Friday, November 23, 2012

Three allegations in three years, but church kept quiet

In Oklahoma, police arrested Southern Baptist youth pastor Dustin Ray Werneburg on multiple charges of child sex crimes. Werneburg, who was previously a pastor at First Baptist Church in Coalgate, now faces three counts of second degree rape and three counts of forcible sodomy along with charges of lewd molestation and lewd or indecent proposals to a child. Investigators say that all of the crimes were committed against a girl under the age of 16.

Jeff Self
(Savannah Morning News photo)
Jeff Self, the senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Coalgate, has admitted that he knew about prior allegations against Werneburg.

"We had three allegations over the course of three years,” said pastor Self in a statement to KXII News. “Two of them he had come to me and said you are going to hear this . . .  and it was a he said she said and we believed him . . . but once we had that third allegation that was really significant in August," Self said.

So what exactly did pastor Self do with the third allegation – the one that he finally viewed as being “really significant”?

He met with the leadership of the church, and they asked for Werneburg’s resignation.

So, even after three allegations, pastor Self still did not take appropriate action for the protection of kids.

Having resigned at the church, Werneburg was able to continue working as a teacher’s aide at a middle school, which is where he was when he was arrested last week. A parent reported Werneburg to the police after finding text messages and photos exchanged between his daughter and Werneburg.

Thanks to that parent, perhaps the justice system will be able to hold Werneburg accountable.

But what about accountability for the church’s senior pastor, Jeff Self, whose irresponsible do-nothingness betrayed kids and left them at risk for terrible harm?

In all probability, pastor Self will face no consequence whatsoever. Institutionally, the Southern Baptist Convention does nothing at all when pastors keep quiet about clergy sex abuse allegations in their churches. Indeed, the Southern Baptist Convention doesn’t even have the bare pretense of any process of denominational accountability for keep-it-quiet pastors such as Jeff Self.
Wondering how pastor Jeff Self can look at himself in the mirror? Wondering whether he's even cognizant of the soul-murdering harm that his do-nothingness allowed? Is Self even rethinking his conduct? For more insight into Self's way of thinking, read his column in the Savannah Morning News. His words purport to place high value on the younger generation; his deeds say otherwise.

Related posts:
Pastor accused of cover-up is featured speaker for Southern Baptist Convention, 6/16/2012
Dear Al, 12/8/2011

See also: Churches not typically first reporters of sexual abuse, ABP, 11/22/11

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Multi-accused pastor remains in pulpit; Baptist officials claim they're powerless

Travis Ray Smith (ABC 17 News)
Missouri Southern Baptists stand by their man despite multiple child sex charges  . . .  again.
Southern Baptist Pastor Travis Smith stands accused of child sex crimes, and he remains in the pulpit at the First Baptist Church in Stover. Despite the fact that Pastor Smith also faced child sex charges in 2010, when he was youth pastor at Pilot Grove Baptist Church, his congregants remain steadfast. Shortly after his arrest, First Baptist congregants held a fish fry, which some described as a show of support for Pastor Smith.
So what do Southern Baptist denominational officials do when a pastor such as Smith is accused of multiple sex crimes with multiple kids, and he stays in the pulpit?
Top officials of the country’s largest Protestant denomination claim they are powerless.
They pray.
Meanwhile, the multi-accused minister remains in the pulpit. And if First Baptist gets tired of the negative publicity and decides to let Pastor Smith move on, he will likely be able to find some other Baptist church that will take him. Prison is about the only thing that will keep a Baptist pastor out of the pulpit, because unlike other major faith groups, Southern Baptists do diddly-squat denominationally when a minister is accused of sexual abuse.
Here’s what Missouri Baptist Convention spokesman, Rob Phillips, said about the “situation in Stover” – a “situation” in which at least four kids have now made some pretty dreadful allegations:
“While we respect the independence of the local church and have no direct authority over it, we are deeply grieved by the allegations. We pray that the courts will administer justice fairly and swiftly, and that there will be healing among the wounded church members. We also pray that the church members will have the wisdom, grace and courage to act biblically in their dealings with their pastor.”
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the coded language of Baptistland, allow me to offer a translation:
“Thank goodness that we as Southern Baptists give lip-service to local church autonomy because we’re able to use this religious-sounding construct as a ruse to protect the $500 million per year that local churches send to denominational offices through the “Cooperative Program.” (That’s the money that helps to fund all those nice undisclosed salaries of denominational officials, not to mention all those cushy travel expenses at the Wyndham.) So trust me when I say this, we really really respect the independence of the local church because, that way, if something goes really wrong (such as a bunch of church-kids getting molested), then we can say that the local church messed up totally independently, and we don’t really care much if a local church winds up going out of business so long as we can protect our denominational coffers. But hey – we are deeply grieved. Trust me. We really are. We just don’t plan to do anything about it. But of course, we pray that the courts will administer justice (because, first of all, we’re big on saying that we pray, and second, because unlike other major faith groups, the Southern Baptist denomination has totally abdicated clergy accountability to the criminal justice system, and so, if the courts don’t do anything,  there’s no one else who will, and yeah, we’re aware that less than 10 percent of child molestation cases are prosecuted, but hey, this denomination is just totally powerless with its mere $500 million per year. Trust me. We really are powerless – unless of course a church hires a woman pastor or a gay man – and then we’ll do something about it. Confused? Well duh. It’s definitional. In Baptistland, “independence” means that churches can keep accused and admitted child molesters as pastors, but “independence” doesn’t mean churches can keep women or gays as pastors. It’s our religion -- or so we say.) We also pray that there will be healing among the wounded church members. (But please, please, please don’t even mention the kids who say they were molested and raped. We don’t want to pray for them because we prefer to pretend they don’t exist.) We also pray that the church members will have the wisdom . . . yadda yadda yadda . . . to act biblically. (Hey, I’m a communications guy for Baptists and so I have to talk about how much we pray and say biblical-sounding stuff. Saying we pray is what’s important to us. Doing something to protect kids against clergy child molesters? Not so much.)" 
In addition to the $500 million in annual revenues that Southern Baptists take into denominational coffers through their “Cooperative Program,” the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention take in about $10.4 billion in annual “offerings” and they have about $42 billion in congregational assets.
Yet, even with such massive resources, Southern Baptists claim that they are powerless to even keep denominational records on the molestation allegations against their ministers, much less to remove a multi-accused minister from the pulpit. It's a claim that strains credulity.

Related post:
Multi-accused pastor preaches on forgiveness, 12/8/2012

Accused Missouri pastor faces new charges, 6/14/2013

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.