In Rogers, Arkansas, there was “BBQ for lunch” as Southern Baptist honchos met to talk about how they could better evangelize the world. Their Great Commission Resurgence Task Force invited hundreds of Baptist pastors, staff persons and trustees of Baptist entities to a luncheon “listening session.”
At the exact same time, and just down the road in Benton, Arkansas, a prominent Southern Baptist minister was being convicted on sexual indecency with children. He was taken from the courtroom in handcuffs, ending what authorities said was two decades of sexually preying on teen boys in the church’s youth choir.
One of the minister’s victims estimated that there were likely “dozens, maybe triple digits” of boys who were abused by that minister.
I think he’s probably right. At least a hundred boys were probably abused by First Baptist of Benton’s minister. Experts say that a man who molests boys averages about 150 victims, and we know that this Benton minister had been actively preying on church-boys for at least two decades.
I can’t help but think that those Southern Baptist honchos in Rogers might have accomplished more if they had held a “listening session” for the boys -- many of them now grown -- who were sexually abused in Benton.
In fact, maybe they should have taken their whole barbeque to Benton. And maybe they should have invited the hundreds of other Baptist clergy abuse survivors from all over the country.
Maybe those Southern Baptist honchos would have learned more from listening to a hundred Baptist clergy abuse survivors than from listening to a hundred of their colleagues.
Maybe if they would hold “listening sessions” for Baptist abuse survivors -- maybe if they would hear even a fraction of the horrors I hear -- they would begin to sensitize themselves to the depths of this problem within their faith group. Maybe then, they would begin to do something about it. Maybe then, they would implement clergy-accountability systems similar to those in other major faith groups.
After all, Southern Baptist honchos have certainly shown that they can gear up fast when it’s something they care about. When 95 percent of Southern Baptist “messengers” authorized a study of how Baptists could work more effectively “in serving Christ through the Great Commission,” a Great Commission Task Force was immediately appointed, and their names were made public. Southern Baptist president Johnny Hunt said the task force would meet once a month and that they would issue interim reports. He talked about how “we owe it to our denomination” to keep them informed about the work of the task force.
Clearly, this is something the honchos think is important.
They immediately set out to obtain task force funding from the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, and they quickly set up a sophisticated website outreach effort at pray4gcr.com. Individuals can “interact with the task force through blogs, Facebook and Twitter, sign up for updates about significant developments and see photos of the 23 task force members.”
In advance of their first “listening session,” they mailed out invitations to 1800 Southern Baptists for that barbeque luncheon in Rogers. “We want to hear” from people, said task force chairman Ronnie Floyd.
Now contrast all of this activity with all of the nothingness that was done in response to the near-unanimous vote of Southern Baptist messengers for a study on creating a database of credibly-accused clergy child molesters.
Southern Baptist honchos never even had a budget for that so-called study. And there sure as heck weren’t any “listening sessions” for Baptist clergy abuse survivors.
You get BBQ for lunch if you want to talk about how to increase the baptism numbers for Southern Baptists.
You get a cold shoulder if you want to talk about the sexual abuse of Baptist ministers in Baptist churches.