A state association of Free Will Baptist congregations has suspended the ministerial credentials of Dale Richardson, saying that the misconduct he is accused of is forbidden by God.
Richardson, 46, of Myrtle Way in Summerville, had been serving as pastor at Freedom Free Will Baptist Church in Ladson up until he was arrested July 28 on the first of several criminal charges.
He is accused of kidnapping at least three prostitutes from the Ashley Phosphate Road area of North Charleston and taking two of them to a trailer on church grounds and raping them there. The third woman was released without having been sexually assaulted, law-enforcement reports say.
Richardson is being held in the Charleston County jail on more than $1 million bail and faces charges filed by police in North Charleston and Summerville as well as the Dorchester County Sheriff's Office. Bond was denied on the charges filed by Summerville police and by the Dorchester County Sheriff's Office.
On Saturday, the Rev. Todd Smith, executive secretary of the S.C. Free Will Baptist Association, released a statement from the group's executive committee, which has suspended Richardson's credentials pending the final outcome of the investigation.
Smith asked that the statement be released in its entirety. Here is the full text:
"Our leadership was shocked to learn of the allegations made against Dale Richardson. According to our statement of faith, we believe that the misconduct alleged against him is forbidden by God.
"At this time, the Eastern Conference Executive Committee and Ordaining Council have decided to suspend Rev. Richardson's credentials pending the final outcome of the investigation. We plan to cooperate with law enforcement authorities in their on-going investigation.
"Our prayers are with all involved. As Free Will Baptists who are a part of the National Association of Free Will Baptists we believe that the highest authority is the local church; therefore, we are not denominationally connected in local church government and oversight. Our prayers are with the Freedom Free Will Baptist Church leadership as they make decisions and lead their church during this time."
Attempts to contact anyone from the local congregation have been unsuccessful, but on Wednesday, Richardson's name was removed from a marquee outside the church, which is on Lincolnville Road. He is still listed as the pastor on the church's website.
The Free Will Baptist denomination is not affiliated with the nation's largest Baptist group, the Southern Baptist Convention.
According to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, there were about 186,000 Free Will Baptist members nationwide in 2007, the last year for which statistics were available. The Southern Baptist Convention had more than 16 million members in the same year.