A minister at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas has been charged with online solicitation of sex from a kid.
This is one of the largest Southern Baptist churches in the nation. It’s the church pastored by former Southern Baptist president Jack Graham.
It’s a church with a highly-affluent and highly-educated congregation. It’s a church with ample resources.
The arrested minister, Joe Barron, was previously the pastor at Northrich Baptist Church in Richardson, Texas, and before that, he was at the First Baptist Church of Lewisville, Texas.
Barron had two weeks’ worth of sexually explicit conversations with a person he believed to be a 13-year old girl. She turned out to be a police officer.
According to police, Barron was arrested when he drove three hours to meet with his intended child-victim. He had a box of 10 condoms in his car, along with a web-camera and headset that police believe he was going to give to the girl.
Police are now investigating whether Barron may have previously engaged in sexual contact with minors.
Meanwhile, pastor Jack Graham told church members, “We want to put this in our rearview mirror.”
Sad, isn’t it? Rather than focusing on the perceived need of his church to move on, Graham should instead be focusing on the needs of children who may have been hurt.
Instead of talking about putting it in the “rearview mirror,” Graham could do a lot more good if he would use his powerful voice to reach out to other possible victims and to urge anyone with any information to bring it forward to police.
Instead of putting it in the “rearview mirror,” Graham himself should seek to learn from this tragedy. If Graham would begin to understand how easily a child predator can infiltrate a church’s ministerial staff, then perhaps he could also use his powerful voice to urge change within the denomination so that ALL Southern Baptist kids might be made safer.
But I doubt that’s going to happen.
The tendency to hastily put clergy sex abuse in the “rearview mirror” is deeply entrenched in this denomination.
Religion writer Terry Mattingly picked up on the Prestonwood story and pointed to it as providing a clue to the scope of the larger story about clergy sex abuse among Southern Baptists and about why it is so difficult to bring much-needed attention to the Southern Baptist abuse story.
“This is an important – although frustrating – story worthy of more coverage,” he says.
Mattingly should know. Five years ago, Mattingly was one of the first journalists to write about the difficulty that Southern Baptists have in cracking down on clergy sex abuse. Mattingly recognized how unrealistic it was to think that a Southern Baptist church could investigate and discipline its own pastor, and he also saw the easy shield that the “free-wheeling and autonomous” polity provided to Baptist leaders.
“Where does the buck stop?” he asked. For Southern Baptists, the buck seems to stop nowhere.