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The Lord uses everything: S.C. pastor hopeful to continue call after charges dismissed

The Lord uses everything: S.C. pastor hopeful to continue call after charges dismissed
Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

By Jessica Brodie

COLUMBIA—A United Methodist pastor has had his charges dismissed and his record expunged after spending the last four years fighting to clear his name.

Now, he is hopeful his clean record will help him get reappointed as a pastor.

The Rev. Walter C. Ballenger III was arrested in July 2015 on three counts of criminal sexual misconduct with a child in Richland County and in August 2015 on an additional charge in Florence County. Ballenger, an ordained pastor, was suspended from all min­isterial duties for the protection of all parties.

On June 2 of this year, the Clergy Session of the South Carolina Annual Conference voted to change his status to “involuntary retirement,” said the Rev. Ken Nelson, the conference’s director of clergy services. “At each step, the conference has complied with processes and procedures as set forth in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church and will continue to do so in the future.”

On April 19, 2018, in Florence County Circuit Court, Ballenger received a not guilty disposi­tion on one of the charges. This summer, on June 26, the remaining changes were dismissed in a nolle prosequi disposition in Richland County General Session Court. His criminal record was subsequently expunged.

“That season’s over with,” Ballenger said.

Ballenger said the last few years have been difficult, and he knows even though his record is clear, people have long memories.

“You don’t ever get over the stigma of being charged with those kind of charges,” Ballenger said. “It’s life-altering. Things will never be the same again, but I don’t think they’re supposed to be.”

He said regardless of the experience, God has a call on his life, and God’s call will prevail however God sees fit.

“I have a calling, and I served faithfully in the South Carolina United Methodist Church for 22 or 23 years, and just because that situation arose it didn’t stop the calling that I received back in 1993,” Ballenger said. “I still have work to do.”

He said he takes comfort that God knew even when He called him that the day was coming when Ballenger would be arrested.

“But the great thing about the Lord is when he picks you up and says, ‘Follow me,’ it does not stop till he’s finished with you. I’m just going to keep going on and keep doing what I have been called to do, keep taking the next step.

“In the midst of the whirlwind, God still works. And even though I was down and out, I was down, but I was not out.”

Ballenger believes now is the next chapter—it’s not a whole new book.

“The Lord uses everything. We’ll just see what lies ahead. As they say, the best is yet to come.”

Nelson said conference continues to be in prayer for everyone affected by the allegations that led to criminal charges against Ballenger 2015.

“We are committed to providing a safe space where all people may worship and be in mission,” Nelson said.

He noted there is a process by which a pastor who has been involuntarily retired can attempt to gain readmittance if they so desire. That process is detailed in Para. 368 of the 2016 United Methodist Book of Discipline (see below).


Can a pastor be reappointed after involuntary retirement?

The United Methodist Book of Discipline does have a process if a pastor wishes to be readmitted after involuntary retirement.

Para. 368:

Readmission After Involuntary Retirement—Clergy members of an annual conference desiring to return to effective relationship after having been placed in involuntary retirement (Para. 357.3) must meet the following conditions:

  1. Submit a written request for reinstatement to the Board of Ordained Ministry.
  2. The Board of Ordained Ministry and the cabinet shall review the member’s qualifications and the circumstances relating to his or her retirement.
  3. Recommendation by the Board of Ordained Ministry, the bishop, cabinet, and a two-thirds vote of the clergy members in full connection of the annual conference that granted the involuntary retirement. A period of at least two years of service as a local pastor shall be required prior to readmission to conference membership.
  4. Presentation of the certificate of retirement.
  5. Presentation of satisfactory certificate of good health on the prescribed form from a physician approved by the Board of Ordained Ministry. The Board of Ordained Ministry may require a psychological evaluation. Any pension being received through the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits shall be discontinued upon their return to effective relationship. The pension shall be reinstated upon subsequent retirement.

—2016 UMC Book of Discipline


  • All people in the USA are entitled to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Even had there been some admission or proof of guilt, the church of Jesus Christ is supposed to be about forgiveness and reconciliation with the living God. Rev. Ballenger is entitled to the full hospitality of the church and ever courtesy that is afforded to people called into the ordained ministry.

    • You are correct in terms of the legal system, but the Executive Session must now examine all of the circumstances, including those that led to the charges in the first place. The legal standard in a criminal case is beyond a reasonable doubt, whereas other legal matters merely require a preponderance of the evidence. In the case of reinstatement, the church faces a different decision, and that is fitness for ministry. There can be forgiveness and reconciliation, and still a separate and distinct decision may be made as to fitness for ministry. I am confident that Rev. Ballenger will be treated hispitably and graciously, regardless of the decision made about his fitness to return to active ministry.

  • In many if not most states there are Civil and/or Criminal laws which prohibit what is known as Malicious Prosecution which when enforced properly does a great deal to stop, or at least vastly reduce, over zealous prosecutors as well as others seeking false damages from innocent defendants. These laws can also go a long way in stopping innocent people from having their lives, or at least their reputations, from being severely damaged and also enforces the basis of our entire legal system wherein we are all considered innocent until proven guilty. Insofar as where the Christian Church is concerned, we are all guilty of sin wherein had Jesus Christ not intervened we would all be put to death and sentenced after death to the place of outer darkness for eternity. As the church seemed to have been so willing to throw the first stone without properly determining all of the facts beforehand which in turn very negatively affected a Elders’ reputation and ability to earn a living, should the church be put to death? If not death, then shouldn’t the church at least be forced to do the same amount of time and pay the same fines and other costs that the person whom they maliciously prosecuted would have received had he been guilty?

  • Over the years, I have seen pastors face arrest and have seen how conferences have dealt differently with them. In two cases, the conferences supported the arrested pastors as they went through their respective trials and imprisonment, one for being a conscientious objector, and the other for child molestation. Both had advocates for them and their conferences put them on voluntary leave of absence. The latter was later found to be innocent of the molestation charges. In another case, the boy who brought the original charge recanted but the DA pushed the case anyway and got conviction. The church officers, despite a strong advocate, without any proper hearing, removed the pastor from conference membership. In another case, the conference held off processing any complaint against the arrested pastor until after the court acted, an option in the Discipline. In another case, the church conducted its own investigation and found the pastor innocent. It took the civil action two years before his innocence was established on that level but the conference got impatient and brought him up on charges unrelated to the unresolved allegations. They used intimidation and violated his rights innumerable times and ended his ministry. This comment should be understood reminding leaders that there are options conference officials have that can ameliorate malicious actions against a pastor and a warning that some conference leaders cannot tolerate letting anyone accused of a criminal action, innocent or not, from a positive conference relationship. The collegiality of clergy depends on the quality of leadership in a conference. Some are actually Christian.

  • His name has been cleared in courts and his record wiped clean. If the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, truly has the forbearance of Grace, then I would hope he would be reinstated. Too often leaders in the Methodist Church talk about Grace, but then turn around show little. It’s good to see the South Carolina Conference is using the Book of Discipline at a time when so many charges and conferences have set the Discipline aside in favor of practices forbidden by the law. The continued practice of ordaining gay clergy, performing gay weddings and elevating gay clergy to bishop are most prominent.

  • Presumption on innocence is an incredibly fundamental part of who we are. However, this report doesn’t proclaim innocence. It simply tell us the charges were dropped. I celebrate with everyone if this was all a mistake. However, we’d first need a freedom of information act request to find out why the charges were dropped. All sides, not just the pastor, must be protected. Dropping the charges doesn’t tell us anything about guilt or innocence. It simply means the prosecution decided not to pursue the charge.

    • The facts are much different than what was reported in The Advocate. Rev. Ballenger was found innocent of the Florence charges. The jury deliberated for just minutes! In that case, the Solicitor mistakenly used evidence from the Richland County charges. You can’t do that. You can’t be tried twice for the same state charge. For that reason, the charges were dropped and his record cleared. He is innocent!

  • If not by church discipline/law, then by grace…the church owes this the salary he would have received had he been under appointment. It does seem the church deemed him guilty and oops… since he is not…too bad. NO!

  • The Church and all humanity have an obligation to shelter and protect, especially children. There is no excuse for waiting to determine guilt or innocence before removing a potential threat.

    –there must be a margin between “maliciously prosecuting” an alleged abuser and suspending all contact between an alleged abuser and vulnerable minors or vulnerable adults–until all doubt is removed.

    In the case of abuse, forgiveness is Divine–to take a chance, for any reason, is immoral.

  • I have been down this road. It was simply a malicious action by an employee who did not want to comply with company policy and left the company. Three years later and $5,700.00 in out of pocket legal fees and the case was dismissed. This was a civil case rather than a criminal case; but, the net effect was the same. My reputation was solid enough that I never questioned the outcome of the case. For the folks that did not already know me, of course, suspicions were aroused. Go to your sexual harassment classes. Believe everything you hear and be very careful out there.

  • This guy needs to hang it up. Once the all knowing clergy have ruled against you forget it. You have been spewed from the ones mouth. In February 1995 the Kansas West Annual Conference declared me insane based on the testimony of a college psychologist I never met. Today they are out of business and I’m a debt free multimillionaire. Thank you. Richard F Hicks if Oklahoma City

  • God knows the truth and he will pay for his actions one day

  • The adjudicated innocent pastor needs to be reappointed. His lost salary paid in full! Reappointment. Should be in a place far from his former parish!

  • My belief is that the United Methodist Church has failed miserably in this case. Our church leadership is more like a group of self serving bureaucrats than people of God. The leadership seems not to care that they helped destroy a man’s career. The United Methodist Church owes full financial restitution to Walter Ballenger as well full restitution to his ministerial career. This should be automatic and not through some self serving bureaucrat maze.

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