A director of the Missouri convention wrote back and said, “The Missouri Baptist Convention is an autonomous network of churches....” His response was so cold and obtuse that it seems almost alien. (But of course even Spock would at least put forth the effort to feign some feeling of care.) The gist of the exchange is sort of like this:
Question: “Hi, I was raped by a Baptist minister when I was a kid, and I think he abused others as well. Please let me know how to report him.”Amazingly, the Missouri director didn’t even bother to ask the name of the minister.
Answer: “Baptist churches are autonomous.”
I’ve got a very similar email that was sent to a different survivor by a director at the Baptist General Convention of Texas. It’s sort of like this: “Molested as a kid? Oh...that’s too bad...Baptist churches are autonomous....bye.” And again, he didn’t even bother to ask the name of the minister who did it.
I guess Baptist leaders think that, as long as they don’t ask the minister's name, they don’t have to take ownership of knowing who the child molesters are. And since they don’t even bother to ask, you can be sure they aren’t going to tell anyone else. Not a good system for making kids safer, is it?
I can’t help but wonder whether SBC president Frank Page followed a similar sort of “don’t ask don’t tell” protocol. While interviewing him, ABC’s 20/20 told Page there were convicted child molesters on the SBC’s ministerial registry. Did Page try to get the names of those convicted child molesters? It doesn’t look like it.
Several weeks later, when the show actually aired, the convicted perps were still on the SBC’s registry. No one had removed them. Perhaps Page thought that, if he didn’t insist on getting the names, he wouldn’t have to take ownership of knowing, and the perps on the registry wouldn’t be his problem. And perhaps he was right. If that portion of Page’s interview had been left on the cutting room floor, it’s likely those names would STILL be on the SBC’s registry. They only wound up becoming a problem because 20/20 chose to actually air that portion of the interview, because EthicsDaily listed the names in a subsequent article, and because SNAP then listed them in a subsequent press release.
Churches often do the same sort of “don’t ask don’t tell” two-step. When a person reports abuse, church leaders don’t ask too many questions. They don’t really want to know too much about what happened because they don’t want to take ownership of knowing. If they don’t actually “know” anything, then they don’t worry as much about what to tell another church when it requests a reference. It’s a whole heckuva lot easier just to let the accused minister go on his way without sorting it all out. It’s easier not to know.
Easier for church and denominational leaders maybe. But what about for kids? The Baptist version of “don’t ask don’t tell” is a disaster for kids’ safety.