James “Ben” Harris, age 33, met the boy in his Sunday School class at Lawrenceville’s Brookwood Baptist Church. That’s Harris in the photo. He’s married and has kids
According to the police report, “the boy’s mother found sexually explicit text messages… on a cell phone Harris had bought the boy for Christmas. Recent contact between the two included a church retreat in Macon last month in which Harris and the alleged victim slept in the same motel bed.”
As reported in the Gwinnett Daily Post, the senior pastor of the church, Dean Oliver, responded to all this with some remarkably unpastoral and mealy-mouthed statements.
“Pastor Dean Oliver of Brookwood Baptist Church said
Harris was not technically on staff at the church ….”
Dear Pastor Oliver,
Your church put this man into a position of trust and gave him access to kids. Whether he was “technically” on staff or not is immaterial. The technicality of a man’s staff position will not do anything to ameliorate harm to a kid who is molested. Nevertheless, when ugly allegations are raised, it seems that Baptists have all sorts of ways to minimize things – such as claiming a minister isn’t really ordained or making him a consulting minister instead of a staff minister. Now you’ve just demonstrated still another way – claiming that the man isn’t “technically” on staff. In the face of such awful news, couldn’t you manage to say something a little less weaselly than that?
Pastor Dean Oliver said Harris was subjected to “a very thorough process of background checks.”Dear Pastor Oliver,
Background checks are important, but if you had educated yourself on this subject, you would know that the vast majority of active child molesters don't have a criminal record. (Some experts place those who have a criminal record as low as 3 percent; almost all place it at less than 10 percent.) It is pure ignorance for Baptist churches to persist in thinking that they’re doing enough by doing background checks. (And while your church may be exceptional, we have little reason to believe that most Baptist churches even bother with the bare bones minimum of background checks.)
Since this particular form of ignorance has been actively promoted by Southern Baptist officials, I can almost understand why you would say such a thing. But still . . . it’s ignorance. You owe it to the kids and congregants of your church to educate yourself on the realities of child sex abuse. It might also be nice if you could manage to say something pastoral instead of immediately launching into a defense of the church. And how about publicly reaching out to any other kids who may have been hurt?
Pastor Dean Oliver said “the church is reviewing policies and procedures … but leaders are confident no further safeguards could have been in place.”
Dear Pastor Oliver,
Open your eyes! If Harris and this boy were able to share a motel bed at a church retreat, as the police report indicates, then your church dropped the ball on supervision. Further safeguards could indeed have been in place – safeguards that could have precluded an adult Sunday School teacher from sharing a motel bed with a 14-year-old.
This “no further safeguards” statement is the most disturbing of your quoted comments. It indicates that the same thing could likely happen all over again in your church. Even in the face of a dreadful lapse, you are apparently unwilling to learn from it. Blind-eyed pastors such as you are the people who make so many Baptist churches such perfect places for predators.
Update: For more words from Pastor Dean Oliver, be sure to check out his comments on this post: parts one and two.