Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Ministering requires deeds - so does protecting kids against abuse

Dr. Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, tells the Commercial Appeal, "We are committed to protecting our children and ministering to those who have been hurt by abuse."

To minister: to give aid or service / to attend to the wants or needs of others. By definition, "ministering" requires deeds, not merely words. I have seen no "ministering" on the part of the SBC to those hurt by clergy sex abuse.

And as for Dr. Page's suggestion that SNAP should let SBC leaders know about reports of abuse that SNAP receives. Why??? What track record does the SBC have for responsibly dealing with such reports? What did SBC leaders do with the substantiated report they got from me? They wrote that they had no record the man was still in ministry. Yet, I myself found him at a prominent mega-church in Florida. I wrote the SBC a second time. Still no help. Months after my report, the man was delivering a sermon talking from the pulpit about his children's ministry, and not until 15 months later was he finally made to resign....only after I myself took action. Contrary to Dr. Page's words, this doesn't show any genuine effort on the part of the SBC "to prevent our precious children from ever being hurt." What it shows is institutionalized blindness.

Until the SBC shows that it has a legitimate and effective system for independently, objectively and professionally investigating and considering clergy abuse reports, I have no reason to think that any clergy abuse victim would be well-served by talking to any SBC official. I myself wasted way too much time believing that there would be someone at the SBC who would indeed want to take action to prevent other kids from being hurt. I was very, very mistaken in that belief. And for every minute of that mistaken belief, other kids remained at risk. It's not a mistake I'll choose to make again.


sbc pastor said...

While I would be in favor of the SBC establishing a national database, there would be some limitations on its effectiveness.

The EC could only establish the database and encourage churches to use it. They cannot require churches to report names to it, nor can they require churches to refer to it when considering bringing someone on staff.

This is one of the drawbacks to the autonomous system (there are many others, I promise you). However, for better or worse, the autonomous system isn't going anywhere. The convention just came through an extended battle over church autonomy, and I don't see any desire to get into another one, regardless of the reason.

If you want to get a database started, your best bet would be to have a messenger at the next SBC meeting (it's June 12-13 in San Antonio, TX) to make such a proposal from the floor during one of the times set aside for new motions.

Just a couple of thoughts.

Pauline said...

Why does SNAP not report complaints received to the SBC? Maybe because the SBC doesn't even do anything about the cases they are aware of. What the SBC does do is say that their hands are tied, that we won't get anywhere by being antagonistic, list what cannot be done and put down SNAP's suggestions for preventive measures against clergy sexual abuse. I have heard words but have seen no action, as the abuse continues. It's ironical that when I read what Defense Secretary Robert Gates said about the firings and resignations at Walter Reed Hospital the last couple of days, I thought of the SBC. Gates' statement was "Some have shown too much defensiveness and have not shown enough focus on digging into and addressing the problem." I think that could be applied to the SBC also. If that is antagonistic, so be it. Don't let that stop you from acting.

David Wilson said...

As the pastor of an average sized SBC church (150)I can tell you that we are acutely aware of the potential for abuse. But we are very limited in what we can do to absolutely prevent it. Our workers are screened, our policies are in place, but it is a very heavy burden on us.

It's very difficult to get workers in children's ministry at all. Money is always tight and screenings cost money.

Florida already has a database of sexual offenders. We have 6 within 5 miles.

Christa Brown said...

david wilson: Most clergy child molesters are not in sex offender databases. FBI estimates that over 90 percent of child molestation incidents have never been disclosed, much less prosecuted, much less convicted. Most Catholic priests who have been removed from ministry still do not appear in any sex offender databases even though their removal from ministry was based on credible and substantiated reports of abuse. This is why it is essential that denominational leaders set up a database. Most clergy molesters will easily stay hidden if they are allowed to remain in ministry until there's a criminal conviction against them.

Big churches appear to have just as big a problem as small churches. There are few Southern Baptist churches any bigger or more prominent than Bellevue in Memphis. If any church would have the resources and personnel to appropriately handle a clergy abuse report, you might think Bellevue would. But they didn't. They handled it horribly. It's the typical dynamics of what happens when a church family doesn't want to confront something so awful about a beloved minister. It's why autonomous congregations need the resource of an independent review board so that they will have an objective source for information and assistance to better enable the congregations to make responsible decisions.