Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Risk: Another lesson from the Matt Baker story

“Matt has been losing jobs for many years. If Mr. Baker… had such a great relationship at the church where he was a pastor in Dallas, why did his first (in a long line) attorneys threaten to sue that church (and I am betting this letter went to other churches too) if they gave out any information about him? … This information isn't known by many but it can be confirmed. I was a member at that church.”

This comment was recently left on a blog that follows the Matt Baker case and advocates “Justice for Kari,” the deceased wife. (See my posting yesterday for more on Matt Baker.)

The comment illustrates another part of the problem in why Baptists are failing to rout out clergy predators. As explained in the Texas Monthly article, among Baptist churches, “there are no rules” requiring a church to inform others about a minister accused of abuse.

“In fact, to avoid defamation lawsuits, leaders of a church have an incentive to keep their mouths shut when it comes to questionable behavior among clergy, which is perhaps why First Baptist officials said nothing about the allegations when other churches later called, interested in hiring Matt.”

So, according to Texas Monthly, First Baptist in Waco kept quiet about the sexual abuse allegations against Matt Baker there. And now it appears that one of Matt’s Dallas churches may have also been intimidated into keeping quiet.

This sort of thing is common. Local church leaders are afraid.

You can be angry at the local churches all you want, and rightfully so, because their cowardice puts others at risk -- possibly grave risk. But the reality is that the local churches desperately need some leadership and help from state and national Baptist bodies. That’s where there are the resources to deal with this pervasive problem in a cooperative and effective manner.

The average Baptist church in Texas has 75 members in the pews on a Sunday morning. Imagine you’re the pastor of a typical church and you receive a troubling report about one of your part-time staff ministers. It’s far easier just to let that minister move on than it is to actually look into the matter.

There’s no excusing it, but that’s the reality. One road is easy; one road is hard. People take the easy road.

Particularly if the departing minister gets an attorney who threatens suit if you say anything, it then becomes even more easy to simply keep mum rather than to grow a sturdy backbone.

Besides, you don’t actually KNOW anything for sure, do you? That’s what church leaders tell themselves in this situation.

And then they run the possible dollar-cost through their heads. If they actually stand up to the departing minister, they realize they’ll be putting the church’s finances at risk. What about the mortgage on the building? What about the church’s ministry programs?

Church leaders find ways to rationalize their silence about reported clergy abuse under the guise of “good stewardship.”

So, the accused minister is allowed to move on to one of the other 43,000 Southern Baptist churches in the country. And then the pattern will probably repeat itself….

The porous structure of Baptist churches makes them a perfect paradise for predators.

Baptist leaders know this. Yet they persist in doing nothing to plug the holes.

The Associated Baptist Press explained the problem this way:

“Experts warn the lack of…a hierarchy in Baptist life gives abusers free rein -- and makes Baptist churches unwitting accomplices to predator pastors who are recycled from one unsuspecting congregation to another.”

State and national Baptist leaders must step up to the plate if this recycling of predators is to be effectively addressed. It is a pervasive problem and it requires a systematic cooperative effort.

Much harm might have been prevented, for example, if the pastor at Matt Baker’s first church – First Baptist of Waco – could have related his concerns to a trained review board at national headquarters. Such a board could have taken on the burden of looking into the abuse allegations in a professional manner, and it then could have taken on the responsibility for relaying information to subsequent churches.

Taking on that responsibility would necessarily mean taking on some risk -- the risk of being sued by ministers who don’t like having information about their deeds relayed to others. But the national organization can better bear that risk than local churches, and it could insure against it.

After all, it’s not a matter of avoiding all risk. That’s not possible. It’s a matter of choosing which risks we care about the most and of choosing who should bear the risk. As things stand, Baptist leaders are choosing to protect themselves and to leave the burden of a far worse risk on the backs of kids and vulnerable congregants. They’re the ones who wind up falling prey to sexual predators.

But so long as Baptists have a system in which their leaders can so easily pass the buck, Baptists will also continue to pass their predators on from one church to another.


Anonymous said...

Even though I agree with much of what you say, you need to also understand the dilema that a church faces when confronted with a lawsuit. The very existence of the church could be destroyed by a huge financial judgment. Personally, I think the best way is to let the local police authorities deal with the issue. That's what they're paid to do.

I also realize that some people who are abused cannot or will not come forward and that further complicates the situation. I hope that if they have the courage to go to church leaders and/or a lawyer, then they will have the courage to go to the police.

I know you don't want to hear it but there is also the issue of a pastor or staff member being falsely accused and having their lives and ministries ruined. It does happen so its also a reality that must be considered.

Its not all just pastors and the SBC in this issue.

Christa Brown said...

Anon 10:47 said: "Personally, I think the best way is to let the local police authorities deal with the issue."

Most of the time, the local police CANNOT do anything because the statute of limitations has run by the time a victim is psychologically capable of reporting it. (They also encounter problems when parents of kids are unwilling to cooperate with prosecution for fear of further traumatizing their kid.) This is part of the reason why most other major faith groups have oversight mechanisms for their clergy. Along with a recognition of the moral responsibility, they realize that the police can't do anything about allegations most of the time. Even the police realize this, and that's why the National District Attorneys Association passed a resolution urging limitations reform and calling for alternative ways of addressing child sex abuse.

I wish church and denominational leaders would worry as much about the psychological and spiritual destruction that clergy sex abuse wreaks in the lives of kids as they do about the financial well-being of the church and institution.

I'm aware of the risk of false accusation, and have written about it on this blog. Experts say that, for those who claim having been sexually abused in childhood, fabricated reports constitute only 1 to 4 percent of all cases. Yes, it's a risk that shouldn't be overlooked, but it cannot outweigh all other concerns. There is also the fact that most sexual predators have multiple victims and this creates the huge risk that another child's life will be terribly harmed if a clergy-predator is left in a position of trust. Letting the accused minister simply move on, without consequences, also sends a terrible message to the kid who has already been abused -- it's a message that says "What happened to you doesn't matter." And think about the message it sends to the clergy-predator: "You can get away with it."

Anonymous said...

As a pastor I have discovered that things work in many different ways. A few years ago I was being called by a Baptist church as their pastor so I checked with some of my preacher friends in that city and they told me it was a great church. After I got there I found out otherwise and when confronted with what they had told me they said, "we knew you wouldn't come if we told you the truth." Sad...

Personally I think any pastor (and I am one) who abuses anyone of any sex should be neutered and put out to pasture or prison. The thought of the BGCT spending tons of money they don't have in "counseling" for these perps makes me sick. That same amount of money could be used to actually develop an accurate data base like you are asking for. Probably won't happen while we are alive though.

They're too busy arguing over whether the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and how much their church gives to the cooperative program.

Anonymous said...

Seems the SBC associations have enough power to kick out churches that have women leaders. But they cannot kick out churches that have hired a sexual predator?

Oh, I know why. Charles Stanley's church would have been kicked out.


Christa Brown said...

"The thought of the BGCT spending tons of money they don't have in 'counseling' for these perps makes me sick. That same amount of money could be used to actually develop an accurate data base...."

Amen, Pastor Anon. The BGCT could have also used that two-decades' worth of money they've been doling out on counseling for clergy sex abusers to instead provide counseling for the survivors of clergy sex abuse. But of course, we're nobodies, and the pastor-perpetrators are somebodies ... somebodies whose churches contribute money to the BGCT. And besides, if adequate counseling were provided to clergy abuse survivors, more of them might start talking about it.

Anonymous said...

I know that you are a lawyer so here me out before responding but that is another problem in this whole fiasco. They are listening to the wrong lawyers when they should they should be listening to the right one, being you. Of course had this issue with the Pharisees of his days as well.

oc said...

Yeah, ain't it kind of funny that if stuff doesn't happen to you, or your siblings, or your daughter or son, or your momma, or your wife... then it doesn't seem all that important, maybe even not important enough to have a database of credibly accused perverts which possibly might molest your daughter, granddaughter, etc. Those perverts are all the while being protected by masquerading as ministers of God under the SBC banner guise of church autonomy, which often times equates to pervert anonomy.

But what if it was possible... {the possibiity versus the probability)... of something happenening to the protected love ones of the SBC big shots...I guess it's not too important until it actually happens to the Paige Patterson's etc. grand daughters or other family members etc. God forbid if that ever happened, but if it ever did, then I bet heads will turn. And the heads of perps will roll. And the names would suddenly spew like a river into a database of awareness to protect others from the molestation. And if that happened, then some higher ups would have to offer their own heads on a platter in repentence for not having a data base before the loved ones of the privileged ones were molested.

But instead, as it is, those who think themselves above the threat continue to ignore and deny the threat. But it is what it is.
An arrogant attitude. There's an attitude of being beyond the threats that any of us mere peasants in the pew must live under, and that attitude is no where near where Jesus lives.
It's not of God.

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus".

The promise of Galatians 3:28 can be taken both ways. No matter what your last name is.

It's not the Christian view which says, "It's not in my neighborhood, therefore I am not moved". That instead is the attitude of the world.

I call for the SBC to repent. That means admitting wrong, admitting sin. That means implementing the action of doing something about that sin and making reparations as far as possible. And making every possible effort for that sin to not happen again. Maybe a data base. There's a start.

Just sayin'.

Anonymous said...


Please do not use the errant Word of God on this forum as a basis of discussion. It minimizes your opinion. Thanks

Christa Brown said...

Anon 10:36 - I agree with you in the sense that I think Baptist leaders need to listen to lawyers who will provide counsel consistent with the mission of the organization. It often appears to me that the counsel they're getting is probably focused primarily on protecting the financial assets and the image of the institution. Which means it appears to be mostly about money. So what I see is a religious organization that behaves in ways not much different from a tobacco company. It's just "big bad Baptist business as usual." (hat tip to Jeri Massi)

But of course, the lawyers are working FOR the organization... which means that Baptist leaders are the ones who bear moral responsibility for choosing what advice they listen to and act on.

Christa Brown said...

Anon 5:53 - OC comments frequently here, and he's free to use whatever he wants as a basis for discussion.

SBC leaders themselves claim to use the Bible as their standard and authority. But of course, if they really believed it, they would heed the lesson of the Good Samaritan with Jesus' words to "Go and do likewise."

Because their use of the Bible (their OWN authority) is so self-serving, it seems to me like a pretty good indication that their biblical beliefs have nothing to do with genuine religion or spirituality and everything to do with the promotion of personal power.

oc said...

Christa, thank you.

Anon 5:53,
Thank you for your advice. But I considered it and think you are misguided and your advice is inconsequential in relation to the actual problem in point which you seem to attempt by a side-step manuever (ie. avoidance) of the real problem and in fact you made an effort to manufacture another supposed barrier camoflauging the real issue by posing the theoretical and theological argument concerning what you have called, (for inflammatory purposes, I suspect) the "errant Word of God", which for your purposes attempts to put into question the inerrancy of the Scriptures, which in actuality for your purposes derails the basis of the present topic and in doing so attempts to of course side track the pertinent discussion in question. But no one is fooled.
We all saw it.
Nice try. Pretty shifty of you. But it didn't work.

So, the fact remains that whatever you believe about the Bible, people are still being victimized by sexual predators who are either ignored or worse sanctioned by the SBC who actually allow the offending perverts to carry on business as usual. It's not about "inerrency of the Scriptures", do you? I think there's a heart and soul issue there, don't you? And therefore it doesn't matter what you believe about the Bible on this topic. I will not debate the inerrancy of the Scriptures with you on this forum because I respect that this is not this forum's purpose. (I will do it one on one though. Just so you know in advance, I believe the Bible inerrant, yet even though people like me and you misinterpret it. So go on ahead, Email me.)

But even so and as far as that goes, I'm still trying to figure out your motive for your objection of my interjection of Scripture which was made by me in my previous post. I don't understand my offense. I guess you had an axe, yet your axe did not get grinded thoroughly. But I would still suggest you put that dull sucker down. Because I'm not grinding that one for you here.

I will battle with you on this and in this forum for something else though. Some kind of understanding of why there is a continuing and disgraceful problem that seems beyond the notice and admittance of the leaders in the SBC.

So let me make this easy for you.

Here is why I post here...

Because people are still being molested under the SBC banner, and the baptist banner, and the pervs
continue notching up victims from church to church. Maybe they will be the next to "minister" in your church. Maybe your daughter or grand daughter next, maybe your niece, or nephew. Maybe your wife.

So don't tell me what to say. When you told me that I "minimilized" my own opinion by using Scripture, you actually "mimimized" your own opinion, in my minimilized opinion.

So bless you, and I don't think you quite get it. But even so, I hope to have blessed you even more than you have blessed me.

And oh yeah. Thanks.

Christa Brown said...

Both believers and non-believers are welcome here. As oc rightly says: "There's a heart and soul issue... And therefore it doesn't matter what you believe about the Bible on this topic."

Anonymous said...

The BGCT leaders are all about money, power, prestige, and reputation. I GUARANTEE you that things would change in Texas and the SBC if the offspring of one of the leaders was molested. Probably within 3-5 seconds!

The sad part about some of this discussion is that the inerrancy of the Bible is not at issue at all. The issue is whether people in authority will believe the inerrant Word of God and do what is right in the eyes of God.

Since the BGCT is obscenely rich, I guarantee that the leaders aren't worried about people getting their money since all Baptist churches are autonomous. The assets of the BGCT are well protected. Individual churches are not immune from lawsuits though. Perhaps more of the churchs' leadership should remember this fact.

The bottom line is that ALL LEADERSHIP (and not just pastors) need to do what is right in the eyes of God. If we all did, there would be no molesters and no coverup.

But then, we are a fallen and desperately sick and sinful world so go figure that one out...

Christa Brown said...

"The assets of the BGCT are well protected. Individual churches are not immune from lawsuits though. Perhaps more of the churchs' leadership should remember this fact.

Yes, I wish more churches would realize this. Local Baptist churches give $500 million annually to the state and national organizations. Yet, the state and national organizations refuse to help the local churches by providing a professional review board with the expertise to responsibly assess clergy abuse reports and by relaying information about their assessments to people in the pews. The state and national organizations leave the risk of relaying that sort of information on the backs of the local churches.

You'd think for $500 million that they could provide the churches with a great deal more help on such an important issue, wouldn't you? But the state and national organization are protecting themselves, not helping the churches on this, and certainly not helping those wounded by clergy sex abuse.

The state and national organizations manage to spend a chunk of that annual $500 million on all manner of shams, scams, and extravagances (and other things), but they can't manage to help the local churches with routing out clergy-predators and with lifting the burden of risk from the backs of the local churches. (Not to mention protecting kids...) The state and national organizations can do all manner of other things with that $500 million per year, but when it comes to effective, cooperative measures for routing out clergy-predators, they spew their radicalized version of "autonomy." It ought to be insulting to every local pastor out there whose church participates in the Cooperative Program.

Anonymous said...

I was speaking "tongue-in-cheek". I was somewhat irritated by anon's comment 12:45: "They're too busy arguing over whether the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and how much their church gives to the cooperative program."

The Church still has a function and as critical as clergy sex abuse is they have many irons in the fire.

Christa: To put this in perspective I was wondering what the percentages are of predator clergy to good clergy.
If there are 1-4% of false accusations by victims what is the percentage of bad clergy to good clergy? To overstate a problem seems to just sabotage any possible solutions.

Then thinking that a denomination can just change more than 150 years of tradition and become a centralized form of governed body erasing local autonomy is outrageous They are not going to change and neither should they.

Other bodies are centralized with control of pastoral appointments whereas the SBC is locally governed.

Your problem is the reluctance of victims to report to authorities and thus complicate judicial processes. This is a problem that the Church did not cause. Now the Church should study this problem and seek to encourage victims to respond quicker.

Local Churches will have to deal with predators but all to often pastoral loyalty goes deep into a congregation and the percentage of good pastors to bad pastors will not likely alter this loyalty.

Local Church pulpit search committees need to be aware of the need of severe background security checks.

Just some thoughts.

Christa Brown said...

Well, gee, Anon, why don't you convince the SBC to keep records on credibly-accused clergy-predators, and then we'll begin to get a better idea of what the percentages are. Meanwhile, see my prior posting and comment related to numbers.

Other major faith groups in this country keep records on credibly-accused clergy or clergy for whom there is substantial evidence of abuse. For Southern Baptists to refuse to even keep records is irresponsible and uncaring.

No one has asked the SBC to erase local church autonomy. We've asked the SBC to provide the resource of a professional objective review board and to provide the board's assessment information to churches in the form of a database. As Rev. Wade Burleson himself observed (and Burleson is a well-respected Southern Baptist), it is "irrational" to think that providing information constitutes a violation of local church autonomy.

And I personally think it is cold-hearted and cruel the way people such as yourself implicitly blame the victims for not speaking up sooner. These are children we're talking about. Children who were methodically groomed by clergy-predators whom they trusted completely, who were manipulated, conned, exploited, molested, raped, sexually savaged and sexually traumatized. And what happens when, despite their trauma, they do seek help from someone else within the church? In a great many cases, other church leaders only compound the trauma by urging silence. In many, many cases, OTHERS within the church have also kept quiet. Instead of blaming the child-victims for not speaking up sooner, why not blame all the many other church leaders who were adults, and who weren't directly traumatized, and who nevertheless kept quiet when they knew about a colleague's abuse of a kid? Who allowed their colleague's abuse to remain hidden until the statute of limiations for prosecution had run?

But you're right about one thing, Anon: "...pastoral loyalty goes deep into a congregation..." That's exactly why the denomination needs to provide congregations with the resource of an independent review board to objectively assess clergy abuse reports. Congregations cannot do this. They aren't capable of it. Even if they had the resources, training and experience, they would always and invariably lack the objectivity.

Anonymous said...


I was not blaming the victim for not speaking out sooner, I am saying that the fact they don't is the complication that the Church nor people like myself can be accused as cold or cruel. Ideally it would resolve things quicker if victims would come forward quicker which is a problem for all cases of criminal abuse and not just church related.

I personally don't agree with local autonomy as the SBC believes but you have to understand that they adhere rigidly to local autonomy for their scriptural understanding. They can't be compared to other denominational bodies that can maintain a centralized listing.

I don't think that you can just blame the neglect on the autonomy issue. Paige Patterson is not the pope of the SBC. If he were this would not be the trouble it is now for the SBC. There would not be an "irrational issue" -still a problem but a centralized means to track offenders.

There will always be cold and cruel people on both sides of this issue. This won't go away.

Anonymous said...

If these people did believe that the Bible was true and trustworthy they would be forced to act on the abuse going on. They could not avoid Jesus' teachings on children, the fatherless, and the innocent. One really has to question their stand of doing nothing when the Bible calls for action.

Rhia said...

Anon your argument falls flat when you say:

but you have to understand that they adhere rigidly to local autonomy for their scriptural understanding. They can't be compared to other denominational bodies that can maintain a centralized listing.

Because they can oddly take action to if one of those "autonomous" churches suddenly has a woman pastor or allows gay marriage, or any other number of things.

If they can take action on those issues they can take actions on this issue. You can not have it both ways. By them taking action on some of these issues but not on this issue what message does that really send besides the obvious "hypocrite".

Christa Brown said...

Here's what Southern Baptist minister Wade Burleson said: "To argue that a list of Southern Baptist ministers who are sexual predators violates the self-government of a local church is illogical.... What a church does with that list is their business."

(Previously, I mistakenly quoted him with the word "irrational," but note that the word he actually used was "illogical".)

I agree with bloggerT7165: Baptist leaders don't "adhere rigidly to local autonomy" - they "adhere" only when it serves their own agenda and when they can use "autonomy" as a shield for self-protection.

Anonymous said...

I too agree with blogger T7165:

However the gays and the women were not a problem of 20-40 years ago but are a current problem for them. Their belief in the Bible concerning gays and women pastors determines their curent reactions.

The problem of clergy sexual abuse stems from incidents secretly hidden and for the most part many years ago.

Both issues are problems but it is an apple and orange comparison.

The one connection between an "apple and orange" is a spiritual connection. The "gay and woman pastor" issue has biblical significance. So my question to blogger T7165 and anyone else on this forum is what is your opinion of this issue?
What relevance does the Bible speak to this problem? What is the error of the SBC concerning this issue?

My hunch is that your answers to the orange issue spill over to the apple issue! The role of the Bible in determining spiritual truths.
Are you willing to accept the Bible as your authority concerning both issues?

For instance is John 12:30 AM willing to accept the same mandate that he suggest the SBC rejects and denies. Is he willing to act on the Bible?

A lot of criticism is directed to the denomination as a whole, what about your personal commitment to what the Bible says about "apples and oranges?"

Do your beliefs about gays and women pastors have the same spiritual consistency as your beliefs about clergy sexual abuse?

How relevant is the Bible?

anon 8;22 pm

Christa Brown said...

Anon: The point is simply that Baptist leaders have power when they want to have power. Despite all their "we can't" words, the reality is that their failure of action on clergy sex abuse isn't about a lack of power; it's about a lack of caring and a lack of will.

Rhia said...

Anon you missed the point completely. They act when they want to act. Doing nothing is an evil unto itself.

And Anon you said:

The problem of clergy sexual abuse stems from incidents secretly hidden and for the most part many years ago.

For the most part many years ago? I am sure there are quite a few folks here that can give you a tidy little list of just some of the more recent incidents.