North Carolina Baptist pastor Gene Scarborough wrote to me, urging that I should remove from the website the news story about Cale Camp director and former Southern Baptist missionary Stephen Carter. “I believe it is premature to keep it up,” he said, “because, as you can see in the Biblical Recorder responses, people who know him are being supportive and this includes our editor who knows him personally.”
Take a look at those comments under the July 16th Biblical Recorder article. Two are comments of the Biblical Recorder’s editor, Norman Jameson, who confirmed for me by email that the comments of “Norman” are indeed his.
Norman Jameson, editor of the Biblical Recorder, states in that publication: “I guarantee a positive outcome for Cale and for Steve will be trumpeted here.” He then talks about how “innocence is to be assumed.”
In another comment, Mr. Jameson points out that, at the Baptist-sponsored camp, many young people “prayed to receive Christ,” and he praises Stephen Carter for having “trained and recruited an outstanding summer staff.”
I wonder if Mr. Jameson can imagine how his public comments might look to a Baptist abuse survivor. If there were any others who were considering making a complaint against Carter, or against some other Baptist minister, do you think it will make them more inclined to speak up when they see comments like that from the editor of the statewide Baptist newspaper? Or will it make them less inclined?
Lots of “I can’t believe it” sorts of comments were also posted on the WITN news site. People said “Steve didn’t do this;” they sang his praises because he “brought a lot of children to Christ;” and they said it was “just a trumped-up charge.” Again, I wonder whether any of these people have any clue about how it becomes even more difficult for clergy abuse survivors to speak up when they see that so many in the community are so determined not to believe accusations and so ready to heap praise onto an accused minister.
In his email to me, Mr. Jameson stated: “This is a rare case in which I am very familiar with the person involved, I know him personally and I would be surprised if the allegations proved true.” Mr. Jameson also stated “as a journalist I’m neutral.”
What I wish I could help Mr. Jameson to understand is that there is nothing “rare” about this case. In virtually every case, there are people who are “very familiar with the person involved” and who just can’t believe the accusations. Other church staff, congregants, and people in the community almost always rally around the accused minister. This is the usual pattern. Often, they also vilify the accuser.
We have seen this pattern in far too many cases with allegations of Baptist clergy sex abuse, including those involving David Pierce, Jeff Hannah, Rick Willits, Larry Neathery, Larry Reynolds, Leslie Mason, Keith Geren, Mark Brooks, Lonnie Broome, Tom Wade, and many more.
This common pattern is exactly why Southern Baptists need to establish a review board with trained professionals and church-outsiders who can more objectively and responsibly assess clergy abuse reports and relay those assessments to people in the pews.
Only a very small percentage of clergy molestation cases can be criminally prosecuted. Most cannot. This is why other major faith groups have implemented denominational review boards to assess clergy abuse allegations. But Southern Baptists haven’t. Consider what this means.
The most typical scenario is a person who was sexually abused as a kid and who seeks to report the abuse two to three decades later. It’s too late for criminal prosecution, and so he tries to go to denominational authorities, thinking that someone will surely want to look into the matter to try to assure the safety of others.
In most other major faith groups in this country, there are processes for doing that. But for people who want to report abuse by Southern Baptist clergy, there are not. Instead, Baptist leaders tell people to report the abuse to the church of the accused minister.
Given how common the “I can’t believe it” pattern is even when police have already determined there is enough evidence for indictment, can you imagine how much more common the “I can’t believe it” pattern is when an outsider tries to simply go to a church and tell them something so awful about their beloved pastor?
It doesn’t work. It cannot work. It will never work.
The reason it cannot work is reflected in the comments of Gene Scarborough and Norman Jameson. Those who “know him personally” cannot possibly be objective about an accused minister. They think they "know," but they don't.
In other major faith groups, hundreds of clergy have been removed from ministry based on the assessments of denominational review boards. These are men who were never criminally convicted of anything, but for the greater safety of kids and congregants, they were nevertheless removed from ministry by action of the faith community.
But with Baptists, the prevailing standard seems to be that a minister is “innocent until proven guilty” under criminal law, and if he hasn’t been criminally convicted, then he can still stand in a Baptist pulpit. This is a very dangerously low standard for men who occupy a position of such high trust.
“Innocent until proven guilty” is a criminal law standard for whether a person should be deprived of liberty and put in prison. It is not a standard for whether a minister should be allowed to remain in the pulpit or whether he should be allowed to work with kids.
At this point, despite Mr. Scarborough’s entreaties, both public and private, I have no intention of removing from the website the news articles about the indictment of Stephen Carter. If I removed articles every time I got an email from someone who “knows” the accused, then the website wouldn’t have very many articles.
Besides, countless cases have demonstrated that those who “know him personally” are probably some of the least likely to have any genuine knowledge about the truth or falsity of clergy abuse allegations.