Wednesday, September 1, 2010

"No contest" doesn't mean no evidence

Jim is the director of a poverty relief Christian ministry in Tennessee. One of his staff members is an ordained Baptist minister who, in 2006, was charged by Georgia authorities on 16 counts of child pornography, 2 counts of child molestation, and 2 counts of enticing a child for indecent purposes. News about the minister was reported in a newspaper article, which is posted on the StopBaptistPredators website.

A few days ago, Jim wrote to me. He wants me to delete the article off the website.

Jim’s email is too long to post, but I’ll give you the highlights along with my reaction.

Jim starts off by telling me that, because their ministry is connected to a Baptist college, they have “very good guidelines in trying to screen our employees.” In fact, he says, Jim Gunther who is attorney for both the college and the Southern Baptist Convention, “helped us a lot with our procedures and policies.”

I suppose he thought that dropping Jim Gunther’s name might make a positive impression on me. He was sure wrong about that. After all, back when I was trying desperately to locate my own childhood molester, Jim Gunther is the attorney who signed off on a letter saying that the Southern Baptist Convention had no record the man was still in ministry in any church. Yet, he was actually still working in children’s ministry at a Florida Baptist church. And he had previously worked in the church of former Florida Baptist Convention president Dwayne Mercer and in the church of former SBC president Charles Stanley. Given his high-level connections, it was impossible for me to believe that Baptist officials didn’t know where he was. The fact that they would disclaim any record of him seemed like little more than a ruse.

So I’m not impressed by that sort of name-dropping.

And I sure can’t figure out why Jim thinks I would be impressed by the fact that his poverty relief ministry is connected to a Baptist college. When I think about Baptist colleges, I think about how Baylor University allowed “murdering minister” Matt Baker into its program at Truett Seminary despite the fact of multiple sexual abuse reports and despite the fact that, even at Baylor itself, Baker had been reported for sexual assault when he was a ministerial student in its undergraduate school.

So . . . connection to a Baptist college doesn’t give me any good reason to think there will be good guidelines in place.

But Jim says he has “known” the minister for years and that he is “thoroughly convinced” there was no abuse.

It’s a tired refrain, isn’t it? There are always those who think they “know” the guy.

If I had a dollar for every time someone said they “know” the guy, I’d have a pile of money big enough to buy a new bicycle. I’d get one of those spiffy cruiser kinds -- they’re pretty pricey.

Suffice it to say that I’m not impressed by Jim’s insistence that he “knows” the guy.

Besides, Jim himself points out that the minister pled “no contest” to the charges. “There was never any evidence presented against him in court,” says Jim.

These are troubling statements. Jim seems to think the minister’s “no contest” plea means he was innocent. But it doesn’t.

Generally, a defendant’s “no contest” plea is considered as constituting an acknowledgement that there is enough evidence on which a conviction could be had. Often, a defendant will plead “no contest” for the very purpose of avoiding presentation of the evidence in open court and also to avoid the risk of greater punishment if the case goes to a full trial.

So, Jim's statement that there was no evidence " court" is meaningless. Once a “no contest” plea is made, the evidence doesn’t get presented in court. That’s how it works. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any evidence. To the contrary, it means there was evidence.

In other major faith groups, evidence related to clergy child molestation may be evaluated by a denominational review board, regardless of whether the man is criminally convicted in a court. If abuse allegations are determined to be credible, the minister may be “defrocked” or have his ordination revoked.

But not so with Southern Baptists. There is no such thing as a denominational review board for the assessment of clergy sex abuse allegations.

So kids in Baptist churches don’t get the same safeguards against predatory clergy as what kids in other faith groups now get.

This Baptist minister, who is on staff at Jim’s poverty relief organization, is known to have worked in Texas, Georgia and Tennessee. (He lasted only a few months in Texas, where he also worked as director of a Boys’ and Girls’ Club.)

If this minister wanted, he could move to Florida tomorrow and could probably get a job in a Baptist church. There isn’t any denominational office that’s going to revoke his ordination. There isn’t any denominational office that will say “Whoa … this man can’t be a Baptist minister.” There isn’t any denominational office that will warn the next church that hires him. There isn’t even any denominational office that’s keeping systematic records on Baptist ministers like this.

A published news article might be one of the few possibilities by which people could find out about this minister’s prior history.

So, no, I won’t delete the article from the website.

I don’t have any desire to embarrass this poverty relief organization, and I don’t know what job duties the minister has there. Perhaps he’s doing roof repairs. But if his duties allow any sort of unsupervised access to kids, and if he is still able to hold himself out as an ordained Baptist minister (which he almost certainly is), then that’s wrong -- dangerously wrong.

Jim concludes by telling me what an “awesome ministry” their organization provides and by complaining about what a “thorn in the side” it is when people find the article about this staff-member on the internet. Nevertheless, Jim says that his “foremost” concern is for “his own ministry” -- i.e., for the ministry of the staff-member who pled “no contest” on child porn and child molestation charges.

This is where Jim got it all wrong from the get-go. His priorities aren't straight.

Jim’s “foremost” concern should be for the protection of kids, not for the minister.

Much of the above goes ditto for the guy who, last week, asked me to “help out the church -- God’s church” by deleting articles on convicted Baptist minister Kevin Ogle, also from Georgia.

9/4/10 on Baptist Planet: 'Stop Baptist Predators' isn't in the track-covering business

Update 9/8/10: Jim has written to say that he was mistaken and that it was actually a "no bill" rather than a "no contest." If Jim is correct this time around, then a "no bill" would usually mean that a grand jury decided there was insufficient evidence to warrant the pursuit of a criminal prosecution under the stringent standards and burdens of the criminal law.


Valarie said...

This boggles my mind!

William said...

So, did you reply and what did Jim say?

I can't find the particulars on sbp website.

Christa Brown said...

William: I sent Jim a link to this blog posting with only a bit more to try to explain that it was a mistake to view this minister as having been "vindicated." As for the "particulars," I didn't link directly to the 2006 article because, as I said, I have no desire to embarrass the poverty relief organization and because I don't know what job duties the minister currently has with the organization.

Valarie said...

But shouldn't people know what role the predator has in the organization?

Christa Brown said...

Jim's email said that the minister had something to do with home repair work within the organization. People who search the man's name find the article, and that's precisely why Jim wants the 2006 article deleted.

Of course, I think that people need more info about Baptist clergy, not less. People ought to be able to find out a great deal more than merely published media reports about Baptist clergy, because that's the bare tip of the iceberg.

Jeri said...

If Jim is worried about the his ministry, instead of urging other people to share in the cover up

Doug Pittman said...

Please do not stop reporting Christa. Many, like me, depend on your site for reference. I just wish you would / could report the "caught viewing PORNOGRAPHY pastors" somehow too

Remember, this is where these cases and these predators get started.