Thursday, December 18, 2008

Letter to SBC president Johnny Hunt

Dr. Johnny M. Hunt
President, Southern Baptist Convention
First Baptist Church of Woodstock
11905 Hwy 92
Woodstock , GA 30188

Dear Dr. Hunt:

With a change in leadership comes a new opportunity.

As president of the Southern Baptist Convention, you now have the opportunity to show genuine leadership on the issue of clergy sex abuse and cover-ups. This may be one of the greatest leadership challenges in the history of Southern Baptists.

Please use your tenure to prod the Executive Committee toward taking real and meaningful action to rid the ranks of Baptist clergy predators and to minister to those who have been wounded by Baptist clergy.

We have heard the oft-repeated explanation that denominational leaders are powerless because Baptist churches are autonomous. However, if indeed denominational leaders lack the power to actually remove credibly accused clergy child molesters from ministry (as other faith groups do), then this would be all the more reason why denominational leaders must at least provide information to those who do carry the power. Denominational leaders must assure that Southern Baptist congregants are provided with objective, professional, trustworthy information so that they can make responsible decisions about their ministers.

As a July 10 Tennessean editorial stated: "The very fact that Baptist churches are autonomous signals that they need the information that the convention could provide."

The only way people in the pews will find out about clergy child molesters is if victims feel safe in reporting them. And victims are never going to feel safe if they have to report abuse by going to the church of the accused minister. Telling clergy victims to "go to the church" is like telling them to go to the den of the wolf who savaged them. It is cruel to the victim and unproductive toward the end of protecting others.

This denomination needs to provide (1) a safe and welcoming place for victims to report clergy sex abuse, (2) an objective, professionally-trained panel for responsibly assessing victims' abuse reports, and (3) an efficient means of assuring that the assessment information reaches people in the pews -- i.e., a database.

If there is to be an end to the scourge of Baptist clergy sex abuse and cover-ups, it will require a strong cooperative effort with leadership at the highest levels. Please make this your top priority. Will you schedule a meeting with us to discuss this urgent need in Southern Baptist life?


David Clohessy
SNAP National Director

Christa Brown
SNAP Baptist Outreach Director

This letter from SNAP to Southern Baptist president Johnny Hunt was reported yesterday in the Associated Baptist Press.


Anonymous said...

Are you planning to post the response you get, if any?

Christa Brown said...

Sure, but I'm not holding my breath.

Clayton Hall said...

Couldn't anyone create such a database?

As a Baptist preacher (not associated w/ SBC) and a database programmer, it seems a 3rd party agency/reporting service would be just as good and there would be less chance for abuse, scandal, and conflict of interest.

The autonomous argument is actually a pretty good one in that the convention doesn't hire/fire/approve clergy and staff at individual churches. Also, "Policing" the individuals that the Churches choose to serve does fall outside mission of the convention.

I'm not sure how effective these things are, but I'm surely *everyone* can be in agreement that it is a good thing to stop child abuse in all its forms. In this instance, however, the SBC doesn't have any more authority, right, or equipment to do so than anyone else. So I guess my question is, why should the SBC be charged with doing it?

Christa Brown said...

The maintenance of any sort of database is a significant responsibility. Who should rightly bear that responsibility? Who should assess the credibility of clergy abuse allegations so as to determine what names go into the database? It makes sense that the denomination itself should take on this responsibility as a means of assuring the integrity of their own "brand." After all, these are "Southern Baptist" ministers we're talking about.

We're also talking about people who were terribly wounded in Southern Baptist churches (and by Southern Baptist ministers), and so the faith group itself should bear some moral obligation to reach out to these people and to treat them with compassion and decency. That's not happening. People don't want to believe it when it happens in their own church, and they typically react in ways that are dreadful, effectively savaging the already-terribly-wounded abuse survivor who brings news they no one wants to hear. I read recently that the average Southern Baptist church in Texas has 75 people in the pews on a Sunday morning. The average local church simply doesn't have the resources, training or experience to properly deal with it when an allegation of clergy sex abuse is presented... and bear in mind that the report of abuse is typically (and normally) made years after the abuse occurred. They need help. Even in churches with massive resources (e.g. Bellevue), and even in churches with highly educated congregations (e.g. Southmont), they still fail to respond appropriately when these sorts of allegations are presented. That's the pattern. It's why the denomination needs to provide churches with the resource of an outside objective independent review board for assessing clergy abuse allegations and for reporting that assessment information back to people in the pews. Whether or not Southern Baptist officials can actually remove men from ministry (as other faith groups' leaders do), they can at least provide information to the churches.

Rev. Wade Burleson's essay is a good starting place for people who are beginning to think about this.

Other information about the "autonomy" argument, and why it doesn't work.

FAQs about SNAP's request for an independent review board and database.

Anonymous said...

Since I do know that Paige Patterson keeps a file on every preacher in the SBC who is viable for leadership (he has to know who will toe the company line and who won't), surely he could help develop a data base of sex offenders. He's got the skills--now he just has to get the will to do it. It would be an easy transition.

Christa Brown said...

Interesting info, Anon -- i.e. that Paige Patterson keeps a file on Southern Baptist preachers.

I don't doubt that Paige Patterson has the skills to develop a database of credibly-accused Baptist pastors, but I've seen zero reason to believe he has the will. After all, this is the man who, as reported in the Dallas Morning News, refused to even take calls from women trying to report sexual assaults of Patterson's protege, Darrell Gilyard. And this is the guy who labeled the clergy sex-abuse victims' support group as "evil-doers."

Patterson could certainly transition his skills, but he'd have to remake his heart first, and that's something that would take a road to Damascus encounter.

Anonymous said...

only the Holy Spirit can remake a heart. So are you suggesting that Patterson is not a Christian? Can a Christian do the terrible things he has done to people?

Anonymous said...

As long as SBC pastors mainly preach salvation message every Sunday you will have amens and halleluyahs from the crowds but nobody is growing to be like Christ in thinking and character--and you will see pastors and members live like unbelievers. As I see it people can get saved but not growth in SBC churches.

As long as SBC culture single out screaming, hollering, and bombastic rants in pulpits as main attraction in churches you will continue to see predators in pulpits and pews. A lot of hot air from SBC pulpits but mostly little light--most all only repeat same message of salvation and evangelism. SBC is the only denomination I know of that boasts of numbers. This ego-trip culture will continue to produce politicians in the pulpits but not spiritual growth at all.

I am tired of going to SBC churches that only telling me how to get saved every Sunday.

The promotion of programs and the drive for more and more money for projects is an insult to people's intellectuality and spirituality. God is being portrayed as glorified by big seminary buildings, sending ill-prepared people overseas, as though God is more interested in programs than the growth in the soul of one believer.

I tell my friends if you want to get saved go to SBC church; but if you want to grow in the mind and soul to be like Christ, please find another Bible teaching church--rantings of Baptists orators will build neither the ones in the pew nor the ranters themselves. Hitler could have insert Bible verses in his speeches and mistook for a SBC president.

Anonymous said...

Patterson is a man like other men with power are: blinded by might.