Family speaks out about Leavell College professor's suicide

John GibsonThe family of Baptist professor and pastor John Gibson is calling his death a suicide connected to the Ashley Madison website hack.

By openly discussing the circumstances surrounding his death, including a CNN interview that aired Tuesday (Sept. 8), the Gibsons hope to help other families find forgiveness and reconciliation. Gibson served for 17 years as a professor at Leavell College, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary's undergraduate college. At the time of his death, he also served as pastor of First Baptist Church in Pearlington, Miss.

Gibson, 56, was discovered at his home on the seminary campus at approximately 5:30 p.m. Aug. 24 by his wife, Christi, when she arrived home from work. After finding Gibson unresponsive, she immediately notified emergency medical service. EMS workers were unable to revive him, and Gibson was pronounced dead at the scene. See related story.

Gibson's son, Trey, spoke of all of his father's good qualities—his ability to preach, his servant heart and his sense of humor—during a memorial service on the seminary campus Aug. 28. But Trey also spoke of his father's secret struggles with depression and pornography. Trey acknowledged at the time that his father had taken his own life and boldly encouraged the mourners to seek accountability relationships to guard against secret sin.

"My dad was a great man. He was a great man with struggles. My dad reached a point of such hopelessness and despair that he took his own life," Trey said.

While the news jolted the campus, the seminary community has rallied around the Gibson family as they opened up about the struggles that led to the death of the beloved professor and minister. Seminary President Chuck Kelley touched on the subject again Sept. 8 during the NOBTS convocation chapel service.

"On the first day of classes, we had the unexpected death of a much-loved professor, colleague and friend—Dr. John Gibson," Kelley said. "We learned that he made some very sad and unfortunate choices in his life, and his son shared in his memorial service his death appeared to come at his own hand."

The family spoke openly about Gibson's death during a national television interview on CNN. Appearing in the interview with her children, Trey and Callie, Gibson's wife, Christi, confirmed the existence of a suicide note in which her husband confessed to his failures and that his name was released in the Ashley Madison website hack. Christi noted her husband also expressed great sorrow for his actions.

In the interview, the family acknowledged they would have been willing to forgive Gibson's failures and work toward restoration if they had been given a chance.

"I still believe it could have been fixed. It could have been healed," Christi told CNN.

"There is brokenness in every single one of us. We all have things that we struggle with," she said. "It wasn't so bad that we wouldn't have forgiven it, and so many people have said that to us, but for John, it carried with him such shame."

Christi also expressed her concern for other families grappling with the fallout from the Ashley Madison scandal. For the millions of families affected, she encouraged love and forgiveness.

"These were real people with real families, real pain and real loss," Christi said. "Don't underestimate the power of love. Nothing is worth the loss of a father and a husband and a friend. It just didn't merit it."

Kelley asked for continued prayer for the Gibson family and the entire NOBTS community as they struggle with this loss and the circumstances behind it.

A group of students responded to the news of Gibson's suicide and the events that led to it by organizing a prayer initiative on campus.

Beginning Aug. 31, participants in the student-led prayer time met daily on the steps of Leavell Chapel to pray for the faculty and their families. The first week culminated with a joint student-faculty prayer time. After the Labor Day holiday, the student-led prayer meetings moved to a twice-weekly schedule.

Gary Myers is director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

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