The Waco Center for Youth is a psychiatric residential treatment facility that serves emotionally disturbed teens between ages 13 and 17.
Matt Baker is the “murdering minister” who, according to prosecutors, had also sexually abused or assaulted at least 13 other young females, including four minors. Texas Monthly magazine reported on the specifics of some of those ugly allegations, and other details came out in court testimony.
Do you think those 13 that prosecutors rounded up were Matt Baker’s only abuse and assault victims?
I don’t. Not by a long shot.
According to investigators, Matt Baker led a “secret life as a sexual predator” during the whole course of his career. We’ll probably never know how many more he may have abused while wearing his ministerial mask of trust.
But for me, it’s those kids at the Waco Center for Youth that I can’t stop thinking about.
There you have a group of kids who are already so emotionally disturbed that they’re confined in a residential treatment facility, and then Baptists throw a rattlesnake in among them.
Horrible harm is virtually inevitable. It makes me weep to even think about it.
The Waco Center for Youth was one of Matt Baker’s last stints. By then, he had been through a half-dozen Baptist churches in the Waco area alone -- all of them affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. By then, there had been several known reports of sexual abuse and assault logged against him with Baptist leaders, including one at Baptists’ Baylor University in Waco and a couple at the historic First Baptist Church of Waco.
And of course, there may have been other informal reports that we don’t know about. Perhaps that’s why he went through so many churches so fast.
Yet, apparently no one said a word when Matt Baker got a job working as a chaplain at the Waco Center for Youth.
I’d guess that someone may have even recommended him. On another blog, another chaplain commented about this case and spoke of how the Baptist General Convention of Texas had taken over the “endorsing responsibilities for chaplains.”
Does that mean the Baptist General Convention of Texas endorsed Baker as a chaplain despite the abuse and assault reports in its own affiliated institutions?
I confess I don’t know much about the chaplain credentialing process, and if any of you would like to educate me, I’d appreciate it. What I do know is this: Chaplains are clergy, and Matt Baker was Baptist clergy.
Other Baptist leaders are the ones who gave Matt Baker the aura of trust that a clergyman holds. They’re the ones who ordained him; they’re the ones who admitted him to seminary (even though he had been reported for sexual assault at the same school); and they’re the ones who allowed him to continue in ministry even after multiple reports of sexual assault and abuse.
Because Matt Baker was still a Baptist minister in apparent good-standing, he was able to get a job working as a chaplain with those troubled kids at the Waco Center for Youth.
Think about those kids. They may have been emotionally disturbed, but I imagine they were savvy enough to know that no one would be likely to believe a kid in a psychiatric treatment facility over a Baptist preacher.
The Waco Center for Youth was the perfect sort of place for a predator. Who would ever listen to those kids?
I figure some of those kids are probably spread to the four corners of the country by now. I wouldn't be surprised if some of them are living on the street somewhere . . . probably as far from Waco as they could possibly get. Or maybe they're addicted to drugs and alcohol. That's not uncommon in clergy sex abuse survivors.
Do you think any of those Baptist officials who kept quiet about Matt Baker’s reported abuses and assaults feel any concern for those kids who were at the Waco Center for Youth?
Why haven’t we seen some public statement from officials at Baylor, or First Baptist of Waco, or the Baptist General Convention of Texas? Why haven’t they offered some expression of compassion and care?
If they wanted to take responsibility for their failures of the past, wouldn’t they make some effort to reach out to the wounded now?
I keep imagining that we’ll see some nationwide press release from the Baptist General Convention of Texas, with some statement like this:
“We are horrified and heartbroken by all that we have learned about one of our Baptist ministers, the murder of his wife, and the harm inflicted on so many. We are also deeply troubled by what we have learned of our own past failures and by the realization that there were those in Baptist leadership who knew about the risk posed by this minister. Please, if you’re someone who was wounded by Baptist pastor Matt Baker, let us try to help you. We would like to provide you with independent counseling and we promise to keep your name confidential. Please contact us.”I can’t believe I even still imagine such things.
After all, if a murder won’t shake Baptist leaders from their stupor, why should I think they might care about those kids at the Waco Center for Youth?
In my more rational moments, I figure Baptist leaders are far more likely to simply hope that anyone else who was hurt by Matt Baker will remain invisible. They don’t want to know about them. They don’t want to help them.
If they did, they would behave differently.
In most other organizations, an institutional failure of this magnitude would lead to a lot of questions. Leaders would try to understand how things went so wrong. They would try to assess the damage. They would try to figure out what to do to assure that it wouldn’t happen again. They would try to find out how many were wounded.
But that doesn’t happen in Baptistland. Instead, the leaders just hunker down and stay silent . . . as though it simply wasn’t their problem.
It’s a very dangerous head-in-the-sand sort of approach.
In fact, it’s deadly.