Billy Baldwin Film Targeted by Sex Abuse Victims Over Locale

'Blind Faith" to be shot at Baptist Church tied to child molestations.

BySusan Donaldson James
February 10, 2012, 4:53 PM

Feb. 13, 2012— -- Advocates for sex abuse victims have called on actor Billy Baldwin and his production company to cancel plans to film a movie on the grounds of a Florida evangelical church that was scarred by a child molestation scandal.

Baldwin, 48, and the brother of actor Alec Baldwin, is set to shoot the film, "Blind Faith," on the campus of Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, where its founder, Robert "Bob" Gray Jr., was alleged to have molested more than 20 young children in the 1970s and 1980s.

Gray was arrested in 2006, but died at age 81 before he could be prosecuted. For 38 years, ending in 1992, when he fled the country, he led the church and its Trinity Christian Academy, where his accusers were elementary students or parishioners.

"We beg you to consider the atrocities that these men and women suffered when considering where to shoot your film," leaders from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) wrote in a letter sent today.

"'Blind Faith' is supposed to be an uplifting story meant to inspire others," they wrote. "Please don't cause these victims more pain by allowing the site of their torture to profit from your movie."

The film is based on the true story of a high school senior who struggles to become the first blind person to play football. Baldwin plays the coach who gave Christian inspiration to the real-life athlete Michael Chastain.

Don Snellgrove, president of Sunrise Recording and Film Productions, told the Christian Post that he hopes the project will "relay elements of faith."

The film has not yet received financing, according to sources close to Baldwin.

"No one is saying there is a predator on staff now," said David Clohessy, director of SNAP. "Movie producers and actors aren't stupid. Surely they know what happened there and that they have many, many options for other places to shoot."

Officials at Trinity Baptist Church say they have not yet been contacted by SNAP, nor have they received the letter.

"We believe the movie 'Blind Faith', and the real life story it portrays will be an inspiration to everyone who sees it," said Daniel Riddick, the church's director of communications. "We are privileged to be able to provide our facilities without charge to make filming of the movie in Jacksonville possible. Trinity serves thousands of people in Northeast Florida each week through multiple ministries, and the protection of minors is a high priority in every ministry."

"It's not just a case of a child-molesting cleric," Clohessy told "His colleagues and supervisors have been ignoring and concealing the crimes and cover it up like it never happened here. Church officials essentially rewarded financially or otherwise for enabling those crimes."

Twenty women and one man spoke up decades later to say they had been sexually abused as children.

Gray was charged in May 2006 with six counts of capital sexual battery involving four women who alleged they had been molested in the 1970s and 1980s, according to the Florida Times Union. He died in 2007, one month before the trial was to begin.

After his death, civil lawsuits were filed by women alleging the church took no action against Gray. The cases were thrown out because they were filed too late to meet the statute of limitations.

Another decade-long Trinity teacher, 56-year-old Anthony Denton, was arrested in 2007 on charges of sexual assault and 16 counts of felony indecent liberties with a child 1977 and 1981 in North Carolina, according to The Florida Times Union.

Victims across all religious denominations have been increasingly vocal about institutional child abuse since the Catholic Church scandal and allegations that fundamentalist Christian churches and schools sanctioned physical punishment and turned a blind eye to molestations.

In 2010, and "20/20" reported on the case of Tina Anderson, who was raped and impregnated as a 15-year-old by by a New Hampshire church deacon.

Last year, both Penn State and Syracuse universities were rocked by sex scandals.

Child Abuse Survivors Plan First Convention

Calling themselves "survivors," many victims have connected on Facebook and other social networking sites to share their pain. On Feb. 24 SNAP will join other such groups at a convention in Long Beach, Calif., sponsored by the national organization Survivors of Institutional Abuse (SIA).

Clohessy, who is active in SIA, said he was "luckier than most victims." He is now married and the father of two sons. Sex abuse victims often have difficulty with intimacy and trust in their relationships.

He and his three of his siblings were molested by their Moberly, Mo., Catholic priest during the 1960s and 1970s. The abuse began when he was 11 and continued until he was 16.

The priest, who is still alive, was suspended from the church in 1991, but was never defrocked, according to Clohessy, who filed a civil suit against him that was thrown out because of the statute of limitations.

But for years, he struggled with depression and insomnia and the effects of post-traumatic stress.

Dwayne Walker, a 50-year-old videographer, attended Trinity Christian Academy from 1978 to 1980 and wrote about his experience in the book, "Spring Break Missionaries."

Football phenomenon Tim Tebow played football for one season at the fundamentalist Christian school decades after Gray's tenure.

He said harsh disciplinary measures were practiced there, and continue at many fundamental Christian schools.

Christian author Michael Pearl was at the center of controversy last year over corporal punishment that authorities say led to the deaths of three children.

In his book, "Training up a Child," Pearl, 66, advocates use of physical punishment or "switching" even in infancy. Pearl and his wife are founders of the fundamental ministry, "No Greater Joy," which posits, "spank and save a child."

Walker said that during his time at Trinity Christian Academy, one of the associate pastors "took a broomstick handle and beat a student on the legs until they bled."

"I didn't see it," said Walker, who now writes the blog Christian School Confidential. "But he talked to me about it. At the time I didn't feel it was violence against children. It didn't mean anything -- just God-ordained discipline."

Walker said he became an advocate for victims when he videotaped a reunion of women who had suffered harsh treatment at Victory Christian Academy in Ramona, Calif. His interview, aired on cable television, prompted the 1991 raid and eventual shutdown of the fundamentalist Christian school in 1992 after the death of a child.

Both Walker and Clohessy say that their first priority in their campaign against institutional abuse is the safety of children.

"The second priority has to be the pain of those who have been betrayed and assaulted by trusted clergy -- and whose suffering has been compounded by callous or corrupt church officials," said Clohessy.

If letters to Baldwin do not have an impact, he said, "the next step will be for the LA chapter to consider finding a place to do a picket protest."

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