Sunday, February 18, 2007

BGCT: Shame of a sham

Off to Nashville again to try to get the attention of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee.

I haven’t seen any indication that they actually care about Baptist clergy sex abuse, but in some ways, the SBC’s pure simple coldness is a relief. On this issue, I definitely prefer the SBC to the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Oh....the so-called moderates there at the BGCT like to think they’re more enlightened than those fundamentalists at the SBC. And the BGCT brags about its booklet “Broken Trust,” which talks about clergy sex abuse. They trot that booklet out whenever the subject comes up and pat themselves on the back for it, as though mere words on paper should be enough. Like the so-called policies in some Catholic dioceses, “it’s a shame of a sham.”

That’s why I prefer the SBC. At least there’s no pretend games there. With the BGCT, that smooth pastoral talk only lulls clergy abuse victims into a further betrayal. If you don’t meekly accept your pastoral pat on the head and move on, they sucker-punch you. And the hit hurts all the worse.

I prefer to get hit with my guard up rather than being sucker-punched.

I’m particularly sour right now since I just talked with a couple more people who were sexually abused as kids by Baptist ministers in Texas and who recently made the sad mistake of trying to get help from Sonny Spurger at the BGCT. They emailed him and phoned him, but they got no help. No help in trying to inform the congregation. No help in getting the perp out of the pulpit. No help with counseling - not even so much as a referral. And one of the victims was particularly distraught. It’s unconscionable that she wasn’t given some assistance. I’m thankful she found some caring people at SNAP, because the so-called good Christians at the BGCT did absolutely nothing.

“Broken Trust” is broken, and probably was from the start. The BGCT itself is broken.


Anonymous said...

Just call the local police dept. and report the incident. They'll do all the investigating and see that the perp is prosecuted. NO need to involve the Churches over this matter.

Anonymous said...

Here is yet another Baptist pervert - at least he got caught!

Love the website!

aaron Davis said...

I am a Southern Baptist pastor and I am deeply concerned about this issue. I am glad that you are getting the attention of the SBC, but short of education there is not much they can do. Suppose the investigate and keep a list of predators. What will make a church check it? The SBC has not authority over churches and has nothing they could hold over a church.

It seems to me that the solution must be found in the churches. I have been in ministry for 11 years. TO my knowledge a church has never called the church that ordained me to even confirm my ordination, and I have never has to submit to a background check. I have, however, instituted these policies, as well as other policies to safeguard children at churches I have served.

Even if the SBC were to institute some mandatory minsiter database, there would be nothing to stop a church from even going so far as to leave the SBC and be independent. Further, there are numerous independent churches already.

I hope the SBC will continue to educate churches (they have been doing more in recent years). Churches, more than denomenational agencies, need to wake up to this very real problem and take some very real measures to protect kids.

Anonymous said...

As a baptist married to a catholic, I have made the statement regularly that the same thing happening among priests happens among baptists as well. The difference is who to hold accountable. Having been a Baptist all my life, I think I know the structure well enough and I would think as a lawyer, you would be smart enough to know that the SBC is about as loose a confederation of independent bodies as you can be without being completely independent. The only thing these churches have in common is that they all give money to support mission efforts by the SBC, and the seminaries and what not. The only accountability the SBC would have would be to those organizations or individuals they directly support financially, I.E. seminary professors, missionaries, or home mission pastors. Those are the only things they have any control over. And I seriously doubt any law or court could force them to do more.

This in no way is to shield or defend what is going on. But in this matter you are going after the wrong group. Go after the pastor. Go after the leadership of the individual church that hired the pastor(The church where the abuse took place, suing some church that hired the pastor years after abuse at a different church is nothing more than a money grab) If the abuse victim waits so long that the church no longer exists, I hardly see how another church, however stupid they might be for hiring a man without checking out his background, or a national organization that receives money from that church should be held morally or financially responsible for that person's past actions.

You're goals are admirable. Your methods are horribly misguided.

Lee said...

I must agree with the majority of the comments left here. Your cause is admirable and no one in there right mind would ever disagree with that. However, I find your methods to be misguided.

As many have rightly pointed out, the problem is that no baptist body, from the national conventions like SBC or the the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship down to the State Conventions and local conventions has any governing authority over any baptist church. This is not a mantra that we repeat as you so often say but rather a historical tenet of baptist churches in general since the denominations founding in the early 1600s. The SBC is not responsible for the hiring, firing, or observation of an individual baptist minister. In short, executives on the convention level, as you well know, cannot determine policies for the local church. They can advise and warn all day long, but they have no power and never will have any power to enforce such things. As the SBC's statement issued today says, the power in Baptist churches resides in the local congregation and nowhere else.

That being said, your continuing method attacking the conventions will most likely not work if you are expecting them to somehow enforce your demands. What needs to happen is every church require background checks at the very least (the few that I have worked for and with so far have always done that), and also the victims need to report the incidents (I am aware that this is often very hard for the victim to do so, and I am by no means making light of the situation, but this is something that must happen as well to end the problem). Dragging the Baptist conventions through the mud though will not accomplish anything. Getting the word out to Baptist churches that they need background checks and to come forward about abuse is the best course of action.

SBC Pastor said...

Like others on here, I admire your efforts, agree with your intentions, and believe that you are barking up the wrong tree.

There is a way to get churches to conduct background checks on their pastors, but it's not through the Executive Committee. What got our church's attention was two things. One was when our local association conducted a seminar on sex abuse in churches, and the need for background checks. This opened some eyes, and laid the groundwork.

The other thing was when our insurance company "encouraged" us to adopt a policy that required the same background checks.

If you want to implement more safeguards, you would have better luck going to the insurance companies that provide the liability coverage for these churches. If all of them tell churches that they are not going to cover them unless they take more precautions, churches are much more likly to respond.

( You need to go to as many insurance companies at one time as possible. Confronting them individually won't work, as each company will fear their client churches switching to a competitor.)

Something else that would make it easier to communicate to other churches about offenders is some legal protection for "whistle-blowers."

I knew a church that discovered after they hired him that the Youth Minister had receieved counseling for a pornography issue. He was immediately let go, but if anyone associated with that church informs another church about what happened, they would be liable for a lawsuit. This is why so many ministers and deacons remain silent when another church hires someone with a bad history.

I hope and pray with you that our churches will continue to be more diligent in their efforts to confront evil and protect our youth and children.

Aaron Davis said...

I have posted before, but having read the 5 requests from SNAP, I thought I would address them. I still feel that SNAP as well as the administrators of this site do not completely understand the denomenational structure of the SBC. It is best to think of it as "upside down" compared to other religious denomenations. The ultimate authority is withing the local church. This cannot be changed, as it stems from a basic tenet of the Baptist faith. However, some of the 5 requests are worth considering, so I thought I would respond, as a pastor of an SBC church.

1) Independent review board

This is a good idea, but it lacks any authority.This would give victims, and churches a solid resource for dealing with abuse. There are two problems to be addressed however: First, it would have no authority. Churches would have to be willing to check its files otherwise predators could continue to move from church to church. Second, most SBC churches are pretty far removed from the national convention. We get the material, the publicity, etc, but rarely, rarely, rarely use its resources. I would say that the most influential aspect the SBC has on its churches is the seminaries. A resource like an review board would be better if it were on the state level with all the state review boards communicating.

2)Publicity and Education

THis is absolutely the best way to go because, as many have said, the authority rests in the churches. The SBC cannot hire, fire, ordain, defrock, etc. It does not and will not ever have the authority to tell a church what to do. It is a source of pooled resources. Whatever resources it has regarding sexual abuse, it willhave to educate the churches.

3)No tolerance policy

This one sounds good, but it lacks teeth. First, the SBC generally does not expell churches. That usually happens on the state and local levels. Granted, it could pass a resolution to encourage this, but the real work has to be done in the associations and the state conventions. The second problem is simply: so what? Nothing would be lost for a church to be expelled from the SBC. Just ask the numerous CBF churches that have gone through it. Unlike other denomenations, the SBC, the state conventions, and the local associations do not hire or fire, and they do not (with the exception of mission churches) own property.

4) No support of the NAMB and IMB.

For the most part, this pertains to SBC employees so it is reasonable. The NAMB and the IMB could easily refuse to partner with offending churches. However, the vast majority of churches in the US do not recieve support from the NAMB or the IMB so this would not address the bulk of the problem.

5)A resolution against secrecy agrements

This is fine. It would prevent any denomenational employee from engaging in such deplorable actions. However, it is nothing more than a suggestion for the churches.

The intentions of SNAP are good, but will not accomplish much. Baptist curches are just that. They are not national organizations, they are local churches. The local churches need to be educated in such things as:

1) The very real problem of clergy sexual abuse in baptist churches
2) The legal responisbility of the church to protect children
3) How to screen ministers and employees
4) How to handle reports of abuse

Every church will have to decide this. Even if the SBC adopted all 5 on SNAP's suggestions, every church will have to go along.

Attacking the SBC over this problem is like trying to get a cashier at walmart to change their health insurrance policy. You need to talk to the person in charge. In Baptist life, the churches, not the denomenation, is in charge.

Christa Brown said...

Everyone should report any suspicion of this crime to the police, but it's not enough. Other professions police themselves. Other faith groups have accountability and oversight procedures for their ministers. Baptist are way behind the curve on this.

Background checks are essential, but they aren't nearly enough - not even close. An FBI bullentin reports that less than 10 percent of all child molestation incidents are ever even disclosed, much less prosecuted, much less convicted. So, most child predators are NOT in criminal databases. You need look no further than the biggest clergy sex abuse scandal to date in Missouri. It came to light late last year, and it wasn't a Catholic priest case - it was a Southern Baptist case. The church - FBC Greenwood - had done background checks. But those checks didn't show that the guy had been reproted for showing pornographic videos to kids at a KY church and nor did they show that a KY police investigation was in progress. Greenwood hired the guy....and a bunch more kids were sexually violated.

And the whole autonomy thing? I will tell you flat-out that, when the safety of kids is what's at stake, I view that as little more than a Pharisee-like ecclesiological legalism that is obscuring the need for action. You can read more about my thoughts on the autonomy excuse here.

aaron davis said...


I want to add to what you have said about background checks. I think churches need to be educated to go way beyond background checks.

Typically, when a person is a candidate for a church position, they supply the church with a resume that lists education, previous ministry experience, secular work experience, family information, etc. Most churches do not check any of that. Besides a background check, churches can learn a lot just by requesting letters of reccomendation, calling past churches, calling the original ordaining church, etc. I agree with you and SNAP that a central file would be helpful, but it would be helpful only so far as churches are willing to start doing their homework...and that will begin with educating the churches regarding the need to do such screening.

Churches also need to be educated as to what to do when an accusation is made. Without a policy in place, a church will be left to the whims of a business meeting...and that is not adequate in most cases. Again, the churches should be educated.

As for autonomy, this is not a pharasaic reply but a fact of the legalities of the relationship between church and convention.

Because of this autonomy, any policy implemented at the convention level would be very limited. Yes, the convention could (and should) expell a church if it chooses to hire or keep a known sex offender on staff. However, what happens then. As you have pointed out on your site, some conventions have done this regarding homosexuals and women pastors. This has no real effect on the church. They do not lose buildings, funds, or anything else. It would be a great and public statment, but it would be very limited as far as keeping the predator from being on staff.

I agree that the SBC (as well as the state conventions) can do their part. A database would be helpful (if used) and resources and emphasis on the problem are needed as well.

Perhaps the SBC can even enact some changes at Guidestone regarding a minister's health and retirement benefits?

Insurrance companies have done the most so far in getting churches to protect their kids. And they can do more (church mutual, brotherhood mutual...these companies specialize in churches.)

Maybe even one day, churches can carry some kind of certification if they meet certain screening criteria.

The bottome line is that for any effort to have a lasting effect, it will have to deal with the individual churches. The convention can educate and offer resources, but only the churches can stop this problem.

And I pray that they do.

Pauline said...

It has been said many times that the power in the Baptist churches lies in the local congregations, not the SBC because of the structure of the Baptist denomination and their church autonomy. If that is true, why would the local church leadership not tell their congregations about the victims' complaints and the clergy sexual abuse that took place. What happens routinely is the victim complains, the leadership keeps it secret and uses intimidation tactics to try and keep the victim from saying anything, meanwhile harboring the sexual abuser or allowing him to move on to another church. In my case if the grievances could not be resolved, I assumed the church would be told and the abusive behavior would not be allowed to continue in the church. I was surprised that I was made to feel horrible as if I was the one who had done wrong, even being asked how many times I had lied, was I imagining it or had I dreamed it. No witness was contacted and the other ministers who had witnessed events, denied it happened. The local congregation was never told. Years later I run into best friends of some of these ministers that have no clue as to what happened. Years later I have had lay leaders in the church say they were never told why we left, some saying the ministers were "beating around the bush" but never saying, and some lay leaders saying they heard different things. The truth was never told by the ministers to the local congregation. How many others may have suffered sexual abuse because the congregation was not told?