Sunday, January 24, 2010

Complicity of Baptist leaders

Over the weekend, pastor Wade Burleson of Enid, Oklahoma, considered the recent case of Baptist pastor Matt Baker, who was convicted of murdering his wife, Kari. The investigation and trial of the murder case brought to light evidence that pastor Baker had, for many years, lived “a secret life as a sexual predator.” He lived that secret life -- and lived it quite easily -- in Baptistland.

On his blog, Wade Burleson asked this question:

“You wonder if those of us in a position to do something to stop people like this from advancing in the SBC, but don't do anything… if we become accomplices to murder.”
It’s a good question.

After all, there were plenty of prior opportunities when Baptist leaders could have put a stop to Matt Baker’s ministerial career. There were plenty of times when Matt Baker could have been made to face consequences for his conduct. But instead, what Matt Baker learned in Baptistland was that he could get away with anything.

That belief worked for him for over 16 years as he floated through the porous sieve of Baptistland, leading “a life of duplicity and predatory behavior,” and never being held accountable.

As far back as 1991, Matt Baker had been reported for sexual assault. That was when a young freshman girl reported him to officials at Baylor University, the largest Baptist school in the country. (That's Baylor shown in the photo.) According to her sworn testimony, “Baylor officials told her there was no need to contact the police because they would handle it.”

The way they handled it was reported by Texas Monthly magazine: Baylor administrators typed up a report, but they took no action.

Then Matt Baker was twice reported for sexual abuse at one of his first stints, the First Baptist Church of Waco. He could have been stopped then and there. The senior pastor and another minister at the time both knew about the abuse reports against Baker. But they simply allowed Matt Baker to move on.

And so he did -- through a whole slew of Baptist churches, schools and organizations.

In fact, Matt Baker even managed to go right back to Baylor University – the Baptist institution where he had previously been reported for sexual assault -- and he got admitted into Baylor’s Truett Theological Seminary. So not only did Baylor fail to do anything about the known assault allegation, but it actually advanced Baker in his ministerial career.

Years later, by the time of his murder trial, Baker had been through many more churches and organizations; and prosecutors said that many more young women and girls were abused by Baker.

That brings us back to pastor Burleson’s question: “If those of us in a position to stop people like this from advancing in the SBC, but don’t do anything… if we become accomplices . . . .”

Bill Webb, editor of the Baptist publication Word & Way, provided an answer to this question about six months ago in speaking of other reports of clergy abuse. He said this:

“Quietly dismissing a suspected perpetrator or recommending that person to another church may well contribute to the abuse of others somewhere else sometime later. Churches and church leaders who do that are accomplices to the next crime committed in another congregation.”
The BaptistPlanet blogger also provided an answer:

“When a Waco, Texas, jury found Matt Baker guilty… it by implication indicted Southern Baptist failure to act forcefully to stop clerical predators in its midst.”
But perhaps the best answer was provided on this blog by a commenter who knew Kari, and she put it quite simply:
“Kari might be with us had Matt been stopped long ago.”
So what do you think the answer to pastor Wade Burleson’s question should be?

Are Baylor officials, FBC-Waco officials, and other Baptist officials morally complicit in the murder of Kari Baker?

Update: See also Wade Burleson's 1/27/10 post, “Are we Southern Baptist leaders indirect accomplices to Matt Baker’s murder of his wife?”


Jim said...


Ramesh said...

Grace and Truth to You [Wade Burleson] > Can It Be Said that We Southern Baptists Are Accomplices in Matt Baker's Murder of His Wife?.

Christa Brown said...

Thy Peace: Thanks for letting me know about Burleson's post. I urge all of you to read it. said...


I really appreciate your work on this matter. Frankly, I learned the details of this horrible crime through reading your blog.

I wound up changing the title of the post to which you refer because, upon reflection, my motion to the Southern Baptist Convention passed almost unanimously -- leadership of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention killed it in committee. Thus, I framed the question more around leadership than Southern Baptists in general.

Again, thanks for your work!


Christa Brown said...

"...leadership of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention killed it in committee."

Yes. And I would say that they also obfuscated to make it look as though they had done something. What the SBC Exec Com came up with in 2008 wasn't anything remotely resembling what most ordinary people would call a "study." They never even established any budget for a study. They didn't conduct any sort of hearings to receive testimony/evidence/input from experts. They didn't compile or synthesize any data. There were none of the usual indicia of what most people might reasonably call a "study."

How strange that, in an organization that purports to value the local churches, over 8000 "messengers" from those local churches voted almost unanimously to direct their leaders to conduct a study, and yet the leaders could essentially thumb their noses . . . and get away with it.