Interim pastor supports arrested minister
“I tend to believe that he’s innocent,” the interim pastor of First Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., said of Richard Shahan, a former associate pastor charged with killing his wife.
By Bob Allen
The interim pastor of First Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., defended the church’s former associate pastor arrested as a fugitive from justice in connection with his wife’s July murder in comments quoted by the Birmingham News.
“I don't know all the facts that the authorities know, but I tend to believe that he's innocent," Charles Carter, a past president of the Alabama Baptist Convention who teaches at Beeson Divinity School, said of ministry colleague Richard Shahan.
Shahan, 53, who resigned effective Dec. 31 as children and families pastor and facilities director at the church, was arrested New Year’s Day at an airport in Nashville, Tenn., while trying to board an international flight to Germany.
Carter, who has been interim pastor at First Baptist since October 2012, said he “has tried to remain neutral” about the July 23 slaying of 52-year-old Karen Shahan in the couple’s rented home that is owned by the church, but he thinks it’s wrong to portray her husband, whom police held 48 hours for questioning in August, as a fugitive.
"I do know that he was not fleeing," Carter said. "He was going to a mission assignment. That's been known for two months. I dispute the term 'fleeing.'"
The Alabama Baptist reported Dec. 19 that Richard Shahan, who had been on administrative leave since his wife’s death, was resigning to serve in Frankfurt, Germany, with Bible Mission International beginning in January 2014.
He planned to develop teaching materials and discipleship resources for children to be distributed throughout former Soviet countries and to help with Hope Center, a BMI orphanage that also conducts summer camps. He has worked with the group in short-term mission assignments before.
Shahan began serving at First Baptist Church in 2009. The January church newsletter noted his departure. “Please continue to lift up Pastor Richard in prayer as he embarks on this wonderful new opportunity of mission,” an article said. “We appreciate the way he has led our precious children during his time here at FBC and look forward to reports of others coming to Christ through his teaching.”
Shahan’s lawyer said his client would have turned himself in if he had known authorities in Jefferson County, Ala., had issued a warrant for his arrest on Dec. 31, five months after the crime. Police said inconsistences in interviews kept leading detectives back to Shahan, and they are confident that he is responsible for his wife’s murder.
Attorney John Lentine told the Associated Press that police deliberately had him nabbed by Homeland Security agents at Nashville International Airport to make it look like Shahan was trying to flee. Lentine said his client has always denied responsibility for Karen Shahan’s death.
After the arrest, First Baptist Church issued a statement that began: “All of us were saddened by the unexpected news that Richard Shahan was arrested by Homeland Security just moments before his planned flight departure for Frankfurt, Germany.”
“Our prayers go out to Richard and his family,” the statement concluded. “We trust that eventually truth and justice can prevail.”
Carter’s knowledge of Shahan goes back further than the past 14 months. The two served together in the late 1980s and 1990s at Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham.
In an August interview with the Alabama Baptist, Carter described Shahan as one of the best in Southern Baptist life when it comes to children’s ministry.
“He is a master when it comes to children’s programs,” Carter said, pointing to a successful Vacation Bible School at First Baptist Church that Shahan led just days prior to his wife’s murder.
“We had 139 kids and 54 adults involved,” Carter said, noting there were 25 professions of faith. Shahan wrote the curriculum, based on the Book of Daniel, and designed the set and costumes. “It was masterful,” Carter said.
Carter told the Alabama Baptist that church members were shocked by Karen Shahan’s death but quickly rallied to support the family.
When her body was found, two church staff members immediately drove to Kentucky, where Richard Shahan had gone to visit sons in Franklin, Tenn., and Fort Campbell, Ky., to help him get his car back to Birmingham. A church member helped the son stationed at Fort Campbell with paperwork to obtain an extended military pass.
Church officials cleaned up the house once it was released by police and helped arrange and paid for the funeral.
“Karen was so supportive of Richard in his ministry,” Carter added. “She was shy and quiet and preferred to fade into the background, but she was extremely supportive of him.”
A local television station that obtained newsletters and prayer cards sent out by Shahan about his future plans said in appeals for support he said he believes his late wife would have wanted him to continue in ministry.
Shahan is being held without bond by the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office in Nashville, Tenn., awaiting a Jan. 7 extradition hearing. His attorneys say he will likely waive extradition and return to face charges in Alabama voluntarily.
First reported by local media in Nashville and Birmingham and religious media including Associated Baptist Press, news of Shahan’s arrest has since appeared in many news outlets across the United States and internationally.
© 2014 Associated Baptist Press, Inc.