Those words were in a recent email from the SBC’s long-time attorney, Jim Guenther. It was forwarded to me by an abuse survivor, who had written the SBC to tell about the sexual abuse inflicted on him and another boy by a Southern Baptist minister, about its effect on his life, and about the fact that other church and denominational leaders knew and did nothing. The reported perpetrator is still in ministry.
The survivor wrote to the SBC addresses on the StopBaptistPredators website, and I guess it got forwarded to Guenther because no one else wanted to address it.
Guenther’s words should be cause for serious concern. He is a much-respected adviser for the SBC’s committee that is supposedly addressing the clergy sex abuse issue.
If Guenther believes that the SBC “does not have the power to prevent” clergy sex abuse or church leaders’ blind-eyed responses, then it seems unlikely that Guenther will be urging the committee to take strong action. If he believes what he says, I imagine he will be telling the committee that the SBC simply “does not have the power.”
With advice like that, nothing is likely to change within this denomination. Clergy child molesters will continue to move from church to church, and kids will bear the price of leaders’ professed powerlessness.
This is why it is critical that the committee-members seek advice from outside sources. For starters, they need to talk with leaders in other faith groups who have already been down this road and who found ways to institute accountability measures, even when faced with similar sorts of “no power” excuses.
It’s clear that ordinary Baptist believers want something done about this problem. Over 8600 messengers supported Rev. Wade Burleson’s clergy predator database motion at the convention. Yet, if the committee hears only from its usual advisers, it doesn’t seem likely that anything actually will get done.
Here’s what else Guenther said to this survivor: “Just as you had no power to control the man you say abused you, nor the churches who may have decided to employ him, you, like the Convention, have no legal liability either for anything he may have done.”
Did you get that? He’s comparing the SBC’s purported lack of power to the lack of power that a kid has -- a kid who was intentionally and deliberately groomed and abused by a clergy child molester. And while Guenther disclaims power as a way of disclaiming “legal liability,” I can’t help but think he may be overlooking the more important issue of moral responsibility.
In any event, do you really believe this huge organization has no greater power to prevent clergy child molesters than does a kid? I certainly don’t. But my view hardly matters. What’s important here is that Guenther apparently believes this, and he’s a person advising the committee.
Write to the committee members. Tell them to invite advice from others and to seek guidance from outsiders.