselves adamantly clear that students must be blameless, because The Devil was walking about, seeking whom he may devour.
Yes, he was.
Robert Calhoun Gray, Jr. attended Stetson University, a largely religious private college in DeLand, Florida, where he befriended fellow student Homer Lindsay, Jr. Lindsay would become pastor at First Baptist Church, the largest church in Jacksonville.
In 1998, First Baptist Church built a fully functioning lighthouse on the corner of one of the many First Baptist parking garages that span whole square blocks downtown. Residents in the Springfield neighborhood just north of downtown said the lighthouse beam lit up their bedrooms and living rooms every few seconds for hours every night.
In 2002, Pastor Jerry Vines, who succeeded Pastor Homer Lindsay, Jr., preached that Islam was founded by a demon-possessed pedophile. Police reports from 2006 indicate that Robert Calhoun Gray, Jr. admitted to “French kissing” several little girls in his office. Perhaps Pastor Jerry Vines thought that Pastor Bob Gray had founded Islam.
Pastor Bob Gray appeared in court as he so often had in the pulpit of his megachurch, wearing a conservative blue blazer and dark horn-rimmed glasses.
In November 2007, The Preacher, the Reverend Robert Gray, still in jail awaiting child molestation charges, died at the age of 81. The cause of death was not released. He never faced a single one of his accusers in court. Some of them were angered by his death.
The Trinity Baptist Church and Christian Academy complex was built in 1972 in the Jacksonville Heights section of Marietta on the far Westside, 18 years after Bob Gray became pastor and 20 years before he left church and country to serve God as a missionary to the benighted souls in secular Western Europe. 1972 was the median of his power as the leader of one of the most powerful churches in a very religious town. When he died, accusations that he had sexually abused children had persisted for 40 years.