Monday, August 16, 2010

Iowa church illustrates low standards of Baptistland

A Southern Baptist minister in Davenport, Iowa, was arrested last Saturday and charged with the sexual abuse of two kids.

But this wasn’t Terry VanHoutan’s first run-in with the law. He pled guilty to two counts of indecent exposure back in 2001.

So why did the First Baptist Church of Bettendorf make him a minister?

As reported by KWQC-TV, Terry VanHoutan had been at First Baptist of Bettendorf for “several years,” and it was the First Baptist Church of Bettendorf that “licensed” VanHoutan as a minister.

VanHoutan’s prior convictions were in 2001. Even if you push “several years” to mean five or six, this would still mean that the church ordained VanHoutan as a minister after his prior 2001 convictions.

I guess the good people at First Baptist of Bettendorf just didn’t care . . . or else they just didn’t bother.

Either way, their recklessness put at risk not only the kids of their own church, but it also put at risk Baptist church kids all over the country.

That’s the thing about Baptistland. Once a minister gets ordained by one church, he can then migrate to other churches. If VanHoutan hadn’t been arrested . . . again . . . he could have easily moved on to some other church in Baptistland.

Any Baptist church can ordain virtually anyone as a minister. But ministers don’t have to stay with the church that ordained them.

As a practical matter, this means that the church with the lowest standard can set the standard in Baptistland.

And no matter how low a church’s standard for qualifying a minister, the ordained man can then carry the mantle of ministerial trust into other churches.

A single church ordains the man, but he is ordained for much more than a single church.

Baptist churches ordain ministers, not only for their own church, but for all churches. Effectively, once a man is ordained by one church, he then has a “license” to roam.

This means that the laxity of a single church can unleash a preacher-predator within the broader denominational body.

Yet, the denomination exercises no oversight.

For Baptist ministers, there isn’t even any entrance hurdle into the profession. No initial check. No exam. No nothing. There isn’t even any requirement that a Baptist minister be someone who has attended seminary.

Any man who can convince a handful of deacons that he’s been “called by God” can get himself ordained as a Baptist minister.

It’s the perfect set-up for a good con-man.

With no entry hurdle for ministers, with a porous network of churches to migrate through, and with no denominational oversight, the Southern Baptist Convention presents a near-perfect paradise for preacher-predators.

See also this article in the Quad-City Times: “Davenport man accused of sex abuse against minors.” It makes not one mention of the fact that the “man” is a minister, and so it’s another example of what I talked about in my August 10th posting -- low-profile press coverage that we see too often in Baptist clergy sex abuse cases.

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