A few days ago, when I saw this policy of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, I literally dropped my jaw. It’s their policy on responding to allegations of child sexual abuse. Amazingly, much of the Mission Board’s policy mirrors the sort of policies that SNAP has been requesting from the Southern Baptist Convention in general.
Yet, we’ve been getting repeatedly slammed in the face for even asking for the sort of policies that the International Mission Board has already adopted.
I’m told the IMB’s policy was adopted back in 2004 when it put in place a confidential toll-free number for people to report child sexual abuse by IMB personnel. I was aware that the IMB had a toll-free number, but I wasn’t aware of this adopted policy. And frankly, I didn’t figure their toll-free number amounted to much, since we almost never see any publicity about it. I mean… what good does it do to have a toll-free number for reporting abuse if nobody knows about the number?
Now I learn that they also have this policy. Take a look at some of its provisions:
- A clear statement of zero-tolerance. “A single act of sexual abuse by Board personnel, regardless of when that act occurred, will result in permanent termination of employment…”
- “A clearly established process” in which specific individuals are designated for receiving reports of abuse, for relaying information about reported abuse to the Executive Vice-President, and for taking action to investigate abuse reports.
- The creation of an “Assessment Team” for investigating “all reports of sexual or physical abuse involving a child… no matter how long since the alleged abuse occurred.”
- The Assessment Team’s lead investigator “shall be someone who has received training.”
- “At least one member of the Assessment Team shall be an impartial outside observer not employed by the Board.”
- “Where the alleged victim is a female, at least one of the members of the Assessment Team shall be a female.”
- The duties of the Assessment Team shall include… maintaining “an impartial, unbiased attitude…, to preserve any evidence… to determine if there are any additional potential victims…. to prepare a confidential written report of the investigation.”
- The Assessment Team’s written report shall include “a specific statement about whether or not reasonable cause exists to suspect that sexual or physical abuse has occurred.”
- “Reasonable cause means… that it more likely than not that abuse occurred; it is not the more onerous ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard that would apply in American criminal proceedings.”
- When a complaint of sexual abuse involving a child is made, all reasonable measures shall be taken to assure the safety of other children. “Such measures shall ordinarily include, at a minimum, placing the accused on administrative leave pending the completion of the investigation….”
- If the Executive Vice-President, in consultation with the Assessment Team, determines that the allegations of sexual abuse “are substantiated,” he shall take disciplinary actions “without regard to any statute of limitations that would govern criminal or civil actions.”
- The designated disciplinary actions include termination of employment, a bar against future service, and a written statement in the individual’s file.
- The IMB retains the authority to inform anyone who seeks information about a past employee about the cause of termination, to notify the employee’s home church and other churches with which the employee has a relationship, and to notify “entities connected with the Convention.”
These are some pretty good policy provisions. They aren’t perfect -- for example, there isn’t any requirement for actually notifying parents about substantiated reports of abuse -- but they’re better than anything else we’ve seen in Southern Baptist life.
Now mind you… I haven’t seen any indication that this Southern Baptist Mission Board policy has been put into practice much. But the very existence of the policy says a lot about what Southern Baptist leaders know and understand.
So here’s the thing that bothers me.
The very existence of this policy shows that, institutionally, at a very high level, the Southern Baptist Convention has already recognized the need for things like affording victims a confidential way to report abuse, providing assessment teams that have trained people and outsiders on the panel, and implementing a standard of assessment that is less onerous than the criminal law standard. Yet, even though this policy implicitly recognizes the importance of these procedural mechanisms for the protection of kids, the Southern Baptist Convention utterly refuses to implement similar policies and procedures applicable to Southern Baptist life on a broader scale.
Do you see what this means?
They know what is needed for the better protection of kids, and they simply refuse to do it.
They know, and they choose not to act. They know, and they choose to make excuses about polity instead of choosing to do what will make kids safer.
Think about it.
Even while the body of the Southern Baptist Convention had high officials like Augie Boto telling people that “the proper investigatory panel for Baptists should be law enforcement,” the left arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (i.e., the IMB) had already expressly recognized that there needs to be an administrative assessment team that can investigate abuse reports “without regard to any statute of limitations that would govern criminal or civil actions.”
And even while the body of the Southern Baptist Convention had countless commenters insisting that a Baptist pastor should be “innocent until proven guilty,” the left arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (i.e., the IMB) had already expressly recognized that, for the safety of children, ministers occupy a position of high trust and should be administratively assessed based on a less onerous standard than what would apply in American criminal proceedings.
And even while the body of the Southern Baptist Convention had high officials like Frank Page and Paige Patterson calling clergy molestation victims “opportunists” and “evil-doers” when they sought to prod the Convention into implementing policies for the protection of kids, the left arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (i.e., the IMB) had already adopted policies similar to what the clergy molestation victims were seeking.
This SBC Mission Board policy shows that, institutionally, the Southern Baptist Convention already knows a whole lot of what it needs to do for the better protection of kids against clergy predators.
They know, but they just don’t care.