WAKE FOREST – A former student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is out on $50,000 bond after his arrest March 17.
William “Billy” Birch, 43, has been charged with sexual assault after an incident involving another male student March 17 in an apartment on the Wake Forest campus. According to Danny Akin, Southeastern’s president, Birch confessed to the police and to him. Birch has been expelled from the seminary and evicted from his on-campus apartment at Goldston Hall.
In the chapel service March 20, Akin along with other faculty, addressed the gathering about the incident over the weekend.
Akin reminded students and faculty of the “depravity and wickedness of man” in his address to them. The incident should serve as a reminder to “how desperately we need the gospel.” He warned students to be careful in their walk with the Lord and to be involved in a local church.
Akin said Birch admitted to him that he wasn’t currently involved at the local church level. Akin told the students they can’t hide from sin.
“Don’t hide it,” Akin said. “Don’t act like, ‘If I ignore it, it will go away.’ Let us help you.”
Because of the nature of the incident there are a lot of eyes watching Southeastern now and what students and faculty will do, Akin said.
“What I want them to see is a redeemed community of sinners,” Akin added, asking students to especially be careful when using social media.
“This incident is tragic in so many ways and is a reminder of the fallen and broken world in which we live,” Akin wrote in an email to students. “Christians are not immune to this reality. Sin is always crouching at the door and this is an evidence of the necessity to take every thought captive to Christ and to walk wisely before our God.”
Sin was the main topic of the chapel gathering. Songs that were sung included “It is well,” “In Christ Alone,” and “There is a fountain,” all having verses dealing with sin and the victory only found in Jesus.
Akin shared that some of the early media reports were incorrect or misleading. One report said the seminary and specifically himself were unavailable. Akin said he, along with the seminary’s communications director, were in contact with local media outlets. Early reports also said students had not been notified of an attack. Akin said students were not notified right away because authorities had Birch in custody and no one was in immediate danger.
An email was sent to students Sunday afternoon informing them of the incident and that Akin would address it when he was in chapel Thursday, March 22. He sent another email March 19 indicating that he would be in chapel March 20 to address concerns about the incident as well as misinformation that had been circulating.
Mark Liederbach, dean of students, sent out an email March 19 about a mandatory meeting that afternoon for students living directly on campus to discuss what had happened and offer the seminary’s services if anyone needs counseling. He, as well as counseling staff members, are available.
In one of his emails, Akin described the seminary as “a precious family of redeemed sinners.” Again in chapel March 20, he addressed the people gathered as family.
“We should never be surprised when sinners sin,” Liederbach said in chapel. “We need to be very careful with our own hearts.”
Akin, Liederbach, and Sam Williams, a counseling professor, addressed the need to surround Birch in prayer and encourage him in a right relationship with God. They also stressed the need to pray for the victim, whose identity has not been released. They asked students to pray for their fellow student and, if they do know him, to be sensitive to what he needs right now.
Birch is a recognized blogger in Southern Baptist circles, with Dave Miller of SBCVoices.com calling him a friend “whose judgment and astute theological argument I was increasingly impressed with.”
In a blog post March 19, Miller, pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa, said he returned from leading the evening service at his church Sunday to find an email from Birch admitting moral failure.
“I feel like crying as I write these words, because a brother in Christ whom I counted as a friend has fallen deeply into sin,” Miller wrote.
He also noted that “a 25-year-old seminary student has had his life turned upside down as the result of this assault.” Miller wrote that the victim “has been badly damaged by another’s sin” and will need “God’s grace and power to find comfort, healing and strength.”
Miller also requested prayer for Birch, who “seemed genuinely sorrowful and broken,” that God would “bring him through the dark night of repentance to a restored walk with Christ” and “carry him through the difficult days that lie ahead.”
“Let the authorities do their work, pray for the victim and for Billy and let us speak only those words which build others up,” Miller wrote.