April 2007 Issue
Sex Abuse Claims
In February, the Associated Press released a story by Rose
French that implied the Southern Baptist Convention is sheltering
pastors that have a record of sexual abuse and that the SBC is
resisting attempts to address the problem of clergy abuse. Ms.
French's article made no reference to materials provided directly
to her by the SBC Executive Committee materials that specifically
addressed every concern presented in her story materials
that demonstrate the SBC's ongoing concerns and efforts to address
this moral travesty. The following are articles printed in Baptist
Press following the AP story.
The Southern Baptist Convention
"deplores and condemns" child sexual abuse and provides
resources for its member churches to battle it, an attorney with
the SBC's Executive Committee said in a statement February 22.
The statement by D. August Boto was in reference to an Associated
Press story about a victims' group SNAP that
is asking the denomination to launch an independent review board
to look into cases concerning child sexual abuse. A SNAP coordinator,
Christa Brown, was quoted in the story as saying Southern Baptist
leaders "don't want to see this problem" as true. (SNAP
is an acronym for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
and other Clergy.)
Boto, though, in a 1,300-word statement, said the denomination
is addressing the problem, and has long been doing so.
"Such criminal acts by those in ministerial positions
are abhorrent they violate a myriad of biblical commands
and principles and even the most basic standards of human decency
and we believe such behavior should be prosecuted to the
fullest," Boto wrote. "Our hearts are truly broken when
we hear of such abuse, and we will continue to encourage Southern
Baptist churches to address this deplorable behavior."
Boto provided several examples of SBC action, including the
fact that LifeWay Christian Resources of the SBC provides guidelines
for screening preschool and children's workers and encourages
churches to do background checks on all ministers and workers.
State conventions, such as the Georgia Baptist Convention, also
have resources in place.
The SBC's unique structure churches within the denomination
are autonomous and voluntarily choose to participate could
prevent "most of the specific requests" from SNAP from
being implemented. But Boto said the requests that "are feasible"
are being studied.
"We have repeatedly encouraged our churches to exercise
due diligence in background research when considering a prospective
minister or volunteer, but that due diligence cannot be mandated,"
Boto wrote. "... The Southern Baptist Convention structure
leaves the responsibility for such matters in the hands of those
most motivated and capable of addressing it the members
of the local churches many of whom are parents and grandparents."
The SBC "strongly advises the immediate report of suspected
child abuse, sexual or otherwise," Boto said.
In 2002, the messengers at the denomination's annual meeting
approved a resolution calling for churches and civil authorities
to hold accountable clergy members guilty of sexual abuse.
Addressing the SNAP Claims
The following are specific claims and allegations by SNAP and
its representatives about the Southern Baptist Convention, with
response from the Executive Committee:
1 An independent
review panel is necessary: Any such panel, to be effective,
would need authority to investigate and act. Baptists would never
authorize or recognize such a panel if it were composed of people
outside their local church. Inside the local church, it is often
the case that Baptists have formed deacon subcommittees, personnel
committees, legal committees, and other such bodies to authorize
prevention policies and deal with specific instances of criminal,
abhorrent, or impermissible conduct. And with regard to criminal
matters, the proper investigatory panel for Baptists should be
law enforcement officials. The SBC strongly advises the immediate
report of suspected child abuse, sexual or otherwise.
2 A no-tolerance
policy should be adopted: While there may be some merit in
local churches including a bold statement against child abuse
in any employee policies they may adopt, stating the obvious would
be more in the way of a public relations move than one of real
substance. The SBC does not tolerate or condone crime of any kind.
The suggestion that adoption of a no-tolerance policy would be
helpful implies that the SBC approves ministers of local churches,
or certifies ministers for service, which it does not.
3 The SBC
should be able to track its ministers: Churches choosing to
affiliate with the Convention to cooperate in mission endeavors
employ their own ministers, who may choose to inform the Convention
of their whereabouts, though many do not. The ministers are not
the Convention's. They are (or ought to be) the Lord's. The Convention,
as already explained, has no basis upon which to require ministers
to update their employment status or address. In a sense, the
SBC is as capable of controlling or knowing the whereabouts of
'its' ministers as a university might be of 'its' alumni. Sexual
predators are not well known for their propensity to publicly
declare their intentions, identity, or location.
Brown's assertion that "kids are not safe in Southern Baptist
churches": Statements such as this have implied that
the Southern Baptist Convention is somehow irresponsible regarding
child safety. The Southern Baptist Convention structure leaves
the responsibility for such matters in the hands of those most
motivated and capable of addressing it the members of the
local churches many of whom are parents and grandparents.
Brown's assertion that nothing is done until the press becomes
involved: Examination of the cases reported discloses that
in the vast majority of them, the news article is reporting about
lawsuits and criminal actions that have already been filed as
the result of a local church (or victim) having acted.
6 The SBC
should employ a registry be to blacklist perpetrators: There
is already an abundance of such registries. Any church desiring
to qualify a potential employee or volunteer has access to them.
The answer lies more in exercising the due diligence of qualification
than it does in creating another list. SNAP appears to recognize
this, in that, as yet, it has posted no such list.
7 Christa Brown's assertion,
as reported by Rose French for the AP, that in the last
six months, SNAP has received reports of about forty cases of
sexual abuse by Southern Baptist ministers with some of
the incidents dating back many years: SNAP did not share that
claim, nor the underlying information, in our meeting with them
on Tuesday, February 20. But statements such as this are misleading
if they are not read carefully. In the days following the release
of the AP report, the statement has been misunderstood and improperly
recast as "40 cases in the last six months." The SBC's
response to the challenge of moral failure and crime in church
settings must be crafted on dependable information, and the public's
perception of the SBC in the process should be also. If SNAP cares
to catalog the information it is referring to, of course we will
review it, but for it to be usable it should take a reliable form,
bereft of generalization, innuendo, and presumption. In our correspondence
with SNAP, we asked for their data six months ago, but did not
receive a reply. Nevertheless, published reports (taken from the
Internet and available to anyone) concern us. Almost all of them
involved either a civil lawsuit, an arrest and prosecution, or
both. And, whatever the actual number, we know that every single
instance of child abuse, occurring anywhere, is a deplorable tragedy.
We know that children are especially precious in God's sight.
For a child to be abused in a place where the child should be
most safe is terribly troubling to us. We cannot overstate the
depth of our grief for each victim. We cannot overstate our sense
of condemnation of such behavior.
8 Sexual abuse
of children is more likely in a Baptist context because of Baptist
polity: It is ironic that SNAP, an organization most of whose
members were abused in a hierarchical ecclesiastical framework
(Catholic) now believe that victimization is more likely in a
congregational one (Baptist, Bible church, etc.) and that hierarchical
solutions may be best. They quote one ethicist for the proposition
that the Baptist context may make victimization more possible,
but when that quote is read closely, it becomes apparent that
the problem being complained of is the exercise of unbridled authority.
This can occur in ANY setting school, church, employment,
or government. The Baptist context includes congregations exhibiting
a full range of willingness and ability to correctly relate to
their ministers. Some do it very well and some do not. And those
which do not often suffer, and allow suffering by victims, as
a result. Tragically, even some of the most vigilant congregations
have also fallen victim to an occurrence. We must improve wherever
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