Saturday, February 23, 2008

Why didn't Baptists bust him?

Texas Monthly’s cover story is about a Baptist preacher accused of killing his wife. I don’t know whether he did it or not. But the investigation certainly uncovered some ugly stuff about how easily a Baptist minister can rise in the ranks despite allegations of sexual abuse and sexual assault.

Investigators now say that Matt Baker “spent years in Waco leading… a secret life as a sexual predator.”

Let me condense some of the history and allegations set forth in the article.

Matt was a ministerial student at the largest Baptist school in the world, Baylor U. in Waco, Texas. It’s affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Matt was also a trainer for the football team. When another trainer, a freshman girl, was on her way to clean out a locker room, “Matt said he’d be happy to help.”

“…inside the locker room, he pinned her arms behind her back…spread her legs…forced her onto a bench….”

She went to Baylor officials at the time, but they “asked her not to contact police.” They “let him walk away.” They typed up a report and put it in a file.

The girl dropped out of college and moved away. “The Baylor people had thought I was just some screwed up slut who had wanted to ruin the life of a good ministerial student,” she says.

Matt continued to excel and got a prized internship at First Baptist of Waco, a church affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. He ran their summer youth camp and worked in the church’s recreation center.

In 1994, Matt married Kari.

Soon after their wedding, a “minister at First Baptist received a report that Matt had grabbed a female custodian in the bathroom….”

“Around the same time, the pastor received a separate report that Matt had cornered a teenage girl in a small room where roller skates were stored.”

The church didn’t fire Matt.

“Unlike some denominations, Baptist churches have no defined hierarchies and operate independently of one another.”

“There are no rules, for example, requiring a church to inform” others about a minister accused of abuse.

“In fact, to avoid defamation lawsuits, leaders of a church have an incentive to keep their mouths shut when it comes to questionable behavior among clergy, which is perhaps why First Baptist officials said nothing about the allegations when other churches later called, interested in hiring Matt.”

“I didn’t want to be known as the man who ruined his career,” says the now-retired pastor of First Baptist Waco.

Matt “continued to make his way up the ladder.”

“To supplement his income, he ran an after-school youth program at the YMCA….He was fired. The director had received written statements from 4 young female employees, all of whom claimed Matt had sexually propositioned them,” and one said Matt “touched her pants near her genitalia and put her hands on his crotch.”

“For whatever reason, the YMCA decided not to press charges.”

“Just as they had been at Baylor and at First Baptist of Waco, the written complaints about his behavior were put in a file and…forgotten.”

“Apparently, no administrator from the YMCA, First Baptist, or from Baylor itself uttered a word in 1996,” when Matt was accepted into Baylor’s renowned Truett seminary.

“Nor did anyone say a word” when he got a job as pastor at Pecan Grove Baptist Church, also affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

In 1997, a woman told Matt’s wife that her 16-year-old daughter said Matt had “grabbed her and kissed her” in a parking lot.

In 1998, Matt became the pastor at Williams Creek Baptist Church, and from there he went to First Baptist Church of Riesel, and to Northlake Baptist in Dallas. All are churches affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

In 2005, Matt moved his family back to Waco and accepted a job as chaplain for the Waco Center for Youth, a residential treatment facility for emotionally disturbed adolescents. He was also asked to be the pastor of Crossroads Baptist, a church near Lorena, just outside Waco.

Crossroads Baptist Church is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

In 2006, after the death of Matt’s wife, Kari, still more stories from teenage girls surfaced: “…a hand on a leg”… “his hand against her breast”… asking “if she was wearing panties.”

Kari’s mother says that Matt had set his sights on a new target, a young, single mom who was the daughter of the music minister at Crossroads. She contends this may have been a motivation for Matt to kill Kari, or perhaps because Kari found out about Matt’s “other life.”

Telling friends that he didn’t want his daughters to endure the “rumors” sweeping town, Matt moved to Kerrville to work as a director for the Baptist Student Union at Schreiner University. Even with so many allegations of abuse and assault on teens and young women, Matt was able to get still another job working with students. His position was funded by the Baptist General Convention of Texas. After his arrest on murder charges, Matt was suspended "with pay."

Matt also worked as a substitute teacher in Kerrville. He was teaching at a high school just before he was taken into custody.

Matt Baker denies all charges.

Kari’s family says that it has pursued the murder investigation because of what they described as “our shame that we didn’t see Matt for who he really was.”

The woman who was assaulted as a freshman in the Baylor locker room says that she feels “enormous guilt.” “If I hadn’t done what Baylor told me to do…back in 1991, I think Kari would be alive today.”

Isn’t it sad that Kari’s family and a sexual assault survivor are the ones who feel such guilt?

What about the Baylor officials who did nothing? Do you think they feel guilt?

What about the prior minister and pastor at First Baptist of Waco. They received reports about Matt and did nothing. Do you think they feel guilt?

Every step of the way, Matt Baker was in churches, schools and organizations affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Do you think officials there feel guilt? Why didn’t they have an effective system in place for investigating and keeping track of abuse allegations against Baptist ministers in their affiliated churches?

On a blog devoted to this case, a recent comment said, “This guy should have been busted by an organization like this many years ago.”

I agree. Why didn’t Baptists bust him? Why didn’t they even investigate?

A sexual predator can often become emboldened by a lack of consequences. Did too many people allow this guy to get away with too much for too long?
_____________________________________

April 2009 Update: Matt Baker has now been indicted on a murder charge in connection with his wife's death. Read more in the Waco Tribune and the Associated Baptist Press. Follow the continuing story at the Don’tEvenGetMeStarted blog.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is so horrible. I wonder what excuses the Baptist General Convention is making this time. If the church doesn't do something about inappropriate clergy sexual behavior, how can we expect the world to take action?

Maykie said...

Although CPS was alerted to his sexual abuse of women, his penchant for online pornography, and the very real chance that he murdered is wife, this organization established to protect children said he was a fit father. His daughters are still with him. This man, and others like him, must be stopped.

Anonymous said...

This guy has had eleven accusations, according to the TM article. ELEVEN! All those girls are not lying. As more national news comes out about this case, one must wonder how many MORE victims will feel they have a duty to come forth? I pray they will be emboldened to step forward.

Tim said...

I as a Baptist Pastor DESPISE SUCH actions and promise to do all I can to both expose and expel these perverts and encourage the victims to press charges to the fullest extent. I also wish to encourage the victims and the deceived to walk with the Lord and to not lose focus on God.

Christa Brown said...

Tim: Welcome. If you want to help, a good starting place would be to write to the Baptist General Convention of Texas and tell them to make public the names of ministers in their secret file for whom there is "substantial evidence" of having sexually abused kids. People in the pews should be warned. See my note in the top of the right column on this blog-site. You could also write to the Bylaws workgroup of the SBC Executive Committee, which is the SBC group that is supposed to be addressing the problem.

Most clergy abuse victims cannot have criminal charges prosecuted because the nature of the psychological trauma is such that, by the time they are able to speak of it, too much time has passed. This is why so many other faith groups have implemented review boards for assessing the credibility of clergy abuse reports. Baptists need to do something similar, at least for the sake of warning people.

Phyllis Gregory said...

There are quite a few Baptist pastors who have addressed issues on Christa's blog. You seem angry, upset, saddened, by all the sexual abuse by SBC clergy horror stories that are told, but you still seem at a loss as to what to do. Is it possible, and I am addressing any SBC pastor who reads this blog, that you can make changes in your own church in your own way that will at least protect all the children in your church -- no matter what Paige Patterson and any of the ones at the top have to say. Is it possible that you can bring about change that way? Can you say to hell with the ones at the Baptist Vatican in Nashville who somehow seem to make the rules that are carried out all the way down to the local church. If SBC churches are truly autonomous, I would think you can do it anyway you want to in your church for your people that would pleasing to the Lord.

Just a thought.
Phyllis Gregory

Anonymous said...

I wonder how this case went from a murder case to a child-abuser? No where has there ever been mentioned that Matt Baker MIGHT have had any relationship with a minor. Yes, when he was a teen, or young twenty something, there might have been some peer situations. But to go to minor age children, that is a far reaching lie. And, I do NOT believe the Baptist faith has anything to do with any part of this case. I think it will come down to whether Kari was suicidal or not, and whether there are facts that Matt might have had anything to do with the death. Any of the 10+ year old issues, even IF they are true, does not enter into this case.

Jeri said...

Actually, there is no such thing as "the Baptist Faith," although some Baptists think that there is. There is the Christian faith, or more appropriately, faith in Jesus Christ. And the Baptist denominations are those groups that have recognized certain key ideas that they think are essential enough to prompt them to have a fellowship together.

The fact is, several of these Baptist denominations have embraced lack of accountability and a governing structure that is NOT, in fact, Biblical, and that is indefensible.

The porous, ultra-decentralized, anti-accountability structure of the SBC and IFB have everything to do with these abuses, for they protect a system in which the least members of Christ's church (those who are the basis of His judgment on the mighty) have no appeal and no recourse to just investigation into abuses. Yes, it is appropriate to fault the radical autonomy and permissiveness of Baptist church polity. It is exactly at fault in these abuse cases.

Christa Brown said...

Jeri: Thank you for such clarity of thought and such true words. "The porous, ultra-decentralized, anti-accountability structure of the SBC and IFB have everything to do with these abuses, for they protect a system in which the least...have no appeal and no recourse to just investigation into abuses."

GetYourFactsStraight said...

Why is it you single out only the BGCT affiliation of these churches. Why haven't you mentioned the SBC, the BWA, the Waco Baptist Assocation, or any other affiliations of these churches?

"Every step of the way..." Matt was affiliated with the church he was at, not the BGCT, SBC, or anyone else. The BGCT has no authority in the church. Were those churches to report Matt to the BGCT, that information would be made available to any church or baptist organization that requests it in hiring him. If the next church calls the BGCT to ask then he wouldn't be hired. And that is only IF he had been reported by the churches. The churches should have reported it to the police, just as Baylor should have.

I don't see the connection between the BGCT and Baylor. What does the BGCT providing scholarships to Baylor students have to do with Baylor and a sexual assault case? BGCT has no more responsibility or association with that than does any other scholarship provider for the university.

Obviously First Baptist Waco didn't report him, and who knows if anyone else did. So I don't see where you can find fault with the conventions or reason to just single out the BGCT and leave out all the other affiliations and conventions of the churches. If you are going to attack them, attack all of them, not just one that suits your interests.

The fault lies with the churches and organizations he worked at SOLELY. Baptist associations to various conventions are associations in the fact that a church gives money to one or the other to help support it. Beyond that, there is not much that they have to do with one another, especially in church polity or authority.

TexasPastor said...

Phyllis, thank you so much for the words that you wrote. I want you to know that there are those of us who are working to do exactly what you have said in our own local churches. As I have stated before, I am a survivor of Southern Baptist clergy abuse myself and have led the way in my own church to safeguard children from predators. I am very proud of the level of awareness that our church has reached and believe that we are also beginning to bring the issue to light within our community. One can never grow complacent on this front, however. There is always work to be done in maintaining awareness and safeguards as well as continuing to implement more effective means of protection as they become available.

As for the national situation within the SBC. Let me say, first of all, that I am for a national registry of convicted and credibly accused SBC offenders. I fully believe that the issue of autonomy has been made one of convenience, and every chance I get I voice these concerns to those in Nashville and in Dallas (we are a BGCT church). Even though it appears that they are presently turning a deaf ear to our concerns, my hope and prayer is that persistence will pay off in the end.

The point is that we must keep the issue alive. After all, if Frank Page is not willing to be the agent of change, there is always a new election coming in June. Unfortunately, the problem is more entrenced than that and just influencing the elected leaders is not sufficient. We need real change, beginning with the Executive Committee and its counsel, Mr. Boto. That would at least be a start.

Finally, let me assure you that Paige Patterson and his cohorts do not speak for me. There are those of us within the SBC who have not yet checked our brains at the door nor have we drunk the kool-aid.

Thank you for your concerns. Press on.

Christa Brown said...

getyourfacts: Well...I can't help but see some humor in your criticism that I didn't go after the Southern Baptist Convention on this one. Gee...I thought I'd been plenty vocal with my criticism of the SBC on the clergy abuse issue, but guess I should ratchet it up a bit. I've also written plenty on church polity and autonomy. Anyone who's interested can find a starting place for more info here.

I think the BGCT would likely be the first to confirm that there is indeed a connection between the BGCT and Baylor. I suspect they're proud of that connection (and rightfully so on other grounds). In any event, it's certainly more than just scholarship money. The BGCT's 2008 budget shows $2,388,256 going directly to Baylor, and that doesn't count the additional $3,516,444 for theological education, which presumably would include funds for the Truett theological seminary at Baylor. It also doesn't include the additional $4,081,715 for collegiate ministries, which presumably would include the salary that the BGCT funded for Baker's position as student ministries director at Schreiner. (If even the hiring personnel for a BGCT-funded position can't find out about prior sexual abuse allegations in one of the BGCT's own affiliated churches (or about the fact that he was fired from the YMCA), why does anyone imagine that the churches themselves will be able to do any better at tracking back and finding out about prior abuse reports against a minister?)

Christa Brown said...

TexasPastor: You have spoken strong words - good words - true words. Thank you. Amen.

Jeri said...

GetYourFactsStraight wrote this:
"The fault lies with the churches and organizations he worked at SOLELY. Baptist associations to various conventions are associations in the fact that a church gives money to one or the other to help support it. Beyond that, there is not much that they have to do with one another, especially in church polity or authority."

And that is precisely why the whole organization is at fault. Handing money back and forth is a transaction of wealth and power. You are clearly saying that money is handed back and forth WITHOUT ANY DUE PROCESS OF ACCOUNTABILITY CHECKING. That's bad ethics and bad business.

In any other philanthropy or business, when money is passed to one's fellows on word of mouth agreement only, without accountability or traceability, the transaction is described as a kickback, bribe, or payoff. It is unethical.

The people in church A have inadvertently given money to the people in church B where a sexual predator is in office. The people in church A ARE responsible to with hold money and demand an account from church B. Church A's money is empowering Church B to continue in sheltering a predator.

Go read your Bible. You will find that no churches participated in the porous, accountability-free system that the SBC/IFB employ.

Anonymous said...

If Congress is going to investigate Roger Clemens about steroid use, maybe they could investigate clergy sexual abuse and collusion in the SBC church system. I think the clergy abuse is more important than an athlete and his performance in sports.

Christa Brown said...

Anonymous: A separate organization that is trying to get a Congressional investigation of clergy sex abuse in religious institutions is A Matter of Truth. Among other things, they have a petition for people to sign.

Anonymous said...

Anyone see 20/20 last night?

Christa Brown said...

Aaarrgghh! I missed it. I was thinking the 20/20 show would be the 14th. Here's a link to the 20/20 transcript.

Anonymous said...

On this lovely Good Friday, Matt has decided to slung nasty mud around. Mud that won't stick. Well, it will on him...but not his intended target. You can check it out on the WacoTrib.com (2 stories today)or updates at www.dontevengetstarted.blogspot.com.

Anonymous said...

Careful here. First Baptist Waco fired Mat on-the-spot with the custodian incident.

Christa Brown said...

Actually, according to the very lengthy and extensively researched Texas Monthly article, when other ministers at First Baptist of Waco received the report about Matt grabbing a female custodian, and also the report about him cornering a teenage girl, they "didn't fire him."

Moreover, according to Texas Monthly, "First Baptist officials said nothing about the allegations when other churches later called, interested in hiring Matt." Texas Monthly apparently interviewed FBC-Waco's pastor who was quoted as saying, "I didn't want to be known as the man who ruined his career."

So... First Baptist of Waco quietly got Matt out of their own church, but they simply let him move on to other unsuspecting churches. Apparently, they didn't even give him a negative reference. This is typical of how Baptist churches handle clergy abuse reports, and this case illustrates how extremely dangerous and irresponsible it is.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect to you and Texas Monthly, the article is inaccurate about the firing.

Shannon said...

Matt was finally indicted for Kari's murder. Justice for at least that is coming soon.

For updates:
www.dontevengetstarted.blogspot.com

Christa Brown said...

Anon 6:13 - With all due respect... Texas Monthly and renowned journalist Skip Hollandsworth put their names and reputations on the line with everything they write. As an anonymous commenter, you put nothing on the line.

But EVEN IF you're correct - i.e., EVEN IF FBC-Waco "fired" Matt Baker - this case is still a dreadfully tragic demonstration of how Baptists have a grossly inadequate system for clergy accountability and one that allows clergy predators to simply move on from church to church.

Christa Brown said...

The Waco Tribune article: "Former Waco-area pastor indicted on murder charge in wife's death"