A longtime metro Atlanta pastor was being held without bond late Tuesday following his arrest for alleged child molestation, according to police.
Benjamin “Gus” Harter, 80, had served as pastor of Ebenezer Primitive Baptist Church in Sandy Springs since 2014, according to the church’s website. But Tuesday afternoon, tape covered Harter’s name on the sign outside the historic church. And Tuesday evening, an associate pastor said Harter was no longer pastor nor a member of the church.
Harter has led two churches and helped build dozens of others here and in the Philippines, where he and his wife built an orphanage. The Harters also adopted 19 children from the Asian country, according to his church biography, adding to their already large family.
But on Friday, Harter was arrested at his Cumming-area home on one charge of child molestation, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office said. No further details about the allegations, which were made Aug. 25, were available, according to police.
The case and the arrest are “still being actively investigated by the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office,” the agency said in an emailed statement.
A spokesman for the Sandy Springs Police Department said that agency is not involved in an investigation of the church or Harter.
Harter previously served as pastor of Bethany Primitive Baptist Church, now located in Suwanee, for nearly three decades beginning in November 1971. In the mid-1990s, Harter and his wife began traveling to the Philippines regularly to work with churches there.
He later resigned from Bethany church in May 2000 and moved with his family to the Philippines for several years, according to the Ebenezer Primitive Baptist website. In the Philippines, the Harters built an orphanage before returning to the U.S. in 2008. The couple adopted 19 children over the years, bringing them back to their home.
“For over 7 years, Gus traveled, taught, and served the fast growing primitive baptist congregations of the Philippines,” the church’s website states. “In that time he participated in the formation of over 100 new congregations and helped constitute over 60 as churches.”
After Harter and his family returned to the U.S., he served several months as co-pastor of a Texas church before returning to Atlanta and Bethany. He led the church through a move from Tucker to Suwanee.
In a 2012 interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the pastor explained that the word primitive means original.
“We worship like they did when they came over from England. We’re very fundamental, and not charismatic,”Harter said. “The closest to us theologically is a reformed Presbyterian church.”
A Florida native, Harter completed undergraduate studies at Southeastern Bible College in Alabama, where he began serving as pastor of a small Methodist church, the AJC previously reported. He continued his education at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky, where he first attended a Primitive Baptist church. Harter served as a pastor in Kentucky for two years and in Florida for seven years before moving to the Atlanta area.
In addition to their adopted children, the Harters also have five adult children and more than 20 grandchildren, he previously told The AJC.