Thursday, November 15, 2012

"Those days" are still here in Baptistland

“In those days, this was a no-no in terms of publicizing it,” said Rev. James Griffith, former executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention.

Griffith was talking about the numerous child sex abuse allegations against former scoutmaster Ernest Boland, whose troops were sponsored by Baptist churches, including Griffith’s own church, Beech Haven Baptist in Athens, Georgia.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Griffith acknowledged that, as Boland’s pastor, he had heard reports about Boland’s “sexual transgressions.”

“It was suspected, but there was not much done about it,” said Griffith.

No one at Griffith’s church discussed the possibility of reporting Boland to the police or even telling the boys’ parents.

Boland started his troop at Beech Haven Baptist Church after he was accused of molesting boys in troops that were sponsored by two other Georgia Baptist churches – First Baptist of Athens and Green Acres Baptist. When the allegations arose at Green Acres, Boland simply resigned.

Three years later, Boland started the troop at Griffith’s church.

Nobody stopped him – neither the Boy Scouts nor the Baptist churches.

All of this came to light recently when the Boy Scouts’ long-confidential files on accused scoutmasters were finally released. Apparently, Boland’s name in that file is what delayed his start of a new troop for three years . . . but it didn’t stop him.

Obviously, the Boy Scouts should have done a whole heckuva lot more to stop Boland and to protect children. Many kids could have been spared profound wounds if the Boy Scouts had properly reported Boland to the police. As one mother said, in speaking of her son’s alcoholism and premature death, “The only time he didn’t think about this was when he was drinking.”

But before you focus all ten of your fingers on pointing at the Boy Scouts, consider this. At least the Boy Scouts were keeping organizational records on accusations against scoutmasters. That’s more than Southern Baptists do when molestation allegations arise against their preachers.

How do Baptists imagine that they will ever illuminate the darkness of the preacher-predators in their ranks if they don’t even bother with systematic record-keeping?

And now, Rev. James Griffith, a former Southern Baptist leader in Georgia, dares to suggest that this sort of institutional secrecy is a problem from an earlier era.

Yet, we have seen many, many other Southern Baptist pastors and denominational officials who have engaged in similar sorts of secrecy when clergy abuse allegations arose in their own churches. And, these keep-it-quiet scandals have implicated some of Baptistland’s top honchos – men such as former Southern Baptist president Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist megachurch in Dallas, president of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board Kevin Ezell, former president of the California Southern Baptist Convention Wayne Stockstill, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma Anthony Jordan, and former president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention Wendell Estep.

Baptists have been using the keep-it-quiet approach to clergy child molesters for a very long time, and so far, we have seen virtually no indication that anything about this has changed in Baptistland. While other major faith groups have begun to implement denominational accountability systems for their clergy, Southern Baptists remain sitting on the sidelines of this enormous problem, acting as though they are somehow above the fray and refusing to implement even the most basic system of denominational record-keeping on their clergy.

Meanwhile, Southern Baptist ministers such as James Griffith seem to still brag about how they handled things. ”It’s the kind of thing that can tear up your church,” said Griffith. “A wise pastor certainly will not do anything to hurt the entire congregation.”

Wise? I think Griffith's self-delusion concisely illustrates the problem – the continuing Baptistland ethos that it’s better to leave kids at risk of clergy sex abuse than to do anything that might “hurt” the illusions of the congregation.

When the accusations against Boland arose in Griffith’s Beech Haven church, Griffith says he asked a church deacon and a lawyer in the congregation to speak to Boland.

“That took care of it,” saysGriffith.

Took care of it for whom?

Certainly not for the children.