Becky Earnhart’s bravery in coming forward and sharing her story of abuse by William Austin Gardner has sparked an official legal process to pursue justice for her and other victims. Gardner, who was the pastor of Liberty Baptist Church and overseeing Cartersville Christian School at the time, used his power and authority to manipulate, terrorize, and traumatize Becky between 1979 and 1985 while living in Cartersville, Georgia.
Although Becky had attempted to report the abuse to Pastor Paul Chappell and Attorney David Gibbs Jr. in 2004, the Christian Law Association failed to insist on opening an investigation, leaving Becky and her family feeling unsupported and unheard. Now, with Becky finding the courage to come forward and make an official statement to legal authorities, the legal process to pursue justice for Becky and other victims has begun. Other victims have also come forward, including Gardner’s own daughter and stepson, who were also allegedly abused.
The abuse that Becky suffered at the hands of Gardner was extensive and long-term. Gardner used various instruments to physically and sexually abuse her, and manipulated and controlled her with fear and punishment. Gardner would also force Becky to take off her clothes and lie across his lap, and touch her inappropriately. She also witnessed Gardner’s abuse of others, including his own daughter, wife, and her own brother.
Gardner’s abuse went beyond just Becky, as he covered up moral failures and criminal activities, such as shuffling men to other ministries to cover up misdeeds like adultery and fornication. Boys and girls were raped in the Children’s Home, with their adult abusers never being turned over to authorities. Gardner also had a team culture that was used to control, with independent thoughts or ideas not allowed.
Despite the speaker’s abuse occurring many years ago, she has suffered from horrific nightmares, panic attacks, and lifelong physical scars from the trauma she endured at the hands of Gardner. The speaker also reveals that she lacked the courage to tell someone what was happening to her as a young girl, and that Gardner and his family stole her voice, her innocence, and her faith.
Becky’s story is a painful reminder of the lasting trauma that sexual abuse and manipulation can inflict, particularly when wielded by those in positions of power and authority. It is crucial for churches and religious organizations to take responsibility for preventing abuse and supporting survivors when abuse does occur. Becky encourages other victims of Gardner and his ministries to share their stories at www.survivorsofaustingardner.com, and assures them that they can heal together.
Becky’s bravery in speaking out about her abuse serves as a reminder that survivors of sexual abuse should not be silenced or ignored. We stand with Becky and all survivors of abuse, and we hope that her story will inspire others to speak out and seek justice.